When I was a teenager, my family rented a cottage in the Adirondacks on the eastern shore of Lake George. We were pretty much snobs when it came to beaches, living on Long Island where spectacular ocean beaches were just minutes away. But when it came to fresh water beaches, Lake George set the bar pretty high. The lake was completely ringed by lush, tree-covered mountains that reached right down and touched the shore.
Those summers, I remember walking down the dirt road from our cottage and sitting on the bench at the wide, wooden ferry dock after the ferry had dumped its cargo of tourists and sailed away. I would dream my way up the lake, past the small islands, through the narrow neck of the lake, falling into the immensity of its beauty.
Those summers marked my only visits to the Adirondacks until this week when we camped at Rollins Pond in the less busy northwestern side not far from Saranac Lake and Lake Placid. Known officially as the Adirondack Park, this vast network of state-owned land in the Adirondack Mountains is impressive in so many ways. There are 43 mountain peaks over 4,000 feet here. The public and private lands totaling nearly six million acres, make up the park that was created in 1892 in one of the earliest large-scale public land protection initiatives behind only Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks.
Peter was impressed by the hardwood and spruce-fir forests interspersed with the “newer” white pine and hemlock of today. There are a variety of different designations through the preserve reflecting its various uses: wilderness, primitive, wild, intensive use, and conservation easement, among others. There are also hundreds of thousands of acres of “old growth” forest, undisturbed by human activities and most likely looking as this entire region did before the arrival of the Europeans.
The Adirondacks are an ancient range of mountains, composed of rocks that once were twenty miles beneath the surface of the earth over a billion years ago. It is pretty hard to wrap my head around how eons of erosion, and uplifts and glaciers and fault lines filled with melt-off conspired to create what is a “new” formation that creates the only circular mountain range in North America.
We explored our little corner of the park which included visits to Lake Placid home to the 1932 and 1980 winter Olympics, which is a big deal and sets the theme for the focus of the town. There is a museum dedicated to the winter Olympics, an Olympic training center already full of teenagers presumably in some training camp when we visited, and a ski jump still used for world class events. I read that Lake Placid is as close as you can get in the east to the mountains of Colorado. I can see that.
A couple of miles from our campground, we found a wonderful loop of a hike through a plantation of mature 100-year old white pine and Norway spruce. The plantation was the creation of Bernhard Fernow, an early pioneer in American forestry who did much to establish the U.S. Forest Service in 1905. Fernow wanted to show what could be done with a cultivated and planned forest. Today, the canopy rises to about 75 feet and the pine and spruce are now interspersed with hardwoods that have found their way into the area.
Our tour of the area then took us to the farmhouse built by John Brown, the controversial abolitionist, who moved his family and thirteen children here in 1849. The bucolic setting belies the violence of his story. On the night of October 16, 1859 Brown and his followers attacked the U.S. Army Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia hoping to incite a slave revolt. It didn’t happen that way and instead, the group was tried for their actions and hanged. His remains and those of two of his sons, who participated in the attack, are buried here. I am always interested in what happens after the event that made history, so I asked the tour guide about the farm and the wife and children he left behind. Turns out that she followed one of the other sons to California settling somewhere near Pasadena, and she never returned to the east.
From the Adirondacks we headed south to the foothills of the Catskills in Cooperstown, New York. This is James Fenimore Cooper country so it was no surprise that our campground was named Glimmerglass, his fictitious name for Lake Otsego. The countryside here is gently rolling and very green this time of year. Peter enjoyed his tour of the Baseball Hall of Fame, which I skipped. Later in the day we walked around the very picturesque village perched on the end of Lake Otsego and once a center of a lively summer tourist season during the late 1890s. We learned that the lake is the headwaters of the Susquehanna River which flows from here 444 miles down to Philadelphia before emptying in the Chesapeake Bay.
We have now wrapped up the active road time of our trip as we head into reunions first in Connecticut and then in New Hampshire with family and friends in our former back yard. We will intersperse our time there with trips to Cape Cod, Massachusetts at the end of June and Acadia National Park, Maine in early July. We return to New Hampshire in mid-July for a family reunion before heading back to the road and west once again later in July.
And so as Dale Evans and Roy Rogers used to sing at the end of their television show, “Happy trails to you, until we meet again”.
Peter and Liz are driving their Airstream back to New England for summer reunions and family visits as they continue their travels across the U.S.