Friday, September 30, 2016

Fresh Apple Cider and Giant Pumpkins

We have found that Saturday is a great day for finding festivals, and our new home in eastern New York has more fall festivals this weekend than we could possibly attend. So we started the morning early with a trip to Eagle Mills, where they were hosting a craft festival.

Eagle Mills is a neat location complete with a covered bridge, and there was live music and vendors with lots of crafts and food for sale. We don't have room for crafts in our motor home, but we always like local food. We always like the live music too. We were the only ones dancing to the music, but several people made the effort to tell us they enjoyed it. One woman told us, "There should be more dancing, and less fighting." We couldn't agree with her more.

A place named Eagle Mill has to have a mill, and we found the red-painted mill in the center of the property. It's powered by a water wheel, but they don't grind wheat or flour here. Instead, they have a very special apple cider mill.

A truck filled with apples was parked outside, and they were unloaded into a trough that washed them before they were chopped up. Bags of chopped apples were then layered between the cream-colored mats of the press. Then wood was carefully stacked on top to bring it to the height of the press.

As pressure is applied, the apples are compressed and apple cider begins pouring out. In the picture below, we can see the burlap bags of chopped apples now showing between the cream-colored mats. We wish there was such as thing as smell-a-blog, because we would love to share the sweet smell of the fresh apple cider that was filling the mill.

We took a picture of our purchases of the morning. We have already tasted the freshest apple cider we will ever find, and have deemed it the best apple drink ever. We had to look up the difference between cider and juice. We found that juice is filtered to remove all solids, while our cider has to be shaken to keep some of the tiny apple chunks mixed. Our drink of choice is perfectly paired with kettle corn and sugar-roasted pecans. That's the kind of festival purchases we love!

Our next stop was at Sunnyside Gardens, where they were hosting the Saratoga Giant Pumpkinfest. The nursery was having a bang-up business day, as people were buying their beautiful mums by the wagon-loads.

They also had every kind of gourd . . .

and pumpkins for sale. The long tables of fall ornamentals were just begging Denisa to take pictures--and of course she obliged.

There were all kinds of unusual gourds and pumpkins available, but this one deserved a solo picture. We had never seen a "peanut pumpkin" before. The name comes from the peanut-looking covering over the outside of the shell.

But the real stars of the festival were the pumpkins that people had raised and brought to compete in the giant pumpkin contest. These monsters are displayed on wooden pallets in the parking lot. Some of them will weigh well over a thousand pounds. At that weight, they have grown into a different shape than the usual pumpkin.

These giant misshapen pumpkins do make for a comfortable place to lean for some of the younger spectators.

Besides the fact that people love to take pictures with them, why would people go to the trouble to bring such a big pumpkin all the way to Saratoga today? Well, there is over $7,500 in prize money to be won at the Pumpkinfest. The biggest prize ($2,000) will go to the heaviest pumpkin.

This weighing process is no small job. This is one of the smaller pumpkins, but heavy machinery is needed to determine the winner of this contest.

There is also prize money available for the biggest sunflower, and it took three guys to move this entry across the parking lot.

This watermelon weighed over 120 pounds, and it won the heaviest fruit in its category.

Denisa is modeling some of the top contendors in the largest squash contest. It was a day when bigger was definitely better.

After seeing all the pumpkins, we headed north towards the town of Lake George. It is named for the beautiful lake at the center of town, with a view of the Adirondack Mountains in the background.

Complete with tour boats and plenty of souvenir shops, it was a thriving place on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.

But we are actually here to visit Fort William Henry. Normally the $16.75 per person admission fee would be too much for our frugal travel budget. But once a year the Smithsonian Magazine sponsors free admission day to any of its participating museums. This just happened to be that day. So we downloaded tickets, and the three of us got to see this historic site for free.

We went on the guided tour, that started with a 12-minute film about the fort's role in the French-Indian war. Then a very entertaining young redcoat soldier explained (and then fired) the gun that would have been used in skirmishes of 1757.

