Just 2-3 hours away from Manhattan and it already seems like a thousand miles away. To cover two destinations on this trip just within New York state, two of my friends and I allotted a whole day joining other outdoorsy New Yorkers on a bus trip. That meant of course starting out early in the morning. The weekend weather was great and nothing like rain or high humidity was in the forecast. First in our agenda - Kaaterskill Falls.
Kaaterskill Falls is in the Catskill Mountains of New York, plunging us in some wilderness area with really rugged terrain. This public land is managed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. To get there, we have to walk 0.5 mile uphill from Route 23A where our bus dropped us off. At the trail head, there's a small cascade called Bastion Falls, giving us a preview of what lies deeper up ahead. The first section of the trail is quite steep.
Like most trails anywhere in the U.S., it is well-trodden and full of affixed markers so one is unlikely to get lost here. The terrain, following mostly the course of a stream, is rocky and can be slippery after a downpour. The path ends right at the base of the two-tiered Kaaterskill Falls. Measuring at a remarkable 260 feet for both tiers, this is considered one of the tallest cascades in the country, even higher than the American side of the Niagara Falls (170 feet). It's possible to walk-up to the base of the upper tier at one's own risk - some fatal falls from unfortunate hikers did happen before!
Wringing my socks dry after falling below a waterfall (pictures c/o Tatum)
Not wanting a deadly kind of fate, we merely enjoyed a brief stay at the base of the lower tier. However, once done with that close-up view, I ended up losing my balance when I tried to step on one boulder, in the process submerging my legs in knee-deep cold water. Thankfully, nothing serious happened and my camera was still safe in my hands! I was resigned to my fate of walking back to the trail head sloshing around in wet shoes and socks - just a part of the day's adventure for me.
In what we thought was the middle of nowhere - New York is a big state, after all - we found ourselves in front of a diner in Middleburg. Diners have always been a part of the American dining landscape so what better way of refueling our bodies after that little hike to the falls than something so American as cheeseburger and fries. It was very good (though not for my arteries) that I forgot I was wearing wet shoes.
Underneath the grounds and the building is a cave system
Another hour on the road after lunch, past rolling hills and valleys typical of this region, we got into Howe's Caverns. No, not at the caves right away but at it's glorified entrance inside a building. The cave system is 156 feet below the ground. But forget about being wet, bruised or muddied, the caves are easily accessed by an elevator! It's so surreal to simply step into an ordinary lift and then come out completely into a different environment. Just a year after it was discovered by Lester Howe in 1842, he turned the caves into an attraction - considered the country's third commercial cave venture.
Unlike the old tours of 1843 led by Howe, the caverns now have well-lit paths built above the actual cave floor. And just like in the old days, the temperature inside has always stayed the same at a cool 52 degrees Fahrenheit. Three kinds of tours are now offered: Traditional, Lantern, & Adventure. Since I was in a group, I had to settle for Traditional, really nothing more than a Disney-fied approach to geology as we moved in single file led by a guide.
The highlight of this 80-minute tour is a 15-minute boat ride in the so-called Lake of Venus. It doesn't compare of course to the boat ride in St. Paul's Subterranean River in Palawan, Philippines but for others who have never tried this before, this underground sailing was already a thrill. We walked back through a very narrow serpentine passage called the "Winding Way", a product of persistent water erosion. A brief ride up on the elevator and we're back again on the main entrance at ground level. And guess what was waiting for us? - pictures of us taken inside the cave for sale. And just nearby, a gift shop with tacky souvenirs.