Frum Outdoorsman: Rare but Possible

The wanderings and adventures of an orthodox Jew

Archive for the ‘Rural America’ Category

Sunday afternoon rides that fueled my love for the outdoors

Posted by Frum Hiker on March 20, 2009

I can remember lying on the shaggy gray carpet of my living room on cold Sunday mornings watching the weather channel, even as a kid, before my love of jazz kicked in, I can remember being drawn to the funky yet soothing music of the weather channel. Sunday mornings where always started with H and H bagels, philly cream cheese, lox and red onions with the weather channel turned up and my father asking my brother and I if we wanted to take a ride.

A ride was not just a ride, a ride meant multiple things, it meant that we would leave the city behind for a short period and search for snow in upstate, I remember my father driving us over 2 hours north just to see some snow once, he truly loved the adventure of wandering the back roads of upstate, NY.

A ride could also mean going to the restaurant in the park, which was a small cantina Mexican restaurant located just off the Saw Mill River Parkway in Westchester County. It could have been in the middle of nowhere as we were concerned, for we would walk on this abandoned railroad track and look for old pieces of coal and rusty spikes. My father instilled the love of all things old and abandoned at this small county park just north of the city.

A ride could also mean a little farther drive to Harriman state park, where we would wander around, knocking over dead trees, checking out the ice fisherman and go sledding. In high school we would go shoot my BB gun and cross bow and later my .22 rifle. We never actually hiked, we parked and went into the woods, nothing was official. I don’t remember actually taking water with me into the woods until I got into my later teenage years.

We always ended up falling asleep on these long rides into the country with my father listening to the news or nothing, as we wondered why it was taking us hours to get home. He always took the “scenic” route, which sometimes meant going 80 miles out of the way. He would stop at the oddest of attractions. Old cemeteries were high on the list, as were abandoned railroad tracks, flea markets, main streets filled with old Victorian mansions and any time there happened to be a 57 Chevy in any condition sitting on the side of the road. I could tell my father longed for the days when he would own one of these beauties again, have a barn to store it in, in some off the beaten track barn in Vermont, and be able to walk out of his front door, with a piece of long grass in his mouth, humming Carlebach classics as he hobbled down the road in the dead of winter.

My father was what you would a call a four seasons man, but he loved the crisp cool air of winter. He would tell us random facts like, the clearer the night the colder it would get or how to tell how old a milk bottle was based on the way the glass was formed at the edges. He seemed to be a bottomless pit when it came to information and looking back on it now, it really formed who I am today.

Everything that he loved and that he shared with us, I took and went more extreme then he would ever have done. He instilled something I have grown to accept and this is what John Steinbeck has called Insatiable Wanderlust.
After those rides we would inevitably wind up at the Chinese Restaurant in Teaneck or at Ratners on the Lower East Side, with a warm bowl of French onion soup and melted butter dripping off of those incredible onion rolls they used to have.

Posted in general Outdoors, Harriman State Park, NY metro area, Rural America | Tagged: , , , | 10 Comments »

Railroad bridges

Posted by Frum Hiker on March 12, 2009

railroad-bridge-stone-arches
Western New York is full of old railroad bridge abutments, if you don’t know what to look for you could miss these often times beautiful stone piles that are often jutted up against the back road you may be barreling down. I can see these stone piles that once supported railroad trestles from a mile away and they always evoke the same wonderment.

I always think about trains, constantly, when I am driving, I try to pick roads next to abandoned train tracks with the thought that I may come across an old roundtable, or water stop, or maybe an old abandoned bridge with a nice stone arch, quite rare in upstate New York because the stone is brittle, mostly limestone from Syracuse to Buffalo and Limestone crumbles easily, you cant climb the walls of the abandoned quarries of Leroy and Batavia, it just doesn’t work.

Sometimes I stop at these bridge abutments and wonder what the bridge may have looked like, I dream about the passenger trains that used to service every town in America, how the population must have felt when the train “came” to their town. I try to see if the old telegraph poles are left, maybe I can even find some stray insulators lying around?

Often times the bridge supports will have a date, 1924, I seem to recall as being carved out the top of one of these stray stone structures that sits on the side of Route 31 around Lyons or was it Newark? Why was the bridge removed? Did it collapse? Was the line decommissioned and the bridge sold for scrap? Why are the tracks still visible on the elevated earth embankments? Shouldn’t they have been sold for scrap as well?

