After a long drive to Buffalo, we were itching to get out and see what the area had to offer. The Whirlpool was really awe-inspiring – you perhaps have to see and hear it moving to get a proper impression of it’s massive power.
There were numerous large birds of prey circling overhead and, not for the first time, I regretted the lack of my superzoom camera.
Captain Matthew Webb, the first man to swim the English Channel unaided, died here attempting to swim across the Whirlpool. Foolhardy doesn’t even begin to cover it.
The visitor centre at the Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant had all sorts of interactive demonstrations, quizzes and games. It was a big hit with the younger members of the party. I enjoyed the history of power production in the area and of the rivalry between Edison and Teslar over AC and DC supply.
I think this was the day we ate lunch at an amazing cafe right by the river which served enormous sandwiches.
We were packing a lot in and by the time we got to Fort Niagara it was already quite late in the day. We did a whirlwind tour of the museum, but didn’t have time for the film, which young M assured us was a great loss.
Never mind, the fort itself was fascinating.
I’m always a sucker for any kind of battlements and was particularly taken with the top of these roofed towers.
I assume the man on the left is dressed as a member of one of the local native American peoples. An Iroquois?
The man on the right was demonstrating the loading and firing of a musket. I think his uniform is French. His talk was entertaining and informative. The main thing I remember is the huge weight of wool he told us was in his uniform. He must have been sweltering. It was hot.
The fort was closing as we left. Just one last thing to squeeze in…
Just south of Stony Creek Pond there are two smaller ponds – Pickerel Pond and Rock Pond. On this particular morning Prof A and his lads were busy (I’m afraid I can’t remember what they were busy with) and Prof S had work to do, so we had a little family trip out together.
It was (or should have been) a simple affair: drive along a dirt road to a small parking area…
Walk about a half a mile along a path through the woods…
Each day seemed to bring an even greater variety of shapes, sizes and colours of fungi. This day in particular seemed to yield some very bright specimens in reds and yellows, but once again many of my photos are blurred.
When we reached the lake a very faint path turned along the shore to the left.
Although we didn’t see any other people whilst we were out, we did see this ladder as evidence that other people do come here. We were a bit puzzled by it as the water around the boulder seemed a bit shallow to jump in to.
Prof A had challenged the DBs to get out to the farthest boulder without getting wet, which proved to be impossible since some of the stepping stones in between were submerged.
The pond is well named since it is surrounded by large boulders, with a lot more boulders in the water too. It was an idyllic spot, which, as I say, we had completely to ourselves. Amazing. B and I had a swim to the prominent boulders which you can perhaps make out in the photos above on the left-hand side. TBH and S chose to sunbathe instead.
And that should be where the story ends, except….
As we walked back, B and I waited just after we had turned away from the water, to see if TBH and S would attempt to take the non-existent path straight ahead along the lakeside. They did. I should have taken that as a warning.
For some reason, TBH lingered as we walked back and the DBs and I arrived back at the car without her. We waited. We waited some more. And then I went into full-on panic mode and ran back along the path shouting every few yards. When I say ran, I mean jogged obviously. As fast as I could manage, which is to say just a bit quicker than the boys who followed me at a walk. Nothing. Neither sight nor sound of TBH. Somehow she had managed to wander off the path. Fortunately, as we made our way back she heard us and disaster was averted. Phew!
Anyway, Rock Pond is a stunning spot for a swim and I hope I shall go back there some day. Next time however, I shall make a trail of breadcrumbs.
Here’s B taking his turn with Prof A’s latest toy – a BB gun. Many coke cans were injured in the making of this post. I avoided joining in until pressed, and then, inevitably, was absolutely rubbish. Still, I’ve never felt threatened by coke cans, so I’m not too worried by my repeated failure to shoot one from very short range.
We fancied a short outing; Prof A suggested Panther Mountain, which was both nearby and a suitably easy stroll.
The roadside verges were resplendent with flowers. I think that these might be Chicory, which came to America with European settlers. Apparently, each flower is actually an inflorescence – a grouping of flowers, and each ostensible petal is in fact five fused petals and a flower in its own right.
The woods, wherever we went, were full of toadstools of various sizes and hues and I took no end of photos. Sadly, most of them came out rather blurred, I’m not sure why, perhaps due to the deep shade under the trees?
It didn’t take long to get to the top, from where there were partial views. Looking at the map now, I can see that Panther Mountain sits by Upper Lake Saranac, but we couldn’t see that at all.
As you can see it was quite cloudy. We were below the cloud because Panther Mountain is of modest height, about 2200 feet, which makes the climb roughly equivalent to climbing Arnside Knott, given the height of the surrounding countryside. Perfect for a short morning walk.
