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Published: November 30th 2018
A work by American artist, Deborah Kass
Herbert F Johnson Museum of Art, Ithaca
24th September 2018 Continuing our journey through Ontario and New York State (2 of 3) The Adirondack Mountains and Finger Lakes USA
Now, where were we? Ah, yes, we had just crossed the border from Canada into New York State, USA.
Let’s not get confused here. When we talk of New York you’ll probably be thinking of the Big Apple city of that name down there in the southeast corner of New York State USA. But New York is indeed a big State, and the Adirondack Park, our planned destination, covers an area of 6 million acres and includes more than 10,000 lakes and 30,000 miles of rivers and streams! The Adirondack Mountains extend southward from the St. Lawrence River valley, westward to Lake Ontario, east to Lake Champlain and south to the Mohawk River valley, and then there's the Finger Lakes - we'll get around to that a little later.
The smartly dressed wilderness of Canada turns to open farmland across the St Lawrence River into New York State, America, where Amish farmers still use horse and buggy as their favoured form of transport and till their fields with horse-drawn implements,
reaping their harvest in age-old fashion. Slowly the agricultural landscape turns once again to forest, lakes and welcome hills as we approach the Adirondack Mountains.
The Paul Smith’s College Visitor Interpretive Centre in Franklin County, our first stop in the Adirondacks, wooed us with some wonderful art exhibits, 3,000 acres of conifer and hardwood forest, marshes and bogs and 25 miles of hiking trails – our sort of place! Our time there was limited and we saw numerous white-tailed deer and wild turkeys galore, but there are beavers, black bears, moose and coyotes to be seen if you’re there for the duration. We arrived to a warm welcome at our Airbnb in Saranac Lake early in the evening; a great choice thanks to Janice’s diligent research: a lovely large apartment in an old house of great character, with two bedrooms, a nice lounge, kitchen and bathroom.
Sadly a day of rain forced us to abandon our plan to drive up Whiteface Mountain next morning, its peak at 4,865 feet, totally lost in a blanket of cloud. Reluctantly, we left pretty Saranac Lake for a dark, wet and dingy visit to see the frightening skyscraper
ski jumps at Lake Placid, home of the Winter Olympics in 1980. There were two problems with these particular ski jumps: we’re not insured for winter sports and there was no snow. That stuff sure takes guts!
As we’re not likely to tread this way again we drove on to the privately owned, and very dramatic, High Falls Gorge, for yet another water experience. It was a lovely walk, mostly on boardwalks with lots of steps, and the fall colours added to the drama of water rushing and crashing through the deep, rocky, ravine. Despite our waterproof gear, torrential rain left us totally drenched by the time we departed, turning up the car heating full blast to dry our socks! That’s one of those ‘not quite so good’ memory moments we were talking about, but we forced ourselves to laugh it off. One thing you don’t carry on to a plane for an international flight is an umbrella!
By the time we reached the pleasant, rather touristy town of Lake Placid, the rain had eased a little allowing us to wander the shops for a while; quiet now that the summer holiday season was
over and waiting somewhat impatiently for the skiing and skating fanatics to arrive for winter sports.
You’ll have guessed by now that there’s an awful lot of water up there in the Adirondacks: lakes, rivers, waterfalls…. and rain, but don’t let that stop you going, just feast your eyes on all that beauty! It must be wonderful in winter too. We drove south through a second day of rain to Tupper Lake, Long Lake, Blue Mountain Lake and Raquette Lake, stopping a while at Long Lake to get lost in the maze of Hoss’s Country Corner, another of those irresistible county stores with jumbled rooms on numerous floors stacked high to the ceiling with everything and anything you’ll ever need – or probably not. Motorhoming has taught us that we don’t need ‘things’, but we can always be tempted to buy a little souvenir of our travels to hang on the Christmas tree! Also irresistible was the rocky Buttermilk Falls along our route, a stunning experience of rushing water and fall colour despite the continuous misty drizzle.
There was a lot of money sloshing about in the USA in the early twentieth century, albeit
most of it in the hands of just a few people. Built in 1897 by William West Durant on 1,500 acres of forest in the Adirondack Park, Great Camp Sagamore, some five miles off the highway on a minor track, subsequently became a remote holiday and sporting retreat for the very rich indeed, Vanderbilt family. It is now a National Historic Landmark with lodge accommodation for those wishing to experience the wilderness as the Vanderbilts once did. Access is otherwise by guided tour only. The camp covers a large central area of forest and lakes for outdoor pursuits to suit family and friends of the Vanderbilts, amongst them Gary Cooper, Judy Garland, Lord Mountbatten, Madame Chiang Kai Shek and Jerome Kern. The lodge complex is quite fascinating: a vast collection of rustic buildings, from finely furnished lodges with magnificent stone fireplaces to a small school, a blacksmiths’ workshop, barns and numerous cottages. The main lodge has a fine dining room, a theatre and a wonderful bowling alley! With luck you won’t get the same guide as us should you ever get to visit Great Camp Sagamore. Our young and over-enthusiastic group leader ranted on non-stop for more than an hour,
Loo with a view!
