Thursday, July 17, 2014

Penn Yan, New York: World's Largest Pancake Griddle

Yes, every town needs something to be famous for something. Here is Penn Yan's something - at least in the silly tourist attraction department.

In 1987, Penn Yan made the world's largest pancake. Naturally, you'd need a very large griddle for such a project. This is that cooking device. It's hung on a building in downtown (Main St. and Seneca St. if you are visiting.) It's another great find from our friends at the website of Roadside America.

The pancake was 28 feet across and weighed more than 4,000 pounds. It took 15 gallons of syrup and 48 pounds of butter to finish it. Reports say the finished product was rather cake-like, and a little tough.

The Finger Lakes Times says the record only lasted for seven years, when an English town made a bigger pancake. Let's hope Penn Yan still holds the American record.

The town is a nice little college town, with Keuka College just out of downtown. Too bad the students don't get to see it in the summer for the most part. Here's a tourism video:

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Bluff Point, New York: Garrett Memorial Chapel

You get 10 points if you know where Bluff Point, New York is. It is located in the Finger Lakes region of the state. Keuka Lake is shaped something like a Y, and Bluff Point is located just north of where the two water branches come together.

That was where Garrett and Company made millions of gallons of wine in the first half of the 20th century. The son of Evelyn and Paul Garrett - Charles - died in 1929, and the winery owners put up this chapel in tribute to him.

It's a great old building, with fine views of the surrounding countryside. It's a natural place for weddings and wedding pictures, and services are held there in the summer. The Chapel is on the register of national historic places.

When we visited, the place was locked up. Luckily, the website has a video:

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Buffalo, New York: Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum

Part of the Pierce Arrow Museum in Buffalo is less than impressive from the outside. It looks like some sort of old warehouse, which it is.

But open the door, and the view becomes that much more impressive. The floor of the main part of the museum is filled with cars. As you'd expect by the name, the Pierce Arrow is more than well represented. That car was made in Buffalo, and was the luxury vehicle of its time. Alas, the Depression did the company in, as few people had the money to buy an expensive auto. The walls have plenty of memorabilia as well - everything from signs and memorabilia to gas pumps.

But that's not the best part. A wing was added to the building some time ago, and the centerpiece is a gas station designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. This was never actually built at the time, as it was deemed a bit impractical for actual use. A fireplace in a service station probably didn't seem like a good idea then, just like it doesn't now. But it's fun to see what Wright designed. There's some controversy in the architectural world about this, as some don't like the idea of taking the plans of an unrealized project and building it. Still, it's quite a curiosity piece. The museum borrowed Wright's car, and placed it on display at the time of this visit.

This is a relatively new museum, so it's a little underrated in terms of attractions. Transportation lovers certainly will enjoy it a great deal.

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Friday, June 20, 2014

Ketchikan, Alaska

Ketchikan is either the first or last stop when going up and down the Inside Passage of Alaska. I don't want to say there's not much of a shoreline, but the first street that runs along the water is built on the dock. The streets get steep pretty quickly.

Ketchikan is something of a starting point for outdoor adventures for the region, such as hiking, kayaking and canopy adventures (ziplines, etc.). Downtown has a variety of shops, including the ever-present jewelry stores and souvenir emporiums. Dolly's House is an ex-brothel that is now a museum.

There are lots of totem poles around as well - Ketchikan is one of the world's leaders in that department. The Totem Heritage Center and Saxman Totem Park (a couple of miles out of town) have plenty. And as the sign suggests, there's plenty of salmon to eat.

Due to some mechanical problems on our cruise, we didn't get as much time as we'd like to explore Ketchikan. Maybe next trip.

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Misty Fjords National Monument, Alaska

There certainly are places that are as beautiful as Misty Fjords National Monument. I don't think there are any places that are prettier.

This was designated as wilderness in 1980 and takes up more than 2 million acres. It receives more than 160 inches of rain a year, and thus is as green as you can imagine. Much of it looks as if no human being has ever set foot on it, which considering the topography is probably true.

Visiting it isn't easy, but it's worth it. We took a floatplane from Ketchikan, taking off from the Tongass Narrows a short distance from our cruise dock. The plane needs only several minutes to get to the National Monument. After taking a look around, the place actually lands in the middle of a mountain lake which is surrounded by glacier-chiseled cliffs. Riders then can actually get out of the plane and stand on the floatation devices that stand in for landing wheels. (The above picture was taken from there; I can't imagine what a sunny day looks like there.) The only sounds come from the waterfalls in the immediate area. After a too-short stay, it's back up in the area for another look around before heading for the departure point.

