Watkins Glen, N.Y. (WHTM) — Here’s a view of a small part of Seneca Lake.
A very small part.
Seneca is the largest of the eleven Finger Lakes in New York. It is 38 miles long, about 2 miles wide at the widest, and about 618 feet deep. (Its surface elevation is 446 feet above sea level — which means its deepest waters are almost 200 feet below sea level.) It contains more than 50% of the water in the entire Finger Lakes region.
The Finger Lakes as a group started as a series of narrow, V-shaped valleys, with streams flowing northward. Then about two million years ago, glaciers started moving south. This period is called the Pleistocene Glaciation, and scientists say it’s still going on today. (We have the good luck to be living in an interglacial period just now.)
Over the millions of years, massive ice sheets grew and receded, grinding away at the rock in the valleys. When these ice sheets retreated about 10,000 years ago, they left behind wider, deeper valleys and debris fields that acted like dams, allowing the Finger Lakes to form. (The water of the Finger Lakes still flows north; most of it ends up in Lake Ontario.)
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The massive amount of water in Seneca Lake moderates the temperatures on the hills surrounding it. It’s ideal for growing grapes, and wineries and vineyards abound. It’s hard to give an exact number since new wineries open constantly, but there are at least fifty as of this writing.
If you like fishing, Seneca Lake has been called the lake trout capital of the world. Rainbow trout, brown trout, landlocked salmon, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, northern pike, pickerel, and yellow perch also await the dedicated piscator.
If you just want to be out on the water, there is plenty of space for sailing, boating, canoeing, and kayaking. There are multiple parks where you can go swimming. In keeping with the relatively young age of the lake, the beaches tend to be rocky with a lot of flat, water-rounded stones, which are good for skipping across the water between swims. If you want to go underwater, there are places to scuba dive, as well.
Oh, yes, one more thing. Did you notice the steam venting on the left side of the picture? That’s coming from the Cargill Salt Company plant, formerly Watkins Salt.
About 300 million years ago, the entire Finger Lakes area was underwater. Then a huge sea evaporated, leaving behind underground deposits of salt 2,000 to 2,800 feet beneath the Seneca Lake shore — not to mention from east of Syracuse, New York, through the Finger Lakes region, west to Lake Erie, north to Ontario, Canada, and south into Pennsylvania.
The salt mine in Watkins Glen uses steam to turn the salt into brine, which is pumped to the surface and processed. Some of it might even be in the salt shaker on your dinner table.