Erie Museums and Niagara Mist
Land of Awes Chapter 8
Tolkien wrote: “not all those who wander are lost.” Ed and Rachel Barnhart are this sentiment sprung to vivid life. When they retired in 2004, the intrepid RVers hooked up their Alfa Gold fifth wheel on a mission to see all that God created and man constructed…and find the best pizza in the USA. From the beaches of Seattle, Ed and Rachel set their sights on Maine. From there they would turn south toward the sunshine, only to be greeted by the worst Mother Nature had unleashed in decades. Undaunted, the Barnharts headed off into the sunset, through the southwest and across the Rio Grande to the shores of Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. From sea to shining sea and back again, all in their first year exploring what they call the “Land of Awes.” In Chapter 8 Ed and Rachel hear some Erie war stories and watch rockets fall across Niagara.
Presque Isle, Pennsylvania is incredibly gorgeous. The entire area is a state park on a spit – or “spigot” as Rachel calls it – jutting out into Lake Erie. The main drag runs down the narrow neck of the peninsula and then splits to follow the shoreline to the end and back again. Every inch of the 13-mile round trip is absolutely beautiful!
The day after our maiden voyage around Presque we visited the Erie Maritime Museum. We learned that Erie was the homeport of the brig, Niagara, the ship from which Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry orchestrated the defeat of the British fleet during the War of 1812. Despite the British surrender at Yorktown three decades earlier, British ships based in Canada continued to harass American shipping on the Great Lakes. In addition, the Brits openly supported Native American uprisings along the border and frequently impressed U.S. sailors into British naval service. In response, the U.S. built a fleet of shallow-draft warships in the shadow of Presque Isle. In the early stages of what would be called the “Battle of Lake Erie” Commodore Perry’s flagship, the Lawrence, was lost to British cannon fire. Perry and his command staff moved to the Niagara to continue the fight. The Americans won the battle and the Niagara was named flagship of the fleet. Because of this victory, the United States became the recognized sea power on the Great Lakes.
In addition to the compelling history of the Battle of Lake Erie visitors to the Erie Maritime Museum can learn about Great Lakes lighthouses and the WW2-era aircraft carrier, USS Wolverine. The Museum also offers several educational and immersion programs. One of the most popular is the Tall Ship Adventure, a sail-training program. Trainees live onboard an authentic tall ship and work as members of the crew. They learn the history of tall ships, seamanship and leadership skills. For more information about the Erie Maritime Museum, Perry’s fleet and the various educational programs offered, call 814.452.2744 or visit www.eriemaritimemuseum.org. The museum is located at 150 East Front Street, Erie, PA 16507.
Of course, we couldn’t leave Presque Isle without spending a little time on the beach. When we left Washington at the beginning of our trip, temperatures were flirting with triple digits. At Presque, the mercury was hovering around a much more temperate 70 degrees. Gorgeous! But, word to the wise, 70 can still turn you into a crispy critter – so find the sunscreen or learn the hard way…trust me.
Our next stop after leaving Pennsylvania was a delightful campground in the western mountains of New York State, Allegany Mountain Resort. The campground is located on 300 acres surrounding the beautiful, 70-acre Rainbow Lake. There are over 700 RV sites, but still plenty of elbow room. Each site comes equipped with water and electric. The gated resort also offers an on-site dump station, laundry facilities and 9 bathhouses. Resort activities include just about all the watersports, hiking, biking and other outdoor activities you can think of. The sports and recreation fields and courts are terrific and, if you are traveling with family, there is more than enough going on at the youth center and playgrounds to keep the kids busy. The resort is located at 6994 Plato Road in East Otto, NY 14729. Call 716.699.2352 for rates and reservations.
Near the resort is the charming little ski village of Ellicottville – E’Ville to the locals. It’s primarily a winter town. But with lots of great shops and historic buildings, we found it just as fun to explore in the summer time. Going right for the elegant and refined, we dined on beer and nachos at the Ellicottville Brewery. On the way back to Allegany Mountain we stopped for groceries. At the top of our list was a bottle of wine, but we were in for a bit of a surprise. We searched high and low, but, despite a better than average beer selection, there was no vino to be found. Perplexed, we asked around and learned that, in New York State, beer is the only alcoholic beverage available in grocery stores*. After a slight detour, we located a perfectly acceptable bottle of the fruit of the grape at a liquor store called E’Ville Spirits. Clever!
(*Author’s Note: As of July 2010 there was a “discussion” about this at the highest levels with Governor David Paterson supporting a proposal allowing wine to be sold at grocery stores in New York. A similar attempt failed a little over a year ago.)
We celebrated the first day of July by visiting Niagara Falls. Eschewing the barrel over the cliff option, we took a nice, relaxing ride on the famed Maid of the Mist. After the boat trip we drove across the border into Ontario for a picnic lunch in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Turns out it was Canada Day! Who knew? The entire population not traveling in the cab of our truck, apparently. After a bit of a search we found a spot facing the lake and nibbled on our lunch as we watched sailboats, powerboats and jet skis jockey for position on the lake.
We took the long way back from Niagara to Allegany Mountain and were treated to a terrific view of ships skirting the Falls into the Canal. Back at the resort other campers had set up a yard sale. Rachel and I set up a table for her bracelets, and – again – they were a big hit. Who knew her “little jewelry hobby” would be such a big budget hero?
We capped off our day with a ride back into E’Ville for a concert by 80’s rock bad girl, Pat Benatar. Great show! The opening act was a local band called The Party Squad. They were really good too. Our rockin’ evening in E’Ville ended with a bang as fireworks exploded across the sky in celebration of the coming Independence Day.
Our trek across the American Midwest has allowed us to explore 4 of the 5 Great Lakes – Huron, Ontario, Erie and Michigan. We plan to complete our “Great Lakes Bingo” with a trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on our next trip around the country; but, for now, we are in a New York state of mind. Tomorrow, we’re off to explore some more of the Empire State!