Named for the Native Americans who called this region home, the Mohawk Valley is comprised of a number of municipalities encircling the Mohawk River in Upstate New York. Nestled between the Adirondack and Catskill Mountain ranges, this gently beautiful expanse is steeped in mystery as well as history. Travelers to this beautiful spot can enjoy historical landmarks, natural wonders and pulse racing, modern enjoyments. If you have 48 hours to spare, start your engines. This is just a taste of what the Mohawk Valley has to offer.
10 a.m. Talk to the Animals
The nearly century-old Utica Zoo is an intimate, trail-latticed gem, peppered with animals from all over the world. Nose-to-nose encounters with red pandas, gentle camels, sea lions and even African lions are part of the Zoo’s Animal Encounters Program. Less adventurous souls will enjoy meandering through the beautifully kept grounds and viewing the 200 animals that live there.
1 p.m. Get Rich
Spend the afternoon prospecting for almost-out-of-reach, five hundred million year-old quartz crystals in nearby Herkimer Diamond Mines. While it’s not a lock that you will find enough diamonds to retire on, it is guaranteed you will have a fabulous time. The on-site museum tells the story of pocket mining and displays an impressive array of locally-found fossils, rocks and minerals.
4 p.m. Unlock the Secrets of Ancient Art
Take a scenic drive to Amsterdam in Montgomery County and view an ancient mystery. The Painted Rocks, which can be seen at low tide along the Mohawk Valley River Channel, may have been drawn by the ancient Native Americans who inhabited this region centuries ago, or they may be the work of a more modern hand. While much of these stone paintings have been eroded by time, you can view this phenomenon and decide for yourself what story the markings tell.
6:45 p.m. Get Richer
Heart-stopping harness racing at Vernon Downs Casino and Hotel is a must. Whether you win or lose at the track, you might wish to try your hand at one of the 76 gaming machines waiting for you in the casino afterwards, or enjoy a sumptuous meal in one of eight on-site restaurants.
9:30 a.m. Relax and Enjoy
Board the climate-controlled Adirondack Scenic Railroad at Utica’s Union Station for a two-hour trip to historic Thendara, through the scenic wonder of the Adirondack wilderness. Enjoy a relaxing ride in a pristine, natural landscape filled with primeval forests, crystal clear lakes and bridges. A brief shuttle bus will then take you one mile to Old Forge, where you can shop, dine and sight see until your departure at 4:45 p.m., arriving back in Utica at 7 p.m.
12:30 p.m. Sample the Local Cuisine
It may actually be against the law to travel to the Mohawk Valley and not partake of this area’s quintessential dish. A delectable mix of chicken, rigatoni and spicy peppers in a velvety red and white sauce morph together to become yummy and legendary chicken riggies, a hearty dish enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. While everyone has their favorite, nuanced recipe, a number of restaurants serve up succulent variations for you to enjoy. While in Old Forge, consider making a pit stop at Billy’s on State Rte. 28 for melt-in-your-mouth chicken riggies and other Italian specialties of the house.
2 p.m. Get a Bird’s Eye View of Performance Art
Old Forge’s quintessential multi-arts center, View, is committed to making visual and performing art part of the culture and daily lives of both residents and visitors to the Mohawk Valley and Adirondacks. Artist exhibitions this summer include the passionate and personal depictions of many regional animal species in “Wild-Eyed: A Fresh Look at Adirondack Fauna” by Rosemary Conroy and the earth-honoring and lush gentleness of “The Wilderness Within” Paintings by Holly Friesen.
3:30 p.m. Go Wild
You’ll have just enough time before your train departs to make a quick visit to the Wild Center at the Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks. Featuring live exhibits and multi-media presentations, this state-of-the-art facility is currently spotlighting the must-see Planet Adirondack show, a floating and interactive depiction of planet Earth.
7:30 p.m. A Royal Dinner Awaits
Beardslee Castle in nearby Little Falls offers up sumptuous American cuisine and Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre in a magnificent Irish Castle setting, complete with dungeons and ghost stories, based upon the local lore. The perfect ending to a full day, the Castle offers a selection of 50 beers and 90 wines as well as a wide variety of luscious grilled meat and seafood entrees.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.