Gorge-ous Ithaca: Lucifer Ascendant

Recap: Our intrepid band of explorers – Ron, Carol and I – had traversed a slippery, tortuous trail through the dark heart of Enfield Glen. We had passed a couple of large cascades, but were hearing something bigger. Much bigger, and much more ominous.

Then, the bottom dropped out, and we found ourselves staring into the abyss…

The waters of Enfield Creek seemed to plummet into nothingness. Had we reached the end of the world?

Nope, just more rocky cliffs, and still more steps down. But we knew that we neared a fateful reckoning.

Descending yet again on a long, curved staircase, we arrived at a wide, walled plaza.

From the anteroom of the devil we looked back from whence we came. Shale cliffs rose all around us. And in the center, standing tall – Lucifer himself.

Well, Lucifer Falls, that is. This was what we’d come to see. Yes, our date with the “Devil” was not with some Prince of Darkness, but a heavenly waterfall.

Lucifer Falls is a 115’ drop. It’s impressive even in a dry July.

The entire height of the waterfall isn’t visible in this photo; from this side of the creek, it’s almost impossible to get all of the waterfall in one frame.








So I focused on smaller sections. Plagued all along by the high contrast between bright sun and deep shadow, now I was trying to handhold the camera at a slow exposure, and praying I could make it right in Photoshop. The devil’s in the details.

This is the closest I came to getting the whole waterfall in one shot – and it’s a cell phone picture. At top right is the start of the plunge. That’s where we were when I took the “into the abyss” photo at the beginning of this post. At bottom left, the plunge pool at the bottom.

How did something this divine come to be named after Lucifer? I didn’t find a definitive answer. Some suggest it is a reference to the original Iroquois name. Others say it’s only natural that craggy nooks like this get “fire and brimstone” names. Certainly I’ve met a few of them: Devil’s Path & Devil’s Tombstone (Catskills), Devil’s Pool (Wissahickon Valley), Devil’s Den (Gettysburg), Lucifer Falls.

The path continued downslope for a bit beyond the falls. A bridge crossed the creek, tamed now into a gentle woodsy stream.

Now we paid for that easy downhill walk… A short way through the woods away from the creek, and the Rim Trail ascent begins. Up, up, up many stone steps that cut back and forth through numerous switchbacks.

Carol and Ron, just getting started. The Devil gets his due.

Fortunately, there was a nice stone bench partway up for us to rest. It was here that I said – wait, let me go back in our tale a little bit.

There were ferns everywhere in Enfield Glen. I counted 8 species on our walk, plus a fern that I saw frequently that stumped me. It looked like lady fern, but had round sori. It looked like a wood fern, but didn’t have a groove. Hay-scented? Without a hand lens and field guide, I never did figure it out. In the company of others, there wasn’t time to really interrogate ferns.

Someday I’ll bring Don and Robb here, and the half-hour walk to Lucifer Falls will take three hours. Because we’ll stop every few feet to argue about ferns.

Maidenhair fern lurked in the woodsier places, along with Evergreen and Marginal Wood ferns, Christmas fern and Sensitive fern.

Maidenhair spleenwort as well as Cystopteris tenuis hung out on the rocks.

Back to the stone bench where we were resting. As I was admiring the Maidenhair Spleenwort, I said to Ron, “It’s funny I haven’t seen Common Polypody, with all this rock.”

Whereupon I shifted my gaze…

“Wait! Here it is!” Almost as if it had heard me.

Common Polypody!





The staircase kept winding upward.













Near the top a side trail offered a spectacular tree top view down the Gorge.

It also led to a secluded little grotto with a plaque honoring the Tremans who preserved Enfield Gorge.

Shortly after that the stairs ended. The trail was wider, and though it continued to climb, it did so less steeply.

We got a fabulous view of Lucifer Falls from above.









And admired the work of the CCC: the trail, steps and terraces. Teeny tiny people for scale.

A little beyond that, I almost stepped on a red eft. Right in the middle of the trail. Ron wanted to move him to safety, but I made him wait while I got photos.

Not much later Ron found a garter snake.

He was climbing the same short set of steps we were climbing.

Yup, there were more steps.

Now you see him…








Zip! Now you don’t.

And as fast as that snake, we were back at the entrance.

It wasn’t much more than a one-mile walk, 200’ down and back up. Descending the trail felt like walking into an otherworldly abyss, and climbing back up was a task set by the Devil. But cliffs, cascades and waterfalls, ferns, salamanders and snakes? I thought it was Heaven.