When we moved up to the upper levels of the fort, we also got a step-by-step education on the proper way to ready a cannon for battle.

We had been properly warned to cover our ears, but we all still jumped when that old cannon was fired. We're guessing the tourists around Lake George also noticed that we were doing artillery maneuvers at the fort.

We walked through the rest of the rooms of the fort. But Mark's favorite part was when Denisa tried out the stock and pillory. Typically placed in the center of the fort, the public humiliation was the critical aspect of this form of punishment. Denisa now can consider herself properly humiliated.

Our next stop was in Warrensburg to sample the highly touted smoked meats at Oscar's. We bought all New York grown products for a picnic--smoked turkey and ham, smoked cheese curds, fresh tomatoes and apples. As the temperatures plummeted and the wind picked up, we opted for a picnic in the car instead of outside. Then we drove back through Saratoga, hoping to see this evening's hot air balloons lifting off. We got caught in the traffic with several thousand other festival attendees, but the winds kept the balloons on the ground again. It was probably for the best, as that allowed us to get home before dark this evening. We are trying not to wear out our visitor, or we're afraid she might not visit us again.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

What do Bottles, Springs, Balloons and Horses Have in Common?

We enjoyed our time in Wolcott, New York, but we have things to see and do in the eastern part of the state. Denisa's Mother was there to witness the process of bringing in the four slides and breaking camp, and she is still amazed at the size and weight of our front slides. We headed down the road on one of our longer moves. We were avoiding that dang Highway 90 toll road, as we meandered towards our destination on smaller highways. We found that driving across New York means climbing up some steep grades, and then braking down the other side of the hill. This trip didn't help our average mileage, as we saw signs like this over and over.

Even though the trees are still predominately green, we are glad to see a hint of color in the hill-sides that we passed.

We are pleased with our camping site at Pine Park in Broadalbin, New York. We haven't had a site with 50 amp electricity and full-hook-ups for some time, so we are spoiling ourselves with a week here. We took a picture of the tree in front of our motor home on this beautiful evening. We plan to compare it with a picture of the same tree a week from now.

After our long drive, we rested up for the next day's busy touring schedule. Bright and early the next morning we were on the road to our first stop--the National Bottle Museum in Ballston Spa, New York. Denisa is notorious for finding little-known museums, and this was a dandy. We had never thought much about how bottles were made before an automated process was developed in the early 1900's. Prior to that, all bottles were made one-at-a-time by hand. We got a private tour that explained the process of hand blowing molten glass into wooden or metal molds. They had examples of the tools and molds used and it was surprisingly interesting! Then we were more knowledgeable to see and understand the wall of bottles displayed at the museum.

The museum is free, but they do accept donations. Denisa's Mother was making a donation, when our guide explained that they give a free bottle for every $5 donation. They have duplicate or non-museum-quality bottles that they don't need, and they wrap them up. Betty chose the smallest wrapped bottle so it would fit in her suitcase.

We opened it there at the museum, so we could get an expert opinion of the mystery bottle. He instantly knew that it was hand-blown, and that it was made between 1850 and 1903. That's because it has the vertical lines on the sides where it was formed in a mold. But the lines are discontinued at the lip, where it was finished with a lipping tool while the glass was hot. Now he could conclude that it was probably closer to 1850 because of the lipping tool used. He also mentioned that it was probably a medicine bottle with a corked lid. All of that made perfect sense to us now that we had just toured the National Bottle Museum.

Our next stop was the Saratoga Spa State Park--an unusual state park that offers more pedicures and facials than hiking trails. All this pampering started because of the mineral springs found throughout this area. People came from around the world to bathe in the healing bubbles of the naturally carbonated mineral water. We walked along the trail that connects some of the bigger springs, including the Island Spouter--appropriately named because it is constantly spouting. It forms a geyser-like spray that forces the mineral water up through an opening in the center of the island. But unlike a geyser, this mineral water is pushed upward out of the earth by naturally occurring pressurized carbonic gas.

