Sunday, June 7, 2015

Two Visits to Henderson Lake


I had had Henderson Lake on my must-see list for a few years, ever since I acquired my single-person Poke Boat.  Located fourteen miles down a mountain road, and nearly half a mile beyond the road's dead end, this lake is considered the actual beginning of the Hudson River.  The Hudson's source is high up on Mount Marcy, at Lake Tear of the Clouds, but the majestic Hudson, as a river, begins here.


(a bright paddler on a dark day)

Henderson Lake is also famous for its views of some of the highest peaks in the state, and Wallface, a formidable rock cliff.  My father has a picture of himself kayaking on Henderson Lake, and told me that he felt like he could almost touch Wallface.  I wanted to see for myself.




(Where are the mountains?)















Last September, I was one of the committee that organized 52 outings over three days as part of the Adirondack Mountain Club's Fall Weekend in Keene Valley. Each of us on the committee  would have time to participate in one of the outings.  As soon as I saw that Skip Young was leading a trip to Henderson Lake, I registered for it.

Besides fitting perfectly into my schedule of responsibilities for the weekend, the Fall Outing's location in the northern Adirondacks was a plus.  I would already be close to the Henderson Lake trail head.  One of my stumbling blocks to paddling this lake had always been that it is nearly a two-and-a-half hour drive from my house in Albany.






(early fall foliage lights up the shore)


Another complication was the 4/10ths of a mile carry from the parking area to the lake.  Even though my boat weighs only 29 pounds, carrying it for any distance, along with my lunch and other gear, would not be easy.  As the September weekend approached, I bought a kayak cart, wheels that would go under my boat so that I could easily pull it on a trail.  I practiced walking it like a pet, around my back yard.  Now, I was ready in every way!



(even this gray day offers serenity)
















Unfortunately, when the day arrived and about ten of us set out on the water, heavy clouds covered all of the mountaintops.  A muted beauty gave the views a solemn aspect, but Wallface and the other peaks were completely hidden.

"You'll have to come back," Skip said. "And when you do, send me a picture of Wallface, so I know that you saw it."



(taking my boat for a walk to the lake on a perfect June day)


Thanks to Skip's guidance, I felt comfortable offering to lead a trip to Henderson Lake this spring. When I posted the outing, I wrote, "the weather has to be perfect or almost perfect or I will cancel the trip, because the drive is very long."  Every day I checked the forecast for the Newcomb area of the Adirondacks, and every day it never waivered, 70 degrees with a full sun.


(the Hudson River, all riled up)




















Three participants and I met in Latham to begin the journey up the Northway.  In Pottersville, we picked up three more, who were coming from their Adirondack summer homes.  And at the trail head, we rendezvoused with another, making a nice group of eight for this outing.  Everyone was prepared with wheels or had boats light enough to carry for the distance.



(the same view as the first, but so different)


We could not have asked for a better day!  Each of us mentioned how fortunate we were, but I expounded, as I often do, over and over.  Finally, I said to those nearest me, with a sheepish grin, "I will probably say that this is a perfect day about fifty times--don't feel like you have to respond."  I couldn't help myself.  I was in heaven.




(I chose this picture to send to Skip)



We spread out, heading north along the lake shore in bright sunshine under a cloudless sky.  High visibility enabled us to almost count the rocks on the mountain summits...and below, we could see far into this water, so recently melted from the deep snow and ice of the past winter.




(Virginia meandering through the marsh)
















As we approached the northern end of the lake, Wallface came into view, round-topped and rugged beyond a marsh and tall spruces.  Often, it would be impossible to explore further, but heavy rains of the day before had raised the water level, allowing us to follow twists and turns through the marsh's partly-submerged shrubbery.




(a little bonus, thanks to unusually high water)

A few people took off, going farther in.  As the rest of us waited for their return, I said, "I hope we aren't missing anything."  I'm always worried that I might miss something that could be good.  When they returned, two of them said, "We found a beautiful stream. It won't take long.  I'll take you back there."  Three of us took up their offer.

Aware that we would rarely have water deep enough to explore this far into the woods, we appreciated the variety that the little creek paddle offered.  "This is the kind of paddling I like best," one woman said.

