Thursday, August 29, 2013

Anniversary #42--Still Paddling Together

Thursday, August 29, 2013

We have had a really wonderful and memorable anniversary today! We woke up to haze and wondered whether it would really be kayaking weather, but it was all burned off by mid-morning. We went directly to Locks 2&3 of the Seneca-Cayuga Canal. We were the only ones there besides the lockmaster. We pumped up our kayak and dropped it into Van Cleef Lake right in front of the locks. We paddled a little bit, then called up the Lockmaster on my cell phone and said, “Drop us down, please!” There is a 49-foot difference between the height of the lake and the canal below.

Our view of the lock gates--Samantha is in the background
Soon enough, the doors of the lock slowly opened and we paddled into Lock #3. We used a bungee cord to tie the kayak against the wall so we wouldn’t drift around inside the lock while the water level went down. It took about 10 minutes or so—we watched the walls go higher and higher above us. It is a much different feeling in a kayak than it was in the boat in Lockport—we are really just sitting on the surface of the water. It was very cool!
Joe taking the bungee off the rope after we dropped down

We head toward the open doors--another boat is waiting to take our place in the opposite direction
When the lock opened, we saw that there was a boat in Lock #2. He very slowly moved in next to us as we paddled past him, and we switched places. Then we tied up again, and were lowered down to the level of the canal. The doors opened again and out we paddled, past yet another boat and some folks fishing on the side of the canal just past the lock. More paddling, and we were completely alone on the canal—there was just nature on either side. One more boat did pass us going toward the locks, and we moved out of its way and waited for it to go by. Then we kept going downstream. We found a stream flowing into the lock and went in to explore it a little bit, and we saw a huge bird (I think it was a heron) which flew over the water and landed in a tree, posing for me so I could take its photo. It was SO QUIET out there, and we spent a lot of time just floating there drinking in the solitude. Totally lovely!

We finally went back to the lock, and had to wait a bit before the doors opened—when we called, the Lockmaster told us he had a boat coming toward him on the other side, and he was going to drop that boat down to meet us. Sure enough, the gates finally opened, we paddled in (such a cool feeling to paddle into the lock!) and when we got up to the next level, there was a largish boat coming toward us. Again we passed each other carefully before we finished our rise back up to the lake level. Then we paddled back to the dock and pulled ourselves and our kayak up onto it. Wow! What an experience!!

We were hungry after that (it was 1:30 pm) and also Joe had to make a few phone calls. So it wasn’t until around 3pm that we started driving. We really had no idea where we were headed exactly, only “east” was pretty much it! So we got back on Route 20, the road which had taken us through the northern end of the long Finger Lakes. I looked for a campground that was about halfway to Caroga Lake, where we have reservations for Friday and Saturday night. On the way we stopped in Skaneateles, a charming town right on the northern tip if the lake of the same name, and enjoyed the waterfront a little bit. 

We drove on from there, now heading to Oneida Lake State Park. On the way we passed right by Chittenango State Park. I knew there was a nice waterfall there, so we pulled in. Sure enough, the waterfall was GORGEOUS. The park overlook was at the top, so we (including Roxy) hiked the quarter-mile down a steep path to see it from the bottom as well. It was really beautiful.

From there it was only 20 miles to Oneida Lake. There are only 48 campsites here, but we were so lucky—we got one just off the shore of the lake.  It was already after 7:00, and we sat on a bench at the lakeside watching the sun set. There was a lovely breeze and we just enjoyed the view and the sailboats in the distance until the sun completely disappeared. It was the perfect end to a very special and memorable anniversary day.
Our campsite. The lake is right beyond the trees.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

It's a Wonderful Life, Especially Now that Women Can Vote

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

We started today by setting the GPS toward the Seneca Falls Visitor Center. There we picked up some  brochures to help us find the important landmarks in the town, and perused the very interesting Museum of Waterways and Industry. This gave us an understanding of the way the town developed along the rivers and then the Erie Canal, which is directly north of the city, and some of the major industries which made the town flourish.  

There is another canal, the Seneca-Cayuga Canal, which runs through Seneca Falls along what was originally the riverbed of the Seneca River, and connects the northern tips of those two big finger lakes to the Erie Canal.  The Seneca canal is right behind the visitor center, and after browsing through the exhibit and through the store next door (called “WomanMade Products”, full of great gifts), we moved Samantha down to a visitors parking lot right beside the canal. There we got to see a number of boats which are really counterparts of our RV—they were “camped” at the tie-ups in Seneca Falls, and their owners were clearly enjoying a few relaxing hours beside the water.

