Taughannock Falls: A Photo Essay

Taughannock Falls

Taughannock is an old Indian word thought to mean “Great Falls in the Woods.” Taughannock Stream drops 215 feet from the upper gorge to its plunge pool before rippling out to Cayuga Lake, in Central New York.

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Taughannock Falls, Gorge, and Stream all play important parts in the Historical Fantasy book BARBARA REILLY.

The adventure begins on Taughannock Point during a class picnic in June 1948. After lunch Barbara and her seventh-grade classmates walk to the Falls. Along the way Barbara imagines the Indians who used to live there.

Taughannock Point

“Doesn’t this just feel like an Indian place?” said Barbara when they’d entered the canyon, into woods fragrant with pine and alive with birds chirping.

“I suppose,” said Janice, gazing up the slope to the left, and then to the right where the bright stream rushed. “Except for that guy down there with the paint easel.”

Taughannock Painter“Can’t you imagine us walking along and an Indian stepping out of those bushes right there?”

“One Indian against two homerooms?”

“Not against.” Barbara’s nose crinkled. “She’d be friendly.

Taughannock Gorge Trail

Indeed there once was an Indian village on Taughannock Point. The Cayuga Indians who lived there were part of the Iroquois Confederacy. The book is about them, too. One of their villages was on Barbara’s family’s farm. Another  was located near the mouth of the gorge, where the stream flows out to the lake.

Taughannock Stream

The lake is many miles long and hundreds of feet deep. Cayuga is one of eleven lakes in the region of Central New York known as the Finger Lakes. It is a very beautiful area formed by glaciers not so long ago, and marked by many waterfalls.

Cayuga LakeThe tallest is Taughannock Falls, pronounced by the locals, “T’gannick”

Taughannock Stream2

At the first bend in the gorge the level path broke clear of the trees, revealing the extent of nature’s work there. Walls of crumbly, sun-bleached rock vaulted up on both sides, capped by blockier stone bluffs, split-faced and creviced, and crowned with a mantle of evergreens that seemed to scrape the sky.

Faces tilted up and gawked.

Someone murmured, “I wonder if anyone’s ever fallen from there.”

Taughannock Gorge 2Another piped, “Maybe we’ll see an eagle.”

“I’m pretty sure eagles do live here,” said Barbara, gazing upward and around, until her eyes met the noon sun shafting between the cliffs, and squeezed shut.

Mrs. Wakefield dropped back to conduct one last teaching, a walking geology lesson. “Ten thousand years ago,” she began, “after Cayuga Lake was scooped out by glaciers, this stream, filled with melting ice, flowed all the way up there, on top. Who can tell me, by what force of nature the stone was worn away to create this gorge? Sally?”

“Erosion, Mrs. Wakefield.”

Taughannock Gorge“Very good.”

Ahead the canyon walls stretched even higher.

Taughannock Stream 3

Around the next curve the main waterfall inched into view. There Taughannock Stream, the whole small river of it, fell from a second, higher canyon, into the bowl-shaped amphitheater at the end of the main gorge. Two hundred feet down it crashed into the plunge pool, drenching the walls with spray, before forcing its way out through the jumbled boulders and gushing under the plank bridge that led to the observation point, where it slicked the ground and filled the air with fine rain. Each step nearer increased its roar until it howled like a hurricane.

Taughannock Falls

Barbara crossed over. But instead of proceeding left to the lookout, she turned downstream and descended to the water’s edge. She stood on a stone shelf that slanted into the water, and from there she studied the top of the falls, where the stream hinged over the precipice. Her eyes followed the curtain of water dropping, then flowing out toward her. She searched the water in the dark under the bridge, and into the sun, to the shoreline lapping her feet. Then her gaze returned to the top of the falls. ~ From BARBARA REILLY

The pictures in this article were taken by the author in July 2000, Except for clothing styles and details in the landscape, it could be 1948.

In BARBARA REILLY a thirteen-year-old discovers more than she ever thought she would know about the Iroquois. She is tested to the ends of her abilities. The book is an exciting adventure for ages twelve and up. Older folks love it, too, for its affectionate look back at a time when American values and the rural lifestyle were never more vibrant and strong.

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This is the fifth in a series of articles exploring The World of BARBARA REILLY.

Photos and text Copyright 2013 Carl Grimsman, All rights reserved.