Tag Archives: Rural America

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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Weirs Beach, New Hampshire: Retro Americana

Escape Reality in Style

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This summer, forget the big beaches on the coasts. It’s the hidden gems, tucked away in the wilds and behind the forests, that really count. Enter Weirs Beach.

We visited Weirs Beach, right on Lake Winnipesaukee in Laconia, NH, back in October. Even though it wasn’t prime swimming season, we really felt like we journeyed to a magical place. Weirs Beach comes with a retro arcade–no really, an actual arcade–right on the boardwalk, which was next to the train station, which was right across the street from the Victorian houses, which overlooked the spectacular lake, which had really ginormous houses on it, which you could see from the amazing boat tours, which…well, you get the point.

By the way, those cool Victorian houses we mentioned above, you can rent those, plus there’s plenty of other places to stay, including the Half Moon Motel and Cottages, which we’re happy to recommend. We enjoyed our time there. A nice slice of New England.

This is one of those articles where pictures say more than words. If you’re looking for a place off the beaten path to spend your summer, if you don’t want to contend with the major beach resort cities where you can’t even hear yourself think…if you’re looking for a little slice of Americana with a retro feel in a small lake town in New England…then Weirs Beach is for you!

We know we’ll be back.

OK, now pictures.

Lake Winnipesaukee is beautiful. Don’t believe us? Check out the time-lapse video we took while out boating

Then there’s the famous Vegas-like “Weirs Beach” sign, complete with a light show. We got a video.

Weirs Beach official website

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The Vastness of Salt

You’ve Officially Left Earth

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We waited a long time to see this place in person. The Bonneville Salt Flats is as close to an alien landscape on Planet Earth that you can find. We were drawn to it because it’s so…different. It’s the ultimate escape from reality. 

The final fight between humanity and the alien queen in this summer’s Independence Day: Resurgence took place on the Flats, with a little help from CGI magic. We didn’t see any alien queens out here, but we were ready if one decided to show up. The Salt Flats is featured in countless movies, TV shows, and commercials–especially car commercials. Even Don Draper made an appearance in a modified 1970 Chevelle SS in the Mad Men series finale. Countless land speed records were set and broken here over the years. 

It was a hot, dry day in July when we took off from the last paved road and waltzed onto what looked like oblivion. Driving on the Flats is an experience that’s second to none. Sure, you could take a few laps on a (paved) racetrack, but how about driving on a field of table salt, as fast as your car can go and in any direction, without the horizon changing? Distance is impossible to gauge out here. Once you drive a few miles inward, you can get out of the car and walk across the crunchy surface to take in the eerily silent, beaming white emptiness. Want to get away from civilization for a while? This will work.

You can drive as fast as you want to within the realms of safety. There’s no official speed limit. That’s why the Salt Flats is so popular for racing specialized cars. Since we visited shortly before the popular Speed Week, we were lucky enough to meet a crew working on a specialized car capable of going 400+ mph. It was in pieces at the time, undergoing final preparation, but it went on to race on the Bonneville International Speedway–a 9-mile stretch on the Flats marked by two blue (painted) lines–a couple of weeks later.

Some Words of Caution
But the fun things in life come with caution. Racing on the Salt Flats–professionally and for fun–comes with serious risk, so be prepared. We write these words of caution not to be condescending, but because we had a few hiccups out there ourselves, from almost driving into an abandoned spool of barbed wire that came out of nowhere–and would have probably shattered the windshield at our speed–to nearly running out of gas. The Bonneville Salt Flats are to be feared and revered.

The Salt Flats occupy a large swath of Northwestern Utah, but the best place to enter this magical land is right at the Utah/Nevada border at Wendover, UT, just across from West Wendover, NV (see map above). That would be Exit 4 on I-80, about a two-hour drive west of Salt Lake City.

