Finger Lakes Vacation Trip

We’ve been throwing around a few ideas vacation-wise for quite a while.  I haven’t, personally, went on a ‘vacation’ since our honeymoon a few years ago, and neither has Jenny (though she’s taken some pretty nice biz trips).
We’ve taken weekends, sure.  And a day or two here and there, or maybe a few days to relax at home.  But nothing longer.
So we decided to do a camping trip to the Finger Lakes region.  The “Land of Gorges” I think is the what they call that area, or some such.  The Finger Lakes were created by glaciers that gouged out the large lakes during the Ice Age and.  The area where we are going, around Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake, certainly have a number of parks and areas with popular waterfalls and gorges.  One is higher than Niagara Falls, even.  And we haven’t been camping in many years.  It’s also “Wine Country” but that particular attraction isn’t something we’re interested in.
The last time we went camping was a large get-together for a car rally (for the versatile and much-maligned Pontiac Aztek – we use the thing for everything and you can’t find many SUV’s that have seats that actually come out anymore.  See pic above from the rally.), and we used the Aztek’s tent and air mattress.  Very comfortable, and we had a great time.  The last ‘real’ vacation we took was out honeymoon to Ocean City (see pic below).
This time around we’ll have the dogs with us (German Shepard and Boxer) so we’re using our 12×8 tent, large enough for a queen-sized air mattress with lots of room left over for our stuff and the dogs too.
And we decided that, even though the Aztek has lots of room in it, we’d get one of those rooftop carriers so we can store some supplies in there and have more room in the back for the dogs.
I found a hardshell one on a local Watertown Freecycle mailing list.  It was fine, though needed some new padding and hinge pins.  We decided maybe we’d just go ahead and get a soft one; easier to put on and take off, less trouble, etc.
Except the later Azteks didn’t come with the roofrails – which is kinda needed for the car-top carriers.  The things you slide them into are on the vehicle, sure; but not the rails themselves.
The local dealership, Davidson’s, would charge an arm and a leg for them.  Over $270 for a pair of them!  Any that come into the junkyards get snapped up at all the junkyards as soon as they come in.
Coincidentally, on our Aztek Yahoogroup (some of the same people we all went to a rally with a few years back) a person was GIVING away an Aztek because of a blown engine.  A couple decided to drive down to Binghamton and tow it back to their place near Syracuse and part it out, for free.
So we asked for the roofrails, met them halfway, and gave them $25 for their troubles and gas.  Good deal.
Now we have the roofrails, and the softshell carrier and we’re ready to go.  We set up the tent and got a new queen-size air mattress (the old one had some holes in it – too many to patch), and started gathering our stuff together for the trip.  We’re really looking forward to it.
Oh, and you may notice that this entry is posted after we got back.  I know, maybe this is a bit paranoid but I’d prefer not to let anyone know we’ll be gone beforehand.  Ya never know…
After getting the updated and routable maps for my GPS (and a bit of messing around to get everything to work), I’m looking forward to trying out the various routing and waypoint functions.  And having access to how far away the nearest McDonald’s is, how long it will take to get there, and what time, etc. is going to make everything much smoother and easier.
We started out fairly early, but there’s always the occasional snufa and forgotten item.  This time around I had been working on and tweaking the list of items we would need, for a few weeks time ahead of time.  I also have a list of common camping and trip items that I cross-referenced what we needed against.  And I don’t think we passed over or missed anything.
On the way down the Aztek’s stereo started going fruity, changing stations by itself.  What a headache, as we’re music people.  And I didn’t want it to ruin Jenny’s vacation.  I figured when we got back I’d unhook the battery for a bit, sometimes that can reset the computer in the stereo.
It wasn’t until we were most of the way down there that Jen started wondering if something was pressing against the duplicate radio controls in the rear.  That was it, I knew right away.  Earlier I had reclined the seat and climbed into the back for a water bottle.  But getting back into my seat, crawling over the dogs and the stuff – isn’t exactly easy.  So we decided to wait until our next stop to check it.
The GPS had helped immensely already, there’s just no question of getting lost or finding the nearest Wegman’s or Pizza Hut with the GPS and it’s search functions.  After a short time of comparing routes the GPS calculates and those from a paper map I gave up re-checking it.  Give in, trust technology blindly… 😉
We found a nice little city park in Geneva, with doggie poop bags, boat docks and accessible shores (for us to take the dogs down to), a visitor’s center, and picnic tables.
While we had our pizza I moved some things away from the duplicate radio controls in the rear.  Sure enough that was the problem.  The radio worked fine.
Back on the way to the Sampson Campground we went through the wine country; large grape fields and wineries interspersed with large crops of very healthy corn.  The growing season here seems to be later, due to the warm climate between the two lakes (Seneca and Cayuga).
Almost there – we went by a long fenced-in area, with high fence topped with barbed wire and warning signs.  This was the retired Seneca Army Depot that was right on the other side of the Sampson military base.
The fence ran for miles and at one point we saw a pure white deer.  At first we both thought it was a goat.  And then I remembered something I had read quite awhile back.
There was a retired military base in NY where a number of white deer had gotten inside the fence when the base was being built and had bred.
I need to find more info on this, I’m assuming it’s the same one that I had read about before but, as I write this; I have no access to the Internet and can’t remember if it was indeed the Seneca Army depot grounds where the white deer are.  (Later addendum – yes, it was the Seneca Army Depot that the white deer bred on – a link.  These are NOT albinos.  The 24-mile fenced-in area keep the deer in and most people don’t even know they exist.  We were lucky to see them.  Apparently the base commander liked the white deer and ordered that they not be hunted so they continued to breed, while the normal brown deer were hunted and culled.  Possibly the only place in the world with that many white deer when most people don’t even know there is such a thing; but now they want to develop the area which seems to be a big controversy there.  Others want to make it a wilderness area).

