Category Archives: Travel

I go places.

Bashakill Wineyard

Bashakill Vineyard

You get in a van with five or six other people at 9am. The van is brand new but the dashboard has an analog clock. As far as you know in your groggy, caffeine-deprived state, your destination is somewhere off Exit 17 of I-87. You’re not entirely sure because the website for Bashakill Wineyard still uses Mapquest.

IMG_6804

After a few inevitable stops you arrive around noon-thirty. Nobody else is there and your party has the choice of tables to spread out the food everyone has brought. Liberties are taken arranging them around woodstoves. You all participate in the $4 tasting, with bonus wineglass. If you stick around long enough you can even take home an overlooked wineglass or four.

Bashakill

You cross the narrow road and spend an hour or two on the trails along the Bashakill. You’re greeted on your return by the live music that starts every Saturday at two. At three there’s a tour of the wine cave which isn’t so much of a tour since the entire cave is about as big as a conference room. A conference room full of oak barrels with a knowledgeable, heavy-lidded man explaining the minutiae of wine production.

Bashakill Vineyard

Bashakill Vineyard

For no reason other than it seems entirely appropriate there are horses. Lots of them. You admire the horses. They are stalwart companions of their riders. You may have stepped in their shit on your hike. Several hours and bottles of wine later you and your friends have all shared your food — venison cheese dip and highly noisome cheese and salt & vinegar chips — and several bottles of wine stand empty. The mood is high. The wine was delicious. You pile back into the van, not necessarily taking the seat you had before, and someone pilots you toward home. The mood is high. The sun is setting. Maybe the weekend has just begun.

2012 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival

2012 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival

2012 marks the third year I’ve visited the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival, only named the #2 Winter Carnival in the world by National Geographic. Beating out parties in Canada and Japan is pretty impressive considering the town’s population hovers around 5,000. Who knew we had a world-class event tucked away in the frigid Adirondacks? Answer: National Geographic, but now you know, too.

2012 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival

Each year has a theme, and this year’s was Alien Invaders. You can see a few of them above, abducting terrestrial life forms. As usual I accompanied my friends in the carnival group the Gimps, best known for never participating in the yearly theme. This time they were killer bees. As in the classic SNL skit, complete with sombreros, which raised concerns they would be interpreted as illegal aliens (they had been permanently banned from the carnival years ago for gratuitous use of “EAT ME” in an Alice on Wonderland theme). Bright yellow stripes and bee antics seemed to do the trick and there were no international incidents.

2012 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival

In 2010 and 2011 I went with something of a photojournalistic angle, focusing on the parade, the costumes, the ice castle and winter events. This time I decided to use the warm welcome my extended family of Gimps gives and come at carnival in a more documentary style. You may be asking, what’s the difference between photojournalism and documentation? Well, it’s quite simple: obviously I’m just using impressive words to sound like I know what I’m talking about.

Instead of staking out a spot on the parade route and shooting every float going by, I followed the swarm of killer bees to their staging area. Since they had the second to last float, this was perfect, passing by all the other groups on the mile or two walk out and making it back to the finish line about halfway through the end of the parade. Hanging out while the gimps were getting prepped was much more interesting than being roped onto the sidewalk and waiting for the parade to pass by. Maybe because they are pretty interesting. Bees on a frozen lake? Why not.

2012 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival

Walking back up the route, through the crowd, gave me a chance to shoot some of the other paraders and the spectators. I wanted to give a sense of what it’s like to be in the crowd, instead of the slightly antiseptic results I came back with in years prior. There’s a certain energy and enthusiasm we don’t get here in Albany at, say, Tulip or Lark Fest.

2012 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival

2012 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival

My impression of the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival has been one of high alcohol consumption, which may just be a byproduct of the people I hang out with while I’m there. After the parade there was some hotel room drinking, some food and drinking at the Moose Club, some drinking and very noise-tolerant dogs at the Rusty Nail, and drunken bee bowling. I called it a night before the swarm invaded the Waterhole, a popular local establishment I had been forcefully ejected from last year.

