Sunday, July 7, 2019

Two New Nearby Trails

(Part of the new trail at Kaaterskill Falls, seen from the viewing platform)

Bill and I planned two days to explore two of our favorite places, neither of which we had visited in quite a while.  We designated one day to walk the new Skywalk, a two-mile trail that crosses the Hudson River.  Our second adventure would be to hike the new trail and stairway alongside Kaaterskill Falls in the Catskills.  We had read about both of these trails and were eager to give them a try.

We began the Skywalk from Olana, 19th-century artist Frederic Church's home, continued across the the Hudson River on the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, ending at Cedar Grove, the home of Thomas Cole, Hudson River School founder and teacher of Frederic Church.

(Olana, home of Frederic Church in the late-1800s)

Although we had been been to Olana off and on over decades, so much had changed.  A grant in recent years enabled needed improvements both inside of the house and out.  And now, instead of one house tour, there are many tours to choose from, each with a different focus.  We chose the downstairs house tour and the upstairs tour, but there were others such as a garden and landscape tour that we might want to check out another time.  Rain came down in buckets on this mid-June day, so indoor tours held more appeal.

(the porch view across to the Catskills)

The rain still came down heavily as we prepared for the walk.  Museum staff advised that we not take the steep dirt path from the house to the bridge in the deluge. Instead, they suggested that we begin from the parking lot at the eastern end of the bridge.  We took their recommendation, parked near the bridge, donned a full set of rain gear, and stepped out.

(the Rip Van Winkle Bridge crosses the Hudson River)

Views of the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains are this walk's big attraction.  Although rain clouds shrouded the mountains, we could look down on the gray river and into the woods directly below.  We know the area well, and could see the mountain view in our mind's eye. 

(The Hudson and islands from the bridge)

Walking on the historic Rip Van Winkle Bridge, built in the 1930s, had not been encouraged in the past.  Now, as part of the Skywalk, it is notable as the connection between the two artists' houses.  In Cole's and Church's day, a ferry would have taken them back and forth across the river.  The two friends often drew and painted together, sometimes on top of the hill with its river view, where Church eventually built Olana.

(What's a little rain?  Bill is dressed for the day.)

After arriving at the western end of the bridge, I decided to walk the Cedar Grove property just far enough to see that Cole's "new studio" had been built.  Besides its historic accuracy, the new studio houses contemporary art.  I had been dismayed on my previous Cedar Grove visit to see modern art mixed with Cole's furnishings within the house.  The house has now been returned to the style of Cole's mid-19th century era.

(Cedar Grove, Thomas Cole's house in the mid-1800s)

From house to house, the Skywalk is two miles, four round-trip.  The bridge itself is one mile.  It's possible to walk just the bridge, parking at one end or the other.  Based on our experience, we highly recommend the Skywalk and spending time visiting the homes of Frederic Church and Thomas Cole.

(the lowest part of the falls along Route 23A)

We had cloudy but far better weather for our second adventure. 

Kaaterskill Falls drops 260' and can be very dangerous.  Fatalities or serious injuries are not uncommon.  In the mid-1970s, when Bill took me to the falls from college, we could and did walk anywhere, including behind the falls in the amphitheater high above the base.  In addition, at the very top of the falls, we could literally put a hand in water before it tumbled below.  Greater use and an increasing number of deaths demanded that changes be made to safeguard visitors.

(The beginning of the trail rises from Route 23A)

Some changes were made in the late 1980s.  Those changes essentially prohibited people from accessing the highest level of the falls.  Not surprisingly, people continued to take risks. 

Last summer, in 2018, $1.25million in upgrades at the falls included a 200-step stone stairway built to get people safely to each of the three levels of the falls.  Visitors can still take chances and get hurt, but warning signs are everywhere, and, if people stay on the trails or on the immediate rocks, fewer accidents should occur.

(A wooden stairway was our first introduction to the new design)

From the Route 23A parking area, rubbly stones begin the trail.  Just beyond, a wooden stairway is built over what was a dirt scramble when we clawed our way up more than 40 years ago.  And above that, we encountered our first set of stone stairs.  We were totally impressed by the precise construction of this stairway, each stone perfectly placed.

(The first set of stone stairs)

And the view at each level?  Astounding.  The new regulations and construction did not detract in any way from the beauty advertised by the Hudson River School painters in the early 1800s.  We were glad that hikers are again able to see the entire set of waterfalls.

(This series of waterfalls still inspires artists and photographers)
Today, in the "instagram age," estimates are that an average of 1000 visitors come on every summer weekend day to enjoy Kaaterskill Falls.  We saw only about 20 or 30 people on our mid-June day.  But, alas, we did see a group of teenagers hiking in flip-flops with beach towels, intending to swim, and we saw people partway across the amphitheater in a bent-over crouch behind the waterfall, but most people didn't take chances. 

In the close-up picture, you can see two people sitting on the ledge.  I was glad that they appeared not to be continuing to the steeper more-slippery section.

(The upper falls is magnificent)
(A close-up of the other photo shows people behind the falls)

Bill and I continued up above the falls on more stone steps to a level summit path.  We learned that hikers are encouraged to park at the site of the Laurel House on top of the escarpment, rather than at the base on Route 23A as we had.  By parking at the top, hikers avoid the 2/10-mile walk along the road.  They also begin with the highest views and can decide how far down they want to go, rather than starting at the very bottom planning to go the entire distance to the top.

(The upper falls from the new viewing platform)
The rocks at the very top of the falls, which were popular photography locations, are now completely off limits.  Instead, a platform has been built a short distance away.  From there, the view is fabulous.  I definitely didn't miss peering over the top to see below.  Bill and I give this new trail an A+.

(Kaaterskill Clove from the viewing platform)