Walter and Sara On the road to who knows where
On Monday May 22nd, we made the journey south from Four Mile Creek State Park on the shores of Lake Ontario to the city of Niagara Falls, NY and then across the Niagara River to Niagara Falls, Ontario. This little journey took a bit of preparation. First we had to dig out our passports because we were going out of the country. And we had to move our ‘wine cellar’ (a box we keep in the pick up truck) into the trailer since the Canadians won’t let you take more than 2 bottles of wine across the border. And of course we had to figure out which of the 3 bridges/border crossings we should take and where the heck we should park to visit the falls.

Having done all that, the drive was a piece of cake. There is this nifty road called the Robert Moses Parkway, that had almost no traffic on it, that runs from Four Mile Creek State Park down to the town of Niagara Falls. You get off at Main Street and go across the Rainbow Bridge and presto you’re in Oz! Actually first you have to pay the bridge toll of $3.75 and then you have to talk to the border guard on the Canadian side, and THEN you take a left turn and you’re on River Road which runs parallel to the Niagara Gorge. It turned out to be Canadian Memorial Day so things were pretty busy on the Canadian side. We sat in traffic a bit and I managed to snap a photo of the purple tulips in bloom in front of the Sheraton Hotel.

Sheraton Hotel Niagara Falls ON

We drove until we reached the Falls Parking lot and surrendered $18 ($22 Canadian) to park for the day (they happily too our American dollars). It was close to 11 am at this point and the huge parking lot was about 2/3 full. We parked and then found our way to the crosswalk across River Road for a view of the river just as it begins to plunge over Horseshoe Falls.

Top of Horseshoe Falls Ontario

We were just starting to have sun breaks and I was fascinated by the lovely green color of the water as it went over the top.

Green water top of Horseshoe Falls

We moved on along the walkway and got a different angle of the top including our first view of the Hornblower, the Canadian version of the Maid of the Mist boat trip.

Horseshoe Falls ON

That’s a whole lot of water by anybody’s definition. Just over to the far left you can see American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls too.

The tour boats take turns so that there’s only one boat up near the falls at any moment. Here’s the Maid of the Mist with all the folks in blue ponchos.

Maid of the Mist Niagara Falls

And here’s one of those same little boats heading right into the mist at the falls.

Horseshoe Falls panorama shot

The crowds were pretty heavy at this point which made walking on the sidewalks a bit of a challenge but folks kept moving so getting a spot along the railing to take pictures wasn’t bad.

Along about here, the mist from the falls starts to waft up and we were both glad we’d worn our raincoats. Many folks were still in the ponchos they’d gotten on their boat rides but everyone was wet.

The view of American Falls gets pretty good as you head north along the river.

American Falls from Ontario

The smaller waterfall on the right is Bridal Veil Falls (I think).

Looking back up river you get a great view of the mist at the foot of Horseshoe Falls. The boats almost completely disappear into it.

Horseshoe Falls

We kept on going until we had this great panoramic view of the American Falls and the Rainbow Bridge.   

American Falls and Rainbow Bridge

Here and there along the hillside there were tulips in bloom. I have no idea how they got there—they certainly don’t self seed! But they were fun nevertheless.

Yellow Tulips

I grabbed one more shot of the Maid of the Mist and the Hornblower as they passed below us before we turned to head back.

Maid of the Mist and Hornblower Niagara Falls

Clearly most folks think that a ride into the mist is a mandatory part of the visit to Niagara Falls. Neither of us had any desire to get on a boat and get wet so we took a pass.
There are lots of ways to spend money here besides the boat tours. There are elevators down to the river level where you can walk around and get wet (poncho included in the price), there are tours of all sorts and varieties including a zip line that runs from the top of the gorge down to the river and of course there are observation towers too. Best of all is that there are clip clops (carriages) to take rides in which means pretty horses too.  

White Horse and carriage

The sidewalks were getting fuller so we crossed to the other side and walked on the hotel side of the street on our way back. There were some pocket parks and one was dedicated to Tesla. The first time he saw a photograph of Niagara Falls, Tesla said he wanted to harness its power to drive a motor to provide electricity to the whole world.

Someone had left a florescent light bulb on the statue so Walter had to try to hand it to Tesla.  

Tesla statue Walter Cooke Niagara Falls ON

Just before we got back to the parking lot we passed the Table Rock Center where we’d stopped on our way in. It’s right at the top of the falls.

Table Rock Center Niagara Falls ON

We spent a little over an hour visiting the falls and were perfectly satisfied with that. By the time we got back to the parking lot it is was nearly full. We found the truck without too much difficulty and made our way back to the Rainbow Bridge and through US Customs and Border Patrol and then on back to Four Mile Creek State Park. After lunch we took a drive to get one of our propane tanks filled. We ended up driving all over the place to a propane/gas station on the local Indian Reservation which had super low prices (the lowest we’ve ever paid).

