July 2016 – Rochester, New York

The trip from Weedsport to Byron, New York was another relatively short trip of only a couple of hours and since we were not in a hurry we again took the backroads that avoided the tolls on the New York Thruway.  When we arrived at Southwoods RV Resort about 15 miles west of Rochester, we were immediately impressed.  This was easily one of the best private RV campgrounds we have stayed in and we would be here for two weeks.  While over 80% of the sites are occupied with seasonal campers that never move, the sites they had for transients were equally as nice.  Even though our site was a back-in site, the playground area in front gave us plenty of room to maneuver and I had no problem parking the RV.  While there is not as much room between the sites that you find in state parks or COE campgrounds, it was still more room than most private campgrounds.  We had a table and fire ring that would get a lot of use when the family got together next week.  This location marked the terminus (most northerly point) of our travels for the year and was our ultimate destination for 2016.  This was also the year of our 40th wedding anniversary (although the date is in May) and we convinced all of our children to join us for a week near Niagara Falls, about an hour further east of the campground.  Due to the inflated costs of camping sites closer to the falls, we felt this was a good compromise.  After seeing the amenities and beauty of this RV campground, it was a good decision.  We even had cable for the TV for the first time in over 6 months and the free WiFi was the best we have ever seen.

Campsite

We had the first week to ourselves before the kids would begin to show up, so we picked out a few locations that we wanted to explore.  The first location was the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site in downtown Buffalo.  After making sure it was open during the week, we traveled an hour into Buffalo. I had not done any reading about the site ahead of time and was certainly curious to find out why Theodore Roosevelt was inaugurated in Buffalo instead of Washington D.C., as had all of the other Presidents after George Washington.  Why Buffalo??  1901 was the year of the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, which was essentially a Worlds Fair.  Along with music, art, and cultural venues, this was where all the latest inventions were on display.  In 1901 this meant demonstrations of the latest in movies, sound recordings, and of course, electricity.  The highlight of the Exposition was when the lit up the entire place using the first A/C power plant.  It must have been a great wonder for the tourists at the time when the bulbs would slowly brighten until it was as bright as day.  Also in 1901, President McKinley had just been re-elected and was a very popular President and in September delivered a short address at the Exposition.  The following day he attended a receiving line to shake the hands of his voters, when Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist, shot him twice at point-blank range.  The Secret Service was still very new and McKinley was known to sneak away from their protection anyway.  At the time Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt was going on a camping trip with his family, but was sidetracked to Buffalo.  Initially the prognosis was good, so after checking the situation out with the doctors, Roosevelt went ahead with his camping trip in the Adirondacks.  However, the doctors did not use the X-ray machine, which was still very new and showed up in Buffalo without an essential part, and failed to diagnose the onset of gangrene in the wound.  McKinley suddenly took a turn for the worse and died four days later.  A ranger was sent to track down Roosevelt, who was still camping in the Adirondacks and a special train whisked him to Buffalo, but he was not able to arrive until after McKinley had passed away.  Knowing that it was imperative to immediately take the oath of office, they set things up in the library of the Wilcox house who as a friend of Roosevelt, had offered his home while he was in town.  They did not want to use the home of John Milburn, the Exposition President, where McKinley was staying as his wife needed the privacy for mourning.  Thus Theodore Roosevelt took the Oath of Office in a small library in Buffalo, New York instead of the steps of the White House in Washington, D.C.  The library and den of the Wilcox house has been restored to the condition in 1901 based on the numerous photographs taken during the inauguration and they have a very nice multi-visual movie about the events and Roosevelt’s legacy in what would have been the study.  Upstairs they have a reproduction of his White House Office where you can get a picture taken sitting at the Presidential desk.  This picture is loaded onto the front page of a newspaper with a headline of your choosing and sent to your email account.  Of course, everyone on the tour had to get a picture made!!  Since the Historical Site consists of only the Wilcox house, of which the tour takes but an hour, it was still a short day.  We ate lunch sitting in our camp chairs that we carry along with us, sitting on the edge of the parking lot and watching all the traffic going past in downtown Buffalo.  We did get a few looks from the people going by, but who cares?

NewspaperHeadline

Wednesday was another beautiful, if hot, day so we headed northwest to another location that we wanted to explore, but did not think the kids would want to see: Old Fort Niagara.  This was a very important fort from the French and Indian War through the War of 1812 commanding the mouth of the Niagara River on Lake Ontario.  Due to Niagara Falls along the Niagara River that empties Lake Erie into Lake Ontario, this river was not navigable by boat.  However, this fort controlled the very important portage used to move goods and fur traders from the interior to markets along the east coast and Europe.  Unlike many other forts that fell into disrepair, Fort Niagara continued to be an active fort until after the Civil War and with the construction of “New” Fort Niagara just outside the old walls, remained in military hands until the 1960s.  Thus there has been ongoing efforts to restore and maintain the old fort.  The other unique feature of the Fort that there are structures that represent all of the time periods from the first construction in 1726.  There are two monuments within the fort that commemorate short lived Fort Conti, a small wooden palisade constructed by Rene-Robert Cavelier de LaSalle in 1678 and Fort Devonville that lasted only a year after only 12 soldiers out of 100 that survived the winter of 1687.  The oldest structure built in 1726 was supposed to be a three story trading house without any exterior fortifications in the hope of appeasing the mighty Iroquois Confederacy.  Even though it was called “The House of Peace” is was truth a massive construction with overhanging dormers on the top floor that was more than capable of defense against the Indians of the time.  In 1755, the fort was expanded to its present size by the French due to tensions with the English that erupted into the French and Indian War.  After a long 19 day siege in July, 1759, the British captured the fort and retained control until the American Revolution.  In 1770, the British added their own structures to the fort with two independent redoubts on the North and South that still survive.  They are strange structures, partly because they are two towers that are inside yet not attached to the walls of the fort and secondly because they use classical Roman arches with a Chinese style pagoda roof.  Very strange looking!!  During the Revolutionary War, Fort Niagara was the base for the Americans loyal to the British and many loyalists sought refuge at the fort or used it to migrate into Canada.  Along with their Iroquois allies, the loyalists used the fort to raid American towns and fields all though New York, Pennsylvania, and even south as far as the Carolinas.  Even though the British ceded the Fort to the new United States in the Treaty of Paris in 1783, they did not relinquish control until Jay’s Treaty 13 years later.  The British once again captured the fort in 1813, during the War of 1812 and kept it until after the war when they once again ceded it to the United States.  It was interesting that during the War of 1812, the Americans removed the roof from the old French Castle in order to place cannons to offset the elevation advantage the British had at Fort George on the other side of the river.  Finally, the wooden walls were replaced with brick and mortar walls, magazines, and cannon positions during the Civil War due to the concern that Great Britain might take advantage of the situation.  However, cannons were never mounted and the Fort never saw any further action.  It was very interesting to all of this history spanning over 150 years of warfare in one place.  This was most evident that the original entrance to the fort was on the river side since the threat from the Indians was from the land, whereas, later fortifications created a sally port on the land side since the major threat was from the lake.

