Hudson Valley Revisited
The Hudson River, once America's central transportation artery, tends to be overlooked nowadays. Weekenders from New York City and upstate residents choose the efficiency of the New York State Thruway and the Taconic Parkway over the Nines (as I like to call the various branches of Route 9 that ramble along both sides of the Hudson River Valley). This just means less traffic for the rest of us.
Day one: New York to Fishkill
Trying a new route out of New York City, I actually get lost in Yonkers. The mini-detour allows me to enjoy the back roads that hug the Hudson, which I can see through the trees, flowing on my left. Back on Route 9 proper, I decide to stop at Sunnyside, the home of writer Washington Irving. (The town of Sleepy Hollow is up the road.)
Guides in period costume offer tours of the house, a quaint cottage on the riverbank; it's where the well-traveled author spent his final days. A quarter mile north I also pop in to see Lyndhurst, the grand Gothic Revival mansion of Wall Street tycoon Jay Gould, who traveled by yacht from his waterfront property to New York City. The railroad would have been quicker, but it was owned by his archenemy, Cornelius Vanderbilt. Highlights of the daily tour are Gould's Renaissance-art collection and the fine stained-glass windows.
I stop in Tarrytown for lunch: a Portuguese feast at Caravela. Grilled octopus melts in the mouth, just as it should, and the codfish croquettes are rich yet fluffy. Heading north up 9, I decide to keep Kykuit, John D. Rockefeller's expansive family home, for another trip and move on to Croton Gorge Park, a favorite local picnic spot. The park sits at the base of the Croton Dam, which holds most of New York City's drinking water. It was built in 1842; until 1955, the water was transported to the city via the Croton Aqueduct.
Just past Peekskill, Route 9 splits into two parts. I take 9D, which runs along the river, rather than 9 proper, which takes a faster inland path north. Where's that Beatles CD when I need it? I'm on a long and winding road, beside granite cliffs. With a bit of imagination, this could be the Italian Alps. The tricky part ends at Bear Mountain Bridge, which crosses the Hudson at the place where American Revolutionary forces blocked the path of the British fleet with a giant iron chain. From here it's only a half-hour drive to Cold Spring. I putter in and out of the knickknack shops of a Main Street that runs steeply toward the river - it really should be turned into a giant skateboarding park--and I take stock of the Lower Hudson's east side over farfalle al limone and a glass of Cabernet at Cathryn's Tuscan Grill. Cold Spring has a number of B&Bs, but the Courtyard by Marriott, a few miles north in Fishkill, puts me closer to Beacon, the next day's first destination.
Day two: Fishkill to Rhinebeck
"This place is changing overnight," says the teenager in the Chthonic Clash Coffeehouse as he fixes me a latte. "Some locals don't like it, but I say the quicker the better."
Named after Mount Beacon, where colonists lit fires to warn of British troops during the Revolutionary War, the town of Beacon has been reborn thanks to the opening last year of Dia:Beacon, one of the most impressive art galleries in the country. Inhabiting a sprawling 1929 Nabisco factory, the airy 240,000-square-foot space (much of it lit by skylights) is perfect for viewing large art installations. The museum is home to pieces by 22 artists, including Andy Warhol, whose 1978 Shadows is a single work on 72 canvases, and Richard Serra, represented by seven gorgeous sculptures.
You do a lot of walking at Dia, and by the end I'm hungry. I head into town for a taste of the old Beacon--bacon and eggs at the wonderfully gaudy Yankee Clipper Diner, a recently renovated downtown institution. Browsing the galleries and antiques shops that are contributing to the town's renaissance, I have no luck in my perpetual search for vintage gas station signs. But there's consolation in the excellent apple pie at the Upper Crust Café and Bakery.
Up next is Hyde Park. The town is dominated by the 290-acre National Historic Site built around Franklin Delano Roosevelt's family house and the separate house built for Eleanor Roosevelt a few miles east of Route 9. FDR's father bought the family home, Springwood, in 1867. Visitors can view the house, FDR's grave site, and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum, which includes some 44,000 books along with his White House desk and chair.
The late-afternoon light is fading slightly as I drive out of the Roosevelt site, so I put my foot to the floor. There's a piece of Hudson Valley history that I really want to catch - the ostentatious estate of Frederick William Vanderbilt, also in Hyde Park. Built in 1899, the 54-room Vanderbilt Mansion was meant to evoke European nobility, and the approach certainly feels like you've entered a royal estate. I'm too late for the house tour, but the grounds are lovely. As the sun begins to set over the western banks of the Hudson, the light casts an orange glow all around.