From our bathroom at Woods Inn, Inlet
talking unintelligible NY high-speed nonsense without taking a single breath. But hey, what else can you do on a rainy day? The tour finished with a true Adirondack downpour leaving the whole group drenched to the skin!
That night we ended up at Woods Inn, at Inlet, a delightful 1894 Great Camp building now a rather fine hotel on the lake. Our room, up three flights of luggage-lugging, chest-pumping steep stairs, was comfortable, with a grand bathroom with a ‘loo with a view’ over the lake - but the dining room was closed for dinner – and breakfast! No problem. Our host recommended a local restaurant, the Toboggan Tavern, in the evening and the local Tamarind Café the following morning, where we joined the town’s retired gents out for their traditional North American early morning meet-up, ‘putting the world to rights’ over breakfast. There’s nowhere quite like the USA for breakfasts. It was Blueberry and Walnut pancakes with lashings of maple syrup for Janice and a massive fry-up for himself. OK, so I’m a greedy whatsit!
Like many other towns, Inlet too has its share of empty shops and dilapidated properties, peppered here-and-there with
The beautiful Monarch
At Derby Hill Bird Observatory
delightful residences on spacious plots with bright yellow pumpkins and straw scarecrows on every porch to brighten the day. Here the cattle graze the open pastureland; gone are the great swathes of forest further north, but sunshine greeted us at last, sweeping over hills scattered with cloud and patches of blue
There was just one day left before we were to meet up with Jon and Lynn and we headed west towards Lake Ontario, to the Derby Hill Bird Observatory on the cliffs overlooking the lake. This was reportedly a good place to spot migratory raptors on their way south in the fall, but a stiff wind from the south had clearly kept most of them hunkered down for the day as we saw only a few turkey vultures swirling on the thermals overhead. Back in 2006 we followed the west coast of North America from California to Vancouver in our motorhome and sought out the Monarch butterfly on its incredible migration north, without much success. This phenomenon has always fascinated me, and to our surprise, here we were at the point of the Eastern USA migratory autumnal return: hundreds, yes hundreds, of these magnificent insects dancing
Birthplace of Woman's rights in the USA
gracefully in the air as butterflies do, feasting on nectar from wild flowers in the meadows. We were shaking our heads in awe. What a glorious sight – enough to bring tears to the eyes! It was meant to be, I guess, as interestingly, I have recently finished an acrylic triptych depicting the migration of Monarchs along the North American west coast, as part of a series on ‘migration’. (not for sale!)
By early evening we were in Seneca Falls and settled in to our beautifully furnished, Airbnb. Seneca Falls was a bit on the quiet side; most of the shops seemed to be winding down for the year and the many empty shops suggest that retailing here is having a hard time in these days of ‘on line’ shopping, the same as in the UK. The town has its full share of history: the ‘falls’ no longer exist, the river having been diverted through the canal, but its milling past is reflected in some fine houses, on record as: Colonial Revival, Italianate, Dutch Colonial Revival, Queen Anne, Tudor and Gothic Revival. A number of old mills still exist beside the canal that drove its industrial powerhouse
and the local Visitor Centre recreates the town’s history with great displays and artefacts. But Seneca Falls has found its way into the history books for other, more interesting reasons.
In 1848 a certain lady named Elizabeth Cady Stanton, helped to rally support for the First Woman’s Rights Convention in America. Her home at the time was there at Seneca Falls and her work set her on a path similar to that of the suffrage movement in the UK, a little earlier. The Women’s Rights National Historical Park Center in Seneca Falls follows the fascinating history of women’s rights in the USA, and kept us off the streets for a while - and a legacy of women right up there on the podium.
You’ll have heard about ‘Montezuma’s Revenge’ even if you’ve not personally experienced it sometime in your life. It’s that Latin American stomach fireball named in honour of the Aztec Emperor of Mexico of that name. There’s also a town of Montezuma in Costa Rica if I remember correctly - and yet another just north of here in New York State where we had arranged to meet up with Jon and Lynn
for a spot of birding at the Montezuma Wildlife Refuge, at the north end of Cayuga Lake. It was twelve years since we last met Jon and Lynn, in New Orleans. They live an hour’s drive south in Ithaca and have been looking after us rather spectacularly for the best part of last week.
Jon and Lynn had been working on our itinerary for several weeks before our arrival, with birding, a common interest, featuring high on the agenda. The 50,000 acre Montezuma Wildlife Refuge provided our first taste of birding this trip, adding more birds and happy memories to the list: snow goose, bald eagle and northern harrier amongst the fifty or more American species there that we’re unlikely to get to see in the UK! Time then to head south via the dramatic 215ft high Taughannock Falls, seen through a haze of misty rain, to the Jon and Lynn household, our ‘comfortable home’ for the past week, set in five acres of hillside grassland beyond the city limits, with its very own observatory in the grounds – another of Jon’s many interests.
