Category Archives: Finger Lakes

Mark Twain’s Final Resting Place

Nestled in New York State’s Southern Tier

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Graves aren’t typically considered offbeat, but we like to make exceptions for great people who’ve solidified their places in history. We were honored to pay tribute to Ernest Hemingway in Ketchum, Idaho a while back.

In a cozy little city called Elmira lies one of America’s greatest literary minds. Mark Twain–or Samuel Clemens, as he was legally known–led a life of adventure considered ambitious even by today’s standards. His writings certainly reflect that and more, including his brutal honesty about people and life in general.

Although he passed away in Redding, Connecticut, he had ties to Elmira, especially since it was where he married his wife, Olivia. It was her family that was from Elmira, and it is her family’s plot at Woodlawn Cemetery where they are both buried today.

Signage is available upon entering Woodlawn Cemetery that will direct you to his gravesite.

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The Elusive White Deer of Upstate New York

Brought to You by the United States Army

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A very special thank you to Seneca White Deer, Inc., the  nonprofit that works tirelessly to preserve this piece of nature and wildlife, and who are responsible for organizing these white deer tours. The people working for Seneca White Deer were amazingly helpful to UWanderings as we got to know the history of the Seneca Army Depot and see the furry critters that call this place home.

Our recent trip to see this elusive white deer population was nothing short of amazing. This is the world’s largest population of white deer. They aren’t mutants, they aren’t albinos…they’re actually just white tailed deer. But they’ve been enclosed in a 10,000 acre compound for almost 80 years, relatively undisturbed, so they’ve had a chance to breed and pass on this rare, recessive gene that makes them primarily white in color without too much in the way of natural predators.

The site of the white deer is also of major historical significance. They live on what used to be the Seneca Army Depot, a munitions depot built by the U.S. Army in the summer of 1941—in anticipation of America’s likely looming involvement in World War II. Though useful for the war effort, the construction of this giant project came at a sad cost: over 100 families–many farmers–were given short notice to vacate. In other words, they were evicted and poorly compensated. The remains of some foundations are still visible today. However, the end of the Second World War didn’t mean the Depot was obsolete. The Cold War was just heating up, and this place was anything but redundant.

The Seneca Army Depot, or “the Depot”, as it was locally known, was a large repository of Cold War era weapons when it was still active. But the absolute secrecy of the place, coupled with the government barely acknowledging its existence in the first place, contributed to its mysterious nature and an uncomfortable level of anxiety by the community. It was Upstate New York’s Area 51.

Officially, the U.S. government kept a tight lid on the Depot’s inventory—and what went on there—by confirming nothing. But it was widely believed that aside from traditional munitions like bullets and artillery, the Depot was also home to a fairly large stockpile of nuclear weapons, ready to be deployed anywhere in the world at a moments’ notice. And because of the perceived nuclear inventory, it was also thought that the Seneca Army Depot was a top target on the Soviet hit list in the event of a nuclear exchange, so the site was not without controversy.

Interior of one of the more than 500 concrete igloos at the former Seneca Army Depot, likely packed to the top with munitions during the Cold War.

The secrecy and denial by Uncle Sam didn’t stop the countless anti-nuclear weapons protesters from demonstrating right outside its gates over the years, with many getting arrested for disrupting operations or even trying to break in by scaling the fence. There was even a well known group of anti-war women who continuously camped out adjacent to the Depot grounds so as to permanently remind the U.S. government that not everyone was comfortable with having nukes in their backyards.

Despite the mysteries that went on behind the fence, the white deer well known due to their occasional appearances at the border fence for passersby. The deer were protected by the soldiers that were based there, thanks to an early base commander who, in 1949, saw the first white deer on the Depot grounds and ordered all personnel to leave them alone. They were not to be hunted or bothered. The orders stood for the rest of the time the Depot operated. They even become an unofficial mascot of the Depot and the people who worked there. Now that the base is inactive, declassified, and in private hands, locals are flocking to see these white deer up close and, because it was forbidden for so long, the base itself. 

This tour was awesome, not just because of the deer, but also because of all the other wildlife we saw. It’s a virtual nature preserve. Osprey, eagles, beavers, wild turkeys, turkey vultures…and so much more. And of course, there’s plenty of normal colored deer with fluffy white tails. They’re actually pretty cute.

