It’s the bottom of the ninth, and there are two outs. The score is four to three, and the home team has a player in scoring position on third base. The count is three balls and two strikes. The batter stands in the box, awaiting the pitch. The catcher signals the call, and the umpire leans forward. Sixty feet away, the pitcher prepares to throw from the mound. Forty thousand fans stand up, unable to contain their collective anticipation. The pitch is delivered right down the middle, perfectly placed for a huge hit. The batter swings, and…
Baseball has long been the American sport. From its start as an amateur game in the early 19th century, the sport has grown into a professional-level competition hosted in stadiums that seat tens of thousands of spectators, and players receive contracts that can reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars. For nearly two hundred years, baseball has been one of the most popular sports in America, and a museum in Cooperstown, New York seeks to preserve that history and tell of how baseball became America’s Pastime.
I would argue that aside from sports, America’s other pastime is road trips. Packing the family in the car, locking up the house, and setting off for parts unknown around the nation has long been an American tradition. And so, with my birthday approaching, my wife planned a trip for us that incorporated both of these American traditions: baseball and a long drive!
Our trip was filled with adventure: from caves reaching deep under the earth to a celebration of all things baseball to learning about life in the Adirondacks, we covered over eight hundred miles in five days. Without any further ado, this is our latest adventure:
Destination One: Howe Caverns
Our first stop was to the second-most visited natural attraction in New York: Howe Caverns.
We departed home under cloudy skies and drove through a few heavy downpours. As we turned off the New York State Thruway, our trip took on an international flavor… Cairo!
While “Cairo” might bring to mind thoughts of exotic adventures overseas, the reality of this section of New York State is one of economic decline. We passed through numerous towns filled with houses for sale, boarded-up storefronts, and abandoned farms. It felt as if our nation had moved forward and left this section of New York behind.
By the time we arrived at our destination, the skies had begun to clear and the sun emerged. Our first stop was the Cave House (pictured in the distance). It holds a museum, a gift shop, a cafe, and the entrance to the caverns.
Taking an elevator that descended over 150 feet below the surface, we emerged into an other-worldly landscape.
Our guide pointed out the rock formations hanging from the ceiling and protruding from the floor: stalagmites and stalactites. He also taught us an easy trick to remember which is which: stalagmites emerge from the floor, as you might trip over them.
One of the most noted stalagmites in the caves is this one, named the “Chinese Pagoda.” Personally, I’d call it the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Is this a desert plain? A vista on the surface of Mars? No. This is what a rock looks like after water runs across it for thousands of years.
In 1842, Lester Howe was exploring his property when he discovered a cave entrance, leading down to these caverns. The following year, Howe began leading tours into the caves, a practice which has continued through today!
Besides creating awe-inspiring views, colored lights also help to keep microorganisms from growing on the rocks.
This formation is the “pipe organ.” Hum into a small chamber on the rock on the right side, and the sound echoes through the cave, sounding like its coming from the “pipes” on the left. Our tour guide demonstrated, and then offered to allow members of our group to give it a try. So cool!
Several small chambers have been expanded, including the Bridal Chamber. The heart on the floor is made from a calcite formation. Over 700 weddings have occurred in the caverns, including the first one: Lester Howe’s own daughter was wed here in 1854.
The half-mile walk through the caves culminates in a boat ride across Lake Venus, an underground body of water. The boat ride reminded me of the River Styx from classical Greek Mythology: the boundary between the realm of the living and the world of the dead.
“The Two Witches,” one of the more popular formations. Do you see the two faces in the rock wall here?
Leaving Howe Caverns, we saw rain clouds rolling over the horizon. As we made our way to our next destination, I had an opportunity to test the new Nokian WR G4 tires in the rain, and I’m happy to report that they were a significant improvement over the already-formidable WR G3 tires I had on my car previously. Destination Two: The Baseball Hall of Fame
A little less than forty miles away from Howe Caverns is the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.
Cooperstown sits along the shores of Otsego Lake. County Route 31 runs along the eastern shores of the lake, and is one of the most memorable drives I have ever taken. The road itself is full of twists and turns, sharp curves, and blind crests. With a 55-mile per hour speed limit, it’s the kind of road meant to be driven. For anyone who enjoys the simple act of driving, put this road on your bucket list.
With the sun finally emerging and chasing the clouds away, we arrived at our lodging for the evening.
Chain hotels certainly have their uses, but staying at a 145-year old inn made this fantastic trip even more memorable!
