Driving Across America

Driving across the United States is an experience that I highly recommend taking the time to do – especially if you get to go with some of the best travelling companions you have.

There is no substitute for traversing a large area by ground. We watched the landscape change dramatically as we passed on the road, and we got out to experience some of the greatest spots on foot. We ate exciting meals in unfamiliar towns and re-energized with tasty snacks along spectacular trails. We enjoyed getting together with friends, experiencing the hospitality of family, and travelling with each other.

It all came together last summer when Irena, my wife’s sister, was heading to California for the next chapter of her academic career. Obviously Helen and I wanted to come across the country with her, and their younger brother Alex was wise enough to join in.

Planning began with Google Maps and ideas of places we wanted to go. I had some great memories from previous trips I had taken with family, and we did some research online and figured out a schedule. We were going to be on the road for two weeks, from Hoboken to San Francisco. After helping Irena move in and get furniture, the other three of us would fly back east.

All of our gear and many of Irena’s possessions were going coast-to-coast in a 2008 Honda Accord. Thankfully it was a four-door model. I would have gone with nothing but a jacket and whatever I could fit in my pockets if I had to, but fortunately for me and everyone who had to spend hours in a car with me, we were able to bring a backpack each, extra shoes, and a medium duffel bag to share space in. There was no room for camping gear, but we were on a limited schedule anyway, so motels and family homes would serve for sleeping space. A Garmin nüvi, smartphones, and park maps would help us navigate. We were ready for adventure.

Driving across the country is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, a dream frequently forgotten as life presented other paths. I don’t know if I truly believed we were all going to do this until we hit the road the first morning.


We set out from the Hoboken waterfront in the first week of August. There was excitement all around because we were really doing this! We made a brief stop in town to get some awesome scones and muffins a friend made for us. We joked that she was trying to make sure we would come back, but actually she’s just cool like that.

Our first day was a drive to Pittsburgh to meet with a friend. We decided that we would take I-80 across New Jersey and Pennsylvania, because it seemed like the scenery would be more mountainous than it would be if we took I-78, the other likely candidate. We would be seeing plenty of farm country on our trip, so the wooded Pocono Mountains were a nice send-off from familiar territory. As the highway winded through the hills and valleys, mist rolled over the landscape outside. We arrived in Pittsburgh with plenty of daylight left.


We didn’t explore Pittsburgh for very long, but it was a nice city and a good opportunity to rest up for the big trip ahead of us. We got a good view of the city from the top of the historic Duquesne Incline.


Below the hillside are the three rivers of Pittsburgh. Here the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers meet to form the Ohio River. There is actually a park there called Point State Park. The lawn by the point contains a stone tracery of Fort Duquesne, an important landmark in the French and Indian war.

For us, the city marked our passage west. The next day would be a long drive to St. Louis.

We left Pittsburg pretty early. I was fascinated with the idea of taking the wheel for the entire distance, and my travelling companions obliged. It turns out to be about a 600 mile trip, but we made some stops so it was not too hard to handle. Most of the day was along I-70: riding hours of highway, passing cities and towns exit sign after exit sign, watching acres of farmland and rows of strip malls pass by in between.

I was going to drive right past the signs for the world’s largest golf tee and world’s largest wind chime, but Helen was not about to let this opportunity pass. We followed the signs to a town called Casey, Illinois, where big things are made. The world’s largest golf tee, world’s largest wind chime, and world’s largest knitting needles and crochet hook can all be found here. Some of the big things include Bible verses or religious imagery.


It is actually a creative way to get travelers to stop in the town. We ended up buying some sandwiches and drinks before getting on the road again.


No meal we had that day could have prepared us for what awaited in St. Louis. Going on a solid recommendation, we decided to have dinner at Pappy’s Smokehouse. We got some of the last ribs available that evening and they did not go to waste. The first bite had us all engrossed in the process of eating as much of the delicious meat as we possibly could. The other meats we had were excellent, but it was the ribs that were most impressive. We will make a serious effort to get back to Pappy’s if we’re ever close to the area.

We walked off some of the meal and car ride at the Gateway Arch, which is a pretty impressive structure to stand by. Just up some stairs from the mighty Mississippi River, the Arch was constructed as a monument to American westward expansion.

The next day would see us driving across Missouri and half of Kansas. It would also see more ribs, this time for lunch at Oklahoma Joe’s. It’s a great barbecue restaurant at a gas station in Kansas City, KS, and it has apparently changed its name to Joe’s Kansas City since we were there. We all enjoyed Pappy’s more, but we had only good things to say about Joe’s.


Eventually we got off I-70 to take a smaller highway through Kansas. It was a chance to get closer to the prairie and stick our heads out the window to feel the breeze.