2012 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival

2012 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival

By the time we were near the ice castle, with ice UFOs gorgeously lit up, I was looking forward to getting horizontal. So, no photos of the castle for me this year, but honestly, it will be hard to ever top Mark Kurtz’ shot from that Nat Geo link. If you’ve never been to the carnival, you owe it to yourself to check it out at least once, see the official website for details. Think about reserving a room sometime around right now. I highly recommend checking the slideshow for larger photos, more not shown here, and a better idea of what it’s like to hang out with the Gimps for a day.

Special thanks to all of the hospitable residents of Saranac Lake, especially the police and fire departments who maintain a semblance of order. Until next year, happy carnival!

Outtakes: Dyken Pond/Snow Train

I’ve had a couple more peices up at All Over Albany, on Dyken Pond and the Saratoga & North Creek Snow Train. Go ahead, check those out, I’ll wait.

Dyken Pond was a surprise. I’ve visited most of the environmental centers in the area but had no idea Dyken Pond existed or was as interesting as it is — and I sort of grew up in Rensselaer county. Totally my fault. I didn’t visit at the best time, but I’ll blame that on the weather, there should have been some snow already. It looks like a great place to snowshoe and I’m eager to visit again in the spring for the vernal pond and fall for what should be an impressive color show. Some stuff that didn’t make it into the AOA article:

Dyken Pond Environmental Education Center

This is a “pufball” mushroom, likely Morganella pyriformis. Pyriformis is one of the few puffballs that grow on wood, in fact decomposing the wood as part of their life cycle. I can’t be absolutely sure of the classification but it’s a safe bet. These are smaller than they seem, only about a centimeter across — I was using a 35mm lens on tubes for ninja macro performance.

Dyken Pond Environmental Education Center

This was by far more interesting to me, maybe because I’m easily amused. On the right you see a quartz vein, all over you see moss and some lichen. This tells a story, albeit a long, protracted, and uneventful one. Under all the moss to the left is likely granite, though I didn’t scrape it off to check. Lichen and moss are known as pioneer species and in cases like this one are successional. See, lichen is a symbiosis of algae and fungus — basically something you really do not want on your feet. The fungus gives the algae a hospitable place to live and in return the algae photosynthesizes and provides the fungus with some food. As someone way smarter than me once said, lichens are fungi who’ve developed agriculture.

But fungi eat more than just algae poop, they can actually slowly decompose minerals, and being extremely hardy they can colonize and live on mineral deposits — what we usually call “rocks”. So lichen actually turn rocks into soil over a long period of time, and eventually mosses are happy to call that soil home. So long lichen, thanks for all the hard work. So, why did I find the above quartz and moss interesting? Lichens are able to colonize and break down certain rock types much more easily than others, and this is a perfect illustration. Lichens can live on quartz, but it’s much easier for them to live on the granite in which we often see quartz veins. The boundary you see is there because of the particular adaptability of the lichens paving the way, and if that doesn’t quite blow your mind, this colonization likely started hundreds of years ago. It takes a long, long time for lichens to turn rock into a suitable home for moss.

Dyken Pond Environmental Education Center

There’s lots of other geeky sciencey naturey stuff at Dyken Pond, like glacial erratics. These are massive boulders that ice sheets just decided they didn’t want anymore so they just kind of left them all over the Northeast. It’s glacier trash that gets in our way, which is kind of funny but not really seeing as our trash is sort of destroying what’s left of glaciers. Whoops.

The Snow Train, now that was fun. As the AOA editors mentioned at the end, this was a media junket, which I’m not completely comfortable with. You just can’t honestly evaluate something you’re not paying for, but I took the time to talk to the poor schmucks who did pay (okay, that’s unfair, they were really nice), to help get an idea if riding in the dome car was worth it or not. When the train stopped over a mist-covered river lit with the golden Adirondack sunrise and everyone jumped toward the windows to take photos, I had my answer.

Snow Train

As I mentioned in the piece, if you aren’t hitting the runs you aren’t getting your full money’s worth, but I enjoyed riding the gondola up and stomping around. Way in the past I took three snowboard lessons and decided careening down a mountain in winter was not for me, so I’m fascinated by ski/snowboard culture and particularly life at the top of the run.