I spent Thursday extending our reservations for another month and working on this blog.  Friday was also spent in the campgrounds where I was able to get all caught up with the blog.  In the late afternoon, we decided to head into Batavia, New York, about 20 minutes away to check out the local casino, Batavia Downs and Gaming and eat an early dinner.  While not as fancy as the resorts we visited in central New York, Batavia Downs had all we were looking for.  Especially from the parking lot, which needed some serious work, Batavia Downs looked like a second-rate establishment.  However, once you got inside you could see where all the money was spent as it was a beautiful interior.  We have gotten use to casinos that allow smoking in the building to keep players at the machines in the south.  Most of them would have gaming areas or rooms that were smoke free.  We had even got used to smokeless casinos like you find throughout the Northeast.  However, this casino was strange, as it had a small glassed in room where you could smoke, while the majority of the casino was smokeless.  In any case, I did well at the machines and since Kal got $25 free play from a coupon we had, she managed to only lose $20.  So we came out a little bit ahead for the afternoon.  Followed up by a nice dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Batavia, we had a nice evening.

We spent Saturday doing laundry and cleaning the RV in anticipation of the children that would be coming in beginning on Sunday.  We even broke out our dining fly to put over the picnic table to provide some shade for the afternoons.  We had been carrying it with us since we bought the RV and had not used it yet.  The first to arrive were William and Kristin, since they only had a 5 hour drive from Maryland.  It was striking that in the past 5 weeks we had managed to get only 5 hours away, although our route was much more circuitous and scenic.  They pulled in about 2:00 in the afternoon and we had just enough time to set up their tent and unpack their car before we all headed to the airport outside of Buffalo to pick up Jenny who flew in from Florida.  We had more time then we though we had since her flight had been delayed and we opted to wait in the “Cell Phone” parking area instead of traveling into the terminal.  So we had to wait for about a half hour before her plane landed, but once on the ground it was a simple matter of meeting her outside the terminal.  For dinner we went to harbor district in Buffalo to the Pearl Street Grill & Brewery where we tried out some craft beer and ate some good sandwiches, wraps, or tacos.  Once back at the campsite we immediately broke out playing cards and began the first of a lot of games of spades over the next four days.  None of us have much of an opportunity to play this favorite family game anymore, so we were all looking forward to playing as much as we could squeeze in.  Even Kristin has become a good player of the game, although she still wants a bit of help in biding from time to time, but so does Jenny and Kal for that matter.  Since it is only a 4 person game, it was necessary to rotate players and teams for each game.

We had a lot of options for things to explore during the week and all except Niagara Falls, which was going to wait until Nikki and Chris arrived on Tuesday.  From all the options we decided to travel north to Lake Ontario to Lakeside Beach State Park.  This gave William and Jenny their first chance to see one of the Great Lakes, but also provided a venue to play disc golf.  Both William and I really enjoy playing, Kal loves to take pictures of the players, and both Jenny and Kristin were willing to play as well.  Once Kristin discovered she could throw the discs with good accuracy forehand instead of the backhand most people use, she became quite good at the game.  For a while I kept competitive with William and even led through the first few holes, however, a couple of disastrous holes that had me sitting down in a thicket in order to reach my disc, I was not much competition.  The course itself is the best maintained course I have played with beautiful fairways and tees.  There are actually two 18-hole courses in the park and of course we decided to play the more challenging course.  The first couple of holes were over steep ravines so we were beginning to question this decision early on.  However, the rest of the holes were relatively flat even though the trees provided a number of challenges.  Four of the fairways along the back nine were on the shore of Lake Ontario so you got a good view of the lake.  However, this posed a challenge since a bad throw could lose your disc in the water.  Hole 13 was especially challenging since the lake was to the left, which is in the direction my discs always fade at the end) and the lake dipped to the south just beyond the pin so there was water if you overshoot the pin.  Finally you were throwing from the top of a small bluff which made it that much more likely that you would hit the lake with the disc.  Jenny decided not to play the hole, Kristin kept her shot low and short,  and I cheated hard to the right of the pin.  However, William threw his disc forehanded which should have hooked to the right, especially with the wind coming off of the lake.  Somehow he managed to throw the disc in such a way that it faded left instead of right and sailed right into the lake even with the stiff breeze!!  We all stared in wonder and could not believe it happened, but we left a souvenir for Lake Ontario.  William certainly played it very cautious for the next few holes until the course turned away from the shoreline.  It was a lot of fun and after a picnic lunch in the park, we headed back to the campgrounds for dinner (steaks cooked over an open fire and mashed potatoes with salad) and more spades.

 

Nikki and Chris were scheduled to arrive Tuesday afternoon, so we needed something to do in the morning that would get us back before they arrived.  So we decided to explore the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge which was just 10 miles away.  Once again this refuge is primarily in support of the migratory birds along the Atlantic Flyway and consists of four major pools separated by dikes.  They use the dikes to drain at least one of the pools every year to mimic the natural cycle and maximize the habitat diversity.  They do have a number of good nature trails and we took advantage of two of them.  The first was the Swallow Hollow Nature Trail which is a 1.3 mile loop around a small pool with boardwalks, gravel paths, and interpretive signs.  Along with a phone tour that William played on his smart phone, we learned a great deal about the different habitats we walked through.  Following this hike we headed over to one of the Overlooks on Route 77 that was supposed to have a view of the nesting bald eagles on the refuge.  We knew we were too late in the year to see them on the nest, but we were hoping to at least find the nest.  It was located on a small island in the center of the large marsh and even with our binoculars I am not certain I found it.  From there we took in another short hike along the edge of the marsh of another 0.66 miles.  By this point the day was getting too warm to enjoy hiking and we needed to get back to the campgrounds so we called it a day.

