Archive for the ‘Upstate’ Category

The Adirondacks (Lake Placid and Lake George)

November 18, 2012

Continuing our upstate NY trip, we drove from the Finger Lakes to the Adirondacks.  This region is huge with plenty of little towns to explore, but we decided to focus our last 4 days on Lake Placid and Lake George.  By mid-October, the crowds are thinned to a minimum and there is plenty of peace and quiet in the woods.

The Brewster Peninsula Trail behind the Howard Johnsons takes you to a fine view of Lake Placid. Surprisingly, we found out the hard way that if you are not staying at a hotel or vacation home on Lake Placid, you will not have access to the lake. All roads around Lake Placid are private. This was one of the few places that let you get a glimpse. The other place we discovered that allows public access, although we didn’t have a legitimate reason for being there, was a boat docking area.

Brewster Peninsula trail

Brewster Peninsula trail

Lake Placid

Mirror Lake, the smaller lake that sidles up against Main Street in the town of Lake Placid, is far more easily accessible and is quite stunning. We enjoyed watching this lake change color throughout the day. Aside from the outdoor spots right off of Main Street where you can view the lake, there are two hidden locations that provide amazing views, complete with comfortable seating. The library on Main Street has a sun room with rocking chairs and a large window framing the lake. This is a great perch for when it’s cold. The coffee shop in the mall on Main Street has an outdoor balcony with cafe seating. The view here is worth a panoramic shot (my photo-stitching skills are not quite there yet).

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake at sunset

If there is only so much you can take of lakes, there is one excursion outside of Lake Placid that I highly recommend called High Falls Gorge.  The treetop walkways and bridges give you a view of the Ausible River churning angrily below.  The place has a feel of a mining operation (it actually does have a “mining for gems” feature for kids).

High Falls gorge

High Falls gorge

After a couple of days, we continued on our way to Lake George, about a 2-hour drive south. We stopped off at a taxidermy shop in between. Taxidermy seems to epitomize the Adirondacks for me.

taxidermy shop in Keene

Lake George has a different feel to it than Lake Placid. It is much more casual and we felt the off-season atmosphere more clearly here. We only spent one full day here and got busy seeing what there was to see. Here is a view of the lake and surrounding area from the top of Prospect Mountain. There is a fee to drive up this mountain.

Prospect Mountain

Prospect Mountain

The lake is also quite beautiful from the ground.

Lake George

Lake George

Lake George

I can imagine the Adirondacks being beautiful in the winter with snow on the ground and in the treetops.  There is plenty to do in the winter, especially in the Lake Placid area.  I don’t believe the lake is full of activity in the winter, but there is skiing and snowshoeing in the nearby mountains and woods.   For a place to stay, I recommend the Winterberry Bed and Breakfast right outside the center of town.  Our room was inexpensive and breakfast was delicious.  For Lake George, we stayed at the Inn at Erlowest, a grand old mansion right on the lake.  If you want luxury in a rustic setting, this is it!  The drive from Lake George to NYC is about 3 hours.  If you are planning a trip just to Lake Placid, the drive will be 5 hours.

Niagara Falls

November 11, 2012

I have to admit that Niagara Falls has never been on the top of my list of places to visit, despite having lived in NY my whole life. However, our recent trip to the Finger Lakes brought us in close proximity and we had to take the opportunity once it presented itself.  If you read my previous post, you’ll know that we based ourselves in Canandaigua to explore the Finger Lakes.  The drive from Canandaigua to Niagara took one and a half hours.   If you get there early enough in the morning, before 11am, you will find parking easily on the NY side (at least in mid-October).   Here are some views of the falls from the NY side.  There are in fact, three waterfalls, which I didn’t know about until I did some research for this trip.  Here is a view of Horseshoe Falls from Goat Island.  You can somewhat tell from this picture that it is indeed shaped like a horseshoe.

Niagara Falls

Here is a view of the other two falls, the large American Falls and the tiny one next to it called Bridal Veil Falls (yes, that tiny sliver of a waterfall in the foreground that is separated from the other waterfall by a ruined platform).

