The thing I love about road trips is the chance to make unexpected discoveries along the way. We experienced a lot of wonderful surprises on a recent trip to the American side of the Thousand Islands.
I have explored many of the Thousand Islands towns on the Canadian side, such as Brockville and Gananoque. However, the towns of Clayton and Alexandria Bay, New York, which also border the St. Lawrence, were completely unknown to me.
After crossing the Thousand Islands Bridge, we headed towards Alexandria Bay. I put the pedal to the metal (not breaking speed limits), as we wanted to check out the AquaZoo Aquarium. It is the only family owned and operated public aquarium in the United States. When we arrived and saw the various tanks, our son David was happy to provide an in-depth description of numerous fish and reptiles. He particularly enjoyed the tank where he could touch a starfish. For a smaller aquarium, I was surprised by the variety and number of fish on display. The owners are planning on turning the aquarium into an aquatic themed restaurant. It is on our Must-Visit List for 2016.
After AquaZoo, we headed to Alexandria Bay or “A Bay” as it is affectionately known. Since David was born, beaches and playgrounds have been an important part of our trip-planning. I was happy to see that Alexandria Bay’s Scenic View Park has both. There, David had a pivotal moment in his young life. He successfully crossed the monkey bars at the playground! We celebrated the moment by dipping our feet in the St. Lawrence and then took a walk to Casino Island, which was accessible via a small footbridge.
Soon it was time to head to our accommodations for the night and boy, were we in for a surprise! Located right on the St. Lawrence River, the Westwinds Motel and Cottages property is beautiful. But it’s not just the nice scenery that makes this place special. There are also photos of astronauts and the space shuttle. Curious, I started talking to the friendly owner, Sherry Hurley. She casually mentioned her son is an astronaut. My ears perked up. “An astronaut?” “Yes, an astronaut,” replied Sherry.
David would be thrilled, so I immediately went to get him. He had been asking questions about space travellers and their training, and this was his chance to meet the parents of a living, breathing astronaut. Sherry was very gracious as she chatted for a long while with our little guy. It turns out that her son, Douglas Hurley, was on the space shuttle twice, including the last mission in 2011. His wife is also an astronaut and served time on the space station. David was fascinated by Sherry’s stories and I could see the wheels in his brain calculating when he could become an astronaut.
We had a very comfortable stay at Westwinds and were ready for more exploring of the earthly kind the next day. If you are in the Thousand Islands area, it is almost a prerequisite to take a boat cruise to fully experience the area. We chose Clayton Island Tours because of the opportunity to go on a glass-bottomed boat. Since it was still early in the season, we were part of a small group and the captain and tour guide immediately made us feel welcome.
David loved peering through the glass bottom to view the floor of the St. Lawrence. We saw a number of fish and a shipwreck. Because it was a small boat, we were also able to get close to the islands and a respectful distance from a number of birds, including a magnificent osprey. Our destination was the Rock Island Lighthouse, where we spent time exploring the lighthouse and island. A highlight for David was the opportunity to sit in the captain’s chair and steer the vessel (under the watchful eye of the captain). When we returned to land, we had a greater appreciation for the beauty and ecological diversity of the famous islands.
The final stop on our trip was at the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton. The museum is a boat lover’s dream. I particularly liked the speedboats. During the summer, the museum offers the opportunity to ride in a speedboat or use a row boat. There are also numerous family programs and activities offered through the summer.
The trip from Ottawa to Clayton is only about an hour and 45 minutes. Remember to bring your passport and, of course, American money. For more information about the Thousand Islands, see www.visit1000islands.com