Upstate New York

Saturday, 05 October 2013 15:30
Print Email

Some lovely fall sceneryExploring the Finger Lakes region of New York.

The next ‘must stop’ place on my list after the Ontario was Montreal, but I had a couple of choices on how to get there—I could stay in Canada and kind of skirt around the north side of the lakes, or I could drop back into the US and go through upstate New York. I’d heard that the Finger Lakes region was really pretty, plus it seemed like fall was getting more fall-like every day, so I went for the upstate New York route.

I had a relatively uneventful drive from the border at Buffalo through to Batavia, where I grabbed a hotel room for the evening. From there, I went with the “wander around” method of exploring, so I checked off the ‘ol “avoid highways” option on the GPS and headed off in the general direction of the Finger Lakes.

The drive was lovely. The weather was great, and like Ontario, the maples had really kicked off into the bright reds and oranges, so there wasn’t really a bad view in any direction. This was mostly farm country, dotted here and there with little towns, most dating back into the 1700s. After a bit of driving, I ran into some heavy traffic in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere. I’d accidentally discovered the Naples Grape Festival.  

Just starting to show some color The maples were the best A pastoral scene near one of the lakes

Like my last stop in Ontario (and for a lot of the same terrain and climate reasons), the Finger Lakes area is a very popular and successful wine region. Naples is a little village on Canandaigua Lake, and it’s known for both wine grapes and Concord grapes. The annual Grape Festival was sort of part state fair, part wine tasting, part famers market, and part yard sale. There was sort of a central area to the action around the town hall, but it really happened all up and down both sides of the main street. People had all kinds of things out for sale on their front yards, and the various orchards were selling grapes and other food, including the much-hyped (but really pretty awful) grape pie

The scene in downtown Naples The main action was around the town hall And of course, there were grapes

I parked and walked up and down the street, and after a slice of grape pie I had a little street food to get the taste out of my mouth. I also got some regular Concord grapes to munch on during the drive so I wasn’t put off of grapes permanently by the pie, then got back in the car and kept exploring the lakes region.

I headed down to Watkins Glen at the south end of Seneca Lake to camp for the night, and since I got there before dusk, I had a little time before I had to get set up. I did the hike up the gorge at the State Park, which was really beautiful. It’s all little waterfalls cascading through old shale deposits, which are almost completely undisturbed from a geological standpoint, and the layers are all perfectly horizontal, which makes the whole gorge look like a giant layer cake. The hiking trail had also been there for a really long time, and it was very well maintained and developed. Generally speaking, the parks and hikes I’ve been doing have been getting gradually less ‘wild’ as I’ve gotten farther east, which I suspect is just because people have been going to these areas for a lot longer than they have been in some of the more remote western parks.

The gorge at Watkins Glen You could walk behind this waterfall A bit farther upstream


Anyway, the off season camping advantages were evident here as well, as there was practically nobody camping at Watkins Glen, so I had a nice night’s sleep there in the park. However, Watkins Glen is also home to one of the most famous racetracks in the US, so I was awoken by the gentle sounds of unmuffled V8 racing engines wafting gently through the woods. I was planning on heading over to the track anyway, so I packed up and drove over to see what was up.

It looked like a track day, where a group rents the track and they take their race and/or street cars out and run around for a while. Judging from the cars that were out there, I’m guessing it was a Porsche 911 club day, with a few other cars allowed in to help defray the costs of the track rental. The track was allowing spectators into the grandstand area for free, so I went in and watched for a while. There were some cool cars going around, but since it wasn’t  a race, it wasn’t all that interesting for very long, so I drove back toward the lakes.

Watkins Glen! Free spectating during the week One of the (engine-less) promo/photo cars
Pretty sure this was a body kit and not a real 935 Definitely a kit and not a real Cobra Coupe 100% real early 911

I hiked up and around Taugannock Falls, which was a great trail with very nice views, but like everywhere this time of year, the water levels were pretty low, so it wasn’t as impressive as it probably is in the springtime. I had a room booked for the night in Penn Yan (short for “Pennsylvania Yankee”), so I meandered up the shores of Keuka Lake and visited a few of the wineries along the way. Like Ontario, they were staffed with friendly people and they produced some great Rieslings and were sort of middle-of-the-road on other varieties.

