Where The River Runs North: Exploring the Beauty of New York's Hudson Valley
...And a Writer's Inspiration
There's a saying that if you find a place, "where the river run's north, you'll always come back."
With not one, but two north flowing rivers, the Wallkill and the Rondout Creek, it's no wonder that I long to return to the Hudson Valley, and Ulster County in particular..
I spent much of my childhood visiting and fifteen years living there. When summer turns the leaves green and the fields riot with wildflowers, I go back as often as I can.
I'm so captured by the beauty of the land that I couldn't help setting my novel Dark Moon Gates here. In fact many of the sites became the inspirations behind many of the scenes.
The sequel in progress, Unkind Memories also takes place in the Hudson Valley. Additionally my sister and I are working on another Ulster County book, titled Child on the Borderline.
Hiking & Biking
Hiking & Biking
Nestled in the Shawangunk mountains of New York, Ulster County is a haven for nature lovers of all sorts. Gorgeous views, wildlife and quiet hiking trails lurk around every corner.
The name Shawangunk is Lenape for "in the smokey air." The reason for the name is unknown, theories are that it either refers to the historic burning of a fort, or to some feature of the natural landscape. Locals call the mountains "the Gunks," though that also refers to a specific climbing area.
Some of the loveliest of those hiking areas include:
The iconic fire tower on Mt. Mohonk dominates the New Paltz skyline.
Originally designed in the 1870s as a relaxing retreat where folks could enjoy the beauty of nature, the land and the adjoining Mountain House hotel includes beautiful formal gardens, a maze and 85 miles of nature trails and carriage roads. Horseback riding is also allowed, but you have to trailer in your own horse
In the Witches' Gates Saga, Firebuck and Cath's house is at the base of the road that leads over the mountain, and in one scene Willa and her friends hike over one of the ridges.
Originally started as part of the Mohonk property, this gorgeous piece of land eventually was divided up from that by the Smiley family who owned it. It features high cliffs, waterfalls and winding nature trails. Hike far enough and those trails connect with the ones at Mohonk.
You can find It south west of New New Paltz. Watch out for the very sharp hairpin turn. A tourist bus actually crashed through the wall there, and was left dangling off the cliff. Everyone was eventually rescued, but I bet it was scary! I used that as inspiration for one of my scenes in Dark Moon Gates. The kids end up getting stuck on this mountain for a few days.
This is a very steep trail that overlooks the Ashokan Reservoir. It takes a couple hours to reach the summit, but when you get there, it's said you can view (I believe) 5 states. Massachussetts, Connecticut and New York itself are obviously three of those. I'm not sure which (if any) other states are involved, since -- darn it -- there aren't markers when you look out over the mountains. It hardly matters though, the view from the top is glorious.
Red-tailed hawks and turkey vultures soar at eye level. At the top, there's a marker where a fire tower used to stand and an open shelf that makes a lovely wide picnic area. Along the trail you'll find fields of blueberries so if you're there around mid-July, be sure to bring a basket to pick some.
When I was there, we returned by the same trail that we'd come up, but there seems to be another return loop which is quite steep, so use caution on the descent. There's also supposed to be the wreck of a WW2 era plane along the path, though I didn't get to see it.
North of Ulster County, in the Hunter area, this stunning two-level falls makes you feel like you're perched on the edge of the world. It became famous when Washington Irving mentioned it in Rip Van Winkle.
The nearby area of Palenville was infamous as a hideout for bootleggers in the 1920s and 30s. It's said that the gangster Legs Diamond carved his name into the rocks surrounding the falls. It's also rumored that many of the nearby mansions have secret rooms, some of which may still hold bootlegger's treasure.
The book I'm working on with my sister has a scene set on the road leading to these falls.
Fishing, Boating & Swimming
If you like the water, there's plenty to do in Ulster County. Here are just a few of the places you can enjoy the rivers and streams.