A rocky section with shallow rapids forced us to turn around.

(waiting their turn to dock at the lunch spot)



By now, we were all hungry.  Henderson Lake has a few lean-tos and campsites. Most are difficult to reach, because the shoreline in front of them has been washed in with debris, providing no easy place to pull a boat in.  One, set high on a promontory, beckoned.


We found an easy docking spot, just big enough for one of us to pull in at a time. When the first person's boat was completely out of the water, the next person could brings theirs in.  Soon we all clambered up the hill and sat on a soft bed of hemlock needles to eat our lunch and visit.

What would it be like to camp here, and wake up to this view in such a remote location?  Should I begin a new Henderson Lake must-do list?






(lunch time doesn't get much better than this)



Before long, we set off for the south end of the lake.  Here, too, were marshes to explore, huge rocks gracing the shoreline and dipping into the deep blue water, framed by the dark greens of hemlock and spruce.  King-fishers, hawks, and turkey vultures, glided overhead.





(a paddler dwarfed by a white pine)



Faced with a strong head wind, when we turned back north towards our starting point, this panoramic view of Wallface, Algonquin, and Colden, greeted us.  After hours of circumventing the lake, paddling against the wind was hard.  The opportunity to enjoy this view for quite a while, was the reward for our slow pace.




(Wallface, Algonquin, and Colden)












And when we rounded the point into the cove where we had first begun, we immediately faced this spectacular view of Mount Colden.




To postpone the long drive home until morning, when we would be fresh and rested, I had offered my participants the option to stay overnight on a campsite at nearby Lake Harris State Campground.  Only one person took me up on the idea, while others chose to take a little extended Adirondack vacation, or spend the night in their nearby second homes.

I found a pretty lake site, set up my folding chair, and opened my Adirondack Explorer, a publication to which I subscribe and especially like to read when I'm actually in the Adirondacks.  Engrossed in an article, I hardly noticed a loud buzzing nearby, even though it seemed to hang around.  One darn big bee, I thought, and decided to look up.  About ten inches from my face, a ruby-throated hummingbird, suspended in mid air, peered at me.  I guessed that it had been attracted to my pink fleece. We checked one another out, eye to eye, for just a few seconds, before it zipped away.

What a way to top off a perfect Adirondack day.


(view from campsite at Lake Harris State Campground)

(Many thanks to Charlie Beach, who took three of the photos in this post.)
















Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Don't overlook Overlook!


Off and on all week, I had suggested to Bill that we go for a bike ride on Sunday.  I always think of biking during mud season, when hiking trails are muddy with remaining icy patches. To my surprise, when Saturday evening came,  Bill suggested we hike Overlook Mountain in Woodstock, New York, instead. Since the trail is an old carriage road, snow or mud conditions wouldn't be formidable.

(Yikes, a full parking lot!.)



 While Overlook truly does have a beautiful "overlook" and a fire tower with great views, the mountain's location, right in Woodstock, means that we can combine the hike with Joshua's, our favorite Middle Eastern restaurant.  At 5 miles round-trip with an elevation gain of 1400 feet, hiking Overlook, followed by dinner, makes a nice outing.



(As Bill had predicted, the path was nearly dry.)


In addition, we drive the scenic route to Woodstock, down Route 32, waxing nostalgic as we pass some old haunts along the way from our first year of marriage, when we lived in Acra, a village of 200 people. This drive takes a little longer than the thruway, but it's part of what makes the day a treat.




(Views through the trees abound before the leaves come out, and how about that mountain laurel?  We have never caught it here in bloom.)







Once in Woodstock, we drove up the road from the village, winding higher and higher, to where strings of prayer flags flew outside every house. Woodstock has been an artists' community since the Hudson River School painters came here in the 1800s.  That, combined with its attraction for folk and rock musicians since the 1960s, gives the town a funky vibe.


(Patches of snow remained as we got higher up.)

To our dismay, every parking spot was taken in the trailhead lot, and parking along the road is not allowed.  It had been a long cold winter.  Like us, other people were eager to get out on one of the first nice spring days.  We drove down the road, turned around, and came back.  A spot had opened and we made a run for it!  As with many places we visit, a parking lot can be full without making the location feel crowded.  Overlook can comfortably accommodate quite a few hikers and still be very pleasant. 


