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Author Topic: Road trip report: Grand Rapids MI to Utica NY and back  (Read 324 times)

A.J. Bertin

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Road trip report: Grand Rapids MI to Utica NY and back
« on: July 26, 2020, 10:17:41 PM »

I recently went on a 6-day road trip from my home in Grand Rapids MI to Utica NY and back... for the purpose of attending the road meet that Mark Sinsabaugh hosted on July 18.  When this meet was first announced, I knew that I wanted to take several days for the drive out and the drive back so that I could explore various cities/areas and enjoy the whole trip... rather than trying to squeeze in too many miles in a small number of days.  It's been a while since I've shared a road trip report here, so I figured why not... it might be fun.

Day 1 (Wednesday, July 15) - Grand Rapids MI to Youngstown OH
My route: Local streets/roads -> I-96 east -> U.S. 23 south -> I-475 east -> I-75 north -> I-280 south -> I-80/90 (Ohio Turnpike) east -> I-77 south -> I-76 east -> I-680 east to my hotel.

I had chosen Youngstown as the destination for my first night because I had never really been to the city of Youngstown before.  Prior to this trip, I'd pretty much only passed the Youngstown area on either I-80 or I-76 going to/from different destinations out East.  I left home at around 7:30 a.m. and had a very nice, sunny, uneventful drive to Youngstown.  I arrived at my hotel at around 2 p.m. or so.  While I was in Youngstown, I explored downtown and drove the freeways around the area... including clinching all of I-680.  Youngstown is a pretty compact city, and I was rather intrigued by the fact that the beltway (if you can call it that) around the city is comprised of four separate highways: OH 193, U.S. 422, U.S. 62, and I-680.  Overall, Youngstown is pretty run down, but the downtown area is actually kinda nice in spots.

Day 2 (Thursday, July 16) - Youngstown OH to Ithaca NY
My route: Local streets -> U.S. 422 east -> I-79 north -> I-90 east -> I-86 east -> NY 13 north to my hotel.

When I originally planned this trip, I had envisioned that I would be in Syracuse for my second night... but then I decided that I'd prefer to save my exploration of Syracuse for another trip.  A smaller city like Ithaca which is closer to I-86 seemed to fit the bill (especially because of how long I-86 is across the Southern Tier of New York).  I was very happy with my decision because I arrived in Ithaca at around 3:30 p.m. or so which gave me plenty of time to get settled in my hotel, go check out downtown, have dinner/ice cream, relax, and go to bed at a reasonable hour.  While I was in the area, I checked out Cayuga Lake and drove up NY 89 to check out the area around Taughannock Falls.  Because of the fact that it was about 5:45 p.m. and I was getting hungry for dinner (and was about 9 miles out of town), I opted to not take the 3/4-mile walk to see the actual falls, but I still enjoyed checking out the area.  One of the things I did Friday morning before leaving the area was check out the campus of Cornell University via car.  That was a good thing to do.  I will say, though, that my long drive along I-86 on Thursday was another reminder for me of why I dislike sequence-based exit numbers.  It feels like it takes so much longer to get across the state than it might feel if the exit numbers were mileage-based.

Day 3 (Friday, July 17) - Ithaca NY to Utica NY
My route: NY 13 north -> I-81 north (through downtown Syracuse and past the I-90 Thruway) -> I-481 south -> I-690 west -> I-90 Thruway east -> Utica.

This was a pretty easy driving day.  By the time I was done exploring Cornell's campus, it was around 10 a.m. or so, and I arrived in Utica at around 12:30 p.m.  It was nice to drive along the old I-81 viaduct through Syracuse for the first time.  I also enjoyed clinching all of I-690.  When I approached Utica, I was confused by the two carriageways that parallel the Thruway and didn't fully realize until just a little bit later that, hey, that's I-790!  Very unusual to see one Interstate (I-90) straddle between the two carriageways of a different Interstate (I-790) for a mile or so.  Because of how early I arrived in Utica, I had plenty of time to relax, get settled in, and explore the Utica area on my own prior to the road meet the following day.  Something else I had the opportunity to do was drive out to the charming town of Little Falls which is about 20 miles east of Utica... where I met a friend of mine for dinner.  I very much enjoyed Little Falls and hope to have the opportunity to visit that town again someday.

Day 4 (Saturday, July 18) - The Utica road meet

Overall, this meet went very well.  It was the second road meet I attended during the COVID pandemic.  Mark did a great job hosting it, and we had a decent-sized group.  Almost everyone drove their own cars (without passengers) on the tour, but I had Bob Malme with me in my car (distanced behind me in the back seat) to help with the navigation.  After the meet was over, I had a tasty dinner at a local establishment in Utica and spent my second night in Utica before departing the following morning.

Day 5 (Sunday, July 19) - Utica NY to Niagara Falls NY
My route: Local roads -> I-90 Thruway west -> I-481 south -> I-81 north -> local roads around the Syracuse area to check out a specific park -> I-81 north -> NY 481 north -> NY 3 west -> NY 104 west -> NY 14 south -> I-90 Thruway west -> I-290 west -> I-990 north (to clinch it) -> I-990 south -> I-290 west -> I-190 north -> local streets (including a portion of the Niagara Scenic Parkway) to my hotel.

