Southeast MA – Watertown NY
Sun June 28, 2020
With thunderstorms and all round ugly weather predicted for the New England coast, the plans for a 2-up day ride to finish up lighthouses in southern Maine were postponed. The weather out towards Buffalo NY looked promising for a solo two-day lighthouse-hunting marathon, and the route I already had ready and waiting in BaseCamp. Surprisingly, there was no problem booking a hotel online, so things fell into place after that. My riding buddy Marc, whom I hadn’t seen since our Jacksonville trip (pre-COVID), volunteered to tag along for part of the ride, and we agreed to meet in Herkimer NY for breakfast.
Leaving my driveway at 03:30 in beautiful mid-60s temperatures, it felt superb to be rolling down empty highways in the early morning. The miles clicked off on I-495, then the Mass Pike west to New York, with only a couple quick stops. It was a foggy morning with some stretches of severely limited visibility, especially in the Berkshires and most of the New York Thruway until breakfast. I fueled up after exiting I-90 in Herkimer and met Marc at Crazy Otto’s Empire Diner just past 07:00 when they opened.
This is my third or fourth visit to Otto’s and it is a great place for a meal with very friendly service. They have the absolute tastiest sausage links. I’d checked their website re pandemic updates and knew they would be open for business with precautions in place.
We wore masks in to our table, and they had erected Plexiglas barriers between every booth. These were superfluous at the moment, with only a couple local patrons present besides us, but such measures can ease the mind and serve as a reminder to maintain distancing. Marc and I caught up on the news of the day while enjoying coffee and a nice breakfast – coconut French toast, eggs, bacon, sausage for me.
Tummies happy, we settled up and went out to attempt connecting Marc’s new Cardo Packtalk Bold bluetooth headset to my Sena 20S EVO. This was the first time either of us had tried pairing with Cardo. After 5-10 minutes of attempting regular pairing, universal pairing, and a fair bit of swearing, we gave it up for now in favor of making some miles.
The first two lighthouses of the trip are at either end of Oneida Lake, north of Syracuse. They were constructed as part of an enlargement of the original Erie Canal for bigger vessels in the early 20th century. The state contracted a local company that built chimneys and smokestacks to build three concrete towers to guide boats across the lake (one is now hidden by trees on an island).
We left the thruway in Verona on NY 31 west to the lake and detoured up NY 13 along the eastern shore to Verona Beach. Winding through the narrow quiet lanes of this lakeside village, we found the parking lot for the small lighthouse park roped off. I was able to snap a few shots of the Verona Beach Lighthouse from the entryway.
After a quick pit stop for a documentation receipt, we enjoyed a nice quick pace on NY 31 south of the lake to get over to Brewerton. Almost a mirror image of the light in Verona, the Brewerton Rear Range Lighthouse lacks the spiffy white paint job of its brother, with the bare industrial concrete giving away the smokestack-building origins of its construction.
Marc and I made a few attempt to chat via cell connection while riding along, but the sound quality was woeful. So I used a lifeline to call home and ask Char to look up the proper procedure for connecting the Sena and Cardo together. Armed with new information, we tried it again while eating miles on I-90, and managed to get connected for a few seconds after I disabled my GPS bluetooth. The Sena apparently needs to use one of its two available “phone pairing” connections, both of which I was already using. We were disconnected after several seconds and were never able to make it work again during the ride, which was rather a shame.
I’d never been through Buffalo off the interstates, and was eager to get a feel for someplace new. Exiting I-90 in next-door Lackawanna, we cruised a couple miles west through typical city weekend stoplight traffic, not too bad. I spotted a brilliant white dual-domed marble building to our left and had to pull over to snap a photo or two. I later discovered it to be the Our Lady of Victory Basilica.
