Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Waterfall Ramble, Finger Lakes Region, New York--May 19-21, 2017

While reading about the famous Watkins Glen racetrack online, I came across some interesting links related to events taking place all season.  The Stone Bridge Drivers group offered several tours and I quickly signed us up for their "Waterfall Ramble," which included a visit to a craft brewer, the chance to drive the track as well as most of the original race route from the late 1940s on open roads, visit the Glen itself plus see a lot of waterfalls.  The organizers told me this was an open event for any type of special interest car so, yes, Corvettes were included.

Watkins Glen seems to be a very small town and the number of hotels very limited and not inexpensive, so I looked further afield and found what looked like a nice place in Penn Yan, about 45 minutes' drive from Watkins Glen.  We set out from home and after crossing the border in Gananoque turned east along the New York Thruway towards the Finger Lakes region.

Our first stop of the day was an artisan cheese place, the Muranda Cheese Company, in Waterloo, New York.  The Murray family has been dairy farming the property since 1991 and began cheese production on their own account in 2007 and offer 17 different varieties of cheese. We were the only people when we arrived and Tom Murray led us through an excellent cheese tasting session.  We left we a good haul, although with the punitive exchange rate this might have been the most expensive cheese we have ever purchased.  Mind you, the blue cheese may be the best one we have had so you get what you pay for sometimes.

Back on the road, our next stop was The Finger Lakes Cider House at Good Life Farms, located in Interlaken, New York, not far from Cayuga Lake.  It describes itself as "the hub of the hard cider renaissance in New York apple country."  I had read about it in the New York Times as the proprietors have tried to set themselves apart but using real cider apples rather that the dessert varieties typically used by lower-cost producers.

The Finger Lakes Cider House
Loading up the cider...
The tasting room was rustic and cheerful and we were offered a nice range of ciders, both from Good Life Farm, but also other producers in the region.  The food offerings were pretty limited, basically cheese or charcuterie platters, but it was the cider we had come for and we were certainly not disappointed.  We bought a number of bottles and particularly enjoyed a cider that had been stored in rye barrels.

Still sober, we continued onwards to Penn Yan, which required circling around Seneca Lake but still only took about an hour.  We passed numerous wineries, for which the region is noted, and came to our destination for the day.  Penn Yan is a village of around 5,000 people, incorporated in 1833.  It was a trading centre for the agricultural county and had mills for lumber, as well as buckwheat and other grains, and was situated at the end of a canal that connected Seneca Lake and Keuka Lake.  The canal, which operated from 1833 until it was abandoned in 1877, spurred economic growth in the area but was never very profitable itself.

Our hotel was a short walk from the main street and we took a look at the many fine buildings that are still standing, although the place has the air of somewhere that has seen much more prosperous days.  The town is dominated by The Birkett Mills, producer of buckwheat since 1797 and one of the largest manufacturers of buckwheat products.  In fact, the village was host to an annual Buckwheat Festival, which began in 1975 and seems to have continued into the 2000s before running out of funding.  Some big name musical acts came but the highlight was probably the making of the world's biggest pancake in 1987.  Here is what has written about it:
The Birkett Mills is responsible for building a 28 foot in diameter metal pancake griddle that was used to cook the world’s largest buckwheat pancake on September 27, 1987. Such a task requires the largest tools  and that meant mixing batter in a cement mixer, using a crane to flip the flapjack and having to place the entire thing on a bed of hot coals.
 The entire affair took place during the 12th Annual Buckwheat Harvest Festival (which doesn’t appear to happen anymore) with a parade, tours of the mill and buckwheat pancakes all for a $6 admission ticket. 15 gallons of cooking oil, 2,000 pounds of buckwheat and 2,000 gallons of water were required to feed the 5,000 people who each got an opportunity to take a bite of the record setting flapjack. After a 2 foot by 3 foot pat of butter was spread and covered in 15 gallons of maple syrup, the record breaking buckwheat pancake was divided into 7,200 pieces and sold for a $1.00 a serving.
The giant griddle is still to be seen in front of The Birkett Mills, perhaps a reminder of Penn Yan's glory days.  The choice of restaurants was not very impressive, so I settled for a submarine sandwich from the shop around the corner from the hotel.

