New York Part I: Hudson Valley

Our first day at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp Resort at Lazy River was very uneventful. We were both exhausted from our road trip. We didn’t push ourselves, but it was still an intense four days and we both just wanted to relax and recharge. I did laundry and other house chores. Mike unloaded our car and set up our camp outside. We walked around the park in between tennis and golf matches on television. For dinner we grilled some chicken and corn, so it was a nice day after our travel extravaganza.

We had just effectively spent 7 weeks at the beach, so the Hudson River Valley brought an enormous change of scenery for us to absorb. Everything was so green and lush. I didn’t have any expectations about the landscape as we planned our stay in New York, so I was very excited to be surrounded by such majestic natural beauty. We had never stayed at a Yogi Bear Jellystone Park Campground before, but it is a franchise with about 75 locations in the U.S. The price was a higher rate than our usual state park fees. However, the state parks in New York do not have water and sewer connections so we opted to pay more for the convenience. Our campground was so beautiful, we weren’t in a real rush to get out and explore our surroundings by car yet. We were having fun walking the dogs and enjoying the landscape. Mike got his New York fishing license online, so he promptly found a spot along the Wall Kill to fish for catfish. This is the week I learned Kill is another word for River. The weather was overcast our first couple of days, but the second night it cleared up and we got to see the International Space Station fly over us as we walked the dogs before bed.

After we got our energy levels back up to normal, we decided to take a daytrip over to Hyde Park. Most National Historic Site’s allow dogs on the grounds, so we took Piper and Cessna with us on our explorations. The weather on this day was perfect. The temperature in the air was brisk, the sky was a bright clear blue, and the sun was shining so that it made everything seem to sparkle. The trip to Hyde Park was about 45 minutes via a two-lane winding road that passed quaint cottages and quintessential New England farm estates.

Our first stop was The Vanderbilt Mansion. This estate of Frederick William and Louise Vanderbilt was their favorite weekend property, even though they also had places in Bar Harbor, Newport, and the Adirondacks. The house was a giant mansion, but the grounds of the estate were most impressive to us. We walked the dogs around the wandering lawn peppered with enormous trees, through the formal gardens, and over to a scenic lookout at the top of a ridge. I was going to go on a guided tour of the inside of the house, but we forgot our National Park Pass back at the bus. Mike would have had to wait for me outside with the dogs for an hour, so I decided to pass. We left the Vanderbilt’s and headed to the Roosevelt’s.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was from Hyde Park. He is buried there now, alongside Eleanor Roosevelt (another American Icon in her own right) in the Rose Garden on the grounds of his family’s historic estate. The Home of FDR National Historic Site centers around Springwood: the birthplace, residence and “summer White House” of the 32nd President and the only President elected to four terms. The 300 acre estate includes the Rose Garden, a Visitor Center, Museum / Library, the residence, and many walking paths. Ten minutes down the road, (once the back edge of the family’s property) sits the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site.

One tidbit I found interesting was that FDR’s mother was quite overbearing and accompanied the young couple EVERYWHERE when they were first married. Eleanor’s mother-in-law, Sara, built and decorated their New York City townhouse, went with them to their vacation home in New Brunswick, and was always present when they were at the manor house at Springwood. Later after Franklin became active in politics, his mother backed off because she disapproved of his public career. There was a particular spot on the Roosevelt estate that the family liked to picnic. The spot was by a stream, Fall Kill. One day Eleanor was complaining to her friends that Sara was closing the big house for the year, making that the last outing of their season. Franklin suggested that she and her friends build a cottage nearby where they could enjoy the place year-round.  He offered several acres of land to the women for their lifetime use. They built a small fieldstone house and christened it Val-Kill after a nearby stream. This is where Eleanor hosted world leaders, entertained delinquent children, and lived the last 20 years after her husband’s death.

After all the grounds-touring the dogs were tired of their American history lesson. Before we headed back toward our camp, we stopped in Poughkeepsie at a place called the Ice House for lunch at the edge of the Hudson River. We had a view of two bridges from our table, one was for cars and the other was now a state park for pedestrians only. Anytime we can find a spot to eat outside near water that allows dogs, it is a good day.