 After moving the RV to this new spot, we walked back up to Fall Street, which is the main street in town. There we went to Women’s Rights National Historical Park. Seneca Falls was a center of the women’s rights movement, and the location of the convention 165 years ago which produced the Declaration of Sentiments, a document which used the wording of the Declaration of Independence to articulate the inequities toward women during the 19th century. Declaration Park is right between the Wesleyan Church where the convention was held in 1848, and the National Park Visitor Center. Its striking feature is a “waterwall” which has the words of the Declaration, and the names of the signers, engraved under a curtain of flowing water.
Inside the Visitor Center are a number of excellent exhibits (a whole small museum, really) focusing on the issues of women’s rights and equality in general in America. There were displays discussing every aspect of life and the different ways the sexes interacted with those things, from exercise to education to fashion. There were interactive displays dealing with significant court cases—such as whether a woman could properly be tried for murder of her husband (the alleged cause was “temporary insanity” due to her suspicion of his infidelity) by an all-male jury; or whether it was a violation of men’s rights that women were not subject to the draft equally with men. There were videos with clips of the depiction of women in film and tv, fashion, beauty ads, etc. All in all, we spent about an hour there and really found it interesting.

From there we walked down the street and since it was already 12:30 or so, decided to eat “in town” rather than go back to the RV. So we stopped at a Chinese restaurant for some lunch. Then we went to the Seneca Falls It’s  A Wonderful Life Museum. We hadn’t realized that Seneca Falls was probably the inspiration for Frank Capra’s Bedford Falls. 

The incident where George leaps into the river to “save” Clarence the angel from drowning was based on a real incident in Seneca Falls. In 1917, a young Italian-American man jumped into the canal to save a woman who had jumped in trying to commit suicide. He was able to save her, but just as she was pulled from his arms, he was swept away and he himself drowned.  The town, which was not fond of Italians nor of immigrants, nevertheless was so moved by this act that the church was filled to overflowing at his funeral, and the citizens subsequently collected money to put a plaque on the bridge with his name, and the phrase “He honored our community; our community honors him.” Frank Capra, who came to the town before the finalization of the script of the movie, saw the bridge and the later scripts were changed to include the episode. The museum itself was very cute, with lots of Beautiful Life memorabilia. Every December, they have a festival in the town, and a number of businesses have names which link them to the movie.

By this time it was about 3pm, and we decided to do a little research on the idea of kayaking on one of the canals. We went to a local kayak rental place and I had a good talk with the guy who ran it. He was most helpful. We decided that we really didn’t want to rush it in the afternoon, so instead we headed back to Cayuga Lake State Park with the intention of relaxing and getting up early tomorrow.  On the way, we explored some more and found our way to Locks 2 and 3 on the Seneca-Cayuga Canal. I spoke to the lockmaster about coming tomorrow morning, and he was very encouraging. Now we know where to go and where to park!  But it was hot and muggy back at the park, so before going back to our campsite, we parked and walked down to the beach on Lake Cayuga. There Joey and I went swimming—we were the only ones there, leading us to conclude that we were the only people swimming in the entire lake! The lake water was very clear and the bottom is sandy, so it was really lovely and not very cold.  It’s a nice little park area, with picnic facilities, playground, and a large bath house.

After about 30 minutes, we were relaxed and no longer hot and sticky, so we came back up to the campsite and sat outside with our books and some cold drinks until it was time for dinner. We are getting ready to go to sleep (Joey just finished his book—the third one on this trip!) and get up early tomorrow. We are going to go back to the canal and go kayaking through the locks before heading east again.

From Great Lake to Finger Lake

Lake Ontario

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Today’s blog won’t be very long—we didn’t do that much! When we left the campground this morning, Joe looked at the GPS map and said, “You know, we are very close to Lake Ontario.” I knew that, but hadn’t realized that we were less than 10 miles away. So of course, we could not leave without going to see the lake. Ontario was the only one of the five Great Lakes which we did not visit on our vacation in Michigan back in 2008.

