Hiking the Catskills: Huckleberry Point

© J.N. Urbanski – Usage prohibited without consent

Like Giant Ledge, Huckleberry Point is a reliable hike that’s a comparatively shorter distance than other Catskills hikes, but offers equally stunning views and a beautiful summit. You can also find people doing this hike in sandals and a tiny handbag on a Friday afternoon, so it’s that kind of go-to hike – the kind people decide to do regularly and on a whim. Unlike Giant Ledge, there’s no climbing involved, this trail is easy to moderate with one or two rock piles to climb over, but nothing anywhere near to the rock climbing you’ll endure on Giant Ledge. The Huckleberry Point trail is also different in that you’re climbing up and over the summit of a mountain and down the other side to the lookout, so you’ll be getting some aerobic exercise in both directions instead of only getting it on the ascent. Continue reading

New Invasive Tree-Eating Pest Threatens The Catskills: The Spotted Lanternfly

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about, the US Northeast now has the Spotted Lanternfly from Asia on the march from Pennsylvania after its discovery in 2014. As reported by the Catskill Center, it has been spotted as close as Albany and Yates County. The fly is easily distinguished by its colorful wings and it feasts on grape vines and hardwood trees like oak, maple, apple, walnut and cherry. By eating these trees, the render the plant or tree vulnerable to other insects.

The DEC urges people to report sightings of the fly or eggs to spottedlanternfly@dec.ny.gov. This fly is unique because it only flies short distances; it’s primarily transported by human activity. It lays its eggs on vehicles, rusting metal, stone and firewood so they are very easily moved long distances on vehicles like long-haul trucks. It’s egg masses are brownish-gray, waxy and mud-like, resembling taupe putty when new. Old eggs masses are brown and scaly.

Signs of an SLF infestation may include:

Sap oozing or weeping from open wounds on tree trunks, which appear wet and give off fermented odors.
Massive honeydew build-up under plants, sometimes with black sooty mold developing.

The Catskills 35: High Peak (Kaaterskill)

© J.N. Urbanski – Usage prohibited without consent

Nothing makes you more alert than hiking an unmarked, bushwhack trail to the top of a very steep mountain. It was such a relief, after doing a quick pitstop at Hurricane Ledge (for the picture above), to return to the summit to find fellow hikers. KHP, as it is known, is not for the faint of heart, the inexperienced, or anyone with the slightest bit of vertigo. Map and compass-reading skills are essential for this hike. Continue reading

Daily Catskills: 10/19/18

Clear skies at dawn and for the most of the morning. Wispy cloud forming at noon and then, a delicate layer of woolly cloud floated across sky like a sheet and hardened into milk glass at dusk. A high of 61F. No snow on Kaaterskill High Peak, but the odd patch of ice in places.

Daily Catskills: 10/18/18

33F by morning with overnight snow on the lower peaks forming a crunchy layer on the ground that lingers until the afternoon. A high of 43F but back to 36F by the evening. The Black Lab Mix salutes these new frigid temperatures with some yoga – he’s ready – but a lot of green remains on the trees. Fall has not finished.

© J.N. Urbanski 8.43am – Usage prohibited without consent

Daily Catskills: 10/17/18

A crisp autumn day beginning with a humid morning and rising to a 52F high. Mostly overcast with rolling, dark cloud bringing a sudden hail storm at 4.15pm and, after a plunge into freezing temperatures of about 36F late evening, a crunchy layer of snow. If we wanted it dull, we would be living somewhere else.

© J.N. Urbanski 4.15pm – Usage prohibited without consent

Daily Catskills: 10/16/18

A fresh, chilly morning rising to a high of 54F. A rare day with clear, blue skies do nothing to enliven the dull fall colors. Still waiting for nature’s fireworks.

© J.N. Urbanski 3.20pm – Usage prohibited without consent

© J.N. Urbanski 2.45pm – Usage prohibited without consent

Winnisook Lake, Origin of the Esopus Creek

© J.N. Urbanski – Usage prohibited without consent

It’s truly extraordinary that one of the most majestic creeks in the Catskills – and possibly about a quarter of the drinking water supplied to nine million New Yorkers – begins with a tiny spring originating on Slide Mountain in Oliverea just over the apex of the Catskills Divide. This spring was dammed at its source by the Winnisook Club in 1886 to create the now 8-acre Winnisook Lake, so that members of this private club would have somewhere to fish. (This is a private club with no public access).

