On our return journey from out frisbee golf outing we stopped for ice-creams (Mine was ‘London Fog’, allegedly Earl Grey Tea flavoured, I couldn’t tell, but probably a hangover from Covid wrecking my sense of taste.) and a visit to the Erie Canal Museum and a set of locks on the canal.
Actually, there were two sets of locks, a narrower set which had been rapidly superseded by a much wider set alongside. The large naval vessels we’d seen in Buffalo apparently travelled along this canal from New York, although I couldn’t see how that could be possible.
A fascinating place, but sadly our final outing during our American sojourn.
We drove to the picturesque town of Wilson, on the shore of Lake Ontario, with the promise of amazing cookies. Sadly, the cookie shop was shut.
We had a back-up plan however: a picnic at Wilson-Tuscarora State Park, followed by a round of Frisbee-Golf. Anyone who watched me, many years ago, shanking, slicing, topping, over-hitting, or under-hitting a golf ball around Heaton Park pitch-and-putt will no doubt remember how frustrating I found that.
I’m afraid I was equally patient with Frisbee Golf and was soon distracted by the many Monarch Butterflies on the flower beds around the park. I wasn’t the only one who became disenchanted, so many of us knocked off after 5 ‘holes’ (actually nets). Prof A is almost as ridiculously competitive as I am though and insisted that the DBs keep going until he took the lead, at which point he declared the game over. Fair play; I’d have done the same myself if I was even remotely in contention.
Much of the park was manicured parkland, but there were areas which had been left to go ‘wild’:
Down by the rocky shore of Lake Ontario I completely failed to capture the large, colourful Grasshoppers which were flitting about.
With hindsight, we should have walked a bit further to have a proper look at Lake Erie. At the time, it seemed like we would inevitably be back and see it properly, but somehow we never got around to it. Too busy swimming in the back-garden pool. And shopping; apparently an essential element of any holiday.
Later that same day, we were back in Buffalo, very near Canalside, to watch the Buffalo Bisons play the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
Somewhat to my surprise, I enjoyed the whole affair immensely: the music, the game, the beers and the beef and horseradish sandwich which is apparently a Buffalo speciality. It probably helped that the Bisons won 10-1.
The people sat around us were incredibly friendly and the chap in the cap on the right of this picture was very patient with our many questions and explained what was happening really well. I played baseball quite a bit at school, basketball too come to that. I don’t remember baseball being especially complicated, but it turned out there were almost constantly points we needed clarifying.
The Bisons are a Minor League team, whatever that means, but they clearly have a large and passionate following. I think some of the local ice-hockey team were present too, signing autographs, and there was a terrific atmosphere. I’m not sure when the opportunity is likely to present itself, but I would love to watch another baseball game. The DBs also had a go at batting, during our stay, at a place where the ball was fired out of a machine. I gather they enjoyed that too. (TBH and I were shopping at the time in a sort of ‘Ghost Mall’ where many of the shops were empty, or closed, or full of second-hand tat, a very odd place. We managed to come away with a half-a-dozen pairs of shoes between us, mostly from UK brands I’d never previously heard of.)
As ever, I’m miles behind with the blog. It’s slightly odd to be recalling our summer sojourn in Buffalo whilst the city is suffering the aftermath of one of the worst winter storms on record. The BBC reports that slightly warmer weather is on the way, so hopefully life can soon return to something resembling normality in the affected areas.
So, inevitably, if you’re in the area, you really have to go and see Niagara Falls. We’d seen the great plume of spray which rises high above the falls the day before – it’s unmissable even from quite a distance away.
We’d had some good advice, from our local guides, about free parking by the river. This meant that we had an opportunity to walk by the river, and the rapids, which were pretty awe inspiring in their own right.
I can’t remember, unfortunately, where I got this map from. I took a screenshot, so still have it on my phone. We parked in the lay-by on the bottom right of the map, followed the riverside paths to the pedestrian bridge then circled the island, anti-clockwise, visiting the Three Sisters Islands, eventually returning to the car for a picnic lunch. After lunch we walked back towards the falls and the Observation Tower in the top right-hand corner of the map, for our final treat of the day.
The tall buildings are on the Canadian side of the river, which I’m told is ‘tacky’. The US side was, at one time, heavily industrialised, due to all of the free power available, but after a public campaign and subscription, was purchased and turned into a park.
The boats here are Maids of the Mist which offer an excursion right into the cauldron of Horseshoe Falls. On the American boats everybody wears a blue coat – I say coat, but really polythene bag is closer to the truth – whereas the Canadian boats offer their customers red bags. I’m not sure why the colour-coding is deemed necessary.
Because we were relatively early, TBH was convinced that we could avoid having to queue for the Cave of the Winds and she was absolutely right. A lift takes you down to the bottom of the Falls…
For this experience, the ponchos are yellow. Here we are before we got thoroughly drenched…
The noise and the wind are phenomenal.
In places the platforms were awash. The Hurricane Deck was particularly wet. As the name suggests, a powerful blast of wind was driving across the deck, carrying a great deal of water with it. I was happy to watch the others take a cold shower.
Here they are afterwards. I don’t know if you can tell from the picture, but they were drenched. B was having a wail of a time and almost broke into a smirk.
The penny-pinching side of my nature asserted itself and I declared myself satisfied with what I’d seen. Somewhat to my surprise, the DBs agreed. Thankfully, TBH told us we’d wouldn’t be coming back this way any time soon, and that she was going on the Maid of the Mist, with us or without us. We rapidly changed our minds and were soon queueing for a trip. Thank goodness we did.
We weren’t very close to the front of the group going on to the boat. Lots of people were rushing to try to get a spot near to the front on the top deck, but hardly anyone was stopping on the lower deck, so I suggested we try that. It was a great choice, there were hardly any people there, we were able to stand right at the front, but also had space to wander about and to find other vantage points.
As we approached the maelstrom of Horseshoe Falls, the the falls themselves disappeared into the drenching mist. The roar of the falls was deafening, the boat swayed on the surging waters. It was chaotic, and my attempts to take photos were doomed to failure, but the immense power of the falls has left a lasting impression.
I was amazed to see gulls and diving ducks swimming on the surface of the river – it seemed incredible that anything could survive on or in the river – or that there could be any food there for the birds to find.
When you get off the Maid of the Mist, you have the option to climb a set of stairs at the side of American Falls – you can see them in the photo below. On a fine sunny day, full of very wet and windy experiences, this may well have been the wettest and windiest. Near the top, there was a bit of a queue to climb the last few steps – we decided that we really had now had enough and beat a hasty retreat back down the waiting lift.
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.