WHOEVER has made a voyage up the Hudson must remember the Kaatskill mountains. They are a dismembered branch of the great Appalachian family, and are seen away to the west of the river, swelling up to a noble height, and lording it over the surrounding country. Every change of season, every change of weather, indeed, every hour of the day, produces some change in the magical hues and shapes of these mountains, and they are regarded by all the good wives, far and near, as perfect barometers. When the weather is fair and settled, they are clothed in blue and purple, and print their bold outlines on the clear evening sky; but, sometimes, when the rest of the landscape is cloudless, they will gather a hood of gray vapors about their summits, which, in the last rays of the setting sun, will glow and light up like a crown of glory.
At the foot of these fair mountains, the voyager may have descried the light smoke curling up from a village, whose shingle-roofs gleam among the trees, just where the blue tints of the upland melt away into the fresh green of the nearer landscape. It is a little village, of great antiquity, having been founded by some of the Dutch colonists, in the early times of the province, just about the beginning of the government of the good Peter Stuyvesant, (may he rest in peace!) and there were some of the houses of the original settlers standing within a few years, built of small yellow bricks brought from Holland, having latticed windows and gable fronts, surmounted with weather-cocks.
–Rip Van Winkle, Washington Irving
(credit: High Tor Hiking Trip/Jason )
I grew up in Rockland County in the heart of the Hudson Valley. As a child, my dad loved to hike locally to unfold the region’s extraordinary beauty and history for me. We hiked throughout Harriman (Palisades) State Park. But the first hike I remember was up High Tor. There are several approaches, but the one he chose was through the High Tor Vineyard, which sits just about a small village called Centenary.
After hiking up the mountain, we were rewarded with an extraordinary 360 degree view of the entire Hudson Valley. It isn’t a particularly difficult climb or steep ascent nor do you top out at a formidable elevation. But the view rivals some of the great peaks for its sweep and scope.
The town of Haverstraw (my father’s birthplace) lay spread out at our feet. I could see the high school where he taught for over 30 years. I could even see his birthplace at 103 Hudson Avenue. There was the railroad line where, as an eager child, I waved at the engineers in the cabooses of all the trains that passed. But most important of all, the Hudson River, one of the great rivers of the world, laid out before me like a wide, waving ribbon cutting through the Hudson Highlands as far as the eye could see. At Haverstraw, the river is 3 1/2 miles wide, the greatest width in its entire run from the Adirondacks to New York City. This is the reason that Henry Hudson anchored in Haverstraw Bay on his return southward journey down the Hudson River in 1609. My dad even told me about one frigid winter when the entire river froze from Haverstraw to Ossining on the other side allowing people to walk from shore to shore.
This hike first introduced me to the majesty of the Hudson. Ever since, I’ve loved mountains more than any other outdoor terrain (now I’ve been in the Sierras, Cascades, Sybellines and others). But the Hudson Highlands will always hold a special place in my heart.
early 1900s image of Haverstraw from High Tor (credit: Town of Haverstraw website)
This is where Rip Van Winkle (in Washington Irving’s story of the same name) laid down for his twenty winks which turned into 20 years of sleep. This is where Benedict Arnold met Maj. John Andre to plot the betrayal of West Point to the British. This is the beloved land which Maxwell Anderson saved from the wrecker’s ball with his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, High Tor (see accompanying play poster–there was also a 1956 film version starring Bing Crosby (!) as Van Van Dorn). This is the land of my father.
High Tor is a national historic landmark and managed by the Palisades Interstate Park Commission. A park staff member directed me to Friends of Palisades, an eye-catching website devoted to the parks and historic sites managed by PIPC.