We drove due north to the town of Olcott. It is a little fishing village/beach town with several marinas, a small square of colorful resort-type shops (full of the usual tempting items that no one really NEEDS but are so hard to resist), a lovely large park along the lakefront, a public beach, one largish restaurant/bar, an ice cream shop, and the Olcott Beach Carousel Park. Sadly for us, though, we got there before noon on a Tuesday. The carousel is open Wednesday-Sundays. Most of the little shops were closed (although some opened after noon.) The beach was literally locked up with a gate. We ended up eating lunch in the RV, thwarted in our plans to walk on the beach or ride the carousel.  I did get ice cream for dessert, though, and a few photos, before we headed east again.

Lakeside park and beach, Olcott, NY
We drove a little way along the Seaway route before going south to Medina, which used to be a significant port on the Erie Canal. We drove Samantha over a Lift Bridge like the one we saw yesterday in Lockport, parked in the center of town, and walked around for a while, including along the canal. We were lucky enough that a cute little houseboat came along and the lift bridge had to raise for it, so we got to see it go up and down.  There is tie-up space along the canal for boats, with a dump station and fill station.  Joe and I were thinking it would be great fun to rent a houseboat and take it the length of the Erie Canal! (Anyone want to join us?)

The town itself looks like it could still be the 19th century—so many of the buildings are the original brick or stonework and haven’t been changed much since they were built. Quite a few of them were built with “free stone”, the stone which came out of the Erie Canal trench when it was dug. Our guide explained to us yesterday that the stone was free for the taking, and with so many stonecutters in the area, it was pretty easy to hire someone to cut the free stone into blocks. It was used in lots of buildings, not only locally but also in New York City and even abroad. The Brooklyn Bridge and Buckingham Palace both utilized Erie Canal free stone. One notable building in Medina was Bent’s Opera House, which was built in 1864 at the height of the Civil War. From the outside it was quite damaged, but we saw read that it is now owned by a non-profit group which has plans to renovate the building. 
Main Street, Medina, NY
Bent's Opera House, Medina NY, built 1864
We continued south and east, heading for the town of Le Roy. This was kind of funny—we were going to stop at the Jell-O museum! But unfortunately we’d spent too much time earlier in the day wandering around, and we got there just before 4pm, when it was due to close. We decided to just keep driving—we were really enjoying our “road trip”—and headed for Cayuga Lake State Park. It is at the north end of Cayuga Lake, not far from Sampson and Seneca State Parks, which we visited last week.  This is the 5th NY State Park we’ve camped in on this trip, and I have another reservation for Friday/Saturday nights at Caroga Lake SP—this doesn’t count Buttermilk Falls and Robert  H. Treman parks, where we drove around but didn’t stay. We are becoming quite accustomed to the park system here and it is very convenient!

We didn’t do or see everything, by far, when we were in this neighborhood before, so I had planned to come back via Seneca Falls to see some of the women’s history sites in the town. We took a campsite here at the park for 2 nights. Tomorrow and the next day we will do some sightseeing, and also, I am hoping, put our kayak into the canal somewhere. We are right on Cayuga Lake, though, with a boat launch just across from the campground area, so maybe we’ll go on the lake tomorrow and the canal the next day. I’m finally rested from our whitewater adventure, and ready to paddle again.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Round and round and up and down

Monday, August 26, 2013

We woke up this morning to rain—it sure makes you appreciate a hard roof when you are camping in rain, I must say! The tents around us looked kind of forlorn under their rain covers. And I was happy to think that my first plan for the day was a museum, so I didn’t really care too much. We can’t complain, either—we’ve had glorious weather up until now.

We left the campground at around 11 and headed for North Tonawanda, a suburb of Buffalo, to visit the Herschell Carrousel (sic) Factory Museum. We’ve always had a “thing” for carousels, and Herschell was one of the famous classic carousel companies.  The museum is set up inside the same factory buildings which were used to carve the animals, construct the carousels, and ship them all over the country and the world. There are large mural-sized photos of the factory when it was in operation, hanging in the same area where the scenes they portray were actually happening.  North Tonawanda was home to four carousel companies through the years, all of them associated at one time or another with Allan Herschell, who brought the "new-fangled" idea to his steam engine factory after he visited New York City and saw a carousel in operation there. Within 2 years of manufacturing their first carousel in 1883, carousels had become 50% of their business.

Early style wooden horses
There are, of course, a lot of carousel animals—mostly horses, but also menagerie animals such as a zebra, a pig, a dog, an ostrich, and a frog. The relatively simple decoration style of his horses was known as the "County Fair" style.The animals on display are from various time periods, and show some of the evolution of the styles used. For instance, only the early horses had ears perked up; later they were carved laid back against the head. One practical reason for this was that riders would often use the ears to hold on to and break them off. Customers complained about this to Herschell and they redesigned the horses.

"Pinto" horse with bearskin saddle
Legs were also tricky. On one hand, they were carved by the apprentice carvers, because they were the easiest part to do. (Journeymen carvers did the bodys, and the Master Carvers did the heads.) But they also broke frequently because people would use them as “steps” to get onto the horses. Eventually the company started making the horses as a composite, with metal legs for increased sturdiness, and wooden bodies.  In the carving room, there was a video explaining all about the process in reproducing carved horses.  We learned that it is easier for the museum to create reproductions than to purchase original horses and restore them.  The frog we saw as part of the carving display was a reproduction—an original sold at auction to a museum for $50,000!  One  very neat thing is that the museum is actively soliciting woodcarvers who would be interested in demonstrating the art of carving to visitors. They even offer woodcarving classes.

The Carving Room. Animals were assembled from several pieces.
I didn’t realize that the first carousels were considered thrill rides for adults, too dangerous for children!  In fact, Herschell was the first to come up with the idea for “kiddie rides”—not only a smaller, slower carousel for children, but the classic car ride, boat ride, plane, and mini-train rides which are still standard at kiddie parks today.  But the earlier adult-sized carousels were thought by some to be a waste of money, and a source of danger and corrupter of morals!  The museum has two operating carousels—a small aluminum one for children, and a large 1916 carousel for us big kids. A ride on the carousel is included with admission. There is also a big collection of Wurlitzer rolls and band-music machines, which were an important part of the carousel mystique. The music is LOUD--the idea being that it would attract customers to the fair, midway, or park where the carousel was installed.

We were more than ready for a late lunch when we left the museum after our carousel ride. (No evidence that our morals had been corrupted, however, LOL!) We discovered that the weather was turning nasty again and we could feel the cold front about to hit. Sure enough, not 10 minutes after we were back in the RV, the skies opened and it poured. We ate our lunch and just let the cloudburst pass over us. By the time we were ready to move again, the rain was stopping.

A Herschell carousel back home in the factory where it was originally made.
Our next destination was Lockport, with a lot of wonderful Erie Canal sites to visit. We were too late for the 3pm boat ride on the canal, so we went first to a nearby campground to check in. Then we went to downtown Lockport and parked right beside the canal. We had time to walk a little bit with Roxy before we left on our boat trip. 

We headed upriver first—that is, toward Buffalo. The water in the canal comes from the Niagara River (after it plunges over the falls) and flows from Buffalo to Albany, down the Hudson, and into the Atlantic. So we are close to the beginning of the canal here in western New York. The boat went through two locks to get up to the same level as Lake Erie. We traveled a bit farther, going under the “Big Bridge”, a bridge which is 399 feet wide (the widest single-span bridge in the country, I think our guide said) and the “upside down” bridge, a railroad bridge with the supporting framework underneath rather than over the tracks. The guide said it was deliberately built this way by the railroad, because they wanted to make it harder for boats to utilize the canal. Any boat which couldn’t pass under the  bridge would be forced to unload and send its cargo on a train from that point.

Lock gates open for us
Then we turned around and went through the locks again, this time being lowered  back to our starting point. From there we cruised downriver, going under two lifted bridges. One stays lifted (it stopped working some years ago and they decided not to fix it, and to leave it in the raised position.) The other one was down, and it went up to accommodate our boat both times we passed under it. We saw a number of other places of interest, and we asked a lot of questions, taking advantage of our semi-private tour! We were one of only two couples on the entire boat!! The ride was cool (temperature-wise, I mean) but it didn’t rain at all. Maybe the storms have passed us by.

Lift Bridge going up to let us under. Red lights and a red/white striped barrier warn cars that the bridge is up.
When the trip was over, it was 7:15. We were getting tired, so back we came to the campground. Tomorrow we are going to have to do some grocery shopping—it’s been quite a while, and our refrigerator is pretty empty. After that, I am not sure which direction we will go!