All posts by darianworden

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:

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. 2006 page by Rob A.

Storm King Mountain, New York.

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.

The Castle on Bannerman’s Island

About fifty miles up the Hudson River from New York City, an empty castle crumbles on a rocky island.


The island is commonly called Bannerman’s Island, but it is found on maps as Pollepel Island, and has been known by this name with several variations of spelling. There are tales of a local woman named Polly Pell being rescued from the island or the waters around it by a brave and devoted lover. Less romantically, “pollepel” is a Dutch word for ladle, which is also the name of a device Dutch sailors used to pick up crew members who had been left on islands for being too drunk or rowdy.

During the American Revolution, a series of underwater obstacles were placed between the island and the western shore, but they did little to obstruct British shipping. During the nineteenth century the island had a few sheds on it and served fishers, picnickers, and probably bootleggers and prostitutes.

Storm King and Pollepel

Francis Bannerman IV was born in Dundee, Scotland in 1851, and moved to America with his family in 1854. When his father went to fight in the US Civil War, young Francis, also called Frank, went the docks in New York with a grappling hook and pulled scrap and lost cargo out of the water that he then sold. Shortly after the Civil War, Frank and his father began dealing in Navy and then Army surplus goods. Francis IV was heavily involved in the family business and eventually began his own company with his father’s approval.

Frank Bannerman realized that many weapons and supplies that were typically scrapped could be sold to foreign militaries that could not afford the most modern equipment. He also realized the historical value that many of the goods he acquired held. Frank put together a huge catalog describing the military goods he had on hand. Soon he set up a store and museum at 501 Broadway in Manhattan.


Bannerman acquired an enormous amount of surplus and captured items from the 1898 Spanish-American War. His business was outgrowing its New York buildings, and Bannerman had to figure out how to store the vast stockpile of weapons, ammunition, and gunpowder he had accumulated, which included millions of rounds of captured Spanish ammunition and tens of thousands of rifles. Neighbors and government officials were not so thrilled about having a pile of explosives sitting in New York.

Bannerman looked upriver to an island that either he or his sons had noticed on an earlier trip. He purchased the island on December 5, 1900.


Construction began on the first arsenal and the caretaker’s house in the spring of 1901. The valley must have echoed with explosions as a level area was blasted from the rocky island.

In 1905, construction began on a bigger arsenal building. Bannerman was not an architect, but he sketched the basic design for his work crews to follow. He was inspired by castles he had seen in his travels, especially those in his old home country of Scotland.

Bannerman Castle

Many of the walls do not meet at right angles, giving the building the appearance of being larger than it is, which is still pretty large.

Also in 1905, Bannerman purchased underwater rights from the State of New York, and built a harbor around the east and south side of the island.

Pollepel Island

By 1915 the arsenal was completed. Massive lettering on the walls advertised Bannerman’s business to passing boats and trains running along the shore. The island, easily accessible by barge, became a shipping hub for munitions. Cannons, pallets of ammo, or whatever else Bannerman sold could be loaded onto barges for collectors, museums or military customers.

A family home was built high on the island, and the Bannerman family often stayed there during summers. Francis Bannerman got to watch his grandkids play on an island that belonged to the family.


Walkways around the harbor were well-decorated.


If you manage to look inside, you will notice this arch contains a passageway.


Bannerman was an patriotic citizen who strongly supported the Allies during the First World War. He donated clothing to Belgium and a large quantity of armaments to the British government. But that wasn’t enough for his company to escape suspicion.

Supervising the island and its huge stores of arms was an important job. Bannerman was often absent, either running the store in Manhattan or conducting business around the country. In the course of a Naval Intelligence Bureau investigation, Charles Kovac, an Austrian-born superintendent, was arrested on the island on April 19, 1918 on suspicion of being an enemy agent. Apparently he had set aside four machine guns, which he testified were for saluting passing ships. Subject to deportation, he was instead paroled with restrictions. Bannerman objected strongly to the investigations into his business, and protested to Frankiln D. Roosevelt, then acting secretary of the Navy.

Bannerman was eventually exonerated, but it is believed that the stress of being under investigation for disloyalty hastened his demise. He died on November 26, 1918, soon after undergoing gallbladder surgery.

bannerman harbor

Upon Francis Bannerman’s death, the business passed to his wife Helen and their sons, who continued to use the house as a summer residence.

On August 15, 1920, the powder house exploded with enough force to shatter windows in nearby towns and send pieces of the wall crashing onto the railroad tracks on the shore. A chunk of rock landed on the hammock where Helen Bannerman had been resting moments earlier. Nobody was seriously injured.

The business continued over the next decade, and a reprint of a 1927 Bannerman Catalogue gives a sense of the goods they were dealing. It was the place to go for everything from “Stone Age and Ancient Savage Weapons” to “Gatling Guns, Etc.”


A .50 Caliber Gatling Machine Gun mounted on a special naval carriage is reportedly “Very suitable to enterprising yachtsman ‘cruising among waters infested with pirates.” I wouldn’t argue.


Collectors looking for special guns were advised to allow a second choice when possible.


A historic use of the crossbow was included for the customer.


Of course, swords and bayonets were available.


As were handguns from multiple eras.


Bannerman also acquired a lot of supplies that would be useful for camping.


