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The salty shores of Seneca Lake. October 14, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood love salt. But we weren’t expecting to find it on our first trip to the Finger Lakes in New York State last weekend. As we took a 45-minute tour of the deepest of the Finger Lakes, Seneca Lake, on a beautiful ca. 1934 cruise ship, the Stroller IV, salt was the last thing on our minds.

Turns out, we should have upped our mental salinity quotient. The stunningly clear, cobalt-blue waters of Seneca Lake are freshwater-fed, from deep springs throughout the lake, and there’s nary a trace of salt to be seen in those amazing deep blue waters. But hundreds of feet below the lake, a huge crescent-shaped salt deposit stretches from Pennsylvania into Ontario and supplies most of the salt consumed in the U.S.

Our knowledgeable First Mate and guide, Daniel, pointed out two salt refineries on the shores of Seneca Lake, one owned by US Salt and discovered in 1882, the other owned by Cargill Salt. He explained that they extract the salt by pumping steam into deep wells, bring the salt to the surface as brine (saline solution), then dehydrate it in giant four-storey cylinders until only the salt crystals remain. Steam stacks were busy at both plants as we cruised past.

Daniel also shared a secret few people realize: Whatever brand of salt you buy in the store, iodized or not, is almost certainly going to come from one of these two plants. US Salt alone produces over 200 brands, as well as salt blocks for livestock and wildlife, road salt, water conditioning salt, and salt for fertilizers. So next time you’re in the market for some table salt, buy either the gourmet kinds (sea salt, RealSalt, Himalayan salt, etc.) or go for the generic box and save a few cents over store brands.

But where did all this salt come from, anyway? According to Daniel, 300 million years ago, there was a giant inland sea covering the area. When it dried up due to (ahem) global warming, only the salt (and some excellent fossils) remained. Daniel said the salt deposit under Seneca Lake alone was enough to supply the entire world with salt for 600 years.

Yowie zowie! Please pass the salt. And if you’re ever in the gorgeous Watkins Glen area, our friend Ben and Silence recommend a cruise on the Stroller IV (www.senecaharborstation.com or call 607-535-4541). It’s fun, educational, and gorgeous. Cruises leave every hour from May 14 through October 16, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and the price can’t be beat: $12.75 for adults, $6 for kids under 12, and kids under 3 free; tax is included. If a sailing ship is more your speed, check out a voyage on the schooner True Love ((www.schoonerexcursions.com).

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