After so much local history, a motel really won't cut it. Nearby Rhinebeck, a sophisticated town in its own right, is home to the Beekman Arms, a favorite resting place and watering hole for the weary traveler since 1766. The smell of cooking food and a roaring open fire greet you on arrival.
Day three: Rhinebeck to New Paltz
It's time to cross the river. The Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge offers clear views both north and south-this far upstream, the river is still over half a mile wide.
Saugerties is another of those cute antiquing towns that seem to pop up every 30 miles along this part of the valley. It also has an excellent little café and deli called Ann Marie's. But Saugerties' most extraordinary attraction, Opus 40, is a few miles outside the town limits, in the foothills of the Catskills. Harvey Fite, a devotee of Mayan architecture, spent 37 years working with hand-powered tools to create a six-and-a-half-acre composition of bluestone ramps, terraces, pools, and fountains, with a nine-ton monolith as its centerpiece. He died in 1976, but the sculpture and a museum dedicated to his work are open from Memorial Day to Columbus Day.
The road down from Opus 40 is narrow and winding, so it comes as some relief to get back on 9W, on the western side of the Hudson. At Kingston, I cut inland on Route 32. I'm headed to New Paltz and one of the region's most impressive landmarks. A 251-room Victorian castle on Lake Mohonk in the Shawangunk Mountains, the Mohonk Mountain House was a getaway destination for Teddy Roosevelt and Andrew Carnegie, among others. Today it's an exclusive retreat far beyond my budget. But you can buy a day pass to the grounds for $15 ($11 for kids) and spend the afternoon wandering.
Day four: New Paltz to New York
It takes about 25 minutes to get back to 9W from New Paltz, but from that point on, the road is right by the river. This part of the valley is wine country - at least six vineyards lie between New Paltz and Newburgh, and most offer tours and tastings. I turn right off Route 9 just south of Marlboro and head up a steep hill to Benmarl Winery, site of America's oldest vineyard. A rugged driveway leads to the main house, also the home of owner Mark Miller, who in the '50s and '60s was an illustrator for romance magazines and novels. Miller offers a lively narrative as he guides you through the cellars and a gallery devoted to his former profession. He might even join in a tasting of his trademark Chardonnay and Zinfandel.
Leaving Benmarl, I drive into Newburgh, toward the newly renovated waterfront. Newburgh Landing is part of a $1.8 million state-funded scheme to tidy up the Hudson River. It's home to a number of cool cafés and restaurants.
I choose Café Pitti, a brick-oven pizza joint with outdoor seating and a fine view of Dia:Beacon across the river. An espresso and some raspberry gelato make the afternoon even more enjoyable and prepare me nicely for the final drive back into New York City.
I make quick time through West Point, hop on to the Palisades Parkway, and zip back down to the George Washington Bridge and New York City, stopping just once more to marvel at the tall, sheer vertical drop of the ancient Palisades cliffs that tower over the Hudson below.
Finding your way
From JFK airport, head north on the Van Wyck Expressway to the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge. After crossing, take 678 north to the Cross Bronx Expressway west; exit at Route 9 north.
From LaGuardia, take the Grand Central Parkway to the Triborough Bridge. Go north on the Major Deegan (I-87), then west on the Cross Bronx Expressway to Route 9 north.
From Newark, drive north on the New Jersey Turnpike (I-95). Cross the George Washington Bridge and exit at Route 9 north.
1. New York to Fishkill, 64 miles
If you're driving from Manhattan, take the Henry Hudson Parkway to Route 9 north. Continue through Yonkers, Tarrytown, and Sleepy Hollow. At Peekskill, switch to 9D north, which leads to Cold Spring. Continue north on 9D. At Beacon get on 82 north to Fishkill.
2. Fishkill to Rhinebeck, 28 miles
From Fishkill, get on I-84 north and take it to Beacon. After Dia:Beacon, continue north on 9D, which rejoins 9 just north of Wappingers Falls, then skirts Poughkeepsie, before winding up at Hyde Park and Rhinebeck.
