Revolutionary War battlefield of Saratoga to be excavated

Revolutionary War, Saratoga
One of the most important battlefields of the Revolutionary War is going to be excavated by archaeologists ahead of an EPA cleanup.

Back in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, General Electric dumped polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the Hudson River near Saratoga, New York. The dumping was banned in 1977 due to risks to public health, and the EPA has ordered GE to dredge up the affected silt from the river. Dredging destroys archaeological sites, though, and has already damaged Fort Edward, a British fort in the area dating to the mid 18th century. Archaeologists are working to excavate the stretch of river near Saratoga before the dredgers arrive.

Saratoga was on the frontier for much of the 18th century and played a large part in the French and Indian Wars (1755-1763) and the Revolutionary War (1775-1783). During the two battles of Saratoga in September and October of 1777, the American army stopped the British advance down the Hudson River Valley, then surrounded them and forced them to surrender. It was a major victory that led to the French coming into the war on the American side. French help was one of the deciding factors in an ultimate American victory, and the creation of the United States.

The Saratoga National Historical Park 9 miles south of Saratoga, New York, includes the battlefield, a visitor center, the restored country house of American General Philip Schuyler, a monument, and Victory Woods where the British surrendered on October 17, 1777.

Archaeologists hope to find artifacts from both wars and are currently looking for a British army camp.

[Image courtesy U.S. government]

Lazy rivers: The best U.S. float trips

Paddling through serene wilderness or idyllic farmland is a relaxing way to spend time with friends and family, or to reconnect with yourself. Float trips are ideal for those who don’t wish to brave the uncertainty of rapids and like to stay close to home.

The U.S. has millions of miles of flowing water -why not float along a few? In the early days of settlement, towns sprang up on the shores of these water ways to support commerce. Odds are good that you live near one since so many major U.S. cities sprouted on river fronts.

Snake River, Wyoming
The Snake River meanders through what is arguably one of the most beautiful stretches of land in the lower 48. An easy day outing from Jackson allows paddlers to get a close-up view of the Grand Teton range. Bald eagle, moose, and elk are often spotted on the rugged banks of the Snake. Lost Creek Ranch offers early morning float trips that give visitors a better chance to catch wildlife in action.

Caney Fork, Tennessee
Trout are the reason most come to the Caney. But paddlers will enjoy the relaxing feel of this slow river as it slips through limestone canyons and open farmland. The Caney boasts a multitude of access points used for put-ins and take-outs. Middle Tennessee Fly Fishers offers trout fishing classes and outings for all skill levels.Missouri River, Montana
Follow in the paddle strokes of Lewis and Clark on the longest river in the states. The Missouri has several excellent flat water sections that provide good paddling. For unmatched scenic beauty, take to the water in Montana to see big sky country at it’s best.

Hoh River, Washington

Ancient majestic spruce, world-class fishing, and the lush Hoh rain forest are all part of the Hoh river experience. On this float it will seem like you are tucked into a remote corner of Alaska, but after the paddle you can still get to the nearest Starbucks by late afternoon.

Blue River, Indiana
Family fun is the secret of the Blue River’s popularity. Easy access and proximity to major cities make the Blue a refreshing way to cool off during a mid-summer heat wave. Cave Country Canoes has several options and can accommodate large groups.

Rio Grande, Texas
Straddling the border of Mexico and the US is the Rio Grande or “big river.” This river offers phenomenal views of the canyons in Big Bend National Park. Floats can range in length from 1/2 day excursions to 7-day expedition style trips.

Green River, Kentucky
As the Green drains the south central region of Kentucky it flows through Mammoth Cave National Park. This section is heavily paddled in summer months when the water takes on a bright green color from the limestone in the area. The Green River is also well known for it’s healthy population of freshwater mussels and fish.

Alagnak River, Alaska
The Alagnak was the first river to receive “wild and scenic river” status. Salmon fishing reins supreme on the Alagnak in summer and fall. Humans aren’t the only ones taking advantage of the salmon run though. Be prepared to see both grizzly and black bear in large number on this northern treat. Stay out of the canyon section if you want to keep the paddling to Class I.

Hocking River, Ohio
The Hocking River is geographically centered among several metro areas. The proximity to population hubs and the ease of paddling make for a popular weekend escape for beginner paddlers. Hocking Hills Canoe Livery offers scenic floats through the hilly farmland of Ohio all summer long.

Tarpon Bay Mangroves, Florida
For year-round paddling weather try Sanibel Island off the west coast of Florida. This warm-weather paddling mecca is home to Tarpon Bay. The bay harbors a a mangrove swamp which provides beautiful water paths and tunnels for secluded kayaking. Wildlife is abundant and visitors often see a wide variety of birds and can even spot the occasional manatee.

No matter what state you live in there is flowing water. Taking time to enjoy the peace of these rivers and will refresh and reinvigorate even the most weary of us.

English Country Walks: Hiking along the Thames near Oxford

Spring has sprung, and while I have a reputation as a museum junkie, I love to be outside too. Over the next few months I’ll be bringing you lots of guides to hiking in England, which in good weather has the most beautiful countryside in the world.

Today I’ll tell you about an easy, scenic, seven-mile hike from historic Oxford along the Thames to the little town of Abingdon. It forms part of the Thames Path, a 184 mile (294 km) National Trail from the source of the river in the Cotswolds all the way to the Thames Barrier near Greenwich. You can find a description of the Oxford-Abingdon section of the route here, but it actually runs backwards from Abingdon to Oxford. My route starts from the more popular town. The trail is flat and you’re never far from civilization, but be sure to bring a bit of food, water, and sunscreen as you would on any hike.