No WIFI at this campground – way too large to cover I guess.  In fact, there aren’t many real villages nearby and not much chance of grabbing a signal anywhere.


So we got to the Sampson Campground, a former military base-turned-park.  A very nice place, lots of land, a military museum, and a very friendly (and a bit silly from too many long hours) desk clerk.  We were able to check in and set up our site earlier then the normal 3:00 PM check-in time.  Again, the GPS even led us directly to our own camp site itself (I had waypointed it before hand, using the camp’s site maps so I knew exactly where on the campground we would be).


Our site has lots of space, and in fact it was a special extra $4 for it (because of the water access).  We have access to the water, electricity, and a good big space with some elbow room away from neighbors.  We took the dogs into the water (not sure if we were supposed to be swimming as there is a beach on the grounds but we went in too).

And now we sit and relax.  Nice day so far.

Later, we walked quite some distance down one of the abandoned roads which were originally part of the military base and which are now walking trails.  This one continued all the way to Willard, the next town (and where a large drug treatment facility is – which is an alternative to prison for qualified candidates.  Like a boot camp sort of situation I guess).


We didn’t walk all the way to Willard as we didn’t really know how far it would be (I left the GPS in the car).


We also checked out the military museum on the Sampson campground/park.  It was closed but had a lot of interesting naval and air force equipment outside.

I also got in touch with my father back home, who is taking care of the cats, ferret, and keeping an eye on the house.  He mentioned that my uncle, Vern, had been stationed here at the Sampson Naval base when he was in World War II.
While brushing my teeth at the bathrooms/showers a guy and his son were cleaning a large lake trout.  Gigantic thing.
Last night
It was a little cool in the tent last night, I ended up letting all the rainflaps down to seal the mesh.  Why didn’t the tent instructions say you could do that?  It made a hell of a lot of difference, no draft and a bit warmer.
But the worse thing for me was some sort of tree frog or something.  What kind of evolution would make an animal want to croak, squeak, or make noise all night with little pause?  What possible reason?
I finally got smart and dug out my ear plugs.
I got into the showers before anyone else, since our shower area only has two men’s shower stalls.  Each section or “loop” of camping has one bathroom/shower area and there’s also a main section.
We headed out early.
We had noticed on the entire trip that there were a lot of bicyclists, they seemed to be either traveling in groups or together.  On some tour perhaps?
As we were leaving the park a couple RV trailers were also heading out and a small group of bicyclists were following right on their rear’s.
As we turned onto the main road a couple of the bikes continued to stay directly behind one RV trailer.  As our speeds increased one dropped back but the other continued for perhaps a mile.  I was stunned, he was reaching speeds of nearly 50 MPH and at times wasn’t even pedaling.
Just like NASCAR cars and other racing; the bicyclist must have been using the relatively low pressure air behind the rear of the boxy RV trailer.  Amazing how fast he was traveling.  As the hill increased in pitch he went from occasionally not even pedalling to fast and even cranking, then gradually fell back and finally stopped on the side of the road, waving at the people in the truck pulling the RV trailer as it pulled away.  He was breathing fairly heavily as he waited for his companions to catch up, but not overly so.  Pretty impressive.

