My America...Journeys

"Let every fellow tell his tale about." Chaucer

Thursday, February 15, 2007



More years ago than I admit to, while on a cross country skiing adventure, I came to the shore of a lake in the Adirondack Mountains. Before me was an unbroken snow-field, untouched, unmarked, bathed in the soft red-gold glow cast by the last rays of the setting sun. The only sound was that of my heartbeat, the only movement my breath vaporizing in the winter air. I felt as if I were the first human on the face of the earth.

The Adirondack Mountains are not just a place on the map. They are a truly unique, prime—and possibly solitary—example of progressive environmental thinking in a time when none existed. Legislated into existence in 1882 in an amendment to the state constitution, they comprise a patchwork of private, public and corporate lands bound together and preserved for the public good. They are the “Forever Wild” six million acres forming nature’s roofless cathedral; with many floors and hundreds of rooms. The Adirondacks are a state of mind.

They are home to 100,000 people and 4,000 bears, hosting ten million visitors a year. They are High Peaks—forty six with elevation over 4,000 feet--and shadowed glens, rustic falls and dead-calm lakes and pools, rivers that become streams that connect lakes and flow constantly with the movement of nature’s clock. They have been this way since the beginning of time. Timeless, they are what you need when you want to suspend all physical, emotional and mental connections to the “real world” of man made high rise canyons, and suburban angst.

The Adirondacks have always called out to the wild in man, drawing those who explored the valleys, climbed those mountains, forded those streams, and canoed those lakes and rivers. They were so isolated that the source of the Hudson River, Lake Tear-In-The-Clouds, was not discovered until seventy years after the Lewis and Clark Expedition had reached the headwaters of the Columbia River. The explorers, hunters and trappers who first came here evolved into the venerable Adirondack Guides of legend, with their distinctive Adirondack Guide Boats, the waterborne symbol of that wild.

Theodore Roosevelt came here as a sickly child, wandering and exploring these woods, publishing his “Birds of the Adirondacks” in 1877. It can be said that his love of the outdoors, the love that would eventually give the country Yellowstone and its vast National Park System was born in his soul here. Here also is where Winslow Homer immortalized the Adirondack spirit in his watercolors.

William West Durant, a developer with dreams created the hallmark of Adirondack architecture. “Great Camps” were the wilderness estates of America’s elite, where they enjoyed the illusion of roughing it. Thirty-five Great Camps still exist, almost all in private hands. Durant’s 27-building 1,526-acre Sagamore was sold to the Vanderbilt family, who used it as their summer retreat until 1954, when it given to the state. All but eighteen acres became state land, and it functions today as a privately owned educational and environmental center. Santanoni Camp is open year round, its 12,000 acres home to ski and hiking trails, camp sites and a variety of environmental programs. In true Adirondack spirit, however, it takes a seven mile walk to reach it. Wawbeek, with two of the original 19th century buildings still standing is commercial lodge and hotel, providing visitors with the ambience of rustic living complimented by full service restaurants and amenities. For those with pockets deep enough to handle the $14,000 a week rent, Dry Island offers dominion over your own private 12-acre, 4-year old “Great Camp” on Saranac Lake.

In a one week stay, from a rented room or cottage—the latter is preferable—the diversity is all within no more than a short drive in any direction, including up. You can turn each day into a new sight, a new taste, a new sound, or no sound at all.

You can bushwhack to the summit of Mt. Marcy, the highest of the forty six High Peaks, or ride a gondola to the top of Whiteface, the fourth highest. Whiteface is also the only peak that permits auto traffic to the summit, just as most of the lakes are off limits to any form of motorized traffic.

You can you can throw a line and split a fresh-caught trout over an open fire for breakfast, and enjoy Tex-Mex or Italo-Greek, or pheasant with a caramelized sauce and Vermont Cheddar tart in Honey Guinness syrup for dinner. All in the same day.

You can canoe the more than fifty eight lakes of the St. Regis Canoe area or lounge on a tour boat with full service on Lake Placid; rent or buy—if you can handle the five-figure price tag—an Adirondack Guide Boat, or paddle one vicariously at the Adirondack Museum, where you can sample the entire history of the park and its people.

You can cycle the seventy-nine mile “Teddy’s Trail”, or pull up a chair and watch Freestyle Olympic hopefuls perfect their aerobics on plastic ramps into swimming pools.

The host of two Olympic Games, Lake Placid is the multi-faceted diamond set in the shadow of the High Peaks region, the epicenter of Winter Olympic sport activities available nowhere else in the country. You can ride make a bobsled or luge run, or envelope yourself in your own fantasies on the same ice where twelve American kids beat the Russians at their own game in 1980.

Routes 28 and 30 are the major two-lane blacktops through the park, but to rush through here is to deprive yourself of the essence of the park. To experience the park is to live it, breath it, and to feel it. Then at the end of the day enjoy a sundowner on a split-log deck overlooking a lake at sunset. This is the sojourner’s life inside the Blue Line. I’ve done it before, and most assuredly will do it again.WDJ

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  • At 7:07 AM, Blogger TourPro said…

    Excellent post, we should put you to work!

  • At 11:21 PM, Blogger jmdale, jr said…

    What a trip...and all before 9:00 am. You have the place all to yourself, but thank you for sharing our ADKS with us.


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