I especially like when the bridge supports are visible in water, evoking images in my head of a huge bridge. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania has some of these as you cross the Susquehanna. What about the bridge supports visible on the Genesee River in Rochester right near the point of High Falls? They are so low and I cannot for the life of me figure out why a bridge would be all the way below the street level? Was there a tunnel? Its all a mystery to me.

Sometimes the stone supports are there and only half the bridge is there like that of the bridge near Avon, New York, just south of the original east west highway known as US highway 20, there is a stone arch bridge which is magnificent, I wish you would check it out sometimes, very impressive, although its hard to figure out where on earth the tracks came from.

Am I the only one fascinated with railroad bridge abutments and supports, that contain no bridge, only the memory of the bridge, for romantics like myself to imagine what was once there.

Posted in Abandoned Sites, Rural America | 5 Comments »

Wanderlust Rant

Posted by Frum Hiker on November 23, 2008

Edited by my new fan and inspiration Eli Perlow

My hand is out the window making waves in the afternoon sunlight, the free flowing air moving about my fingers as if they were stuck in the white sand along the Mexican coast, swishing and swooshing and enjoying the warmth. It’s so warm; I have shorts and a t-shirt on and it’s November. I am in my happy place, Grateful Dead blaring from my speakers as I meander on some forgotten byway, lost in time, devoid of other travelers because they prefer the sing-song of concrete and the fast windows-closed-motion of their box of steel hitting super sonic speeds that make all the fast food billboards look like a picket fence.

In Missouri it sure seemed that way, the picket fence scenario played out at 72 miles per hour on Interstate 44. I cruised along, paid no attention to much besides for the current song on the Ipod shuffle, another invention of the laziness permeating our society, the instant gratification reflective of the “I want it now not later” factions who control everything.

I don’t want to skip songs I don’t like, nor do I want to appreciate LPs or imports and random tracks at the end of albums which the album cover doesn’t reveal to even be in existence. Nope, I want it now, just like my picket fence of billboards mostly advertising truck stops that have all the amenities of a small city, including showers, casinos, cheap prostitutes and loads of food containing things like xanathan gum and hydroemaciatedemancipatedsomething with weird extracts ending in sucrose or gum. Can someone please tell me why potato chips need to have 89 ingredients – those being the plain ones?

And so I zip past these horrible neon cities in the night with their 40 gas pumps (pay at the pump laziness to boot). I see the moths hovering around these glowing towers of progress, these robots filling their steel behemoths to transport more big box items to the steel structures that hog the strip malls of their once charming facades. I am past that, thank God; I am out of Missouri and Indiana and Ohio. These places make me sick, a tribute to the fatness and uncaring aspects of our society. Even the back roads contain it; hop onto any US highway in the Midwest and they’re not accoutered by the old neon flashing motor court signs and abandoned gas stations with names like Jim’s Service offering full lubrication and tire fixings, or old beautiful forgotten homes on the verge of collapse with some little old lady watering her petunias – nope – the old US highway in the Midwest and mostly wherever you go has become a service road.

I can almost guarantee that if the brakes in cars become good enough or auto pilot in sedans ever comes to light, the Interstate highway system will become one mile after mile choice of strip plazas. You will merely tell your car how fat you want to get that day, or how much life you want to lose and – walla – you will arrive at the fast food destination of your choice. Brilliant, another way to keep the gas guzzling American automobile makers in business – they should have fizzled out 30 years ago. I almost feel as if the big 3 in Detroit are a symbol of everything we don’t want America to be; big ugly pigs who never change, a bunch of liberal hogwash you may say – but seriously, who wants to buy American?

But that’s all past me, I am in the Ozarks, passing by stately looking mobile home parks with names like Breezy Corners or Spring Gardens, it’s great to see nice looking trailer parks. Growing up in NY you hear about trailer park trash, although the only place you see them is on Jerry Springer when you’re home sick from school because before the Price Is Right came on it was Jerry Springer or Montel or Rikki Lake. Jerry was best with his southern drawl trailer park trash, Mandy was fighting with Rick or someone named Ashley, those names that people in the East just don’t have. Then suddenly you see the real thing and there are regular people mowing their small lawns and flower pots hang next to those gun toting cowboy silhouettes that have mailboxes attached to them. It’s kind of odd to think that you can lie down and that’s your whole house, but then again, people in the cities; the cosmopolitan, artsy, cultured, and intellectual humans have even smaller places to call their own, and they don’t even own them.

The smell of fresh cut grass comes wafting through my window and I just want to stop and run around in the small patch of fresh cut grass between the road and the property line marked by a barbed wire fence with posted no hunting signs scattered about; it’s not like the East, in the East posted signs are every 10 feet, here it may be every 10 miles. I love fresh cut grass though, and I ease off the gas to slow down to wallow in its path.

