Sunday, April 26, 2009

Shawangunk is evidently prounounced "SHON-gum"

An hour and a half on the bus followed by a little car pooling, and we found ourselves in Minnewaska State Park, in the Shawangunk Mountains north of New Paltz. The first really hot day of the year, so a bit strenuous, but this Sierra Club-sponsored hike was fantastic. We went half-way around gorgeous Lake Minnewaska, up Millbrook Mt, along the crest to Gertrude’s Nose overlooking the Wallkill Valley, then back to the lake along the red-blazed Gertrude’s Nose trail. Nine miles of up and down and along ridges. The rock there is hard conglomerate, so tough they used to use it for millstones that were in demand all around the country. It’s also whitish and blocky, making for some terrific scenery. Lots of hemlocks, and even, unfortunately, some of the dreaded hemlock-destroying aphid. Stunted pitch pines atop the ridges, high pine barrens, a rather unique habitat. Glacial scrapings across the rock. Talus piles below.

Turkey vultures by the handful, sometimes at eye-level, sometimes below us. Surely the inspiration for the first hang-gliders. We spotted a male kestrel, an unidentified hawk, and a couple of passerines, including an Eastern bluebird, but the highlight for me was a raven. I love these shaggy beasts. We later saw another (or the same one) flying overheard, vocalizing away with that deep bronking sound. And my first ice cave: nature’s AC. These caves fill up with snow and ice during the winter and take forever to thaw out. Other openings create jet-like blasts of frigid air from them. You can stand in the hot, hot sun, move a foot, and feel the icy breeze, even see your own breath, as the cold roars out. On the way back, before the Jersey line and the endless mall that flows from there, I counted fifteen deer grazing by the side of the highway.

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