(Remains of the last Overlook Mountain House are completely overgrown)


It felt great to hike in just hiking boots,with solid ground underfoot, instead of hiking in snowshoes or using microspikes. With the air temperature around 60 degrees, and a cloudless sky, we couldn't ask for more.


("A view from the Piazza of Overlook Mountain House, 3000 feet above the sea")


Two miles up the carriage road are the remains of the Overlook Mountain House. Four different hotels had been built on this same location, beginning in 1833 and ending in 1941.  Unlike other Catskill hotels, Overlook's higher elevation, and lack of a direct railroad line, made the hotel difficult to access and a less-popular travel destination. During the century, each successive hotel fell to fire. Eventually, the mountain became the property of the State of New York, and the last of the hotel remains was abandoned.


(360 degree views of the Catskills and the Hudson Valley are spectacular from the fire tower )
The final half-mile of the hike, from the Mountain House to Overlook's summit, had about a 6-inch snow covering.  A strong sun and spring warmth turned the snow to mush, and our pace slowed.


Still, it didn't take long to pass the ranger's cabin, and reach the fire tower. I climbed the tower and admired the spectacular views  in all directions. The atmosphere had the clarity of winter, with the warmth of spring; I could see for miles.

Bill and I had hiked so many of the peaks in view. Since he grew up "on the mountaintop" in Prattsville, my first visits to his parents' home often included hikes.  And when we lived in Acra, we explored the entire region with friends and cousins. Over the decades, we often returned to favorite places.


(The Mountain House remains in the foreground, a sliver of the Ashokan Reservoir in the center, and the Burroughs Range still snow-covered as the backdrop)

Bill is not a fan of fire towers.  That's okay, because Overlook has rock ledges that offer excellent views of the surrounding mountains and the Hudson Valley. A small sign by the ranger's cabin indicates a narrow path, leading to a scenic viewpoint.


(The Blackhead Range from the fire tower)















We sat on the rock ledge, soaking in the sun and the view.  I had packed nut bars and apples for us.  These would hold us for now.

Nineteenth century tourists often carved their names and a date into the slate ledges. The date of 1859, in this photo, was the oldest we found here.We could imagine women in long dresses, and men  with bow ties, walking up from the hotel for a light picnic on this rock.



Although, today, carving in the rock is discouraged, we found that recent hikers still sometimes etch their names in stone.






(a panorama from a rock ledge looking east to the Hudson River)


Instead of returning on the old carriage road for the first half-mile of our descent, we chose to stay on the trail that continues along the edge of the ridge past numerous viewpoints.  To our surprise, this trail had had just enough sun to melt the last of the snow.  Walking was easy and pleasant, not slippery with slush.



(the ridge trail is dry and walkable)

Returning to the trailhead, we signed the log book, and left a parking spot for other eager hikers.  We had more on our agenda for this gorgeous spring day.

Parking was easy in town, although plenty of people were here too, sitting on benches, eating ice cream cones, or playing guitars on the square.  We hadn't been to Woodstock in five years, a long time away for us.  As we walked the village streets, we discussed what businesses had left, or moved. We don't go in many of the shops, but we do have a few favorites. Fortunately, Joshua's is a mainstay.


(Joshua's, an old favorite, and still delicious)

Isn't it great to go to a place you love and still find many of the same dishes on the menu that you remember?  Today, I had the Shwarma salad, a delicious house salad with tomato, avocado, brown rice, grilled chicken (or tofu), and a cucumber feta dressing. The refreshing flavor of cucumber in the salad dressing complemented the salad perfectly.  Bill had the smorgasbord of stuffed grape leaves, felafel, tabouli, hummus, baba ganoush, olives, and an Israeli salad.

(shops vary from expensive boutiques, to places with embroidered or tie-dyed clothing, Birkenstocks, and books)

After dinner, we walked from one end of town to the other.  And then we drove home, back north through the countryside. It had been a day to savor.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Acorn Squash Rings



"What did you make for dinner last night?" my daughter-in-law, Marlie, asked my daughter, Meredith, as the three of us had tea.  We know that Wednesdays are Meredith's night to cook a nice meal for her and Brian.