Mark and Denisa walked the mile-long trail that also took us to the massive Orenda Spring. We found a tall mound of tufa that was decorated by the colored stripes from the minerals present in the water.

Besides bathing in the water, there was believed to be healing properties found in drinking the water. Denisa was the only one brave enough to take a drink out of the fountain. It was probably the wretched face she made as a response to that bubbly bitter water that convinced everyone else they didn't need to taste it. 

It's beginning to feel more like fall. We've gone from wearing shorts yesterday, to jeans and jackets today. Some of those falling leaves are embedded in the mineral-rich sides of the spring.

It's beginning to look a lot like autumn!

As we drove into the state park, we saw many people running beside the road. We found out they are part of the 200-mile Ragnar Relay that begins here at Saratoga Spa State Park. They have had 2,000 runners leave this starting line since 2 a.m. this morning. The last two teams took off on their first leg of the relay as we watched. Their 6-member team will run through the day and night to get to Lake Placid and the finish line some time tomorrow.

Our next stop is Queensbury, home of the annual Adirondack Hot Air Balloon Festival. Now wearing coats and gloves, it's even starting to sprinkle. So we're not surprised to find out that the 5:00 lift-off of balloons has been cancelled. A few brave balloon pilots decided to air up their balloons to give the spectators a taste of the festival. But the increasing cold winds are wreaking havoc on keeping the balloon upright.

So just as quickly as the balloon went up, they had to lay it back down to the ground.

Several others used fans to give the audience a sense of their size, without using the hot air to raise them off the ground.

One hot air balloon used the bad weather to their advantage by inflating on the ground and selling tickets to enter. Denisa and her Mother paid the $2 to see the inside of a hot air balloon.

We were disappointed that we didn't get to see the lift-off of the 80 balloons tonight. But if that would have happened as scheduled, we wouldn't have the experience of seeing the inside of a balloon. 

It's hard to find something that Denisa's Mother has never done before in her 86 years of traveling, but today we found it.

Since our hot air balloon festival ended early, we went to plan B for our evening activity. We headed towards Saratoga, home to world-class horse racing. According to the Saratoga Springs travel brochure, the "Saratoga Race Course is the country's oldest and most beautiful thoroughbred race track." Their racing season ended on Labor Day, so we could only get a picture of the outer gates of the famous race track.

That season might be over, but they are still hosting harness racing at the nearby Saratoga Casino Raceway. We went there, and discovered our first casino that doesn't allow smoking inside. Good job New York! It was dark by the time we were taking pictures of the race horses pulling the two-wheel buggies.

It was interesting to see that these races are not started in a traditional starting gate. Rather, the horses follow a moving gate on the back of a pickup. When they get to the starting line, the starter vehicle speeds off to the side, while the horses continue around the track several times.

With the falling rain, the track was muddy this evening. But we were told they even race in the snow at this track. We saw a horse lose his footing, and both the horse and jockey hit the ground. We were glad to see them both up and walking later. With the fall of darkness, the best place to take pictures was in the lighted winner's circle. The falling rain and muddy track means that the winning jockey was covered with mud.

This day we took Denisa's Mother on a whirlwind trip through bottles, springs, balloons and horses in eastern New York, and she loved it. Mark thinks he has figured out where Denisa inherited her love of travel.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Living in New York's Apple Capitol

We set out with a loose agenda this morning--apples, lighthouse, and sunset. We love to drive the country roads and all of them seemed to take us beside rolling hills of apples, grown on these horizontal wires that are strung between heavy posts. We saw that the trees are planted about 18 inches apart, and they are just covered with ready-to-pick apples.

We started asking questions, and found that this is a reasonably new method of producing the most apples per acre. As the older full-size apple trees quit producing, they are replaced by these new dwarf trees. They must be tied to heavy wires that help to support the load of apples that such a little trunk and branches cannot hold on their own. We counted from 30-50 apples on each of the dwarf trees.