We got to Cawker City just in time to see the World’s Largest Ball of Twine in the evening’s golden light. Cawker City doesn’t seem to have much going on these days, but along Highway 24 there is a canopy that houses a very large ball of twine that is said to be the largest in the world. It was started by a local farmer named Frank Stoeber in 1953 and it has apparently become a collaborative effort. Visitors are encouraged to buy twine to add to the ball, though the store was closed by the time we came to town.


The big ball of twine was just a small landmark in our adventure and served as a convenient point of interest in the real goal of getting off of the interstate. We were rewarded with a sunset over the prairie.


We spent the night at a Super 8 in Beloit, Kansas. It was the same as most motels: pretty clean, offering beds and a bathroom, and serving dismal but edible complimentary breakfast.

We set off for Colorado in the morning. We passed by fields stretching to the horizon, herds of cattle, some ruined old shacks, and modern agricultural structures, some of which looked like giant robots over the horizon. Periodically the speed limit would drop as we passed through a town that stretched a few blocks from the main drag. We headed west in search of mountains.

When we were planning the trip and discussed places we wanted to go, Colorado was on top on the list, and Utah was just behind. I said that I had seen a lot of Colorado and Utah on family trips in 2005 and 2006, but I was excited to go back. Once you’ve been, you understand.


Driving into Colorado from Kansas, the landscape appears just as flat. Though the prairie was cool I was itching to see mountains, especially since we were headed to the Rockies. When I saw the mountains rise from the horizon little distinct from clouds yet unmistakably majestic, I shouted excitedly, grabbed the passenger’s seat in front of me, and started shaking it. I’m certain my enthusiasm was appreciated.

We had heard good things about Boulder, Colorado, and now that we’ve been there we have good things to say. We only spent an evening and a morning in Boulder but we loved it. It was a pleasant place to hang out and walk around, especially with an old friend accompanying us. There was a big bookstore downtown, a huge farmer’s market with numerous free samples, and some beautiful park space. People were pretty friendly, and there were mountains around the city. We ate a great dinner at the Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery. They actually gave us a complimentary platter of fries because we had to wait for a table, which was a really cool thing to do. After we sat down we got some quality burgers, salads, and beer.

Rocky Mountain National Park was a major destination for us. It was great to get out and spend a full day hiking after so much time in the car.

We decided to hike to a lake called The Loch, basing our route on a description from the book Day & Overnight Hikes: Rocky Mountain National Park by Kim Lipker (2008). We also had a nice National Geographic trail map (Trails Illustrated 200: Rocky Mountain National Park), which helped us decide our route through the ridges and lakes.

The high altitude made this hike more challenging. I spend most of my time within 2,000 feet of sea level. Today’s hike was over 9,000 feet above sea level. The morning got a little rough with the cold rain, but by lunchtime it was hard to imagine wanting to be anywhere else.


We had a full day of hiking to enjoy great ridge views and hang out around clear mountain ponds.


It was an exhilarating experience that took a lot out of us. We headed back to the town of Estes Park straight for a Vietnamese and Thai restaurant called Café De Pho-Thai. We downed serious quantities of tasty food and guzzled pitchers of water.

On our second day in Rocky Mountain National Park we hiked to the summit of Deer Mountain, which at 10,013’ actually appears to be slightly lower in elevation than The Loch. We started out lower so we did made some gains in elevation this day. Even though this hike involved fairly steep climbing, we were just well enough accustomed to the altitude that it felt easier than the day before. We had great views on the way up and a spectacular summit view.



The descent offered a chance to more leisurely observe the scenery.


It was time to get on the road again. We headed west on Trail Ridge Road and made some worthwhile stops along the way. One of the best stops was the short but spectacular Tundra Trail, which had sweeping views all around.


We encountered some wildlife we don’t see in New Jersey, including the ptarmigan, a bird that is pretty good at camouflage.


Back along Trail Ridge Road we encountered a herd of elk.


By the time we made it here, hunger had driven me to innovation and I made myself a sandwich with peanut butter and two Clif Bars of Sierra Trail Mix flavor. I would eat this again.

Trail Ridge Road crosses the Continental Divide, the geographic division between waterways that flow into the Atlantic Ocean and waterways that flow into the Pacific Ocean. It’s obviously a spot where photos should be taken.


That was all the time we had for Rocky Mountain National Park.

We stopped in the town of Grand Lake for meat and Rocky Mountain Oysters at a place called Sagebrush Barbeque and Grill. Honestly I had expected that eating testicles would leave a more virile impression in my mouth, but they were just bland fried discs. The other meat was good though, and it was kind of cool to eat peanuts and throw the shells on the floor. Plus the Old West décor was fun. After dinner we took a nice walk by the lake around sunset. Continuing westward, we stayed at a motel along I-70 in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

West of the Rockies we entered a landscape with a different vocabulary from what we were used to, a land of canyons, arches, hoodoos, buttes, mesas, and washes. Utah was ahead of us and we were excited to get there.


