Flashback's Summer Adventures 2020 Take One (or is it really two) - CNY Lighthouses and Bluffs
Welcome back friends as I continue to enjoy my down time this summer exploring my own grand state of New York. New York State has about 200 state parks stretching from Long Island to Niagara Falls; each offering unique experiences and sights to take in. Many of these state parks include outdoor excursions along the waterways of the Erie Canal, the preserved areas of the Adirondacks and Catskill Mountains, the numerous lakes and ponds scattered throughout the various regions, and destinations along both the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. Whether it's kayaking, hiking, boating, shopping, or even lighthouse chasing, I plan to bring you along as I adventure the great state of New York this summer. Let's go!
On today's blog, I will take you along as I head north to Lake Ontario, the most eastern of the five Great Lakes. Our first stop is Sodus Point, New York. This sleepy little lakeside village was beautiful with it's little cottages and shops along the waterway. Dragging my friend, Sheila, along with me again, we set out early to get to our first destination, Sodus Point Lighthouse and Museum. Although the Museum was closed for the 2020 season due to Covid, a quick walk around the grounds made my heart smile as the beautiful lighthouse was flanked by huge blooms of hydrangeas and lush gardens of flowers. On the site, a monument stood to mark where the original lighthouse of 1824 once stood, and across the water you could see Sodus Bay Outer Lighthouse at the end of the breakwater.
The structure you see standing today is the lighthouse that was erected in 1869 to replace the original structure that had deteriorated over time., and is maintained today by the Sodus Bay Historical Society. This is the perfect setting for weddings and events with it's perfectly manicured grounds that sit at the edge of the bay, beckoning both locals and visitors to come and sit awhile and enjoy the view.
As we left the Point, we made our way down the road to the breakwater and beach area to visit our second lighthouse of the day, Sodus Point Outer Lighthouse. This light was erected to guide mariners into the bay area between the two piers. As we parked by the beach area, we began our walk down the long pier (a little under a mile down) towards the light where we passed several locals fishing, (some with luck, some without), families out exploring, and local walkers who have the best views for their morning walks, hands down!
As you look down the pier, sail boats outlined the background, as though they were props for photo opps. It was a picture perfect day to visit (and for photo opps). Would love to come back in the throes of winter to get that angry weather photo....who knows..maybe this winter!
Just down the road from the Point is Chimney Bluffs State Park.
This park is unique as it's home to one of the most spectacular examples of drumlin fields in the world. Spires formed from melting glaciers more than 12,000 years ago rise above Lake Ontario to more than 150 feet in the air.
Taking the East-West Trail we jaunted off onto the Drumlin Trail to take us up above the Bluff. Making our way through lush green shaded areas, the sounds of birds and cicadas welcomed us as we made our way up to the top.
Once we arrived to the top, the views were amazing. With just a warning sign between you and the cliff drop, I highly recommend you take hold of your children's hands if you go together. A portion of the Bluff Trail is currently open and allows you to get some spectacular views of the spires from above.
Although I didn't make my way down, I believe there is a staircase down to the water below. As the bluff is constantly eroding due to the harsh weather conditions, the ground is unstable in places so please make certain to be alert of your footing. This was two thumbs up for a hikable trail, and I would categorize it as easy to moderate hike as it was steep in a few places but other than that very nice. Hiking boots/shoes, water, and bug spray are advised...as well as money for parking. I also recommend you arrive early as parking is limited and fills up quickly.
Back on the road, we headed north towards Oswego and our final destination. Finding the maritime area, we made a quick pit stop for lunch at a local place called Rudy's Lakeside Drive In . You could tell immediately this is a local favorite as the line wove in and out with customers patiently awaiting their turn to place and pick up their orders. Social distancing was at it's finest here with masks and distancing in place and tables spaced out accordingly. Just a quick wait, we grabbed our fish fry and had a seat at one of the outdoor picnic tables just listening to the lake waves and seagulls nearby. This was definitely one of those local places that everyone knows and loves, and I highly recommend you making time to get a bite here!
As we arrived at the Mariner's Pier, we parked and made our way to check in for our boat ride out to the Oswego West Pierhead Lighthouse. I highly recommend purchasing tickets in advance for this ride out. The tickets are $25 per person, and include the ride out and tour of the lighthouse, the H. Lee White Mariners Museum tour, and that of the other historic vessels on site as well. They tour during July and August on Friday's and Saturdays, and during September on Saturdays from 12:30pm- 4:30pm.
Once there, you check in and get your tickets at the museum, then make your way down to the dock where you sign in and have your temperature taken. They do sell out quickly as they are practicing distancing protocols right now, so I recommend you calling to reserve your spot ahead of time.
Once you arrive by boat at the Lighthouse, you quickly see that to walk the breakwater out only gets you to the base of the structure and is quite uneven. The only way to actually get into the structure is to take the boat tour. As a side note here...we learned from the staff, it is actually discouraged to try and walk the breakwater. To access it you have to illegally trespass to gain entrance to the breakwater, and then if you are injured along the way, you have to pay out of pocket for the rescue. So for all you daredevils wanting to bypass the $25 ticket, don't. It goes to a good cause and is worth every penny of the money you pay!
The tour itself of the lighthouse was pretty special. On site to tell you about the lighthouse was the grandson of one of the first lightkeepers and one of the final lightkeepers of the lighthouse. They give you a quick history of the structure and then you are allowed to wander around as they answer any questions you may have. Volunteers are in the process of renovating the structure, and you can see the painstaking work they are putting into it, and the love they have for the structure.
It's not a tall lighthouse, so for someone who is fearful of heights, it's very doable. A few steps up the spiral'ish staircase and your inside the top. Now automated, you can see the original Fourth Order Fresnel lens inside the museum. A quick duck down and you are outside on the turret that surrounds the lens, where you can see the best views of the lake.
Once we got back to the pier we took a walk down to the museum where we were able to tour it on our own. Steeped in maritime artifacts and history, it's a nice museum. Included in the price of the cruise you also can tour the two vessels, the National Historic Landmark WWII Tugboat LT-5 Major Elisha K. Henson, and the National Register of Historic Places canal barge Derrick Boat 8. Equipped with the virtual tour guide app UniGuide, we followed the audio tour of the LT-5 which was both informative and convenient.
LT-5 Major Elisha K. Henson
Derrick Boat 8
H. Lee White Maritime Museum
This was a perfect day of exploring lighthouses and bluffs. I highly recommend these stops this summer. If I was to do it again, I would hike Chimney Bluffs first though, then go to Sodus Point and Oswego. This would be a cooler part of the day, and less foot traffic on the trails and parking. Other than that, it was an amazing day trip, and I highly recommend you visit all three destinations soon!!
Till our next adventure...Slàinte my friends!!