This man-made lake is cupped goblet-like at the foothills of several mountains. One of the reservoirs that provides NY City with water, this gorgeous series of lakes was created in the early 1900s, displacing 12 communities. It's said that in deep summer when the lake is lowest, you can see the ruins of some of the stone buildings beneath the waters.
Besides the trout and walleye that swim here, a fishing permit also allows you to collect some of the beautiful weathered driftwood that lines the shores.
To maintain the purity of the water, swimming isn't allowed in the reservoir.
I lived about two miles away for several years and the drive over the spillway is gorgeous! Once a friend took us over the reservoir in a plane and then pretended he was going to dive under the spillway. Eeek!
This slow moving river has launches in New Paltz and Rosendale. The main fish caught here are walleye, smallmouth bass and carp.
Kill is a Dutch word meaning "river, creek or stream" and many of the rivers in New York end in that.
The Wallkill is the location of Silly Boat Day, which takes place in May of each year. Folks make all kinds of wacky boats and floats for this.We used to have a summer High Falls Float-In, but I believe that's ended since the power company put hydro-electric generators at the falls.
Another tributary of the Hudson, this creek was where my grandmother taught me to swim, and where my dad almost got caught fishing without a permit. (Another scene that is making it's way into the second Witches' Gates Saga book.)
It is a very changeable river, sometimes deep, sometimes shallow, often stone-lined and other times deep and overhung by trees. The river is stocked with walleye, small- and large-mouth bass and panfish.
The north end of the Rondout at the Kingston "Strand" has a marina where you can launch your boat and sail or motor the Hudson.
As a kid, this was the go-to beach in the area. It features a beautiful sandy beach, stunning views, boat launches, fishing, volleyball and more. Especially important to someone who was traumatized by Jaws,, there are no sharks, as the water of the Hudson is at this point fresh.
We'd take a picnic lunch here and lie in the sun for hours, or play in the water and make sandcastles in the golden sand.
Once my uncle, who has 9 kids, was in a hurry to get home from the beach. He snarled at them to, "get in the car now! All of you!" He turned around a few minutes later to do a head count and found that a little boy who wasn't one of his. "You said get in the car, mister, and I was scared!"
What's Your Favorite Summer Vacation Activity?
Which do you like best?
I've always wanted to climb the Gunks, but never had the chance to do so with my rock-climber buddy. (It's not something you want to do alone for the first time!)
The Mohonk Preserve, just a few minutes outside of New Paltz, is one of the most famous climbing areas in the country. It has about 1000 routes and 5 miles of cliff face. They range from the "easy" Northern Pillar to the advanced Le Teton. There's even a climbers-only campsite.
The Widow Jane Mine
Rosendale cement was famed as the best cement in the world, until the 1920s when faster drying Portland cement was discovered. It was used in the base of the Statue of Liberty, the Capitol Building in D.C. and the Brooklyn Bridge among other historic monuments.
Much of the area of Rosendale and the surrounding towns is crisscrossed by canals once used to transport it. As a kid, I used to play around the numerous cement kilns that dot the woods outside of town.
There are many old cement mines in town, in fact my sister has one right behind her house. One of the more famous is the Widow Jane. The mine is a"room and pillar" mine with pillars of rock left to hold up the roof.
Parts of the mine are flooded with groundwater, which makes for incredible acoustics! When you're alone there it's eerie yet beautiful. I used to play my flute at a similar mine which is now closed off. Concerts are often held at the mine, and I'm told it was even featured in a movie.
The Century House Historical Society which runs the mine has a museum featuring antique carriages and sleighs as well as cement mining information and displays.
Another scene in Dark Moon Gates takes place here, when Willa needs to get away from the stress of hiding from the Dark Sidhe.
Ulster County Photos - All photos courtesy of my aunt and my mom.Click thumbnail to view full-size
Museums and Education
If you're a history buff, there are plenty of small museums dotting the area. There's also a strong emphasis on nature education and plenty of fun and interesting places to take the kids.