Not much water in the stream, but enough for this Some pretty views up the gorge The falls
Hanging out overlooking Keuka Lake One of the many vineyards along the way Same vineyard, different view

I got to Penn Yan a little early to check into my room in the second B&B I’ve stayed in on the trip thus far, the “La Belle Vie” . My hosts Llewellyn and Laurel were very nice and accommodating, and they offered several suggestions for dinner in downtown Penn Yan. I wandered around for a bit and explored the town, then eventually pulled up a stool at the local tavern and had the special that day, a nice mac ‘n cheese concoction. 

That's one serious pancake Some downtown Penn Yan scenery My hosts, Laurel and Llewellyn

The B&B was great, and I got to know the hosts and the other folks staying there over a really tasty breakfast the next morning, after which I headed for another cruise around some of lakes that I’d missed, then up to Syracuse for some lunch with friends there.  I was covering a pretty fair amount of ground, but shortly after Syracuse I came across a hiking trail along the old Erie Canal and decided to go for a walk.

The Erie Canal ran from Buffalo to Albany, and initial construction started in 1817. At the time, everybody thought that Jesse Hawley was a bit of a lunatic for proposing such a thing, that Governor DeWitt Clinton was equally loony for funding it, and that nobody would use it once it was built (assuming that it could be built, which was also up for quite a bit of debate.) However, it did get built, and boy, did people use it.

The canal had to be dug largely in a straight line so as to minimize the amount of excavation necessary and to provide tow paths that were as straight as possible, as that made handling the barges a lot easier. Cutting through the land was quite a project, but my hike took me to one thing I hadn’t ever considered—what happens when the canal needs to cross a river?

The answer, as any self-respecting Roman engineer would tell you, is an aqueduct. Basically, they built the Richmond Aqueduct, a big bridge where about 1/3rd of its width was flat roadway for the towpath, and the remaining 2/3rds was a long, narrow basin for the water of the canal to flow through, over the water naturally flowing through the river below. It’s quite an engineering undertaking for the 1800s, but it worked great, and it lasted until 1917 when they disassembled it to make room for a bigger canal. This was the second largest of thirty two aqueducts along the length of the canal.

The remains of the Richmond Aqueduct What it used to look like The view from up top--tow path on the left, canal support on the right

After wrapping up my hike (and history lesson) and attempting to get “Low Bridge” out of my head, I drove toward Schenectady, where my grandfather was born. It was already getting to be pretty late in the afternoon, I didn’t have lodging plans for the night, and campsites were pretty scarce in that neck of the woods, so I was afraid I’d have to find a cheap motel or something.  However, by a stroke of luck I drove past “Ye Olde Landmark Tavern” in Bouckville, NY (home of Mott’s Apple Juice), where on the sign it said “Fine Food and Spirits”, and under that “Overnight Lodging”.  Since overnight lodging was exactly what I was interested in, I poked my head in and asked if they had any rooms. In another fine off season/mid-week bit of happiness, they did indeed have rooms, and they were also serving dinner, so for $60 I got a nice, big upstairs tavern room with a four poster bed and a full bathroom.

The tavern Best $60 room ever

Apparently I was the only person staying there, too. They only had five rooms to let (over the bar and restaurant areas), and the rest were empty. The nice woman who was the combination bartender/hostess/receptionist told me to put my things upstairs, then come down to the tavern for some dinner, so I did just that, and had a great meal. It felt very olde timey; weary traveler on the road stops in at the local tavern and gets some food and a bed. All I needed was some ruffians to come up and ask me to join a quest for a ring or something. In any case, it was a great bit of luck, and if you ever have the opportunity to spend the night at a traditional tavern, I highly recommend it.

I made it to Schenectady the next morning and explored the town a little bit to see where my grandfather came from. Schenectady was a pretty big deal from around the mid-1800s up until about the 1970s, as it was the home of General Electric and the American Locomotive Company. Interestingly, it was the Erie Canal showing up in Schenectady in 1825 that really got things kicked off for the city, and after several decades of growth from the canal, Thomas Edison moved his Edison Machine Works (which eventually became General Electric) there in 1887.  GE was the big employer in town for a long time, and pretty much any of the historic areas were due to it basically being a GE company town. There were old theaters and office buildings downtown, and a really beautiful area of big old homes where the GE executives all used to live. Outside of those areas, the city got a little dodgy in spots, and a couple times the GPS took me off into the ‘hood a bit, but nothing too awful. I stopped in at the local technology museum (which was admittedly a little lame) to see if there was any good GE stuff in there, and there was a bit, but nothing earth shattering.

