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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More to Explore in Northern Manhattan. Meet The Cloisters.

Welcome to The Cloisters!

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Nestled into the woods of northern Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park is a place that looks out of place for a city like New York. At first glance, The Cloisters—officially, The Met Cloisters, under the Metropolitan Museum of Art—could easily make you think you’ve arrived at an ancient Italian villa. But no, The Cloisters was built in modern times, borrowing heavily from medieval European influences.

Home to countless pieces of medieval art and artifacts, The Cloisters is a sight to be seen inside and out. Need a break from the museum? The gardens and views of the Hudson River are astounding on a nice sunny day.

We’ll save the pieces of art and artifacts for you to see for yourself–the stunning views at The Cloisters should be enough to entice you to visit. The pieces on display are centuries old.

You’d never think that this place is just a short subway ride away from Midtown.

LINKS
The Met Cloisters official website


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World’s Tallest Filing Cabinet

Only in Vermont

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We found ourselves in Burlington, VT a couple of weeks ago. So, first off, Burlington is awesome! If we had to do college all over again, we would have gone there! Great college town, great local craft beers, and come on–Ben and Jerry’s! It’s just a young, hip town in a state known for its complete coolness.

Then we found this, the world’s tallest filing cabinet. OK, so it’s actually a bunch of filing cabinets stacked on top of each other, but seriously, where else would you find such a thing?! Definitely worth a look before your trip to the next local brew house. ”

Could you file this in drawer 31? Thanks.”


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Homemade Ice Cream, Including the Cone

All From Scratch

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We were given a tip about Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream by one of our readers before we visited Seattle a couple summers ago. What makes this place so unique is that, aside from selling delicious ice cream, they make the cones themselves…right in front of you! Those waffle irons you see above are hard at work so that you get a treat and a show. You simply can’t beat homemade ice cream. And for the on-the-go traveler, there’s a number of Molly Moon locations in town, so you can pick one that’s closest to you. Enjoy!

LINKS
Molly Moon Locations
Official Website


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Stuck in an Airport for a While? Go Yotel.

Micro-Sized Living

You’ve got a long layover in a noisy airport with no place to sleep–and it’s already been a long trip. Do you dare try to sleep in the terminal?

Fortunately for us, while we waited patiently at London’s Gatwick Airport to return home last summer, Yotel offered an easy and affordable solution. So what is this curious-sounding hotel chain?

Yotel is capitalizing on the ever-growing popularity of micro spaces–think efficiency apartments and tiny houses. The genius behind Yotel is that it mostly operates out of airports, so it’s perfect for those who don’t really need a hotel so much as a safe and comfortable place to sleep and put their luggage during a longer-than-usual layover. 18 hours was too much for us to just wait around at an airport bar, so this place was perfect. It was extremely comfortable, including the alcove of a bed.

When we say it’s small, we mean it. In our case, the Yotel at Gatwick was built into the airport; rooms and corridors to those rooms were styled like a spaceship, which added to the aura of the place. With 24-hour check in and all the amenities of any hotel–including WiFi and your own bathroom–it was exactly what we needed for the 12 hours we stayed there. And that’s the beauty of it: you can book a Yotel room for hours if needed. You don’t have to pay for the whole day. Pretty cool for our modern age. 

Yotel is growing around the world. Learn more! 


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