Founded by folklorist, singer and environmental activist, Pete Seeger, the Clearwater is both the name of a sloop and of the foundation itself. Pete decided to "build a boat to save the Hudson River" which was at the time horribly polluted by toxic chemicals, raw sewage and oil.
They offer everything from sailing adventures to tides and stream environmental programs. And of course plenty of song! Many of their programs are especially geared for kids, and my nieces have gone to several.
It's docked right near the Kingston.Strand.
Historic Huguenot Street
Huguenot Street in New Paltz is a historic preservation site. Originally settled by French Hugenots in the late 17th century, there are about 30 stone buildings including a church. Besides the museum, they put on many events for kids, including a camp where kids can dress up in costume and try their hand at colonial chores and games. There's also a dig where you can work alongside real archaeologists.
This area is right near the Gardens of Nutrition, and is where Willa meets a troll.
Apple Sorbet with Ginger, Duck and apples in Puff Pastry, Parsnip and Cider Soup and much more. And beautiful photos to boot. I'm drooling!
The Hudson Valley is Apple Country
Back when I was living in Modena, a town south of New Paltz. we had an apple orchard right across the street.
It was absolutely gorgeous. Rows and rows of pink-white blossoms in the spring and red apples in the fall.
Wow did I cook with apples a lot! I'll have to start putting up some of my apple recipes. Be sure to check back.
Once, a friend came over to pick some. She filled her backpack so heavy that when she tripped on a root, she lay sprawled like an upside down turtle with her arms and legs waving, and had to be helped up.
Apple picking time is around September and October (there are some that start earlier) and there are plenty of farms and orchards where you can pick your own
You'll also find plenty of farm stands (and sometimes even the local hardware stores) carrying fresh-pressed apple juice. Once you've tried the real thing, you'll never be satisfied with the filtered and watered down stuff that you get in ordinary supermarkets.
D& H Canal House
This museum in High Falls is dedicated to the history of the canals used to transport cement, in mule-drawn barges. They even have a working model of a canal lock.
While you're there, check out the bridge just a bit north of that, where you can see the falls. There's a power plant there now, but when I was a kid we used to swing from a rope swing on the bank above the falls, and we'd dare each other to jump off the cliffs further down. The cliff jumps were terrifying but I took the dare anyway.
The 1961 movie Splendor in the Grass was filled at the base of the falls. For years later one of the local families had bragging rights because Natalie Wood had taken a bath in their tub.
Where to Eat
The Hudson Valley is home to some awe-inspiring restaurants. Here are a few I love.
Ric's Awesome Cookbook
Scrumptious and very original recipes from Chef Ric Orlando, Wild Salmon Grilled in Corn Husks, Chocolate Black Raz GooseBerry Wontons, Ric's Way-Cool Watermelon and Grilled Squid Sambal and many other dynamite recipes with an emphasis on whole, clean, locally grown food.
Mom sent me a copy of this after I raved about the cooking.
New World Home Cooking
Run by Chef Ric Orlando, this is one of my absolute favorite restaurants.
Mom and her hubby took me here on my last visit. I couldn't understand why we were braving the slushy ice of the winter roads until we got there.
The food was die-for.
I especially loved the Saigon Street Style Calamari. I also had pork with some of the most amazing black beans and greens ever.
Located on Rt 212 between Woodstock and Saugerties.
Chef Ric was one of the winners on Chopped, and if you've eaten at his place you won't be the least bit surprised by that.
The food here is a delight! My two favorites are the Broccoli Cheddar Knishes and the Chocolate Croissants, but everything is fantastic.
I lived just a few doors away for a few years and even after I moved away I'd make every excuse to come back for their amazing baked goods.
I love the place so much that in the Witches' Gates Saga I gave "ownership" of the place to two of my secondary characters, Allen and James.
Fantastic bread info and recipes from the owner of Bread Alone Bakery,
Folks travel across the county for the bread baked at this place. Yes it is just that good!
Perhaps my favorite was the Walnut Sourdough, I don't see it listed on their website, but be sure to ask if you're there. The Rye is also "god-wa" amazing.