I pass the state highway mowers and give a little nod. That’s another thing about country roads – everyone nods. It’s interesting, maybe it’s just to acknowledge their existence; or is it something more? It brings a personal aspect to the place, something people have lost. Don’t even get me started on the lack of general knowledge people have about their places of existence. Most people run from one place to another without taking the time to enjoy the journey, the road trips of today are destination trips. “Were going to California” brings epic visions of orange deserts in Utah and Arizona, Indian reservations, shimmering sunlight mirages blowing around in the distance. Swimming holes, weird truck stops, rock formations and mountain climbing, snow capped mountains and old broken down abandoned cars buried in the earth next to an old mine. But nowadays going to California means going to Los Angeles with a side trip to Las Vegas, all on blistering fast highways ignoring the beauty around them – not even a trip to Joshua Tree or Kings Canyon is in store and a trip down the PCH brings people to Malibu or something with a stop immortalized by digital pictures in front of the Pacific Coast Highway for proof to say they were there.

Talk about saying they were there – memories mean nothing as long as they are tagged on Facebook in their photoshopped glory, oh how I miss the days of the winding mechanized manual camera. The loud snap to acknowledge you actually photographed something. Setting up the picture, putting in the flash; how I long for days when people cared about the little things. Seems like everyone is lost in the views, views of their Blackberry while they do anything: it must be documented, I am going here or there or feel like this. This is probably because no one spends any time alone, they are always connected, connected to electrical devices or networks.

The Ozarks remind me of West Virginia, they are rounded hills dotted with houses and quarries, I haven’t been here since 2001 when I took my first wandering trip. I remember it quite well, I decided to head west and regrettably (I am not sure why) turned around once I hit the prairies; I know what you’re thinking – I think the exact same thing. Why would anyone put themselves through the hell of the Midwest only to turn around? I was in Nebraska and Kansas for Godsakes and I went down…I think I was scared, that was my first time out of the damned time zone, west would have meant the Rockies, I would wait another summer, but still I look back and wonder why I turned south towards Oklahoma and Texas.

I do remember coming out of Topeka and seeing the most beautiful and amazing site ever. I had entered the prairies and it was unlike anything I had ever seen, until I went to the Rockies for the first time. The grasslands outside of Topeka are endless, you can see for 50 miles based on the highway being above the prairie. I was shocked and awed and just stood there watching the blowing green grass with thousands of cattle dotting the horizon.

I also remember that it was the start of a lifetime of insatiable wanderlust, that’s what John Steinbeck calls it in Travels with Charley, he is absolutely right and it’s something of a curse. You see, I cannot sit still; I always need to be seeing and experiencing new places and people. I am like a professional wanderer, although I like to be in America mostly, I have found I like to experience this country like no other. I enjoy that it’s all the same country, same language – yet so vast and different. I want to experience it all and of course it contradicts my society, my community, my religion, all saying to settle down build a family and wander around your tiny back yard and local grocery store- I sometimes think marriage would be a nightmare for me, literally, homebound, I mean I could grab the car on a Sunday and drive 1000 miles and come back- I have been known for things like that- but it wouldn’t be the same.

I am on a one way road trip, although I just got a call from my dad announcing he was getting married and he needs me back in NY on December 14th. I am not happy about it, he’s been dating the same girl for 8 years and finally I leave for the West to fulfill my dreams and I am told to come right back. But still, I am headed west and it’s a dream come true – although I am not sure if it’s what I truly want or need. You see those truths always evade me, I get carried with the wind, it’s always been like that. I just kind of go with the flow, no plans really. I see my friends settled down or trying to settle down against their wills and I don’t want it – maybe I do, maybe I can handle it – but if my life is anything to go on, it doesn’t appear so. It appears that marriage will drive me insane. I have fallen in love before, but even that was scary, the settling down aspect scared the crap out of me – people always say “its time to settle down” but I just don’t think they understand. They try to and then they say stupid things like “once you get married you will have no time to travel or wander or ride your bike or hitchhike, etc…” and those words – although said with a kind smirk – have the exact opposite effect they are meant to have. Why would I ever want to get married or settle down then?

