Saturday, April 18, 2009

Mohonk Preserve, NY (with photos)

I was telling my wife the other day that in addition to being a hobby, starting this blog has inspired me to ensure that we take time out in life to do the things that we enjoy, and not spend all of our time working, sitting around the house, or generally caught up in life's hectic schedule.  

It's easy to get into a cycle in life where the weeks are running by and all you're doing is working and running around taking care of chores and other activities.  This has happened to me recently at work because I'm in the closing months of a two year project and it has monopolized my professional and personal time much more than I would like.  For example, except for weekends, I haven't had a day off since early January.  As the old saying goes, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy".  You have to break the cycle and enjoy life!

Such was the spirit behind a recent day hiking trip that I took with my wife up to Mohonk Preserve in the Shawangunk Mountains.  I took the day off from work, we put the kids on the school bus in the morning, and then we hit the road!  

Mohonk is billed as New York's largest non-profit nature preserve and the description of it on their web site says, "The Mohonk Preserve is a mountain refuge for people and nature.  It is a haven for wildlife, a living museum, and a sanctuary where visitors can come to reflect and be restored".  Very true!

On the grounds of the preserve you can enjoy biking, hiking, fishing, rock climbing (some of the best in the region), boating, running, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, and other activities.  In addition, the preserve has many sponsored activities for adults and kids so there's always something to do in this environment.  It turns into a winter wonderland during the colder months with ice skating, snowshoeing, etc.

Our plans for our day hike were to ascend Bonticou Crag, which is a stark white cliff that overlooks the entire mountain valley.  There are two ways to the top of the crag.  The most direct route is straight up the face of it in what the Preserve calls a "rock scramble".  What this means is that you climb up hundreds of giant car-sized granite boulders that have broken off the face of the cliff over the centuries and then you're on top!  The other way is to take the Bonticou Crag ascent trail around the backside of the mountain to the top.  

The rock scramble sounded interesting so we gave that a try.  It was easier said than done!  Although the rocks are huge, they are sometimes precariously perched on top of each other and the hill is very steep so this route can be quite intimidating as it rises several hundred feet into the air.  My wife gave it her best shot, but she just wasn't comfortable with the steepness of it and it was a long way up (and down!) so we turned around to take the other route up.  I will return to the rock scramble to try it again some day.  I like that kind of stuff...

After climbing the ascent trail, we relaxed on the top of the crag and had a nice lunch that we brought along.  We ate, relaxed, enjoyed the view, and talked.  A great day off!  

I would encourage people to explore Mohonk Preserve.  It has a lot to offer in every season and truly is a place to restore yourself.

Update on 5/27/09:  After a day of hiking and exploring, what goes down better than a few locally brewed cold beers and a good dinner.  Nothing!  If that's what you're looking for after exploring Mohonk, stop in the town of New Paltz on your way back toward the highways and check out the Gilded Otter (3 Main Street, New Paltz, NY and the phone is 845-256-1700).  The beer brewed on site is fantastic, the food is good, and the venue is nice and comfortable.  Nice end to a day!

The second part of this post is related to the Mohonk Mountain House.   This magnificent lodge was built on the deep-blue waters of Lake Mohonk in 1869, and it's a 265-room Victorian castle that's one of America's oldest family-owned resorts.  The buildings of this historic lodge are spectacular as they wind across the property.  They all have a slightly different architecture because they were built over a period of time, but they're all connected to create one big winding interior.  The hallways, rooms, dining rooms, common areas, and libraries are grand in nature.  They are much like the great national lodges in the western United States.

Over the years, the lodge has been expanded to include a spa, indoor pool, and other facilities.  There's even a covered outdoor ice skating pavilion!  In the warmer months, they show movies on a giant portable screen on the lawn.  You can sit on their huge porch and watch with your family while the mountain air blows around you.  Very cool...

I first stayed at Mohonk Mountain House for a 2-day retreat at work in 2007.  I later returned with my wife for our 10th wedding anniversary in 2008.  I've put some pictures of the exterior of the lodge at the link below, but for some reason I didn't take any pictures of the interior on my trips here.  That's very unlike me, especially with a place as photogenic as this, because I always take pictures inside of the places I stay, but this time I didn't.

There is so much history in this place.  There are plaques, murals, paintings, and pictures all over that explain its history.  It's interesting to stop and read them because it helps you appreciate what it's all about.  Enjoy walking around and seeing the history...