Gore Mountain

I tried to get as many candid, street-style photos as I could, but even a breakfast Bloody Mary didn’t loosen the pressure of being on assignment, so stuck mainly to what I knew would run. We were also on something of a schedule, but I tried to get an honest look at life on slopes. It’s definitely something I want to go back and spend more time with.

Gore Mountain

I like North Creek more than it may have seemed in the AOA piece. It’s a small Adirondack town that’s kept its individuality in the face of being a tourist destination — Gore may not be nationally known but it’s one of the more popular mountains in the east. Compare that to somewhere like Lake Placid, which is a blatant tourist trap. The people are great and honestly happy to see you. We stopped at Marsha’s, advertising the best burger in town, for lunch. We were the only table, but the burger didn’t disappoint, especially for the price. Medium rare came out perfectly medium rare and it was not just a preformed Sysco patty. As we walked out, the staff were playing cards on the bar, and after leaving I knew I should have stopped and taken a few photos, even if it meant switching lenses and mounting a flash. But once the idea came to me, I felt too self conscious to go back and ask, so I filed it away in the endless folder of “things to remember for next time”.

Barking Spider, North Creek NY

After some shopping and sightseeing we whiled away another hour or so at the Barking Spider, which I absolutely, 100% recommend visiting if you’re in North Creek. This is the townie bar. We were mostly ignored — probably because I’m not the most outgoing person — which I respect. The pickled eggs were fantastic. PBR cans are $2, and there’s a giant fish with a clock hung at one end of the bar and a huge wooden spider with a couple hundred dollars of small bills signed by patrons behind it. I love that place.

North Creek NY

Unfortunately, as you can read in the article, the trip didn’t end as well as it could have. The vast majority of my traveling companions, most of whom had paid for the thing, were still in good spirits. I used that as further anecdotal data (hah) that the trip is worth it, and had I spent $80 I would still feel that way. Riding in that dome car is great, giving a view of the Adirondacks that’s impossible otherwise. If we get some more snow I’ll probably take the $55 dome car round trip and just chill in North Creek. And if they continue the service year-round, it’ll be a great way to get up to to some rafting, hiking, and camping.

I know posts have been few and far between. I’ve got a few things up my sleeves, stay tuned. Thanks for reading.

Kate & Tim’s Wedding

Kate & Tim's Wedding, Stewart Park, Cayuga Lake, Ithaca NY

Back to central New York last weekend, this time for a wedding in Ithaca. Kate & Tim picked a gorgeous day to get married on Cayuga Lake, even if it was a bit warm for an outdoor wedding. I don’t enjoy dressing up and sitting on a wooden bench in a church for two hours and then suffering through six awkward speeches, so this laid-back ceremony worked for me. While I’m pretty important, it’s more important that the bride, groom, and their families were happy and judging by the smiles and laughter I’d say they were.

Kate & Tim's Wedding, Stewart Park, Cayuga Lake, Ithaca NY

I was not the photographer, I just had my camera because I bring it everywhere whether that’s appropriate or not. The real man behind the lens was Tyler Finck, who not only juggled three cameras by himself but had his family there too (and no socks on, yep Tyler we noticed). He put in overtime on a hot day and did it like a champ. You can see a great stop motion video he put together that covers the whole day, watch the whole thing, the ending is perfect.

Kate & Tim's Wedding, Stewart Park, Cayuga Lake, Ithaca NY

The photos I came back with are snapshotty, so you get what you get, I was trying to enjoy the open bar. I’d like to give a special shout out to the caterer who stopped me from grabbing what I thought was a fresh glass of champagne at the bar; it was decidedly not. There are 17 photos in the slideshow, I may add more later.

I see many happy years ahead for these two. Congratulations to Kate & Tim and their families!

