Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The 1,864 Islands

Good Witch and I just returned from three days relaxing in a northern New York area called "The Thousand Islands". It's the place where water from the Great Lakes (actually Lake Ontario, the most eastern of the connected Great Lakes) flows into the St. Lawrence River and, from there, makes its way to the Atlantic Ocean. Canada is on the north side of the river, and the U.S is on the south side in the Thousand Islands area. What an amazing place!

The inlet to the St. Lawrence River is immense. The "Thousand Islands" area is 50 miles long, and the river narrows from 15 miles wide to 5 miles wide in this stretch. It's filled with islands, some of them miles long and miles wide, with many of the islands privately owned with homes on them. Once estimated at about 1,000 islands, satellite photos have recently confirmed that 1,864 stony protuberances in this river meet the definition of an "island"

The Thousand Islands are the gateway to the St. Lawrence Seaway, a giant 1950's project that built locks and cleared channels so that fairly large ships (up to 740' long) could transit out of the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. It's pretty cool to see such large vessels winding their way through the islands!

It's not possible to adequately describe the mighty St. Lawrence River and the islands. Having been to many places, I'd say that it ranks somewhere near the Grand Canyon in immensity and eye-popping beauty. The islands are rocky, which makes sense because the terrain is part of the glacier-scoured Canadian Shield, but they are also heavily forested. The water is warm in the summer (about 70 degrees), and frozen to ice in the deep winter. We saw lots of "SkiDoo-type" watercraft, and some wet-suited divers who were likely out to dive on one of the many wrecks that dot the river bottom. At one point on a tour, we crossed over a bottom that exceeded 200 feet in depth! Needless to say, boats are everywhere, and most of them are cruisers of one type or another because this is big water.

In the late 19th century the Thousand Islands were discovered by the tycoons from New York and Philadelphia, many of whom bought islands or shore property and built immense homes or hotels. The relatively cool summer weather and recreational opportunities (boating, fishing, and partying) made the islands a seasonal paradise. We visited the "Boldt Castle" on Heart Island, a giant castle-like structure constructed almost to completion by the owner of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, but abandoned when his wife died of tuberculosis at age 45. (Go to the "Boldt Castle" web site to see this incredible structure now largely restored.) Even now, the Thousand Islands is "Millionaires Row". We saw an island home for sale - $36 million, and worth every penny! You get the idea. There are plenty more of them, too.

When "Prohibition" came, the islands became a smuggler's paradise, the gateway for Canadian booze to reach those large Eastern cities (by boat in the summer, over ice in the winter). You see, the Canadians were very good neighbors! Nowadays, however, the Thousand Islands has plenty of nice little waterfront towns complete with bars offering liquor from all over the world.

I've lived just south of Rochester, New York, for 33 years, but never before had I been to the Thousand Islands which are only three hours away by car. Now I want to buy a large sailboat and spend part of each summer going there and back. We'll see how the Good Witch feels about that! In the meantime, if you're looking for a new and special place to visit, think about a few days there. You, too, will be astounded at what "nature" has accomplished in this spectacular place.

1 comment:

thimscool said...

I'll make a note of it.