The joint passion for birds and wildlife took us next
for a leisurely stroll through the Sapsucker Woods bird sanctuary in Ithaca looking for a few rarities, (112 bird species appear on their list of possible sightings!) finishing at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, housed in a magnificent building in the grounds. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a leading resource for conservation, research, education, and citizen science focused on birds within Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Ithaca, its old town a maze of tree-lined streets with handsome homes, white and cream, grey and green, with pillars and porches, is first and foremost a university town, its vast campus looking out over its charges.
The Herbert F Johnson Museum of Art, on the main campus of Cornell University, offered us an opportunity to get out of the torrential rain for a while. The architecturally stunning museum features more than 35,000 works of art, including some fine examples by Goya, Hogarth, Manet, Toulouse Lautrec, Matisse, Degas, and rooms packed with etchings and prints by his flamboyant friend, ‘The Butterfly’, Whistler. There is also an interesting Asian collection on the fifth floor where we enjoyed the most fabulous views over Ithaca and Cayuga Lake.
Sunday was not a good day for the United States. They got a bit of a pasting on the golf course, losing the Ryder Cup to Europe in Paris, 17.5 – 10.5. I promise not to mention it again.
Ithaca bumper stickers proclaim ‘Ithaca is Gorges’, a clue that apart from some superb wine, beer and cider produced in the area, there was more water, gorges and rocks to feature in our guided tour of upper NY State. Be sure not to miss Ithaca’s Robert H Treman State Park, a fairy-tale staircase of twelve quite exceptional falls as Enfield Creek wends its way through the truly dramatic shale and sandstone gorge. A paved trail traces a few hundred steps down from the top, with numerous strategic lookout points for you to rest awhile…..and stand and stare, wide-eyed. It’s a long way back up again, but quite manageable if you take it slowly. In a word, fabulous!
Ithaca’s visitor attractions are many indeed, but the Corning Museum of Glass a few miles down the road is surely one nobody should miss. The artwork in the magnificent white entrance hall is absolutely breath-taking. You should be
Corning Museum of Glass
A truly wonderful experience!
prepared to spend a whole day there, immersed in displays of glorious artwork, the history and science in glass, some quite exceptional contemporary work, practical applications, fibre optics, solar energy and the like, and demonstration workshops throughout the day where you can watch the craftsmen at work and rest your weary legs for a while. Just in case you’re so spellbound you loose track of time, your entrance ticket is valid for two consecutive days!
It was a long drive south from Ithaca to Hawk Mountain, in Kempton, down here in Pennsylvania, just to the west of New York. But it was truly worth the effort. It’s bird migration time here in the east and thousands of raptors head south to new hunting grounds at this time of the year, winging their way on thermals along the Blue Mountain Ridge
, part of the Appalachian Mountain chain
. With Jon as our guide, we donned our sturdy footwear and took to the trails, joining groups of avid birders at rocky outcrops overlooking the endless valleys and ridges that make up this migratory gateway to the south.
It is possible to see more than 70 miles from the top of Hawk
A birder's paradise!
Mountain on a clear day, the Appalachians to the northwest across, way out beyond the folded mountains and valleys. Despite this incredible vista, raptors appeared out of nowhere in a flash: Red shouldered hawks, Turkey vultures and Black vultures, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Broad-winged Hawks, Coopers Hawks, Peregrines, Kestrels and Ospreys, much to our delight.
And now, here we are by the fire-pit at the cabin we’re sharing with Jon and Lynn at Blue Rocks Family Campground in Lenhartsville, Pennsylvania. The campground covers a wide area of woodland with secluded pitches for campers and RVs, but it’s the rocks that give the campsite its fame. A hundred yards from where we sit there’s an amazing river of rock a mile long, with Tuscarora quartzite rocks the size of a football to a small car, seemingly swept down from the mountains beyond during the last ice-age. It really is quite extraordinary.
So you see, there is always another surprise around the corner and yet another memory to pack in our rucksacks with all the others. These last two weeks have tightened the bond with our many friends across the pond, but for now we must
A one-mile river of rock. Quite amazing!
say goodbye to you and our dear friends, Jon and Lynn, who have looked after us so well for the past week. Tomorrow we’ll be heading north, back towards the Canadian border at Niagara and on to Toronto. We’ll send you a postcard.
We’re off to bed now, but please feel free to finish the wine and put a few more logs on the fire. I’m not very good at goodbyes these days. I put it down to age. Let’s just say, thank you all for being there for us.
David and Janice
The Grey haired nomads
* Scroll down for more pictures - and don't forget the panorama show at the top!
Accommodation: Saranac Lake:
Airbnb - Delightful 1911 Adirondack home, 39 Winona Avenue; your own apartment on the top floor. Near lake and downtown. Excellent Inlet
: Woods Inn. Very comfortable – on the lake, with fine views from the loo! Seneca Falls:
Old Brick Estate - Ten out of ten! Lenhartsville, Pennsylvania
: Blue Rocks Family Campground. Our cabin was very dated, but comfortable enough for overnight. A great family campground.
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