3. Rhinebeck to New Paltz, 50 miles
In Rhinebeck, take 9 north to 9G north. Go west on Route 199 over the Kingston-Rhinecliff bridge; 9W north leads to Saugerties. For Opus 40, from the New York State Thruway at Saugerties, get on Route 212 west toward Woodstock. From the light at the Hess gas station, go 1.6 miles to a fork; turn left onto Fishcreek Road. After 2.4 miles, turn right at the stop sign onto Highwoods Road. After a half mile, turn right onto Fite Road; it ends at Opus 40's entrance. Leaving, take Glasco Turnpike east to 9W south. At Kingston, go south on Route 32 to New Paltz. Stay at the Econo Lodge.
4. New Paltz to New York, 95 miles
From New Paltz, take 299 east to 9W south. It goes through Marlboro to Newburgh, and eventually to the Palisades Parkway south to the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan.
Colorado's San Juan Skyway
Fasten your seat belts, folks. We're headed into southwestern Colorado's "skyway" country. If you like roller coasters, this is the drive for you. Edging potentially perilous drop-offs, the roads we'll navigate soar, plunge, and twist in tight curves mile after mile. Many of you are apt to get a bit rattled (I always do). But the reward is some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in America. Fortunately, you don't have to pay theme park prices for the scenic thrills. This roller-coaster adventure-a four-day, 1,000-mile excursion into the massive San Juan Mountains-definitely rates as budget travel. Expect to pay from $50 to $80 a night in a good chain motel. And dine cheaply on the local ranch-house staples: juicy prime rib and sizzling grilled steaks. A range of the Rocky Mountains, the San Juans boast more than a dozen peaks that rise to above 14,000 feet. Sprawling across 10,000 square miles, they make a majestic but sometimes intimidating realm best seen on a 233-mile loop called the San Juan Skyway. An officially designated U.S.D.A. Forest Service Scenic Byway, it climbs in dizzying switchbacks over 11,008-foot Red Mountain Pass-the high point on the loop. In late spring when I last tackled the ascent, the summits around me were still cloaked with snow. Break up the drive with plenty of outdoor action. Hike, bicycle, go white-water rafting or kayaking, fish, ride a horse, try rock climbing. This is the place for it. Getting started Denver's low airfares are not surprising. It is served by several discount airlines: America West, ATA (American Trans Air), Frontier, JetBlue, and Spirit Airlines. Another incentive to book into Denver is that car-rental rates there tend to be cheaper. Using the Internet, the least expensive rental I could find in Montrose cost about $40 more a week than a similar rental in the Colorado capital. Many of the rental agencies in Montrose impose a mileage limit, which also might have added to my cost. For a one-week, midsummer rental of an economy-class car out of Denver, the various national car-rental brands quoted between $150 and $200 (with unlimited mileage). (Lodging rates below are for two people for one night during the peak summer season.) Day oneOn the road Denver via Glenwood Springs to Grand Junction, 265 miles. As your plane descends into Denver, take a look at the peaks rising west of the city-in about an hour, that's where you'll be! Usually I try to avoid interstates, but I-70 treats you to a dazzling introduction to the Rockies. About 60 miles west of Denver, the highway climbs to above 11,000 feet as it passes through the Eisenhower Memorial Tunnel, reputedly the highest auto tunnel in the world. Beyond is the famous ski resort of Vail; stretch your legs as you stroll along its ersatz alpine streets. I-70 snakes alongside a number of tumbling streams, but it's the Colorado River that puts on the best show as it races for a dozen miles through the steep rock walls of Glenwood Canyon. A thrilling drive; you can almost imagine you're bouncing down the river on a white-water raft. Take another break at the giant hot-spring pool (adults, $13) in the center of Glenwood Springs, a bustling resort town. Flat-topped mesas line I-70 as it follows the Colorado River down the western slope of the Rockies to Grand Junction. Details From the Denver airport, take I-70 west to Grand Junction. Stay in Grand Junction at the 100-room Motel 6 (970/243-2628), $50 weekdays/$60 weekends; 132-room Super 8 (970/248-8080), $69; or the 107-room Days Inn (970/245-7200), $71 weekdays/$77 weekends. Dine at W.W. Peppers, offering an upscale look and budget prices. Information: 800/962-2547, www.visitgrandjunction.com. Day twoAncient paths Grand Junction via Montrose, Telluride, and Cortez to Mesa Verde National Park, 270 miles. A 2,000-foot-high mesa, cut by deep canyons, towers above Grand Junction. This is Colorado National Monument ($5 per car), a landscape of sculpted red rock. Rim