An Adirondack Water Wonderland
The weather-rounded mountains of upstate New York undulate between hundreds of lakes that dot Adirondack Park like an enormous sea serpent. Anchoring its dusky blue-black tail on the horizon, the creature dips its shimmering green coils into one cobalt pool of water after another as it slithers down the mountains. I followed its serpentine route to the village of Tupper Lake where I dipped my toes into the lake of the same name and stopped to visit The Wild Center, a natural history museum that focuses on one of the world’s critical issues: the coexistence of people and nature.
Clear-cut by loggers in the mid-19th century, the Adirondack Mountains may be the nation’s prime example of the negative impact that man can have on the natural world, as well as a rare example of human actions that have helped nature stage a comeback over the past 100 years. The Wild Center encourages that relationship with interactive exhibits like its Living River Trail, a trout stream that culminates in a waterfall where river otters cavort. One young boy knelt on the floor and pressed his nose to the glass, laughing with delight each time a trout darted by. A giant mound of ice at the Glacial Wall demonstrated how glaciers carved out the Adirondacks at the end of the last ice age. The icy stalagmite was pitted where visitors had pressed their fingers into it; I touched an unblemished area, assuming I could easily leave an impression of my fingertips. Sixty seconds later I withdrew my numb fingers without having made the slightest dent, giving me new perspective on those two-mile thick sheets of ice that disappeared from the face of the earth.
Later that afternoon I drove down the serpent’s spine, past Lower Saranac Lake, Lake Flower, and Lake Placid, emerging at the city of Plattsburgh and the crown jewel of the Adirondacks, Lake Champlain. I dipped down into the Champlain Valley and pulled into Point au Roche Lodge as the setting sun was igniting clouds in shades of pink and mauve. Because I’d arrived at the B&B after normal business hours, owners Karen and Creston Billings had left a note with directions to my suite and a reminder about their gourmet breakfasts. Tired from a long day of traveling, I dragged my luggage to the end of the hall and stopped dead in my tracks. The door to my room stood wide open, revealing a four-poster king-size bed, fainting sofa, and the largest whirlpool tub I’ve ever seen. A tingle of excitement ran down my spine. A private tub! After six months on the road using shared bathrooms equipped with showers, this was an unexpected luxury. I looked longingly at the tub but decided against firing up the jets that evening; I wanted this bath to be a special event and I was just too tired to enjoy it after my long day. “Tomorrow,” I promised myself.
The next morning, faced with an activity crammed itinerary, I hastily showered and joined the other guests in the lodge kitchen, where Karen offered me a choice between fruit-filled pancakes or an avocado omelet. Minutes later I took my first bite and swooned as the buttery egg, avocado and melted cheese omelet melted in my mouth. “This is the best omelet I have ever tasted!” I exclaimed. Karen grinned. “Creston is a professionally trained chef.” We chatted through breakfast, Karen telling me how they came to own a B&B and me explaining how I became a perpetual world traveler. I could have stayed for hours but had to be on my way, as I was due at AuSable Chasm, a rocky gorge carved by the AuSable River on its descent to Lake Champlain.
Twenty minutes later I stood on the chasm rim, peering down at a trio of waterfalls that plunged off jagged cliffs to whitewater rapids far below. With the merciless sun beating down a blistering 95 degrees, which trail to hike was an easy decision; I headed for the Inner Sanctum trail, where rushing waters and shade from the canyon walls meant cooler temps. For more than an hour I followed natural stone walkways and a network of man-made bridges and and staircases, stopping at observation points for views of the unique rock formations that have been carved from towering sandstone walls over the eons.
At the end of the trail I crossed over the chasm on a narrow walking bridge and clambered into a rubber raft for the last half of the journey. We shot through the Grand Flume, bounced through choppy rapids and floated into the whirlpool basin, which rotated our raft once and spit us out the other side. As we approached the landing dock our guide told us a about an eighty-something couple who recently floated down the river in tubes. They missed the line of buoys that mark the take-out point, went through class three rapids, carried their tubes down the final mile of river and emerged into Lake Champlain, where they were rescued by the Coast Guard. Grinning from ear to ear, they asked if they could do it again. I could relate; I wanted to do it all over again myself. Rather than take the trolley back to the entrance, I opted to return via the Rim Walk, which allowed me to view screaming rafters and tubers shoot the rapids from above. I would have continued on to the more challenging cave and falls hike, which leads into the mist of Rainbow Falls, but an appointment with a kayak on Lake Champlain was calling.
I changed into board shorts and headed back north to the Kayak Shack in the tiny burg of Valcour, where I met up with four other kayakers for a sunset paddle. Our guide checked the weather one last time, explaining that storms often roll in quickly over the immense lake, turning the placid waters treacherous. With the all clear, I cinched up my life vest, secured my camera in a dry bag, and dragged my bright orange kayak into the water. We headed across open water to a large island where an old lighthouse perched atop a rocky escarpment and turned toward the northern tip. My paddle sliced silently through the rippling water, carrying me past yachts anchored in the lee of the island and into silent bays where tall marsh grass protruded from the water in a perfect chartreuse arc. As dusk fell we returned through pink-dappled water that reflected the final rays of the setting sun.
By the time the boats were loaded back onto the truck it was nearly 9 p.m. and I hadn’t eaten a bite since breakfast. If I hurried, I could make it to the Himalayan Restaurant in town before it closed, but if I stopped to eat I wouldn’t be able to use the whirlpool, since a sign sitting on its edge asked that it not be used after 10 p.m. What to do – go hungry or forego a soak in the tub? My stomach grumbled, making the decision for me. I returned to Point au Roche Lodge on the stroke of ten, pleasantly full from my traditional Nepali meal, and yearningly contemplated the tub. If only I had been an hour earlier. I picked up the sign and read it again: “In consideration of other guests, please do not use the whirlpool tub after the hour of 11 p.m.” 11 p.m. – NOT 10 p.m. “Yessss!!!” I hissed, punching my fist in the air. I filled that baby up, cranked on the jets and sank into hot water up to my neck. It was the perfect ending to two perfect days in an Adirondack water wonderland.
Adirondack Park kindly hosted the author’s visit to the Adirondacks in upstate New York. However, the receipt and acceptance of complimentary items/services received will never influence the content, topics, or posts in this blog. I write the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.