Nikki and Chris showed up around 4 in the afternoon with the oddest looking small RV I have ever seen.  It is about the size of the popup we had before we got our RV and was certainly small enough to be pulled by their BMW.  However, it was built back in the 1970s and had been modified over the years into a very strange unit.  The strangest part is they had taken out all of the battery powered lights and thus had no battery.  Chris plans on converting it back to DC, installing a battery and solar panels.  The inside was also strangely laid out and again Chris is planning on extensive remodeling of the interior.  It certainly got a lot of looks from the other campers in the campground!  By the time they got set up it was too late to cook an extensive meal so we had some pre-cooked brisket that Kal had bought as a backup along with the left over potatoes, salad, and some pasta that Nikki had brought.  It was certainly GREAT to have all the children around again, even though it was strange not being at “home” in Auburn.  William had brought the tequila, so we had to have our now “traditional” toast with tequila shots to celebrate the occassion.  Also since the weather was so warm, even the nights were too hot to be comfortable, William and Kristin decided to sleep in the RV with the a/c.  Of course, this meant Jenny had to sleep in the lazy boy recliners, but she did not seem to mind.  The RV had certainly got a lot more crowded!!

Wednesday was to be our big day for all of us to travel to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls.  We intended to spend the entire day at Niagara culminating in a fancy dinner to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary.  The day had been planned by the kids so we did not know what to expect.  We all had our passports so customs getting into Canada was a breeze and we were still early enough in the day to find parking spaces in the large lot next to the falls, although by 11 it was already nearly full.  We walked over to the falls to get our first look at them and they are certainly all they are claimed to be.  Especially Horseshoe Falls, which is the larger of the two falls, is spectacular.  It is 170 feet tall but over 1500 feet across is a broad horseshoe shape.  Over 5.5 billion gallons of water per hour is an impressive amount of water.  Historically it could be much more, but today they regulate the flow to minimize erosion and in 1848 it actually dried up due to strong westerly winds and ice blocking the exit from Lake Erie.  As recommended, I would agree that you have to see the falls from the Canadian side.  On the American side you can only see the top of both falls not being able to any sideview of the Horseshoe Falls at all.  Of course, you can explore Goat Island that creates the separation into the two falls, but that would be small consolation.  After a quick look we decided to go back to the cars and eat lunch at the picnic area next to the parking lot before making the walk downstream to the boat launch.

 

The one attraction that we all wanted to do was to take the cruise up the river to the base of the falls.  The more well known cruise is The Maid of the Mist, which is docks on the American side.  The Canadians have a comparable service provided by Hornblower Niagara Cruise that runs two boats with 250 passengers on a continuous loop.  The walk from the parking lot is about a mile down the promenade which gives a continuous view of both falls all the way to the dock.  They did a good job with the ramp and elevators to move tourists to the boat so the line was moving constantly and within a half hour we were on our way to the falls.  If you think the Horseshoe Falls looks impressive from above, wait until you see it from below!!  All of that water pouring over the falls 170 feet is loud and wet, which felt cool on this summer day of over 90 degrees hot.  They provide everyone with a souvenir plastic poncho and you need it!!  The boat travels as close to the falls as possible, which means you have the falls on three sides and eventually you get swallowed by the mist.  At least twice we felt like we got hit by some huge wave and got completely drenched.  It is the ultimate water ride!!

After we got off the boat, it was still early afternoon and our dinner reservations were not until 7:00 in the evening.  I could have just set and watched the falls all day and probably would have if the kids were not along.  Of course, they wanted to do something in the afternoon and Chris had found a local brewery just a few blocks away into Niagara.  This part of Niagara is all about the tourists, which even during the week was in the thousands.  There are everything a tourist might want from shops to bars to tacky museums.  From the outside, the Niagara Brewing Company looks like a typical tourist trap.  However, from the inside it turned out to be a nice place to hang out for a couple of hours and have a few beers.  All of the seating is right next to the fermentors making more beer.  We were really drawn to one of their craft beers, the “Amber, EH!”, which Chris thought was a good name.  As a professional brewer, Chris had to sample all of their beers in a selection of 5 oz samplers while the rest of us drank a couple of pitchers of their amber and porter.  We also ordered some appetizers and had a great couple of hours in cool comfort.

While at the brewery we noticed that next door was an arcade that looked interesting to all the kids (Kal and I were certainly ready to participate).  Along with a lot of arcade machines, they had two attractions that interested everyone.  The first was bumper cars!!  Although it was a small rink, it was perfect for the 7 of us who had an absolute riot chasing and bumping each other around the rink!!  We could have done this again, but had already decided to take over their “glow-in-the-dark” miniature golf course.  It was very small and only 9 holes but it was still a lot of fun.  It was just dark enough that you could not see the bumps and angles to the fairways which made for some hilarious attempts.  Somehow, I even managed to win which goes to show that I am still able to compete, at least at a game that takes little effort.  It was a lot of fun playing again with all the children, doing all the things we wanted to do without worrying about the cost.  I was also amazed by the most interesting view of the day.  When you look down the street you see a typical busy city street full of pedestrians which suddenly ends with a terrific view of the American Falls on the other side of the river, with wilderness beyond.  I tried to capture it with a picture, but the sheer juxtaposition of city and wilderness was absolutely striking and did not look real.

By this point it was getting close to 6 and we still needed to walk back to the cars in order to change clothes, although nobody was going to get too fancy.  After all this is still just a tourist trap.  This entailed a hike of over a mile back to the cars, changing clothes in the car, and then walking back about half a mile to the Skylon Tower for dinner.  We made right at 7:00, which was the time for our reservations and proceeded up the elevator 775 to the restaurant.  Not only are you over 700 feet above the falls and surrounding countryside, but the restaurant rotates once an hour so you get a ever changing view.  Add to this a spectacular sunset and the lighting of the falls as you slowly rotate above them and it is an experience I will remember the rest of my life.  Of course the meal itself was excellent, the waiter delightful, and we even got a complimentary cheesecake with candle for desert once they found out it was our anniversary (which I made sure they knew).  Our children treated us to an excellent celebration for our 40 years and filled the day with joy and love.  I could not imagine a better celebration with a wonderful family that surprisingly all got along great.

