Clark Botanical Gardens
This privately run garden is a delight. It is free and has a variety of gardens and trails for the enthusiast to enjoy. There are several ponds, a rose garden, ornamental garden and childrens garden. One can also fine a variety of trees and plants from North America and around the world. Look for Pandas in the gardens patch of Bamboo. (Kidding, no Pandas). And although its small, its easy to spend an hour or more here. The garden has a small giftshop on the premises. And, its a popular place for weddings and receptions.
Aquarium - The Birds and Butterflies
A 5000 sq ft exhibit is also part of the POP package, comprised of a butterfly room, a bird room, and most conspicuously a large gift shop. Opened with great fanfare concurrent with the new Hyatt East End Hotel next door ( of which it may actually be a part ), it originally featured up to 5000 butterflies and loads of birds. There are a lot less butterflies now and not that many birds either. The lush tropical atmosphere and plantings are attractive, but signage and educational material are sadly lacking. If one has never been to a place like Butterfly World in Florida this exhibit is certainly worth a visit. Be warned that the space is very warm and humid, necessary for survival of the butterflies.
The extra money for the POP ticket is a tough call - it certainly adds a minimum of an hour or more to the visit to the aquarium and on that grounds alone may be a good buy. But the highlight of the visit remains the aquarium exhibits proper which are highly recommended.
Aquarium - $6 Extra
The POP ticket allows for additional activities for the above fee ----
1 - A $5 voucher for tickets for the game arcade, a collection of games of chance and minimal skill is pretty poor repair at which the prizes are worth far less than the cost of the tickets. Getting the kids out of here from the original investment is of course close to impossible.
2 - simulated submarine ride - in a plastic capsule with several plastic benches, up to eight riders are given a simulated minisub ride exploring a sunken wreck and enlivened by an unanticipated encounter with a very large shark. The film is old and streaky, the dialogue just as tacky. The capsule bounces and sways, starts and stops, jerks around - the adults are not impressed at all but the younger kids love it. The granddaughter had a hissy fit when refused a third goround.
3 - Atlantis Discovery Tower - ( imaged ) -a 100 foot high gondola ride overlooking the village of Riverhead and the far more attractive Peconic Bay with the south fork of the Hamptons across the bay. The views are indeed great, the speed to fast for reasonable images.
4 - Poseiden's Peak - ( imaged ) - a 25 foot high rock climb on the shores of the Peconic, beloved by the children. For the adults, there is also considerable interest in watching older women attempt to scale the rock, physically unfit and inappropriately clad, perhaps the best laughs of the day. My beloved Proserpina and I were in stitches - truly amazed by how much cellulite can be fit into a pair of bloomers. Sparing you this excrutiating experience i have substitued images of my five year old granddaughter scaling the rock.
5 - Butterfly and Bird Exhibit - see below.
Aquarium - Otter Falls
Two North American river otters, named PB and J, must be among the happiest residents of the Long Island Aquarium. With a 1500 sq ft enclosure featuring two waterfalls and a pond as well as hiding places, they sit in the sun for a while grooming and then go for a swim. River otters, but not sea otters, have playful behavior in the water - one can watch through a below water level window as they chase and wrestle with each other - the kids love this. PB and J do a lot of playing when not in the water too - their progeny occupy zoos as far away as Denver.
These are interesting animals - they can remain underwater at their games for up to eight minutes. Their fur is water repellant. And - out of water they have poor vision but under water perfect eyesight.
Aquarium - Penguin Pavilion
Another unanticipated group of residents is the African Penguin contingent, also housed in the ruins of Atlantis. Continuing the theme set by the snow monkeys, these birds were raised in captivity and imported illegally into the United States. When the US Fish and Wildlife Service was stuck with them, they certainly knew where to call - welcome to Long Island. African Penguins are not an endangered species but are considered at threat - the population in the wild has decreased 90% in the last century.
The penguins have a pool for swimming with windows for up close viewing. Bubbles of plastic are reached by little tunnels also allowing for closeup viewing when out of water. For $50 not including aquarium admission, unlike the shark tank, one can get up and close and personable with the Penguin Encounter option. Apparently these birds had different personalities with respect to human encounters and the most cuddly are selected for these educational experiences complete with lectures by staff. And the entrance to the Pavilion is certainly impressive given the diminutive stature of the inhabitants, no more than 28 or so inches tall.
On Image 2, note the partially included bubble for closeup viewing on the right and the hole in the wall used for nesting.
Aquarium - Meet the Gay Monkeys
The outdoor exhibits at the aquarium are a much less cohesive and integrated group, to say the least. The most unanticipated display was the remnants of the Atlantis City architecture populated by three snow monkeys, more properly known as Japanese macaques. These primates are well suited to the New York weather - Japanese macaques live farther north than any other primate species other than humans. Social and gregarious, they are also among the smartest primates.