Kate & Tim's Wedding, Stewart Park, Cayuga Lake, Ithaca NY

Kate & Tim's Wedding, Stewart Park, Cayuga Lake, Ithaca NY Kate & Tim's Wedding, Stewart Park, Cayuga Lake, Ithaca NY

Kate & Tim's Wedding, Stewart Park, Cayuga Lake, Ithaca NY

Kate & Tim's Wedding, Stewart Park, Cayuga Lake, Ithaca NY Kate & Tim's Wedding, Stewart Park, Cayuga Lake, Ithaca NY

Possibly related posts:
Laurel & Shelby’s Wedding

Montezuma, Cayuga Lake, Taughannock Falls, and Wine

Taughannock Falls, Ulysses NY

We took a three day weekend and turned an overnight trip to central New York into a mini tour. You can fit an amazing amount into a couple of days if you have the right guide.

Our first stop was the visitor center at the Montezuma Wildlife Refuge. This is a 50,000 acre wetlands complex and I think a model of the kinds of conservation efforts that can be achieved with the right cooperation. It’s managed in concert by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Audubon New York and other conservation groups, and private landowners and corporations. Wetlands are simultaneously very fragile and very important ecosystems, and this cooperation has allowed a large area to be carved out, protecting many threatened species including the Bald Eagle. We were lucky enough to not only catch sight of an adult baldy (it’s okay to call them that, they’re comfortable with their hair loss), but also a juvenile preening in a tree along the self-guided driving tour. I wasn’t able to get any photos, or more specifically not any good ones, but I did get these Tree Swallows popping in and out of the nest boxes near the center.

Tree Swallow

There were some Purple Martins roosting near the center too, and we saw (what we’re pretty sure was) an Osprey carrying a fish away to a safe place for a sushi picnic. Plenty of other birds were on the driving tour, some herons, song sparrows, and ever-present Red Winged Blackbirds. If you want to view or especially photograph some birds in their wetland habitat a car makes an excellent blind, I highly recommend driving the short loop, just don’t try to get out of your car. The center is located in Seneca Falls on Routes 5/20E, and is open April – November; no normal hours are held in the winter but you can still visit and may be able to schedule some with a volunteer or two if you call ahead. More information at the Friends of Montezuma website.

Goose Watch Winery, Romulus NY

We took a drive along Cayuga Lake, one of the easternmost and largest of the Finger Lakes, and stopped at Goose Watch Winery for a tasting. I don’t have anything to compare them to but we had a blast, I definitely recommend giving them a shot. The staff was knowledgeable and friendly, able to give you some hints on what to try if you already know what you like, and $2 gives you a sample of 8 wines of your choice. The whites and a rosé we tried were all excellent, the reds I was not as impressed with but it was my fault for getting two very sweet examples, we were thinking of getting some gifts. Halfway through, a bus pulled up with what looked like cast of Jersey Shore times twenty, thankfully Goose Watch has a separate upstairs room for groups, seems like they’re very accommodating.

Goose Watch Winery, Romulus NY

A drive south along the lake brought us to Taughannock Falls, no I’m not sure how to pronounce that really. There are multiple parking lots on Route 89 if you want to hike the falls, I suggest skipping the paid one that includes a beach and parking in the free lot just down the road, the walk to the trail is not much further. It’s a great easy walk, well-maintained and no grade to speak of, or you can take a risk and walk along and in the stream itself. Geologically there’s a lot going on, glacial action and more modern erosion is clearly evident along the gorge and stream, and the large amounts of shale on the slopes, combined with seasonal hydrological action, leaves very clear, wide swaths of rock slides. The falls themselves plunge 215 total feet in multiple stages, below is the 15 foot Lower Falls that greets you at the start of the trail.

Taughannock Falls, Ulysses NY

For being heavily visited (multiple school bus loads of kids crossed our path, not to mention families and older teenagers who could have used better chaperoning cooling off in the water), there’s a surprising amount of wildlife to see if you look closely enough. The wildflowers were in bloom when we were there, bringing with them tiny pollinators. Unfortunately I’m terrible at identifying flowers. I was fortunate enough to get a shot of this Little Wood Satyr butterfly, the thunk of the shutter scaring it off again:

Little Wood Satyr, Taughannock Falls

and a brilliantly metallic Six Spotted Tiger Beetle.

