April 22, 2010

7 Wonders of Ithaca

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Ithaca is GORGES — and so much more. In honor of Earth Day, we’ve decided to spotlight the treasures of the Ithacan landscape by compiling a list of the area’s most amazing natural features. Many of the locales are both beautiful and easily accessible — in fact, some are so accessible that you probably rush by them every day on your way to class without pausing to appreciate their incredible beauty. Without further ago, Daze presents: the seven natural wonders of Ithaca, N.Y.

View from East Hill

Everyone who makes the exhausting trek up the slope in the morning and doesn’t turn around to admire the view baffles me. Note: I do not consider the slope to be a “wonder.” But, from the top, the view is a scenic panorama of Ithaca complete with blue hills in the background and Cayuga Lake to the north, all beneath brilliant sunsets in an “orgasm of color[s]” (according to a website explaining how to describe sunsets to the blind — appropriately named explainingcolorstotheblind.com). Several of my friends even walk up the slope backwards just to take in the view (although how they avoid falling on their faces in the process astonishes me).

During all four seasons, at any time of the day, this is probably the most accessible natural wonder on the list. All you have to do is stand at the top of the slope and voila! It’s absolutely stunning. And don’t lie, part of the reason you came to Cornell was because it’s beautiful here. So indulge yourself.  Hang out on the porch behind Cascadeli, study in the Uris cocktail lounge, laze around at the top of the slope and — for an enhanced view — climb the 161 steps of McGraw Tower during a chimes concert.

The Falls

The picture-perfect scenery that has become one of the most ubiquitous local postcard images in all of Ithaca comes with its own natural soundtrack, which can often be heard right from your dorm if you’re lucky. The Falls are a must-see for everyone who passes through Cornell. In fact, Ithaca Falls is so close that there’s practically no excuse for missing out (unless they decided to close off  one of the trails for safety reasons … ). Located northwest of campus in the Fall Creek Gorge, the water cascades down layers of rock with such intensity that you would think there would be a giant fan propelling the water.

For those with cars or friends who have cars, Buttermilk Falls is just off Route 13. Buttermilk’s name derives from the fact that the 165-foot cascade churns so vigorously that by the time water reaches the bottom, it actually looks like buttermilk. Crystal-clear pools are excellent for swimming and there are trails for hiking and climbing. Also nearby is Taughannock Falls which, with its  215-foot drop, is even taller than than Niagara Falls. It’s true — we have a one-up on one of the actual natural wonders of the world. Ithaca:1, seven wonders: 0.

Cayuga Lake

If Cornell were not far above Cayuga’s waters, the first lyric of alma mater would be something else (about the flat plane of the Arts Quad, perhaps). At 40 miles in length, Cayuga Lake is the longest of the five Finger Lakes, as well as the second largest. In addition to being a major tourist attraction, the lake serves as a great source of entertainment for many of the area’s residents, including yacht clubs and modest fishermen alike. There is even an annual triathlon along the lake’s shores.

For Cornell students, the best way to enjoy the lake is to utilize the public beaches accessible through the surrounding parks.

Secret Gardens

You didn’t know that you went to school in an novel, did you? A little bit of wandering off the main campus throughways will provide proof that you actually do. Anyone who frequents the Big Red Barn has probably noticed the garden behind the A.D. White House, which is maintained by Cornell Plantations. While some use it as a less crowded alternative to Tower Road when travelling between the Ag Quad and the Arts Quad, further exploration reveals some excellent places to eat lunch when the weather is nice. Oftentimes, there are picnicking couples and artists painting the scenery. Daffodils and purple lupines adorn bird baths and a stone bench dedicated to the “Class of 1928 Women.”

For anyone interested in unlocking more secret treasures, Wee Stinky Glen would probably be the next locale to explore. Although its name sounds like an insult made up by a 4-year-old, this creek compensates for its unusual name by being   quaint and private. Located right on central campus, it is a mini-gorge that runs between Day Hall and Sage Hall. According to Uncle Ezra, the name was coined in the early twentieth century when it “emitted a foul odor.” Luckily, the creek no longer reeks and the area around it is absolutely beautiful — yet still conveniently in the middle of campus!

If you’re looking for one more secret spot on campus (or if the others are crowded by couples looking for some alone time) check out the rock garden between Willard Straight and Gannet for a quick retreat from Ho Plaza — or for a secluded smooch spot in the nice weather.

Cornell Plantations

Cornell Plantations includes over 3,000 acres of land of “great natural beauty.” Right in your backyard — literally, if you live on campus — there is an entire arboretum, a botanical garden and over 40 different natural areas.  If that’s not enough for you, up the ante by bringing a blanket and hot chocolate to camp out at the Plantations  during a meteor shower. Otherwise, a regular midnight picnic ought to suffice (and it will also help you cross off number 57 on the 161 list).

Some of the highlights that you might want to check out are the Mundy wildflower garden, the azalea garden and herb garden. Why not plan a day to hike, pick some mushrooms or just go exploring?  Make sure to bring a compass (or the equivalent iPhone app) so you don’t get lost!

Beebe Lake

Named after James S. Beebe, an early industrialist who milled flour and plaster, Beebe Lake is actually man-made. But don’t call foul on it just yet!  In 1838, Ezra Cornell dammed Fall Creek to provide power for a downstream mill. Nevertheless, Beebe is such a key part of the landscape, that it deserves a spot on this list. Once upon a time, it was a recreational paradise great for swimming or tanning in the summer and ice skating or tobogganing in the winter.

In fact, according to Uncle Ezra, the Cornell hockey team practiced and played games on Beebe Lake before Lynah Rink was built. However, Beebe was shut down for swimmers in the early 1960’s because of potential hazards including water quality issues. Canoeing, kayaking and fishing are still permitted, and Beebe beach — the hill below Helen Newman — is a great tanning spot. While you’re exploring the wonders, why not fulfill number 131 on the Big Red Ambition list: Walk holding hands around Beebe lake?  After all, according to traditional campus lore all couples that walk around the entire mile-long path are destined for marriage.

The Ornithology Lab and Sapsucker Woods

Founded in 1915, the Ornithology Lab is located on Sapsucker Woods Road, northeast of campus near the airport. Dedicated to studying and archiving, the lab’s 300 scientists are aided by 200,000 amateur ornithologists and millions of recreational birdwatchers.

The lab records bird sounds in order to preserve an audio record endangered species of birds. Some of the sounds, however, are used to make children’s toys, such as stuffed animals that make noise when squeezed. For funzies, look up what lab scientists did to save the peregrine falcons.

Whether you enjoy birdwatching, have your head in the clouds or even if you’re down-to-earth, the forests, ponds and ferny swamps of Sapsucker are excellent places to explore. So, get some bubble tea and head on over for a fantastic day of “oohing” and “aahing” at the different types of birds in the lab and forrest. Extra points for those who can identify birds without the help of any type of guide.  RLD

Original Author: Laura Shepard