The Inn certainly reminds you that you’re in Cooperstown, the home of baseball!
How old school is the inn? Forget using your smartphone to access your room, or even those swipe cards. When you check in, you receive keys attached to a brass keychain.
After checking in, we took a stroll around the historic district of Cooperstown. Established in 1786, the town is now synonymous with baseball. The Hall of Fame, our destination for the next morning, is at the far end of the street on the opposite side.
We found Cooperstown to be charming and beautiful.
We stopped for dinner at Mel’s at 22, a local restaurant on the corner of Main and Chestnut Streets. The chef and owner named the restaurant after his wife, who passed in 2013. We began our delicious meal with an order of Bang Bang Shrimp cocktail. So good!
While I dined on fish and chips, my wife enjoyed the Clique Six Salmon: seared salmon, mango salsa, vegetable noodles, over quinoa. While my dish hit the spot, my wife had the tastier meal!
After dinner, we took a walk to Doubleday Field. Named after Abner Doubleday, the “founder” of baseball (more on this later), this small stadium was built in 1939, although the field has been used for baseball since at least 1920.
“If you built it, they will come.” From 1940 until 2008, Major League Baseball hosted the Hall of Fame Game on this small park every year to coincide with the Hall of Fame inductions.
No fancy luxury boxes in this stadium – Doubleday Field is as historic as it gets. Funded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the stadium, built from 1938 through 1939, is known as the “Birthplace of Baseball.” Legend has it that Abner Doubleday, a US Army officer, invented baseball on the grounds of Elihu Pinney’s farm in Cooperstown. There is no evidence to support the “Doubleday” theory (although the stadium is built on Pinney’s farm). Despite numerous historians having debunked this claim, however, the stadium’s name still stands.
The next morning, we walked from our inn to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
As you enter the lobby, you are greeted by three players who each showed strength and resiliency in the face of enormous obstacles: Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, and Roberto Clemente.
We began our tour on the second floor of the museum, learning the history of the game. These baseballs were from the Eckford & Webb shipyard in New York – shipyard workers played together on a team, and decorated these balls after their winning games. Most of the balls are from the 1850s and 1860s. Look at some of those scores!
Both the baseball glove and the catchers mitt have evolved since the 19th century!
Squatting behind home plate, trying to catch pitches thrown at you at speeds exceeding seventy miles per hour… the design for a catcher’s mask was patented in 1877. The patent was awarded to James Thayer, the catcher for Harvard University.
The sheer number of baseball artifacts is astounding. This is Babe Ruth’s locker from Yankee’s Stadium, complete with his jersey, bat, glove, and awards.
“Pride and Passion” is an exhibit detailing the experiences and lives of African-American baseball players, especially during the Jim Crow era. Jackie Robinson has a significant presence in this exhibit.
Segregated seating was a reality at many ballparks in the South. These tickets are for admittance to the section of the Eastman Dodgers Stadium in Georgia reserved for African-American spectators. While the game of baseball is now fully integrated, the path toward equality for African-American players and fans was long and arduous.
Baseball has had its share of scandals over the years. In 1919, the Chicago White Sox threw the World Series in exchange for payoffs from Arnold Rothstein, a noted gangster and gambler. Eight members of that team involved in accepting payoffs, including Shoeless Joe Jackson, were banned from baseball, which includes being disallowed from the Hall of Fame.
“There’s no crying in baseball!” The Museum houses a large display on the history of women in baseball, including actual uniforms and equipment, as well as props from the movie A League of Their Own.
And speaking of movie props, they also had Wonderboy! The Natural is my favorite sports movie of all time, and I was thrilled to see this artifact of Hollywood history.
I grew up hearing my grandfather tell stories of the 1950 Philadelphia Phillies. Nicknamed the Whiz Kids, the team reached the World Series that year before losing to the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The museum also has a locker room. Each team has its own locker, with memorabilia from the past several decades. The Philadelphia Phillies locker has several items from the team’s 2008 World Series championship.
On the third floor is a very cool display – surrounding a ticket booth from the old Yankee Stadium are statues bearing the likeness of real-life fans of different teams.
In 1871, the Peck & Snyder Sporting Goods Company printed promotional trading cards of baseball teams. These are regarded as the first baseball cards.
The most collectible baseball card in history: the T206 Honus Wagner card. Wagner did not authorize the card, and forced the American Tobacco Company to recall it, leaving only approximately 60 surviving cards in the world. At auction in 2016, one of these cards sold for $3.12 MILLION dollars.