We headed out toward the Taughannock Falls area.  At this point we were fully trusting the GPS to give us correct and quick instructions, and we barely looked at our paper maps for the rest of the trip.


The park and gorge and falls were absolutely amazing.  The waterfall has an upper and a lower viewing area, and is 215 feet from top to bottom.  There’s also an upper falls and a lower falls.

Some of the gorge walls are 400 feet tall or more.  We took the lower trail, which goes along the bottom of the gorge.  We could even walk out on the flat stones where, during flood season, flood waters flow.  In fact, there’s been incidents where the trail bridges and pavilion have been washed out, once right after some campers left.  But that’s during spring time of course.
After doing lots of exploring and pics (and having tourists stop to pet and talk to the dogs) we then headed to Ithaca, thinking we could see some of the gorges and waterfalls right in the city of Ithaca.  We hadn’t realized how hilly it is and hard to find these falls in an unfamiliar and maze-like city and campus.
After we tried to find some of the trails to the falls according to the directions I had printed out, and not being successful (without getting out and walking around to find them), we decided to head out to the next park.  The campus and area are a maze and many of the falls are on small seemingly unmarked walking trails and shortcuts.  Again, the GPS came in very handy getting us out of the city and finding us a McDonald’s.
At Buttermilk Falls State Park we decided against walking on the tall, steep, and hard to walk trail around the area.  With a rambunctious dog it wasn’t a good idea.  We decided to go to the other part of the park, the upper part, and walk those trails.
But on the way another gorge area I had waypointed on the GPS showed up and we tried that.  It was very treacherous, and some of the trails precariously wound along very tall drops.  This was called Sweedler Preserve and was on DEC land.  Until a short time back the falls were almost unknown by even the natives to that area, and there wasn’t even info on how far down the gorge went.  It was very scary though, especially since you’re walking along a dirt trail along the very edge, and I kept thinking back to those overhangs on the Taughannock Falls Park.  On those trails they kept them far, far away from the overhanging edges.

We went on quite a section of it but turned back after a bit and went to the upper Buttermilk Falls part, went around for a drive along this park (one part has the road going through the running stream that goes into the gorge), and then we headed back.