As the day went on the weather cleared more and more and we could actually see Lake Ontario through the trees from our campsite. We took showers in the shower house at the park that afternoon. While there was hot water 3 out of the 4 shower heads in the women’s bathroom didn’t produce enough water to get wet with. But the 4th one was adequate. Not great, but hey, I got clean!

That evening, we even had a bit of a sunset.  

Sunset Four Mile Creek SP

I figured once the sun set into the lake the color would go quickly but it lasted for a long time giving us a lavender sky for a good half hour.

Sunset Four Mile Creek SP

Tuesday May 23rd, we packed up and drove southeast on blue highways to the Finger Lakes region of New York and Watkins Glen State Park at the bottom of Seneca Lake. It was a beautiful sunny day and we got some lovely views of the lake as we drove along. We checked in at the campground kiosk and they gave us a nice long site that we couldn’t get into. We tried from both directions (driving the wrong way on the one-way road) before we went back and asked for another. There was a tree (with many scars on it) that was in just the wrong place so we couldn’t get in. We got into our next spot with no problem first try.

This is an old old campground and the sites are arranged almost perpendicular to the road. That makes it hard for any RV or trailer to get into them especially since there are so may trees everywhere. We had an electric only site (the NY state park system seems to have only electrical hook ups) that was off by itself. The park was pretty empty (though no doubt it would be full for the holiday weekend). We set up camp and then headed to Ithaca NY (about 30 miles and 45 minutes away) to meet up with an old friend of mine who I hadn’t seen for 50 years. Yes, you read that right. I met Art Banks on a high school foreign language summer program which took us to Austria for 4 weeks and then to the USSR for 2 weeks back in 1966. We’ve corresponded off and on over the years (mostly off but he found me again about 5 years ago) and it just seemed like it was time to hook up.

We had a lovely evening catching up (though you really can’t catch up in 2 or 3 hours when it’s been that long) and then drove home on the very dark country roads back to Watkins Glen.

The next morning our plan was to tackle the hike through Watkins Glen. On busy days, they have a shuttle bus that you can take to the Upper Entrance of the Gorge so you can hike the 1 1/2 mile trail from the top down. But the bus wasn’t running. Doing the whole thing would mean starting at the bottom and hiking 3 miles round trip with 880 stairs up and then 880 stairs down again. Whew. Walter came up with a plan that would allow me to hike from the top and see the whole thing while he’d park down at the bottom and hike as far as he liked UP until we met.

The hike is supposed to have 19 waterfalls and I really didn’t want to miss any of them so I took him up on his very gracious offer. He’s a really really nice man and awfully good to me!

We drove the road around the outside of the park (which is the first Road Racing Circuit in the America) to the Upper Entrance and Walter dropped me off there. He continued on the circuit, got gas in the truck and found a place to park at the Main Entrance (which was under construction). Meanwhile I began the hike down the Gorge. It begins with a long set of stairs called Jacobs Ladder.

Jacob's Ladder Watkins Glen NY

At the top of the gorge the river is just a little stream but it deepens quickly forming little cascades as it goes.

Upper Watkins Glen

It’s not very wide and the walkway steadily takes you down (the drop in 1 1/2 miles is 600 feet in elevation).

Watkins Glen

There weren’t that many folks hiking the trail in the late morning. I met a local who said it was great because lots of folks thought the Main Entrance was closed. I guess it can get really crowded on a nice summer day.

Watkins Glen

The river is steadily eroding its way through thin layers of sandstone and shale.

In some sections there are overhangs that drip like weeping rocks and are full of ferns and mosses—and it makes the trail wet and muddy most of the way.  
Ferns and mosses Watkins Glen

There were very few flowers in the gorge but there were a few sedums in bloom in through here.

White sedum flowers

And I found a very familiar weed from my garden in Monroe—Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum).

Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum)

More and more water seeps into the gorge and the river gets bigger and the descent steeper. And with that, nifty pools begin to appear—many of them very round.

Watkins Glen pools

The stairs just keep on coming and there is a lot of wet walkway to navigate.

Watkins Glen stairs

I didn’t try to count all the cascades and small falls. But they sure were pretty.

Watkins Glen cascade

Some were truly falls with narrow passages and carved pools.

Watkins Glen pools

The gorge gets really narrow in places as it deepens.

Watkins Glen

And you get these great little cascades along the way.

Cascades Watkins Glen

About 1/2 way down you come to Rainbow Falls where the trail passes behind the falls.

Rainbow Falls Watkins Glen

There are nearly round plunge pools formed by a cascade below the bridge you cross to reach it.