Some old advertising in Schenectady

I left Schenectady and took advantage of my proximity to Vermont to add another state to my list, and wandered over to Bennington via the backroads, which made for a really lovely fall drive. I also stumbled across the headquarters of Hemmings Motor News, which you car guys all know very well. It’s pretty cool—publishing in the back, gas station and souvenir shop in the front. Naturally, I also picked up the latest copy at the counter.

The Hemmings truck

Moving on up the road, it was getting to be dinnertime, and I was passing through another of those little villages, this time North Bennington (which is, of course, north of Bennington.) I passed another tavern that looked warm and inviting, and pulled up to the curb in front. One of the locals (and the place was entirely filled with locals, which isn’t a bad feat in a town of 1500) was coming out, and he owned the Porsche Boxter parked a couple spots up from me, so we had the obligatory ‘sports car guy’ chat for a little while. The barmaid also came out to join in, as she’d seen the car pull up and was curious as I obviously wasn’t from around there. After getting the basic rundown (road trip from Nevada, etc.), she went back inside and apparently told the entire bar who I was and what I was doing, because when I stepped inside they all yelled “Hey, Nevada!” It was like an episode of “Cheers” when Norm walks in.

The only pic I got inside the tavern

One of the locals gave me a stool at the bar and bought me a beer, and a got a wide range of advice as to what to order for dinner (final decision: chicken parm, with chicken from “Bobby’s farm just up the road” and sauce they made there) and answered a lot of questions about the trip and where I’d been and why on earth anybody would spend that much time driving and so on. By this time, it had gotten dark, and since my lodging plan for the night was to camp, I figured I should get going.

There was a state park about 15 miles up the road that had some nice campsites, but it was pitch black and a bit difficult to get oriented, but eventually I figured it out, and settled in for a really good night’s sleep in a crisp fall night out among the falling leaves.

More fall scenery Soybeans, I think Even more fall scenery


As I wandered up in the general direction of Canada the next day, I kept off the highways and passed through little towns and villages about every 15 to 20 miles or so—this was definitely getting into more ‘east coast’-style countryside now. Every town had a big church (no matter how small the town), and most had central parks and prominently featured church-side cemeteries as well, along with the usual one stoplight downtown area. It was great; I love cruising through those places. I also made a quick side trip to Fort Ticonderoga, which was neat but a little disappointing—I wasn’t aware that it had been totally rebuilt from scratch; I thought that it was mostly original. Still pretty interesting, regardless, and a worthwhile detour.

The view over Ticonderoga's defense perimeter Ultima Ratio Regum Walls at the fort
A little history, albeit reconstructed Another view of the fort Musket demonstration
A little pre-Halloween graveyard action A little spookier OK, that's enough graveyard

Next stop: Montreal  and a sizeable chunk of eastern Canada


#1 lectacave 2013-10-12 08:39
Wow, what a beautiful shot of those maples! Are you sure you didn't paint it?
#2 laceytrynn 2013-10-12 10:15
a shame about the grape pie, glad it didn't turn you off of grapes altogether... love the gorge and cemetery pics... and now I've got "Low Bridge" stuck in my head too!
#3 Mom 2013-10-12 11:00
Grandpop would have been soooo excited, I bet he was right there with ya..
#4 Carter Family 2013-10-12 16:48
Steve and I are still following your blog and enjoying the beautiful photos and great stories of your travels. Love the water falls and fall leaves in this one! Also, the room at the tavern was such a good deal and a quaint place to stay.
#5 danabart 2013-10-16 13:15
You must have had a bad grape pie. Mike Moorehead's mom made us pie while we were there and it was fantastic. Michelle still talks about it. On par with Scootie cookies.
#6 admin 2013-10-28 20:19
I probably did get a bad piece of pie, as people were lined up to get the stuff. And hi Carter family!

Only registered users can post comments.