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Upstate
New York

May 26-28, 2007

Upstate New York


With our trip to China firmly behind us, we were looking for a short and relaxing local outing for the approaching Memorial Day weekend. After weighing the options, we decided that a driving tour of Upstate New York wouldnít be too strenuous while allowing us to see a few new sites. We established our base of operations in a nice hotel in Albany where we could soak in the hot tub after a vigorous day of sightseeing.

The Old Dutch Church
The Old Dutch Church

Headless Horseman Bridge
Headless Horseman Bridge

Washington Irving's gravestone
Irving's gravesite

Hudson Valley

In planning this trip, our intention was to stick to the Adirondacks to do some hiking and possibly visit the Catskills for more of the same. But as we studied the map, the scope of this excursion began to creep, and so it was that we found ourselves heading to the Hudson River near White Plains. Our first destination was the village of Sleepy Hollow (formerly North Tarrytown) which served as the fictional setting for Washington Irvingís The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. While the famed Headless Horseman Bridge spanning the Pocantico River has long been replaced by something rather ordinary, the Old Dutch Church and its burial ground where Ichabod Crane took refuge is still intact. The church was built in 1685 as a place of worship for the original Dutch settlers, many of whom are buried in the churchyard. Irvingís resting place is actually in the adjacent Sleepy Hollow Cemetery as are those of Walter Chrysler, Samuel Gompers, William Rockefeller, and the surprisingly modest grave of Andrew Carnegie.

Crossing the Tappan Zee, we made our way up the west side of the Hudson. We were blessed with pleasant weather and took our time driving the back roads, enjoying some spectacular views of the valley. Our next stop was West Point to see what was what. This promontory jutting out into the Hudson is, of course, home to the US Military Academy since 1802 but has been a continuously used as a military post since 1778. Benedict Arnold commanded the fortifications at West Point in 1780 when he plotted its surrender for payment and a commission in the British Army. Today the academy occupies 16,000 acres and graduates 900 new officers a year.

When in the vicinity of a military installation, D has this incredible talent for finding the one road that leads directly to the main gate. And so there we were at the guard shack with a dozen cars behind us and a large man asking to see our ID cards. We recovered from our faux pas and made our way through the campus town on foot. It just so happened to be graduation weekend, so war protestors (both pro- and anti-) were out in force. The excitement proved too much for us, so we headed out toward the Catskills.

The US Military Academy at West Point
The US Military Academy at West Point

West Point's mascot
Hannibal the Mule

War protestors clash
War protestors clash


The Catskills

The area comprising the Hudson River Valley and the Catskill Mountains has been a proving ground for entertainers since the days after vaudeville. Legendary comedians honed their skills by playing to Catskill resorts popular with Jewish vacationers in what became known as the Borscht Belt and the Jewish Alps. Artists and musicians found the upstate New York particularly appealing as a rural retreat from the pace of the City. The post-war years saw an influx of beat poets and folk artists into the area. Bohemian communities began to sprout up, particularly in a small town on the edge of the Catskills which ultimately included residents such as Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Tim Hardin, and Bob Dylan. In the late 60s, four twenty-somethings from New York City struck upon the idea of building a recording studio in the remote town of Woodstock to accommodate the increasing number of musicians moving into the area. They also decided to put on an extravagant concert to celebrate the counter-culture that was developing in the area, and consequently formed a partnership called Woodstock Ventures to solicit funding for both projects. The partners began their search for a suitable site in the vicinity of I-87 and ultimately decided on an industrial park in Wallkill which was permitted to hold cultural festivals and looked to be an appropriate size for the expected crowd of 50,000. As more big names were signed to perform and interest grew, Wallkill officials and residents grew nervous culminating in the revocation of the permit a month before the concertís scheduled date. Desperate for a new venue, the organizers were put into contact with a lawyer-turned-dairy farmer named Max Yasgur who owned a farm in Bethel, some 40 miles from Woodstock, and an agreement to host the event was reached. The Woodstock Music and Arts Fair ultimately attracted a crowd of 450,000 and went on to define a generation. Yasgur spent his remuneration on damages to his property and fighting lawsuits filed against him by his neighbors. Today the land is part of Bethel Woods, a state-of-the-art amphitheatre and museum to the music of the 60s.