There was a Monarch butterfly flapping about, I think the first I’ve ever seen. I chased after it with my phone, with no success. Not to worry, I did come across…
…these Fox and Cubs, which have made the opposite journey from the Chicory and pop up in our garden. I was perhaps disproportionately pleased to find them in in their home environment.
Some things don’t change: whilst I was pursuing a butterfly, the DBs and their cousins found a boulder to take it in turns to scale…
The boys were persuaded to play hide and seek with their cousins. Meanwhile, my butterfly hunting had brought me down hill to a rocky edge from where I could just about see Panther Pond below…
And an expanse of misty woods and hills…
Prof A was very good at naming the hills we could see from the hilltops we visited, but without written notes I have no hope of remembering what he told me.
Another thing which doesn’t change is B’s observational skills.
“Have you seen the weird dragonfly on this bush?” he asked me.
I felt reasonably confident that this was more likely to be a wasp than a dragonfly; I was put in mind of the Sabre Wasp I once spotted near Leighton Moss. And so it turns out: this is a female American Pelecinid Wasp. She uses that long abdomen to deposit eggs on grubs living underground. A single egg on each larvae. Her offspring, when they hatch, burrow into the unfortunate grubs and eat them from within.
I suspect that this is Dog Vomit Slime Mold, or Scrambled Egg Slime. I’ve seen this near home too. Apparently it has an almost worldwide distribution. Like other slime molds it can move in search of nutrients.
After our walk, and a bit of lunch, we had a little time before we had to take A back to West Stockbridge. Down to the pond obviously.
M doesn’t stand for mischievous, but it easily could; he was always keen to deposit the others boys in the water at every opportunity.
TBH and I kept our distance from the high jinx in a canoe.
During our stay the boys came up with various challenges to try. Here S is attempting to back somersault into the water. Or back flip? I’m not sure which.
This handsome frog was sheltering under the paddle boards by the shore of the pond the next morning. I thought it might be an American Bullfrog, but they’re huge, up to 8 inches I’ve read. I think this is the very similar, but smaller, Green Frog. The dorsolateral ridges running from the head down the sides of the torso are a distinguishing feature apparently.
I think that this is a male, because the ear – the tympanic membrane – is larger than the gorgeous golden eye.
TBH and I needed another shortish outing because of our plans for the afternoon.
So we took to the water again.
Here’s the pond…
We were staying on the north side of the southern most bulb – we canoed northwards, past a beaver lodge, under the bridge, which required a bit of care, up beyond the little island almost to the northern extremity of the pond.
We were heading for this little beach. The lake bed here was firm and sandy – perfect for swimming. By the boathouse the lake has a deep layer of very soft silt, which makes getting out for a swim a bit awkward, without a paddle board.
The trees to W’s right are growing on the small island, where there was a Bald Eagle nest. Prof A challenged us to swim to the island and, I think, was a bit surprised when B and I accepted the challenge. It wasn’t all that far, maybe a 500m round trip, at a guess. The island is private, so we didn’t quite go the whole way. We didn’t see any eagles, but we had a good view of the nest.
Once back, I had a bit of a wander. Close by there was a picnic table and a fire-pit – I think this was one of the campgrounds which seem to be scattered around the area – they can be rented at relatively low cost I believe.
There were dragonflies and damselflies of various sizes and colours about. I took numerous blurred photos of a mating pair of damselflies, the male was a lovely combination of royal blue and mauve. I failed too with an orange dragonfly and an electric blue damselfly similar to those I see close to home.
I chased this dragonfly along the edge of the lake, but at least I got some relatively sharp shots. I’m reasonably confident with my identification, although online descriptions say that the markings on the body are ‘orange triangles’, whereas to me they look like red hearts.
Which reminds me of a blogger I once knew who found heart-shapes everywhere.
I was fascinated too by the plants and fungi under the trees. Although they were all unfamiliar, I was trying to figure out their place in the ecosystem by analogy with the things I see around home. For example…
This plant with its single layer of large leaves and what must have been a single central flower put me in mind of our own Herb Paris.
Time was marching on, and I turned to go back along the fringe of the lake to the boats when I was startled by this monster…
In retrospect, it perhaps wasn’t quite as big as it seemed, but it was still, by some distance, the biggest spider I’ve seen in the wild. Feisty too: it kept waving two of its legs at me in a very aggressive fashion, or, at least, it seemed that way.
I think it’s a Striped Fishing Spider, Dolomedes Scriptus. There’s a very similar species, the Dark Fishing Spider, Dolomedes Tenebrosus, but although this spider looks dark, I think that may be more to do with the fact that it was in the shade.
