Route 20 Reprise

(This column was first published in the February 23, 1998 Buffalo News.)

    Several years ago I wrote about a summer drive across the state from Albany to Depew along Route 20. In early February I drove that highway again, this time west to east and, of course, this time in mid-winter. Here are some of my thoughts along the way:

    The early part of the trip is through familiar country and I grow nostalgic. Years ago I refereed basketball in Pavilion where the unusual parquetted gym flooring caused unexpected bounces, giving the home team a major advantage. While I was in junior high, I rode my bike down Route 15 to Conesus Lake. Now at the 20-15 intersection the familiar statue that identified the White Horse Inn embellishes a gas station. Gone too is an old favorite: Canandaguia's Roseland Amusement Park. I pass turnoffs to locales where I worked during school vacations: Keuka Lake and the Bristol Hills.

    Several old cobblestone houses grace the countryside, their walls neatly aligned with polished stones. Unfortunately the buildings are invariably too small to serve modern families and their built-on annexes never match the character of the original construction.

    It is town after town through the Finger Lakes region: Geneva, Waterloo, Seneca Falls, Auburn and Skaneateles seem almost to run together. But after that is some of the most attractive open country of -- I was going to say "New York State" but "the world" is just as accurate. Here counties fly by as fast as towns did to the west: Madison, Oneida, Otsego, Herkimer, Schoharie and finally Schenectady and Albany.

    My map calls this section the Cherry Valley Turnpike but it is now renamed Disabled American Veterans Memorial Highway.  The new name honors a richly deserving group and the highway only crosses the northern end of Cherry Valley anyway.

    Breathtaking panoramas open up each time I crest a hill -- and there are many hills. The highway follows the irregular northern edge of the Allegheny Plateau and, east as far as the Village of LaFayette, the Valley Heads Moraine is exposed. Here a glacier paused to leave these imposing deposits of mixed rocks.

    At Richfield Springs the road drops down to pass close to those odd little eastern Finger Lakes, Canadarago and Otsego, neither visible from the highway. Why they are included as Finger Lakes, I don't know; they are not even in the same watershed. North of Otsego Lake is The Glimmerglass Inn which reminds me that James Fenimore Cooper called this lake Glimmerglass in his Leatherstocking Tales. The author's name is memorialized in Cooperstown at its southern end a dozen miles south.

    Another vista opens, this time to the north. The road has crossed the height of land and I look out over the broad Mohawk Valley and even beyond through the haze to the Adirondack foothills. Between Sloansville and Esperance Route 20 follows Schoharie Creek which winds north to enter the Mohawk just west of Amsterdam.

    One thing astounds me on this trip. These are wonderful hills for outdoor winter sports -- sledding, tobagganing and skiing -- but there is little evidence of the activities. The only sled I observe is in the little village of Madison where a mother and daughter slide down a school terrace. Also the ice everywhere is free of snow yet there are no skaters. What we children would have given for a chance to skate on these ponds and creeks. Our skating was often on tiny half-frozen seeps with water up over our runners. Is skating today just an indoor sport?

    Or is it that no one wishes to mar the pristine beauty of these lovely hills and lakes?