A unique thing about the park we were staying in this week was that it was just across the river from a Skydiving Operation. The first couple of days were overcast, so they weren’t too busy and we didn’t catch on immediately. We kept seeing a Twin Otter plane taking off right over us. Each time he took off, he was HEAVY and seemed like he was just dangling in the air above us rather than actually gaining altitude. After about the fourth time the plane took off, we noticed things were falling from the sky… oh wait, those were humans!  All week we would watch the plane take off and we figured out the schedule. It was a 30 minute ordeal. About 15 minutes after the Twin Otter passed above us is when they would start jumping. We could see them free-fall and then hear the swoosh when they pulled the chute. After that we would hear lots of whooping and hollering and watch them float down to the landing zone right next door.  I kept telling Mike that it HAD to be common for some of those jumpers to land in our field by accident. I waited all week until my prediction came true.

Our last Sunday in the park was another extraordinary weather day. The first plane took off at 8:00 AM and they left out every thirty minutes until dark. I had taken Piper on a little hike in the middle of the afternoon. We were headed back to the Monaco when something started falling from the sky and landed about 20 yards in front of us. It was canvas with a string. Just about that time I heard a very loud swoosh directly above us, and before I knew it we were watching one of the jumpers land in the open field in front of us. Cool! I was desperate to run up and ask him all kinds of questions, but we just kept walking casually at our normal pace. He had landed on his feet and didn’t look panicked or like anything was amiss, but I did happen to know he probably did not plan to be where he was at the moment.

Another camper dad and his boys ran up and started to talk to the jumper as he was packing up his gear. They chatted for a moment and then walked off. About this time I was approaching the skydiver, so I asked him if he needed a ride. He didn’t skip a beat when he answered “that would be great”. I told him I would go put up my dog and get the car. When I told Mike one of the sky divers had landed in the field and I was giving him a ride back to the Sky Ranch, he looked at me at curiously. I explained that I wanted to interview the jumper and find out as much as possible about this whole operation next to us, and this would be the best way to do it without looking too nosy. I could be helpful the whole time I was asking him questions on the drive back! It was a perfect plan.

I never got the guy’s name, but he spoke with a foreign accent. He had been jumping for about 20 years. He was from the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York, and had come for a skydiving weekend with one of his buddies. They could go up as many times as they wanted, each jump was $25. This was his third jump of the day. He figured they would do about 6 or 8 jumps before sundown. The canvas bag that fell out of the sky before him was the back-up chute, and it is supposed to do that. He was too low and close to the river when he spotted the drop zone on this jump, so he decided to land at the campground instead because of the giant open field in the middle. The Sky Ranch, itself, was a teaming operation. There were hundreds of cars in the parking lot. People were everywhere. Some jumpers were climbing into the next plane as others were raining from the sky, one person touching down every second, it seemed. They even had a restaurant bar inside one of the hangers that faced the drop zone. If we had known that, we would have made our way over to enjoy lunch and drinks with a front row view! Just as I drove back into our campground and parked at our spot, another jumper landed in our field. Sorry dude, you’ll have to find someone else to give you a ride back – I have all the information I need for now.

Mike had called a mobile RV repair business to come look at the leak in my sink drain pipe. We waited for the guy to come out all morning on a Thursday. He finally arrived around 1pm, took a 5-second look at the pipe, and asked if he could send one of his technicians out in the morning. Great, we could repeat our morning of waiting again on Friday! The technician did show up on time Friday morning, and told us to wait about an hour before we used the sink in order for the bonding agent to dry. We did better than that… we waited an entire day. When I ran the sink Saturday morning, we discovered it was still leaking. Imagine the feeling of joy and happiness in our house at that moment. Mike called the guy back and this time our repair man friend said he would be out on Sunday. This was good news since we were leaving on Monday and really wanted to have this issue resolved. When Sunday rolled around we waited all day again for the guy to show up… but he called at 2PM instead to say that his technician would be out at 8:30 on Monday morning to get us fixed. This did not bring me a large level of confidence about the whole situation… Not to mention I was a bit ticked about having waited around most of the day for nothing. In the end, Paul the technician was on time Monday. He immediately realized what he had forgotten to do to the repair job last Thursday. Lucky for us he had re-fixed the leak and was gone within 10 minutes this time. The best part of the ordeal was:  that after all that, I could use my sink again.