I am out of the mountains and into rolling farmland and then flatlands with scraggly bushes and dark flowing streams. I am nearing Oklahoma, another state that is interesting because it connects two different worlds, the Plains and the Rockies; it also borders so many states that it makes it interesting. I could probably walk through the panhandle and around so that I have walked through a bunch of states in a matter of a week or so, I think about this sort of thing all the time, just walking, for no purpose except to see or go. I drive, but when the money runs out I can imagine myself walking, kind of like Peter Jenkins in A Walk Across America, one look at my book collection and you could figure me out. My book collection would tell you that I am a solo journeyman with a mind of a businessman and entrepreneur, its true, all I tend to read is social history books on items like coal, gunpowder, cotton and steel. I also tend to read about great American businessmen and their lives, Carnegie, Rockefeller, Watson, Walton. Then I want to read about adventurers, anything really, give me books about polar expeditions, Hudson Bay Company stuff, frontier stories and the general hitchhiking and rail riding fantasies that I may have but never come to fruition. You may even call me a professional American Romantic, almost like a Jack Kerouac minus all the drugs and partying.

The air is even warmer now and the road is empty and flat and lined with strange looking bushes and trees, the brush is thick and the sun is slanting almost to the point where the land becomes orange, my favorite part of the day. I am thrust into Oklahoma and the speed limit becomes 70 miles per hour, this is on a 2 lane byway mind you, the type that has backed up traffic on the east coast going to some tourist destination like Gatlinburg, Tennessee or Watkins Glenn in New York. I am just cruising along windows down – drivers tan beginning to creep up my window arm and thinking about Texas my new temporary home.

Oklahoma slips away and I am in Texas, I stop for evening prayers and notice the sweet smells, I love Texas I proclaim, rural Texas at least. I already know I don’t like Texas cities, but I can’t judge from being in Dallas twice and Houston once, everyone says the same thing, why Dallas, you have to go to Austin. My job is in Dallas I tell them, although I know I will not be there long, all I remember about Dallas was that it is big.

So I hop onto US highway 82 going west towards Paris, Texas and I hit cruise control. My car is running smooth and it feels good because I just hit 309,000 miles in the darned thing. I love reaction of the oil change guys, they hoot and howl for the other greased up guys to over and have a look, swinging their greasy rags they say wow wee, insane man. I am proud of my miles, those miles spent driving up the Alaska highway or down the up to Mount Rainier or across the flatlands of South Dakota, its all there in those cracked leather seats and that noisy engine, miles of a wanderer.

The transition happens all too quickly, kind of like in the East when you get that first snowstorm and everyone talks about how it was 80 degrees a week ago. I hit Paris and my world of rural back roads and trailer parks and abandoned hotels and gas stations ends. It ends with the first neon lighted gas station sign and continues to dwindle with Wal Mart, Home Depot and Sears, it continues to dwindle until I realize I am in the West with WataBurger and Jack in the Box, classic western burger joints. I am spit out onto Route 75 south towards Dallas and already I am wishing for the quaint roads of upstate New York lined with huge old growth sugar maples and ornate Victorian mansions with the beautiful wood carved railings.

Why did I ever come here, I begin to wonder as I pass strip mall after strip mall of continuous never changing offerings, I mean how many CVS pharmacies can you have already? It gets to a point where Missouri and its picket fence of billboards is nothing like this. Nothing I tell you, the whole craziness of the situation makes it a little interesting. Here I am driving 70 mph down a highway with service roads on either side packed with stores. It reminds me of New Jersey, except in NJ the service road is the highway.

I must say the highways are smooth and built for speed, but 50 miles before my new home I hit Dallas – random office buildings with shiny glass and huge parking behemoths, so people shouldn’t walk too far. I almost feel as if walkers are banned from Texas, it is not a walking state, it’s built for drivers. I pass under a huge interchange, in the East space is limited because the highways were built after the cities, not so in the West. The highway interchange I just passed under must have been a mile wide with ramps going everywhere.

I come to my exit and get off, but I am not off the highway, the service road is a highway with stores on it, welcome to Texas I proclaim as I get off and am thankful that at least gas is very cheap at $1.75 a gallon. I drive along another highway with slower speed limits and more stores to reach a side street finally, but once you leave the sanctuary of your newly built tree filled neighborhood you will have to go onto another highway just to get there.

Dallas is stifling and I haven’t even been here in their summer. Not stifling in a heat sort of way – as of yet at least – stifling in a “I need to escape this suburban hellhole but can’t” way. If you want to leave the city, leave the pull of the city or experience rural openness, you must drive and then keep driving on a superhighway until you finally reach farmland at which point it will have gotten dark and you must turn around. It’s already hurting my psyche, you see I find the wandering and I need to get out of this place – but don’t worry – Colorado is next and should provide for endless hours and days of wandering action.