The next morning was beautiful as we left after an early breakfast in the hotel and headed south along State Highway 14, paralleling Seneca Lake.  It only took half an hour to reach our destination so we were able to watch all the arrivals for the Stone Bridge Drivers tour come in to the Grist Iron Brewery, the headquarters for the event.  There was quite a variety of cars, from a half-dozen Corvettes to a Daimler SP250, a rather peculiar British sports car built from 1959 to 1964, featuring fins and a tiny V8.  There was a big group of Mazda Miatas from a marque club and a really nice Austin-Healey 3000.

The Grist Iron Brewing Company, established 2015

I spoke to the owner of a brand new BMW 2-series M240i, which is not the same thing as an M2, the high-performance version, in spite of the "M" nomenclature. He told me that he and his wife had picked it up at the factory in Munich and while it was not the fastest BMW he had owned it was the sportiest.  As well, the Corvette people were always happy to talk and I heard a lot about the regional Corvette club from a retired corrections officer who had worked at the (in)famous Attica prison.

Austin-Healey 3000

Daimler SP250

Daimler 2.5 litre hemi-head iron-block V8, 140 hp and 155 lb-ft of torque
We enjoyed coffee and doughnuts and listened to a briefing by the organizers.  Our program was to begin with a visit to the famous Watkins Glen International racetrack, which was opened in 1956, but we would drive there along some of the roads used in the first races in the region.  This 6.6 mile/10.6 km course was used from 1948 to 1952 and includes the stone bridge of the club's name.  The route is on the National Register of Historic Place as the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Course.

Everyone rolled out in good order and we reached the track after a short drive.  Of course, it was then "hurry up and wait" as the track was in use and we had to wait for our scheduled time.  We had been given instructions about not passing and driving at around 60 mph for our three circuits of the 3.4 mile/5.4 km course with its 11 turns.  I could see that there was a considerable elevation gain over the length of the track, which makes it quite interesting.  Formula One races were held here from 1961 until 1980.

Once on the track we had a nice cruise around the course but it was tricky as a few cars ahead of us was a VW Beetle convertible that was not going to make 60 mph on the uphill bits so the chain reaction meant everyone, including the impatient Corvette drivers, were slowed down.  No matter; at least we saw the famous track and the photograph of us at the finish line does not indicate how slow we were going!

Waiting our turn for the track, Watkins International raceway

After admiring the beautiful paint finish on this blue Miata, the owner told me that it was a repaint as the finish had been destroyed by a crow!

Crossing the finish line, Watkins Glen International raceway

Our next stop was the famous Watkins Glen State Park, which was opened in 1906 to the public.  It is 778 acres and features a beautiful 400 foot deep gorge and 19 waterfalls.  There are trails throughout (and 800 steps!) and it is a lovely souvenir of geology created by the glaciers of the ice age that deepened Seneca Lake.  As part of our event fee we were treated to a simple box lunch which we enjoyed at the picnic grounds with the other motorists.

The remainder of the day was dedicated to visiting waterfalls--of which the region has an abundance!--and following the route given to us by the organizers.  This was very entertaining and involved some getting lost, even with a working GPS, but it was a beautiful day and it did not matter.  It did not take long to realize that it would be impossible to visit all the waterfalls suggested in one day and after getting as far east as Ithaca, which has very steep roads that make driving a manual transmission car a bit of a challenge.

She-Qua-Ga Falls Park, Montour Falls, New York

Montour Falls Public Library

Havana Glen Park

Havana Glen Park

Hector Falls

Aunt Sarah's Falls

Taughannock Falls, the highest single-drop waterfall east of the Rockies.  At 66 m (215 ft) it is higher than Niagara Falls, which is 51 m (167 ft) but has a much smaller volume of water.

Rocky Falls on Falls Creek, Ithaca
After our tour of the waterfalls, we headed back to the Grist Iron Brewing Company, where we received a giant can of beer to mark out participation.  There was a car show by participants but we did not enter it but instead decided to get something to eat.  Unfortunately, the brewery was packed and after a while we realized that getting service would be impossible so instead we got back into the car and drove to Syracuse, where we had dinner and stayed in our pre-booked hotel near the airport.  It was an easy drive home the next day and we will be sure to return to the Finger Lakes for more driving (although I think I hit the front spoiler of the Corvette more times in this weekend than I have in the two seasons of owning it!) and to enjoy the gourmet food, wine, beer and cider offerings!

No comments:

Post a Comment