Before entering the Salt Flats, please check with the local Bureau of Land Management office to make sure the Flats are drivable. They’re safe to drive on when dry, but it’s illegal to drive on the Salt Flats when wet, since it’s federally protected land. BLM will have up-to-date information for you and speed limit recommendations. They can be contacted hereThere will also be signs posted nearby to tell of the current conditions.

When driving on the flats, bring lots of water, cell phone, extra food, hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, and perhaps most importantly, a full tank of gas. Driving on the salt is like driving on very crisp, crunchy snow, so your car’s gas mileage will be terrible. We could actually see the fuel gauge move down as the speedometer moved up. It could costs hundreds to have your car towed.

Those of us who have spent even one winter in the Northeast know all too well the effects salt has on a car. WE’RE NOT GOING TO LIE: YOU WILL GET SALT ON AND UNDER YOUR CAR. LOTS OF IT. It could cost a lot of money and time to get all the salt off the underside of your car; one car wash is simply not enough. We spent $100 at do-it-yourself car washes over the course of two weeks getting salt out of every crevasse. In the end, it was all worth it to us since it was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, but we advise you, the reader, to enter the Bonneville Salt Flats at your own risk. 

 

LINKS
Contact the Bureau of Land Management for updates on drivability and conditions.

Bonneville Salt Flats FAQ
Utah Salt Flats Racing Association
Learn more about Speed Week

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Gold River Lodge: Hidden Fishing Paradise

Even We Had Trouble Finding This Place, But That’s the Point.

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Far into the wilds of Northern California lies a place where the fish thrive and people can live as one with nature. UW found this fishing paradise on accident after a chance encounter with one of the managers. And we really lucked out.

We ventured to Northern California to see the real Northern California–you know, the one that’s a few hundred miles north of San Francisco. Yeah, that one. Located in Klamath, about 40 miles from Oregon, Gold River Lodge offers true fishermen and outdoor enthusiasts a piece of nature difficult to find these days.

For the fishing aficionados, this is the place you need to be. Perfect for a weekend getaway in a comfy lodge with a scenic view. Or you can bring your RV there if you’d like–they’ve got plenty of parking. But the best part is, Gold River Lodge does everything for you. It’s not BYOB (Bring Your Own Boat) here…they’ll take care of that, plus tailor a trip and fishing packages just for you.

Gold River Lodge official website

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World’s Largest Wind Chime

It Does Exist!

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You won’t notice much while driving through southern Illinois, at least not until you see the billboards for the world’s largest…well, there’s a few things to see. Here in the small town of Casey, a reinvention is underway. A former oil town, Casey, Illinois is rebranding itself as the modern capital of the world’s largest wind chime. It’s also home to the world’s largest golf tee, rocking chair, and mailbox, among other things certified by Guinness World Records. Oh yeah, you can actually “ring” the wind chime. See video below:

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Bolin Enterprise Inc.

So who’s behind all this? Meet Bolin Enterprise Inc. (BEI), a company specializing in pipeline cleaning and maintenance. BEI has long called Casey home, and as the town’s economy changed and many jobs went away, BEI invested in projects like the wind chime to attract tourism. This new endeavor clearly works; it did attract UW, after all. Many of Casey’s small businesses are thriving as a result, shining with the adopted slogan “Big Things in a Small Town”.

There are a number of “big things” in Casey, both official and unofficial, and they’re not all in one place, either. Turn a corner and you’ll find a giant birdcage. The World’s Largest Rocking Chair (certified, weighing about 23 tons) is located next to City Hall. The randomness of these monuments makes Casey ever more interesting. One day, UW will return to document more–unfortunately, we only had time to visit the wind chime and rocking chair.

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And of course, we couldn’t leave without meeting the actual builder of all these magnificent things. UW caught up with the master wood and metalworker behind these giant creations in his workshop, conveniently located behind the wind chime. Employed by BEI, this is his “retirement” job (he works with another person, too), and loves every minute of it. He was in the middle of carving what might become the world’s largest gavel when we arrived.

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Big Things in a Small Town
Casey, Illinois website
Bolin Enterprise Inc.

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