The little trees are planted in rows that have just enough room for a small tractor or mower to drive between. Because they are shorter, it is much easier to pick the fruit than from a regular apple tree. More importantly, they produce more apples per acre. We saw a few regular-size apple tree orchards, but it looks like they are becoming a thing of the past in this area.

It definitely is harvest time near Wolcott. Large wooden crates are stacked at the edge of fields, and we watched as 18-wheelers loaded with apples were heading down the highway. 

We found that Wade County, New York, has 22,000 acres of apples, and they seem to be everywhere we looked. That's probably why we could buy this 8 quart box for only $3 at the fruit stand across the road from our campground.

We were headed towards Sodus Point this day, which sets right on the largest bay on Lake Ontario. As Mark stands beside the bay at Sodus Point, it seems a good time to mention another difference we have noticed in our recent travels. We're not sure if they ran out of names for towns or what, but they seem to re-use them over and over. There is the village of Sodus, not to be confused with the towns of Sodus Center or South Sodus or Sodus Point. We see similarly-named towns and villages all over New York!

Mark is standing behind the lighthouse at Sodus Point in the picture above, while Denisa and her Mother are standing beside the lighthouse. We took a guided tour of the lighthouse museum here, and learned much about this area and lighthouse-keeping.

Our tour included a trip up the winding staircase to the top of the lighthouse. We got to see its fresnel lens that makes a relatively small lightbulb bright enough to be seen 12 miles out to sea.

Also from the top of the lighthouse, we could get a bird's-eye view of Sodus Bay. Out the window on the left we can barely see the white pier light at the end of the rock jetty reaching out into Lake Ontario. We have always called these smaller structures lighthouses. But as a result of our tour we learned the fundamental difference between a lighthouse and a pier light. It must have housing quarters for the keeper to be called a lightHOUSE. Those little beamers at the end of jetties are just pier lights.

Because Denisa's Mother is with us, we got one of those rare pictures of the two of us together. It was a beautiful blue sky day! Also notice that we are wearing shorts and short sleeves this day. The weather forecast is calling for some cooler temperatures that will be causing a wardrobe change this week.

As we drove beside the bay we saw this strange yellow paddle boat with a long nose scooping up something green. Mark has become the master of U-turns as he whipped the car around to take another look. The bright yellow paddle boat was just unloading its stringy load of sea weed when we got back to the boat dock.

We watched as the load of sea weed went up the conveyor belt on the ramp and emptied into a large truck. We have also become masters at asking questions, so Mark struck up a conversation with the truck driver. He found that they harvest sea weed out of this bay once a year. It becomes a nuisance as it wraps around the propellers of boats trying to get in or out of the bay. This warmer-than-usual summer has produced a bumper crop of sea weed. These loads are spread over crop land in the area since it is a great source of nitrogen.

Our lighthouse tour guide told us about a neat little market about three miles from Sodus Point. We enjoyed some tasty sandwiches and salads, and marveled at the number of large mums that filled the parking lot in front of the market. Some mums are annuals here because of their cold winters, and we have seen more of them for sale this fall than ever before.

We have seen some evidence of that brutal New York winter weather. There are snowmobile crossing signs up and down the highways. That's not something you'll ever see in Oklahoma.

We then made a trip to the Farmer's Market in Sodus Center (after we couldn't find it in the similarly-named town of Sodus) to buy more fresh vegetables and baked goods. We haven't visited a grocery store in a long time because we can usually get everything we need at local markets.

Our evening plans included a trip to Fair Haven State Park. Denisa had read an article that listed the ten best spots to watch the sunset in the world. Since we couldn't get to Greece, South Africa, or Brazil tonight, we opted for the second one on the list--Fair Haven, New York. We're pretty sure the town of Fair Haven took some liberties with the official top ten list, but it got us out to the beach on a lovely evening.

It took an uneven walk on a broken jetty to get to the best viewing place in the park.

We waited patiently as the sun turned golden as it sunk lower in the sky.

We'll be leaving tomorrow for a new camp site in eastern New York. But we highly recommend a September stay in Wayne County, New York, during apple harvest!