Pools Watkins Glen

It really makes for an amazing view.

Rainbow Falls Watkins Glen

Here’s the falls under the bridge viewed from over on the trail near Rainbow Falls.

Bridge falls Watkins Glen

And then you walk under Rainbow Falls.

Walking under Rainbow Falls Watkins Glen

Further along down the trail I turned and caught a nice shot of both the falls under the bridge and Rainbow Falls.

Rainbow Falls Watkins Glen

Again the gorge narrows and the strange round pools appear.

Rainbow Falls Watkins Glen

Does this count as a waterfall do you think? Or just a cascade? In any case, it’s pretty.

Watkins Glen

Off and on down the canyon I spotted what they call Wild Columbine (Aqueligia canadensis). This one was growing so there was white water behind it which made for a fun shot.   

Wild Columbine (Aqueligia canadensis)

The cascades continued down the narrow slot worn by the river.

Watkins Glen

A little farther along you come to another large waterfall that I think was called the Central Cascade. Whatever its name, it’s swell.

Central Cascade Watkins Glen

Then you go through one of the many tunnels along the trail and get view down the gorge.

Watkins Glen Tunnel

After another flight of stairs or two you get a nice view back to the waterfall.

Central Cascade

About here I spotted Walter resting on a bench in the sun down the canyon. Hooray! We sat and rested a few minutes and talked about our walks and then headed down yet another set of stairs past another cascade. He’d had quite the workout climbing all the stairs in his section but was totally enchanted by the place.

Walter Cooke Watkins Glen

Then more tunnels. Along in here there’s one that is called the Spiral Tunnel which is a vertical tunnel with a spiral staircase—pretty cool really.

Watkins Glen tunne

When you come out of this tunnel you’re met with a view of the top of another big waterfall which you get to walk behind.

Watkins Tunnel exit waterfall

Once you make that trip you get a nice view of the lovely waterfall.

Watkins Glen waterfall

And yet another small waterfall farther down.

Watkins Glen waterfall

From this spot you can see a bit of the big waterfall, all of the medium sized one and a small one in the foreground.

Watkins Glen waterfalls

Not much farther along, you come to a wider area in the gorge where Couch’s Stairway comes down from the South Entrance.

Couch's Stairway Watkins Glen

One could easily enjoy a 2 mile or so walk (seeing most of the best of the gorge) by starting here and going up to Mile Point Bridge and back. It’s certainly what I’d recommend for anyone who doesn’t have a way to get to the Upper Entrance and doesn’t want to walk the whole 3 miles round trip—with 1700 stairs. There was a lot of Honeysuckle in bloom here. I think it is Tartarian Honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) an introduced species that is considered invasive some places.      

Tartarian Honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica)

There’s one more waterfall just past Couch’s Staircase. You can’t see it until you’ve crossed the bridge and come down one more set of stairs. If you start at the Main Entrance this is what you see first as you enter the gorge.

Watkins Glen waterfall

The trail is then flat out to the street where the Main Entrance is now under construction. Walter parked in the nice new parking lot across the street from the construction. From here we drove back up to the campground for lunch. After lunch we drove up the east side of Seneca Lake for about 5 miles to visit the top half of Hector Falls.

The bottom half can only be viewed from a boat on the lake. But I think this is more than lovely enough.    

Hector Falls NY

We drove back to Watkins Glen and then drove a few miles south to the town of Monitor Falls and found a parking spot on the tree-lined street so we could visit Chequaga (Shequaga) Falls.
Chequaga (Shequaga) Falls

This is in a residential part of town with houses whose back yards face out on the falls. Of course they have a great view but they have to deal with the tourists in the little park that leads up to it, right past the sides of their open yards.

The Finger Lakes Area is FULL of waterfalls. There are a number of other state parks with 10 to 20 waterfalls in them. So you could easily spend a week visiting nothing but waterfalls. While I love waterfalls one very full day of them was more than enough for starters.

By late afternoon the skies began to cloud up and it began to rain in the night. By morning it was raining pretty hard which made getting ready to pack up and leave a kind of wet job. Ah well. We programed Carmine the Garmin to take us to Schodack Island State Park just south of Albany, NY without getting on any toll roads (a trick in New York) and we headed east on Hwy 79 through Ithaca (a challenge pulling a trailer through its narrow streets) to Hwy 206 where we picked up I-88 until we got just outside of Schenectady where we had to get off and go across on Hwy 20. I got to drive through Albany changing from one freeway to another every 5 or 6 miles and certainly breathed a sigh of relief when we got off again and headed the final few miles south of the city to Schodack Island. We had a 4 day reservation here that we’d picked up only a couple of weeks before. Clearly someone had canceled and we were really grateful. It had rained most of the 4 1/2 hours we were on the road but it let up by the time we hit Albany and had stopped by the time we arrived. Hooray.