Fishing Spiders don’t use a nest for hunting, but the female carries her eggs around in a silken sac before building a nest for her brood when they hatch. That probably explains the aggression. This nest was pretty big. They are also one of the species of spider which practice sexual cannibalism, with the female devouring the male after mating.
I gather that, as the name suggests, Fishing Spiders can hunt in or under the water, eating tadpoles, small fish and insects which live in the water or on the surface. They also hunt in the woods surrounding the lake however.
Talking of hunting…
…this damselfly has fallen prey to this fly, which is not too dissimilar from the one in my previous post. During the damselfly’s death throes the pair of them landed on my hat.
The reason we needed a short outing, was that TBH and I had a long drive in prospect. Our daughter A was also in the States, working as a Camp Counsellor at a Summer Camp in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts. A was keen to see her uncle, aunt and cousins whilst she was stateside. She could get a 24 hour pass and somehow TBH had convinced herself that West Stockbridge was about an hour-and-half’s drive from where we were staying. When we looked it up again, our app was giving three-and-a-half hours. Each way. And that was before the many wrong turns we took. It was a long day.
This was the only photo I took in West Stockbridge. The following day, when we had to repeat the long journey to take A back, TBH and I had a wander around the wonderful Turnpark sculpture park, which was closed, but not locked-up. It was fantastic and I really should have taken lots of photos. Next time!
Whilst we were shouting at the satnav, Prof A took the boys bouldering. Or perhaps that was the next day, maybe they were shopping for a new toy. Or playing with that toy?
After a longs day’s driving, and with more mammoth drives in prospect, we were after a chilled day of catching up and getting in some swimming. It was cooler than it had been in New York, but still plenty warm enough.
We took a canoe, a kayak and a small flotilla of paddle boards across the pond from the north side and into the stream which heads off to the south-east – to be honest I can’t remember whether it was flowing into or out of the pond.
Prof A thought that the dam had probably been destroyed by canoeists who wanted to get their boats through.
Our nephews were keen to show their cousins this local venue for a bit of jumping in.
Although the area around us was heavily vegetated, I had the impression that it was probably pretty wet.
The canoe here was mine and TBH’s favoured mode of transport. I loved paddling it. Very restful. During our stay I tried to perfect my J-stroke, but without much success.
I found what I think was another Fowler’s Toad near to the house.
As you might imagine, with lots of trees and water, this is a great environment for the kind of nasty critters which like to bite. I gather that they can make early summer pretty unbearable. We wore lots of repellent, and still got bitten, but it wasn’t as bad as I had thought it might be.
These beetles were plentiful on the plants growing on the fringes of the lawn around the house. By coincidence, I’ve been reading about them since I came back from the US:
“Japanese beetle, a rather attractive copper and emerald-green scarab beetle…spend most of the year as grubs underground eating grass roots. The adults live for just a few weeks but nibble the leaves and petals of many ornamental plants, and also have a particular taste for vine leaves.”
‘The Garden Jungle’ Dave Goulson
The latter appetite has led to authorities in California organising a mass eradication programme where homeowners can see their gardens regularly and forcibly sprayed with a cocktail of pesticides. Apparently, one of the pesticides used has a half-life, in the soil, of up to 924 days, so that with annual applications the pesticide will accumulate in gardens. Nature has no chance.
Later, we took a short drive to have a swim at Ampersand Beach….
This was a spot we visited several times. It was great for a swim, although the lake bed shelved very shallowly so that you had to wade a long, long way out to get to the point where the water was deep enough. Ampersand Beach is on Middle Saranac Lake. More about the Saranac lakes in a later post.
You may have noticed that the map above shows an Ampersand Brook (of which more later), there’s also an Ampersand Mountain locally (of which more later), and an Ampersand Lake, which allegedly looks like the ampersand symbol, but which has no public access, so we didn’t visit that.
Even later still, this large toad was sat on the stone step by the back door of the house. It has a pale dorsal line, which I think makes it an American toad, although, if it was, I think it was a relatively large specimen.
After a long journey by tube to collect a car from the airport, and then, frustratingly, driving back through New York to queue for a long time to get across George Washington bridge and, briefly, into New Jersey, we had a lengthy drive to get to Stony Creek Pond in the Adirondacks.