© J.N. Urbanski – Usage prohibited without consent

Spilling from this pristine lake, is the start of the Esopus Creek, which travels about 65 miles through the northern Catskill Mountains and is revered as the source of some of the America’s best fly fishing.  It is dammed for the second time to create the Ashokan Reservoir and then continues on from there to empty into the Hudson River at Saugerties. We have so much water here in the Catskills, and so much rain, that it really feels like a rain forest in humid periods. The precipitation occurs because we’re high up in the path of clouds moving east from the comparatively flatlands of Ohio. Continue reading

Daily Catskills: 10/12/18

A cold snap: a chilly morning at 46F by 9am warms up to a high of 57F. Breezy with fast-moving cloud and sunny periods. There still some patches of green hanging on amidst the yellowing and almost bare trees.

© J.N. Urbanski 1.40pm – Usage prohibited without consent

Daily Catskills: 10/10/18

Already 72F mid-morning with the sun spilling through gaps in the clouds and gilding the forest. Another overcast afternoon with a high of 79F and a slow breeze. Feels like a late summer.

© J.N. Urbanski 4.30pm – Usage prohibited without consent

Giant Ledge in Fall

© J.N. Urbanski – Usage prohibited without consent

Ah, Giant Ledge. These days it’s like Times Square up there even on a weekday in autumn because it’s a quick 1.5 miles from the parking area, over a babbling brook and up quite a steep, rocky incline to literally a giant ledge jutting out into the wilderness with astonishing panoramic views of both western and eastern Catskill Mountains. On a nice summer day, you can get up there in your day wear on a lunch break and then there’s full cell service at the summit, which makes it popular with the Instagrammers, photographers and weekend visitors. There is no cell service on the way up, in the parking area or on Route 47.

For this reason, Giant Ledge is the gateway hike. It’s lures you in with its easy rewards, and before long, you’ve bought proper hiking shoes, non-cotton clothing and perhaps even hiking poles. If you go 1.85 miles further on from Giant Ledge you will reach the summit of Panther Mountain, which is one of the Catskills peaks over 3500 ft, the “Catskills 35”. (There are 35 peaks over 3500 ft here in the Catskills.)

In the fall, it’s muddy and once the leaves start falling on the trail along with the rain, the rocks get very slippery so extra care is needed. (In the winter, it completely ices over and it’s necessary to use crampons). Only the beginning part of the trail to Giant Ledge is level: a brief reprieve in the rock climbing, but it’s still muddy at the moment. None of that seems to deter the multitude of visitors though, because it’s one of the perfect spots to watch the leaves change.

Right now, the landscape is mostly yellow with some swathes of red. There’s lots of green left on the oaks and other hard woods, but it’s sure to burst into its final, vivid orange fireworks any day now. If that happens on a sunny day, we’ll be golden.

Go here to scroll thought last year’s October.

Giant Ledge is a 2.5-hour drive from George Washington Bridge. Take I-87 to Kingston, Exit 19, then take Route 28 (West) after the traffic circle, following the sign to Pine Hill. At Big Indian, turn left onto Route 47 and drive 7.5 miles south on Route 47 until you see the trail head sign. The parking area is just before a hairpin bend.

The View

© J.N. Urbanski – Usage prohibited without consent

The Trail

© J.N. Urbanski – Usage prohibited without consent

Daily Catskills: 10/09/18

A balmy high of 78F, but overcast still with thick cloud like a plumped up duvet that rolled back to reveal some sun (sun!) for a brief period in the early afternoon.

© J.N. Urbanski Noon – Usage prohibited without consent

The Catskills 35: Cornell Mountain via Wittenberg

© J.N. Urbanski – Usage prohibited without consent

This time in the beginning of fall is the best time to hike. It’s too cold for the bugs but warm enough to hike in a t-shirt once you have gotten going and the leaves have only just started to fall, so there’s no thick, wet carpet of rotten leaves coating the rocks to make the trail treacherously slippery.