At Arches National Park we entered an otherworldly landscape that invited us to come explore the sand and stone and bake with it under the sun.



Water and sun protection are a must at Arches. Stop in the visitor center to fill all of your water bottles because you might need them.

You should arrive at Arches ready to wander and gaze. The walls of stone make impressive sights, and being able to look up at giant arches made me feel quite fortunate.


Arches was the only park we went to that I felt was crowded. Things have changed since Edward Abbey was a ranger and there was just an unpaved road into the park. Now tourists pour in by the carload, and unfortunately many seem to have trouble giving other people space to enjoy the rocks. However, it is hard to complain because the park really is awesome and we were also visiting the place with limited time and rushed to the accessible highlights. The landscape really is too spectacular to not share.

Although the stars are probably awesome at Arches, I was glad there was a full moon when we went. The moonlight gave Delicate Arch a satisfying glow and lit our way over the rocks. It also added to the experience of viewing ancient Native American rock art along the trail.

If you’re not camping, Moab is the place to stay when you visit Arches. If you are camping you should visit Moab anyway because it is a cool adventure town with some good food. Eating at Twisted Sistas was a nice break from the desert heat for us.

The next day we were on the road to Bryce Canyon. It was a good road to be on with the impressive desert landscapes and rock formations along the way.


We got to Bryce late in the day. We began our visit at Inspiration Point. It was a marvelous place to look out over the landscape below, take pictures, and reflect on how far we had come. We took a short walk along the rim to Sunset Point and watched the colors of sunset on the rocks.


Even though the landscape is not a canyon, the name Bryce’s Canyon has stuck to it. Ebenezer Bryce was one of the Mormon pioneers who began settling in the region in the 1870s. Native Americans had been seasonally hunting and gathering food in the area for thousands of years, but there is no evidence they stayed through the harsh winters.

The next day we took some walks among the hoodoos. The irregular spire-shaped rock formations are really something to marvel at. The walks through Bryce are spectacular. The place was busy but not what I would consider crowded.


In the evening we headed towards Zion National Park. The drive in was punctuated by the dark and narrow Zion Mt. Carmel Tunnel, a 1.1 mile drive through stone with occasional windows looking out into the canyon. After the tunnel a series of switchbacks brought us through the park and into Springdale for dinner.

Zion is really a great place to be. Massive sandstone walls surround the green banks of the Virgin River.


With only a day to explore the park, our natural course was to go on one of my favorite hikes of all time, Angels Landing. We walked switchbacks up to a trail junction on the ridge. There we took a short break before heading out onto a knife edge a thousand feet above the valley floor.


Rainclouds and distant thunder threatened to cut our hike short one way or another. Hanging onto metal chains along a nearly bare ridge is not a good place to be in a thunderstorm. Our hearts pounded as we reached the outlook at the end. We took a few pictures and headed back.


The rain held off long enough for a quick lunch on the ridge. We headed a little down the West Rim Trail to a nice spot away from where everyone congregates for Angels Landing. I would love to take a longer walk along the canyon rim sometime. We had a refreshing soak on the way down the switchbacks to the shuttle bus.

Private vehicles are not allowed in Zion Canyon in the summer, which was actually kind of nice. The busses run quietly and blend in to the landscape. They were as clean inside as a transport for muddy hikers could be. A speaker system on board tells riders a little about the park, including how many people have recently died while attempting to hike Angels Landing.

We walked through the canyon a little while to where the trail enters the river at The Narrows. We did not block out the time or bring the equipment to wade through a river for miles but I would love to do that sometime.


As we were standing in the river getting more rain, a little baby doll started to float by. Since we could tell it wasn’t an actual baby, it was kind of funny in a dark sort of way to see it bobbing down the river bumping into rocks here and there.

We enjoyed the previous night’s dinner at the Spotted Dog Café so much we went there again after we cleaned ourselves up a little. After dinner we drove off into the sunset across the desert. Utah was behind us and our wet hiking clothes were stowed safely out of smell range.

We had decided to save the Grand Canyon for another trip, when we would have more time to enjoy it, so we continued westward. Our next destination was Boulder City, Nevada via Las Vegas. It is a little surreal to drive through the desert at night and see the lights of Vegas.

Boulder City was built as housing for the construction and supervision of the Boulder Dam, now called the Hoover Dam. We stayed at the historic Boulder Dam Hotel.



Inside the motel is an excellent little museum called the Boulder City Hoover Dam Museum. The museum exhibits show how construction workers and their families lived during the building of the Boulder Dam. It used memorable displays to teach visitors about general and specific experiences of Boulder City residents.