Visiting Bethel required us to make a significant detour but it was well worth the trip. We were still in a musical mood, so we made our way back towards the town of West Saugerties to find Big Pink. When Bob Dylan broke his neck in a 1966 motorcycle accident near his home in Woodstock, his backup band moved into a salmon-colored house in nearby Saugerties to work with him as he convalesced. At Dylanís urging, the Band stepped out on their own with a landmark album written and recorded in the house called Music from Big Pink. The house still remains, so we couldnít resist taking a peek.

Afternoon was rapidly becoming evening, and we were no where near our final destination of Cooperstown. As the sun began to fade, we took the scenic route through the Catskills taking our sweet time to enjoy the views but keeping one eye on the clock. Cooperstown was founded and named for the father James Fennimore Cooper of Last of the Mohicans fame, but it is more famous as the legendary site of the first game of baseball organized by Adbner Doubleday in 1839. The story is steeped more in myth than truth, in fact Doubleday was a cadet at West Point at the time and eventually went on to defend Fort Sumter at the opening of the Civil War, but it was enough to justify it as the location for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Our plan was to visit the HOF but it closes at 9pm and we only pulled into town just before 8. Hereís a tip for all you Cooperstown visitors: if you arrive at the Hall of Fame an hour before closing, they let you in for free. Of course, the downside of saving the $30 admission fee is that you can only spend twenty minutes per floor to see the exhibits. We did our best to cover as much ground as possible but were politely escorted from the premises at closing time.

A typical Catskills scene
A typical Catskills scene.

Woodstock - 38 years on
Woodstock - 38 years on.

Big Pink
Big Pink.

Baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown
Baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Inside the HOF
Inside the Hall.

The original five inductees
Mathewson, Ruth, Cobb, Wagner, and Johnson - the original five inductees.


Saratoga Springs Race Course
Saratoga Springs Race Course.

The final stretch at Saratoga Springs
The final stretch.

Don McLean penned American Pie at the Tin & Lint
Birthplace of American Pie.

The Kissing Bridge at Ticonderoga.
The Kissing Bridge at Ticonderoga.

 

Fort Ticonderoga.
Fort Ticonderoga.

 

The assembly area at Fort Ticonderoga.
The assembly area at Fort Ticonderoga.

The Adirondacks

Day 2 saw a continuation of our tripís theme of history, sports, and music. We headed north this time to the resort town of Saratoga Springs near the site of the pivotal Revolutionary War battle that resulted in the surrender of 9000 British soldiers and prevented further advances by the British from Canada. The town is best known for its racetrack, the oldest thoroughbred race course in the nation, and accompanying Horse Racing Hall of Fame. We had another big day ahead of us, so we only stopped for a quick glimpse of the racetrack before looking around downtown. The heart of Saratoga Springs is full of bars and coffee shops such as Caffè Lena where Dylan and Guthrie performed early in their careers as well as the Tin & Lint in which Don McLean penned his classic American Pie.

Under darkening skies, we moved along Lake George to Lake Champlain and a visit to Fort Ticonderoga. The fort has played a role in both the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. Built by the French in 1757, it was had an unusual history in that it was defended by the French against a British attack even before the walls were finished, but it was captured from the British during the War of Independence without a shot being fired when Benedict Arnold, Ethan Allen, and the Green Mountain Boys sneaked into the garrison through an unlocked gate. Arnold then took cannons from the captured fort all the way to Boston to lay siege to the British occupational forces. Reconstruction of the fort is still underway, and there is an excellent museum displaying weaponry from the period.

The rain began to fall as we wound our way through the Adirondacks to our furthest point of our day trip. Twice in the last century, this part of New York was the focal point of the sporting world when it was host to the Winter Olympics. Originally slated for Big Pines, CA, the 1932 games were moved at the last minute to Lake Placid because of the more favorable weather conditions. Athletes like Jack Shea and Sonja Henie dazzled the crowds during a competition that consisted of only 14 events. By 1980, the Winter Olympics had ballooned to 38 events and saw the likes of Eric Heiden and Ingemar Stenmark win multiple gold medals. One can clearly see the contrast in popularity of the Games then and now after visiting the 1932 arena with its 2,400 seating capacity and the adjacent Herb Brooks Arena where the 1980 US hockey team pulled off the Miracle on Ice.

Two-time host of the Games wth the Olympic flame cauldron in the distance.
Two-time host of the Games wth the Olympic flame cauldron in the distance.

Entrance to both the 1932 and 1980 Olympic arenas.
Entrance to both the 1932 and 1980 Olympic arenas.

The speed skating oval where Eric Heiden won five gold medals. (Can you see the ski jumps in the distance?)
The speed skating oval where Eric Heiden won five gold medals.

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