After dinner things began to fall apart a little.  It was due in part to the fact we were all tired after the long day, partly due to problems with the elevators that created a long line of tourists trying to exit the tower that was not moving, and partly due to the fact that we had all turned our phones off since we did not want to be charged international fees since we were in Canada.  Kristin went to find a bag to carry our take-out boxes while we waited in line and while she was gone the rest of us decided to leave the line which was not moving and attempt to find another elevator.  Somehow we missed Kristin and from there it all fell apart and we got separated.  I kept with Kal and William and together we located Kristin at the end of the original line we had been standing in.  Everyone was suppose to meet up where we entered the tower, but once we finally exited the tower, Chris, Nikki, and Jenny were nowhere to be found.  By this point the nightly fireworks display over the falls (which caught us by surprise) had started and we could not see them from our vantage point.  So we assumed the others had headed downhill to get a better view and proceeded that way ourselves.  We did manage to get find a spot where we could watch the last half of the display, which was spectacular, but still no sign of the others.  Thinking they had gone on to the cars and without our cell phones to make sure, we walked on back to the cars.  Thankfully, their car was still in the parking lot as Nikki had Kal’s passport and we were going to have a problem reentering the US without it. After a few minutes we saw Nikki and Chris coming quickly to the car, but no Jenny!!  They had left Jenny at the tower in case we were still there.  They quickly got in their car and went to pick her up, while we drove through the traffic and customs to reenter the US.  Once we had cell phone coverage again, we checked in and they were on their way with Jenny.  It worked out fine, thankfully.  It is interesting to note that with cell phones this would not have been a problem, so none of us realize the mistake of not staying together until it was too late!!  With the drive back to the campgrounds it was after midnight before we pulled in.

Fireworks

After the full day and late night on Wednesday, we were all dragging a bit Thursday morning and spent the morning in the campground making breakfast and hanging out.  In the afternoon, William, Kristin, and Chris decided to play another round of disc golf and headed north to Lake Ontario and Lakeshore Beach State Park.  They played the other course at the park, which was a good bit shorter and not as challenging.  According to William we had played the better of the two courses earlier in the week.  They had a great time, although Chris lost one of my discs in the woods and William managed somehow to throw another disc into the lake!!!  The rest of us spent the afternoon playing spades and a great time, except for losing our canopy over the picnic table.  It was very gusty that day which was not a problem as long as we kept the windshield off of the canopy.  However, to play cards outside we need to block the wind and so put up the shield.  Just as soon as we got the “sail” erected the wind picked up the canopy and draped it over the top of the RV breaking two of the supports in the process.  It was not a big loss, so we threw it in the dumpster and played cards in the RV instead.  The wind died down in the evening, so we started a fire for the nights smores, played spades, and drank beer.  Thankfully, Nikki and Chris had brought plenty of beer from the brewery and even managed to leave us with a half case and William with a case and a half to take back with him.  It was a very enjoyable evening, especially when we got Chris to play spades with my helping both he and Kristin.  Chris seemed to enjoy himself, so maybe we can get a game going when next we get together. I don’t know how many games of spades we played during the week, but it was certainly more than any of us had played in over 10 years.

Friday was our last day together as Nikki and Chris had plans for a mini-reunion with college friends in Ithaca, about 2.5 hours away.   To extend our time together everyone agreed to go along with them as far as Watkins Glen State Park, about half an hour short of Ithaca.  If you are following this blog, you may recall that Kal and I visited Watkins Glen State Park back in June and really loved it.  In addition, William had been told about it from some friends and wanted to see it as well.  So we got out as quick as we could, which still takes a while making breakfast for 7 adults and pulled into Watkins Glen around 11.  While we found the multiple falls and cascades to be just as spectacular, I very much appreciated the opportunity to watch our children and their spouses taking in the scenery.  While Kal and I had taken over 2.5 hours to make the hike up and back through the gorge, it took everyone only about 1.5 hours, so it was good that I had already seen it all before.   It was certainly good to see it again and a real thrill to show our family one of the jewels of our travels.

After the hike we were all ready for lunch, so we crossed the street over to Mr. Chicken which is owned and operated by the father of one of the guys that works with Chris at Hi-Wire in Asheville!!  They sure made some great chicken and since we all got something different we got a really sample of it.  Not wanting to say goodbye yet, we all walked to an ice cream shop for dessert.  Then it was time to say goodbye, so we gave Nikki and Chris a warm hug and sent them on their way.  The rest of us piled into Williams car and drove back to the campsite for some last games of spades and a couple of more beers.

On Saturday it was time to say goodbye to William and Kristin who hung around most of the morning since they only had a 5 hour drive ahead of them.  Jenny’s plane did not depart until 6:30 in the evening, which meant she would not get home until after midnight, so we had nearly the whole day with her before taking her to the airport.  As it turned out we were busy for a couple of hours since we had to move the RV to another site as the site we were on had been booked for the night when I made the reservations.  We had to move to a site in their group camping area which was filled over both weekends.  We had to give up the cable, sewer, and 50 amp service, but it was just for a couple of nights.  So we packed up the RV and traveled a thousand yards and set it back up.  Jenny got to watch the “fun” we have in trying to back the RV!  Once we dropped Jenny off at the airport I began to realize the truly unique experience we had.  Normally children come to visit their parents by coming back home and once in a while all at once for a family reunion.  Only this time our “home” is on wheels so our family reunion was at Niagara Falls!!  I really hope we can do this again in another location further west in the future.

Sunday was our day to do the laundry and clean the RV.  Besides that we were both exhausted, but exhilarated at the end of a great week in a beautiful campgrounds in western New York state.  I sincerely hope everyone can have the experience we had with a loving family enjoying the out-of-doors.

