Thursday, June 11, 2015

25 hours in the Finger Lakes

(Homegrown Adventures Series: #1)

Ok, Finger Lake to be exact. 

It seemed simple enough. My sister sent me the link to '29 Surreal places you have to visit in the United States before you die.' Challenge accepted. She had one in particular in mind though. 

Watkins Glen State Park in the Finger Lakes region of New York...a mere three and a half hour drive. 

"Consider it done" I told her, and booked the cheapest hotel room I could find right in "downtown" Watkins Glen. The photos of the Glen looked magical, we were booked for an adventure, and I was psyched. 

Did I forget to mention that the Finger Lakes region is also widely known for their wine? Cherry on top.

We began our expedition early on a Saturday morn, in late April. It was unseasonably warm, and we couldn't believe our luck. I had visions of hopping a unicorn and prancing through Rainbow Falls in the Glen, just as soon as we arrived. 

We had about 25 hours to experience the Finger Lakes, specifically Seneca Lake. Three things were definitely going to happen:

-hiking in the glorious Gorge of Watkins Glen
-eating wieners 
-sampling many, many wines 

We rolled onto the main drag and went straight for the Gorge trail. It was at the entrance to the parking lot that we encountered an issue. The issue at hand was that of yellow caution tape. Peculiar. We popped in the information building to inquire about the trail. 

"Oh yeah, the main trail is closed for another few weeks, because there's still ice melting in there, but you can still access the outer trails." 

Translation: "The really good trail that is the only one worth going on is closed because giant shards of ice could spear you, but feel free to poke around the boring trail for a few."

Fantastic. Welp, we didn't drive all this way to be thwarted by caution tape and ice shards, so let's see about some Falls. 

We parked in a lot and made our way to the bridge that crosses over the gorge. Man was that a long way down!

As we took the trail that skirted the edge of the high top of the gorge, all I could think was that I wish I could be down in there. 

Then we reached Rainbow Falls and it was void of unicorns. Sigh. It was impressive but would be far more so if I could be face to face with it, perhaps even take a peek behind the Falls and splash around a bit.

Oh well. It was definitely a disappointment. We wouldn't be romping in any waterfalls today. Onto the next order of business!

We were famished. I, of course, found the most random place I could for us to hunt down in pursuit of a late lunch. It was focused around hotdogs, naturally. We drove about 10 miles up the west side of Seneca Lake to Dundee, and found ourselves in what promised to be hotdog heaven. 

The sign said "Delicious is here" and by golly, every ounce of me believed it. 

Unassuming from the outside, this place did not disappoint upon entering. T-shirts with clever, and charmingly inappropriate sayings graced the walls. I felt happy here. 

We were greeted by Steven, our gracious wienery host, who led us over to the "menu," aka board of choices on the wall. He introduced us to the wiener selection. It was nothing short of impressive. 

Decisions, decisions...
I settled on "the kraut" and added a dipping sauce of chipotle mayo to spice things up a little, and also because, well...dipping sauces. Our lot ordered two sets of fresh made fries & chips to share as well; the 'lake salt' and the 'maitre'. I was most excited for the maitre fries because they sounded legit French, and super fancy.

Whilst waiting for our wieners, I perused hotdog heaven and fell in love with Every. Single. Nook. And. Crannie. I wanted to curl up here with unlimited hotdogs and roasted marshmallows galore, because any place that offers a roasted marshmallow on their menu for 95 cents is my kind of spot.

proof of said roasted marshmallow
Oh, and let's take a moment to appreciate this:

Ohh yes, well done FLX Wienery. You peaked my curiosity and I must immediately know all the secrets that this wine fridge bestows. It took much willpower not to throw open the tiny fridge door to unhinge the enigma within.

Steven popped over to check on our progress as my interest was piqued (yet again) by two shelves packed with old wine bottles. He informed me that they were all very vintage and that just made this place even cooler.

Just then, I was beckoned. Literally. 

"Lauren, your lunch is ready!" came from behind the magic meat counter.

It was just like Mom calling me into the kitchen, except not, on account that it was a giant man with a deep voice, surrounded by meat. He seemed delighted to give me my lunch and I couldn't help but grin.

I could barely contain my excitement. I took my lunch tray circa elementary school and joined my sisters at the table where they were already marveling at the scene before us. 


Like legit, terra cotta planting flower pots.

I was going to have to dig through the mountain of fried onions to find my Kraut wiener, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

No one spoke for a little while. Stuffed to the brim, we took a peek at the milkshakes menu, of course. Their special shake, the nutella peanut butter one spoke to us loudly, and the four of us vowed to "share" it. BIG MISTAKE.

IT WAS THE BEST MILKSHAKE I HAVE EVER HAD. Not too much on the peanutty side, just the right amount of smoothness combined with an overload of deliciousness. If you have only one reason to go here, go for the milkshakes.

The fun doesn't stop inside; their outdoor area boasts picnic tables, cornhole boards, and a big sign that says "Eat Here." And we did...oh boy we did.

Thanks to Steven and his army of wiener makers I rolled myself out of that piece and can't wait to go back!