My original thought in planning this trip was that I might stay overnight in either Buffalo or Cleveland, but someone on AARoads recommended Niagara Falls as an overnight destination which I loved the idea of doing... a smaller city, easier to explore, and it gave me the opportunity to finally see Niagara Falls from the American side (prior to this trip, I'd only seen them from the Canadian side).  I had wanted to check out the New York side of Niagara Falls for a long time and was glad to finally have the opportunity to do this.  The reason I detoured off the Thruway via NY 481/NY 3/NY 104/NY 14 was to give me the opportunity to collect Wayne County, New York.  As far as Niagara Falls NY is concerned, it's definitely not nearly as exciting and impressive as the Ontario side, but it was still very much worth it to me to check it out.  It was sort of creepy being in that area without a ton of people around, but we are in the midst of a pandemic, after all.  I enjoyed seeing this area, and it was great that my hotel was within an easy walking distance of the falls.  (I checked in at around 1:30 or 2 p.m. so I had plenty of time to explore.)

Day 6 (Monday, July 20) - Niagara Falls NY to Grand Rapids MI
My route: Local streets to finish some exploring around Niagara Falls -> U.S. 62 south (bypassing Grand Island) -> I-290 west -> I-190 south -> I-90 Thruway west -> I-90 west -> I-80/90 west (Ohio Turnpike) -> I-280 north -> I-75 south -> I-475 west -> U.S. 23 north -> I-96 west -> local roads/streets to home.

After eating a quick breakfast near my hotel, I was on the road around 7:30 or 7:45 a.m.  I decided to bypass Grand Island because I wanted to drive a portion of U.S. 62.  I had no problems at all getting through Buffalo, and the drive home in general was pretty smooth.  I made it home at around 5:30 p.m.

Altogether I had a great time.  I collected five new counties on this trip (all in Upstate New York) and clinched five Interstates: Ohio's I-680 and New York's I-690, I-481, I-790, and I-990.  I still need to update my Travel Mapping file for Jim Teresco's site which I'm planning to do (and submit) over the next few days or so.  It's always fun to see compare my stats on that site before vs. after any trip I take.
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-A.J. from Michigan

amroad17

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Re: Road trip report: Grand Rapids MI to Utica NY and back
« Reply #1 on: July 27, 2020, 02:47:59 AM »

Which park in Syracuse did you check out?  Burnet Park?  Did you also get a chance to see the "upside down" traffic light?

It was nice to see that you had an eventful and satisfying excursion.
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A.J. Bertin

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Re: Road trip report: Grand Rapids MI to Utica NY and back
« Reply #2 on: July 27, 2020, 07:03:02 AM »

Which park in Syracuse did you check out?  Burnet Park?  Did you also get a chance to see the "upside down" traffic light?

So here's the story with the park in Syracuse... sometime around 11:30 or so on Friday morning after I had gotten onto the I-90 Thruway eastbound after my clinch of I-690, I drove over a little channel that empties into the northwest corner of Onondaga Lake... opposite the lake from Syracuse proper.  As I quickly drove over that channel, I looked toward Syracuse and saw what I believed was the skyline of the city.  I thought, "Hey... there's a neat-looking park down there.  When I'm passing through this area again on Sunday, I'd like to stop at this park and see if I can get some good photos of the Syracuse skyline from there."  So Sunday morning I got off the Thruway to finish my clinch of I-481 and then go find that park.  (I also ended up getting gas at a Sunoco in nearby Liverpool.)  I found the park and got a few photos, but then I questioned whether that skyline was downtown Syracuse after all.  Perhaps it was, but perhaps it was a different city/area/suburb northwest of Syracuse.  Regardless, it was a beautiful morning and I'm glad I made the diversion to that park.  I look forward to having more time to explore Syracuse in the future.

It was nice to see that you had an eventful and satisfying excursion.

Thanks very much!  Yeah I was grateful to be able to go on this trip.  :)
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webny99

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Re: Road trip report: Grand Rapids MI to Utica NY and back
« Reply #3 on: July 27, 2020, 09:46:15 AM »

Which park in Syracuse did you check out?  Burnet Park?  Did you also get a chance to see the "upside down" traffic light?

So here's the story with the park in Syracuse... sometime around 11:30 or so on Friday morning after I had gotten onto the I-90 Thruway eastbound after my clinch of I-690, I drove over a little channel that empties into the northwest corner of Onondaga Lake... opposite the lake from Syracuse proper.  As I quickly drove over that channel, I looked toward Syracuse and saw what I believed was the skyline of the city.  I thought, "Hey... there's a neat-looking park down there. ...

Funny, when I read the original bit about the park, that's the one that immediately came to mind. We did pretty much the same thing several years back, and have been there a couple of times since: It is impossible to miss from the Thruway!

(On the subject of that park, there's a cool light show there in the holiday season that's worth checking out if you're in the area between mid-November and New Year's.)
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vdeane

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Re: Road trip report: Grand Rapids MI to Utica NY and back
« Reply #4 on: July 27, 2020, 12:43:32 PM »

I'm pretty sure that actually is the downtown skyline, given that the lake points almost directly at it.
« Last Edit: July 27, 2020, 01:40:31 PM by vdeane »
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webny99

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Re: Road trip report: Grand Rapids MI to Utica NY and back
« Reply #5 on: July 27, 2020, 01:58:48 PM »

Yeah, I always thought it was downtown Syracuse, but now I can't find a good picture in 360 degree Street View or my own pictures, so I'm second guessing myself.
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amroad17

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Re: Road trip report: Grand Rapids MI to Utica NY and back
« Reply #6 on: July 28, 2020, 01:24:06 AM »

That is Onondaga Lake Park.  Many visits there when I was very young (6-10 years old). 

The Syracuse skyline from the far end of the lake seems low on the horizon because of the hill of Sentinel Heights behind it.  Plus, it is not like Syracuse has extraordinary tall buildings (tallest is the State Tower Building at 313 ft.)  I could see the Syracuse skyline when visiting a relative who lived in the Camillus area 8 miles west of Syracuse.  It became much easier to find when the Carrier Dome was completed.  One could use that as a point of reference.
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