Our morning continued at Lake Meade, the lake formed where the Colorado River is contained by the Hoover Dam. Other people were enjoying swimming there, but I was not so into it. Even though the beach was hot enough for me to overheat while sitting still, I wasn’t too eager to go in the water with the cinder blocks and other debris I saw at the edge. Once I got in the water I quickly learned it was warm as soup but was enough to keep me from overheating.


Around midday we were on our way to the Hoover Dam, an American landmark that was constructed from 1931 to 1936.


Built from 4,360,000 cubic yards of concrete, the dam and power plant complex is really too big to get in one photo unless you’re far away. You can drive and walk across the dam though, which is pretty cool.


We then headed back to Las Vegas for a lunch of overeating. We were looking for an outrageous Vegas buffet experience, and the Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace did not disappoint. It really was absurd how many types of food you could get, and some of it quite good.

After a break in the decorated halls and less-decorated restrooms of Caesars Palace we were back on the road. It would be a long drive through the desert to the California coast.

It was a moonless, clear night in the desert. We could see the stars through our windows and decided to pull off the highway for a better look. Not far from I-15 we stopped the car. Darkness surrounded us as we stepped out to look at the sky. The uncountable stars above gave a brilliant reminder of how vast the universe is. As we stood and our eyes adjusted we could see more detail and unfamiliar constellations. Taking a moment to enjoy an unexpected detour lead to a memorable experience.

Helen kept driving as we cruised by Los Angeles in the middle of the night. I stayed up to keep her company and periodically assured her that I could drive if she wanted. We arrived in Santa Barbara around 2 AM ready for some serious rest. We picked a good town for it.

I really didn’t know much about Santa Barbara before we stopped there. We chose it as a destination because it was supposed to be a nice town and we had friends there. It turned out to be a really enjoyable place.

We took it easy in the morning and met a friend at a little café called The Shop. Enjoying a delicious breakfast in beautiful weather was a great start to the day.

In the afternoon we headed to the beach. Now we had really traversed North America and made it to the Pacific Ocean. Naturally we headed in for a swim. I had never swam in the Pacific Ocean before. I found the water enjoyably cold and calm.


In the evening we drove up into the hills and took a short path to a boulder strewn hillside overlooking the ocean. We hung off the Lizard’s Mouth rock and played around on some less challenging boulders.


Spending two nights in the same bed was a luxury we hadn’t enjoyed since our trip began. After another breakfast at The Shop we were on the road again. We headed north on the Pacific Coast Highway. Somehow we don’t have a lot of pictures from this drive, but at least we didn’t stop in the road to take pictures like some tourists were doing.

Along the way we saw a sign for an elephant seal viewpoint. We obviously stopped here, and we were rewarded with a beach full of elephant seals.


In the evening we rolled into Mountain View and visited with relatives in the area.

Our last day of the trip was about fulfilling our original goal: helping Irena move to California. We made the obligatory trip to Ikea followed by furniture assembly.


We headed up to San Francisco to eat at Burma Superstar, and stayed over for breakfast burritos and the morning’s flight. Fourteen days after we had set out from the east coast, we were heading back. The trip was over, but adventures would continue.


Dark Tunnels in Stone

There are many good reasons to go walking in the woods. One good reason is to explore what was left by previous users of the land, and to consider the changes a place has experienced over time.

Old mines make excellent hiking destinations, even when they are small sites that are most exciting for the effort required to find them. I was looking through the book Iron Mine Trails for mines to explore, and the Roomy Mine stood out as a good candidate. The book says “The Roomy Mine is an excellent mine to visit early in your explorations of old mine trails.” That is a good start, but even more exciting were the words “The Roomy Mine can be entered.”

Iron mining in northern New Jersey, breaking and sorting iron ore from hard rock, was once a major industry that fed the region’s manufacturing centers and influenced early transportation networks. It also contributed to major deforestation, as countless trees were needed to fuel the furnaces that turned ore into usable iron, particularly before Pennsylvania coal was easy to get. Now trees again line the hills and a nice forest walk can be enjoyed on the way to explore the remnants of old industry.

We first stopped at the Blue Mine, a worthwhile detour on the way to the Roomy Mine.  An unmarked trail along Blue Mine Brook leads right to the opening, a large, flooded cut into the hillside.

Blue Mine NJ

Just a little farther down the trail, a huge tailing pile gives a sense of how much rock was removed to find iron ore.

Blue Mine Tailings

The top of the pile has the typical look of rounded rows of small rocks, a feature often found around iron mines in the area.

Blue Mine Top Tailings

The Blue Mine was named for the blue tint of its ore.  The deposit was discovered and first opened by ironmaster Peter Hasenclever around 1765. The company Hasenclever worked for operated several blast furnaces in the area. During the early 19th century, ore was shipped to Midvale, NJ until the furnace there was shut down in 1855. Apparently the Blue Mine’s ore contained a high percentage of sulfur, which led to lower-quality iron.