Niagara Falls

I didn’t know why my Canadian friend insisted I had to cross into Canada to see the falls until I got here.  Considering the limited view of the tops of the falls on the NY side, you owe it to yourself to bring your passport and cross over to Canada!  There are two ways to cross into Canada from the immediate area – cross Rainbow Bridge by foot or cross it by car.  Crossing by foot is far easier because you will not get stuck in traffic.  We went through the customs office on the NY side in 5 minutes (keep in mind we were there before noon).   The walk across the bridge takes just another 5 minutes, but I would imagine that everyone spends at least 15 minutes just gawking and photographing the falls from this vantage point.
Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

The view from the Canada side is not that different from the view from the bridge.  I will spare you the multiple pictures I took from the Canada side that look almost identical to the one above, just a little closer and flatter in appearance.   Some things of note on the Canadian side – lots of casinos and a sea of authentic Korean and Japanese restaurants (many of them did not have English translations on their storefronts).  Very interesting.  Also, keep in mind that you will need to drop two quarters into a turnstile to cross the bridge back over to the NY side.   Those Canadians!

I don’t know how many people just look at the falls and then leave. That would be a mistake.  Further up north on the NY side is a beautiful area called Whirlpool State Park where you can see whirlpools from a safe distance.  The water from the falls meanders its way here where its goes through some turbulence as it swizzles around a bend before making a 90 degree turn eastward.  The whirlpools appear and disappear without any noticeable pattern and greatly vary in size.  Whirlpools are quite disturbing if you have never seen one in real life.   Now I can truly appreciate how ships can get sucked up into a whirlpool, never to be seen again.  There is an aerial tram that takes you on a scary ride above the whirlpools from the Canadian side to the American side.  It was not operating the day we were there because of strong winds.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

For folks coming from NYC, I would recommend a trip to Niagara Falls if you happen to be near that area anyway, but not as a trip for its own sake.  Also, I would agree with most people that you must visit the Canadian side to get a full view of the falls, but I would not recommend spending the night there unless you like casinos and amusement parks.

The Finger Lakes

November 4, 2012

My little blog won’t be able to do this northwestern part of the state justice.  I barely scratched the surface during my 3 days here, but what I can give you is a little flavor to whet your appetite.  On the map, you can easily see how the Finger Lakes got its name – deep grooves left by glaciers resulted in long slender bodies of water side by side resembling fingers. There is an abundance of gorges, waterfalls, forest, and of course, lakes in the area.  Perfect for nature lovers!

We came here to see the leaves change and at mid-October, we were in time to see the colors peak.  It’s absolutely gorgeous at this time and with the summer crowd gone, the perfect time to explore at leisure.  Here are a few highlights from our stay.

Taughannock Falls is at the bottom end of Cayuga Lake, close to Ithaca.  It can be seen from two vantage points, from the top at a parked lookout point and from the bottom of the falls itself.  Here is the view from the lookout.  What I saw didn’t match the pictures, possibly because there hadn’t been enough rain in some time.  Its height is still impressive though.

Taughannock Falls

The hike to the falls itself is an easy 20 minute walk through a partially dry river bed (or you can follow the official trail that is completely dry above the river bed).  We saw hawks nesting on the gorge wall.  Pretty amazing.

Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls

For our stay here, we decided to base ourselves at the upper tip of Canandaigua Lake.  This was so we could drive to Niagara Falls without spending too much time on the road (separate post on that coming up).  Canandaigua also happens to have a nice little main street and a historical attraction called the Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion.  This estate houses a 40-room mansion and several different styles of gardens.  You can tour the grounds and mansion by yourself, but I recommend the free guided tour of the mansion – you get more out of it than just reading the signs.

Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion

Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion

Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion

The real highlight of the Finger Lakes, at least for me, was the gorge at Watkins Glen.  Something about the 800 steps carved into the rocks, forming a meandering and moderately-difficult trail with gushing water and dripping caves, reminded me of Lord of the Rings.  You forgive this man-made intrusion into nature because otherwise you would not be able to experience the sights and sounds of this place.

Watkins Glen gorge

Watkins Glen gorge

Watkins Glen gorge

The drive to the Finger Lakes takes about 5 hours from NYC.  To keep your sanity, I recommend you break up the drive somewhere along the way, like in Binghamton.  The Finger Lakes is a huge area and you have many options for where to rest your head.  We stayed at a Victorian bed and breakfast in Canandaigua called the Inn on the Main, which I recommend wholeheartedly because we felt very pampered.  The Finger Lakes is also known for its impressive number of wineries.  For more things to do, especially when the lakes are open for water sports, click here.

Catamount Aerial Adventure Park

June 1, 2012

This outdoor spot is not for the faint of heart.  It is meant to challenge you – mind and body.  Everyone knows the formula for an obstacle course.  Lay out a course with a start and end point, then add in some obstacles to make it challenging along the way. At Catamount, the “adventure” comes in the form of multiple obstacle courses spread out in the treetops, with ropes and wooden walkways suspended over the air and tree platforms to hug for dear life in between.  There are courses for all levels, from those afraid of heights to brazen warriors.  To get the most out of this place though, you should not be completely scared of heights.

