History is never far away in Ulster County, NY. (Kent E. St. John photo)
Go Home Again
editor returns to
roots in upstate New York
By Kent E.
GoNOMAD Senior Travel Editor
Americans called it the lovely land; I now call it home once again. I
have returned to my birthplace of Kingston, NewYork. on the banks of the majestic
After twelve years of living in the Arizona desert, the
lush greenery of Ulster County is as welcome as a cool drink of spring
water found in the surrounding Catskill Mountains. Ulster County, located
just 90 miles up the Hudson River, has a mix of history, geography and
activities that will beguile any nomad.
Kingston, first capital of New
York State, is celebrating its 350th birthday and events are planned yearlong.
Pack your sack and enjoy a magical destination.
Hearty Dutch trappers were the first visitors to the area in 1614.
By 1652 settlers brought over by the Dutch West Indies Company settled
into what then called Esopus. In 1658 then Colonial Governor Peter Stuyvesant
ordered the 70 European settlers to build a stockade and move their dwellings
To this day the streets of the original village remain laid out
as they were in 1658. Within the uptown area 21 pre-revolutionary buildings
still exist, many built out of stone and found only in the area. The Stockade
District enjoys designated protected status by the National Historic Register
and is a National Historic District.
Pick up a brochure of the area at the Kingston Heritage Center located
at 308 Clinton Ave. A map and background of the buildings will enhance
your visit. Start on the corners of John and Crown streets, the only place
in America that has a pre-revolutionary building on all four corners.
Some other standouts are the Abraham Van Gaasbeck building, called the
Senate House, and the courthouse; both reminders of the birth of New York
State in 1777. The other buildings date from the early 19th century and
house shops and restaurants. (see information box at
right) Visit the Senate House Museum and the Old Dutch Church or just
stroll under the leafy trees.
From May to October on Saturdays the district's
Main Street is closed for a farmer's market. Eclectic restaurants (sidebar)
make the Stockade District a great stop for dining.
Kingston is a visit back to the 19th century and the days of life in a
major port on the Hudson River. From small kayaks to ocean going tugs,
boating is a major part of the scene.
The Rondout District is also the
setting for the Hudson River Maritime Museum. Inside the museum are artifacts
and displays that show the evolution of life along the Hudson. Outside
on the museum's pier are actual boats from various periods. Tours to the
Rondout Lighthouse are available by boat from the museum. West Strand
Street has a row of 19th century buildings that are filled with shops
Summertime dining is a visual treat, and live entertainment
is commonplace on weekends in the West Strand Waterfront Park. The area
is a National, State and Local Historic District and should not be missed.
Nature has a profound impact on Ulster County, and the Catskill Mountains
offer every kind of outdoor activity. 98 mountain peaks over 3,000 feet
high form scenic beauty that will captivate the explorer. The Catskills
are also known as America's First Wilderness because scholars can trace
the beginnings of the environmental conservation movement to this area.
Since 1885 the Catskill Park (sidebar) has grown from 34,000 to 700,000
acres. Wilderness, cascading waterfalls, trout filled streams and historic
villages can all be enjoyed within the park.
Hiking trails are extensive
and range from easy to some of the most difficult in the country. Many
will lead you to old growth forest, meadows, and remnants of old farmsteads
and lakes and streams. One standout set of falls is the Kaaterskill Falls,
the highest (even higher than Niagara) in New York.
The falls are snugly tucked in a crevice and cascading waters start with
a 175-foot drop into a small pool then fall another 85 feet to the Katterskill
stream. Mountain views and stream-fueled breezes make it a great picnic
spot. It's an easy hike just a half-mile from state highway 23-A, in between
the charming villages of Palenville and Haines Falls.
also offer some great winter options. Downhill skiing is well represented
with areas such as Hunter, Belleayre and Windham. All offer a variety
of lodgings to suit any budget.
looking for some adrenalin rushes try climbing the cliff faces of the
"Gunks". The Shawangunk Mountains are located near the Village
of New Paltz and are designated by the Nature Conservancy as one of the
"75 Last Great Places on Earth".
Within the mountain range lies
New York's largest privately funded nature preserve, the Mohonk Preserve.
Natural ice caves, sky lakes, ravines and virgin forests provide endless
Little villages in Ulster County are becoming home bases for some of the
world's best artists, writers and entertainers. The combination of history,
beauty and character provide a setting conducive to creativity. Stone
Ridge, High Falls and Woodstock are just of these three villages.
offers farm stands, cornfields and mountain vistas. Turn of the century
churches are interspaced with stone homes and this makes for a wonderful
High Falls offers a 19th century feel complete with a trail along the
locks of the D&H canal. It is also home to the DePuy Canal house,
a world-class restaurant run by John Novi. Its setting in an old canal
tavern is unbeatable. Restorations such as the High Ridge Farm are making
the small village well known. For anglers, try the well-hidden Medicine
Lake; bass pond fished by the Indians centuries ago.
fame spread with the Woodstock concert in 1969. Its artistic reputation,
however, started with the founding of the Byrdcliffe Art Colony in 1902.
Today the village is home to many galleries and studios. Music is still
a big part of the community and Bearsville Studios is home away from home
to many top performers.
Ulster County's proximity to New York City makes it a wonderful addition
to any trip to the Big Apple. It also offers visitors a glimpse into some
of the state's best natural parks and country lifestyle. For me it once
again offers a place to call home. Drop by for a visit. You'll be glad
Kent's Dining Picks:
Kingston has a wonderful choice of restaurants and each has its own unique style.
My own personal favorites:
Le Canard Enchaine, 267 Fair Street, 845 339-2003
Wonderful French cuisine in a bistro setting and live music on weekends make the bar area an oasis.
Ugly Gus's Café, 11 Main Street,
A hub of local activity and continental dishes complete any visit to the city.
Hoffman House Tavern, 94 North Front Street, 845 338-2626
This stone building has a colorful past and is truly a step back in time. The large fireplaces in winter offer welcoming warmth matched by the friendly owners.
Portobello, 39 John Street, 845 338-3000
Flavorful Italian dishes combined with a sleek modern look.
In the Rondout District
Ship To Shore, 15 West Strand Street, 845 334-8887
An Old New York steakhouse with progressive American cuisine-quaint cozy and delicious.
Mariner's Harbor, 1-9 Broadway, 845 340-8051
Seafood with an eye on the water. Great deck seating.
On route 209 are two outstanding farm stands, both run by local farming dynasties. The Gills and Davenports both operate two of the largest farms in the state. The bounty available at their stands will attest to the area's fertile soil.