Thursday we left Niagara Falls and headed to our last stop in New York State. Along the way we passed around Buffalo. This city gets its electricity from Niagara Falls and was the first city in the country to have electric street lights. The traffic around Buffalo was pretty heavy even though it was past the morning rush hour.
We arrived at Letchworth State Park near Castile. This park was not originally on our planned itinerary. We had actually booked a different state park. But when we were in Seneca Falls I happened to read that Letchworth State Park was voted the most beautiful STATE park (not national park) in the United States in a 2015 USA Today Reader’s Poll. So of course we had to change our plans and visit this park.
Also known as the Grand Canyon of the East, Letchworth State Park is 14,350 acres of magnificent beauty along the Genesee River. Tens of millions of years of erosion wore away rock forming river valleys. Glaciers buried areas of the valleys under masses of sand and gravel. Three deep winding canyons are from the Genesee River detouring around the blocked sections of riverbeds. Each year the river cuts deeper into the cliffs, with some cliffs 600 feet in height.
To call it the Grand Canyon of the East is definitely a stretch, but there is no denying the beauty of the seventeen mile Genesee Gorge, the thick forests and the three large waterfalls.
The state park once belonged to the Seneca Indians. In the mid 1800’s William Letchworth purchased 1,000 acres of land and deeded it to the State of New York in 1907 to preserve the land for future generations. Letchworth felt strongly about preserving the Native American history of the Seneca people and Genesee Valley. On the park property is a restored Seneca Indian Council House, the statue and grave of Mary Jemison, and the cabin Mary lived in.
Mary was born in 1743 on the ship “William and Mary” while her parents were en route to America from Northern Ireland. They landed in Philadelphia and Mary and her parents were part of a group of Scots-Irish immigrants who headed west to settle on the frontier. They settled on territory that was under the Iroquois Confederacy. One morning in 1755 at the beginning of the French and Indian War, six Shawnee Indians and four Frenchmen kidnapped fifteen year old Mary and her family. Mary’s family was killed and she was sold to the Seneca Indian tribe. A Seneca family adopted her and she grew up there. She fully assimilated into the Seneca culture, married and moved to Seneca land in what is now Letchworth State Park. She chose to remain with the Senecas her entire life. The Seneca Indians honored Letchworth with the Native American name “Hai-wa-ye-is-tah” meaning “he who does the right thing”.
There are three major falls in Letchworth State Park, the Upper, Middle and Lower Falls. There are short hikes to each fall. Western New York is under an extreme drought so the falls were not as magnificent as they could have been. I would love to see them under normal conditions. In some of the pictures in this blog you can see how low the water level is in the Genesee River.
The Upper Falls is 70 feet high and a horseshoe shape.
The Middle Falls is the largest of the three falls at 107 feet high and 285 feet wide.
The Lower Falls had two ways to view the falls. There is an easy way and then a hike that involved 127 steps down and of course 127 back up. And of course we chose the hard way!
As we were trudged back up the 127 steps a lady in front of us suddenly stopped and called out to Bill for help. There was a big black snake stretched across the steps. Those who know me know I am terrified of snakes. Terrified. I hung back while Bill went up and waited for the snake to move. Mr. Snake took his good old time moving but eventually started slithering up the natural wall. Bill told me to go ahead and just not look to the left. I went up those last 50 steps so fast I don’t even remember climbing them! Bill managed to snap a couple pictures of him before he slithered under some tree roots at the top of the wall.
There is a nice footbridge down at the bottom that takes you from one side of the gorge to the other.
We stopped by a statue of a CCC worker. We owe so many thanks to these young men who worked so hard in state and national parks all over the country so we have such wonderful parks to enjoy today. The stonework steps and walls they labored to put in is amazing, not to mention trails and buildings and picnic tables. The list goes on and on.
We also met a new friend!
After dinner we drove back to the Middle Falls which is illuminated at night. There was a huge full moon over the falls. What a beautiful, peaceful setting.
We have certainly enjoyed our time in upstate New York. Even with a drought the waterfalls have been magnificent.
The Adirondacks were beautiful and we loved the history we stumbled across in Seneca Falls. On the downside, it is an expensive state to visit. Even the state park campgrounds are pricey, the gas higher, and we paid about $75 in road and bridge tolls. But we would like to return again, perhaps later in the fall when the leaves have turned. But not too much later in the year as the temperature got down to the mid 40s one night at Letchworth!
Next stop: Pennsylvania as we head south
Because there’s a lot of life to live!