The Blue Mine was reopened briefly several times from the 1870s to the end of the 19th century, and the last attempt at mining was a 1905 opening that did not remove any ore. Heavy equipment was used at the Blue Mine, and a number of foundations are visible nearby.

The trail up to the Roomy Mine follows a wide path that was probably used to haul iron ore to furnaces.

Roomy Mine Road

The entrance is imposing and definitely inspired the urge to go in and have a look.

Roomy Mine Entrance

We got out our helmets and headlamps. While the mine appears pretty safe to explore without a helmet, head protection is still recommended due to the possibility of rocks falling from around the shaft and the low ceilings that will be encountered.

Entering the mine when bats may be hibernating is prohibited. Since we didn’t know this, it’s good that we ended up going three days after the mine re-opened.

Bat Migration

According to Lenik, the Roomy Mine is named after Benjamin Roome, a local 19th Century land surveyor. It was opened in the early 1840s and worked until the late 1850s. Around 1890 it was re-explored, and has long been abandoned.

Roomy Mine Entrance - Closer

There is more than one way to enter the mine. The safest way is to crouch under the lower opening, where after just a few feet you will emerge into a big chamber. Not surprisingly, we did not choose the optimal route on the way in, and climbed down a steep slope from the top of the chamber. It looked cool though.

Ryan in Roomy Mine

As impressive as the structure was, the hole in the rock face quickly gained our attention.

Roomy Mine Shaft Entrance

It was the entrance to an adit, a horizontal tunnel into the rock. It was a little spooky going in for the first time, but very exciting to explore.

Roomy Mine Shaft

Lenik says the tunnel is about 100 feet long. I didn’t take the time to measure, but I would say that sounds about right. It ends pretty abruptly where the ore vein stopped.

Darian in Roomy Mine

We found no bats, but plenty of insects.

Roomy Mine Insects

There were also numerous tool marks inside. Typically, miners would hammer metal drills into the rock to make holes about four to six feet apart. The holes were then packed with explosive to blast ore from the hillside.

Roomy Mine Tool Mark

On the way out it was easier to take the time to appreciate the work that went into this structure. Iron taken from here was processed into all types of objects used by probably thousands of people.

Roomy Mine Shaft and Out

Emerging from the pit and back into the sun gave me a feeling of release.

Roomy Mine Looking Up - Ryan

We were smart enough to take the easy way out of the mine instead of climb up the wet rock of the shaft.

Exiting Rommy Mine

The ridge above the mine offered excellent views of the hills and reservoir nearby.  There were also a number of smaller mining or exploratory holes.

Roomy Mine Uphill

A hilly walk through a forest is a nice thing to do, and encountering tunnels left by people over a century before reveals the changing relationship between people and the surrounding landscape. A mine hike is a classic adventure in history.

Roomy Mine Shaft Outward



Lenik, Edward J. Iron Mine Trails. New York – New Jersey Trail Conference, 1996. Pages 59-65.

Norvin Green State Forest Trail Map. New York – New Jersey Trail Conference. Online at: http://www.nynjtc.org/files/NorvinGreen_BrochureMap_2009.pdf

Trail Map 115: North Jersey Trails. New York – New Jersey Trail Conference.



Storm King

Storm King Mountain rises dramatically from the Hudson River shoreline a few miles north of West Point. The round mountain offers vigorous hikes with excellent views of the valley below.

Of course, another good reason to go to Storm King is the excellent name that it has. Nineteenth-century writer Nathaniel Parker Willis gets credit for the name. Willis said the mountain was the tallest in the area and that storm clouds would first gather around its slopes when a storm was on its way. Before this, the mountain was called Butter Hill, apparently because locals thought it resembled a big lump of butter. (Today, a nearby summit is still called Butter Hill.)

Stillman Trail

There are a few different numbers found online for the summit elevation. The U.S. Geological Survey lists an elevation of 1345 feet. Of course, the mountain’s impressiveness is more about its steep slope on the riverside than an absolute height measurement.

Storm King can be explored pretty well in an afternoon. I began my hike at a small parking lot on Mountain Road about 0.7 miles north of Route 9W. I followed the yellow blazes of the Stillman Trail to the summit, most of the way accompanied by the teal blazes of the Highlands Trail.

The beginning of the hike uses old smoothly-graded roads, including very nice stone bridges.

Stone Bridge on Stillman Trail

Near the first junction with the blue-and-red blazed Bluebird Trail, some ruins are viewable. It looks like it was some sort of spring house. If I get the time to look it up in a local library, I’ll try to find out more.

Storm King Spring House

The ground around the building was wet, and there was water in the little cylindrical stone structure.