June, 2016 – Auburn, New York

After spending a couple of hours at the Ford dealership getting the truck looked at, we got a late start on moving to our next location.  Thankfully the problem was once again the exhaust filter, which we will have to get replaced in the near future.  Now that we were north of the Finger Lakes and traveling in between them and Lake Ontario as we headed west towards Buffalo, I had assumed the trips would be quick as they were right along I-90.  However, I-90 is also the New York Thruway, which means it is a toll road.  I don’t know what it would have cost us to travel the NY Thruway with an RV, but our experience along the coast last year was that it would not be cheap.  Since we weren’t traveling that far, the time savings was only 15 minutes, so we opted to more or less parallel it on county and state roads.  We pulled into Riverforest Park Campground near Weedsport, NY which is just north of the Interstate.  We are actually about 20 miles north of Auburn, NY but I just could not miss the chance to label this location Auburn instead of Weedsport!  Our first impression of Riverforest Park was not good, especially since they had trouble finding our reservation which we had already paid for.  They did find it eventually and we pulled to our site.  Thankfully, there were few RVs in the small circle they had for transient visitors and we were able to just about pull through to this back-in site from the site behind ours.  Riverforest is probably the largest RV Park we have stayed in with well over 100 sites.  However, nearly all of them are taken with seasonal campers in a huge sprawling mess.  There were about 12 sites for transients, such as ourselves, as well as, their overflow area.  Their website talks about the many “riverfront” sites, but all of these are taken with permanent RVs of the seasonal campers.  I would not mind this so much, except that all these RVs were parked parallel to the river.  I am sure this created a nice environment for those campers, but it all but eliminated any view of the river from our site.  They also state on their website that all of their sites are full hookups, which is simply not true.  None of the transient sites had sewer hookups and the electricity was limited to 30 amp.  In addition, the electrical hookups were grouped together at a couple of telephone poles which meant we had to back in as far as possible to be able to reach the electrical box.  Other campers were having to use extension cords to be able to reach the box.  A very poor design.  The worst part was that over the 4th of July weekend there was so much demand that the voltage dropped numerous time, which meant we lost power since our surge protector also protects against low voltage which can damage your appliances.  Finally, their restroom at this end of the park was “temporarily closed” although it looked like it had not been opened for years.  The only restroom was back at the entrance to the park under their restaurant and behind their swimming pool.  We have walked further to get to a bathroom a few times, but being the only restroom in this huge park meant it was overused during the July 4th weekend.  In any case, we got set up with little problem.

Campsite

After spending the last couple of days relaxing in the campsite we were looking forward to some day trips.  Our first destination on Tuesday was the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge.  This seems to be an odd name for a NWR in New York state, since Montezuma was an Aztec chief in the southwest.  It turns out this was the name the original owner of the property had named his country retreat.  Montezuma NWR is a large wetlands (over 9,000 acres) created by the outflow of Cayuga Lake (yes this is the same lake we explored two weeks ago near the south end of the lake).  Being a marshy area it was not used for agriculture until the Erie Canal was dug through the northern end.  This along with the connecting canals to Cayuga and Seneca Lake provided the opportunity to drain the wetlands since the dams and locks effectively lowered the Seneca River by over 8 feet.  In 1937 the federal government bought over 6,000 acres and through the efforts of the CCC began to restore the wetlands.  Using a series of low dykes and simple gates to fill and drain the wetlands, the FWS is continuing to create a diverse habitat for the scores of migrating birds that use the site as a stopover during the spring and fall.  However, during mid-June there is not much activity so all we saw was the occasional duck, goose, and osprey.  The Visitor Center is a very nice facility with both an outside and inside deck to view any activity on their Main Pool.  However, we got their before they opened at 10 am, so we decided to explore the 0.5 mile loop trail that leads to an observation tower overlooking the Main Pool and then looping around along the Barge Canal back to the Visitor Center.  By this time the Visitor Center was opened and we found out about other hiking trails open to the public.  There is also a 3.5 mile on-way drive around the Main Pool which would have given a lot of views of the birds, if there were any.  You are asked to stay in your vehicle during the drive to minimize interference with the wildlife, but there was one stop where you were allowed to hike a quarter mile into a wooden bird blind out in the Main Pool.  While it was a nice walk and a nice bird blind, there unfortunately were not any birds to watch, so we continued on.

We drove over to the Esker Brooks Trails where we ate lunch in the truck.  These trails are really three parallel trails along Esker Brook through different ecosystems.  The center trail is along the Brook, the eastern trail goes up and down on the other side of the brook through an old apple orchard, and the western trail is along the low ridge.  You can make a loop of any two of the three as they meet up at each end.  We hiked out along the brook and then returned along the ridge, making it just over 2 miles.  One advantage of hiking in NWR is since they are wetlands, they tend to be fairly flat in topography.  It was nice to take an extended walk without any excessive uphill stretches.

KalOnTrail

The volunteer at the Montezuma NWR Visitor Center told us about the remains of an aqueduct on the enlarged Erie Canal in the town of Montezuma.  So on our way back to the campground we stopped at the Montezuma Heritage Park to check it out.  It was an easy 1.7 mile to the banks of the Seneca River, which is now part of the barge canal, to the Richmond Aqueduct that had crossed over the Seneca River.  All that is left are a few of the over 30 spans on this second longest aqueduct on the Erie Canal.  It was well worth the additional hike, even though by now it was getting very warm.  While I choose to return to the truck on the trail atop the berm on the other side of the canal, Kal choose to return by the tow path as it had a lot more shade.  About half way back to the truck there I saw the remains of a pulp mill that made pulp for paper from milkweed! It did not last very long and the small section of the remaining wall was not worth the hike in the sun.

Since Wednesday was suppose to be sunny with temperatures only into the mid-80s we headed north to Lake Ontario and Chimney Bluffs State Park.  This is a lovely little park on the shore of Lake Ontario.  The namesake of the park, Chimney Bluff, is a landmark that has been used for thousands of years along the shore.  It is a high bluff (over 200 feet) that is being continuously sculpted by wind and waves into tall spires of glacial deposits.  These deposits are more sand then rock along the shore of the lake.  There is a bluff trail leading from the parking lot up on top of the bluff.  From the shore at the parking lot you cannot get a good look of the Chimney Bluffs, but along the trail you get a lot of views as your approach them.  At times you have to watch your step as the trail is often right on the edge of the bluff as you climb up.  From the top of the bluff you can either continue to the east descending down back into another small parking lot or turn inland along another trail that loops back to the main parking lot.  We choose this second trail and enjoyed a nice gentle hike back to the truck.  We then grabbed our lunch, which we ate at a picnic table overlooking Lake Ontario.  While this was only a short day of hiking, we enjoyed the hike.