IMG_5266
Photo credit: Laurie Husted

Sadly, I have none of my usual pictures for you, but the above  shows you part of the layout.

So what is this place about?  You are first strapped into a harness and given two ropes with hooks at the ends called caribiners. Then they provide instructions on how to use them so that you don’t become a foolish casualty.  When you do the courses, no staffer is watching to make sure you are hooking and unhooking yourself to and from the proper lines, so you are pretty much on your own.

Each course is marked with a color that indicates its difficulty level.  If you are somewhat scared of heights like me, you will probably get through maybe 3 of the 5 levels.  The easiest course is only 10 feet off the ground, while the most difficult appears to be more than 30 feet high with the most precarious situations imaginable to test your balance.  Almost all the courses have a zipline for you to practice your Tarzan holler.

I recommend this place for those of you who are looking for something challenging, gets the adrenaline going, and doesn’t necessarily require that you be in top shape.  All you need is some agility and brain matter for problem-solving.  Did I say it was fun? It was most definitely fun.

Catamount is about a 2.5 hour drive north of the city, at 2962 State Highway 23 in Hillsdale.  You can find the directions here. Right now, it is open only on weekends and holidays, from 9:00 to 5:30. From June 16 to September 3, it will be open daily.  In the fall, it goes back to being open only on weekends, plus Columbus Day. The park fee is $51 for adults 12 and older, $42 for kids 10 to 11, and $33 for kids 7 to 9.  There is free parking onsite.

Howe Caverns

May 29, 2011

As a little kid, I used to watch ads on TV for this upstate wonder and always got sucked in by the shadowy lights playing off the rough formations and lake surface of the caverns.  I knew better than to beg my parents to take me, because even at the age of 6, I knew that it was not possible to get there without a car.  This obstacle did not dampen my desire in the least over the years.  I am happy to report that decades later, I finally got to see these caverns with my own eyes.

You can explore the caverns through one of three tours.  There is one where you can go spelunking with gear, which I was too chicken to do; an evening tour done only with lanterns, which I was also too chicken to do; and the traditional tour with boat ride, which I was very much able to do.

Although there are plenty of shadows to be found in the caverns, the walkways built to explore them are pretty well lit and fortified for safety.  If you think about it, the place is mainly geared towards children – that means you are dealing with a tamed environment.  If this is not your thing, I would suggest doing the 2-hour spelunking tour instead where you can climb the walls and get your hands dirty.

Howe caverns

I was more than thrilled to finally see the stalactites and stalagmites up close and personal, even if the dramatic lighting scheme was more amusing at my age than awe-inspiring.

Howe caverns

Howe caverns

Howe caverns

Howe caverns

Having gotten this out of my system, I can honestly say this is worth it if you are planning to do a roadtrip upstate anyway.  It is close to a 4-hour drive from the city each way, so I do not recommend this as a day trip.  We did this as part of an extended weekend trip that also included exploring some famous estates, spending the night in the Rhinebeck area, and hitting some antique shops on the way back.   That’s just one idea.  It is also on the way to Cooperstown (Baseball Hall of Fame) or Albany, if you wanted to cover one of those cities as well.
For the most current hours, tour rates, and directions to the caverns, click here.

Storm King Art Center

October 15, 2010

For this post, I will do next to the impossible.  I will sell you the idea of this place without posting any pictures of its artwork. What?  Yes.  They have an insane rule that you cannot publicly post any pics that you took of their artwork.  So what I will do instead is post pictures of the natural beauty that can be found here, and we can pretend for a moment that this place is just a large park.

The Storm King Art Center is a 500 acre outdoor sculpture park dotted with gigantic modern art sculptures.  The sculptures are made by various artists, some of them quite famous.  The only word I would use to describe them is “bizarre.” But then again, I find modern art to be bizarre in general. Many of the sculptures are part of their permanent collection. Currently, they have a temporary site-specific work at the south end of the park designed by Maya Lin.  Called Wavefield, this piece was easily my favorite in the park.  You can see a NY Times article about it (with pictures) here.

The park is a must-see, even without the promise of sculptures hidden at every bend that tower over you and dazzle the eyes.  The park is so vast and of such varying landscape that it is perfect for several hours of exploration.  You will find hills, forest, lakes, flat meadows, and a roaring creek.  You will also find a wooded trail that wraps around half the park and gives you glimpses of the creek.  Here are a few pictures to whet your appetite.  Who says you even need the art?