Part of the fun with this tour is keeping a keen eye on the scenery to spot the white deer. Sometimes they’re obvious; other times, you have to intently look around as the bus moves through the terrain, so don’t be shy about shouting out “There’s one!”, at which point the bus will stop or back up so everyone can get a better view. You can really get into it. On the cold, overcast day we visited, the deer weren’t in the mood to come right up to our bus, as they sometimes do, but the sparse spring foliage made them easy to spot through the trees. But they moved fast, so our photography was a little shaky. 

Although there are some small developments here and there, most of the former Depot is still either wild nature or nature that’s slowly reclaiming the land from manmade structures, which gives the whole base a sort of zombie apocalypse vibe. And since Zombies are cool right now, that definitely makes this tour much more interesting. For all the military buffs out there, there are over 500 weapons storage bunkers, otherwise known as igloos, that still stand to this day. Talk about Cold War relics. We even got to go inside one. It was pretty cool–check out the video above for more on that.

Seneca White Deer has been running these tours for about six months now, and they’re catching on fast. Since people from all over the world visit the Finger Lakes region for the wine, it’s only a matter of time before they come to see the deer, too. White deer simply don’t exist in such large numbers anywhere else in the world.

It’s human nature to explore things that are rare and unusual. Perfect for us, perfect for the curious travelers out there like you.

So we welcome you to join us as we discover the white deer of the Finger Lakes, and do be sure visit for yourself someday. The deer will be here to say “hi.”

LINKS
Seneca White Deer, Inc.


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Abandoned Buildings Meet Nature Trail

An Unusual–Yet Brilliant–Combination

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Many thanks to Friends of the Outlet, Inc., who maintain the Keuka Outlet Trail, and who kindly assisted UndiscoveredWanderings in putting this article together.

We love a good nature trail, especially one that’s different from the rest. The Keuka Outlet Trail in New York’s Finger Lakes Region is, for all intents and purposes, your average trail……just kidding; we doesn’t cover “average”. Actually, this trail’s claim to fame is what’s along it: abandoned buildings.

And they blend in perfectly with the scenery.

So why abandoned buildings? Simply put, they’re icons from another era. The Outlet Trail is a seven-mile pathway from Pen Yann to Dresden, NY–right between Keuka and Seneca Lakes. Its location along what was once the Fall Brook Railroad and, before that, the Crooked Lake Canal gives you a peak into the trail’s industrial roots. It was once dotted with small businesses, including a mill. The remnants of some of these legacies of industry are clearly visible along the trail today, showing their age with decay and overgrown vegetation that would make any urban explorer or Walking Dead fan overjoyed. We’re not gonna lie–it’s really cool!

Although hikers are not allowed in the buildings for safety reasons, you can clearly see into them from the main footpath. Adding to the allure of urban decay is the scenery around it. Traces of canal locks and walls give the Outlet Trail an iconic beauty that is rarely seen. The best abandoned structures are located on the side closest to the Dresden, NY entrance.

The Outlet Trail is partially paved, but still accommodates for all seasons, including winter (snowshoers and cross-country skiers enjoy it). You can also bike it. We recommend visiting in late summer or early fall for the best views and weather. The Trail is open from dusk until dawn each day. Please stay on the trail and obey all signage.

Oh–and in the summertime, there’s an ice cream stand near the trail’s end in Dresden. Yum!

LINKS
Learn more about the Outlet Trail


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Retro Dining at Mac’s Drive-In

Travel Back Through Time

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Mac’s Drive-In. The name itself evokes images of a 1950s eatery where the food was delivered right to your car window. Not so common anymore, but this relic of the past strives to maintain that nostalgic service, complete with vintage music while you eat.

Founded in 1961, this gem of the Finger Lakes is well known by locals and visitors alike. Open during the warmer months of the year, Mac’s iconic roadside sign has stood the test of time and is the first thing patrons see when they flock to this historical place each summer. The later in the day it gets, the more people there are; it’s packed full almost every night. Adding to its menu of classic American eats, Mac’s is also one of a handful of places that still serves Richardson’s Root Beer. You can’t beat it. To put it simply, the root beer floats here are supreme–see video below for proof.

Adding to the retro ’50s and ’60s atmosphere, Mac’s also hosts weekly vintage car shows that are open to the public (call ahead for details). Who said time travel isn’t possible?

Interview with John Conley, Co-Owner of Mac’s

Official Site

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