To access Cornell on a marked trail, you need to approach from either Wittenberg or Slide, two of the Catskills highest peaks and each one difficult enough on its own. Wittenberg is much more difficult than Slide, a withering epic that begins as it means to go on, with even the very beginning being a steep ascent to the sign-in register and, then after a 2.9 mile hike with an elevation gain of 2,000 feet, in the last mile before the summit there are three or four intimidating climbs up sheer rock faces. Hiking Cornell via Wittenberg from Woodland Valley is the third highest vertical climb in the Catskills. Continue reading

Daily Catskills: 10/06/18

Gloomy, overcast with the sun occasionally breaking through the cloud for a high of 64F. Thick mist hovered over the caps on the high peaks for most of the day. The whisper-quiet summit of Cornell covered in a foggy shroud.

© J.N. Urbanski 1pm – Usage prohibited without consent

Daily Catskills: 10/05/18

After a gloomy morning, the thick clouds evaporated into nothing leaving clear skies and blazing sunshine for a change. Fall began in earnest this week. The yellow leaves are falling and the reds are popping. Peaches are ripening just as their leaves are drooping.

© J.N. Urbanski 3.15pm – Usage prohibited without consent

© J.N. Urbanski 3.45pm – Usage prohibited without consent

 

Fall Harvest: Squash Fries with Burnett Hot Sauce

© J.N. Urbanski – Usage prohibited without consent

The butternut squash came out more squashy than usual – much less like the soft, puddingy texture of sweet potato, more watery and stringy like spaghetti squash, a diluted version of the dense butternut from where the seeds originally came. A suggestion from Steve Burnett: cut it into fries, toss the fries liberally in Burnett’s legendary homemade hot sauce and roast for 40 minutes to make spicy squash fries. If you like a skin on your fries, finish them off under the broiler for a few minutes. Hot, spicy and delicious.

© J.N. Urbanski – Usage prohibited without consent

Daily Catskills: 09/29/18

Almost 60F by mid-morning with ominously low blanket of cloud that splits into a flotilla of long cotton balls by mid-afternoon.  A high of 62F. The fall is slower this year with only vague swathes of red amidst the yellowing landscape.

© J.N. Urbanski Noon – Usage prohibited without consent

© J.N. Urbanski Noon – Usage prohibited without consent

 

Daily Catskills: 09/26/18

Another one of our many moody days. Showers in some areas, and the ubiquitous low-hanging clouds looking like the underside of a winter comforter. Long, steady breezes push through the trees and a high of 75F. More rain late afternoon. Rain, rain, rain. Cows in a huddle.

© J.N. Urbanski 12.20pm – Usage prohibited without consent

Fall Harvest Soup

© J.N. Urbanski – Usage prohibited without consent

What do you do when you have a basement full of potatoes, onions, garlic and apples? Add lentils to make a Fall Harvest Soup. You can easily make it vegan by not adding butter. You can also add bacon if you can’t live without meat, frying thin slices of your bacon in with the garlic.

This soup is a delicious mixture of the fruity apple with the nutty lentils. The potatoes thicken the soup, but you prefer the soup to be thinner, add more warm stock towards the end to reach the consistency you prefer. If you prefer the apples and lentils to be the main two flavors, only use three cups of potatoes, and add a half-cup of lentils. Continue reading

Daily Catskills: 09/21/18

A sturdy autumn breeze steals the day, shaking acorns out of the trees. Overcast with sombre clouds passing slowly in a low, solemn procession and chilly for a high of 66F. The landscape continues its barely discernible yellowing.

© J.N. Urbanski 9.30am – Usage prohibited without consent

Five Catskills 35 Trail Hikes

© J.N. Urbanski 

There are 35 Catskills mountains over 3500 ft and there’s a club of volunteers devoted to maintaining these trails, and leading group hikes, called the Catskills 3500 Club. Two of the best extra resources are the Catskill Mountaineer website in which you can see a great deal of detail on each hike in the Catskills and a set of maps produced by the NYNJ Trail Conference. All the hikes are pretty strenuous, steep and miles long – not just your proverbial walk in the park. Furthermore, nine of the hikes are bushwhacks, which means there is no trail and you must rely on a map and compass. Some of the hikes are arrestingly beautiful, with waterfalls, lush vegetation and mountaintop lookouts that reward the hiker with stunning views that extend for hundreds of miles over the Catskills’ peaks. But don’t go unprepared. These hikes demand a high fitness level and expert advance planning, especially in winter. Novice hikers should not be attempting peaks in summer or winter without advice.