This is from one of the viewing platforms in the park.
Storm King Arts Center

This is a little stream that runs through part of the southern end.  The more impressive big creek is coming up.
Storm King Arts Center

Get some shade in the woods.
Storm King Arts Center

The creek!

Storm King Arts Center

Storm King Arts Center

One of two lakes.
Storm King Arts Center

Ferns everywhere.
Storm King Arts Center

Time to go home.
Storm King Arts Center

The Storm King is located in Mountainville, NY. This year, it is open until November 14th, then it will reopen on April 1st of next year. Hours are 10am to 5pm, closed Mondays and Tuesdays. The entrance fee is $12 per person. No dogs or bikes allowed. They will rent you a bike for $20 for 2 hours. If biking is not your thing, you should explore by foot (give yourself 3-4 hours and make sure you have water on you). There’s also a free trolley that picks you up and drops you off throughout the park.

You can either take a private bus or drive there. The Coach USA/Shortline bus ride is $45 roundtrip. If you drive, it will take about an hour from the city, not counting traffic. Take the Palisades Interstate Parkway north to the Bear Mountain traffic circle; take Route 9W north 11 miles to Quaker Avenue exit. Make a left off the exit onto Route 107 to the light. Make a right on Route 32, then left after the green bridge, then follow the blue and white signs.

Pacem in Terris

May 7, 2010

Latin for “Peace on Earth,” this private sculptural garden spanning 6 acres is a must-see in Warwick, NY.  The artist, Frederick Franck, lived here for many years with his wife.  He transformed the garden into what it is today, full of whimsical and sometimes disturbing sculptural imagery, before passing away at the age of 97.  The beauty of this place is that it remains in close ties with nature.  I would say it is more forest than garden.

The Wawayanda River runs through the place.

Franck’s sculptures are scattered all over the place, sometimes taking you by surprise.

Some people will find personal meaning in this work, others will enjoy the artwork for what it is, as it holds a striking presence against a backdrop of woods.

There is also a stone water mill on the property that offers a cool and shady sanctuary. Inside, the religious undertones evoke some quiet reflection.

Pacem in Terris is located at 96 Covered Bridge Road.  Admission is free.  If coming from the city, take the New York State Thruway (I-87) north to Exit 15A (Suffern/Sloatsburg).  Turn left off the exit ramp onto Route 17 north.  Proceed through Sloatsburg and Tuxedo and then turn left onto Route 17A.  Follow 17A for 14 miles to Warwick.  In Warwick, turn left at the second light onto Route 94 West.  Travel about three miles to Fancher Road and turn right.  A small handwritten sign indicates Pacem in Terris, which is at the end of the block.  For current hours, click here.

Chuang Yen Monastery

March 6, 2010

An hour’s drive into Putnam County is a peaceful Buddhist monastery with 10,000 Buddhas.  Statues, that is.  The monastery sits on a large amount of land that holds a number of halls for meditation, reading, and eating.  The grounds are a nature lover’s dream, especially in the fall when the leaves display their colors.  You don’t have to be Buddhist to visit.  You just have to be respectful of the Buddhists who are there, since it is an active monastery.

The monastery greets the visitor with two Fu Dogs at the entrance.  These fiercesome Chinese dogs look more like squat dragons.  Interestingly, they always come in pairs, one male, one female.

The main hall, the largest building on the grounds and the one you first see when you enter, not only houses the 10,000 Buddhas, it houses the largest Buddha statue in the Western Hemisphere at 37 feet.  If you look at the contours of the ceiling, it looks like they built the building around the statue.

Set around the base of the large Buddha, looking just like stadium seating, are the 10,000 Buddhas. They are each about 4 inches tall and from my vantage point, look like they were made from one mold. I didn’t bother to count the number of statues but can easily believe there were 10,000 of them.

When you come out and walk the grounds, don’t forget to look at the building details. They’re pretty amazing.

There are two not-to-miss places that I want to point out.  There’s a beautiful lake with koi fish, called Seven Jewels Lake, that is graced by the Goddess of Mercy, Kuan Yin.

There is also the somber granite memorial terrace that has a wall containing names of loved ones who passed away. Incense is burned on a platform in front.

The monastery is open from 9am to 5pm every day.  If you go on a Sunday, a vegetarian lunch buffet is available for $5. Directions: From the city, take I-87 Major Deegan Expressway North.  Take Exit 5 Route 100 (Central Avenue) North. Stay left until the second traffic light.  Take Sprain Brook Parkway North which continues onto Taconic Parkway North, take the Route 301 East exit (towards Carmel).  The Monastery is approximately 1.7 miles on the left side of the road.

If you need directions from NJ or CT, click here.