(Isn't this what a Chinese cleaver was meant to do?)

Meredith said, "I made that acorn squash dinner."  I knew what recipe she meant.  Rings of squash hold a combination of other ingredients that form an unusual but delicious dinner. She continued, "I thought I had orzo, but I didn't, so I had to use what I had on hand, those shell pastas."

"You were ambitious," I said. "That meal takes a while to prepare, and, when you called me, it was already 7:30."

"I took a short-cut," Meredith explained. "Cutting and cooking the squash takes too long.  I bought pre-cut cubes."

(Once the squash attaches itself to the cleaver, I can really get in a good whack!)

"That works," Marlie said. As an innovative cook, herself, she could appreciate Meredith's ingredient substitutions.

"Besides, cutting squash is so hard.  I think I chipped a floor tile doing it one time," Meredith added.

"I use a cutting board," I said.

"I did too," Meredith said.

(Thomas and Marlie have set me up with nice appliances in recent years, like the mini-food processor on the Smart Stick, and a scale.)

Marlie looked quizzical.  "What do you do?"

"Acorn squash," I said, "it's so hard, that I get on the floor with the Chinese cleaver to cut it. I give the squash a good whack.  Then the knife comes back up with the squash attached, and I whack it again, until it is cut all the way through."  Even as I said this, I realized how absurd the picture was that I was painting, despite having been doing this my entire adult life.

"Yeah, it is hard," Meredith added, "Lots of times I don't bother to do the slices, I just cut it in half."

(Four burners are busy.  This meal looks more complicated than it is.)

Marlie asked, very diplomatically, "You don't put the knife in, and pull it out, making slits until the squash comes apart?"

"Oh," Meredith said, "like when you carve a pumpkin?"

"Yeah." We agreed that this might be a better method. Then, in a tentative voice, Marlie asked, "But...why do you do it on the floor?"

Meredith and I responded almost in unison, "The banging would shake everything in the cupboards if we did it on the counter!"  I started to laugh.

Meredith added, "Kitchen violence!"



(Starting to look yummy.)

Suddenly, it seemed terribly hilarious.  All three of us were laughing. I gasped from laughter, and a tear trickled down my cheek, as I envisioned Meredith using the fine culinary techniques that she had learned at my knee.

I managed to say, "My mother taught me some cooking skills, but I don't think she ever whacked squash with a cleaver!!"



(Squash rings with homemade pita chips, ready to eat!)

Somehow, we composed ourselves, and our conversation advanced beyond acts of violence on the kitchen floor to myriad other topics. Now and then, I felt a giggle rising in my throat, and thought, what happens in the kitchen should stay in the kitchen!

-------------------------------------------------
Acorn Squash Rings (originally from a magazine ad for California Walnuts)


3/4 cup walnut pieces, toasted
1 acorn squash cut into 1 1/2" rings
1 Tbsp mustard
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium red onion, sliced into 1/4" thicknesses
8 oz orzo pasta
1 large bunch chard
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp fresh dill, or 1 tbsp. dried
4 oz smoked salmon, cut into thin strips
salt and pepper

Steam squash rings, set aside.  Whisk mustard, lemon juice, salt and pepper together, adding oil.  Coat frying pan with cooking spray. Add onions and cook until soft and brown.  Combine onions with mustard mixture.  Cook pasta.  Wash chard and remove stems.  Cut into 3/4" wide ribbons.  In skillet cook chard until wilted.  Add garlic to skillet and cook.  Stir in onion mixture, dill, orzo, half of the salmon, and half of the walnuts, salt and pepper.  Place a squash ring on each plate.  Fill with chard mixture.  Top with remaining salmon and nuts.  Warm each plate for one minute in the microwave.