As an introduction to hiking, I hiked in the summer first and you never forget your first peak.  Balsam Mountain in the summer is spectacular. Here are links to five reviews of the Catskills 35s: Continue reading

Daily Catskills: 09/17/18

Mist sinking into the valleys early morning with wispy clouds getting thicker as the day progresses. A mostly sunny afternoon with a high of 80F and light rain beginning at dusk. Balmy.

© J.N. Urbanski 8am – Usage prohibited without consent

Retrolinks Sunday: The Best of Upstate Dispatch

© J.N. Urbanski 3.45pm

Upstate Dispatch recently celebrated its fourth birthday and I took a bit of a break to ponder on why and how it started in the first place. As a writer, I’ve always lived in deserted areas of cities with cheap rents: Shoreditch when it was a post-industrial wasteland on the other side of Liverpool Street train station – a two-pub pocket of London that was deserted at weekends where I learnt to play pool; Williamsburg when there were still cars burning on the streets of Kent Avenue: Bed-Stuy, when there was an actual car burning outside our studio one time and where a musician came every Sunday with a set of speakers and an electric guitar to play where nobody heard him; leafy Fort Greene when the rents were laughably low and one local dive bar in a basement that teemed with characters fit for novels, bursting with life. As I moved on from one city to another, and one area to the next, in the above order, the expanding population followed hard on my heels. Shoreditch is now a tourist mecca akin to Piccadilly Circus or Times Square.

The Catskills, where I now live, is also a sparsely populated area where there are so many characters fit for novels and brimming with life in a completely different way: rural, and wild-forested natural history. Farmers, artists, historians, writers, homesteaders, cooks, teachers and more, nestle in the valleys of the Catskills and perch on mountaintops. Our forested ridge is fast filling up with young people seeking a more calming environment, good food and company. In the time since we bought our house, an astonishing eleven years ago, our dog has had the run of a 40-acre ridge-top and we only had two friendly full-time neighbors, a retired couple. All that is changing – our dead-end road is filling up with young, curious people and for the first time last night, as I read by an open window, I heard music coming from another distant house that mingled with owls, evening chirping and the waning laughter of crows.

New York City is charging out of its concrete jungle, sending out its long, withered, under-nourished tendrils towards us – the only vegetation that it can muster – gasping for life and some nurturing soil. This slow march from the city to the country is viewed with consternation by some, but if you’ve had children, you can’t really complain about the fast-swelling population.

Upstate Dispatch was started as a Catskills diary, a daily documentation of life in the Catskills and latterly my experiences as a writer in the past four years in local print and on my radio show on the eclectic WIOX Radio.

There is a so much to read on this site. Here are some more links to the best of Upstate Dispatch:

Our hiking page has been the most popular. Find our efforts to climb the Catskills 35 and document some of the best views in the Catskills over the years.

Every day, for the first 18 months of the website, I published one picture a day from around the area in the Daily Catskills section. Click here to scroll back through the years in this category.

More on my personal history in First Person Dispatch.

Conversations with other Catskills residents in Catskills Conversations.

Our adventures with our small farm and a steep learning curve in the world of foraging.

Now, back to documenting this year’s slow fall. The mountains look like those heads of broccoli that you leave in the fridge too long: slightly yellowing, “on the turn” as they say in England.

Thanks for reading.

J.N. Urbanski 9/11/18

© J.N. Urbanski – Usage prohibited without consent

Daily Catskills: 09/06/18

80F by noon and breezeless, but cooler in the forest.  A humid 84F high broken by heavy clouds, mid-afternoon showers, lightning and a long thunderstorm that dumps a mass of evening mist that rolls in and out of the valleys at dusk like a tide. Then a power cut at 8.30pm for absolutely no reason at all.