After Helen Bannerman’s death in 1931 the island was used less frequently. By the late 1950s, Bannerman’s grandsons began closing the business. Professionals were brought in to safely dispose of old ordinance, Smithsonian Institute curators got to take items for the museum’s collection, and the remainder was auctioned. Some locals say that an alcoholic superintendent let anyone take whatever they could carry off in exchange for whiskey. I haven’t found this story in the history books, but it is unclear if everything was accounted for before vandals and looters got to the island.

By the 1960s Bannerman’s Island was frequently unattended and vandals and neglect took their toll. In 1967 the island was transferred to the State of New York, but remained off limits to the public. On August 8, 1969, an intense fire burned through the grounds. After police and firefighters determined that nobody was trapped on the island, the fire was allowed to run its course. The cause of the fire was never determined.


In the 1990s the Bannerman Castle Trust was organized, and the island was opened for guided tours. Efforts are underway to preserve the structures on the island.

A guided tour of course costs money. Kayaking around the island does not, but landing on the island is forbidden. Plum Point, on the west side of the Hudson, has free parking and a place to launch small, non-motorized boats. Crossing the Hudson in a small kayak on a choppy day is not the easiest paddle. I have been on the Hudson when it was very calm but this trip had me cresting waves, taking on water, and being rocked side-to-side when I stopped for photos.

If you want to carry your boat across railroad tracks and launch on big slippery rocks, the Breakneck Ridge train station, on the east side of the Hudson, is significantly closer to Pollepel Island. Maybe there was even a dock there before Hurricane Irene tore up the area in 2011.

Bannerman from Breakneck Station

Note that Breakneck Ridge station is barely marked from the road, but the parking area along Route 9D for the yellow-blazed Wilkinson Memorial Trail is nearby. Breakneck Ridge station is just a small platform next to the tracks, with a pedestrian bridge about a quarter mile north. Google Maps marks the location of the pedestrian bridge (where there is no parking) as Breakneck Ridge station. There is an overlook at the pedestrian bridge as well. The best overlook is probably along the Wilkinson Memorial Trail on Sugarloaf Mountain though.

Bannerman’s Castle might be falling down, but it remains a historical curiosity in a picturesque setting – a great place for a day’s adventure.



Bannerman Catalogue of Military Goods 1927. Reprint by DBI Books, Northfield, Illinois.

Bannerman, Jane. Pollepel – An Island Steeped in History, Bannerman Castle Trust.

Johnson, Thom and Barbara H. Gottlock. Images of America: Bannerman Castle. Arcadia Publishing, 2006.

Kowawese Unique Area at Plum Point. Orange County Parks.

Rinaldi, Thomas E. Hudson Valley Ruins: Forgotten Landmarks of an American Landscape. University Press of New England, 2006.

Sugarloaf Mountain and Breakneck Ridge Trail. New York – New Jersey Trail Conference.

High and Dry

Southeast Asia includes a large area of rugged peaks and ridges that have long been home for people of various ethnic backgrounds. A nice place to begin exploring the highlands is northern Thailand.


We headed out of Chiang Mai in a rugged Toyota van packed with 11 people. As we got farther from the valley city, the road got progressively rougher, steeper, and narrower.


Our hike began at a Hmong village. We would travel through forest and farmland, all on mountain slopes.

Since we visited during dry season the ground was very dry and dusty even though green plants were all around.


The forest gets so dry that fires are sometimes caused by bamboo branches rubbing against each other in the wind. It was a little odd to walk by smoldering ash, but our Thai guide was clearly not concerned.


The air was not dry, however. A thick haze hung over the mountains.


Fortunately there was a nice place to cool off under a waterfall.


After a swim and a lunch we walked through a number of agricultural plots. We were told that opium and marijuana were major crops in the area before a combination of government sticks and carrots changed the situation. There are also serious efforts to get local kids attending official schools.


In his book The Art of Not Being Governed, James C. Scott argues that the history of upland Southeast Asia has been a history of various peoples deliberately avoiding state control. An important force in regional history has been the relationship between the lowlands that were easier to control and the highlands that typically offered refuge from rulers. Scott also writes that the upland-lowland dynamic has changed in the latter half of the twentieth century as states have employed modern technologies to bring the periphery under control, diminishing its role as a frontier refuge.

Scott uses the term Zomia to describe the vast upland region stretching across parts of Southeast Asia, southern China, and eastern India. He credits his use of the term to Willem van Schendel, who argued that the region was distinctive enough to merit its own designation and labelled it with a word meaning “highlander” in several related upland languages.


A nice base town for visiting the highlands is Chiang Mai.


The city of about 135,000 people contains numerous restaurants and bookstores that cater to foreigners as well as beautiful temples. It is also a good place to see a Muay Thai fight.

Although it was very easy to find tours of the highlands (we booked ours at the front desk of our hotel), it seemed surprisingly hard to go for a hike without hiring a guide. Unlike many American mountain towns I am familiar with, it was not easy to find trail maps in Chiang Mai. None of the many small bookstores we visited had maps. We probably could have figured it out if we were in the area for more than a few days (and we would have been more motivated to try) but our tour was good and inexpensive. Some exploring could probably be done with a vehicle and some printouts from Google Maps or other mapping software, but it would be difficult to know which areas were off-limits to visitors.


While the highlands of Southeast Asia are being integrated into the valley-based nations that claim them, the adventure of the mountains has not been tamed. Perhaps areas with a common environment will develop a stronger regional identity as economic, social, and technological changes continue to impact the relationship between hinterland and establishment.