Rock Drive edges the mesa, yielding panoramic views. Cold Shivers Point is aptly named, you will agree, when you peer into the canyon depths below. Give yourself an hour at the park before heading south to the San Juans. On the southern outskirts of Montrose, stop briefly at the excellent Ute Indian Museum (adults, $3). Much of Colorado was once the homeland of the Ute tribe, many of whose members now reside on a pair of reservations near Mesa Verde. You will cross Ute paths often on this drive. The early life of these deer and buffalo hunters is illustrated with a first-class display of artifacts, including an eagle-feather headdress, a buckskin dress, and beautiful beadwork. The museum is located on what was the farm of Chief Ouray, who headed the Ute Nation from 1868 until his death in 1880. To the Utes, the San Juans were "the Shining Mountains." You can see them directly ahead as you leave the museum, an intimidating wall of jagged peaks that seem impenetrable. The San Juan Skyway officially begins in Ridgway. You can make the loop in either direction; I prefer counterclockwise because this way you ease more gently into the sky-high country. Counterclockwise, then, the approach to Telluride, a popular winter ski resort, traces the San Miguel River through the deep red walls of a winding canyon. The town itself is tucked near the end of the canyon. Actually, there are two towns here: Telluride, the attractively preserved historic mining town in the valley, and Mountain Village, a cluster of luxury hotels and homes high above town on the resort's ski slopes. They are linked by a free gondola that makes the climb from old to new in 13 minutes. Board one of the eight-passenger cars for a terrific view from the top. The gondola operates daily from 7 a.m. to midnight. In Telluride browse the offbeat shops housed in ornate Victorian-era brick and wood structures. Hike the easy River Corridor Trail, which meanders through town to a beaver preserve. And then continue for a mile or so to the canyon's end, where Bridal Veil Falls cascades down the cliff into town. Afterward, enjoy a reasonably priced sandwich at funky Baked in Telluride. Out of Telluride, Colorado Route 145 climbs through a chilly, tundra-like landscape over 10,222-foot Lizard Head Pass, named for an odd-shaped pinnacle. And then it drops slowly from the summit, following the splashing Dolores River through rolling green meadows to the desert-like country of Dolores and Cortez. Stop just south of Dolores at the Anasazi Heritage Center ($3), a museum operated by the Bureau of Land Management. It preserves hundreds of clay pots, yucca-fiber sandals, and other artifacts collected from Anasazi villages. Now on to Mesa Verde National Park ($10 per car). Steep switchbacks climb from the Montezuma Valley to the top of the green mesa at about 8,500 feet. This was home to many Ancestral Puebloans from about a.d. 550 to a.d. 1300. Surely they were as awed by the distant views from this elevated perch as I always am. The two most impressive ruins are Cliff Palace and Balcony House. To see them, you have to join a ranger-led tour. Tickets for each cost $2.50 at the Far View Visitor Center. Getting in and out of both requires some agility and no fear of heights. The Ancestral Puebloans built their lodgings in nearly inaccessible cave-like ledges on the sides of high cliffs for protection from their enemies. To reach them, tourists do as the Ancestral Puebloans did. Stone steps cut into the side of a canyon wall descend through a narrow crevice to the floor of Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America. Once it housed 200 people in more than 100 rooms but was vacated in the fourteenth century, perhaps because of prolonged drought. Exiting is a similar scramble. You edge up stone steps through another tight crevice, and then you climb a series of two 10-foot-tall ladders placed one atop the other up the canyon wall. Don't look down. No tickets are required for a look at Spruce Tree House, which is considered the park's best-preserved cliff dwelling. But you do have to negotiate a steep path down and up. The third largest of Mesa Verde's cliff dwellings, it contains about 100 rooms and eight ceremonial chambers called kivas-a sort of cylindrical pit. You can descend by ladder into one of the kivas. I like to stay at the park's mesa-top Far View Lodge, which is well named. From my balcony, I watch the lights pop on at scattered ranch houses in the valley far below. On one visit, deer browsed outside my balcony. This time, a pair of wild horses meandered past. Details From Grand Junction, take U.S. 50 southeast via Delta to Montrose. Continue south on U.S. 550 to Ridgway, connecting to Colorado Route 62 west to Placerville. Head southeast on Colorado 145 to Telluride. Pick up Colorado 145 again and angle southwest