August 13, 2011

Due North, Day 6: The Queen of American Lakes

Thursday, July 14, 2011: Normally, I don't think much about hotels. When I'm on a trip, the hotel for me is little more that a place to store my suitcase while I'm out exploring. Being pampered by a concierge is certainly not one of my prerequisites and I'll usually search for bargain rates when booking. I have stayed at many a Best Western, Econolodge, and Howard Johnson in my time. However, for my visit to Lake George, I opted to stay at a lakeside resort called the Tahoe.

As Day 6 of this vacation was just beginning to break, I took a walk down to the private beach to watch the sunrise over the water. Accompanied only by a lone seagull perched on a dock post, I took the opportunity to dip my feet into the lake; it was like stepping into a tub of warm bathwater. Seeing the sun rise over Lake George provided me with a very peaceful moment and it would become my morning ritual for the next 3 days. For this experience alone, I was happy that I opted for the luxury of the Tahoe Resort.

I bought a ticket for the first cruise of the day aboard the Minnie Ha Ha, a steam-powered paddle boat. As its red wheel kicked up a rooster tail of water and the calliope whistled old melodies into the air, I got my first exposure to the breadth of Lake George and the wonder of its many islands and romantic shorelines. I think Thomas Jefferson put it best:

"Lake George is without comparison, the most beautiful water I ever saw; formed by a contour of mountains into a basin thirty-five miles long and from two to four miles broad, finely interspersed with islands, its water limpid as crystal and the mountainsides covered with rich groves of silver fir, white pine, aspen and paper birch down to the water, here and there precipices of rock to checker the scene and save it from monotony. An abundance of speckled trout, salmon trout, bass, and other fish with which it is stored, have added to our other amusements the sport of taking them."

For the second day in a row, I paid a visit an historic fort. Destroyed in August of 1757, Fort William Henry was reconstructed in the 1950's following the original English blueprints. Offering perhaps a bit more to see than Fort Ticonderoga, I enjoyed touring its supposedly haunted dungeon, its powder magazine full of ammunition such as cannon balls and muskets, its underground military crypt, its displays of tools dating back to the 1750's. Through my tour of Fort William Henry, I also learned that Lake George was formerly known as Lac-du-Saint-Sacrement, renamed by Major General William Johnson to honor King George II. It's kind of ironic really--the "Queen of American Lakes" bearing the name of the king of Great Britain.

Next, I took a ride to Gore Mountain to pay a visit to the Barton Garnet Mine. This destination is so remote that the directions took me off of the GPS's field of vision and on to five miles of winding dirt roads. After meeting up with the tour guide at the mineral shop, a caravan of cars traveled deeper into the woods to the mines. Here, the guide shared a little bit of history and geology of the place. The concentration of garnets is so high at the mines that the earth takes on a ruby red glow that is just lovely. After the guide finished with his introductions, I got to try my hand at prospecting for the next hour. I was able to dig up a handful of good-sized garnets.

After leaving the mine with my stash of semi precious stones, I headed straight back to the Tahoe to go swimming in Lake George. It was the first time that I had ever jumped into a fresh water lake and it was a beautiful experience. So refreshing. So clean. In the distance, I could see lots of people kayaking, jet skiing, and para-sailing. Soon, I watched the Minnie Ha Ha sail by--everything about the setting was perfect.

Every Thursday evening, the Lake George Community Band plays a concert at the bandshell in Shepard Park. I took a seat in the grass with icepop in hand and listened to the band play through a variety of classic songs ("What a Wonderful World," "Shadow of your Smile," "1812 Overture," etc.) as the sun set and the stars came out.

Then, as the band finished up the last number, all attention turned to the night sky over the southern tip of Lake George for a grand fireworks display. It was very much a carvival atmosphere, with people walking around everywhere and the lake filled with boats for as far as the eye could see. The first rockets went up to an eruption of joyful oohs and ahhhs. I stood there watching the flower-like bursts lighting up the firmament completely mesmerized by the colorful reflections on the water's surface, and thought to myself, "Now, this is summer at Lake George!" :)

"One thing I ask of the LORD,
this is what I seek: that I may dwell
in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to seek him in his temple."

~Psalm 27:4