© J.N. Urbanski 9am – Usage prohibited without consent

Eat Your Weeds: Purslane

© J.N. Urbanski – Usage prohibited without consent

Most of the weeds that are considered a blight on the lawn are edible, including purslane. One of the tastiest and power packed with nutrients, purslane is quite distinctive from other weeds because it’s a succulent so when you bite into it there will be a crunch and some juice that tastes like a mix of lemon, cucumber, and a dash of pepper that’s much milder than arugula. The juice contains pectin, so it also makes a good thickener instead of flour for gluten-free cooking like soups and stews, but really it’s good for every meal.

Purslane is said to have more Vitamin E than spinach and more beta carotene than carrots.  Allegedly, It’s also a rich source of Omega-3 fatty acids. It goes nicely raw in salads, or cooked well in soups. If you put it in a soup, cut off the red stems as they are a tad bitter. Leave the red stems on if you’re putting it in a stew.

Like spinach, a widely cultivated and popular vegetable, purslane is on the FDA poisonous plant list. Like spinach, purslane is high in oxalates but so are beet greens, lamb’s quarter, rhubarb and Swiss chard – also very popular vegetables. This is something to be considered before you eat it. The FDA states that these vegetables interfere with calcium absorption in the diet in certain amounts. Oxalates are present in most foods, even fruit and nuts, and are virtually unavoidable, but high levels in the body could lead to kidney stones or other ailments.

However, despite this it is becoming so popular that farmers are now selling it at markets and because it takes little to no cultivation or effort, naturally appearing on the understory or in empty beds for two months between summer and fall, it’s a vegetable with a high profit margin. If you buy purslane, you’re helping a farmer. And of course, if you have a garden and find it carpeting your raised beds, it’s free for a couple of months out of the year. If you don’t want to eat it, use it like a nutritious cover crop to restore your soil and turn it over in the raised bed like farmers do with clover. Just don’t spray weedkiller on it.

Wild Plant Teas: Goldenrod

© J.N. Urbanski – Usage prohibited without consent

Goldenrod is a perennial that grows mostly in direct sunlight, although you can find them in partial sunlight by roadsides. You’ll usually find them in fields and on hillsides and, as the name suggests, they are tall rods (or stems) getting about two to six feet high with loose, floppy clusters of tiny, yellow flowers at the top of the stem that droop over slightly.  Thin leaves, two to six inches long, grow all the way down the stem alternately, and are hairy.

We have Goldenrod in abundance – whole fields of it – so taking a few blossoms for tea is sustainable. It’s best harvested in late summer when the flowers are opening. Clip off the yellow blossoms including two or three inches of the stem. Steep three of these fresh blossoms in a cup of hot water to make a delicious fresh tea that tastes similar to a strong green tea. Sweeten with a dash of maple syrup. Don’t pour boiling water over them. Let the water cool down a little first because you don’t want to burn the flowers.

Goldenrod is said to have a number of health benefits. It soothes a sore throat, reduces pain and inflammation. It is also used for gout, joint pain (rheumatism), arthritis, as well as eczema and other skin conditions.

The flowers don’t freeze well, so if you want to save some tea for winter, make a condensed batch and freeze to dilute later with water. To make a condensed batch of tea, simply soak as much fresh goldenrod as you can fit in a mason jar of hot water. Strain through a sieve and freeze.

Bee Update: The Warre Hive

© J.N. Urbanski – Usage prohibited without consent

Six weeks ago, we caught a swarm that was attached to a tree close to our first hive and transferred them to a new, temporary hive. A few days later, we moved them to this new Warre hive (pictured above) – a top bar hive – that comes with viewing windows at the back, so you can see what’s going on the hive without pulling out the frames (pictured bottom).

It’s not clear whether the swarm on the tree was a group of our own agitated bees in the first hive that had been robbed several times. It’s possible that they made a new queen and split. However, six weeks later, this new colony in the Warre hive is very calm, unlike the bees in our first hive, the occupants of which are occasionally defensive. (This can only be an advantage when a hungry bear comes to collect the honey later on in the year. A bear has already come within sniffing distance of the hive – he left evidence of his visit – but departed without trying to take anything despite the heady aroma of honey around the hive. The bees are docile when they’re foraging – now the Goldenrod is out – but are always prepared for another invasion. This trait may cycle out with each new wave of brood.) Continue reading

On The Finger Lakes Trail: Little Pond & Touch-Me-Not

© J.N. Urbanski – Usage prohibited without consent

The Finger Lakes Trail wends through the Catskills, beginning at the western edge of the Slide Mountain Wilderness and continuing on to Downsville and way beyond, stretching for about 500 miles.