While I certainly appreciate the history of the Mountain House, the one negative aspect of it is the expense to stay there.  The per night cost does include three meals per day in the excellent dining room, but even considering that, I thought the prices were very high overall.  Our small room was over $650/night with taxes.  Some of the larger rooms and suites are well over $1,000/night.   As I said, while I did fully enjoy our stay, no hotel is worth that amount of money per night and if it wasn't a special occasion we probably wouldn't have stayed here.....I need to strike gold and become rich so I don't have to worry about paying the bill next time!

Click the image below to see some photos of the Mohonk area...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

New material soon!

It's been interesting getting feedback from people on this blog. Just by the nature of the way is set up and how it uses the information you put in your Profile to feed searches that people do, word of this blog is spreading in almost a viral way with little effort on my part. Interesting stuff...

I have a series of travel and technique posts coming in the next week. Most importantly, I plan to get back to putting up more entries related to my "Auto-everything" post from 2/15/09.

If you're spending some of your valuable time to visit and check out this blog, I hope you find it interesting.

Thanks for visiting!

Friday, April 10, 2009

East Branch Reservoir, NY (with photos)

I'm fortunate to live in a nice place, specifically a large suburb about 45 minutes north of New York City...perhaps you could say it's right on the edge of being rural.  The next town up from me starts the "farm country" in this area.  Lots of trees, rolling hills, etc...

Although it certainly is nice and I'm definitely not complaining, I wouldn't exactly call it a "photographer's paradise".  I often find myself lacking inspiration when I photograph my immediate home area because I see it every day and it has become somewhat commonplace over the years.  I'm sure many photographers might feel the same way about their home town, except of course if you live near a picturesque location that offers continual inspiration.  

Inspiration is easy to find when I travel out of my home area to other places that I don't see every day.  The exception to this feeling is when unique photographic circumstances present themselves close to home.  Then my mind explodes!  Such was the case this weekend...

There is a large reservoir near our house called the East Branch Reservoir that's down about 50 feet (or more) from it's normal water level this spring due to drought conditions and some bridge work that the surrounding towns are doing that necessitated that they lower our water level.  The full story can be found at this link.  The reservoir was formed when the towns of Southeast Center and Milltown were flooded over, sacrificed in the name of progress.

Fifty feet is a lot!  Because of these conditions, almost the whole reservoir is empty and features that are normally below water have been exposed for the first time in decades.  It's a very uncommon event, and you guessed it, one that was well worth grabbing the camera for.

You can hike all over this enormous space where there is typically only water...It's almost like being in an alien landscape.  Submerged waterlogged trees are exposed and dried out.  There are old stone walls all over that used to mark farms before the area was flooded for the reservoir.  Dead fish, furniture, golf balls, fishing lures, etc.  It's all here to explore.

Some of the stone walls are massive.  I would like to research the history of Southeast Center and Milltown to understand what was here before the towns were flooded.  It's very interesting.  Especially all of the walls.  I mean...they're big!  You can see roads that have been marked and lined with boulders.  Old bridge foundations.  Even the stone foundations of homes, barns, etc.

I spent three hours photographing and hiking with my family inside the reservoir on two occasions already, and plan to go back for more before they fill the reservoir back up.  It's an oddly peaceful place to walk around.  Very quiet.  It's like exploring a huge piece of the past right in my own back yard.

The moral of the story is.....Never give up on your own town!  It might not be the most stunningly, overtly photogenic place in the world on a typical day, but there are special times when it will expose itself and call you back.  Take advantage of those opportunities and enjoy it while they last!  Take some pictures!

Click the image below to see some pictures from inside the East Branch Reservoir...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

I stumbled across a great web site that I thought was worthy of being specifically mentioned here. If you're interested in photography of abandoned buildings, old factories, mills, forts, historic locations, etc, then is the web site for you!

It's run by a guy named Tom Kirsch in New York. The web site is truly a labor of love. Tom travels around the world to photograph all kinds of abandoned sites and then posts his photos on his site with some historic background to add to the story told by the pictures.

If you're interested in this type of photography then you could easily become lost in the Opacity web site for hours as you explore these fascinating pictures of abandoned locales. Tom's photos have a definite style to them that really portrays the loneliness and solitude of these places. Many of them are a little spooky!

When I view photos like these I find myself asking what these sites were, what they were used for, why they were abandoned, who abandoned them, when they were abandoned, etc. And that is, after all, one of the major goals of photographers.....To make a picture that's interesting and possibly generates some thought in the viewer. Tom succeeds on all levels with his site!