You won't want to miss the famous Corning Museum of Glass. Hands-on exhibits in the Glass Innovation Center illustrate everything from how glass is made--you can try your hand at glass chemistry--to how fiber optics work. The Art and History Galleries display a stunning range of glass objects from all over the world, from antiquity to today. If gazing at all these jewel-like pieces has made you curious about the process of glassblowing, head to Hot Glass Show, where master glassblowers gather, shape and blow molten glass into a variety of glistening forms in front of your eyes. The show is narrated by a master glassblower, and TV monitors display detailed images of every step that the glass goes through on the stage--you'll even be able to see the molten glass inside the glory hole (a 2350? Fahrenheit heating chamber!). If you feel like an expert after learning all about glass (and even if you don't), check out the Walk-In Workshop, where glass artists will help you to design and craft your own creation. My turquoise and purple glass flower is displayed proudly in my bedroom! The museum is at One Museum Way, 607/535-4511, www.cmog.org. It's open seven days a week, from 9am to 5pm, September through June, and seven days a week, from 9am to 8pm in July and August. Admission is $12 for adults, $10.80 for seniors and students, $6 for children 6-17, free for children under 6.
The Gorgeous Gorges
The Finger Lakes region boasts rolling hills, meandering rivers and breathtaking gorges. The gorge at Watkins Glen State Park is the most famous in the area, and with good reason: A trail with steps leads up the gorge, winding above and below waterfalls. The park is especially spectacular when the fall colors set is ablaze. Biking, hiking, fishing, camping, swimming, hunting and cross-country skiing are all popular pursuits in the park. You can reach the park at 607-535-4511.
A Birds-Eye View
For an entirely different perspective on the surrounding landscape, head to Harris Hill Soaring Center, where you can glide peacefully over the hills in 2-person gliders, which are engineless aircraft. A plane tows the glider up to an appropriate flying height, then the towing line is released and your pilot catches air currents to keep you gliding. The ride is smooth as silk, and the lack of an engine means a silent tranquility perfect for contemplating the geography below. The pilots are wonderful--friendly, and full of information and anecdotes about the area and about gliding. And if you ask really nicely, they may even take you for a few mid-air somersaults. You'll find the center at Harris Hill in Elmira, 607/734-0641, www.harrishillsoaring.org. Rides are given on weekends, from the beginning of April to the end of June and from end of August to the end of October, from 10am to 6pm; and seven days a week, from the end of June to the end of August, from 10am to 6pm. Call during the winter as it is possible that they will be flying. Rides cost $55 or $65 depending on the glider.
The Old West in the Old East
The Rockwell Museum of Western Art boasts the finest collection of American Western art in the eastern half of the country. The exhibit is presented in a series of richly-colored rooms, and includes an sweeping range of artwork, from Frederic Remington's powerful 19th-century cowboy paintings to contemporary Navajo artist Emmi Whitehorse's abstract-expressionist works. This is a museum that is fascinating for all ages. Kids will enjoy the free Art Packs, geared towards helping them explore the exhibits through hands-on crafts and activities. Take a look at the museum's event schedule as you plan your visit, because there's always something going on here--a celebration of the Old West, a salsa band and pottery lessons are all on the docket for the upcoming months. The Rockwell Museum of Western Art is located at 111 Cedar Street, 607-937-5386, www.rockwellmuseum.org. Hours are Labor Day through July 1, Monday to Saturday 9am to 5pm and Sunday 11am to 5pm; and July 1-Labor Day, Monday to Saturday 9am to 8pm and Sunday 11am to 5 pm. Admission is $6.50 for adults, $5.50 for seniors, $4.50 for students and for youth ages 6-17, under 6 free.
Nothing to Wine About
What could be more relaxing than rocking on a porch swing, glass of freshly-made wine in hand, as you gaze over a vineyard? The Finger Lakes region is the second-largest wine-producing area in the United States, boasting award-winning Merlots, Rieslings, Chardonnays, Champagnes and more. The 70 or so local wineries are usually open daily, offering complimentary or inexpensive tastings, tours of the vineyards, picnic areas, snacks, and in some cases, gourmet restaurants. Check out www.fingerlakeswinecountry.com for a list of wineries, with open hours and facilities noted, so that you can plan your wine-tasting tour.
Here are some things to know as you plan your trip. The Corning area is accessible by airplane (you can land in the Corning/Elmira Airport) and it is easily reached by car from most places in the Northeast.
From Toronto, Niagara Falls, Buffalo, Rochester, and other points West: I-90E to Exit 46 (at Rochester) to I-390S to I-86E (NY-17E) to Exit 46. Turn right at end of ramp.
From Harrisburg, PA, Williamsport, and other points South: US-15N to I-86E (NY-17E) to Exit 46. Turn right at end of ramp.
From the Greater Washington, D.C. area: Take 270N to US-15N to I-86E (NY-17E) to Exit 46.
From Cooperstown: Take NY-28N to I-90W to NY-13S to I-86W (NY-17W) to Exit 46. Turn left at end of ramp.
From Binghamton and other points Southeast: to I-86W (NY-17W) to Exit 46. Turn left at end of ramp.
From Springfield, MA, Albany, Oneonta, and other points East: I-88W to I-86W (NY-17W) to Exit 46. Turn left at end of ramp.
From Utica and points East (scenic route): I-90W to I-81S to NY-13S to I-86W (NY-17W) to Exit 46.
From the Greater Long Island area and New York City: Take the George Washington Bridge to I-80W to I-380W to I-81N to I-86W (NY-17W). Turn left at end of ramp.
For accommodations, check out the listings on www.fingerlakeswinecountry.com, or the "Where to Stay" link on Corningfingerlakes.com (the comprehensive Corning and Finger Lakes Region Visitor's Bureau site, which has all kinds of information). Both sites list lodgings from campsites to tiny B&Bs to full-service hotels.