Our last destination within the museum: the Hall of Fame.
Nestled in a room of wood and marble are the plaques for the 323 players, owners, journalists, executives, managers, and coaches who have been enshrined here.
In 1936, the first class of inductees were received into the Hall of Fame: Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner, and Babe Ruth.
My wife and I wandered around the Hall, pointing out different players we recognized or had seen play. My grandfather (paternal) and grandmother (maternal) were both huge baseball fans and spoke with reverence of Mickey Mantle.
Boston Red Sox great Ted Williams. The medallion beneath the plaque indicates service in the US military.
The greatest third baseman to ever play the game: Philadelphia Phillies legend Mike Schmidt. I still remember watching his five hundredth home run with my grandfather.
Being from the Midwest, my wife pointed out Rod Carew. Even if you aren’t a baseball fan, you’ve undoubtedly heard his name mentioned by comedian Adam Sandler in “The Hanukkah Song.”
My wife spotted another interesting plaque: Effa Manley, the only woman enshrined in the Hall of Fame. She was a prominent owner of teams in the pre-integration Negro League, and was a committed activist for equality.
One of the highlights for me were these statues, carved from wood, of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams.
After leaving the Hall of Fame, we decided to grab lunch at Danny’s Market, a deli and neighborhood grocery.
Rather than eating in town, we took our lunch to Glimmerglass State Park on the banks of Otsego Lake. Not a bad view for a picnic!
After lunch, we explored the park, and discovered Hyde Hall Covered Bridge. Built in 1825, this is the oldest surviving covered bridge in the United States.
While the road to the bridge was closed, I still wanted to get a shot of my car with it (of course!). Through some creative photography… well, look between the trees on the left!
As we left, we swung by Hyde Hall, located on a bluff overlooking Otsego Lake. At the time of its construction in the early 19th century, this neoclassical house was the largest private residence in the United States.
Before heading to our next destination, we drove through Cooperstown one last time so I could take this shot… I wouldn’t want to disappoint my readers, after all! Destination Three: The Adirondack Experience
Our next destination was to visit with my wife’s family in the Adirondacks. After previous visits to the site of a momentous hockey game, a beautiful lake cruise, and a tour historic log cabin, for this trip we were recommended to visit the Adirondack Experience, a museum of life in this unique part of the nation.
And no trip to the Adirondacks is complete without a stop at Kayuta, a roadside diner and ice cream stand. As always, my wife enjoyed a black raspberry soft serve ice cream cone and I indulged in a vanilla shake. So, so, so very good!
On Saturday, we headed northward to Blue Mountain Lake and the Adirondack Experience. Once the site of a hotel, the museum opened in 1947 and has expanded over the years to now encompass 23 buildings over 121 acres.
One of the twenty-three buildings on the museum’s grounds, the Blue Mountain House Hotel. Built in 1876, it was moved to the museum to be displayed for the public. Aside from alterations to make the building wheelchair accessible, it remains as it was originally created.
Smaller than the large cabins and hotels that have been moved to the museum, but just as important to the history of the Adirondacks are the tents and lean-tos that dot the park’s landscape.
Not only are the buildings original to the Adirondacks, but so are the furnishings within them. Every piece you see inside this cabin are from the region, and the majority of them are from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
We took a brief timeout from our exploration for some lunch. On the day we visited, the Mohawk & Abernaki Art Market (left) was happening under an outdoor tent – local Indigenous peoples were displaying and selling arts and crafts. Near the market was the Iroquois Eatery, serving Native American-inspired cuisine.
We ate lunch beside the Osprey. This small steamboat, built in 1881, was designed to move passengers through the Adirondack’s numerous lakes at a time when the few roads that existed were rough and difficult to travel.
And when boats could go no further, trains were built to help people reach the resorts and camps of the Adirondacks. William West Durant (who built Great Camp Sagamore) constructed a railroad line to ferry passengers over a stretch of land between the Marion River and Utowana Lake. How far did this train have to travel? Exactly 1,320 yards – three quarters of one mile. It is the shortest standard-gauge railroad line in US history.
This picturesque building, nestled into the woods, tells the story of logging in the Adirondacks.
Where there are forests, there is also fire. Fire towers were an indispensable tool in the fight against dangerous forest blazes. This is Whiteface Mountain Observation tower, which was built in 1919. It was built in response to two fires in 1903 and 1908 that burned over 800,000 acres of woodlands.