Storm King Spring

Ascending the Stillman Trail offered great views to the north and east. Pollepel Island can easily be spotted and its ruins scoped out with some good glass.

Pollepel from Storm King

Surprisingly there were a few patches of snow and ice on this April day with temperatures reaching seventy degrees.

Storm King Trail

The trail rounds a bend to a cool outcrop with southward-facing views.

South from Storm King

However, the best view was from a rocky area shortly before the summit. Clear northward views let you see upriver past the end of the Hudson Highlands, the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge, and even a hint of the Shawangunk Range and the Catskill Mountains.

Storm King North View

Across the river, Breakneck Ridge and Sugarloaf provide a nice backdrop for Pollepel Island.

Breakneck - Sugarloaf - Pollepel

Near the summit there are some stones that look to be from some kind of ruin.

Storm King Ruins

The yellow-blazed Stillman Trail does not loop back to the parking lot, so after climbing the mountain I continued west along the Stillman Trail until its second intersection with the blue-and-red Bluebird Trail. I turned right (NNW) at the cairn and took the Bluebird back down to its lower intersection with the yellow trail.

Storm King Cairn

It seems like it is popular to take this route in the opposite direction (getting on the blue-red trail on the way up at its lower junction with the yellow), but I enjoyed climbing along the precipice of the northeast face. It is not a quiet ascent, mainly because both sides of the river see train traffic.

The trails I used are actually found on Google Maps, but it seems like a number of the close switchbacks are not illustrated on Google. Also Google names trails incorrectly, and the full route of the Highlands Trail is not illustrated. An excellent map of the area is published by the The New York – New Jersey Trail Conference.

Stillman - Highlands

Storm King has long been admired for its striking features. Several Hudson River School painters depicted the mountain in the mid-nineteenth century. It was an excellent model for their depictions of raw and powerful natural settings.

A century later, Storm King was the focus of a crucial environmental dispute. In 1962 the Consolidated Edison Company announced plans for a massive electric generation project. The plans called for a pumped storage plant at the base of Storm King fed by a 260 acre reservoir to be constructed in nearby Black Rock Forest. In November 1963, local citizens formed the Scenic Hudson Preservation Conference to oppose the project. They argued that it threatened the local water supply, the Hudson River fisheries, and the scenic beauty and historic significance of Storm King Mountain. A number of environmental organizations and municipal governments joined Scenic Hudson in their legal fight against Consolidated Edison.

After numerous court battles the case was settled in December 1980. Numerous precedents in environmental law were set, including the participation of local citizens in environmental disputes and greater consideration for environmental impact in the construction approval process. Consolidated Edison terminated its plans for Storm King and pledged to reduce fish kills at power plants along the river and to establish a research fund for the Hudson River ecosystem. In return, the power company would not have to install closed-cycle cooling towers at existing plants.

Another episode in Storm King’s history was opened by a forest fire in 1999. Firefighters encountered explosions in the forest, and it was determined that the explosions were from artillery shells tested by the West Point Foundry over a century ago. The park was closed to the public. A subsequent investigation revealed that artillery shells from nearby West Point Military Reservation may also have been buried in the park. Following a lengthy cleanup of unexploded ordinance, the park was re-opened in 2003.

Long admired for its powerful figure above the Hudson River, Storm King is an easily recognizable feature that offers hikers a chance to get an excellent view of the valley below.



Explore Pollepel Island at Head First .

Dunwell, Frances F. The Hudson: America’s River. Columbia University Press, 2008.

Environmental Pioneering – Storm King Mountain. Hudson River Virtual Tour, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Feature Detail Report for: Storm King Mountain. U.S. Geological Survey, Geographic Names Information System.

Flad, Harvey K. “Places and Cases: Storm King,” in Environmental History of the Hudson River, ed. Robert E. Henshaw, SUNY, 2011.

The Scenic Hudson Decision. Marist Environmental History Project.

Stillman/Highlands/Bluebird Trails Loop from Mountain Road. New York-New Jersey Trail Conference.

Storm King. SummitPost.org 2006 page by Rob A.

Storm King Mountain, New York. Peakbagger.com

Storm King State Park. New York-New Jersey Trail Conference.

The Hudson River: Storm King. Questroyal Fine Art.

Walking on Snow

Traveling by snowshoe is an ancient practice made easier by modern technology. Putting something on your feet to spread out your weight over snow is a fairly simple idea, and today’s snowshoes descend from technology used for thousands of years. Snowshoes make it easier to experience the crisp winter environment, to be surrounded by the sight of bright white snow on dark trees and rocks, to see the sun shine on evergreens garnished in fluffy white.


People have been using primitive skis to hunt in snow for at least 8,000 years, but historical accounts suggest that snowshoes are not quite so old. Histories of snowshoeing available online seem to take their ancient history from The Snowshoe Book, a 1971 work by William Osgood and Leslie Hurley. Osgood and Hurley cite a number of sources in their book including images from the Public Archives of Canada.

