Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Admiring the Beauty, History and Food in the Catskills Region of New York

About two hours outside of New York City in the southeastern part of the state lies the Catskill Mountains.  The Catskills region of New York has long been a destination for travelers with its rolling hills, lush valleys, pleasant streams, and tumbling waterfalls.  From its first hotel built in the 1820’s to the free spirited 1960’s, folks eager to escape bustling dirty cities flocked here in search of fresh clean air and to commune with nature and appreciate the natural beauty.

A large portion of the Catskill Region is protected lands meaning there is plenty of rustic beauty and room for hiking, fishing (fun fact: the region is where fly fishing first began), biking, and more.  The area was coined "a land of streams" because of the plentiful and magnificent waterfalls, nearly 150 in all.  One of the most popular is the Kaaterskill Falls in the Catskill Forest Preserve.  A short hike takes you to the top of falls which is the tallest two-tiered waterfall in New York State rolling in at 260 feet.  We visited in spring so the falls were at their tumbling splendor.  The most impressive view is just a mile or so away at the bottom where cascading cold water dazzles you with a thundering roar and refreshing spray before it continues on through a shady ravine.  

We thoroughly enjoyed the hiking in the Catskill Forest Preserve and loved the wide range of trails with varying lengths and degrees of difficulty.  One morning we made the pleasant walk to the site of the Catskill Mountain House.  This splendid old hotel was built in 1824 and became America’s first grand resort hotel and was visited by three U.S. Presidents and the elite wealthy of the day.  

Nothing remains of the old hotel but from where it stood you get an amazing view of the expansive Hudson Valley and River.  When here, you can easily imagine how guests must have loved this lap of luxury as they lounged around soaking up the sun and fabulous views.

Interestingly, the many hotels and vacation resorts located in the Catskills today are notable in American cultural history for their role in the development of modern stand-up comedy.  Comedians such as Rodney Dangerfield, Jackie Mason, and Don Rickles all got their start performing in Catskill hotels.

Another man’s name that has ties to the Catskills is Rip Van Winkle.  Rip Van Winkle is a short story about a Dutch-American villager in colonial America who left home to go hunting and ended up falling asleep in the Catskill Mountains and wakes up 20 years later, having missed the American Revolution.  Ironically, the author Washington Irving (who also wrote the Legend of Sleepy Hollow) had never been to the Catskills before.  You will find Rip celebrated everywhere and in every fashion as in needlepoint belts, pillows, cookies, and a brewery named after him. 

The hiking and scenery in the Hudson Valley were great but we actually came here for another reason.  To Eat!  We have been making it a point to eat at 2019 James Beard Award nominated restaurants on our way from Florida to Maine and an artsy funky restaurant caught our eyes and was the real reason we were in the area.  Lil’ Debs Oasis is a colorful establishment, to say the least, that pumps out some fun cocktails and delicious food by two amazing chefs that have a loyal following.  

The menu is small but constantly changing and appealing.  Betsy settled on the traditional dish gambas al ajillo (shrimp) with garlic, chili, lime and rice and I ordered the mojo chicken with creamy and refreshing green and yellow salsas complimented with hearty rice and beans.  The diners next to us ordered the yucca “fries” with salsa verde appetizer and we must have been starring at them a little too long because they asked us if we wanted some and passed the plate our way.  Thanks nice people.  When the kitchen closes at 10 pm this place becomes lively as the drag show (also known as Queer Performance Night) starts and the tiny restaurant becomes even smaller as the crowds flood in.

One thing we love about the Hudson Valley are all the little towns that have their own charm and allure.  Lil Deb’s Oasis is located in the town of Hudson so we decided to go early and walk around the town which is quite pretty.  Oddly, we were there on a Wednesday around 5 pm and most of the businesses were closed.  Seems Wednesday is when town merchants decide to take the day off. 

Another day we ventured down to the little town of Saugerties where a lighthouse was calling us.  Plan on visiting this lighthouse around low tide as the path is along the riverbank otherwise you will be borrowing a pair of boots to get there (which you can do).  

The lighthouse was built in 1869 and still stands proudly as a living part of the Hudson Valley’s maritime history and in its more recent role as a bed and breakfast.  Yep, for $250/night you can sleep and roam where lighthouse keepers resided for years.  If you are interested in staying overnight book early as this place is popular and the next available opening wasn’t for six months.  Another option is to pack a picnic and enjoy the outside seating area behind the lighthouse where you can watch boats and birds come and go in a pleasant setting.

There certainly is a lot to explore in the Hudson Valley and we have really liked our stay each time we’ve been there.  Years back we stayed farther south and found it rich in history, beautiful in scenery, and a great food and drink destination.  So if you are looking for a nice quiet mountain getaway give the Catskills a try. 


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