Awesome day ... Sunday, 6/26/16

This post is Number 1000! 

It wasn't too far from Ballston Spa to Amsterdam NY, something like 16 miles.  Jimmy and I thought riding the Erie Canalway from Amsterdam might be easier than finding parking for Smartie, etc., in Schenectady, Sunday or no.  We were in for a treat on our choice.

One of the first things we spied as we neared the canal was this amazing red brick "castle" on a hill. I asked Jimmy to drive up to get a better look at it.  Blow me down if a sign in front didn't actually call it Amsterdam Castle ... and it's a Bed and Breakfast!   A former Armory, it was built in 1895.  Pretty cool looking B&B.

We wanted to get an early start on our day because 90 degrees was the high temperature forecast.  Consequently, we were on the trail a little after 9 am.  We learned so much on our short ride that my brain went on overload and I nearly blew a fuse.  I think we only pedaled 12 or 13 miles, but we were Out and About for hours, much of it in the sun, and by the time we returned to Smartie I was not only on overload, I was overheated.  I don't "do" heat very well.

Initially this section of the paved and smooth Erie Canal was beneath shade trees and we just pedaled along, enjoying the morning.  A few miles later, we saw a sign for Yankee Hill Lock, so we veered off to check it out.  If you're interested in this kind of historic stuff, read the signboard below, or Google it.  Many books have been written about the engineering marvel this original Erie Canal was.

Lock 28 was part of the Enlarged Erie Canal.
Enlargement to 7' draft was completed in 1862.

A couple of quick facts:  The original Erie Canal (aka "Clinton's Ditch") began in 1817, and opened October 26, 1825. It was four feet deep and 40 feet wide and over 360 miles long. Roy G. Finch, State Engineer and Surveyor wrote a small pamphlet in 1925 called The Story of the New York State Canals [Historical and Commercial Information], which we read. Full of facts, it wasn't dry, it was fascinating. A quick and condensed time line of the canal is here.  Hit your back button to return to this page.

As we continued on, we saw and followed signs for a Visitor Center ... which we failed to find.  Rounding a corner, we saw the dam above and the white lock buildings across the river.  A word here about "the river."  This section uses the Mohawk River (above) as part of the Erie Barge Canal. Without the dams, the river may be a trickle or in spate, depending on time of year, rainfall, etc. Hence, the river is dammed at various locks ensuring a steady or uniform flow, and locks are used to carry boats up and downstream.  We pedaled across the bridge to the lock house, hoping to find the VC and a bathroom.

Lights were on in the small building and eventually a young man answered our knock.  What a nice guy!  This was not the VC, it was a lockhouse, but he gave us the brochures we needed and a ton of information, and the use of the bathroom.  Then he offered to show us how the lock worked.  Lucky for us a fellow in a bass fishing boat neared (right, in photo below), who wanted to go upstream.

We watched the lock empty (below).  A valve opens allowing water to roil and boil out, tho that's not a technical term (roil and boil are my words!).

Jimmy gets the straight scoop on how this works from the guy and his supervisor.  Wowzers, well over a million gallons of water leaves/enters with every lock opening!  Learning about the process from people who know it and do it every day and take care of the lock and dam was over and above the call of duty (so to speak) and it was simply primo!

Left:  The bass boat enters at low water and the gates close behind him.  Right:  the valve on the other end opens, allowing upstream water to flow in and fill the lock.  When the water level inside and outside the lock equal, the gates open and the boat speeds away. Whoa, all this canal, lock and dam, and the river input was overwhelming and soooo interesting to us.

The power house no longer uses these old motors.  Rather a diesel on the far right out of the picture is what provides necessary power.  Jimmy still has his riding helmet on.

Defunct aqueduct, built over Schoharie Creek between 1839 and 1841 as part of the Enlarged Erie Canal, was one of the single-greatest improvements made during the canal's enlargement phase.  It was abandoned in 1917 when the Barge Canal opened in the Mohawk River.  Ice jams later destroyed parts of the aqueduct.

After this very fine, personal tour, we devoured our granola bars at a picnic table beneath a tree, and then hopped on our bikes.  Recrossing the Mohawk River, we found the Schoharie Visitor Center!  As we pedaled up, a lady was just opening the building ... great timing.  We walked through all the rooms, which were full of information!  There was more, a lot more, but by this time, the 90 degree heat had sapped us.  Back on the bikes, we made straight for Smartie, and our air-conditioned Tergel parked at the Elks lodge in Ballston Spa.  We count this ride as a highlight of our New York visit.

BTW, the name Erie Barge Canal is no long an accurate description of the marine activity on the canal.  Nowadays, pleasure boats, cruise and tour boats, fishing craft are what use the waterway.

Many of you want news of my brother.  After nearly two weeks in Mass Gen, he was released from the hospital yesterday (Saturday), but didn't do well at home.  My sister-in-law, Anne, took him back to the ER at Mass Gen today, and he'll be readmitted to the Cardiac ICU, where he'll get the attention and meds needed to get his heart stabilized! We hope!! 

One more note.  While I was washing my face in the bathroom, getting ready for bed, I heard a terrific BOOM outside.  Then another, and another.  Eh?  Oh, that sounded like fireworks!  Washcloth in hand, I stepped outside, Jimmy right behind me.  Almost directly overhead, we watched a solid 15-minute display of fireworks lighting up the sky!  A week early for the Fourth of July, but it sure was cool to see.  Welcome to Ballston Spa!


  1. Loved reading about the locks. You two are just amazing on those bikes! Locks are pretty fabulous creations, and we really enjoyed watching the big ones on the Panama Canal, and the little ones in Seattle, and at Sault St Marie as well. Fireworks? with no crowds or traffic!! Wow, what could be better. At least it wasn't that thunderstorm you mentioned. Wishing your brother well.

  2. I love locks, large and small. Sue, my list is just like yours, except that I got interested in locks in Sacramento, where my daily commute for several years took me over a small, old lock between the Sacramento River and the big ship canal from San Francisco Bay - this lock has since been decommissioned. Have you seen the PBS show on the building of the Panama Canal locks?

  3. What a great day, Nickie. Your description made it real for me and I learned a thing or two. Thanks for sharing your adventures with us.

  4. Neat day ... and so nice that you got a personal tour of the canal ops. Roil and boil is a perfect description for what the water looks like when it is filling up or draining out of the locks.


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