But why are they in the aquarium? Seems that some years ago the Central Park Zoo in Manhattan had these three monkeys, politely referred to as bachelor monkeys. Having lived long enough to know the meaning of the phrase " confirmed bachelor ", internet research quickly revealed that homosexual behavior in primates is widespread, most notably in the Japanese macaques. Not ideal for the Central Park Zoo, they were dumped on the Riverhead facility gratis. Now they sit glumly in the ruins of Atlantis, truly monkeys out of water.
Aquarium - Shark Tank
A 120000 gallon enclosure houses sharks of several species as well as other fish. For those willing to shell out $155 plus tax, one can descend into the tank in a cage, partially included on the adjacent images, the cost including aquarium admission with all equipment and a souvenir shark tooth. For most, watching these large predators glide around from the outside is more than sufficient. The tank is also visible from the open top on the upper level ( not suitable for photography ).
The official title is 'Lost City of Atlantis Shark Exhibit" with depictions of the ancient city.
Aquarium - Main Level Displays
The large central room contains multiple small enclosures built into the walls featuring fish from all over the world, each display with an accompanying information panel. One would think that the fish would become bored swimming around in these small enclosures. General knowledge suggests that the memory span of many fish can be measured in minutes or seconds, but new research indicates that fish can remember at least some experiences and training up to months later. A few examples --
Lionfish - image 2 - in an exhibit modelled after a shipwreck, several species are displayed that prefer this environment. The most striking is the lionfish, noted for bright colors and long
Pacus - image 4 - a relative of the piranha, these fish grow up to five feet length and are complete vegetarians.
Blue Plate Special - a large aquarium filled with all sorts of brightly colored inhabitants.
Piranhas - image 3 - " toothed fish " in the language of Amazon tribes - believed by many to be vicious carnivores given to attacking large animals including humans, many are actually largely vegetarian eaters and most of the rest are scavengers or eat smaller fish.
Aquarium - Sand Shark Lagoon
Entrance to the aquarium proper is via the elevated rustic wooden bridge over a large enclosure featuring sand sharks, relatively peaceful and non-aggressive for sharks, native to Long Island and much of the temperate climate world. There are many types of fish in this pond including striped bass, fluke, weakfish, and sea robins, and all were taken from neighboring Peconic and Shinnecock Bays. The wall decorations commemorate Long Island as well - on the right the bluffs and rocky beaches of the North Shore and on the left the flat sandy beaches and dunes of the South Shore ( areas wiped out by Hurricane Sandy ).
Note in the background the faux Grecian style columns - the original aquarium was modelled after the lost city of Atlantis and remains of the decor can be seen scattered throughout the building. In the outdoor section there is actually a Lost City of Atlantis exhibit, small and of little interest.
Aquarium - Ray Bay
The exotic appearance of sting rays has, since earliest civilization to the present time, led to characterization of these docile creatures as merciless and vicious marauders. History teaches that Odysseus died when his son Telegonus jabbed him with a spear containing the poisonous barb of a stingray. Australian naturalist Steve Irwin died in 2010 when the poisonous tail of a ray pierced his heart. Currnet thought is that rays use their tails and barbs only in self-defense and are shy and retiring. The multitude of rays in this popular interactive attraction have had the poisonous barbs removed and have acclimated to aquarium life admirably.
The rays glide through the water propelled by their flaps, eyes on top of their heads and mouth and gills below. Often three and four deep, they never seem to collide. When hungry they flop up onto the side of their enclosure to be fed small sardines available at $3 in a neighboring kiosk. This is a great time to pet and stroke the rays, their skin both velvety and rubbery, not what one would expect. And they do come right up the side (image 4). A wonderful attraction, the children love Ray Bay.
Long Island Aquarium
Riverhead's Long Island Aquarium will never be mistaken for a world class facility, but is nonetheless a delightful place to spend a few hours with children when on eastern Long Island or the Hamptons. Parent Magazine rated it one of the ten most child-friendly aquariums in the United States. Manageable size, rides, close up views of the denizens, and interactive activities make for a most enjoyable indoor and outdoor afternoon. Summer weekend afternoons can be really crowded.
Built in 1999 and opened in 2000 as the Atlantis Marine World , the facility has passed through several management teams. The latest has upgraded throughout and added an adjacent Hyatt Place hotel and a ballroom for weddings etc. Riverhead is not the most enchanting village in Long Island although the Suffolk County seat. At the scenic head of Peconic Bay which lies between the north and south forks, it is a city waiting to be revitalized ( again and again ). There are a few decent restaurants in the vintage downtown area including the long standing Tweed's ( see travelogue on bison on long island )near the aquarium but not too much more. Parking is two blocks away across the railroad track but a shuttle bus is available ( self parking $8). On street parking is limited and time limits stricltly enforced.