Seasoned Pita Chips

4 (6-inch) pita breads
1/4 cup butter plus 1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
2 tbsp Italian seasoning

Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Cut each pita into 6 wedges, separate each wedge in half.  Melt butter, add olive oil. Stir in cheese and seasoning.  In a large bowl, pour over pitas and toss to coat.  Place pitas on large pan and bake 8 minutes.  Turn wedges over and bake 4-6 additional minutes, until golden and crisp.
--------------------------------------------------

Friday, February 27, 2015

Woodstock, Vermont, in winter

(The Pogue, a small pond, at the Marsh-Billings Rockefeller National Park)

The top item on my Christmas list, well, just about my entire Christmas list, read, "two nights away."  Bill and I had not had a vacation getaway together overnight since early June, and I had been missing New England.  In a card, Bill wrote "Two nights away--Vermont??"  By New Year's, we were thinking about possibilities.  Stowe has always been a favorite, but it's a long trip for just two nights.

Woodstock came to mind.  Some of you will remember my previous blog post about visiting Woodstock in August a couple of years ago. ( http://nooksandvales.blogspot.com/2012/08/woodstock-vermont-getaway.html )   Woodstock has lots of charm, and a relaxed pace.  Bill booked The Applebutter Inn in nearby Taftsville for Martin Luther King weekend.



(Marsh-Billings Rockefeller National Park, Woodstock, Vermont)

January had less than ideal snow conditions; five inches of packed snow lay under a layer of heavy crust with a couple inches of nice powder on top.  We took all of our gear: microspikes, snowshoes, and cross-country skis.  We would be ready for anything.  Arriving too early in the day to go to our B&B, we decided to make the most of the afternoon by getting outdoors right away.

(the summit of Mount Tom)


From our previous trip, we knew that the Marsh-Billings Rockefeller National Park had scenic trails. Microspikes would be sufficient for the carriage paths that wind through the woods, around ponds, and across fields of the park.  Map in hand, we chose a route that would take us to the summit of Mount Tom.

(Woodstock from Mount Tom)



















A bright sun and deep blue sky, along with temperatures in the teens, made views crisp and clear.  Taking a leisurely pace, we reached the summit in just over an hour.  A couple of skiers came along, as did another couple wearing snowshoes. The skiers reprimanded us and the snowshoers for being on the trails maintained by the The Woodstock Inn, which require a paid ticket. It's hard to know where the free trails and the Inn-groomed trails begin and end, since they are all part of the National Park. Bill and I, and the snowshoers, studied the map and decided not to be concerned about the issue.


(Virginia on Mount Tom--what a great Christmas gift!)


Views were gorgeous from the summit of Mount Tom.  We could see rolling countryside and farms in the distance, with the village of Woodstock just below.



(view towards New Hampshire from Mount Tom)


When we returned to the car, we headed out of town about 3 miles to Taftsville.  In 2012, the devastation from Hurricane Irene had shocked us. Only remnants of the historic 1836 Taftsville covered  bridge had remained. What a pleasant surprise to see this restoration crossing the Ottauquechee River!



("new" 1836 Taftsville Covered Bridge)


We found the Applebutter Inn just up the road from the river. Our innkeeper, Michael, gave us the house tour with its charming bedrooms, cozy livingroom with fireplace, diningroom with fresh homemade cookies and water for tea on the buffet, and the breakfast room off the kitchen.

The bedrooms each had an apple name.  We put our things in the "Baldwin" room, and decided to go back into town for a late-afternoon dinner.  We entered Bentley's restaurant, on the corner of Main Street. Colored glass balls hung in profusion on long ribbons from the ceiling.  From my seat at our table by the window, I could watch people on the street as the day turned to darkness.

(Festive lights on a house on the green)















After dinner, Bill and I walked around the village green, by the Woodstock Inn, and down a couple of side streets.  Still decorated for Christmas, Woodstock's Colonial style homes looked festive with white lights and evergreen swags covered in a dusting of snow.


(Woodstock's village green)

Returning to Taftsville, we anticipated a relaxing evening at the inn.  Michael lit a toasty fire in the livingroom, and we settled in to peruse some of the many local books and magazines stacked on the coffee table.




(The Applebutter Inn, Taftsville, Vermont)

We had seen online that the inn boasted a grand piano in its "music room."  Michael showed it off proudly.  "Play it!" he encouraged.  I am not an adventurous pianist, but since we seemed to have this part of the house to ourselves for the evening, I decided to give it a try.  I had brought my grandfather's book, "Songs the Whole World Plays," copyright 1915, with me. This was the perfect time to sit down and play some old melodic love songs.

