Catskills

Accord, NY August-September, 2016 We briefly visited the Catskills in 2004 and longed to return. When I say briefly I mean it was one stop on a 5 day, 5 state whirlwind tour of the northeast that we dragged our youngest daughter, then 12, along on. It was a marvelous adventure and the only time we could spare from our busy lives at the time. We do things differently these days.

We chose to stay for a week this time and picked a home base in Accord from which to explore this vast park. At first it was hard to choose where would be best to launch our explorations from but after some research it started to become clearer pretty fast. We couldn’t afford to spend a whole week if we had to pay over $50 a night to camp. The only reasonably priced option we found that was close to where we hoped to be was SoHi Campground in Accord which offered a weekly Passport America rate of $225.

Minnewaska State Park had been our primary stop on that long ago trip and was high on our list of must sees. There the lovely Peter’s Kill (kill means creek in these parts) runs through the park. A hike takes you along the creek to the top of Awosting Falls.

Then it continues down to the bottom of the falls. The last time we visited in the spring so there was a lot more water. Here’s my baby in 2004.

Here is the falls on this visit. That’s Jim standing beside it.

You can see the falling water a little better from the side.

The rocky bed of the kill itself was just as fascinating as the waterfall.

There are other waterfalls if you continue downstream or you can head up to a gorgeous lake and hike all the way around it if you choose.

This park is only 10 miles off Interstate 87 and well worth a visit if you are passing through.

One of our favorite day trips this time around was to Kaaterskill Falls. It is the highest two tiered waterfall in New York state. The moderate 1.5 mile hike into it is accessed from a pretty small parking area and then a short walk down the highway. You should get there early if you want a space because the next best alternative is a hike of many miles.

We arrived around 8am on a drizzly weekday morning and were about the 4th vehicle there. We didn’t have to share the trail in with too many people but by the walk out the trail traffic had picked up considerably and the parking lot was almost full when we pulled out around 10am.

The view of the entirety of the falls is pretty.

You can then walk up around a hundred stairs to get a better view of the upper fall which is downright stunning. The stairs then continue to the top but we didn’t proceed.

Jim pointed out this fellow to me on the way in. I have an especially strong dislike of millipedes and was careful where I put my hands the rest of the hike. He was around 5 inches long!

Each day we explored another direction and enjoyed views like this one from the truck. This was because there were almost no scenic pullouts. We took turns driving so one of us could concentrate on keeping the truck safely on the narrow roads leaving the other free to rubberneck.

Jim tried his hand at fishing the famous local trout streams. The most disappointing part of this endeavor was just how limited the access was to these waters. It didn’t help that his back was bothering him and just about all of the limited accesses we did run across required scrambling down steep embankments which he was not up to. It wasn’t too big a deal since we didn’t see a single other fisherman (or fish for that matter) which is probably because the stocked streams are fished out by late summer.

Despite this fact we enjoyed a couple hours at the infamous Junction Pool where the Beaverkill and the Willowemoc Creek meet.

We wandered the main street of mountain towns like Phoenicia and Roscoe. Both were charming but didn’t take long to explore as many of the shops were closed on a weekday. Woodstock was the exception.

We stopped in after our hike to Kaaterskill Falls. We had lunch at the Catskill Mountain Pizza Company where they sell pizza by the slice for very reasonable prices. Jim’s sausage slices were bigger than his head and all three of our pieces came to just $10 (cash only).

This town has a lot going on and doesn’t slow down because it’s noon on a Wednesday. There are plenty of interesting shops offering everything from healing crystals, to funky clothing, to palm readings.

If you get tired of walking you can grab a seat and the people watching will keep you entertained while you rest. The folks here are all about self-expression. I’m certain we saw a few hippies that came to the area for the summer of love and loved it too much to ever leave.

When I heard that there are 5 old fire towers still standing throughout the park I wanted to climb at least one. There is an organization that maintains the trails to these gems and even opens them to visitors on summer weekends. We waited toward the end of our week when Jim’s back was better and headed to the Red Hill Fire Tower, the easiest one to reach.

The trail was 2.8 miles roundtrip but was still a bit of a struggle because it was rarely a clear trail. It was full of rough rocks and tree roots most of the way.

The elevation gain was around 1000 feet and was a pretty steady climb. You finally come out of the dark woods to a view of the sixty foot tower built in 1921.

We had come on a Friday so the top was not open but we climbed up to the top of the stairs and enjoyed some spectacular views of the mountains and forest to the east

and of the Rondout Reservoir to the south.

