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.