Letchworth park is known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” which almost makes it sound like a roadside attraction. Something that should be placed besides the “World’s Largest Kaleidoscope” or “World’s smallest church,” and touted as a knock of version of something better. Of course, I can’t speak to how Letchworth Park compares to the Grand Canyon, since I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon. I can say, however, that, if I ever want to feel small against the scale of nature, Letchworth can make me feel that. The main outlook in the park is at the top of the canyon wall and looks across to the other ridge, where trees grow on slopes and scree gathers near the river.
Now, I have to confess two things. The first is that this picture is nearly four years old, taken from when my first visit to the park. The second is that the day I was meant to go to the park to do my nature writing, I wasn’t feeling well enough to go, which means this post will be a collage of sorts, taking threads of different memories and times together into one experience.
There are three geologic processes that can generally be found in Western New York: glacial erosion/ deposition, rivers, and small amounts of uplift. Letchworth is the perfect combination of all three. The valley was shaped by both the Genesee River and glaciers going through it, and the canyon was formed by those things in conjunction with regional uplift. These processes are also what formed Letchworth’s greatest attracts: the waterfalls.
The Lower Falls, I see on a geology field trip. They’re not falling parallel to the river, which is weird. You except waterfalls to face you, but this one sits at a solid 45 degrees. I’m told is due to the trending directions of the faults in the area. The faults, of course, are a better and easier way for water to travel. Of course, yes. Of course. The type of language every geologist has at the top of their head.
The middle falls are the hardest to find, as they are tucked away behind bushes. When my friend Laura and I found it last August, we found the best gap in the branches by listening to the water crash, calling us closer to it.
And lastly, the crowning jewel of Letchworth is the Upper Falls.
As I stand near these falls, recording the water tumbles, a mist rises to meet my camera lens and I. The air smells like water, which is to say is smells clean and sweet and slightly like shale. I can image the times I’ve walked these paths, how times have changed between visit.
My freshman year, I was part of a group of thirteen students, who were all close and did everything together. In November, we decide to visit the park to see the falls. There are a lot of group pictures, detailing the ways our lives ran into each other. Two years later, the path hold only two— a friend and me. My friend, Laura, is from England. They don’t get waterfalls where she lives, because the geologic conditions aren’t quite right for it.
When she sees this waterfall she freaks out, gushing about the way water rushes to the cliff edge and breaks along the steps of rock.
What I like about Letchworth is how it’s a place of connection, between freshman friends trying to find their people, internet friends spending their first day in person together, and, even, couples whose wedding reception tent dots the green lawn above the waterfall.