Thursday was suppose to climb into the lower 90s, so we decided to try and stay indoors most of the day.  Therefore, we headed over to Seneca Falls to check out the National Park in the area, the Women’s Rights National Historical Park. Back in the 1830s and 1840s, western New York was the center for a lot of civil rights activists, both abolitionists and women suffragettes.   In fact, they were often the same individuals as those opposed to slavery would often see the rights of women to be little different from slavery.  Holding conventions was a common method to raise awareness and build support for issues.  In 1848, 5 like-minded women met over tea to plan a convention to focus on women’s rights.  Over the next 9 days they invited the more prominent proponents of civil rights to attend a convention at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls.  They also wrote the first draft of their Declaration of Sentiments, borrowing heavily from the Declaration of Independence, which was a common model in the civil rights movement.  On August 19-20, 1848 over a hundred people came to Seneca Falls for the first Women’s Rights Convention.  The first day was only for the women as speeches encourage them to demand their rights.  The second day included men, as well as, women, culminating in the signing by 68 women and 32 men of the Declaration of Sentiments.  Although not the First National Convention for Women’s Rights which was held in a couple of years in Worchester, it was still noteworthy since it was the first formal meeting and the Declaration of Sentiments continued to be the focal point of the movement.  The museum and film at the Visitor Center does a great job in highlighting significant moments in the Women’s Rights Movement, as well as, the details on this first Convention.  I especially liked learning about the connections between the Women’s Rights and slavery.  As I mentioned the leaders of both movements were virtually the same individuals up until the Civil War, when slavery was abolished but women were still second class citizens little better than slaves.  The right to vote was not passed until 1920, another 60 years after the Civil War.  Next to the Visitor Center are the remains of the Wesleyan Chapel, which was used for a number of businesses until it burned down.  They have rebuilt the Chapel using the remaining brick walls and placed pews and lectern to give the feeling at the time of the Convention.  There is also People’s Park between the buildings and a nice city park, Declaration Park, across the street.  The People’s Park is a sloped grassy area for outside events and a reflecting pool along a wall with the Declaration of Sentiments engraved on it.  Even taking our time it still only took a couple of hours to explore the site and have lunch in the Declaration Park, so it was another early day back to the campground.

DeclarationOfSentiments

Friday had a small chance for rain (which did not happen) so we decided to drive over to Farmington, New York and the Finger Lakes Gaming and Race Track.  While not up to the standard of Turning Stone Resort in lavishness, this casino was more to our liking.  There were still over 1500 slot machines to choose from and we had a lot of games to choose from.  Unfortunately, it did not take long for Kal to lose her stake so after only a couple of hours we were ready to head back to the campgrounds.  Thankfully, I had managed to make a few dollars, so it was not a total loss.  Although we do enjoy playing the slot machines, it is sure a lot more fun when you win enough to be able to play for more than a couple of hours.

Racetrack

Saturday was the start of the 4TH of July weekend, so we decided to just stay in the campgrounds doing laundry and cleaning the RV before the afternoon festivities planned for the campground.  The campground really filled up and there were people everywhere!!  Except for the cute golfcart parade in the afternoon, most of the festivities were planned for the evening when they had a DJ playing loud “patriotic” music.  Since most of the people were celebrating the holiday at their campsites instead of any central area, we decided to just stay put.  As it got dark, the fireworks came out and their were bangs and pops in all directions.  The most interesting display was the large number of miniature hot-air balloons being launched from all over the campgrounds.  We had never seen these before and they made a nice display as they floated up into the air and traveled across the campgrounds.  Once it got dark enough, they set off their firework display.  We were both impressed with the display which lasted about half an hour.  It was especially nice since we had to move only about 20 feet to get around the trees blocking the display to have a nice view of all the fireworks.  Then it was a short 20 feet back to the RV for the rest of the evening.  It was sure nice not to have to travel and deal with the crowds that we had got used to over the years in Auburn.  However, once the main display was over it was time for everyone personal displays to commence.  For the next couple of hours you could see miniature firework displays all over the place.  It was nearly midnight before it got quiet enough to go to bed, but we were not complaining.

We spent Sunday relaxing in the campgrounds, while the parties continued all around us.  Watching everyone over the weekend almost made up for the fact we did not like this campground in general.  In my opinion, our 4th of July last summer in Connecticut was better.  There was no fireworks display, but they had a much better “golfcart” parade and I enjoyed spending the afternoon listening to a country band instead of the DJ this year.

June, 2016 – Syracuse, New York

The trip around Cayuga Lake to our next camping location was a nice drive through the country side of central New York State.  We even managed to miss Syracuse as we cut off to the east around the city towards Oneida Lake, the eastern-most Fingerlake.  We were now back into the area of the Erie Canal and even crossed over a part of it getting to the campground on the east side of Oneida Lake.  My first impression of The Landing Campground was a bit of a surprise because the Good Sam website we use to locate campgrounds had rated this campground as a 10 out of 10 and I would not have given it even an 8 for appearance.  It was just about full of seasonal campers all along the waterfront with just a couple of transient sites in the middle without any shade.  We had one of these pull through sites in the middle, but they offered a back-in site that was on the water clear in the back of the campground.  When we walked around to be sure I could back the RV into it, we found the site was already occupied, so we just took the pull-through which was easy to get into and set up.  I will say that the lady running the office by herself (obviously from Queens) was very nice and helpful the entire time we were there.  We also assumed that the great rating Good Sam gave the park was due to the fact they were suppose to have both cable and free WiFi.  However, when we hooked up the cable we found out you had to have a cable box!!  They have had a running issue with the cable company to fix this for at least 6 months, but meanwhile we were back to using the antennae.  Thankfully we were now close enough to Syracuse and Utica that we got all the major channels on the antennae.  The WiFi was also a joke, even though we were within spitting distance of the office, so we continued to use our hotspot.  Other than these issues, it was a quiet campground during the week and even over the weekend it wasn’t too bad.  In the picture of the restroom building on the pages, you can see white specks that are cottonwood seeds floating in the air.  They were thick all week and really messed with our allergies.