We thoroughly enjoyed our weeklong visit to the Catskills. It wasn’t exactly what we remembered or expected but was extraordinary all the same.

Niagara Falls

August, 2016 – Niagara Falls, New York & Ontario I have wanted to visit Niagara Falls for many, many years. I can’t claim I’ve never been as there is evidence to the contrary.

I’d guess I was around 2 in that picture so it must be circa 1971 or so. It only took me 45 years to return. I’m so glad I did.

We spent the first full day there seeing everything we could from the American side. Our first view of the falls from Prospect Point took my breath away. The enormity of it is just hard to wrap your head around.

Goat Island is between the American Falls and Horseshoe Falls. Here is the view from Goat Island of the American Falls …

…and Horseshoe Falls. There is a perpetual rainbow, often two, over the falls, because of the large amount of mist.

Everything I read said we would be paying $10 per day to park but we were pleasantly surprised to find free parking at the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center. We bought trolley tickets there for $3 each. We hoofed it most of the day but it was nice to be able to hop the trolley back to the truck at the end of the day. The trolley driver said that on slow days they also don’t charge for parking in lot #3.

Our first day at Niagara had really wet our appetite and we could not wait for the next day so we could visit the Canadian side. We had every intention of driving over until the very last minute when Jim suggested we walk. We went back to the free parking we had found the day before, grabbed our backpack, and set off.

It was just two miles from the parking lot, across the international Rainbow Bridge, and all the way to head of the falls. Getting through Canadian customs at 8:30 in the morning was a breeze. There were only a couple people in front of us.  The official  asked us just a few questions and didn’t search us.

Here is the view as soon as you get past customs. The Canadian side was very beautifully landscaped all along the edge of the gorge.

We bought WeGo shuttle passes at the first welcome center we came to so we knew whenever we got tired we could get a lift. The shuttle passes were $7.50 each Canadian so after the favorable exchange rate and with the finance charge my credit card charged for the conversion we paid $6 American.

We weren’t in any hurry to leave the walkway along the gorge for a while. The view of the falls from the Canadian side is so much more complete than the American side. The view across from a waterfall is always better than from the top of it which is basically what you get from the US.

Here some brave souls zip line in front of the American Falls.

The crowds gather early above Horseshoe Falls.

We walked another half mile past the falls up the river admiring the landscaping, river views, and cool buildings. Then we decided we needed a rest so we hopped on a shuttle and rode it the 8 miles that it traveled down river. We rode past neighborhoods, and through downtown, and past every conceivable tourist attraction.

We were actually surprised how crowded the bus was at that time of the day. There were times when it was standing room only and at another point we were the only people on it. The bus turned around at Queenston Heights Park and we continued to ride it back through all the same stops and finally got off when we got back to the first stop after Rainbow Bridge.

We had our lunch in a lovely shaded garden and now that we were rested and nourished we set off to see more sites on foot. A couple people had suggested we visit Clifton Hill, a popular street near the falls. One person even compared it to the Vegas Strip.

So off we went up Clifton Hill. I was surprised to find the main section of this strip was only about a quarter mile long. And we found it to be more comparable to Branson than to Vegas.

But it was entertaining to see and at least the walk back to the falls was downhill. We had seen everything we came to see but I requested a return walk along the falls as the afternoon lighting would make for better pictures.

So we made our way along the now incredibly crowded walkway and admired more of the Canadians’ gardening.

We gazed a final time at the entirety of the American Falls.

And we got more pictures from the bridge, the best place to get a good shot of both falls together.

We were surprised by the 50 cent toll the Canadians charge to get back on the bridge but grateful they provide both a Canadian and American change machine and we actually had a dollar on us. The pedestrian and car lines waiting to get in to Canada in the early afternoon were extremely long. The line of cars waiting on the bridge to get into the US was shorter but we walked back through customs with hardly any wait, answered a few questions, and were back at our truck in no time grateful we had chosen to walk.

Our campground was an easy 15 minute drive from the falls on nearby Grand Island. The bridges to the island charge a toll to get onto the island but not to get off. So we paid something like $3 to get the fifth wheel onto the island and then paid $1 every time we left and wanted to return home.

We camped at Cinderella Motel and Campground where we got an electric site. The sites were close but they were extremely dark and quiet tucked way back behind the hotel. Those are traits we treasure as so many campgrounds have a lot of traffic noise and security lighting.

The Passport America rate was $30 for the first two nights then they charged us their regular rate of $40 for the second two nights. That was almost half what most campgrounds in the area charged. The very best deal in the area is free boondocking at the casino right by the falls. But it was just too hot during our visit to consider going without AC.