According to The Snowshoe Book, snowshoes have probably been around for about 6,000 years. Skis were historically favored in Asia and Europe, but when people began to traverse deep powdery snow in North America they began to build snowshoes more.

Aboriginal people across North America built snowshoes in a variety of patterns. Snowshoe shapes were influenced by conditions prevalent in the local environment – broader snowshoes for open areas with deep snow, smaller snowshoes for thick forests. They were extensively used for hunting in winter.

Primitive snowshoes were made with branches and bark, but as the craft evolved, better techniques were used. Snowshoes would be made with a wooden frame, often with crossbars for support. Rawhide webbing woven across the frame created decking to give the shoe more surface area. A gap in the decking for the front of the foot to bend through made walking easier.


Seventeenth century French explorers and trappers were among the first Europeans to closely examine the Native snowshoe and adopt it for their own use.


The effective use of snowshoes to make winter raids during the French and Indian War led to widespread adoption of snowshoes by white people in the regions of North America where deep snow was common. Captain Robert Rogers led English colonists in using snowshoes for military purposes. The 1758 Battle on Snowshoes near Lake George convinced military leaders of their importance. Militia in the northern colonies would be outfitted with snowshoes.

As more Norwegians, Swedes, and Finns settled in North America in the nineteenth century, the ski began to gain popularity across the continent. But the snowshoe was never fully displaced for cross country travel. Community snowshoe outings were common in New England and recreational snowshoe clubs blossomed in Canada. In 1907, 22 Canadian snowshoe clubs formed the Canadian Snowshoer’s Union.


Snowshoes continued to be widely used in the twentieth century. The British government ordered thousands of snowshoes for their troops during the First World War. In 1928, an American Antarctic expedition led by aviator and explorer Richard Byrd brought 75 pairs of snowshoes along.


The second half of the twentieth century saw numerous innovations in snowshoe construction. Within a matter of decades, the ancient snowshoe of wood and rawhide would be overtaken by shoes made of light metals, plastics, and synthetic materials. In the 1960s the use of rawhide began to decline in favor of neoprene decking, which was more durable and less attractive to nibbling animals. In the early 1970s the aluminum framed snowshoe was developed. In the 1980s new synthetic materials used in decking made snowshoes even lighter.

Recreational snowshoeing grew in popularity during the 1990s. A resurgence in snowshoe racing in Colorado helped bring attention to snowshoes. Soon, major snowshoe manufacturers would add an additional set of traction spikes directly on the decking of the snowshoe near the user’s heel. In the mid 1990s MSR introduced a frameless snowshoe made of rigid plastic, an idea copied by other manufacturers. The company later introduced tail extenders, allowing the user to adjust the surface area of the snowshoe for different loads and conditions. Currently, metal framed snowshoes and all-plastic construction compete for popularity.

Most snowshoes today have slightly upturned front edges. A hinged footpad has metal spikes on the bottom for traction. Many models include a curve and a non-metal surface on the bottom of the footpad that deters (but will not completely prevent) snow from sticking to the bottom and forming a big snowball.


A big snowshoe is not great for picking your way between boulders, and it won’t prevent ice from breaking underneath you.

snowy trail - headfirst

But if you want to head across snow unbroken by human footsteps, it’s a great way to go.

Snow in Harriman

Snowshoes add traction and smooth out terrain. So even with big boards on your feet in snow that isn’t very deep, you may still use less energy than if you post-holed and sloshed your way up the hill. Feet without snowshoes often sink into snow at awkward angles. But the large surface area of snowshoes flatten out your steps and make it less likely that your ankles will turn at awkward angles as they sink into uneven snow.

Ice in Harriman

Snowshoeing is basically hiking with additional equipment. Gaiters that are designed to keep snow out of boots will be helpful. It is generally recommended to wear wool socks, a thermal base layer shirt and pants made of synthetic material or wool, a waterproof jacket, preferably waterproof pants, and hat and gloves. You can add or remove insulation layers depending on how you feel. Waterproof hiking boots are highly recommended, but you may or may not want insulated boots. Note that snow in different regions may be more or less saturated with water, which could change the importance of waterproof clothing. In the old days, furs, wool, and high moccasins served to outfit snowshoers.

Bringing drinking water is a must in the cold and challenging conditions of winter, and even on a short outing some snacks will be nice. Some people like trekking poles too. They can help you balance and push off more easily but to me they are extra equipment that prevent your hands from being free and are not worth the trouble. As always, a map, compass, knife, and emergency kit are recommended.

People have traveled through winter landscapes for thousands of years. Today’s snowshoers are usually outfitted differently than their predecessors, but they can still feel the snow crunch underneath them as their body heats up surrounded by the cold air of winter.