It was time to check into our humble abode for the evening back in the bustling city of Watkins Glen. After pulling ourselves together it would be time to hit up some wineries!

Upon pulling into the parking lot, which was much like a tetris game, I took note of a few things:

-We were staying in a "motel" a term I'll use loosely from here on out.
-The main building along with the annex of rooms behind it may or may not be haunted.
-There was a lot of cat sex going on somewhere in the vicinity.
-We were being watched.

The curtain in one of the first rooms of the annex moved. I was sure of it. Then immediately an Asian woman popped just her head out the door. Ah ha, twas her who was watching us! Little did we know, she'd be spying our every move for the next 16 hours or so. 

We threw our stuff into the tiny room, slapped some new threads on, and busted out of that joint before we saw a ghost or happened upon some inappropriate cat behaviors. 

We were all super ready to taste every wine that the Finger Lakes had to offer. Or at least Seneca Lake.

We drove up the East side of the lake this time, and pulled into our first stop, Hazlitt Winery. It was a happenin' place to be. We squeezed in to do one of the last tastings at the bar, in their very cool tasting room. I felt like I was in a rustic lodge that JUST KNEW I'd want popcorn at some point. 

Wine of the Month is like liquid sunshine...

The tastings were good, refreshing, and the company the bartender provided was fun and entertaining. We were warmed up, and ready to continue on the wine trail!

The next stop was Penguin Bay Winery, because, well...penguins. 
We were the last group to do a tasting in there before they closed, since it was the late hour of quarter to 6. But, they were friendly and informative! OH, and penguins! 

Our last winery was just down the road, and open later than the rest. We rolled into Hector Wine Company just in time, to keep on trend, obviously. 

We bought a bottle and went outside to the picnic tables. They were fully occupied, so we stood around and started chatting with one of the guys in the group. He was a local, and turned out to be a real trove of information. We regaled him with our tale of gorge-less hikes and undiscovered waterfalls. 

He then informed us of a set of Falls nearby that is more or less a "locals" spot. I was in. He provided us with directions that I was sure we would forget by the next morning on account of all the wine, but I was pumped. 

We had one more stop before heading back to the Glen. It was a brewery by the name of Two Goats and I HAD TO GO. 

But first, the wine thought it was a grand idea to stop at what looked like one of the most haunted houses/old car graveyard I have ever seen...

We pulled over and carefully walked through the brush to this dilapidated house that looked like it might go down if I coughed. I'm not a big fan of ghosts, so I was hoping we wouldn't run into any while on their property. The vintage cars were so cool though.

The sun was about to set and I knew the Two Goats had a perfect place for us to watch! So we bid adieu to the haunted house and cars, and made our way to the Brewery.

The entry deck of the Two Goats Brewery didn't disappoint!

The view from the back deck was spectacular:

The inside of Two Goats was exactly my kind of bar. Rustic, eclectic, riddled with dollar bills, and containing dart boards. And I couldn't stop looking up.

Yes, those are dollar bills up there
We were getting hungry. Surprisingly, the wiener effect was wearing off. 

Since the only thing (I'm serious) on the menu at Two Goats was roast beef sandwiches, we ambled out to make our way back to the city of the Glen and forage for some food. We found it at the Crooked Rooster Brew Pub. We were wiped, so after dinner we packed ourselves into the creepy hotel room with multiple sound machines going to drown out the cats screeching nearby. An adventure was planned for the morning!

We waved to the Asian lady peering at us from her "office" motel room as we went to breakfast, and found her watching us yet again when we came to pack up our stuff before heading out in search of the Falls. Creeper level: high--red alert.

Heading back up the East side of Seneca Lake, we were in search of Sawmill Falls. More specifically, the non descript parking area that was explained to us the day before. We rode around down towards the river, took a few wrong turns including one onto someone's property but eventually settled on the gravel area with the no trespassing tape/signs as the spot to be. 

I heard running water. Surely that was a good sign that we were going in the right direction. There was a large stream so we skirted the perimeter, and followed it along. It started to get a little hairy meaning there was not as much land to hike on, so I volunteered to go ahead and see if we were actually heading towards any sort of Falls. 

I rounded the corner, hopped a few rocks, and then I saw it. Saw Mill Falls was in front of me in all it's glory. 

"I found it!" I yelled back.  Minutes later, we were all staring at the beauty of the Falls and enjoying the fact that we were the only ones back there!

Of course it wasn't enough for me to just view them, so I climb up the first tiers of Falls to the main level and ended up knee deep in freezing cold water. But it was worth it. Sorry TLC...but we chased waterfalls.

Then we drove 4 hours. Me, with wet pants.

**Information for stops made in 25 hours in the Finger Lake(s):

--the wineries we visited were chosen mostly for proximity to each other, given the time crunch!

-Watkins Glen State Park: The park is open year round, however...The Gorge Trail opens for the season usually mid May. Check with the park before traveling, unlike we did! 

-FLX Wienery:

-Hazlitt Winery:

-Penguin Bay Winery:

-Hector Wine Company:

-Two Goats Brewing:

-Crooked Rooster Brew Pub:

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