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The Oregon Trail

If you’re interested in the Native American history of upstate New York, detour southeast along I-88 to tidy Howes Cave (pop. 4,533) and the Iroquois Indian Museum (324 Caverns Rd., 518/296-8949, Tues.-Sat. 10am-4pm, Sun. noon-4pm Apr.-Nov., 10am-5pm, Sun. noon-5pm May-Oct., $8). The imposing longhouse-shaped structure contains artifacts, arrowheads, and more recent works of art associated with the Native Americans descended from the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, as well as an interactive hands-on children’s museum. The museum’s collection of contemporary Native American painting and sculpture also asks tough probing questions about the one-dimensional casino culture that has recently come to dominate reservation life across the United States.

All over this part of New York, massive roadside billboards blare out the competitive presence of Howe Caverns (518/296-8900, daily, $25 and up), marked by simple yellow-and-black Howe Caverns directional signs, and Secret Caverns (518/296-8558, daily Apr.-Dec., $18), on which a Deadhead-ish wizard beckons you onward with pesky lines like “If you haven’t seen the underground waterfall, you ain’t seen guano!” Though located within two miles of each other, these two tourist attractions are about as far apart as Pat Boone and Jimi Hendrix.

The sanitized-for-your-protection Howe Caverns boast a well-lit, guided elevator and flat-bottomed boat tour of a 156-foot-deep underground cave. Along the same road, you know you’re in for something completely different the moment you approach the dark foreboding Secret Caverns and enter through the mouth of a giant leering bat. Don’t let the “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here” sign scare you off from taking the twisting (and twisted) 1.5-hour guided trek down into the clammy 180-foot-deep innards along a narrow, randomly lit footpath, which terminates at an impressive 100-foot waterfall.

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