Bread Alone's master baker, Daniel Leader spent years traveling Europe spent years traveling across Europe learning the techniques of breadmaking, and both his bread and his cookbooks reflect his skill.
Their bread is light and airy but textured and tangy on the inside and peasant bread crusty delicious on the outside. Bread Alone is one of the ultimate kings of artesan bread.
Also by the owner of Bread Alone, this book mostly focuses on sourdoughs. I found a delicious Ricotta Bread recipe in this one.
I worked for a woman who catered salads and knishes and other goodies for Bread Alone.
Jane started as an Ice Cream maker, Jane's Ice Cream (in Kingston and now run by her sister, I believe) is the best homemade ice cream you can find in Ulster County.
Jane had a funky little commercial kitchen built in her back yard. Not much bigger than my bedroom here. We'd bake potato knishes, kasha knishes (omg so good!) and make fresh salads of local corn, black beans, tomatoes and the like.
One of the absolute best jobs I ever had. Not only was Jane a fantastic boss -- and she fed me! -- but I learned a lot about cooking during the year or two I worked with her.
Ohmigosh was she a fantastic cook! One of my favorites that she'd make was polenta with beans and sauteed seasonal veggies from her organic garden. So scrumptious!
P & G's
Back when I was younger, this was your classic New Paltz college town dive bar, famous for their huge greasy-good burgers, beer and good times.
Looking at their menu, they've revamped and upgraded and I'm losing my mind looking at the numoid (TM) possibilities. I can't wait to go back!
Also in New Paltz,this is the first place I ever tried escargot. (I'm sad to see it's no longer on their menu.) I was a bit scared -- snails? --, but what I got was garlicky, tender and loaded with basil. It made me an escargot lover. Their steaks are fantastic, buttery and almost tender enough to cut with a fork.
Right around the corner from here was the cinema where I first saw the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Depuy Canal House
This 4-5 star (depending on who you ask) rated restaurant has been a High Falls landmark since I was a teenager.
The style is Nouvelle Cuisine and the prices are rather expensive, but if you can afford it, it's well worth the cost.
The owner, Chef John Novi was also a personal friend of my former husband, so I got treated to dinner at this place more often than the average Ulster County resident might be able to. John's a truly nice guy, very down to earth.
Once we went to a Medieval Feast that he had as a special event. Dinner was served on a trencher of bread. All the servers -- and many of the guests -- came in costume. I especially remember the pheasant wing hors de ouvres.
At one point they served us a delicious clam chowder. Without spoons. You were supposed to fish into the bowl for a clam shell to use as a spoon. Next to us there was a very straight laced family with even the kids in formal suits. We watched the kids poke around with butter knives in their soup and finally the waiter broke medieval protocol and got them some spoons.
Have you ever been to a place that inspired you to write a story set there? (Feel free to let me know where it was the comments below.)
Ulster County and Hudson Valley Links
- The Mohonk Preserve
A wonderful place for hiking, biking, horseback riding, climbing and more.
- The Clearwater
Pete Seeger's sloop and Hudson River education program.
- Huguenot Street
Historic stone houses and re-enactment.
- D & H Canal House Museum
The Canal House website,
- The Century House
Home of the Widow Jane Mine
- High Point
Info on how to get to the trail up High Point as well as about the trail itself.
- New World Home Cooking
If you're ever in the area, you won't forgive yourself if you don't eat here.
- The Bakery in New Paltz
There's a reason their URL is "ilovethebakery." If you've been there once, you're guaranteed to become a junkie.
- Bread Alone
Some of the best bread in the Hudson Valley.
- P & G's
On the corner of Main and North Chestnut in New Paltz, great food, great beer, great company.
- Depuy Canal House
Expensive but astounding nouvelle cuisine,
All photos used by permission.
Photos courtesy of my mom, Singe: Hairpin turn & view from Hairpin, Food Coop, N. Chestnut St., P & G's.
All other photos by my aunt, K. Cathers: