Road Trip! Destination: Chautauqua, N.Y.
A recent yoga class ended with a meditation in which we were guided to imagine relaxing by a sea. Afterward, the woman who had been next to me commented that she had fallen asleep. I volunteered that I tried to picture a warm tropical beach but, instead, thought of Chautauqua where I lived for years and where I visit every summer.
I didn't specify “Chautauqua Lake,” and she assumed I meant “Chautauqua Institution.” I was puzzled when she rattled off vaguely familiar names. It seems she knows the wife of a descendant of an Institution founder. She didn't understand why I don't know them.
What she forgot is that the Institution is but a small enclave along the shoreline of a good-size lake. There are many other places to visit,
But before we move on to a few of those, note that the Institution's 2012 season will start June 23 and run through Aug. 26, For a listing of the many entertainment programs and classes and for ticket information, visit www.ciweb.org. If you want to just walk around and soak in the atmosphere, no gate fees are charged on Sundays.
If you've traveled from a city to Chautauqua County, then you've already gotten away from it all. Want to get away a little farther? Panama Rocks Scenic Park is a nature park that's been in operation since 1885. Exploring it is basically like clambering over the rocks in your favorite creek — except there's no creek, and the rocks are huge. The quartz conglomerate-rock formations reach a height of 60 feet, according to the park's website. Hemlocks, mosses, ferns and snaking tree roots add interest along the one-mile hiking trail. People of all ages can enjoy Panama Rocks, but keep safety in mind. It's easy to slip or stumble, and the path runs along cliffs and crevices. It's not accessible to wheelchairs or strollers. It's open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Oct. 14.
Ride ‘em, cowboy
Don't let that yearning to see bull riding go unrequited. Bull riding, bronc riding, roping, steer wrestling and barrel racing will fill the 4,000-seat arena at the Gerry Fireman's Rodeo. The 68th annual rodeo, billed as the “oldest consecutive rodeo east of the Mississippi” will be held at 8 p.m. Aug. 1 through 4. Details: www.gerryrodeo.org.
Sometimes, it seems as though “Chautauqua” must be Indian for “arts and crafts.” (It's often written that the lake's name is Iroquois for “bag tied in the middle” or “moccasins tied together.” Both refer to the lake's shape.) Gift shops and art galleries abound. You'll find plenty on your own, no doubt, but for help, check out the Art Trail website, www.chautauquaarttrail.com.
In addition, look for festivals such as the YWCA Westfield Arts and Crafts Show, which will be up and running — rain or shine — from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. July 27 and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 28. The festival has been held annually since the 1970s in Moore Park, at the intersection of routes 20 and 394 in the village of Westfield. A farmers market is held in conjunction with the crafts show. Admission is free. Free parking and shuttle service are available. Details: ywcawestfield.org/Arts_crafts.html
Relax as the waves lap
Free public beach areas can be found around Chautauqua Lake and along Lake Erie. But splashing around in the drink isn't the only route to refreshment. Both lakes are great for just looking at, too, while you drink or dine. In Mayville, near Chautauqua Institution, the Watermark is lakeside. Webb's Captain's Table, also in Mayville, isn't right on Chautauqua Lake's shore — it's on the other side of Route 394 — but its upper deck offers a view across the water. On the opposite side of the lake, in Bemus Point, restaurants such as the Village Casino and the Italian Fisherman have a lakeside advantage.
Want to watch the sun set on Lake Erie? Follow Route 394 to Barcelona; when you can't go any farther, you're at ZeBro's Harbor House. The restaurant has an outdoor bar, fire pits and a walkway down the beach toward the waves. Across the road from ZeBros is a small diner, Jack's Barcelona Drive-in, which for decades has been serving up unpretentious comfort food. The outdoor patio is open for the summer.