We got a nice back in site with electricity for $33.25 a night (that includes the $5 a night out of state fee). Our cell phones worked. Our hot spot worked (especially well with our booster) and Walter got lots of TV over the air. How very civilized.

On Friday May 26th, Walter got on the phone again and actually got us appointments to get our teeth cleaned in Bar Harbor, Maine—on the day before we are due to head into Canada! Big big hip hip hooray! Having gotten that out of the way we headed south to the town of Kingston, NY so we could go to the Chase Bank branch there to deposit the last of the insurance checks from the accident back in January. We had gotten the check a week before when we picked up our mail while we were at Allegany State Park. But we discovered there were no Chase branches in either the Buffalo area or Albany. And in fact we wouldn’t be near one all the way through Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. Kingston, which is about 50 miles south, was the closest we’d get. So we took a nice drive through the countryside and along the Hudson for an hour or so, made our deposit, got gas and came back again—and it only rained lightly off and on.

Along the way we stopped and I took these photos of the Hudson. Here’s the river looking northward.

Hudson River south of Albany

And here’s the river looking southwestward. It’s lovely country.

Hudson River south of Albany

Kingston is on the west side of the Hudson, so we had to take a toll bridge (only $1.50 but we had to reprogram Carmine so she’d tell us how to get across since she was set to avoid tolls and wanted us to drive a couple of hours out of our way to avoid the bridge). Here’s a view up river from the bridge.

Hudson River near Kingston NY

We got back by lunch time and then I spent a couple of hours making reservations and doing research for the next two weeks—Walter finished that up later that evening so we actually have a fairly firm plan all the way until June 14th. Late in the afternoon we tried out the nice new shower house in the park. The showers were clean and new but they had push button on/off controls with no temperature control. The water was lukewarm except for the last 30 seconds before it shut off when it would be nice and warm. Then you hit the button and started out lukewarm again. We both got clean and we weren’t cold but I wouldn’t recommend using them to anyone. Walter tried pushing the button repeatedly—which kept the water going all the time but still it only got hot in the last 30 seconds.

Saturday May 27th, it was sunny!!!! And for the first time in quite a few days we had no place we needed to drive. We had a quiet morning enjoying being lazy and watching the sun filter through the spring green of the forest. Then we took a walk around the campground and out to the Day Use Area to check things out over there. We were sitting at a picnic table watching them set up the sound system for the afternoon Strumfest when a lady from the table nearby came and asked us if we’d like a hot dog. Walter took her up on the offer. They had 4 kids and Dad had cooked hot dogs and hamburgers aplenty. We sat and talked for a while and Walter played his harmonica for them (singing for his supper as it were) and then we strolled on up the bike trail and back to the trailer.

The Strumfest started at about 2 pm so we took our camp chairs back over to the Day Use Area to enjoy the music. The first act up was a single guy singing early 70’s obscure folk music. He was pretty good and at one point was joined by a decent harmonica player.

Guitar player and harmonica player

The audience was primarily local folkies who knew each other and the performers though as the afternoon went on the crowd increased a bit. Walter bought himself a hot dog from the local Fire Department who had a Bar-B-Q going. The second act was a small band complete with a drummer (bongo type) who you can’t see—he’s hiding behind the lady in the pink shirt.

Folk music band

The lead singer wasn’t all that great. He had a tendency to go off key when he reached the end of his range (which was a little short) but the other folks were pretty good.

The sun had been out full bore in the morning but as the afternoon wore on high clouds came in. I went over to the waterfront to grab some photos before the sun was gone. There’s a boat launch here and a small pier and a concrete bulwark where people stand to fish.

To the south along the Hudson there’s some sort of port facility.  

Hudson River south Schodack Island

To the north you can see the big bridge that crosses the Hudson. The top tier is for trains and the next level down is for cars. You can hear the trains in the campground but they don’t sound their whistles so it’s not a problem.

Schodack Island bridge

Across the river there’s a small marina.

Marina across from Schodack Island SP

And up on the hill you could see a house that was very similar to the ones we saw on our drive to Kingston the day before.

House along Hudson River

Sunday May 28th we had a stay at home day. It was cloudy and the cottonwood trees were busy shedding their poofs of cotton (with their tiny seeds) everywhere so the air was white with ‘snow’ all day. We did some chores and hung out—something we don’t do that much when we’re on the road. Late in the afternoon I walked into our bedroom and saw what looked like mold growing on the windows! Cottonwood seeds had accumulated between the window and the clear rock guard! We cleaned between the panes in the morning. So this all happened in just a few hours.

Cottonwood seeds in window