The tower is open to the public, so I squelched my fear of heights and climbed to the top, where the view was simply fantastic. Over 100 towers existed in the Adirondacks in the 1950s but they have been supplanted by more modern tools such as airplanes.
And we also climbed on a mountain top! This stone, from the peak of Gore Mountain, was blasted off and now sits on the ground at Adirondack Experience. As the nearby sign says, “Those who are incapacitated, too busy, or even too lazy can scramble on this stone and truthfully say they have stood on the top of Gore Mountain.” Gotta love Adirondack humor.
The Life in the Adirondacks exhibit details just that – how plants, animals, fish, birds, and humans all interact in the 6-million acre Adirondack State Park. We began with an exploration of the ways that humans arrive in the Adirondacks, and I loved how this 1977 Dodge Royal Monaco “woody” station wagon was the very first display.
Decades before the Dodge in the previous photo would have ventured up north, intrepid automotive travelers would have ridden in something like this: a 1921 Ford Model T.
Wealthy passengers might travel to the Adirondacks by train, and then near their resort switch to a private rail car on a track leading directly to their camp. This example of a private rail car is from 1890.
All this luxury, simply for a short train ride. Talk about door-to-door service!
This elaborate stagecoach was built in the 1840s to transport guests to Schroon Lake.
Snowmobiling is a big tourist draw to the Adirondacks in the winter – the region has over 1,800 miles of snow mobile trails!
The museum does an excellent job telling the story of Native American peoples who call the Adirondacks home. Since the beginning of tourism in this Park, Native American imagery has been used to draw tourists to visit, even when the “artifacts” aren’t from the region. Totem poles, for instance, are from the Northwestern United States, yet this one was commissioned in 1928 for display at a camp in Long Lake (and made by an Australian woodcarver, no less).
While the museum does display a few ancient Native American items (such as a case of arrowheads that are thousands of years old), the focus is on the experience of Indigenous peoples in the Adirondacks today. These contemporary ceremonial outfits are worn by Abenaki men and women.
While the Adirondacks has 13,000 hotel rooms, there are almost 12,000 campsites! Needless to say, camping is a major part of the Adirondack experience.
I wanted to make special mention of something that my wife and I found to be absolutely fantastic: the museum’s accessibility. The museum has excellent physical access, as almost every structure is wheelchair accessible. Videos that play have either closed captions or transcripts for users with hearing impairments. And the museum pays extra attention to visitors who may have sensory issues, such as people on the autism spectrum. From the warning labels of areas that may be upsetting due to excessive noise or flashing lights, to the ample amount of noise-reducing headphones, the attention to detail was truly amazing.
The museum overlooks Blue Mountain Lake… not a bad way to spend a birthday trip!
The museum even houses a boatbuilding workshop, building 12 guideboats yearly, each one to custom order.
As we left, we stopped by the shores of Blue Mountain Lake for a car portrait… and this might be my new favorite photo of the Accord. Credit to my wife, who picked the spot.
After a wonderful weekend in northern New York, we said goodbye to family and began our drive back home.
And back home! Along the way, we crossed the 137,000 mile mark and inched closer to 140,000. The Accord was flawless on the ride up and back, giving us a comfortable, fun, and fuel efficient trip, just as it has done for the last four years. This car is easily the best car I have ever owned.
Five days spent in northern New York made for a terrific birthday celebration!
Howe Caverns is open daily from 9:00 am – 6:00 pm. Cave tours are $25 for adults, $22 for seniors, $21 for students age 12-15, $13 for children 4-11, and children under the age of 4 can enter for free. The National Baseball Hall of Fame is open seven days a week from 9:00 am until 9:00 pm in the summer and 9:00 am until 5:00 pm the rest of the year. Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for seniors age 65 and over, $15 for children ages 7-12, and children 6 and under can enter for free. Finally, the Adirondack Experience is open seven days a week from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm during the summer season. Tickets cost $20 for adults, $18 for senior citizens, $12 for children ages 6-17, and is free for children ages 5 and under as well as active duty US military personnel. Both the Adirondack Experience and Howe Caverns are great places to visit if you are passing through upstate New York. For any fan of baseball, sports, or American history, however, the National Baseball Hall of Fame is worth visiting at least once in your lifetime.
Thank you for coming along on this lengthy, birthday celebration down the open road ahead!
‘Til next time.