Snowshoeing Harriman - Head First


Head First Adventure Checklist.

First Skiers – A History of Skis. National Geographic.

Layering Basics, REI.

Meany Jr., Joseph F. “Frigid Fury: The Battle on Snowshoes, March 1758.” The New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center.

Osgood, William and Leslie Hurley. The Snowshoe Book. The Stephen Greene Press, 3rd Ed., 1973.

Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd, USN, (Retired), (1888-1957) Naval History and Heritage Command.

Prater, Gene. Snowshoeing. The Mountaineers Books, 2002.

Tubbs Snowshoes Through the Years.

Tucker, Jim. “History of Snowshoeing.” United States Snowshoe Association.

Historic Images: Library of Congress and US Navy. Click on images for source.

Forage War

On January 20, 1777, colonial militiamen waded across the icy Millstone River in water above their knees. The maneuver enabled them to get around the cannons their enemy had set up at a bridge, defeat a large foraging party, and capture tons of supplies the British had been trying to take to their winter encampments. The Battle of Millstone, sometimes called the Battle of Somerset Court House, was one fight in a series of engagements known as the Forage War.

Millstone River

For much of late 1776, George Washington’s forces had been enduring defeats and were forced increasingly farther out of New York. They retreated across New Jersey and crossed the Delaware River into Pennsylvania . As the British began settling into winter quarters, Washington feared for the survival of the Revolutionary cause. He decided to act boldly.

On Christmas night the Continental Army crossed the Delaware River in small boats. Early the next morning they surprised the 1200 strong Hessian garrison at Trenton and routed them. Washington won another important victory at Princeton on January 3, 1777. The Continental Army took to winter quarters in Morristown and the British to their own winter garrisons.

A major winter task for each side was to preserve the fighting shape of their army until campaigning began again in the spring. For this purpose the British sent numerous foraging parties into the countryside, where they were often met by militia. Dozens of engagements are recorded for the months when the main forces of the armies were camped in winter quarters.

On January 20,  Lieutenant Colonel Robert Abercromby commanded a force of about 500, including British regulars, Hessian soldiers, and a pair of Three-Pounder cannon. The formidable company was on a successful pillage mission when they began loading their supply wagons around Van Nest’s Mill in Millstone, New Jersey.

Under orders from Washington, Brigadier General Philemon Dickinson brought out 400 New Jersey militiamen, together with a company of about 50 men from the Susquehanna Valley area armed with rifles and muskets. The latter were commanded by Captain Robert Durke.

After battling around the bridge, the American forces broke through the ice at the Millstone’s edge, forded the river, and surprised the enemy with a renewed attack. The British were driven from the field, leaving most of the pilfered supplies behind. The Americans captured 107 horses, 49 wagons, 115 cattle, 70 sheep, 40 barrels of flour, and numerous other supplies including cheese, butter, ham, and other foodstuffs. The Americans suffered 3 to 5 men killed and several wounded, while the British took away more casualties in wagons as they retreated.

Van Nest’s Mill is long gone, and the bridge over the Millstone has been replaced with a sturdy causeway. Just downstream (north) of the bridge, a small dam lays across the river. The water that spills over it still gets cold, but gives no indication that a bloody battle over critical food supplies was fought very close to here.

Manville Causeway


Battles and Skirmishes of the American Revolution in New Jersey.

Everts and Peck, History of Hunterdon and Somerset Counties, New Jersey, 1881.

Rees, John U. “’The road appeared to be full of red Coats…’: An Episode in the Forage War: The Battle of Millstone, 20 January 1777.”

This Day in History, Jan 20, 1777: Battle of Millstone, New Jersey.

Update Successful!

Road Under Paulinskill Viaduct

I like the new Head First Adventures site, and I hope you do too. I think it is more visually appealing and user friendly than before. I also like that I have featured posts at the top of the page. This way I won’t have to worry how every new post will make the top of the frontpage look, and I can feature some of my favorite posts. I will make some visual and organizational adjustments but I’m pretty happy with this. The new theme should give me more inspiration to do great visuals as well as try different post styles.

The theme (site layout) is Twenty Fourteen, a free theme from WordPress. I tried using Oxygen, which was listed as a free theme but appeared to require downloading packages that cost money if you wanted it to look any good. At the moment, this free theme does everything well enough for me.

I do almost all of the writing and take the majority of the photos, but many of the adventures here would not have even happened or would have been less fun were it not for the fine fellowship that I have in adventures near and far. Friends and family make it possible. Also, it takes a team to make good video (unless maybe you are Les Stroud) and we have a great one in the works.

Naturally, I updated the page late at night when it would be least disruptive, but still I’m excited to see what we come up with… going Head First!


Exploring History.