“TRAVEL IN LOCAL SPACES”
“BUTTERMILK FALLS SOUTH WORCESTER NY”
by Jessica Kuzmier
Sometimes on a road trip, a destination is planned for. Sometimes on a spontaneous drive, nothing that special happens. But then, sometimes the best of both worlds takes place. There's a yen to go where the road calls you, and not expecting anything, you have the fortune of running into a happy delight. This is what took place the day that we encountered Buttermilk Falls, located in southern Otsego County in New York State.
It was in the beginning of the driving season, which in upstate New York generally doesn't start until the middle of April, at the earliest. Sometimes, you get an unexpected snowfall, and unless you want to do extreme driving in a four-wheel drive vehicle, pleasure driving has to be put off until May. But this year, the snow had melted early, and it was pleasant enough in April to break out of cabin fever to start roaming around. My spouse and I had already taken a drive to Cobleskill on state roads. On this second drive, at first it seemed like we were heading right back there, driving parallel to the interstate. In order not to have a complete rerun of the previous trip, at Worcester, a small town just west of Cobleskill, we drove off the state road and took a tour of the county roads hidden in the woods that provided scenery for those driving the highway. It is during this rural ramble that we happened upon Buttermilk Falls.
One interesting point of trivia about Buttermilk Falls is the fact that there are so many of them. There are a total of twelve falls with the name Buttermilk Falls in New York State alone, the most well known being Buttermilk Falls in Ithaca. That particular waterfall is located in a state park. Many of the other Buttermilk Falls, including the one in Otsego County, are scattered in various unexpected locations with no particular park affiliated with them. It's the kind of rural location that if you were looking for them, you might have trouble finding them. But as a surprise, it comes right up in your face, because you just weren't expecting to see something like this.
The falls were very large, considering they weren't featured as a major tourist destination on our map. Later on, looking at the concentric circles surrounding the location, we surmised that total elevation of the falls was probably somewhere around eight hundred feet. Of course, with that kind of elevation, it should come as no surprise that Buttermilk Falls is not one fall, but a series of them. And the amount is not all apparent when you first see the falls. Nestled in a bed of woods, you don't realize how far up the falls go until you actually climb up the trails to follow their paths. The water that flows to the falls leads to Charlotte Creek, which serves almost as a boundary water between Otsego and Delaware Counties. Coupled with a large rocky hill in the way, and then you have Buttermilk Falls.
When you get there, a small sandy lot is available for parking purposes. There was a picnic table, as though occasionally people were expected to show up and spend the day. At the time of our visit, we were the only people. Across the street, it was someone's private farm. There was road work being done somewhere; the loud sound of a work truck's reverse lights permeated the air and would follow us as we trekked up the hill to the top of the falls. But other than that, there was no sign of civilization. Climbing the falls, one could imagine that the foreign sound was some strange animal that had gone extinct long ago somehow resurrected, because its kind was in the minority in this serene setting.
We made our way to the foot of the first falls by climbing on the rocky path that flowed from it. I didn't have my water-resistant hiking boots on, just my working boots; thinking that I'd been just out for a drive. That being so, I was glad for that the blessing of the recent dry spell made the path easy to climb without getting wet, and the boots at least had the traction to handle the path. The most challenging aspect was making sure my eager pooch on a leash didn't yank my equilibrium away. Unlike me, he had no qualms about running straight up the mountain. But unfortunately for him, I was the one who held the leash. I lost my balance once, and wound up brushing my hand on a thorny bush, pricking my finger slightly. I held it under one of the pools until I was satisfied it had stopped bleeding. This would probably be something that I'd have to do if I was out in the middle of nowhere for a long time, relying on what was around me for healing.
Luckily, it was a minor abrasion, and in no time I caught up to my spouse, who found a path adjacent to the falls and was proceeding up it. I hopscotched my way up the rocks until I was right behind him. This path that we took was a steep incline that made its way parallel to the falls, and it was on this path that we got to see how high the falls really went. The trees obscured all but the lower falls, and walking up this path, we saw how many small cliffs were entailed in this natural feature. The path got steeper, and the falls seemed endless. Even the dog, boundless with zest in the beginning of the climb, was beginning to lag slightly, trying to conserve energy. At times, the incline seemed even steeper than forty-five degrees, and parts of the trail consisted of loose gravel. I found a couple of sticks which helped me maintain my balance, which would be key in maintaining my balance on the way down.
The scenery as I walked on the path was wonderful. Being that it was mid-April in upstate New York, the trees didn't have any leaves on them, and it was easy to see the falls while on the path. It being a sunny day, everything glistened. The stones that the water ran over shone like onyx; sometimes giving the impression of fool's gold. There was a crystalline quality to the water, and the trickle of white noise all but obliterated the noise that came from the working machine on the street. It was enough of a spectacle to ignore the strenuousness of the hike, as fall after fall revealed itself. In order to stay completely with the falls, however, we wound up straying from the path, seeing that there were no signs warning us of trespassing. Parts of the off-trail pitched themselves directly into the crevice of the falls. I had to brace myself with the bigger trees to prevent a runaway slide into them, and wondered where the trail had gone.
At the end, we came to a developed path that looked like it was strong enough to handle the weight of a small truck. There was a stone formation that looked like it had been the foundation of a wall at an earlier date, now it marked the end of the dirt trail. We followed the developed path for a short time, but didn't see any more falls. Without realizing it, we had gotten to the top. Despite this oblivion, it didn't feel anticlimactic. Perhaps because this whole thing had been a surprise to begin with, there had been no particular expectation tied to the experience. It just was what it was, the end of the trail.
Going down, I was glad that I had the two sticks with me, as going down a forty-five degree angle is generally more difficult for me than going up. As it turned out, the trail had diverged greatly from the falls, and for a time it felt like we were going in the wrong direction. We listened for the sound of the work truck from below; when it got too low, we backtracked, listening to it like a foghorn during the storm. In time, we merged with the path we had been on in the beginning, and made our way down the bottom. A few more pictures of the lower falls, and we then we left, our day made better by a happy surprise in the middle of nowhere.