A gorgeous day
By Winnie Yu
It’s a glorious Saturday morning when we head out to see Blue Ledge, a three-hundred-foot marble cliff in the Hudson Gorge that is expected to be added to the public Forest Preserve in the not-too-distant future.
The Adirondack Nature Conservancy bought Blue Ledge and adjacent lands from Finch, Pruyn & Company three years ago and plans to sell the property to the state. When that happens, the public will have access not only to Blue Ledge, but also to OK Slip Falls, one of the highest cataracts in the state.
Until then, the conservancy property (known as the OK Slip Falls tract) remains off limits, but you can still admire Blue Ledge from the opposite side of the river. A two-and-a-half-mile trail leads west from the North Woods Club Road across Forest Preserve land, ending at a bend on the north side of the Hudson.
My husband, Jeff, and I did the hike with our daughters, Samantha, who is twelve, and Annie, who is ten; and our dog Loki. We were joined by Kathy Sheppard; her daughter, Olivia, who happens to be one of Samantha’s best friends; and their two dogs, Mika and Chester.
Many people call the landmark “Blue Ledges,” but the sign at the trailhead calls it “Blue Ledge.” The singular is correct, according to the U.S. Geographical Survey. A nearby pond, narrows, and rapids are also called Blue Ledge.
Entering the woods, we soon cross a small wooden bridge over a tiny creek. Through the brush, we spy Huntley Pond to the right. The water is as serene as the proverbial sheet of glass, and the sky is a bright blue. No clouds appear in the sky, and the temperatures hover in the high sixties or so when we start out around 9:30 a.m.
The trail is quite flat, but not exactly a carefree stroll. Roots and rocks jut from the ground, and in places there are big pockets of mud. To avoid the muddy patches, we sometimes leave the path, though some of us choose to step gingerly across rocks.
Jeff, ever the birder, discerns the call of black-throated green warblers, winter wrens, and ovenbirds. Later on, he reports hearing red-eyed vireos and veeries.
Annie, Olivia, and Samantha spot a large rock and climb on top. “Look at us,” Annie demands. Jeff snaps some pictures, while Kathy and I take the opportunity to quench our thirst.
Within a half-hour, Samantha’s pants are splattered with mud, and my boots are caked with it. “It would have been too bad if she went on a hike without getting her pants dirty,” Kathy says, laughing. What I hadn’t realized was that Samantha was wearing brand-new pants, whose tags had been clipped off only that morning.
Carefully we make our way across more muddy patches by stepping from rock to rock. But that doesn’t always work, and we all eventually step into the mud. “That tippy rock will tip your brains out,” Samantha declares after traversing an expanse of muck.
This whole time Loki—a tiny Yorkshire terrier—has been on his leash. In fact, we’ve always kept him on a leash on walks and hikes. As new dog owners, we’re a little paranoid. About a quarter-mile into the hike, Jeff asks if we should let him off his tether. After all, Mika and Chester are both roaming free. Kathy encourages us, though Annie and Samantha are wary. We opt to give it a try.
It’s the best decision of the day. Nature quickly takes over, and Loki is in his element, traveling in a pack with Chester and Mika and negotiating the trail with the aplomb of a skilled hiker. He pauses only to look back and make sure that Samantha and I are still coming along. Meanwhile, Mika, who is part Australian shepherd, begins herding us along by coming to the back of the pack.
It’s shortly after 11 a.m. when we reach the end of the trail at a small beach by the Hudson. The spot is beautiful and peaceful. The pool of water is placid, though rapids exist upriver and downriver from here. In the distance, we hear the gentle rumble of the river. “Wow, we’re finally here,” Annie announces.
Across the river is the glorious Blue Ledge, a wall of bluish rock. In a report for the Nature Conservancy, the ecologist Jerry Jenkins writes that Blue Ledge “is all marble, and because it faces northwest and remains wet through the summer it has functioned as a refuge—a small, detached piece of arctic mountain—and allowed a relic community of northern plants to persist.”
The Nature Conservancy says more than a third of the ninety-six mosses that grow at Blue Ledge are uncommon or rare. According to the conservancy, the OK Slip Falls tract has more rare plants—mosses and liverworts among them—than any other site in the Adirondack Park. It’s the only place in the state where purple mountain saxifrage, hair-like sedge, and wild chives are known to exist.
We perch ourselves on large rocks. The water is much too cold for swimming, but we do cool our hot, tired feet. Chester begins to bark. And bark. And bark. His yelps echo from the cliffs, prompting Mika to run into the river. Loki is wise enough to know that he is too tiny for these waters, so he stays on the shore.
“Stop it, Chester,” Kathy orders. But Chester keeps barking. We have no idea what set him off, but soon he darts under some brush and hides in the shade for a much-appreciated respite.
Kathy does some exploring and summons us to see a strange creature crawling out of a shell she found on a rock. None of us has a clue what it is. It’s crescent shaped, like a shrimp, with a light-yellow segmented body. It looks like a larva of some sort.
Soon two whitewater rafters come down the river. Annie and I wave. A man in a kayak ushered along by a gentle current arrives next. The place grows quiet again. Jeff tells us he hears a raven behind us. The girls try skipping rocks.
For lunch, we have peanut-butter sandwiches and chips. Before we finish eating, the serenity is shattered by several rafts, each ferrying a group of people. Soon hundreds of loud and raucous rafters descend on Blue Ledge. They are with the Hudson River Rafting Company, which organizes commercial trips through the Hudson Gorge. The rafters come on shore to enjoy snacks and drinks.
We pack up and head out shortly afterward. About a half-mile into the return hike, Samantha pauses to sit down and adjust her boot. “Ew!” she shrieks. She leaps up and looks down at what she had inadvertently touched. “Ew,” she says again. “Look, Mom, it’s two bugs, you know, having sex.”
I reach down with my pen, and the bugs climb aboard. Samantha is right. It’s a pair of unidentified bugs caught in the heat of mating. We look on in fascination until Samantha declares, “That’s disgusting!”
A little later, Annie spots a tree snail and studies it. She picks it up and places it in her hand. The snail lies absolutely still while Annie looks it over.
The journey back seems shorter, though the subtle ups and downs we barely noticed on our way to Blue Ledge are more tiring the second time around. At one point, Samantha and Olivia call out that they’ve fallen in the mud, then break down into a fit of tween giggles. Nearing the trailhead, I dip Loki into Huntley Pond to clean his muddy paws. Just yards from the road, Annie falls into a large puddle that soaks her pants up past her knees.
We’re all sweaty, tired, and bedraggled when we emerge from the woods, but happy to have laid our eyes on the Hudson Gorge. We hope to be able to visit the other side of the river sometime in the future.