The trip back to the campground was uneventful.  The dogs slept most of the way.
Back at the campground the tent that the young couple who had been camping to the left of us had put up was now on the site to the right of us, and a van was at their previous prime spot.  They must not have reserved it for that day.
The new people were a guy, his wife, and a kid.  They looked awfully friendly, too friendly in fact.  And kept looking over hopefully at us.
I made sure I looked as uninviting as possible and they left us alone.  Some people go camping to get away (like us), and some go to meet new people and schmooze.
Many of the spots near us were vacated at this point.  That night we started a larger fire and when we came back from the bathrooms while getting ready for bed; a big RV trailer being pulled by a dually was trying to get into a space parallel across from us.  And having quite a time, eliciting lots of complaints from others.
Th wife was backing it up while the asshole husband swore at her and paced back and forth with his flashlight, trying to get her to back it in the way he wanted.  This went on for quite some time.
The campground itself has a number of security vehicles which drive around every few hours, and we saw some local cops take trips through the park at various times.
But this time, unfortunately, there was no one around.  Finally they seemed to get the trailer in the way they wanted and things settled down.
Thursday morning
I slept better, with my earplugs in.  The tree-dwelling animals screeched both nights but this night I was smart enough to put the plugs in earlier, so I didn’t hear much of anything.
As I headed to the shower, hoping I would get lucky once again and get it at least mostly to myself; the RV trailer and truck were sitting across from us, no sign of life.  Fine with me.
I made a quick fire, cooked our eggs and toast and we started packing up.  I’m pretty good at making camp fires, BTW, all it takes it a bit of logic and basic knowledge of thermodynamics to make yourself the perfect fire.
Anyway, the young couple to the left of us didn’t emerge until we were just about ready to leave.  Earlier in the morning the family to the right of us had returned from where ever they had went well before I had gotten up at a leisurely 7:30.  Damn early risers – don’t trust anyone who goes on vacation and gets up earlier then everyone else and is damn happy and bubbly about it.
We packed our car-top carrier and the dogs and took a quick look around for anything we’d missed, then headed down the park driveways.
On the way, I had my GPS do a search for Geocaches (I had used Garmin’s Geocache section to mass-download Geocaches for the area directly to my GPS – a corporate site that actually has something that works well and efficiently – yep!) and sure enough there were four nearby.
After a short walk down one of the old original base’s roads we came to the location of the Geocache; this one called “Poppa Bear” – don’t ask me why.
After searching for a bit I was about to give up.
Because the military and government limit the accuracy of commercial GPS’s I figured I could be 15 feet off, or more on this overcast day.  Sure enough, I found the Geocache – another ammo box – in a broken concrete pipe, half covered with twigs and bark and about 15 feet from the waypoint location.

We looked briefly through all the log entries (a family had found it the previous day, in fact) and then we signed it and headed over to the military museum (didn’t feel like looking for any more Geocaches at that point).


The museum is manned by veterans and is in the old brig building, with a few real planes and boats outside.  One side of the museum is for the Naval Base, one side for the Air Force.


The naval side was much larger as it had been a naval base longer, and had almost every conceivable items from everyday life on the base as well as from those who were stationed there and moved on.  There was even a real periscope, on loan from the military, that you could look through and see 360 degrees around the park from the roof of the museum.  It was quite interesting and they even had notebooks filled with names and pics of those who had been stationed there.  There didn’t seem to be an index so I didn’t look up my uncle.  The museum is very well done, on both sides.

Next we headed up to the Montezuma Wildlife Preserve.  This is a large wetlands preserve, with walking trails as well as a driving trail (also, the Seneca-Cayuga Canal System goes right past it).  We saw a few birds and wildlife here and there, stopping at the observation tower and walking one of the trails in addition to the driving trail.  It also had a nice visitor center with stuffed animals of all sorts that might be in the preserve, and lots of info and helpful people.
We spent quite some time there but finally felt it was time to head back.  Unfortunately the Thruway doesn’t have as many entries and exits as Route 81 so we had to go all the way to Weedsport to get back on (not all that far).
Again, the GPS made the whole thing a breeze – instead of looking through maps and missing shortcuts they were all right there.  Of course, the GPS is only as good as the maps that are loaded on it and the person using it.
On the way from the Preserve to Weedsport we passed by and over the Erie Canal System, and one of the still-functioning locks.  A boat was making its way toward it.  I would have liked to stop to watch but I was ready to head home without delay at this point. Here’s more pics from our trip.
Vacations are nice, but it’s just as nice to get home too.  And there’s always a lot to catch up on.

Marc M

I am a web developer and fitness geek, but I have a heck of a lot of differing interests.  Biking, the Internet, technology, movies, fitness, running and walking and hiking, science fiction, photography, graphics, WordPress, flying and aircrafts, pets and animals, history, and much more.  I like to stay very fit but I don’t mind sitting at my computer for work and play either.  I live in upstate New York (that’s far from New York City) in a rural area, yet close to a small city, with my beautiful awesome wife, a bunch of beloved cats and dogs and chickens in a very old multi-century house.

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