“Adirondacks … you are a refuge for my heart,” says John Shalhoub in “A Poem to the Adirondacks,” and we agree. It took but a moment to realize what the Adirondack Mountains can do for one’s spirit and soul. Scot had visited the Adirondacks at a different time long ago with friends and mountain bikes in tow. If I had visited this park with family, I do not recall; I believe that I would remember such a place. Throughout this journey, Scot wanted to take us there, all of us ready to be in the mountains, and we all wanted to experience something new, so we headed north toward famous Lake Placid for a too-brief couple of days to see what we could find in the Adirondacks. As it turns out, we discovered more about ourselves.
A Bit About the Adirondacks
“The Adirondacks 4-Season Guide” tells us that “The Adirondacks are remote, but its regions are accessible,” which couldn’t be more true. Pick your place among the seven designated adventure locations in the Adirondack Park, drive along the breathtakingly scenic Olympic Byway and you can have it all — rustic and wild, active and alive, populated or pensive; water, mountains, snow, sun; days, weeks, seasons are the Adirondacks. We couldn’t ask for more.
The term “Adirondack” comes from a derogatory Mohawk word “ratirontaks” or “bark eaters,” which referred to their feelings about their neighbors, the Algonquins. However, over time, “Barkeater” has evolved into a more affectionate term, referring to the “resilience and fortitude” of those who call the Adirondacks home — those who take on beauty and ruggedness the hard way.
Part of the Appalachian Mountain range, the Adirondack Mountains form a massif, a mostly intact circular dome outlined by faults and fissures that can move as a whole during plate shifts. This dome measures approximately one hundred sixty miles across and about one mile high. Once sedimentary rock, the Adirondack massif now is made up primarily of metamorphic rock — wollastonite, graphite, marble, titanium and more — after a continental drift “mountain building episode,” which created North America. We can give thanks to glaciation for the deep lakes, valleys, gorges, eskers, moraines, erratics and outwash plains, as well as the creatures and plants and trees living among the bogs, swamps and marshes. Also, there remains a seismic hot spot near the center of the dome that occasionally rumbles. (Wikipedia) Geology painted a very pretty, living picture for the rest of us to see and explore.
The general outline of the Adirondack Mountains creates the rough boundaries of Adirondack Park. Once considered a difficult and almost inhospitable place to live, the Adirondacks became a place for all people and all seasons. As we give thanks to geology for the gorgeously varied and detailed setting of the Adirondack Mountains, we can give thanks to the written words of Romanticism for luring folks into the woods and for triggering the beginnings of preservation and conservation of this place. Cooper, Thoreau, Emerson and Joel Tyler Headley wrote about returning to the wilderness, leading many folks up the mountain, wealthy New York vacationers included.
Then there was concern for the water supply and observed deforestation of New York, especially as it could impact the Erie Canal. Led by a few forward-thinking men, the region was designated “Forever Wild” by the New York State Legislature, never to be sold or leased. Furthermore, Adirondack Park is uniquely publicly- and privately-owned, with a special blend of wild and industrial, making possible the remoteness and accessibility that is the Adirondacks. With over six million acres of wilderness, shared public and private land and management of it, mixed with secret, private places and quaint towns, the Adirondacks offer an experience of pure bliss. (“The Adirondack 4-Season Guide,” Wikipedia, Visit the Adirondacks)
And, in case you were wondering, the Adirondack chair was first designed by a vacationing Thomas Lee in 1903. He kindly offered the design to a friend who needed winter income. The needy friend Harry Bunnell knew that the idea was a golden one and, without asking or sharing, received a patent for the chair in 1905. Fancy that. (Wikipedia)
As for our stay, we were headed to Vermont and were inclined to camp on the other side of the mountain. After a lengthy search and many review inquiries, we decided to stay near the North Pole. We’ll take Christmas in the Adirondacks any day.
Camping in Wilmington
We feel that we hit the jackpot at the North Pole Camping Resort in Wilmington, New York. Just outside of Lake Placid, at the base of famous Whiteface Mountain, adjacent to High Falls Gorge, outfitted with pool and scooter lane, craft beer and wine shop and camp store, and backed up to quiet Lake Everest, the North Pole Campground quite literally was a perfect camping experience for us. We would stay there again.
Just up the road from the campground is North Pole, New York, home to Santa’s Workshop, considered the “forerunner of present day theme parks in the United States.” We did not have time to visit, but apparently it is really fun and well worth it if you are a year round Christmas lover (thinking of a few of you!). And in the other direction is the stunning community of Olympic-famous Lake Placid, where Olympic training and tours still take place. We can’t wait to spend more time there, too. It just looks like a bunch of fun.
And I just I like to say “Lake Placid.”
We were able to head out for a hike at High Falls Gorge, where constantly flowing water continues to carve out holes, eddies and deeper gorges as it flows down the mountain. Other than that, our planned visit with family in Vermont kept our Adirondack window narrow, but we learned a few things about our wants and needs as a family and how our travels and future will be shaped.
We know that we feel very at home in the wilderness, especially if there are small, accessible towns nearby. Wilmington and Lake Placid fit this scenario well. Close to water, mountains, trails, forest, falls, villages, we could be in peaceful pace at any time, on our own time. We know that we want that in our lives.
We would plan for winter — harsh or otherwise — for hunkering down for the experience. To live in a tiny home or cabin on a river or lake in Lake Placid or Wilmington for a year for snowshoeing, snowmobiling, skiing or snowboarding, with woodstove and snow and craft beer and soup would be a delight. We would do this in the Adirondacks, as we are accustom to never really ever taking the easy path. The digging in and doing it match our value system well.
We like the egalitarian/socialist nature that embodies the ideology of the care and tendency of the Adirondacks. Private and public land use, ownership and responsibility seem fair and right and just. Conservation and preservation can work when there is respect and integrity involved and everyone works together. The Adirondack Park is clean, pristine, plentiful. There are no gates, fees or closing times to keep one from participating year round in the bounty of the Adirondacks. This park is expanding: “The Adirondack Park today covers an area larger in size than New England, and more expansive than Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Canyon and the Great Smokies National Parks combined, and is the largest park in the lower 48 states.” (Explore the Adirondacks)
And, of course, the writer in me hears the call of Emerson and Thoreau, the writings of whom I’ve read for a long time now. The yearning for simplicity and peace mimics the internal beckoning shared by these men and others, like John Muir. We follow the sustained vibration of bliss along these paths that they have opened for us.
Finally, the Adirondacks offered an entrance to New England that was more than anticipated. I have always enjoyed being in New England, and Scot enjoyed his first visit to the Adirondacks once upon a time. When we started along the Olympic Byway, we knew this is it. There is so much more to see and do in this world. The Adirondacks — the Appalachian chain as it will turn out — offer a great beginning to the mountainous beauty of the U.S. We cannot wait to return — and stay — for days or weeks or seasons in the beautiful, majestic Adirondacks.