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...

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