I’ve had more than my share of New York State adventures lately, and with the green light to take a midweek day off, I decided to revisit Harriman State Park.
Harriman is big and beautiful. The park needs to be experienced to appreciate its scale — and it provides a great opportunity to earn views and escape the masses.
One caveat: close to the trailhead, it’s easy to get depressed about the number of visitors in the park and the amount of garbage they leave behind. My hiking partner Stetson is a professional guide with a strong ethic of environmental responsibility, and he and I returned home with a staggering load of trash in our packs.
On this day, there were surprises at every turn. We began a gentle climb over some really enjoyable terrain. There was little to no understory, and we took advantage by bushwhacking to some remarkable waterfalls.
There were birds and baby deer; we nearly got close enough to pet them on a few occasions. We saw animal skins and fur piles and found blue jay and rabbit carcasses on the trail. We spent some time trying to figure out what was going on with predators, when we weren’t busy scrambing up steep ascents or stuffing ourselves with blueberries.
Once we were up on the ridge, we were rewarded and surprised again. Nothing beats escaping the city on a 90-degree day to catch a cool and steady breeze while taking in the views of the Hudson River. Endless parades of turkey vultures carved arcs across the wide open sky, like skiers savoring a midweek powder day.
We wandered up and over the Timp and West Hill and found blackberries, more views, and intricate cairns. Mushrooms of every variety were in abundance. I dreamed about living off the food in the woods. When we passed through the ruins of Doodletown — which was bought by New York to make the park — I pictured myself living there, centuries ago, enjoying the quiet life, without any concern that the British would burn down my house.
As we neared the end of our hike, Stetson and I were startled by a rattle very clearly warning us away — followed by a sudden scramble in the brush just off the side of the trail. After a pause, we peered into the vegetation and noticed a five-foot timber rattlesnake devouring a gray squirrel. He looked at us, deciding if we were a threat, and then went back to work trying on what, we hoped, wasn’t just an appetizer.
While the snake was preoccupied with his meal, we edged closer. Still, our approach wasn’t casual — for me it was like seeing a moose or a black bear — my curiosity grappling with my sense of prudence. The snake was beautiful, with a very discernible pattern just like the Gadsden Flag — Don’t Tread On Me.
We left the rattler to his meal, bushwhacked our way downstream and found a nice swimming hole. It’s hard to top the excitement of a dining, endangered snake, but the cool refreshing water sealed a perfect day.
We collected more trash on our way down, and complained a little less about it, as it seemed like a fair price of admission for the day. Even in summer, you just don’t know until you go.