We drove past signs pointing the way to the Adirondack Visitor Centre hours before we arrived at our destination. I started to get really excited when we drove through the small town of Long Lake where there was a proper old wooden store with a large wooden bear standing outside. The road signs warning of Elk crossing also had my imagination running wild, not that we were to see any Elk. New York State, it turns out, is vast and the Adirondack State Park covers one third of that area. Stony Creek Ponds (there are several linked bodies of water and they looked like lakes to me) are between the towns of Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake. If you’re getting the impression that the region has a lot of lakes, then you are absolutely correct. Lakes, woods and mountains, stretching as far as the eye can see.
We were there for a few days, and barely scratched the surface of even the immediate vicinity, but even on that brief acquaintance I know that I’ve found my new favourite place.
We were staying with TBH’s brother and his family, in a house which belongs to my sister-in-law’s family. It’s thanks to their enormous generosity that we could manage this trip at all.
The wooden house was built in the 1930s and is simple but beautiful inside, the only fly in the ointment being the well water, which is full of iron and has a very metallic taste. Since there were always cool beers to sup instead I never found this too much of a hardship!
We had great company, a lovely view, the ‘pond’ to swim in, canoes and paddle boards down in the boathouse. We filled our days messing about in boats, swimming, and climbing hills. What more could you want? More to follow.
Our final afternoon in Manhattan, and the boys were desperate to go shopping. I felt like we’d already spent plenty of time shopping, i.e. more than none. We’d traipsed around Macy’s for what felt like about a week. It had some ancient looking wooden escalators, which briefly stirred my interest marginally above absolute zero, but apart from that was exactly the tedious, soulless experience I had expected (I can’t remember which day we did that, for some reason I didn’t take any photos). I’d sat impatiently waiting outside numerous shops full of over-priced sweat-shop-stitched branded sporting goods, now, inexplicably, apparently considered the height of fashion. I wasn’t keen for more of that, and, understandably, the boys weren’t keen on being shackled by my dolorous dead-weight company, or suffering the broad-sides of my rebarbative comments about their potential purchases.
So we parted company. They set-off to worship in the temples of consumer culture, whilst TBH and I wandered up 5th Avenue – past exactly the sort of stores the boys were seeking – to have a gander at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It was just around the corner from our hotel, and I’d been hoping to visit since we’d arrived. For some reason, TBH had convinced herself that it wasn’t a church, perhaps because a church looked so out of place, surrounded by much taller buildings, on the busy, commercial cradle of 5th.
Whatever, it was well worth a look and I’m glad we’d found time. There were lots of other places we didn’t manage to fit in. The city’s art galleries would have been top of my list. TBH was particularly keen to go to the Guggenheim, and had wanted to go to the memorial at Ground Zero. I’m sure there’s a massive list of other things we ought to have done. But we’d packed a lot in, and we decided that, now that time was running out, what we really wanted to do was just have a wander around.
From St. Patrick’s we strolled to St. Bart’s on Park Avenue.
Unfortunately, it’s only open to the public at certain times of day, and we’d missed the window. It’s a shame because the building had lots of interesting detail…
Talking, of which, not for the first time, or the last time, I missed my camera, which I hadn’t brought because of the space it would have taken up in my luggage. Probably a poor decision. Lots of New York buildings seem to have some fabulous architectural features on their roofs – cupolas, domes, spires, gargoyles etc – which were often reasonably visible with the naked eye, but horribly distant from the wide-angle view of my phone’s camera.
We were heading for Grand Central Station – the striking Helmsley building, which straddles Park Avenue, was an unexpected bonus.
Grand Central Station features in so many films that it seems familiar even to a first time visitor.
The huge domed ceiling is painted with images of stars and the constellations (my photo didn’t come out very well) which, to me at least, served to emphasis the station’s resemblance to a vast secular temple.
We exited the station onto Lexington Avenue, right opposite…
…the Chrysler Building. The only problem with the view from directly beneath it is that you can’t see the iconic roof, if roof is the right term.
TBH wasn’t content with the view from outside and decided that we should have a look inside. The concierges/security guys were polite but firm, telling us that we should leave, but TBH managed to prolong her visit by finding questions to ask them and engaging them in conversation.
We jumped onto the Metro, heading downtown as far as Union Square, with the intention of walking up Broadway back towards out hotel.
Having met up with the boys again, we went back to the Tick-Tock Diner, since we’d all enjoyed it on our first visit. I was very unadventurous and had the Cobb Salad again.
And that draws to a close the Manhattan chapter of our New York State trip. I’d enjoyed Manhattan, but our next destination was very much more my kind of place.
Next on our itinerary: get the subway downtown and have a wander across the Brooklyn Bridge. It was something we’d identified before our trip as a free thing to do which looked worth a punt.
It was very, very hot by now. And lots of other people had the same idea as us.