Posted in Abandoned Sites, Road Trips, Rural America | Tagged: , , | 7 Comments »

Jewish kids don’t care

Posted by Frum Hiker on July 24, 2008

This is very random, no idea what was going on in my head:

Jewish kids just don’t get nostalgic about Americana, they don’t care about old route 66, the mother road as they called it in the Grapes of Wrath. They don’t pull over to the side of the road fumbling around for their black and white camera body and their tripods as they wonder whether the rain storm in the distance will provide good light for the perfectly preserved service station on the side of the road, with weeds breaking the cracked concrete surface and rusted pumps hanging to the side like a last will and testament that gas pumps were once built with aesthetics in mind.

Jewish kids don’t care about rusted hulks of the classic cars of yesteryear buried under decades of rubble, rust and garbage, strewn about the side of the road like some dumpster dropped them here and totally forgot about them. They don’t care about the old license plates with their stickers denoting the year of registration, or the smooth lines from the grill to the headlamps.

Jewish kids don’t care about ghost towns, unless there is a theme park park surrounding them with little stands explaining what this house used to be or why there is a big slab of concrete here or there. They don’t care to wander around broken homes that once belonged to families that could have left for a million different reasons. They couldn’t care less about the old milk bottles, cans and signs that lay under fallen down roof panels.

Jewish kids don’t care about the abandoned railroad tracks, that crisscross this country like a spider web in the attic. They don’t care about those flat expanses with nothing but old fences and tumble weeds. They don’t care about, old diners with their flashing neon lights and their waitresses named Gene and Joe.

Jewish kids don’t care about old motels advertising air cooled rooms and color zenith color TV. They don’t care about the motor court with the dried up pool in the center and the pale blue peeling paint and brown carpets.

Jewish kids don’t care about abandoned roads, old roads, old bridges and the old byways, US highways and other nondescript roads that were heavily traveled before the easy on easy off interstates were built.

Jewish kids and most kids and most people and most everyone just don’t care anymore, about anything beyond super sized, super easy, super electronic, super fast and super flashy. No body seems to care…..

Posted in Rural America | 13 Comments »

My indecisiveness in action

Posted by Frum Hiker on June 5, 2008

So I gave my buddy Ariel a call this week to see if he was going to be upstate at his camp in Tannersville New York and sure enough he is and he would love to have me which is awesome- because I haven’t seen him in years and I love the area- and will have some great stuff to do on Friday.

Then it hit me- what can I do to utilize my time the best on Friday since I have to be down in New York sunday morning to pick a friend up from the airport. Suddenly my logic started working and I came up so many options its driving me nuts.

Kayaking in North/South Lakes- great swimming and beautiful.

Ride one of my favorite loops in all of the Catskills, routes 214-28-42 back up route 23. I was already thinking of this- it is tiring and hilly but amazing.

Do small hike like Giant Ledge only a couple miles, longer hike like Slide Mountain or maybe Hunter Mountain.

Go mountain biking at Jockey Hill and Bluestone wild forest outside Kingston.

Roll down the windows, remove my shirt, throw on some bluegrass and wander around the rural byways of Greene and Delaware Counties.

Then I realized I have to work tomorrow- which means less time- I have taken off the last 3 Fridays in a row. I figured on working till 12 and then driving up- only an hour and a half drive. Its supposed to be 87 degrees. I’m figuring on mountain biking, hiking and a little driving/wandering.

Ah the life as outdoors nut isn’t always so simple.

Posted in Catskills, Hiking, Kayaking, Mountain Biking, Road Biking, Road Trips, Rural America | 1 Comment »

For the sake of wandering

Posted by Frum Hiker on February 25, 2008

The tree was no ordinary one, it was enormous, and it was beautiful, but it was strange emotional in a way. Its branches were welcoming and the old ban tilting to its side as if it were about to fall made the picture just right. I switched my camera to black and white to enhance the beauty of this enormous old growth tree, that was right at the intersection of two dirt roads with no name on them. As if the roads were built with the tree in mind, bending a little in there windy ways to accommodate this massive Birch that stood in front of an old stately house that stood next to the tilted wooden barn. It was a proud tree and it put me in a cheery mood, although I was already in a cheery mood, the tree made it somewhat better.