Directly across the road from Yogi Bear’s Park were a Whisky Distillery and a wonderful restaurant located inside a Grist Mill established in 1788 and now a National Historic Landmark.  Tuthilltown Spirits is the first whisky distillery in New York State in over 80 years. The craft distillery makes fine aged grain and fruit spirits from the harvest of local Hudson Valley Farms. We visited their tasting room and tried some versions of their Hudson Whisky. I don’t care for whiskey, but Whisky Magazine voted the place Craft Whiskey Distillery of the Year, so we thought we would give it a try. After our tastings, we crossed the street to have dinner at Tuthill House at the Mill. The Grist Mill sits above the Shawangunk Kill and was a continuously operated water powered flour mill up until the early 80’s. The reason they were able to stay successful for so long was two-fold. First, they supplied kosher Flour to the Rabbi’s in the Burroughs of New York City. Very few mills were willing or able to take the time to follow the process it takes to produce kosher flour. Second, many sections of the cogs and wheels inside the mechanisms of the mill were made of wood instead of metal. This meant less chance for sparks and fires, which ultimately destroyed so many other Mills across the region and nation.  The owners of the Mill/ Restaurant bought the property and planned to convert it into a restaurant with a time-frame of one year. Three years later they were finally able to open for business.

That dinner turned into a very fun surprise date night. The building and scenery were so incredible; we ended up enjoying a 4-hour dinner before the night was over. I had teased Mike because we had the place all to ourselves and I accused him of renting the place out just for us to have a private dinner. When we first arrived we opted to sit outside on a covered porch. It was raining outside, but only slightly, and we were protected so it wasn’t a bother. There were a few other couples eating inside, but we were alone in the outdoor section. Our table was directly above the waterfall section of the Kill. The music of birds was just a backdrop to the sounds of rushing water below us and light rain surrounding us.  There was a national geographic view of trees, water, and birds everywhere we looked. We were even able to watch a token deer graze far off at the other edge of a neighboring field.  All of this atmosphere made for a very romantic dinner spot and Mike acted like he planned the whole thing. We had martinis and an Antipasto Plate outside until the air got a little cooler at sunset. We moved to a table inside and by now all the other patrons had gone. It was only 7PM so we kept pretending Mike had planned this elaborate dinner all to surprise me. He ordered Duck and I had a delicious Fish Stew. We even had Cheesecake for dessert. After dinner we were lucky enough to get a tour of the whole building from Tobie, the owner. We got to see all the inner workings of the Mill and hear great stories about the history of the building. It was such an interesting experience and we were grateful for the time she took to show us around.

The Hudson River Valley played a pivotal role in determining the outcome of the Revolutionary War. The history of the area is about how Americans stymied British attempts in 1776- 1783 to control the river way and sever New England from the rest of the colonies. We did not get to see even a small portion of all the Hudson River Valley Revolutionary War Sites, but we did visit The New Windsor Cantonment and the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor. Both attractions are located just outside of Newburgh, NY.

Our primary purpose of the field trip was to visit the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor. My dad has three purple hearts from his time in the Army. My idea was to visit the museum and make a donation in his name as a Father’s Day gift. June 16th was on the way and that was the best idea I had for a Dad’s Day present. The Hall of Honor is a nice, small museum. We learned there is no formal database with information on all Purple Heart recipients. When I sent my dad his card, I sent him the registration information in case he wanted to complete and return it.

The unexpected history lesson came when we visited the New Windsor Cantonment next door. George Washington’s army made its final encampment here over the winter of 1782. They called the community building here the Temple of Virtue. This is where Washington made an emotional speech convincing army officers not to rebel over pay.  There are volunteers that dress in period attire available for questions and offering demonstrations of routine chores from the time period. On the day we visited they were reenacting how the encampment handled laundry (my favorite thing!). The irony of the situation was that as we conversed with these 1700’s –era figures, a C-130 was flying low above us doing touch-and-goes at a nearby reserve base. It was a bit challenging to try and imagine ourselves being back in 1782 with the monstrous aircraft buzzing us every 10 minutes. The volunteers offered to give us a black-smith demonstration, but we declined and got back on the road. The afternoon was so pleasant, we wanted to get back and build a campfire.