Coming out near the southern port area of Buffalo Harbor, we rode north briefly on NY 5 for one exit to access the waterfront. Accustomed to the green Atlantic coastal waters of New England, I was unprepared for the mesmerizing tropical blue of the lake water on this cloudless day. Not at all what I was expecting in a major industrial port city, and we were treated to plenty of gorgeous views of Lake Erie, while working our way north through the city over the next hour or so. Buffalo has really done a nice job with their waterfront areas and people were out en masse to enjoy the beautiful day, plenty of masks and distancing being visible.
I spotted the next lighthouse from the highway, but waited until we were able to park up closer to the water for a closer angle. Leaving Marc with the bikes, I marched down an overgrown bank and across a small odoriferous gravel beach strewn with dead fish to a chain-link fence preventing access to the monolithic cluster of abandoned grain silos on the South Side Marina wharf.
The fence provided a good anchor to clip my IBA flag while zooming in on the rusty-looking Buffalo South Entrance South Side Lighthouse.
Pulling a uey, we cruised north on Fuhrmann Blvd, taking in the lake scenery as we passed several nice parkland areas. I caught sight of the next lighthouse and improvised a turn into Wilkeson Pointe park, toward what I hoped was a decent angle.
Parking was limited in the narrow lot, but we squeezed the bikes into an available space. Marc patiently waited once again while I took up camera and flag and trotted in full gear through the nicely landscaped (and somewhat crowded) footpaths to take my shot of the the Buffalo Breakwater, North End Lighthouse.
This light station has a very long history, including several rebuilds for a variety of reasons. The current automated tower was put in place to replace the former live-in lighthouse, which had been struck by a large freighter and pushed to a tilt of 15 degrees, becoming known as “Buffalo’s leaning lighthouse” for few years before getting demolished.
The next scheduled stop was at the Coast Guard station at the end of Fuhrmann Blvd, where a right-of-way footpath allows access to the oldest Buffalo lighthouse. We pulled into some shade in the cul-de-sac. I’d already removed my gear and grabbed camera/flag, when Marc casually asked how I was going to get to the lighthouse, pointing to some “Closed” signs. Aack! Sure enough, the footpath was closed off due to pandemic social distancing concerns. Grumbling and packing back up in the growing humidity, I switched over to my mesh jacket for a bit of comfort.
Luckily, I had Google-scouted an alternate viewing angle for the next lighthouses, and we circled over the Buffalo River and through city streets back to the opposite bank of the river mouth. Along the way, we passed the Buffalo & Erie Naval Park, which looked interesting and sported several eye-catching military exhibits including a WWII submarine docked in the river. It looks like a nice stop for a future trip.
We cruised out Erie Street to a waterfront restaurant flanked by a beautiful public flower garden right on the Buffalo River. I had a clear view from the railing of the stoic Buffalo Main Lighthouse, constructed of hewn limestone blocks and completed in 1833.
This stop was a two-fer, as snuggled up cozily next to the old stone tower is the former “milk bottle” shaped Buffalo North Breakwater, South Side Lighthouse. Retired from its former location out on the northern breakwater, it is now on historical display along the (usually) public promenade near the bigger tower.
We found our way onto I-190 north for a mile and miraculously navigated some confusing signage that could have taken us unexpectedly into Canada. Once more on local city streets, we stopped for fuel and a documentation receipt, then rode back out to the waterfront at Lasalle Park. Google Street View had shown the park road along the boardwalk as drive-able, but the entrance was barricaded due to some storm flooding back in January. Time for another walk!
Marc again waited dutifully in the shade while I doffed gear and strolled along the deserted boardwalk path to a spot with a bench to hang my flag. I zoomed in to get a workable photo of the remains of Horseshoe Reef Lighthouse, now just a skeletal structure serving as a summer home for cormorants.
The ruin is actually located on Middle Reef and was built to mark the beginning of the entrance to the Niagara River among many underwater hazards. While the lighthouse isn’t much to look at now, the location itself has an interesting history. The lighthouse was the reason for actually shifting the US/Canada border by a few hundred yards, and is immediately adjacent to the site of a famous naval battle in the War of 1812.
From the same position on the boardwalk, I also had a good shot of the nearby Buffalo Intake Crib Lighthouse. This oddity, looking somewhat like a big-top circus tent floating on the lake, is the structure housing the intake for fresh water for the city of Buffalo. After it was built, being of hardier construction than the Horseshoe Reef light and located close-by, a light signal was added atop the roof, while the older lighthouse was decommissioned and allowed to rot away.
We left Buffalo behind us on I-190, paralleling the Niagara River. Exiting on NY 266 in Tonawanda, we pulled into a private marina that provided a direct view across the busy and scenic river to the Niagara River Rear Range Lighthouse.
This tower was relocated from its prior location in Buffalo by a private citizen who bought it after decommissioning. After being sold once more, the new owner’s land was eventually incorporated into the grounds of a private boating club, where it stands today (hence the shot from across river).
Marc decided he’d had enough lighthouses for one day and wanted to be back home that night for work the next morning. He split off as I re-joined I-190 to cross Grand Island and continue my trek back east along Lake Ontario.
I thought the south bridge looked impressive and snapped a couple quick shots during the first crossing of the Niagara River.
I kept to the interstate skirting around Niagara Falls (my first daytime visit to see the falls will still have to wait!) and picked up the Niagara Scenic Parkway north of town. The name sounds appealing, but there wasn’t much to look at on this inland section, plus the outdated concrete road surface with jarring seams gets old quick on a bike.
I exited to Youngstown and pulled over along route 18F by a small town park. Saw lots of bikes riding along this strip. Across the street, there is a long wooden staircase leading down to the public docks area, with a nice scenic landing about halfway down to take in a nice view of the river.
The area was deserted, and I continued down to the water, using a handy garbage can to set up the flag for capturing both Niagara River Range Lights, across the river in Ontario.
Climbing back up all those stairs, trying to move slowly in the humidity, I grabbed a fuel receipt from a nearby station, and continued to Fort Niagara State Park, which occupies the eastern point of the Niagara River where it flows into Lake Ontario. Pulling up to the gatehouse, I told the teenage attendant that I simply wanted a photo of the lighthouse on the grounds and she just waved me through.
At last an easy photo! Once I located the correct parking lot, which was completely empty, the Fort Niagara Lighthouse stood right there next to the lot, unobstructed. After so many distant views and zoomed photos, I felt like I was getting away with something!
Leaving the state park, I finished out the Niagara Scenic Parkway before picking up NY 18 to parallel the southern shore of Lake Ontario. This was a straight brisk cruising road with rural character. Unfortunately, as close as I was to the lake on a map, most of the shoreline property is residential with a high treeline blocking the view in all but a few spots between the houses.
The small village of Olcott, at the mouth of Eighteen Mile Creek, proved a popular place to be today, with several motorcycles parked along the short main street and people/families walking around shopping and eating.
Apparently there is a decent beach and some midway-style rides/attractions, so it makes for a popular local destination spot. The Olcott Replica Lighthouse was immediately visible down the end of the main drag. Good photos were tough to achieve with all the utility wires and signage everywhere.
Continuing on route 18, I began to notice lots of farmland, orchards, and vineyards along the route. Some of the orchard trees looked unfamiliar, and I tried to guess what they might be. Clued in by passing farm stand signs, I realized that many of the properties were cherry orchards, not so common in New England.
I detoured off route 18 shortly thereafter, towards the lake. The attendant at Golden Hill State Park wasn’t nearly as sympatheic (apathetic?) to my claim that I was just popping in to take a couple lighthouse photos. After removing my helmet and earplugs so I could hear her properly, she stated that she still had to charge me the entrance fee of $6. OK, no problem. I don’t really mind paying reasonable park fees, since they are generally put to good use right on the property.
I cruised through the mostly empty campground to reach the isolated Thirty Mile Point Lighthouse, which served as a coastal warning light to keep ships off the nearby shoals, rather than guiding them into a harbor.
Back onto route 18 for several more miles of agricultural scenery, before hopping on the Lake Ontario State Parkway in Carlton. This roadway was a bit more scenic with more open views of the lake, but the concrete seams were annoying as heck after what was already a long day in the saddle.
In this stretch, I had more deer crossing the roadway in front of me within an hour than anywhere I’ve ridden. I counted three mama/baby duos plus one fawn by itself – probably following a doe who had already crossed into the tall grasses. I had to brake considerably for the first pair, with the fawn scrabbling on the pavement to get out of my way as I cruised by.
I turned off the divided four-lane in Parma, onto a small residential dead-end road. I located the small sign affixed to a telephone pole, that I knew should be there, marking a short right-of-way path between houses to view the lighthouse on Bogus Point.
The view was anything but bogus. There were small gravel and grassy areas opening onto the shoreline, and next door to the Braddock Point Lighthouse. After a long history of neglect, This lighthouse had been fully restored by a private buyer, sold for $1.5 million and now doubles as a bed & breakfast inn.
Leaving the quiet farmlands behind me for a bit, I finished off the parkway where it hits Lake Avenue in the bustling city of Rochester. My first stop was at the stoic Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse, perched on a bluff overlooking the Rochester waterfront area inside the mouth of the Genesee River. This one is a beauty – a whitewashed tower next to a classic red brick colonial keeper’s dwelling, with a view overlooking where river meets lake.
Continuing down Lake Ave, I turned into busy Ontario Beach Park, and found a parking spot up towards the front of the big lots. Camera and flag in hand, I hiked through the grassy park dotted with pavilions, keeping a healthy distance from the hundreds of people frolicking about in the sunshine. I found an interpretive sign along the boardwalk from which to snap my photo of the Rochester Harbor Light. This modern beacon is the latest in a history of more traditional looking structures that have occupied the end of the west pier and were tended by the keeper for the Charlotte-Genesee Light back up on the hill.
I slowly made my way south out of the (relatively) busy urban traffic of Rochester and was glad to hit divided NY highway 104 to make time east. The view from the bridge across Irondequoit Bay was very pretty, but I didn’t manage to get any usable shots. Route 104 eventually goes back down to a rural two-laner in Williamson.
Reaching the town of Sodus, I again turned on local roads towards the shore. Soon I pulled into the lot atop the bluffs of Sodus Point and strolled the public grounds of the Sodus Bay Lighthouse, overlooking the largest natural harbor on Lake Ontario. Sodus was once a busy port for lumber, grain, and then coal.
From this elevated position, I was also able to capture the Sodus Outer Lighthouse, on the end of the west pier marking the entrance to the harbor. The two lighthouses had been used together for a period, before the Outer Lighthouse became more important as the harbor entrance migrated further away from the bluffs.
After Sodus, the terrain around NY 104 gradually began to change character, becoming more wooded and hilly as the ST carried me smoothly eastbound, away from the lowlands towards the Adirondacks region. I entered the small city of Oswego and followed yet another “Lake Street”.
From a small pullout with parking spaces, I was treated to a commanding view of the harbor, with an array of geometrically pleasing piers and boat slips that were all completely empty. This late in the season, I can only think the reason for the lack of boats in the water is the pandemic or construction closure.
I could see the lighthouse way out on the furthest breakwater and rode down to the boat ramp parking to get as close as I could for a decent shot of the Oswego West Pierhead Lighthouse, my final stop for the day.
It had been some 15 hours since leaving home this morning, with more stops than I cared to consider at the moment. I was hungry and looked forward to reaching my hotel as quickly as possible, pulling in to the Comfort Inn in Watertown NY about an hour later, around 19:30. I wore my mask into the lobby, and check-in was efficient and friendly, with a Plexiglas sheet providing some separation and hand sanitizer available around the lobby.
I ordered a small pizza (pretty good) from a local place called Art’s Jug recommended by the front desk clerk, and relaxed for the evening in my first hotel room since March. Tomorrow would be another long’ish day.