In the morning, other guests joined us for breakfast. Michael and Barbara's breakfasts are legendary, according to the newspaper articles posted in the hallway. Most unique are Barbara's apple butters. She claims that the apple butter is different with every batch, depending on what apples are used and how the season changes from year to year. I was surprised that the predominant and delicious flavor of her apple butter is actually apples, rather than the spices often used in apple butter recipes.  I wondered if she made the old-fashioned classic that just calls for sugar, a little lemon juice, and vanilla.

(A nearly buried stone wall on the trail up Mount Peg)


Since the weather forecast called for freezing rain beginning by early afternoon, we knew we had to get outdoors right away.  Most ski trails were closed.  The previous day, we had seen hills in a shiny glaze of slippery crust.

(Bill appears to be on a wintry tundra at Mount Peg)

We chose to snowshoe up Mount Peg.  The trail began in one of Woodstock's residential areas, and ascended through a small hardwood forest along a stone wall, to open field.  In just 25 minutes, we reached an expansive view of mountains and farms.  If I had Mount Peg in my neighborhood, I'd run up there every week.  What an amazing sight for so little effort!

(One of the views from Mount Peg )


Directly across the valley stood Mount Tom, where we had been the previous day, and below lay the Marsh-Billings Farm.  Marsh-Billings offered horse-drawn sleigh rides on this holiday weekend.  We were excited to see the sleigh crossing a farm field, as if in a Grandma Moses painting.


(A horse drawn sleigh at the Marsh-Billings Farm)


Exploring Mount Peg's summit, we found the junction of the Woodstock Inn's ski trails.  We made a mental note to remember these trails for a future winter trip to this area, when snow conditions were better.



(A quintessential Vermont treat for the hike!)



Aware of the dire forecast, we drove back to our inn, hoping we had enough time to take the walk near our lodging that other guests had recommended.  The air hung heavy, so we set out directly, walking on the dirt road past scenic New England homes, and a farm.  As we turned to head back, rain began to fall.


(Rural charm in Taftsville)




















If you have to be stuck indoors, a country inn in Vermont can't be beat.  Michael started a fire for us; we enjoyed tea and fresh cookies from the buffet; and we settled in to read.  Eventually, though, we got hungry.  There is no place in Taftsville to eat.  We could either drive the few miles back into town or in the opposite direction towards Quechee.

Everything was a glaze of ice. Just getting from the door of the inn to the car was a challenge, but skipping dinner to avoid the bad roads would really put a damper on our pleasant day.  We chose to go to the Shepard's Pie Restaurant in Quechee.

(A New England road makes for a nice walk in Taftsville)


We were the only people in the restaurant. The owner/hostess/waitress cheerfully regaled us with stories about the restaurant, her life in food service, and the trials of living in Vermont in winter, which, we needed to know, was exactly where she wanted to be.  In the end, we also met her 8 year-old daughter and the daughter's friend, who were preparing snacks for their personal Superbowl party.

Generally, we find this kind of attention annoying, but on this night, when we were the only people in the place, with ice creating an ever thicker glaze outside, we found these cheerful Vermonters amusing.  And as we left, the owner preceded us to our car, shaking a can of rock salt ahead of our boots.

The couple of miles back to the inn in pitch darkness were scary. We were glad to return to the fire in the livingroom, a cup of tea, and a book. 


(Woodstock village homes after the rain)


After another wonderful and leisurely breakfast the next morning, we checked out of the Applebutter Inn.  There would be no outdoor fun on this day with the world under a fresh coat of ice.

Before starting for home, we went in a few of Woodstock's shops. Gillingham's General Store seemed to go for miles, with its endless selection of everything from hardware to gourmet foods, clothes, gifts, books, and more. Customer conversation revolved around the weather.  Gillingham's would do a brisk business on this day, since tourists could not ski.


(Gillingham's General Store since 1886)


The trip home was slow. For a while, we drove behind a truck spreading sand. Still, we never tired of the scenery.  Woodstock,Vermont, had, once again, left us relaxed and renewed.