This place is not cheap, although there are discounts for children, seniors, AAA, whatever, and on the internet. Base price is $21.50 for adults, with extra fees for the butterfly/bird exhibit (not worth it ), for little sardines to feed the rays ( kids love it although $3 for a few little fish seems exorbitant ), and for the extra rides ( $6 includes a $5 voucher for the dilapidated game room - try and get the kids out of there for $5, good luck ). Meeting the penguins, kissing the sea lions, more add-ons. And the shark tank open cage interactive immersion will run about $150 extra.
An outdoor free exhibit features grey seals native to the colder northeastern reaches of North America. Fun to watch, even more fun at feeding time ( imaged ).
Nassau County Museum of Art - The Exhibits
The interior of the museum is comprised of two floor of exhibits in maybe nine small rooms. The special exhibit on this visit occupied at least 80% of the space, devoted to Louis Comfort Tiffany. This artist is of course most famous for his glass work, the painted lamps and windows, but was also quite the painter. Most of the paintings reflect his trip to the Eastern and Southern Mediterrean areas, covering Italy to Egypt. Several examples are included.
The somewhat grandiose sounding " Contemporary Wing " is actually comprised of one small room featuring five sculptures by Nathan Sawaya, whose art expertise is creating figures of Lego blocks. In the foreground on image 4, Strength of Spirit, and in the background Pushing Against.
Nassau County Museum of Art - Gardens, Sculptures
The Museum occupies a 145 acre nature preserve with two ponds, featuring formal gardens and 9 nature walks. All existed prior to the creation of the museum, developed by the Frick family who were devoted naturalists. The land is rugged reflecting the glaciers which receded 10000 years ago, originally home to the Manhasset Indians, and later a frequent inclusion in land grants by the Dutch and English.
Included are over 40 sculptures, making the collection one of the largest publicly accessible sculpture gardens on the East Coast. Works by Calder and Gross are featured, with many other famous artists represented. Unfortunately, the museum provides no map and no printed information on the featured pieces - just small plates with the title, sculptor, and year of creation. Pictured are some of the more interesting sculptures, with names where available.
Nassau County Museum of Art
Ranked among the best suburban art museums in the United States, the Nassau County Art Museum is set in the pretty rolling hills of Long Island's Gold Coast just 20 miles from Manhattan. The property was origninally owned by poet William Cullen Bryant, then by a congressman, and sold to Henry Clay Frick the co-founder of US Steel. The museum proper is housed in a Georgian Revival 3 story building typical of upscale residential architecture on the island in the late in the 19th C. Nassau County bought the property from Frick's descendants in 1965 and converted it to a museum. The main building is named after art collectors and philanthropists Arnold and Joan Saltzman.
The permanent collection numbers 5-600, featuring 19th and 20th C art from Europe and America. The roster includes some famous names, but on my visit none seemed to be on display. This museum lives and dies with its four special exhibiits each year. Some are travelling shows, but the largest number are locally sourced by the museum's curators and are widely diverse, from Picasso to Napoleon and Eugenie.
The museum is open 1100-1700 Tuesday to Sunday with base admission $10 and a parking fee on weekends. Children and seniors get discounts. There are daily tours and on weekends a family tour included in admission.
The entrance is through a one car tunnel under the railroad track for the Oyster Bay line of the LIRR, then on a winding road through the rolling hillside with sculptures lining the way.
Sagamore Hill - The Nature Walk
An unanticipated pleasure at Sagamore Hill is the 0.8 mile nature walk, free of charge, and given by volunteers who lead visitors on a hilly loop from the Old Orchard Museum to the Eel Creek Salt March and bridge to a beach on Cold Spring Harbor. The trips are supposed to take less than 45 minutes but the enthusiastic volunteer rarely fininsh on time. Walking the unsealed scenic path the leader stops along the way pointing out naturally occuring plants of interest, and makes them interesting. There are only two or three groups a day, and in the summer the groups can be quite large. The walk is unsuitable for the physically challenged, not accessible to strollers. A few examples ---
Image 3 - a tree trunk with multiple small holes drilled by yellow bellied sapsuckers. This type of woodpecker drills multiple holes in the tree allowing sap to escape onto the surface. Insects attracted by the sap become stuck and the birds come back and eat them.
Image 4 - sassafras, the origin of root beer flavoring, is most unusual among plants - the leaves are different shaped. Looking like hands, they may present as fists, thumbs, or fingers extended. Commentaries of this kind may our walk a true pleasure.
Image 5 - Mountain Laurel - the pretty white flowers of the mountain laurel are found wild all over the north shore in untended areas of forest but strangely not at Sagamore Hill. Roosevelt loved these plants and this specimen was planted by him on the hill behind the modern day Orchard House.