Destination/Trip: From Buffalo to the Almanzo Wilder Homestead

One of the destinations we want to go to with the bus is the Almanzo Wilder Homestead,  in Malone, NY.  On first glance, you might be asking ‘who’ and ‘why’, but this is the farm that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s (of the Little House books) husband grew up on before moving west and meeting her.

Now, not only is that a neat destination, but the trip there should be lots of fun.  Starting from Buffalo, our first likely stop is up on the Tonawanda Indian Reservation to top up our fuel for the trip.  While this seems like it would take us out of our way to Malone, it puts us right by the start of the ‘Cobblestone Trail’.

The Cobblestone Trail along NY 104. The 'X's' represent a cobblestone structure along the way.
The Cobblestone Trail along NY 104. The ‘X’s’ represent a cobblestone structure along the way.

Located along historic Ridge Road (NY 104), the route follows the dry areas of the geography of one of the terraces of the Niagara Escarpment, just north of the route of the Erie Canal.  Used by pioneers and homesteaders in the 18th & 19th centuries, it was the major ‘northern’ route into Western New York.

At the Cobblestone Museum Complex.
At the Cobblestone Museum Complex.

These buildings, often built using skills of masons who had been brought in to work on the building of the stone aspects of the Erie Canal, were expensive and durable, being made of cobbles left from the retreat of the most recent ice age’s glaciers.  They functioned not just as houses, churches, or workshops, but also as status symbols for the communities they were in.   Now, there’s a Museum for the Cobblestone Society comprised of three cobblestone buildings and four more 19th century wooden structures (at 14389 Ridge Road in Albion).

Irondequoit Bay Bridge
Irondequoit Bay Bridge

Farther along, north of Rochester, NY Route 104 crosses the mouth of Irondequoit Bay on a long, elevated bridge that gives a great view of both the Bay and out to Lake Ontario to the north.

Chimney Bluffs formations
Chimney Bluffs formations

Following along NY 104 to the east, just past Sodus Bay, is Chimney Bluffs State Park.  Another remnant of the glacial actions of the last ice age, the eroding glacial till is constantly changing, like the Badlands of South Dakota.   These formations continue to the east along Lake Ontario to Oswego.

Photograph by Will van Overbeek, National Geographic
Photograph by Will van Overbeek, National Geographic

Following NY 104 along that route, past Oswego, 104B heads northeast to Route 3, which heads north along the eastern shore of Lake Ontario to Henderson Bay, and just past Sacketts Bay, heading north on County Road 180 to 12E, which will take us up to Cape Vincent, where Lake Ontario flows out into the St. Lawrence River and through the Thousand Islands.  NY Route 12 ends at Morristown, but the route along the river continues as NY Route 37, and continues that way until Massena.  After Massena, the road turns south-east toward Malone.

Babbling Brook RV Park
Babbling Brook RV Park

Just ten miles short of Malone (and twelve miles from the Almanzo Wilder Homestead) is the Babbling Brook RV Park.  This looks like a great base to travel from to the Homestead.  There are only 57 sites, but a quick search for reviews comes up nicely positive, so we’re looking forward to trying them out!

Almanzo WIlder Homestead Historic Marker
Almanzo WIlder Homestead Historic Marker

Finally we can get to the Homestead itself.  The museum/home-stead consists of 84 acres of farmland, woods, restored original post and beam constructed farmhouse (1840-1843), reconstructed post and beam framed barns and outbuildings, a museum/visitor center/research library/ archives/gift shop complex, orchard, covered picnic pavilion, and nature trail to the Wilder family frontage on the Trout River.

The House of the Homestead
The House of the Homestead

We really think that this looks like a full day’s worth of exploration, so we’ll likely have another night at the RV Park, then head home.  While the scenic route could take us 8 or so hours (without extended stops!), the route back to Buffalo, via I-81 and I-90 could take us as little as 4 and a half.  But of course, there’s more to do on the way back if we go in a round-about fashion.  But that’s another post’s work.

And if you want to know more about Almanzo Wilder, or what the homestead was like when he was a boy, check out the book!

Farmer Boy (Little House) (Paperback)


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A Preview: Choosing a finish for woodwork that might get wet …

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time trying to research a really good finish for my woodwork in the bus.  I’ve been debating what to put on the counter (epoxy resin, spar varnish, varnish, shellac, hard oil, oils, urethanes), based on criteria of durability, ease of application, food safety, and water resistance.

