October 3, 2009

A Central Adirondack odyssey

Easy to fill weekend along 20-mile stretch of Route 28



For trail information, we relied on the Adirondack Mountain Club's Adirondack Trails: West-Central Region.

Goodsell Museum, 2993 State Route 28, Old Forge, NY 13420. (315) 369-3838. This is one of those rare small local history repositories that's open all year.

Hard Times CafÉ, Route 28, Eagle Bay, NY 13331. (315) 357-5199.

Seventh Lake House, Route 28, Inlet, NY 13360. (315) 357-6028.

No region in the country can boast a season more vibrant and stimulating than an Adirondack autumn.

Fall foliage provides brilliant color, but there's more. A crispness to the air, an enhancement of scenic views as the leaves fall and the absence of blackflies and mosquitoes all play a part. It's a time to revel in being outdoors.

We selected a swath of the Central Adirondacks as our focus this year. Just 20-odd miles along Route 28 — from Raquette Lake to Old Forge — offered us plenty of options for a wonderful weekend.

Our first hike brought us to Moss Lake just north of Eagle Bay on the way to Big Moose. Moss Lake Camp for Girls, noted for its leadership development, operated on this 600-acre site from 1923 until its closure in 1972. Ownership then passed to New York state.

At the trailhead, a display provided additional history, including information on its occupation by Ganienkeh Mohawks during part of the 1970s. In 1979, the state razed the remaining buildings, developed a handful of lakeside campsites and maintained the three-mile bridle trail around the lake for general use.

As a preview, we walked a short spur to the water's edge. Ripken, our Labrador retriever, waded in and pronounced the water fine. Then we retraced to the trailhead and headed clockwise.

What we trod was a wide, undulating path through beautiful forest, some of it first growth. Twice we crossed water via plank bridges. At the second, Ripken chose to do a little swimming while we rested to check out the view. To our left, evergreens framed the shore, while in the distance we found prominent rocky outcrops.

We checked out a couple of the walk-in campsites, all of which were full on this ideal fall weekend. Each spot, with its privacy and commanding water views, looked like a slice of heaven.

On day two, we headed for Old Forge. Two centuries ago, John Brown — not the abolitionist, but the businessman whose family started the university in Rhode Island that bears the family name — sought to develop the 200,000 acres he owned here.

Success proved elusive, but remnants of his original gristmill sit in the village center as part of Point Park. I'm always impressed by the immediacy of the physical artifact and its tangible connection to a place's history. Imagine trying to tell Brown, as his enterprise lay failing, that someday this would be a tourist haven, complete with water park, art center and every kind of souvenir a visitor could desire.

We stopped at Goodsell Museum, operated by the Town of Webb Historical Society. It's situated in an 1899 Victorian home built by George Goodsell, a local stagecoach driver and hotel builder. Goodsell's son also lived here. When the latter died in 1994, at age 100, he bequeathed the home to the Historical Society.

The society has been a good steward of Goodsell's largesse. Each year the museum mounts an Adirondack-themed exhibit. For 2009, it chose to focus on children's camps of the region. Displays show off photos and catalogs, plus a rich variety of maps, ephemera and memorabilia.

An impressive dollhouse with walls that swing open to reveal the details inside caught the attention of my wife, Marty. I liked a model of the nearby Thendara train station, built with painstaking effort and including 5,000 tiny wooden shingles. Upstairs, the Victorian Room features a unique century-old rustic desk crafted by local artisan George Wilson.

One room tells stories of the town's doctors. Instruments of Dr. Robert Lindsay, who practiced in Old Forge for 53 years, form the nucleus of the exhibit. Yet another physician's tenure was longer. Dr. Stuart Nelson, who came here for his health in 1897, recovered and stayed to treat patients until he was 96, a full 70 years.

One item on display was a Pullmotor, an 1893 forerunner of the modern mechanical ventilator. Drowning victims would actually be brought to the office where the device was put to use. As the text notes, "not many survived."

It takes a close watch to find the sign for Cathedral Pines along Route 28 west of Raquette Lake, but the reward for leaving your car for this 15-minute stroll is significant. The upper part of the knoll leads to awe-inspiring white pine trees, some more than 3 feet in diameter. It's the most I've been impressed by a grove of trees since my first glimpse of California's redwoods.

Just downhill by the remnant of another massive pine stands a stone-framed plaque whose words still inspire: "This tree, created by God and old when our country was born, fine and clean and straight-grained like the boy himself, is dedicated in memory of 2nd Lt. Malcolm L. Blue, navigator of a Liberator bomber, with the Eighth Air Force, killed in action over France June 2, 1944. Few men have earned so fine a memorial."

Our final hike was along the Uncas Trail. This is part of the former Uncas Road, built in 1896 by William West Durant to connect the Great Camps that he built and sold to wealthy leaders of American industry and finance. Millionaires could take the train to Raquette Lake then complete their journeys by carriage along this route.

Much of the Uncas Road survives as a wide, well-graded forest trail. We began at the Eighth Lake Campground and took an easy two-mile round trip to Bug Lake. A bridge over the inlet of Seventh Lake offered Ripken another swim. He had more opportunity to wade at Bug Lake. It's a very pretty destination, with its pristine waters and myriad dragonflies and water striders to study.

Marty reminded me that many day trippers like to add some shopping to their travel itineraries, and we found that Inlet's compact village center invited browsing. Especially notable is Adirondack Reader, which offers classics and current best-sellers but works hard to support regional writers. (I was pleased to see my new travel book, "One Foot Forward," on the shelves.) Adirondack Reflections offers stuffed animals, walking sticks and unique rustic decorative accessories.

Old Forge's shops sell the full gamut from antiques to souvenirs to newly crafted pieces of rustic furniture. Old Forge Hardware dominates one entire block. The original 1922 building has the feel of a vintage dry goods store, with its narrow plank floors and ceiling fans, and shelves of every item one could imagine finding in such an emporium. Newly added sections proffer books, log furniture, gourmet foods and more.

Don't think you have to forego tasty food as you head deeper into the Adirondacks. We complemented our campground cookery with a delicious dinner at Seventh Lake House. From an ambitious menu, Marty selected a chunky pumpkin soup and Tuscan chicken. My choices, Cajun black bean soup and triple meat loaf in a pastry shell topped with a glazed onion sauce, were superb. So was the baked apple tart we shared for dessert.

After one of our hikes, we stopped for lunch at Hard Times Café in Eagle Bay. Marty had chicken and biscuits, while I enjoyed a chicken and black bean quesadilla. This meal, with all the iced tea we could drink, cost barely $15. Next trip we'll try the dinner menu.

E-mail Richard Frost at: