On The Road – Winding through Upper New York State
By Garth Cane
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We decided to take a tour around Lake Ontario to renew old memories of many earlier trips with the family. This time, we hooked the Jeep to the rear of our Tiffin Motorhome and set course to visit friends at the Niagara Falls KOA, where we discovered that many of the sites have been upgraded with patios, landscaping, new sewers and 50-amp power facilities.
Niagara Falls is one of Canada’s best known tourist locations. Everywhere we travel, people ask us about the falls – you don’t just see them, you feel the thunder of 750,000 gallons of water crashing down to the rocks below every second.
To experience the falls, the best viewing point is from the Canadian side to see the Horseshoe Falls. You can also descend 175 feet into the Niagara Gorge to the Cave of the Winds and stroll along a series of boardwalks that straddle the base of the Bridal Veil Falls. For an up-close and personal view of the Falls, jump aboard the Hornblower cruise boat that powers up the river, directly to the falling water at the base of the Horseshoe Falls.
There is lots to do and see in the Niagara region – click on this link to visit the tourism website: https://www.niagarafallstourism.com
Further on down the QEW highway (Queen Elizabeth Way), and across the US/Canada border is Buffalo, the entry to the United States. Be sure that you have your passport and proof of COVID vaccinations. As a base for our travels in the Buffalo area, we often stay at the Grand Island KOA. The Buffalo Zoo is a must for families, and we enjoyed reminiscing at the Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum on Seneca Street, with its display of early carriages, motorcycles, and the Frank Lloyd Wright 1927 Buffalo Filling Station.
On Elmwood Avenue, you will find a provocative display of aluminum canoes rising up from the ground like a Machine Age tree at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. At the east side of the city, at exit 62 off I-90, you will find the Walden Galleria the favourite cross border shopping experience for many Canadian families.
To the South of the city in Orchard Park, Highmark Stadium is the home of the Buffalo Bills Football Club – this stadium holds 71,621 fans – you don’t want to be travelling through the area on game day, unless you plan on attending the area or tailgating as you watch the game on your RV TV.
Travelling east on Hwy 20 will take you to Six Flags Darien Lake – a 1,200-acre amusement park and resort that features a theme park, water park, and campground.
Travelling west on Hwy 5, we have often stayed in the Westfield KOA on the shore of Lake Erie. Across the road from the campground is Ottaway Park where you can view a dramatic sunset as the large red orb sinks into Lake Erie.
We travelled south to Chatauqua Lake KOA, this is a convenient starting point to visit Western New York, filled with great scenery, restaurants, the Chatauqua Institution, the National Comedy Center, and the Lucile Ball Desi Arnaz Museum.
Enjoy dinner listening to the music of world-class musicians from the Chatauqua area as the Pops Concert Series performs from a floating stage on the Lake at Bemus Point. The Chatauqua Institute has a nine-week summer program full of activities with Specials in the Amphitheater that include an arts and entertainment schedule with family performances and a production by the Chautauqua Opera.
Follow Interstate 86 southeast to Jamestown, the home of the National Comedy Center (at 2 West 2nd Street) a state-of-the-art museum, dedicated to telling the story of comedy in America. At 2 West 3rd Street, the Lucile Ball Desi Arnaz Museum explores the lives careers and legacy of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
As you continue East on I-86, you will come to the Alleghany State Forest in northwestern Pennsylvania, the forest covers 513,175 acres of land. Within the forest is Kinzua Dam, which impounds the Allegheny River to form Allegheny Reservoir. For an unforgetable experience take a walk on the Kinzua Sky Walk that extends out 624 feet into the Kinzua Gorge. This is “One of the World’s Top 10 Most Beautiful Skywalks and Viewpoints in the World”.
You are not far from Amish country, where people speak Pennsylvania Dutch and trace their spiritual heritage back to the Protestant Reformation in Germany. The Amish are a group of traditionalist Christian church fellowships with Swiss, German, and Alsatian Anabaptist origins. They are closely related to Mennonite churches. The Amish are known for simple living, plain dress, Christian pacifism, and slowness to adopt many conveniences of modern technology. They are a group of people who do not believe in using labour saving devices. No windmills, electricity, tractors, buttons or zippers on their clothing.
A tour of the countryside will take you to the homes of many Amish merchants who will sell their wares to the public. They travel the roads in distinctive black carriages pulled by a horse. Ask permission before taking a photo as they forbid photos of themselves, believing such things are graven images in violation of the Second Commandment.
Continue along I-86 to exit 38 and take CR54 to the Hammonndsport area to visit the Glen Curtiss Motorcycle and Aviation Museum. You know you are here when you see the antique DC-3 on a pedestal. The museum contains a priceless collection relating to early aviation. Glen is known as the father of the aviation industry. The museum also features a 75-seat theatre, a large open area for special events and a museum store. In addition to seeing the museum displays and exhibits, visitors are welcome to visit the Restoration Shop, talk with volunteer craftsman and watch them work on historic aircraft.
This is wine country, visit the many wineries of the Finger Lakes Region. We chose the Watkins Glen KOA as our base when visiting the different wineries, State Parks, and the racetrack. The International Motor Racing Research Center provides 5000 square feet of racing history. The Watkins Glen Racetrack has been the home of automobile road racing since 1948. The site has also been home to road racing of nearly every class, including the World Sportscar Championship, Trans-Am, Can-Am, NASCAR Cup Series, the International Motor Sports Association and the IndyCar Series. The facility is currently owned by NASCAR.
The Finger Lakes Area creates an ideal environment for growing grapes. There are more than 50 vineyards within an hour drive around Keuka or Seneca Lakes. It is a good idea to have a designated driver if you sample all the different vintages. One of our favourites was the Fulkerson Winery on SR14 (a Harvest Host location)
Watkins Glen State Park is the most famous of the Finger Lakes State Parks, with a reputation for leaving visitors spellbound. Within two miles, the glen’s stream descends 400 feet past 200-foot cliffs, generating 19 waterfalls along its course. The gorge path winds over and under waterfalls and through the spray of Cavern Cascade. Rim trails overlook the gorge.
After a visit to the Finger Lakes, drop back down Hwy 414 to Corning, the home of the Corning Glass Museum. This was a gift to the nation on the company’s 100th Anniversary. More than 3500 years of glass history is displayed. The 100,000 square foot Contemporary Art collection and the former Steuben Glass Factory has one of the largest facilities for glassblowing.
While you are in town, go to 50 E Market St to experience the Rockwell Museum of Western Art. The Rockwell Museum is located on the ancestral land of the Seneca, one of the six Nations that comprise the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy.
The Rockwell Museum is the only Smithsonian Affiliate in Upstate New York. Housed in the beautifully restored 19th- century Historic Old City Hall in Corning, New York, The Rockwell lays at the heart of the greater Finger Lakes fine arts community. The Rockwell Museum tells the story of the American experience through fine art. The diverse collection includes a mix of nineteenth-century American paintings, historic bronzes, Native American objects, twentieth-century modernists, illustration art and contemporary photography.
Continue on I- 90 East to Horseheads, it is the first and only town and village in the United States dedicated to the service of the American Military Horse. These peaceful servants of General Sullivan and his officers, with about 5000 “ragged rebels” (as expressed by King George III) brought forth a gallantry in the American Revolutionary War’s western campaign against the Six Nations of Native Americans (Iroquois).
Take Hwy 13 towards Ithaca, the home of Cornell University. Cornell aspires to be the exemplary comprehensive research university for the 21st century. Cornell is a private, Ivy League university and the land-grant university for New York state. Cornell’s mission is to discover, preserve and disseminate knowledge, to educate the next generation of global citizens, and to promote a culture of broad inquiry throughout and beyond the Cornell community. It is at the south end of Cayuga Lake. There are over 150 waterfalls within 10 miles, since the area was carved by ancient glaciers. Many of the waterfalls are close to each other.
Follow Hwy 13 towards Courtland, known as the Crown City, located in New York’s Southern Tier region. In the past, we have stayed at the Yellow Lantern Campground on Hwy 13 one mile north of the Interstate and visited the CNY Living History Center, a museum complex that consists of three different museums. The Homeville Museum focuses on military and local history, the Brockway Museum focuses on Brockway Trucks and their history here in Cortland, and the Tractors of Yesteryear museum focuses on agricultural history. If you like country music, you need to stop at Country Music Park and the New York State Country Music Hall of Fame.
From here, we travelled North on Interstate 81 towards the city of Syracuse to attend a Family Motorcoach Rally at the New York State Fairgrounds. RVers from across the country arrived to welcome old and new friends for four days.
Syracuse is the home of the Erie Canal Museum and Destiny USA. Destiny USA is a six-story, super-regional shopping and entertainment complex on the shore of Onondaga Lake. It is the largest shopping mall in the state of New York.
While we were in Syracuse, we enjoyed the Northeast Jazz and Wine Festival in Clinton Square. Some excellent Jazz was provided by students from the local university.
One evening, we ate at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, on West Willow Street, which began in 1988 in Syracuse as a biker bar and quick-service BBQ Joint. It now has six locations and has become one of the best barbecue restaurants in America. The food was good, and the entertainment was great.
According to the oral history tradition of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), more than a thousand years ago, a man known as the Peacemaker came to the shores of the Onondaga Lake in a white stone canoe. Together with his interpreter and orator, Hiawatha, they brought a message of peace to the five warring nations – the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca – to form the great Haudenosaunee Confederency with Onondaga as its capital, its “Central Fire.” Experience the culture of the Haudenosauanee at www.skanonhcenter.org
From Syracuse, we travelled 80 miles North on Hwy 81 toward the Canadian border. If you like to watch the ships navigating the St Lawrence River, stay at the Swan Bay Resort, just 0.6 miles east of the last interchange before the border. To cross the border into Canada in July, 2022, you were required to show your passport and PCR test results – as of October 1, 2022, these travel requirements were removed, and all you need is a valid passport.
We normally drive along the 1000 Islands Parkway as we head west and stop at Rockport for a cruise among the 1000 islands. Visit a castle built on an island. Bolt Castle is a six-story, 120 room mansion built for his wife, but never finished after she died. The Singer Castle was built by the Bourne family of Singer Sewing Machine fame. This is a four-story, 28 room mansion with several secret passageways. The Royal Suite is available for overnight accommodation.
We often stay at one of the area KOA’s before visiting friends and relatives in the Kingston area. Kingston is often called the Limestone City. Tour Canada’s Penitentiary Museum and cross the road to visit inside the actual prison.
From Kingston back home was a short 85 miles. An enjoyable 735 mile trip over 3 weeks.
About the Author: Over the last 35 years, Garth Cane has been the Technical Director for RV Lifestyle Magazine. He is a member of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada, and was professor of the Apprenticeship Program for RV Service Technicians in Ontario. He volunteers as Chairman of the CSAZ240 and the Recreation Vehicle Safety and Education Foundation.
Garth was inducted into the RV/MH Hall of Fame in 2020.