Campsite

For those of you following this blog, you know that one of our major objective in this adventure is to visit as many National Parks as possible.  We did very well last visiting over 130 National Parks, but so far this year there has been none.  Much of this was because we headed back to William’s house in May traveling again through North Carolina and Virginia that we had already completed.  For the last couple of weeks we have been making our way north into New York west of Albany, near Syracuse.  Therefore, we are going to finally visit some more National Parks, the first being Fort Stanwix National Memorial.  Last year, we visited a number of Revolutionary War sites.  In Philadelphia, we learned about the time that General Howe captured Philadelphia in 1777 hoping to capture the Continental Congress.  We later learned that General Howe was supposed to be heading north towards Albany in a three prong attack to split the colonies in two.  Another prong was headed by General Burgoyne who was headed down Lake Champlain capturing Fort Ticonderoga and continued through Lake George towards Albany.  We leaned about this failed attempt leading to his eventual capture by the Continental Army at Saratoga Springs National Historic Park last summer.  The third prong of this campaign was an army made up of British, American loyalist and allied Iroquois Indians led by Brig General St. Leger coming east from Fort Niagara on Lake Ontario.  However, this force did not bring sufficient cannon to capture Fort Stanwix and decided to lay a siege on the fort.  After 21 days this siege had to be lifted when Gen Benedict Arnold brought in reinforcements.  Thus General Burgoyne was left by himself to drive to Albany and ended up being captured.  Thus ended the British attempts to divide the colonies and they changed their focus to the South where they had much stronger support from the loyalists.  When we visited Fort Stanwix, which is right in the center of the town of Rome, New York, we found that the history extends much further back to the French and Indian War.  The fort is situated near the middle of the Oneida Carrying Place which at the time was a land portage of about 6 miles from the headwaters of the Mohawk River that flows into the Hudson and Wood Creek that flows into Oneida Lake and from their into Lake Ontario.  It had been a major trading route for thousands of years and the original Fort Stanwix was built by the British to defend the portage from the French.  This portage was also the central reason to construct the Erie Canal, which was started to connect these two waterways.  Over the years, Fort Stanwix had been demolished by time and scavengers and eventually Rome completely covered it.  During the age of Urban Renewal in the 1960s, the town of Rome decided to clear the businesses from on top of the fort and begin reconstruction in the hopes of attracting tourists to the town.  This reconstruction took a long time, but was essentially completed in the 1970s, when the National Park Service took it over.  They have done a GREAT job in reconstructing the wooden fort and you can get a real sense of what it was like to live and defend it.

Tuesday was also the date for the next game for the US Soccer Men’s team who had made it to the quarter-finals of the Copa America tournament.  There next opponent was going to be Argentina, who is likely the best team in South America at this time.   Since it turned out we did not have cable, we had to find somewhere to go watch the game.  We decided to really splurge and go to a sports-bar within the Turning Stone Casino, about half an hour away.  Once again the game was not going to start until 9:00 so it was going to be another late night, but this also gave us plenty of time to show up early and play the slot machines before the game.  We got to the casino about an hour before the game was to start, however, we found out that this resort was HUGE!!  I have never been to Las Vegas, but the sheer size of this complex would have to rival the largest casinos in Vegas.  It has three enormous gaming rooms in the center of the complex surrounded by a maze of shops, restaurants, night-clubs, bars, and even a movie theater.  Without a map we just started to wander around looking for the sports bar we had found on the internet that would be showing the game.  After 15 minutes of getting totally lost we ask for directions twice before we found it. Now we had less than an half hour before the game, but we still got in some playing on the slot machines.  The soccer game started out good, although the US was playing very tight and was having trouble controlling the ball, especially in the mid-field and Argentina was keeping up constant pressure.  By half time they had managed to score twice and the game was all but over for the US.  Since it was now after 10:00 we decided not to watch the second half and spent another hour on the slot machines before heading back to the campground.  We had a good time, even if the soccer game was a disappointment, although not a surprise.

After a late morning on Wednesday, we decided to stay fairly close and take in the Chittenango Landing Cable Boat Museum in Chittenango, New York.  We had found out about this museum from talking with a local that was staying in the campground while she was walking her dogs on Monday.  She told us about the sports bar at Turning Stone and also this boat museum when we mentioned that we wanted to explore the Erie Canal.  This museum turned out to be one of the “great finds” of our travelsl and why it can be important to talk with the locals.  Although it is a small museum, they have completely reconstructed the dry docks at Chittenago Landing along the expanded Erie Canal.  The first Erie Canal, completed in 1825, was only 40 feet wide and 4 feet deep and was immediately over capacity with traffic.  Especially since the state of New York was able to pay off its debt the first year, plans were made and construction of a larger canal was begun.  This expanded canal was not completed until 1862 they were new sections being opened every year that were 70 feet wide and 7 feet deep.  Business sprung up all along the canal and in 1856 Chittenango Landing was open for business.  At this and many other dry docks they would float a canal boat into a flooded landing which was then drained to lower the boat onto a wooden cradle.  They could then make whatever repairs were needed.  They also built canal boats at this landing.  Along with the dry dock facilities other business sprung up which included a general store, a pottery factory, and a canning facility among others.  To support this industry there was also a sawmill, blacksmith, and wood shop at the landing.  Over they years since the canal was shut down this site had been filled for agriculture and the wood and stone salvaged for other projects, including much of the stone to build the NY Thruway.  Beginning in the 1970s, a few visionaries in Chittenango located the dry docks at the landing and began to do extensive archeological research and reconstruction.  Today they have completely rebuilt the dry docks, the general store, the sawmill, blacksmith, and wood shop.  They have even built a canal boat that they “cut open” so you can see all parts of the boat.  Even though it is only an 80% scale replica, it was very interesting especially since there was a group of grade school children visiting so they had local interpreters that provided some valuable information and insight.  I found the sawmill and wood shop to be of interest since they had managed to locate a period sawmill, band saw, planer, table saw, drill press, and other tools for the wood shop.  Along with the counter in the general store that was stocked with all manner of items that would have for sale, they also had a nice museum about how the canal was constructed and the various businesses that sprang up at the landing.  In particular, I was surprised to find out that the slowest part of constructing the canal was the removal of the trees.  They came up with two ingenious devices to speed up this process.  First, they would tie ropes near the top of trees leading to a hand crank winch.  This system would efficiently either uproot the tree or break it off in just a few minutes instead of the time consuming task of sawing down the tree.  The stumps were then pulled out using a huge wheel mounted between two even larger wheels.  The stump would be attached to the large (over 30 feet tall) in the center and horses or mules would then literally pull the stumps out of the ground!!  Amazing!  The canal itself was “dug” using a large blade like you would see on a bulldozer, again pulled by horses.  The dirt would be shoveled into wagons to be dumped to create the berm on one side and tow path on the other.  This obviously took a large labor force which was made up of primarily Irish and Scots immigrants.  Finally there was a short path along the canal to an aqueduct over the local stream that was still functioning!!  We had seen the remains of a much larger aqueduct over a river previously, but this is the first one that still had water in it.  To realize they had to build bridges over the streams and rivers to carry the water in the canal just like it was a modern highway, which in many ways it was!!

