“TRAVEL IN LOCAL SPACES”
“Fillmore Glen State Park”
by Jessica Kuzmier
It's always risky to drive somewhere unknown when rain is forecasted. That's the gamble we took the late April day my family and I went to Fillmore Glen State Park, which is at least a two hour drive from where I live. The radar showed blotches of green near the park. It was cloudy, which could result in a bad photo session, regardless if the rain held up. Plus, two hours is a long time to drive somewhere, only to be rained out.
Despite all this, we went anyway. It was during the week; maybe we could get a nice quiet trip in. Maybe if we rushed there right away, we could dodge the precipitation. It would be noon by the time we got there; maybe, even it was cloudy, it would still be bright enough for good photos. So we took the gamble, and went.
The park is named after President Millard Fillmore, who was born somewhere nearby the park. I've heard there is a replica of the log cabin he was born in, but I don't remember seeing it. Unless it was on one of the trails that was closed, or disguised by the comfort station. In the park, there is a gorge worn through layers of shale, sandstone and limestone through which the waterfalls run though. Officially there are five waterfalls, plus rock formations such as Cow Sheds and Pinnacle. But access to all these things are dependent on the weather and time of year, which I soon found out.
When we got to the park, it was still cloudy, and the wind seemed to have picked up, but fortunately, still no rain. We drove past a parking lot with a white bathhouse, and saw a couple of older people walking with their dogs. The lot is at the bottom of the hill, and we didn't see any falls in the immediate vicinity. However, the access road seem to pitch higher in elevation. We deduced the falls had to be at the higher point, so we continued driving.
The access became increasingly dirt-like, more like a rural seasonal road rather than what I assumed a state park road would be. There were potholes everywhere, and as we swerved around them, we hoped nobody was coming down the other way. With the hairpin turns, anyone could appear out of nowhere and surprise us. I tried to think positively. Maybe, because it was April and out of season, the road just hadn't been worked on yet, but it would be fine by season's beginning.
On this road, we ran into small falls. There was a stream running over some rocks and stones on the hills making smaller, secret falls, away from the main parking lot below. At a parking area nestled by the side of the road, we stopped our car. We walked to the apex of a hill, and saw falls everywhere. Being that it was only April, there were no leaves on the trees yet. Outdoors, it was still cool enough to want to wear longer sleeves, especially with the rain coming in. In some areas of the hill, it was like the water trickled off, while in other areas, it ran strong. One of the trees looked like it had been hollowed out by every wildlife imaginable, like a rudimentary testament of an animal totem pole showing how wildlife lived life and survived.
Flowers were popping up, showing the first signs of spring. You could jump around on the various rapids to get a better close-up view. Unfortunately, I couldn't afford to be that daring, because I was walking my dog, who was busy wrapping his leash around baby trees. Despite this minor setback, the overall view I saw was beautiful. We climbed high enough that I didn't see my car anymore. At the bottom of the hill, water irrigated through man-made tubes on land, while trees decorated with official state park insignia signs stood at attention. We saw a tunnel; walking through it, you could imagine playing hide-and-seek, remaining concealed for what seemed like days.
We climbed back down to our car and continued driving. We then passed by a waterfall that looked like it could have been created by a master landscaper. We were teased with more small waterfalls and flowers, but no large waterfalls. It was like being lured by a maze that led to the promised land that would never come.
Then we came to the end of the dirt road. It seemed the highest we could get in elevation, but still no big falls. We saw cabins for rent, one which may have been the official Fillmore replica, but no big falls, or nothing that resembled what I imagined Cow Sheds to look like. It seemed strange that's all there was to this park. We headed down towards the lower parking lot. We hoped we would have better luck searching there.
We walked over a driveway covered with water. There was a dry bridge for us pedestrians. We heard the distinct sound of falls in the background, which sounded like we had achieved our goal. Water cascaded over concrete drops. It crashed over rocks with the force of the earth just beginning, rushing away from us to carry life somewhere else. Over this artificial dam is where you drove in order to get to the parking lot by the comfort station.
At last, we came to the falls. There was a birdhouse that looked like it had a bad winter. Work areas were marked with a confusion of debris. There was orange fencing that looked like it had been in a cat fight, and piles of gravel that looked like the refuse from a six year old's art project. Ostensibly, all were intended to build up areas which had been eroded by winter's scourge.
All the signs of a work zone were there, except no one was there but us. It was like there had been a storm evacuation and no one had come back to finish the job. Maybe they were afraid that the clouds hanging over us would bring a second round of mortar from Mother Nature. But nature herself did not seem so dark a foe in her decoration here. The rocks graced the scene like God's own cathedral. Water descended like a baptism from heaven, waiting for anyone willing to come forward to it after renouncing a life of forgetfulness.
Alas, this was not Eden, but a state park. One couldn't just dive into the rocks below and skip merrily down the path. Everywhere, there were signs and gates to prevent your destruction, and to warn you that just jumping into random waterfalls went against the civilized nature of modern man. These signs informed you how to enjoy altered nature now that man had taken it over and recreated the rules.
In controlled fashion, one could enjoy swimming in the glory of the falls. During the summer, the falls are dammed for swimming, but it was undammed and empty now. A bathhouse and sign informing one of the "pool's" deep end sat in the last stages of their quiet hibernation, ready to be woken up on Memorial Day. The idea of swimming near a big waterfall seemed cool. The stone walls that constituted the wall of the pool sat like ruins of a castle that had been restored for a historical museum, waiting to be filled up.
Without any pool to distract it, lay the falls themselves. You could sit for hours, feeling the spray just coming off the falls. We saw someone jogging past us towards the parking lot, the first person we'd seen since the dog walkers in the beginning of the trip. Another solo person walked in the distance. Nearby, there were two signs. One sign warned us to stay on trails, while the other announced "Cow Sheds". This sign was not far from a cavern in the stone wall adjacent to the falls. It looked like a good place for people to hide from the elements. I couldn't be sure, because the signs weren't placed exactly, but I assumed that this cavern was probably the Cow Sheds themselves.
Another sign announced "No One Beyond This Wall" as we approached the main waterfall. The sign did nothing to detract from the actual waterfall, which did fine Beyond This Wall no matter what threatened to dam it on the other end. Foam jumped on the rocks below where the water crashed upon it, creating a mini rapids that had been jammed into the middle of civilization. For a moment that lasted as long as you chose to remain there, you could be mesmerized by nature's power. You'd experience harmony without feeling threatened by it, without having to control it.
Once we had drunk our fill of experiencing that bounty, we continued on the trail. We passed a stone monument dedicated to someone called Dr. Charles Atwood as we approached the sign to Gorge Trail. We hoped the trail was open, and luckily it was. We climbed stone steps carved out of stone. They took us higher than the rocks by the falls. Along the way up, there were old trees that had fallen. Perhaps they were at the end of their life cycle, or perhaps they were too weak to survive another New York winter.
At what we thought was the top, there was a picnic area and cooking space. We stood on a rock and enjoyed the view. Since our trip, I have heard that this upper trail continues somewhere in this area, taking you to additional falls. Seeing that I never saw it in my travels, I presume the Pinnacle is up there as well. I didn't notice the trail continuing, not that I looked that hard. I was too busy relishing the vista.
After awhile, we came back down, tired and hungry but exhilarated. It still hadn't rained. Other than the jogger and one other hiker, we hadn't run into anyone while walking near the falls, even though we'd been there at lunchtime. But now that we were leaving, a bus full of senior citizens had showed up. We'd taken a risk on the weather, and it had worked to our benefit. A lot of photos were taken. We'd hoped for solitude and got it as well. It had been a good gamble.