Lake George, New York

Lake George, in east-central New York, is a wonderful place to get away. Here you can experience boat rides, swimming, parasailing, history, hiking, drinking, dining, arcades, mini golf, and so much more. In the spring through fall, visitors flock to this area, and it isn’t hard to see why. I’ve spent two weekends there, and still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. It reminds me of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, or Wisconsin Dells, which is where my family vacationed when I was a kid.

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Fall is a good time to visit because the leaves change color, but things start shutting down for the season. I happened to be there Oktoberfest weekend, and the main street was partially blocked off. They had rides for the kids and a beer tent. I did a wine tasting at Adirondack Winery and ended up with a bottle of their Amethyst Sunset (I like sweet reds).

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There are so many little tourist shops, ice cream parlors, and places to eat. Exiting off Interstate 87 onto Route 9, you can follow Route 9 into town or explore south for a few miles. There are things to do all along that main street. Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf, Magic Forest, outlet stores, and Six Flags Great Escape are all south of Lake George. Magic Forest has the world’s largest Uncle Sam statue (not sure if that’s actually true…).

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Badlands National Park, South Dakota

In the spring of 2014, I had the opportunity to travel to Badlands National Park with an old friend. On the way, we ran into “Winter Storm Xenia,” which hit parts of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and northeast Wyoming. There were 5-6 foot snow drifts in Roseau, Minn and wind gusts of up to 64 mph in Rapid City. The storm cleared up the next day, but left a dusting of snow all over the Badlands.

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Growing up in Illinois, I had no concept of “wide open spaces.” It’s incredible to see golden, unbroken prairie stretching to the horizon under a big blue sky. At the Badlands, the earth just seems to fall away into huge rippling land forms. I got this shot of my friend (a better photographer than I’ll ever be) in action at the canyon edge.

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Badlands National Monument was established on January 25, 1939, and it became a national park in 1978. It consists of 379 square miles of land, offering hiking trails, camping sites, and  educational visitors centers. People even come to find fossils.

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All-American Diner Tour: Doo-Wah Ditty’s in Kimball, South Dakota

At the tail end of March 2014, a friend and I decided to drive out to the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, and Devil’s Tower. It was springtime in the Midwest, and thoughts of winter storms were long behind us. About ninety minutes west of Sioux Falls along Interstate 90, however, the temperature began to drop, the wind picked up, and dark clouds formed ominously on the horizon.

Apparently we had driven into “Winter Storm Xenia,” which hit parts of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and northeast Wyoming. There were 5-6 foot snow drifts in Roseau, Minn and wind gusts of up to 64 mph in Rapid City.

We decided to stop for gas and check the weather at the Conoco gas station off Highway 16 near the tiny town of Kimball, South Dakota. “Real Food,” a large sign announced as we pulled off the interstate. The sign referred to Doo-Wah Ditty’s Diner, located inside the gas station.

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Red Robin Diner in Johnson City, NY

Saw this old diner at the corner of Main and Broad streets as I was driving through Johnson City, near Binghamton, New York. It was closed at the time. I don’t think it’s a Red Robin franchise, and no one has posted a review on Yelp since 2015. I love the classic design, and check out that old 7-Up sign! The neighborhood is severely depressed, but there is a cool comic book and game store nearby.

All-American Diner Tour: Shorty’s Place in Watertown, New York

Located at 1280 Coffeen Street, just off Interstate 81, in Watertown, New York, Shorty’s Place is a great 1950s-themed diner and a favorite of both locals and soldiers from nearby Fort Drum. It’s worth going for the decor alone. The owner must have spent a long time tracking down so much Coca-Cola-themed bric-a-brac. The diner is clean and nostalgia palpable. Seating includes a long counter, tables, and booths. Each booth contains a working jukebox.

Shorty’s food is diverse and above average. Menu choices include charbroiled pork chops, fried scallops, black & blue charbroiled chicken breast, pulled pork BBQ sandwich (Wednesdays), a breakfast lasagna, and more. They even have a limited beer and wine selection and make old-fashioned milkshakes with hard milk flavoring. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner is served all day, except for soup, which is only served in the afternoon and evening. Prices are reasonable: expect to pay between $10 and $13 per person, including a drink. The most expensive item on the menu is the friend seafood platter for $11.89.

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Dr. Morbid’s Haunted House and Frankenstein Wax Museum

Located on the strip in central Lake George, New York, Dr. Morbid’s Haunted House and House of Frankenstein Wax Museum are fun, campy throwbacks to the haunted attractions of yore. Dr. Morbid’s operates from July 1 through October 31 and the wax museum is open roughly from the second weekend in April to the fourth weekend in October, so if you want to get your scare on, you don’t have to wait for Halloween. This is a rare treat. When it comes to commercial horror, I can’t think of another example in the northeastern United States.

Dr. Morbid’s Haunted House is located at 115 Canada Street. It features some animatronics and macabre scenes, but relies heavily on its story for chills. “Recently, during attempted renovations to Morbid Mansion, workers discovered a secret passageway leading to the ruins of an old abandoned waxworks,” the story goes. “Dr. Willy S. Morbid, the proprietor of Morbid Mansion, and known to locals as the Mad Waxmaker, is said to have used bizarre methods when filling his wax-works with statues.” Dr. Morbid also had two daughters, one of whom he locked away in a secret room. Look for Morbid’s preserved corpse to also make an appearance.

A woman of mysterious beauty dressed in black guides you through Dr. Morbid’s lair. My guide seemed immersed in the role, her voice adding to the macabre atmosphere. On entering, she asks you to stand against the wall, where you wait in near complete darkness. Seconds seemed like minutes as I waited for the inevitable scream. The only question was how close she would get.

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All American Diner Tour

Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved diners, especially 1950s-themed diners or old, out of the way places that haven’t changed their decor in forty years. Greasy spoons that wouldn’t pass a health inspection. Unfortunately, there aren’t many classic diners in Illinois. No, Denny’s doesn’t count. When I moved to New York, I discovered the East Coast loves diners too. I decided to start posting travelogues/reviews of some of the diners I’ve visited over the years. The following is a list of some of the ones I’ll be writing about.

  • Mother’s Cupboard in Syracuse, NY
  • Doo-Wah Ditty’s Diner in Kimball, SD
  • Prospect Mountain Diner in Lake George, NY
  • Knotty Pine Diner in Wampsville, NY
  • Flo’s Diner in Canastota, NY
  • Suburban Diner in Paramus, NJ
  • And many more~!

Keep a lookout for my All-American Diner Tour, coming soon!