Gorge-ous Ithaca: Lucifer Descending

It was a soft summer morning in the Finger Lakes, tranquil and warm. On such a day, the warning seemed out of place. Paying it no heed, our little band of adventurers descended into the dark bowels of the Earth  – to meet the Devil himself.

The setting: Robert H. Treman State Park in Ithaca, New York.

The players: Ron, Carol and me.

The plan: Walk down the Gorge Trail, give the Devil his due, and return by the Rim Trail.

Enfield Creek babbled happily in its bed as we walked alongside. Birds were singing; a light breeze tickled the leaves. People were few and far between. We felt lucky that we didn’t have to share the trail much, and most of the time were alone. Perhaps that was foolish…

It wasn’t long before the soft trail surface turned to stone and the hillsides around us grew steeper and rocky. Then the trail made a sharp right along the side of a cliff. “This is where everybody says ‘Wow!’” Ron said.

No turning back now. We rounded the corner and looked downstream…

“WOW!” is just what we said.

In front of us lay a steep narrow gorge, walled in by tall rock cliffs. Dim light filtered down on the weird, pockmarked surface of the creek and trail. Surely something perilous awaited those who dared venture here.

Undeterred, Carol strode bravely into the dark heart of Enfield Glen.

Most of the rock along the trail was shale, with some slate and sandstone mixed in. Unlike the angled rock layers I’m accustomed to, here the layers are nearly horizontal, and erode at sharp angles.

What fascinated me most was the rectilinear form the creek channel had carved in the bed between little cascades. Like a mill sluice, but it wasn’t man-made.

The light at the end of the tunnel. We’re saved! In the distance a bridge spanned the creek, with glorious sun pouring into the darkened glen.

We had to get there first, which meant navigating a narrow and slippery path. I continued to marvel at the intricacies of the stream bed. Below this particular cascade was one of many “potholes” in the stream bed. Potholes form where small pebbles and sediment are trapped in a whirlpool of turbulent water. As the water churns, spinning pebbles eat away at the rock. Deep holes form, sometimes breaking through entirely on one side.

We came to the end of the narrow canyon, and crossed the bridge to the other side. I paused on the bridge for a last look back.

The trails, walls, steps and bridges here at Treman, like other Finger Lakes state parks, were constructed in the 1930s by the CCC.

They’re part of the landscape and only enhance the natural beauty of the gorges.




Out of the gloom and into the light. Sunshine sparkling on emerald water banished any thought of our impending date with the Prince of Darkness.

The trail ahead clung to the side of tall cliffs. It’s the handiwork not of the Devil, but the hardworking angels of the CCC.

With every step, a roar grew louder, muffled and deep.

The groomed stone path transformed into walled staircases, twisting and turning, and always dropping down, down, and further down into the gorge. Unexpected terraces appeared, placed just so for a view of Enfield Creek’s tortuous path.

We passed cascades large and small, their music blended into sweet harmony. All seemed right with the world in this peaceful glen.

But still we heard the roar of something bigger. Much bigger, and much more ominous.

Then, the bottom dropped out…

Up next: A date with the Devil!

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