Tiger Beetle, Taughannock Falls

Heavily wooded streams like this hold a great diversity of life, turn over almost any rock and you might find some salamanders or, particularly in spring, stonefly larvae among other insects, which attract fisher spiders (don’t click if you’re arachnophobic at all), who use vibrations in the water to locate prey. Cliff swallows prey on all of the above, swooping down toward the water to catch insects in midair. That’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Taughannock Falls, Ulysses NY Taughannock Falls, Ulysses NY

There’s an overlook of the main falls that’s not to be missed, easy to drive and park to, great spot for a quick lunch. We took our picnic back near the main parking area, where looking south there’s an excellent view of the coal-fired AES Cayuga Power Station.

AES Cayuga Power Station

Lovely scenery, no? I can’t get too indignant, of course I understand that many of the things I enjoy (like that wine) are going to require some electricity and it has to come from somewhere. It’s just disheartening to see a coal plant, one of the major harmful environmental contributors, right from the picnic area of a park where the immediate effects of that pollution (hello acid rain) is clearly evident. Anyway, this photo is really just an excuse to show an example from a 600-1000mm lens I recently picked up, which is absolutely ridiculous. The tree swallow photo way up there was taken with it too.

That was the end of our adventure, which is good because this post is long enough already. We had a wonderful dinner at Laura’s parents that was made largely from food from their garden and I used the late afternoon sun as a chance to do some more closeup work in said garden.

Peony and Ant Garlic scapes

Look, it’s my blog, I can indulge myself here. More on how I took those near-macro shots in another post. Let’s see, how about a sideshow of photos from the day? We can do that. Enjoy.

Overlook Mountain

Overlook Mountain, Catskills NY

We’ve had rain all week but checking the forecast, Sunday was supposed to be nice and clear. A quick drive down to Woodstock for a hike up Overlook Mountain was the plan; unfortunately we didn’t actually check the forecast for Woodstock. Halfway there the skies clouded up and we hit some drizzle.

In Woodstock, turn onto Rock City Road, and about 1.5 miles of twisting, climbing asphalt later you’ll come to the trailhead parking lot. As soon as we started up the road, the rain turned into dense fog; apparently we had driven into a cloud. So much for taking photos, right? Maybe.

Overlook Mountain House, Catskills NY

Overlook is well known for two things: the fire tower at the top and the ruins of the old Overlook Mountain house. I’ve talked about fire towers before, and I wasn’t about to take any sweeping panoramas from the one on Overlook this time, so let’s skip to the Mountain House (sometimes simply called the Overlook Hotel, if you want to run into some confusion with The Shining). Following the lead of the famous Catskill Mountain House, it was planned in the early 19th century but not truly constructed until the 1870’s. It burned once in 1875, then again in 1923, after which reconstruction was never quite completed and was shuttered in 1940 — only to suffer from fire in 1941 and again in the 1960’s. Today just a few shells remain, trees growing heartily inside. Plenty has been written about this site, and since I don’t want to repeat it all you can read the Hudson Valley Ruins or Wikipaltz pages for more. Suffice to say it’s a landmark to check out if you’re nearby.

Overlook Mountain House, Catskills NY

What made for terrible landscape photography made for some nice dead hotel photography. Many have taken photos of the Overlook before since it’s easily accessible (the hiking path literally cuts through the grounds). Try a flickr search if you’re curious. It was nice to chance upon something a little different, so my advice: if you want to shoot the Overlook Mountain House, go when it’s 110% humidity.

Overlook Mountain House, Catskills NY

The fire tower too was shrouded in fog. Climbing up was one of the most disorienting experiences I’ve had; near the top, the ground and even the trees disappear and all around you is moist, grey nothingness. I know hell is supposed to be all fire and brimstone and a dude with horns and a pitchfork, but I would put money on it being more like this. But, the most horror-movie-like scene were the thick cables of a transfer station near the Mountain House, stretching taut into… nothing. Maybe they’re holding down a giant robot? Who knows.