Still, I loved the views, and the bridge itself.
We read that this is a great place from which to view the sunset and I can see that would be pretty special, but it will have to wait for our next visit. Maybe.
When we reached Brooklyn, we spotted a large ice-cream parlour, and were tempted, but ended up settling for fruit smoothies (very refreshing) and diving back into the underground to head back to Manhattan for our final afternoon in the Big Apple.
Since the Rockefeller Centre was just around the corner from our hotel, it would have been remiss of us not to have been up to the Top of the Rock to take in the view. Since it was another one of the options on the City Pass it was easy for us to do that. Friends had told us that the view from here was better than that from the Empire State Building. I think I disagree, although it’s a close run thing and the view over Central Park was great. This view also has the advantage of including the Empire State Building itself.
The Empire State Building has a number of exhibits about the history and building of the tower. By contrast, the Top of the Rock is a jump in the lift, see the view, come down again, experience. Which of those is preferable is probably down to taste. I liked the no-fuss approach at the Rockefeller, whereas TBH loved all of the hoo-ha at the ESB.
Quiet and/or leafy places seem to be at a premium in Manhattan and we were very grateful for this little space opposite our hotel where we sometimes sat to eat a meal.
I was very taken with this shop, perhaps because even though it’s a five floor building, it’s dwarfed by the buildings either side, and even more so by the skyscraper behind.
We were heading initially for Central Park for another, very hot, wander.
We were heading for The American Natural History Museum which is situated on the western boundary of the park.
We had a timed entry, but even so it took quite a long while to get into the museum and then through the very crowded and noisy entrance hall.
This is another one of the attractions available via the City Pass. We discovered that because we were using the City Pass, entry to the extra exhibits, which would normally cost extra, was included for free, so we booked times for the Planetarium, a film on the birds of the Prairie Wetlands, and a temporary exhibit on sharks.
The museum is enormous. We were there for many hours, but I suspect we barely scratched the surface.
I think I took photographs of almost all of the dioramas in the Hall of African Wildlife, but calmed down a little after that.
The planetarium was great; perhaps a little too relaxing. Snore, me? No – that was someone else you heard.
The film was fascinating. I hadn’t previously even heard of the Prairie Pothole wetlands.
The shark exhibition had some comfortable benches.
It was one of those modern exhibitions where the content is films and models and information boards, but there aren’t any actual exhibits.
Elsewhere, the museum was absolutely brimming-over with interesting stuff. For example, there were rooms upon rooms of artefacts from Indigenous American cultures, from across both continents.
It was amazing, if somewhat overwhelming. When I visit the British Museum, which, admittedly, I haven’t done for a very long time, I tend to wander about until I wash up somewhere which sparks my interest that day, then I have a really thorough look at that section. Then I leave.
But I suppose we weren’t sure when we might be back in the AMNH, if ever, so we greedily crammed in as much as we could. Even so, we must have missed huge swathes. I believe there’s a dinosaur hall, which we didn’t get to. We did tour an exhibition of macro photographs of endangered insects (obviously right up my street), but we didn’t find time for the nearby display about the Big Bang.
I took a lot of photographs, but have been for selective for this post. However, I do feel compelled to include this picture of Indonesian shadow-puppets…
So that I can mention the fact that TBH and I once holidayed in Indonesia…
It was twenty years ago. Here’s TBH, at Borobudur, touching Buddha’s thumb, which reputedly brings good luck. We were treated to a shadow-puppet play whilst we were there, a part of the Mahabharata. It was good, so much so that TBH wanted a memento and decided to take some photos. It was dark in the room, so she switched on her flash, and then greeted the images with consternation when each showed….. the inevitable blank screen. Meanwhile, I was struggling to suppress a fit of giggles, not wanting to spoil the show for the other tourists present.
There were so many fascinating things to see from myriad cultures from around the world, that I decided to confine my photos to representations of faces.
I felt some sympathy with these two characters…
At the time, this fella put me in mind of Davros, leader of the Daleks. Now it makes me think of the short Bertolt Brecht poem, the Mask of Evil..
On my wall hangs a Japanese carving,
The mask of an evil demon, decorated with gold lacquer.
Sympathetically I observe
The swollen veins of the forehead, indicating
What a strain it is to be evil.
Later, the rest of the family went to the theatre to watch a production of the Musical version of Harry Potter. I'm much too grumpy for musicals. Or Harry Potter. With hindsight, I should have sought out the Blue Note or Birdland or something else more to my tastes. But I was well into Jonathon Franzen's 'Freedom' and was more than happy to have the hotel room to myself to relax with my book.