A few miles’ worth of the Catskills’ portion of the FL trail goes past Big Pond, and Little Pond (pictured above). The trail to Little Pond begins across the road from Big Pond’s small beach – and it’s even smaller parking lot – and forms a loop around Little Pond that’s made up of two trails: The Little Pond Trail and Touch-me-not Trail. Continue reading

Foraging: Chanterelles

© J.N. Urbanski – Usage prohibited without consent

Chanterelles are in the same family as the northeastern Black Trumpets (Craterellus), but they have a few toxic look-a-likes, so they’re much trickier to identify than Black Trumpets. When you’re foraging for mushrooms, a positive identification is essential before you even think about eating. For example, there are plenty of bright orange mushrooms in the forest that you should not eat and so if there is any confusion, forget it. The intricacies of mushroom hunting are so varied and convoluted that, for the layman, most mushrooms are not worth the risk of misidentification. Rest assured that mycology – the study of fungi –  is a lifetime of learning and that most of what you find in the forest should be left alone.

So – to identify these chanterelles pictured here, as I did with the boletes I found two years ago, I sought the opinions of at least two experienced foragers to help identify them. Continue reading

Foraging: Black Trumpet Mushrooms

© J.N. Urbanski – Usage prohibited without consent

Like Lion’s Mane that I wrote about last year, Black Trumpet mushrooms are easy for the novice forager to identify because they don’t have any toxic look-a-likes. Plus, like Lion’s Mane they are absolutely delicious: earthy, aromatic and deeply flavorful, possibly one of the best smelling and tasting mushrooms out of all the top edibles.

To the layman, they could possibly look like, perhaps Devil’s Urn, little, round cups that grow on rotting wood but even then, the Devil’s Urn only appears in spring. Wood Ear could also be considered similar, but wood ear looks like, well, a brownish/black, flattened ear. There are black boletes, but they have pores not gills. It should be noted here that if you’re going to learn about mushrooms, a pocket guide is essential and you should have a good few year’s worth of mushroom-hunting experience before you start thinking about eating anything without at least two positive ID’s from experts. A novice should always have a mentor. Plus, most important, mushrooms affect people in different ways. Some people can’t even tolerate edible mushrooms and you may have an allergy of which you are unaware. Continue reading

Daily Catskills: 08/17/18

A rainy, soggy morning with a brief interlude of warming sun around midday with brief periods of sunshine, returning to torrential rain and thunderstorms late afternoon. A high of 80F.

© J.N. Urbanski 2.30pm – Usage prohibited without consent

Daily Catskills: 08/16/18

A dull, foggy, humid start rising to an 87F high by late afternoon with blazing sun. Hordes of post-rain mushrooms stage a revolution on the forest floor.

© J.N. Urbanski 1pm – Usage prohibited without consent

Interview with Joyce St. George, candidate for NY State Senate District 51

“I remember when you went for a job and there were signs saying WOMEN NOT WANTED or MEN ONLY or BOYS ONLY”.

Reportedly, this year the US has had a record number of female political candidates running for office. Joyce St. George is one of these women. Joyce was a guest on my radio show on April 30th and we talked about some aspects of her career, being a woman in politics, her career in law enforcement, her run for state senate and what she does to unwind (she also practices and teaches karate here in the Catskills).

Joyce is a powerhouse with an intimidating resume. She began her career in the 1970s, when she became the first female investigator to serve in the New York State Attorney General’s Special Prosecutor’s Office on Anti-Corruption. Following the dramatic testimony of Frank Serpico, Joyce and her colleagues rooted out corruption within the criminal justice system in NYC, investigating police officers, judges and district attorneys. That was only the beginning of her career and I’m wondering why nobody’s made a movie about Joyce herself.

Joyce is approachable, affable and engaging with a big heart. With her husband Frank Canavan, she works with the Margaretville Food Pantry that serves 500 local families. Joyce was hired by FEMA to provide crisis services in Delaware County following the floods from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, and served on the Flood Mitigation Council for the area.