 

Thursday was spent doing laundry and cleaning the RV, which meant that Kal had to travel into town to find a laundromat.  This was another disappointment about the campgrounds as according to its website had laundry facilities.  These “facilities” turned out to be a single washing set outside the bathrooms that likely did not work.  In any case, we did not try it.  Kal went into town to a laundromat where she found a large capacity washing machine that could do all of our clothes in a single load, instead of the 2-3 normal loads!!  Consequently she was done and back in the campgrounds before I got the cleaning finished.  I spent the afternoon working on this blog and relaxing.

Due to our proximity to Lake Ontario, we had to go and see it.  Some twenty years ago I had done some hiking on Isle Royal which is in the northern part of Lake Superior, so I had seen one of the Great Lakes, but Kal had never visited any.  So for our first visit to a Great Lake we headed to Fort Ontario State Historic Site in Oswego, New York.  Suffice it to say, Lake Ontario is huge and since it is over 50 miles across, it is impossible to understand just how big it is!!  Standing on the shore you cannot even come close to seeing across it.  Fort Ontario is another fort on the northwest frontier during the French and Indian War.  The first fort was built by the British in 1755 but this fort was destroyed by the French and rebuilt by the British in 1759 during the French and Indian War.  It was abandoned by the British and destroyed by the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War in 1778 only to be rebuilt again by the British in 1782.  The British continued to hold this and other forts on Lake Ontario after the Revolutionary War until finally turning them over to the US in 1796 as part of Jay’s Treaty.  During the War of 1812 it was bombarded and stormed by the British in 1814, but they only stayed a few days and more or less destroyed the fort again.  The fort was then left alone until the US built a stone fort at the same location during the Civil War to protect our borders from a possible British invasion since they were allied with the South.  This stone fort was never totally completed and never had its full complement of cannons. It is this stone fort that remains today and has undergone extensive reconstruction by the state.  The history of Fort Ontario did not end with the Civil War as it was garrisoned by Civil War veterans following the war to release soldiers for duty in the West.  Although the fort itself was not used again as a military installation, the area around the fort continued to be used by the War Department.  During World War I, the army built a number of brick buildings to use as a hospital for wounded soldiers and during World War II it was the only refugee camp for primarily Jews liberated from the German concentration camps.  All of this history is provided with a number of exhibits and all of the fort is open for exploring, including the casemates on each side.  In addition to the stone fort itself, they have also rebuilt most of the buildings with the fort including the barracks, office quarters, and storehouse.  They have either built or found period pieces to fill each of the rooms along with a number of mannequins throughout the site.  It made for an interesting morning, since it really took just a couple of hours to fully explore it.  We ate lunch at a picnic table overlooking Lake Ontario and headed back to the campsite.

 

Saturday was spent primarily in the campground, but it started with getting up at 4:30 am.  This early start, before dawn, was necessary in order to extend the balloon fest in Jamesville, near Syracuse.  The hot-air balloons were to be launched at dawn which was listed at 6 am.  Due to the temporary signs they had erected on the bypass around Syracuse, parking for the balloon fest was to be from the south which meant going 10 miles out of our way.  In turns out that these signs were for the afternoon when large attendance was expected for the carnival rides at the fest.  We should have ignored these signs, especially since this delay just about cost us any chance of seeing the launches.  Most of the balloons were already in the air when we parked, but we did get to see two balloons being filled and launched.  As there was a gentle breeze they soon disappeared over the ridge.  I am not sure that driving over 2 hours for a half hour show was worth it, especially since we had to get up so early in the morning.  Still we enjoyed watching them launch and float through the air.

 

Since we had already done everything we had intended at this location, we spent both Sunday relaxing in the campgrounds.  The only other thing that happened that is worth noting occurred on Monday as we were hooking up the RV to the truck.  A warning light came on the dashboard after we were hooked up and getting ready to pull out.  The owner’s manual indicated there was a problem with the drive train and the truck would be in “limp home” mode which meant little power and speeds less than 20 mph.  Obviously we could not afford to take a chance.  It would have to wait until we were ready to pull out to have a problem.  This is where we fell in love with The Landing Campground employees.  After checking to make sure it would be alright to stay until the following weekend if we needed to, they suggested a local repair shop.  However, we found a Ford dealership less 10 miles away in Camden who said they could get to the truck after the workers returned from lunch.  The employees assured us that they would come and pick us up if we needed them to, which was a lot of help!!  So we unhooked the RV and drove it to Ford dealership.  At the time we did not know what “limp home” mode meant since the truck was driving fine at full speed with the warning light still on.  Once we got there they were surprised, as we were, that we were obviously not operating in limp mode.  As promised they got right to the truck after lunch and within an hour stated the only problem was once again the exhaust filter.  I believe I have mentioned that the “check engine light” had been coming on and off since we left Williams and we had assumed it had to do with this exhaust filter since the truck fine as far as we could tell.  In any case, they had to download two updates to the software and recheck they system, once again not finding anything wrong with the “drive train”.  I still don’t know why this additional warning light get lit up unless the truck was tired of us ignoring the check engine light.  They also manually had the exhaust filter cleaned and we would good to go by 2:00.  Since we had less than 80 miles to go to our next stop, we decided to go ahead and hook up the RV, which was still ready to go.  I will note that two days later the “check engine” light is once again on so I suspect we maybe spending money in the future to have the exhaust filter change, which I understand is not unusual for these trucks after 100,000 miles.