I hopped in my car and chose to turn left at the tree continuing my odyssey of dirt road traveling. Its my thing you know, to drive up random roads and get lost, you never know what will be around the bend, behind that abandoned grain silo or over the next hill. Its quite interesting actually to just wander for the sake wandering, nowhere to go and no ideas where I actually am. Just driving down long forgotten roads past fallen over barns, old rusting farm equipment with small trees growing out of the wheels, leaning towers of grain silos and once grand now left to rot mansions. Trailer parks with trucks parked next to small patches of grass with small scenes of Nativity being played out next to cowboy silhouettes. Old cars sitting in a mowed around patch of weeds with faded for sale cards in the windows. Stop signs barely legible due to a scattering of bullet holes. Roads with ruts that will suck you up should you make any sudden moves. Swamps and dense thickets of deciduous trees, fast flowing creeks gurgling over rocks and deadfall, snow capped hills, and pine trees full of the last snow, gently tilting their trees and dispersing their loads to the ground below, adding to the snow drifts and covering up the deer tracks.

This is what I crave, driving down a muddy road, forests and fields passing by at 35 miles per hour, my wheels spitting mud and gravel onto the already browned snow on the side of the road right up against the forest. Struggling with the wheel and with the clutch, making sure I do not miss anything and do not skid off a cliff. Small pings coming from my undercarriage- little rocks hitting my car as I bump over the rutted road. People walking their dogs, in orange caps and camouflage jump suits, gentle waves at them and back at me as I pass.

The banjo is being picked at a steady pace and I am bobbing along excited at what the road will bring me. Just peacefully drifting to the sounds of the Kentucky Hills, bluegrass is the only music for this type of venture. It allows me to drift to the olden days. I imagine the road without power lines and homesteaders working the land, women in big dresses hauling water up from the well and the kids churning butter.

Paved roads interject the unpaved ones and I try as hard as possibly to only drive on dirt, my car is sandy colored and I am proud of the mud mess I have produced.

Posted in Abandoned Sites, Road Trips, Rural America | Leave a Comment »

Wandering old mill towns

Posted by Frum Hiker on February 19, 2008

Harmony Mills

There is something about mills, especially ones powered by water that make me slam the brakes and get out of the car for a closer look. In recent years I have developed an uncanny ability to scan the sides of fast flowing rivers and waterfalls for any signs of mill activity. Old sluices, bridge abutments and foundations near fast flowing water get me excited to say the least. I have been able to find a great many old mill sites and factories in my travels around Upstate NY mostly the Hudson Valley portion.

The Hudson valley was much more industrial then the rest of NY State because the valley created a watershed that collected all of the rivers flowing down from the Hudson Highlands, Catskills and Taconics. I find that all through the Hudson Valley there are loads of waterfalls with abandoned and restored mills. The towns of Catskill, Saugerties, Coeymans, Troy, and Cohoes are great reminders of what mill towns could become, with their old downtowns, grand stately mansions and of course large- usually abandoned or destroyed industrial areas.

Yesterday was 55 degrees and rain, so I decided against riding my bike and getting it all rusty and instead went to Cohoes to walk around. Cohoes is just north of Albany on the Mohawk River- otherwise known as part of the famous Erie Canal. The river drops 75 feet at Cohoes falls and they are 2000 feet across making them the second largest in the state. You can find higher in many places, but wider is unheard of.

Naturally it is the place of a large mill complex known as Harmony Mills. They were great textile mills in the 1870s, but of course with the invention of modern machines- like most great industrial enterprises they are not used. In fact they were recently bought by some Israeli real estate developers to make into lofts, and other uses, including self storage and offices.

The Harmony Mills complex is a breathtaking site. They are enormous and beautifully built. I am a huge fan of the brickwork on these buildings with classic red industrial brick and arched windows. The windows mostly appear to be original, I assume because it is a national historic site. There are many other buildings to compliment the mill site- which is at least 1/4 mile long. I had a field day imagining what it was like inside. 3100 people worked there and made Cohoes a company town. I especially like the fact there are sections remaining of the old diversion canal, which every mill must have to divert water away from the falls to power the mill wheels- or what we may call turbines.

I wandered around took tons of pictures and then walked around where the company housing used to be. The buildings are small and not fancy at all. The owner of the mills’ house is beautiful- but as far as I could tell privately owned. I walked around searching for an old shul- which I am sure existed at one time or another. I usually search for old shuls in forgotten towns, its one of my things.

I have some other recommendations if wandering around mill towns actually interests you. North Adams in Massachusetts is amazing and complete with at least 50 mills along the Hoosick River. Lowell also in MA was the site of the largest textile mills in the world at one point- I have never been- but plan to go one of these days. High Falls NY– right near Route 32 junction in Rosendale- is also a very cool town. There are the old aqueducts over the falls for a canal as well as a bunch of very old locks and such. Oh Amsterdam NY is one of my favorite towns and is located about 30 miles west of Albany.