to Cortez. Take U.S. 160 east to Mesa Verde. For a scenic splurge, stay in Mesa Verde at the 115-room Far View Lodge (800/449-2288), $102 to $134. Dine at the Far View Terrace Food Court, a cafeteria. If Far View is out of your price range, stay in Cortez at the 85-room Days Inn (970/565-8577), $60 to $70; or the 58-room Super 8 (970/565-8888), $75. Information: 800/253-1616, www.mesaverdecountry.com. Day threeBoomtown days Mesa Verde via Durango, Silverton, and Ouray to Montrose, 160 miles. Spend the morning exploring more of Mesa Verde before heading back into the San Juans. From Durango, the road climbs quickly to Coal Bank Pass at 10,660 feet. Even in midsummer, the air can be chilly. Ahead the cliff's-edge road crests 10,899-foot Molas Pass. On the descent, you can see Silverton far below, set in a small, bowl-like valley. Once a rowdy boomtown of bars and brothels, the old silver-mining town of Silverton (elevation 9,318 feet) seems rather sedate these days, although it still retains a rough frontier look. Swirls of dust, kicked up by frosty breezes, whip across the unpaved side streets, and Victorian-era wood and brick buildings-housing shops and caf,s-possess a properly weathered look. Overhead, the treeless summits of craggy peaks snag passing clouds. Silverton is the terminus of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (adults, $60), a tourist train that (depending on the season) makes one or more slow but spectacular ascents daily from Durango. Tooting its whistles, the steam engine pulls a string of bright-yellow coach cars. It rolls into the center of town delivering a flood of chattering families who liven things up temporarily. Steady your nerves now, because the next 23 miles over 11,008-foot Red Mountain Pass to Ouray can make your heart race. Carved out of the side of the mountain, the road carries you in more tight switchbacks from one precipice to the next. Around curves, the speed limit drops to 15 mph; believe me, I am never tempted to exceed this reasonable pace. Recover in Ouray's giant hot-spring pool ($8). Complete the San Juan Skyway loop in Ridgway and double back to Montrose. If it's still daylight, head for nearby Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park ($7 per car). The park is named for a deep, dark, and narrow gorge cut by the Gunnison River. Because it is so deep-a drop of 2,000 feet from rim to river-and so narrow, it is wrapped in heavy shadows for much of the day. From the visitor center, South Rim Road skirts the edge of the manzanita- and sagebrush-lined canyon for seven miles. Sixteen overlooks provide splendid views into the depths, where the pale-green Gunnison splashes in white-water frenzy. Details From Mesa Verde, take U.S. 160 east to Durango, connecting to U.S. 550 north to Montrose. Stay in Montrose at the 42-room Super 8 (970/249-9294), $67; the 51-room San Juan Inn (888/681-4159), $69; or the 46-room Days Inn (970/249-3411), $69 weekdays/$79 weekends. Feast on a $9 top-sirloin steak at Starvin' Arvin's. Information: 800/873-0244, www.visitmontrose.net. Day fourWinter wilderness Montrose to Denver, 315 miles. Lots of miles today, but plenty of great scenery makes them pass quickly. Outside Montrose, U.S. 50 passes through Curecanti National Recreation Area, which encompasses three sparkling blue reservoirs formed when the Gunnison River was dammed. Fishing, boating, and windsurfing are top sports here. In summer, the National Park Service offers 90-minute boat rides ($10) from Morrow Point Reservoir into the Black Canyon. For details: 970/641-2337. Ahead lies one more climb into the Rockies. In yet more cliff's-edge switchbacks, the road crests Monarch Pass at 11,312 feet. Snowy peaks march into the distance, a year-round winter-like wilderness that is as beautiful as any landscape on this drive. Back down the mountain, U.S. 50 enters Bighorn Sheep Canyon. Here the road runs for about 50 miles alongside the Arkansas River as it weaves through the narrow rock chasm. A part of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, this is prime white-water rafting and kayaking country. You will find picnic tables at several key spots ($2), where you can watch the watercraft splash past. Now head back to Denver, skirting the edge of the Rampart Range. In Colorado Springs, that lofty mountain over-shadowing the city to the west is Pikes Peak. If you've got time, drive to the top for a final sky-high view. Details From Montrose, take U.S. 50 east to Penrose, connecting to Colorado 115 north to Colorado Springs. On the city's outskirts, jog east on Colorado 83 to I-25 north. At exit 194 take E-470 ($5 toll) to the Denver airport. Catch a late-afternoon flight home, or spend the night at the airport's 101-room Super 8 Motel (303/371-8300, $55). Dine at the Moonlight Diner; the T-bone steak plate, $13.25.