A tip: Tourists from the cruises are swarmed by representatives of floatplane companies as soon as they get off the boat. The aggressiveness is bit startling and leaves a slightly bad taste. We had set up a reservation for a flight in advance with ProMech Air, and were treated quite well. Other companies probably do as good a job as that one, but they didn't shout at me in order to get my business.

Sure enough, someone else did a video of a similar trip.

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Juneau, Alaska - Mount Roberts Tramway

One of the striking parts about Juneau is how little flat land there is along the waterfront. In some portions of town, it is level for only a few blocks before the terrain goes almost straight up.

How, then, can you see the whole landscape? One way is to take the Mount Roberts Tramway, which takes passengers straight up to a landing spot on top of the hill.

The structure is more than 3,000 feet long and 1,700 feet high. One interesting part that you might not notice is that there are no towers along the way, as the trip is so steep that the supporting structures were bypassed. There are two cars that hold 60 people each; as one goes up, the other goes down.

The structure opened in 1996 and is built right on the docks. It's easy to find - just look for the wires. Here's someone else's video on it:

This is not a cheap ride, checking in at $32 per person as of 2014. At the top is a big gift shop, a small nature center, and a restaurant. Make sure you allow enough time to go for walks on the scenic trails. You'll have a better chance of getting the best views of the area by getting away from the complex around the top of the tramway. Trees and buildings can get in the way of the views there, spoiling the experience somewhat. (In fairness, it's a little tough to trim the trees up there because of the steepness.) Therefore, if the trails are closed for one reason or another or if it's a very cloudy day, you might not rate this a consumer "best buy."

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Juneau, Alaska: State Capitol

Those who have been to a variety of states capitals know that the state capitol building usually is large and has some sort of dome. Not so in Alaska.

In 1931, the United States government constructed the Territorial and Federal Building to handle business before Alaska became a state. When Alaska achieved statehood status in 1959, the building was turned into a capitol.

Still, it's been adapted for the usual uses. Here's a shot of Alaska's House. Being a legislator here is a part-time job, usually in the early months of the year. There are 40 representatives and 20 senators; the state only had a population around 750,000.

Tours of the building are available, for free no less. We were unlucky enough to get a guide who had just started on the job. I think we knew more about Alaska's state government than he did, based on his struggle to answer questions. But he'll get the hang of it eventually.

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Juneau, Alaska: Patsy Ann Dog Statue

How many dog statues have their own web site? At least one. Patsy Ann, though, wasn't just another dog.

Whenever a ship came into Juneau's dock area in the Thirties, Patsy Ann - a bull terrier - would run to greet it. This is rather remarkable since Patsy was born deaf. Still, she returned to the wharf again and again - perhaps because visitors would always give her treats.

After a while, the dog was one of the area's best ambassadors. Juneau's mayor opted to name her "the official greeter of Juneau, Alaska."

Patsy Ann died in 1942, and the body was placed in Gastineau Channel. A statue was finished 50 years later, and Patsy Ann is still greeting tourists there to this day.

Check out a longer version of the story here. You can even buy a t-shirt or mug through the site.

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Juneau, Alaska: Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure

Steve and Cindy Bowhay owned about 50 acres of land in Juneau that were adjacent to a national forest and located on a steep hill. The land had been clobbered during a heavy storm, causing a creek to overflow. So ... they got to work.

The result is the Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure, a surprising outburst of color.

Upon arriving, visitors are taken on a tram and slowly wind their way up the mountain. They eventually reach the top, taking in the plants and flowers along the way, and visit a wonderful scenic overlook of the Juneau region.

But it's the upside-down trees that will catch your attention. Supposedly Steve got frustrated in the clean-up process with a particularly pesky tree, and stuck it in the group the "wrong" way. When plants were placed on the top/bottom, the Gardens suddenly had a unique item.

Here's a look at a few of them together. And I have no idea who the man in the red jacket is; he was on the tour with us. But thanks for lending your image, sir.

For a more full picture in the form of an ad, here's the video from the Glacier Gardens site

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Juneau, Alaska: Mendenhall Glacier

You'd think you might get tired of seeing glaciers after a while, but it never happens. They are too impressive.

Mendenhall Glacier certainly qualifies. The blue ice is part of the attraction, as the surface absorbs all colors except blue.

If you want an example of the concept of climate change, this isn't a bad one. This glacier has been retreating quickly for quite a while, and the rate has picked up. This picture was taken from the Visitors Center. The glacier was about even with this location during the 1940s. It now checks in at 12 miles long, a half-mile wide and 70 feet tall, but we'll have to see how true that statement is in the coming years. Right now it is called the fifth-biggest icefield in North America.

By the way, when you click on the picture to increase its size, take a good look at the waterfall on the right. It's very large, and as you can see visitors can walk up very close to it on a trail from the Visitors Center. That also provides an even closer look at the glacier.

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