Posted in Abandoned Sites, Catskills, Rural America | 3 Comments »

Remembering the Northwest Territories

Posted by Frum Hiker on February 7, 2008

I have never been so aware of my devotion to Hashem than on my trip to Alaska. In August of 2007 I undertook trip that many people dream of, but never actually complete, or they opt for the cruise and miss out on all I was to see and bask in. I say this because, the drive is a lonely one, literally coming to towns every 150 miles or so, along the Alaska Highway (Alcan). There is just nothing ordinary about it, you have never really been in the true middle of nowhere until you make the drive. Northern British Columbia and Yukon Territories are so vast and empty it’s a marvel that anyone calls it home. Prior to 1942 with the construction of the Alaska Highway, it was a truly desolate, with just a few mining and logging communities, towns were non-existent and most of the residents were natives or living in the Bush. The bush is the term used to describe someone that lives in a community or area that is not accessible by road, and usually only accessible by plane or snowmobile. Till today there are thousands of people living in the bush, and thousands more that live in places that are accessible in the winter through the building of “ice roads”, its unbelievable and I was driving right through it.

In fact a quick look at a map of the north country will reveal that for most of the Alaska Highway, it is completely void of human activity on either side for a thousand miles in either direction. This is why I was completely aware of every little spark of kedusha that I brought to this isolated piece of land.

It didn’t hit me so hard until I was davening shachris on the side of the Liard River in southern Northwest Territories. There was this long single lane bridge with a wooden planked surface, it was rather odd and the Milepost even had something to say about it. The Milepost is a guide to the north country, and is put out every year, it is extensive and a must for anyone traveling the north, usually the north is referred as anything above the 60th parallel, which is at over a thousand miles due north of the United States northern border with Canada which is at the 49th parallel.

Anyway I was overlooking this vast swift moving flat water river, sandy shores butted up against the greenest, thickest forest of pine I have ever seen. In fact the whole area is this unbroken plain of pine trees that are rather short, due to the extreme northern cold climate and northern location. There is a point at which the trees end, and nothing can grow besides for grasses and shrubs, but we were not headed up that far. I was standing off to the side of this long bridge while my driving companion Danny debated if he wanted to go fishing for some breakfast.

The road we were on was dirt, in fact there are hardly any paved roads in the Northwest Territories (NWT) and we were on a short detour, because in my mind you cannot come to the north and skip out on being somewhere that is so hard to get to. NWT stretches north to he arctic ocean and also borders Nunavut, Canada’s newest province, most rural and hardest to get to. The lure of NWT for me was its shear size and lack of people, 41,000 people live in an area almost ten times the size of California, that is just too insane to pass up.

We had decided not to drive so far into it, since the roads are unpaved, and although they aren’t too bad, I did want to make it to Alaska, and most of NWT is flat and I fiended the mountains of the Yukon and Alaska.

It really wasn’t a question of whether I was the first person to daven on route the side of the bridge right outside the Northwest Territories. But I had begun to think of a bunch of different ways to bring kedusha to the ground we walked on. Brachos instantly became more pronounced and excuses were made to say a bracha, more kinds of food were eaten, picking wild flowers to make brachos and going to the bathroom more so we could say asher yatzer, it was unreal really and the mood lasted throughout the trip. Every time we sat down to eat or make camp, there was a little learning that may not have been done, have we been in a more populated location.

The road became rough and down the center of it was a small pile of gravel and earth, it was making it hard to drive faster then 30, then a road grader approached up and flattened out the road, nearly swiping my car and all its contents into the ditch that was on the side of the road. Every few minutes we pass a cut in the trees with no apparent purpose, but according to the Milepost they were snow roads, only opened when enough snow had fallen to allow trucks and snowmobiles to travel over the roots and fallen trees.

My car came to a halt in the middle of the road, nearly skidding off it, for a herd of Buffalo had just appeared out of the thickets, I hadn’t realized anything could fit in the forest. The huge brown hairy behemoths, just grazed as if were weren’t even there. I love Buffalo, especially in the wild, which in the lower 48 is rare, save for Montana and South Dakota which have several herds. We took some pictures and stared at wonder at the large beasts, just taking big bites off the bushes on the side of the road.

A little further on we came to a simple road sign that said Welcome to the Northwest Territories. It was a simple affair and since we were almost out of gas, we continued on to the small town or outpost may be a better word, of Fort Liard. I just wanted to see some people that actually called this place home, and see the license plates. The license plates in NWT are shaped like a grizzly bear and I found that interesting.

