More than 10,000 years ago, glaciers carved their way south through New York State, scraping away the topsoil, and gouging the shale and bedrock below. Then they melted, leaving deep gashes in the earth that became the Finger Lakes.
Ithaca sits more than 1000 feet above sea level, and water racing down to Cayuga Lake from points north continues the work of carving the landscape begun by the glaciers.
Thus, Cornellians enjoy not only spectacular views, but also a few collateral benefits: the steep, shale-sided gorges are difficult to develop and so remain in their natural state, dotted with trees and filled with small wildlife. Summer students use the gorge trails as a cool short-cut to campus and a cheap alternative to the gym.