Admiring the topography in our own backyard

Bennett Hill Preserve

Local author Alan Via has written about these hiker gems for the Spotlight News but they bare repeating. Especially now, with what feels like an inordinate amount of overpriced housing development spreading through the Capital Region, it’s vital to visit what’s left of free space. And being that no week is truly complete unless Mutti and her pup are along for a journey, we explore another Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy preserve today.

8 miles west of Albany, on Delaware Avenue, is Bennett Hill, a 3 mile loop with views of Meadow Brook Farms Dairy and the small town of Clarksville. Bearing our bright red microspikes we safely take to the ice and plow to the top of the 155 acre sweet spot.

Deer carcasses, rusted car parts, old railroad ties; I’ve come across some pretty strange things in the woods but a bath tub? A little further along, not far from the top, is one of friendliest of tree shapes. This old thick sentinel, perhaps a chestnut oak, invites us to catch our breath on outstretched arm branches.

Bennett Hill Preserve

At the 1120 foot summit is a flat plateau with a trail that runs along the perimeter. The aroma of pine needles wafts past. Without leaves to obscure the openings, the loop offers striking views of the iconic Helderberg Escarpment to the north and west, and Albany to the east.

Bennett Hill Preserve

Bennett Hill Preserve

Bennett Hill Preserve

Giving the gift of trees on Christmas

nff-logoI got the greatest present, err, I mean second greatest present, I could ever dream of this Christmas. No, it wasn’t jewelry or a new car or a vacation to some exotic island. Brace yourself. It was trees! 25 to be exact. I’m not sure what classification of species: deciduous, coniferous or evergreen, but all will be planted in my honor somewhere across our vast National Forest System.

(A Hillary win was my first pick).

Thank you to my newly-conservation-conscious boyfriend. Of course, he still sells fossil fuels for a living but one challenge at a time.

The donation is an effort by the not-profit organization NFF or National Forest Foundation. They dropped an email down my digital chimney landing on my desktop a few days shy of Christmas. Opportune timing too having just returned from a hike at another Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy property not far from Albany called the Winifred Matthews Holt Preserve.

While hiking the 148-acre property, anyone could easily tell that the land was once stripped of trees centuries ago when farming was boss. The blue marked Helderberg Overlook Trail included a relatively intact old stone boundary wall while the field next to the pond sits a dilapidated barn begging for preservation. I’m guessing based on size and scope that most trees are relatively young, under 50 years.

Holt Preserve

Holt Preserve

Holt Preserve

Hotel Review: Emerson Resort & Spa, Mount Tremper, NY

Emerson Resort & Spa

Emerson Resort & Spa

Emerson Resort & Spa

Emerson Resort & Spa

Emerson Resort & Spa

How do you fall asleep? I enjoy a glass of red by a fire pit, a long bath in a jetted tub and a few lines of poetry by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Then I sink into the perfect nest – a firm mattress tucked in with crisp white linens and the scent of balsam.

No, this is hardly my bedroom. Rather, it’s the super chic and modern, Emerson Resort & Spa in Mount Tremper, NY – the heart of the Catskills. Normally, this casa gorgeous would be out of Santa’s price range but special discounts abound midweek in winter. And, the best part: furry companions, 50 pounds or less, are welcome!

While the gloss, glitter and shine reflects the holiday spirit at the inn it’s also about the $6 million worth of spa renovations and restaurant expansions completed over the summer. A soak in the deck’s new 12-person hot tub; “big enough to be considered a pool,” says Marketing and Sales Director, Tamara Murray, is the priceless apres-hike antidote for tired limbs.

Mutti and I navigated from hall to spa to Great room taking special note of an unfurled wall painting called Watershed by artist Alison Berry. The commissioned piece tells about the natural evolution of the Catskill region. Cozy nooks allow for nail treatments, biotech facials, newspaper reading and relaxation next to a raging fireplace.

Unspoiled views of the normally shallow Esopus mountain stream flows strong this time of year. During the tour, the harmony of the rushing water was like music to my ears. And, speaking of acoustics, let me give a shout-out to the music alchemist who piped in my favorite college alternatives, especially during dinner. I couldn’t stop singing.

At the Woodnotes Grill restaurant, once dark and somber, now bright and voluminous, Mom and I sat at a snug 2-top. In between dishes of local guinea hen and spoonfuls of butternut squash, plates described as “Catskill Creative Cooking,” Mom and I toasted with a bottle of Pinot.

As new as it might look, the historic property actually dates back to a thriving dairy farm once owned by the Riseley family. Local developer, Dean Gitter and co-founder Emily Fisher bought the abandoned buildings with the mission of turning the rural property into a tourist destination. They puzzle-pieced the grain silo into the World’s Largest Kaleidoscope and the federal-style family home into a lobby and offices. The new kaleido 10-minute show is called Star Dust and is a must-see journey for anyone enamored by mirrors and illusions.