We stopped at the one gas station, we had since stopped thinking of gas cost because everything is marked up in the north and you can forget about brand names. Most of the gas stations were merely a bunch of cabins with a pump sticking out of the earth. We walked in the store and realized that most of the town were natives.

Then we went to the one store, a native crafts store, and browsed. We looked in the guest book and sure enough some folks had written their names in Hebrew and were from Israel, whether they were religious we will never know.

Posted in Alaska, Jews, Life, Rural America, Torah Thoughts | 7 Comments »

XC skiing in the lower Adirondacks

Posted by Frum Hiker on January 28, 2008

There is only about an inch or two of snow on the ground outside my house and the Hudson River is just starting to form ice, but from some extensive research done last night I had come to realization that the central part of this state is still getting hammered with lake effect snow squalls, and much of the state lies under a thick coating of snow. Luckily the lakes are also frozen to a fine thickness to support my poor self, and hundreds of snowmobiles.

I decided to cross country ski, even though it was a mild 30 degrees out today. I could have ridden my bike or done some hiking, but instead I drove about 80 miles northwest to a small town called Speculator, about 50 miles north of Amsterdam, in the lower Adirondack mountains. I have been to Speculator many times, usually going or coming from somewhere, but rarely stopping to do anything there. Lakes in the summer and lots of snowmobile trails in the winter is what they have to offer.

On the way up to Speculator, I passed by the Great Sacandaga Lake and noticed that it was frozen well enough to support several ice fishing huts, so I got on my skis and went for a bit. It was bright sunshine with no wind making for a bright and vast expanse of snow. The mountains to the north were lovely, as was the bright sky. Unfortunately the snow was rather wet, from being pounced on by the sun, and there was some sort of snowmobile meet, and they were making loads of noise. I spoke with these two ice fishermen about their catches and ice thickness. 8 inches was what it was, and they had caught Walleye for the day. Skiing Great Sacandaga Lake

After barely sliding back to my car, due to the stickiness of the snow, I began to drive north along the Sacandaga River to Speculator, I passed by the Lapland Lake XC ski center, but decided against paying to enjoy the woods, if I can do it free I will. The pine trees with the fresh snow along Route 30 were amazing as were the icicles hanging off the mall cliffs on the sides.

Speculator was really crowded and after finding my parking spot, I picked up this ski trail behind firehouse on Route 30. This was my first groomed trail experience and although the grooming was not very good, I had a great time. The trail followed a river for a bit and in the distance were some pretty tall snow capped hills. Then the trees closed up around me and I was in a silent forest of pine and birch. It was so silent and beautiful, it made me miss the outdoors and wonder why I haven’t been in the woods as much as possible in the past few months.

On the way back I caught a beautiful sunset.

Posted in Adirondacks, Road Trips, Rural America, Skiing | 2 Comments »

Yesterdays wanderings…

Posted by Frum Hiker on January 23, 2008

So yesterday I had some free time and decided to check out some abandoned stuff that I knew existed already. Every time I drive on Route 32 north of New Paltz about halfway to Kingston, I drive down this hill which takes you past all this limestone outcroppings, and into the town of Rosendale. I have always sen this really interesting formation and until yesterday had never stopped to take a closer look.

Right away I could tell that the formation was not natural, and looked as if it were a mine of some sort. It was essentially a huge cave filled partially with water which was frozen and very col looking considering the the way the sun was reflecting on it. After several pictures and wandering around inside the caves someone kicked me out saying that it was for my safety, he confirmed that the formations were limestone mines which were used to make Rosendale Cement which was used to make the Brooklyn Bridge. He told me that a little up the road on route 213 there was a mine that was much larger and was 3 levels. I found it later on but the no trespassing signs and rather chilly wind was enough of a deterrence.

Then a bit later I was driving north on Route 9w of Saugerties and noticed an abandoned brick house up the sides of one of the hills far enough away from any road to make it worth my while, meaning it had to abandoned for a while. Sure enough, after a short hike across some railroad tracks and through a bunch of thorny bushes I came across the house with a few abandoned cars scattered about one from the 80s and one from 70s.

The house was gutted and filled with old newspapers, but I walked along the old road bed that led to the house and discovered an old dump and sifted through the contents to try and find old bottles and anything of interest, I found half of an old Ford buried up one of the hills and tried to figure out where the old road came from and went and when it may have been abandoned.

I have some pictures I wil post of these two interesting things I went to yesterday.

Posted in Abandoned Sites, Catskills, Rural America | 1 Comment »