New Paltz is a charming village in the Hudson Valley and it was the location of our last excursion from Yogi Bear’s Campground. The town was established in the late 1600’s and is thriving today with shops, restaurants and bars. We drove over one afternoon as we were doing some recon on the best route to take out of the area when we left in the bus. On that first trip, we parked the car and walked around with the dogs. We didn’t stop into any specific place, just explored the main street and some side streets on foot. The second time we went back was a bit of a fluke.

There is a place in the mountain above New Paltz called Mohonk Mountain House. The name sounds unassuming, but the place is not. The resort was selected for the 2011 Conde Nast Traveler Gold List that presents “the world’s best places to stay”, and voted one of the Top 20 Resorts in the U.S. by Conde Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards. I looked it up online – www.mohonk.com – and it did indeed look like the Victorian Castle Resort that our dinner host, Tobie, had described. My idea was to go drive over to look around the place and have a drink in the bar before driving back home.

The drive up the mountain was gorgeous, so the outing was lots of fun. When we got to the entrance there was a guard gate. When it was our turn, I told girl we were just going to visit their bar and have a drink. “Sorry mam, the bar is for guests only”. Hmmm, we weren’t planning on eating dinner out… but I was looking for options to get past the gate. I asked if outside patrons were allowed to visit their restaurant. She replied that reservations are usually required, but she would call the dining room and ask if they had extra room. She did and they did, but there was only one other problem. Long pants only. Oh well, we weren’t really prepared to spend another $200 on dinner so soon after the Grist Mill anyway! We drove back down the mountain that evening and stopped into New Paltz again to check out a couple of their local taverns. We did end up eating dinner out at the Gilded Otter, but I’m sure the bill was much more appropriate for our budget than getting past the guard gate would have been. We won’t be traveling to any resorts like this in the next few years, but once we have a regular house again Mohonk Mountain Lodge is on my list of places to visit!

This week in New York was great for us. We had made it through to the Northeast to explore during the warm months, and this river valley was the perfect welcoming spot with all the quaint farms and well-stocked farmer’s markets. Everything was so charming and quaint. Even though it was yucky raining weather as we pulled out of the campground, I was eager to get back on the road and learn more about the charm of New England. We would be back to the Empire State, but for now we planned to finish the rest of June in Vermont.

 

The Hudson River Bridge crossing over to Poughkeepsie.

The Hudson River Bridge crossing over to Poughkeepsie.

Inside the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor.

Inside the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor.

Inside the Tuthill House at the Mill Restaurant & Tavern.

Inside the Tuthill House at the Mill Restaurant & Tavern.

If you can see the jumper in this photo, you will understand how close we were to the Parachute Club. The plane is taking off from the same field the jumper is coming down into. This was the show we got to see for a week!

If you can see the jumper in this photo, you will understand how close we were to the Parachute Club. The plane is taking off from the same field the jumper is coming down into. This was the show we got to see for a week!

Happy that Mike reserved entire restaurant for us to enjoy our quiet dinner.  Or at least that is what we went with.

Happy that Mike reserved entire restaurant for us to enjoy our quiet dinner. Or at least that is what we went with.

This was our view  every time we left the Lazy River Campground - taken from the exit gate. The Wallkill River ran along side the park.

This was our view every time we left the Lazy River Campground – taken from the exit gate. The Wallkill River ran along side the park.

The Vista from the Vanderbilt Estate in Hyde Park - looking West back across the Hudson River.

The Vista from the Vanderbilt Estate in Hyde Park – looking West back across the Hudson River.

We started with drinks and appetizers outside on the Porch at Tuthill House. Of course the view was spectacular, but the sound of the roaring water just below us was even more magnificent.

We started with drinks and appetizers outside on the Porch at Tuthill House. Of course the view was spectacular, but the sound of the roaring water just below us was even more magnificent.

The view from our bedroom window.

The view from our bedroom window.

The brown blobs in the grass are woodchucks (the bigger brown circles are fire rings). Mike fished by their hole home, so they lent him moral support while he tried to snag the catfish.

The brown blobs in the grass are woodchucks (the bigger brown circles are fire rings). Mike fished by their hole home, so they lent him moral support while he tried to snag the catfish.

The field on the left side of the road is where the sky diver(s) landed when they missed their target field across the river.

The field on the left side of the road is where the sky diver(s) landed when they missed their target field across the river.

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