The 19th century dairy farm was renovated into a unique motley of specialty shops featuring toys, housewares and fashion. Mutti and I lingered over the bath and body lotion collection testing out scents from all over the world. And, no need to make a lunch for a hike up Mt Tremper, order up a piled-high-sandwich-to-go at the Country Cafe. As popular as the Emerson gets, especially during holidays, it still feel exclusive because of the sprawling complex.

Emerson Resort & Spa

Emerson Resort & Spa

Woodnotes Grill restaurant Emerson Resort & Spa

Kaleidoscope at Emerson Resort & Spa

For more photos, visit my FLICKR album. Don’t forget your pup!

The Emerson Resort & Spa
5340 Route 28
Mt. Tremper, NY 12457
877.688.2828

Car accidents, on the roads and in the woods

1958-chevy-in-bluestone-wild-forest

I wasn’t intending on hiking the Onteora Lake Trails on Saturday morning but a nasty car accident held me prisoner on I-87 northbound the night before. Ironically, I came across this car in the woods (see photo above) during the hike reminding me of what I just experienced. Eagle mountain was suppose to be my destination but plans were crushed when vehicles collided only a few miles ahead of me.

The accident was so bad that the Thruway Authority closed the highway between exits 16 & 18, a roughly 40 mile stretch super busy with city dwellers heading upstate on weekends.

Because I didn’t want to risk hiking sans sleep, I was a ‘no-show’ for a pending hike with the 3500 Club. Of course, I was blessed to be alive to alter my plans. The car, or cars, in front of me weren’t so lucky.

Ambulances and firetrucks rushed to the scene and a FBI investigation kept me and thousands more trapped cars in suspense for the next three hours. It was cold too. Drivers turned their cars on and off, rotating between saving fuel and preventing frostbite.

Some desperate drivers took to launching through the culvert ditch, up the embankment and over obstacles to free themselves from the mess. You could hear mufflers cracking and fuel tanks scraping against the ground. They didn’t seem to care too much about breaking the law.

Instead, I checked the New York State Thruway Authority alert page for updates. Nothing was forthcoming. Why, in this day of immediate information, were thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, left literally in the dark?

When I got out to stretch, I vented my frustrations with Palenville birder expert, Larry Federman. He and his wife were parked in front of my car. They were on their way home from a retirement party. They regretted not taking the quiet, traffic-free, albeit deer-ridden, backroads to Greene County.

Larry’s wife and I had the same thought: What if a pregnant gal was in labor and stuck in this mess? How would she get to the hospital? Or, how passengers who inevitably had flights out of Newburgh or Albany airports? We thought better of complaining.

Finally, after nearly 4 hours of being incommunicado, one gruff soul donning a blaze orange vest came knocking on windows. He told us to turn around, drive south on the shoulder of the road, and exit at the controlled median crossover. That would put us on the southbound lane before the Newburgh exit.

No explanation, just curt direction and a nonchalant attitude. Hey, at that hour, we were more than happy to survive the wait.

Spiritual enlightenment at Machu Picchu

machu_picchu

To read the article, visit GoNomad.com

“Few romances can ever surpass that of the granite citadel on top of the beetling precipices of Machu Picchu, the crown of Inca Land.”– Hiram Bingham

A quote from one of the world’s greatest explorers, Hiram Bingham, begins my exciting read about Machu Picchu for GoNomad.com.  It was just this past September when I journeyed to the land of llamas and alpacas for adventures in Cusco and the Sacred Valley.

I traveled with a Boston-based travel company called Vantage Adventures surrounded by a cadre of 18 other Inca rookies.   We bonded over cooked guinea pig,  a mystical healing ceremony, holding the hands of school children with incorrigible little smiles, buying artisan jewelry,  trekking parts of the Inca trail and surviving a national strike.   To read more, visit GoNomad.com. To enjoy more photos of the trip, visit my FLICKR ALBUM.

Pine Hollow Arboretum: a garden in the woods

Pine Hollow Arboretum

Pine Hollow Arboretum

Pine Hollow Arboretum

Pine Hollow Arboretum

Pine Hollow Arboretum

Pine Hollow Arboretum

Wedged between busy Cherry Ave and a maturing Slingerlands hamlet is an arboretum that I can bet you’ve never visited. And, the thing is, it’s been here since 1966 and has since evolved into a not-profit educational center for all.

The Pine Hollow Arboretum Visitors Center was closed when Mutti and I visited on Sunday but a network of trails, 25-acres worth, allowed us to amble past quiet ponds, over grassy knolls and alongside loamy ridges.

The unique ecosystem allows for collections of cypress, papaws, tulip trees, redwoods, sweet gums, magnolias, arborvitae and age-old pines – a genetic diversity like no other – to soar to great heights. Gardening zones just don’t seem to apply here.

Why wait till summer to appreciate this living museum? The resident deer, nut-gathering squirrels and solitary fox are okay with the company.

Pine Hollow Arboretum