While this might not be the most informative post right now, know that one is coming …

Destination: The Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial

So, another destination area for us is out to the west of the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota, the Black Hills area of South Dakota and Wyoming.  The Black Hills are a small, isolated range of mountains in the midst of the Great Plains, and got their name from the way the heavily forested mountains looked from a distance across the plains.

The Black Hills off in the distance across the Plains from Box Elder, SD.
The Black Hills off in the distance across the Plains from Box Elder, SD.

The oldest rocks in the formation are Precambrian rocks (mostly granite in the core, dated to about 1.8 billion years ago) pushed up by volcanic uplift in the center, with more recent rings of exposed Paleozoic , Mesozoic, and Cenozoic layers going from the center out, often explained as looking at a bullseye with the oldest rock at the center and the most recent at the edges.  If you want tones of technical details, the US Geological Survey has a whole pamphlet of information on it here.

Once there, though, there are a number of localities that we would want to examine in detail:

Mount Rushmore:
Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore

Carved (and blasted) from a granite batholith formation in the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore features 60-foot (18 m) sculptures of the heads of four United States presidents: George Washington (1732–1799), Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), and Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865).   Construction on the memorial began in 1927, and the presidents’ faces were completed between 1934 and 1939 by Gutzon Borglum and then after 1941, finished by his son Lincoln Borglum.

The original Six Grandfathers mountain.
The original Six Grandfathers mountain.

While the Lakota Sioux called the peak the ‘Six Grandfathers’, and had been a spiritual location for the Oglala Lakota Sioux medicine man Black Elk (writer of Black Elk Speaks).   But this similarity of profiles in the view was what drove South Dakota historian Doane Robinson to suggest to Congress that historic likenesses should be carved into the mountainside to try and promote tourism into South Dakota.  This is an unfortunate byproduct of the military campaigns of 1876-78 where the United States government forcibly took the lands from the Lakota Sioux due to the controversial 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie.

A Native American answer to Mount Rushmore is …

Crazy Horse Memorial:
Crazy Horse Memorial (Work in progress).
Crazy Horse Memorial (Work in progress).

About nine miles away as the crow flies is the Crazy Horse Memorial, conceived by  Lakota leader Chief Henry Standing Bear and designed and expanded by Korczak Ziolkowski.  Intended to be a mounted likeness of the Lakota leader Crazy Horse,  this unnamed mountain peak is being systematically reduced and carved into a monument 641 feet long and 563 feet high!

Jewel Cave National Monument:
Jewel Cave National Monument
Jewel Cave National Monument

Jewel Cave National Monument contains Jewel Cave, currently the third longest cave in the world, with 179 miles of mapped passageways.  Declared a national monument by Teddy Roosevelt in 1908, it wasn’t until much later in that century that most of what we have mapped of the cave was discovered.  Named for the calcite crystals that adorned the first two miles of the original entrance, there are many other areas people can see, and an average of three additional miles are explored and mapped each year!

Wind Cave National Monument:
Skyway Lake in Wind Cave
Skyway Lake in Wind Cave

Another of Teddy Roosevelt’s National Monument declarations, Wind Cave was the very first cave system to get the National Monument designation in 1903.

Calcite 'Boxwork'
Calcite ‘Boxwork’

Among its notable geological features are the calcite boxwork (caused by erosion rather than accretion), of which the Wind Caves contain almost 95% of the known boxwork formations in the world, as well as the fact that the caves form the densest three-dimensional cave maze in the world!  Definitely not a place to wander off on your own without a good bread-crumb trail.  But is also supposed to have been the site of emergence for the Lakota Sioux in their creation story, making is a sacred location.

Devils Tower National Monument:
Devil's Tower
Devils Tower

Some 75 miles northwest of Jewel Cave is the amazing Devils Tower monolith, the remains of igneous rock that may or may not have actually erupted.  Either way, however, the sedimentary rock around it eroded away, leaving the tougher rock, with some hexagonal columns standing alone.

Devil's Tower in 1900
Devils Tower in 1900

Again, thanks to Teddy Roosevelt, Devils Tower became the First National Monument on September 24th, 1906.  But before that, this site was sacred to several Native American tribes, with several of their legends regarding the area referring to bears, whose claws raked the sides of the monolith as they strove to get at the trapped people atop it.

This is, however, some 1470 miles from Buffalo, making it about a 25 hour trip (at bus speed) to get there.  Likely, it will be part of a bigger trip.


 

For more on Black Elk, and Lakota sacred views and practices, check out: 

Black Elk Speaks: The Complete Edition (Paperback)


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