The hike starts from Folly Bridge in Oxford, site of the popular Head of the River Pub, pictured on the right. From there you simply head south on west side of the river. Don’t worry if you don’t know which way is west, it’s the only side with a trail! There’s a wide gravel path that’s in the process of being paved. River barges and university rowing teams share the water with ducks and swans. It’s a peaceful walk, although at this point you’ll be sharing it with a fair number of people unless you go out very early in the morning. Bring a camera, because it’s very photogenic.

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The first major landmark is The Isis, a pub with a big garden overlooking the river two miles south of Folly Bridge. The part of the Thames that flows through Oxford is actually called the Isis by locals, so the pub is named after the river.

Next comes Iffley lock, where you can watch canal boats being raised and lowered in the lock before continuing their journey. I suggest taking a side trip by crossing over the lock and going into Iffley village just a couple of minutes away. There you can see one of the best preserved Norman churches in England. A yew tree in the churchyard may be the sole survivor of a pagan grove that was destroyed when Christianity came to this land. I’ve written about this church and tree in more detail here.

Once you’ve seen the church, cross back over to the Thames Path and continue heading south. You’ll pass through a less-than-scenic bit for the next mile or so as you go under a railway bridge and several huge electric pylons. Once you put those behind you you’ll have fine views the rest of the way, with the river on your left and forest and farmers’ fields on your right.

Next stop is Sandford-on-Thames, a little town with a lock and a nice pub by the river. One of the best parts about hiking in England is there’s usually a pub nearby. Take advantage of this, but don’t forget to drink water too! This village was founded by the Romans, owned by the Templars in the Middle Ages, and now is just a sleepy little place by the river. Watch out on Christmas Eve, though, because locals whisper that a headless horseman leads a phantasmal coach and four through the fields nearby.

Now you’ll pass through a long stretch of countryside with few houses. Your only companions will be ducks, swans, and the occasional boat. The path narrows, but remains clear. There’s really no way to get lost on this hike.

Finally you pass another lock and come to Abingdon, a town packed with history. The town is actually built atop an Iron Age fort that is no longer visible. When the Romans came in the first century AD, they used the river extensively, but Abingdon didn’t come into its own until the foundation of Abingdon Abbey in the 7th century. It remained a major center of worship until 1538, when Henry VIII disbanded it and most other religious houses in England.

Needless to say, there are plenty of things to see here. The bridge you cross over to get to town dates to 1416. The old Abbey Gardens are a great place for a picnic, but only bits and pieces of the abbey remain. For historic architecture check out the church of St. Nicolas (c. 1170). The church of St. Helens dates to about 70 years earlier. St. Helens is a huge place and claims to be the second widest church in England. Who measures these things?

Being such an old town, Abingdon has developed some odd customs. On special occasions city officials throw buns off the roof of the old County Hall to the crowds below. Several buns have been preserved in the Abingdon Museum, in case you’re into old preserved buns. They also have a series of old-time festivals, including electing a fake Mayor. This year the “election” will take place on June 13 and be accompanied by folk dancing, music, and a large amount of drinking at Abingdon’s many great pubs. I’ll be reporting on it, so I hope to see you there!

If you felt you’ve done enough walking for one day, there are plenty of buses back to Oxford, or you can turn this seven-mile hike into a fourteen-mile one and walk on back, filling up at the pubs along the way, of course.

River Day: Celebrate Henry Hudson’s river discovery 400 years ago

One of my favorite sites last summer on my train trip from Cleveland to New York City was the sun glinting off the Hudson River starting north of Poughkeepsie and continuing until we were past West Point and the shine had deepened to a darker color. The Hudson is a river that has inspired artists and poets and has drawn the wealthy to its banks to create fabulous mansions, private colleges and upstate getaways, and religious types to build monasteries that offer solace in nature and quiet.

To celebrate Henry Hudson’s discovery of one of nature’s river masterpieces 400 years ago, New York is throwing a festival beginning next weekend that starts at Battery Park and New York Harbor on June 5 and continues up to the towns and villages in the Hudson Valley all the way to Albany. The final day for River Day is Saturday, June 13. At each location there are various events to commemorate the occasion.

Some of the main highlights are:

  • Flotilla of boats
  • Parade
  • Cannon welcome
  • fireworks
  • antique plane fly-overs
  • educational programs
  • food
  • music
  • and more of course

From reading the event’s page menu of what’s taking place at each of the festival’s locations, it’s clear how much the Hudson River means to the people who live near it and how the river connects people who live in New York with each other.

At ExploreNY400.com you can find out more information about other happenings this commemorative year.

Crop circles are boring – it is time for ice circles

For years, farmers and other pranksters fooled the world with their crop circles, but now their tricks have all been uncovered, it is clearly time to introduce the world to something new.

Enter ice circles. This strange phenomenon has been spotted in several locations around the world, and you have to see it to believe it. The circles appear in frozen lakes and rivers, and the perfectly round circles spin on their own.

Of course, these circles are attracting believers in the “strange and bizarre” who will always look for the most wacky explanation to the circles. An overview of some of the ice circles witnessed around the world can be found here.

My guess? Someone is having a lot of fun watching all this attention to their newest pranks!

More ice cold news we’ve covered in the past – Brrrrr!

$2500 Ice CreamSundaeScience in AntarcticaJon Bowermaster says HI from AntarcticaFive ways to survive the freakishly cold weatherIowa town drops garlic salt on their roads
The worlds largest ice cavesStay safe driving on the iceNew ice hotel opens its doorsIs this the most disgusting ice cream in the worldFreeze your backside off in the Minus 5 Vodka lounge