Overlook Mountain, Catskills NY

Even though we couldn’t see too far, the wet air made for some nice scenery. Heavy dew covered everything green and red efts dotted the path, but there was one more surprise waiting for us. Nearing the trailhead on the way down, we heard what sounded like gunshots. What actually happened was this:

Overlook Mountain Tail Head, Catskills NY

I’ll let that speak for itself. Thankfully everyone was okay, including a little dog; the only thing the owner lost (besides the car) was a Fleet Foxes CD.

Overlook is a great, easy hike — there’s a steady climb but the path is more of a road than a trail. It’s about 2.5 miles each way, and there’s a fork you can take to Echo Lake if you want to extend it. Is the view worth it? I wouldn’t know. Woodstock is quickly becoming one of my favorite day trips, and it’s easy to make the hike part of some time there. I especially like checking out the Center for Photography; right now they’re showing Being Upstate and Photography Now 2011, both interesting though further evidence that I just don’t appreciate conceptual photography as much as other people do.

Check out the slideshow or the full set of photos.

Overlook Mountain, Catskills NY Overlook Mountain, Catskills NY
Overlook Mountain Fire Tower, Catskills NY Overlook Mountain House, Catskills NY

Maple Valley Farm

Maple Valley Farm, Corinth NY

Maple Weekend is here! Or was here. On March 19 & 20, with a bonus weekend on the 26th & 27th, dozens of maple syrupers held open houses so you can see how tree blood becomes liquid gold. I visited Maple Valley Farm in Corinth with a small group, and came away hungry for waffles.

Maple Valley Farm, Corinth NY

That’s what sugar maple sap looks like. Maple Valley has over 100 acres of tapped trees, and like the Internet they’re all connected by a series of tubes. What starts as a steady drip from an individual tree turns into this gushing river of potential deliciousness. The magic happens in the sugarhouse, which you can see in the lead photo. A massive evaporator, fueled by an impressive supply of wood, boils the sap to concentrate the sugars. The evaporator room is filled with steam and vapor giving off a slightly sweet smell with a hint of caramel. It’s almost like being inside a pancake.

Maple Valley Farm, Corinth NY Maple Valley Farm, Corinth NY

It usually takes around forty gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. I spoke briefly with someone in charge who said that this year they’re seeing a higher sugar content than normal, which means less sap is needed per gallon of syrup — less water needs to be boiled off — and thus more concentrated flavor. This year’s vintage should taste extra mapley. He was also optimistic about the season’s harvest; after a couple lackluster years, the weather is cooperating. The daily cycle of warmth and cold at the end of winter and beginning of spring literally pumps the sap through the maples’ veins, so an early end to spring slows production.

Maple Valley Farm, Corinth NY

There was more than just syrup, if you need more than just syrup to make you happy, though I can’t understand that. These guys were showing off a variety of rifles and pistols, some of them dating back to the civil war, even melting lead and casting bullets right there — but firing blanks. They had some really interesting stuff and it’s pretty fascinating to see just how far this technology has come in a relatively short time. As a species we’re pretty good at coming up with novel ways to kill each other.

Maple Valley Farm, Corinth NY Maple Valley Farm, Corinth NY

There were more guns, actually. Another group was demonstrating a bit about frontier life, and they weren’t firing blanks. They had some examples of tools you’d use back in the day — even before wireless Internet, how primitive — and a flint napping demonstration.

Maple Valley Farm, Corinth NY

He hit the target, too.

Of course there was also syrup to bring home, and things right there to put it on. Our group made quick work of some maple cream covered cinnamon buns, but just about everything from flapjacks to maple cotton candy was available. A few minutes in the sugarhouse will definitely give you a fever, and the only cure is more cowbell syrup.

Look forward to Maple Weekend next March; if you don’t mind making a few phone calls, the website has a huge list of participating farms, and some of them may still have tours available. But do it soon, the end of the sugaring season is coming fast! Maple Valley Farm has been in the same family for five generations, and is located at 84 Harris Road in Corinth, NY. Their phone number is (585) 654-9752. Their syrup is delicious.

As usual, there’s a sideshow with more photos.