A 5-star travel guide
I like to think of myself as fairly knowledgeable about the Adirondacks—not an expert exactly, but I’ve been around for a while. So it was with great relish that I picked up the latest Explorer’s Guides volume on the region (not related to the Explorer you’re reading), hoping to find a mistake, an omission, something—anything—wrong with it.
I couldn’t do it. Failed miserably. And that is very frustrating for a self-appointed know-it-all. The book really is about as comprehensive a guide to the Adirondacks as you can find. If it isn’t between these covers, you probably don’t need to know it.
Actually, I wasn’t thwarted completely in my quest to find something to complain about, but it doesn’t concern actual content, presentation, and all that. On the very busy cover is the subtitle Including Saratoga Springs, which, it turns out, is part of a “Gateway Cities” chapter, along with Glens Falls. OK, but how does, say, Plattsburgh feel about that? Wrong side of the Park? Count the Quebec license plates at any northern trailhead sometime.
Also on the cover is the designation “Explorer’s Guides,” the name of a series of travel books put out by the Countryman Press of Woodstock, Vermont. This seventh edition is primarily the work of Annie Stoltie, long with Adirondack Life and a bona-fide authority on the region, unlike this interloping reviewer. (One other writer was also involved: Amy Godine wrote the chapter on Adirondack history, but her byline accidentally fell by the wayside.) Stoltie acknowledges the origins of this progression of editions in the work of Betsy Folwell, who set the style that remains pervasive seven generations later and renders the book in hand an entertaining armchair read as well as an effective travelers’ guide.
What makes it so? Let’s look inside and consider. Once the usual introductory and explanatory material is dispensed with, first up is Godine’s history chapter. One could always ask, “Why didn’t she mention this or say more about that,” but she seems to have all the bases covered here. I couldn’t come up with anything that got short-shrifted or left out altogether. Each of us might give different emphases to all that’s happened in and to the Adirondacks since before the Europeans arrived and began messing up a perfectly well-functioning set-up, but there’s only one author of this chapter, and she’s produced about as fine a brief overview as could be expected.
There follows a very thorough chapter on transportation, whose tagline, “Over the Rivers and Through the Woods,” hints at the delightful infusion of low-key humor throughout the book, a tone that is eminently more readable than the somnolent phonebook quality you sometimes get in books like this. We have it all here, even Amtrak—I mean, how many people actually do that, but it gets its fair shake, for it’s a very scenic ride, revealing parts of the Park that cannot be seen any other way, and the big question—“How do I get around once I get off the train?”—is honestly and reassuringly answered.
The core of the book is divided into five chapters, each focusing on a subregion of the Park. (This is one of numerous reader-friendly alterations Stoltie has made in this edition; previous editions were organized by topic.) In a nutshell, they feature scads of things to see and do, and all manner of places to stay and eat and shop, from the mundane to the quirky, along with “for more info” data like addresses, phone numbers, and URLs. All chapters contain numerous maps and historical and contemporary photos (all in color), and their print quality is uniformly excellent.
Also delightful are the sidebars that sprinkle the pages like a refreshing shower on a hot summer day. A few headlines will give a sense of the variety of interesting topics: “Presidents in Residence” (you’ll be surprised at how many commanders-in-chief have hung out in the Adirondacks for one reason or another); “Weddings: Where To Say ‘I Do’”; “An American Tragedy” (a Big Moose Lake murder made famous in both novel and film), “Winter Driving”; “Mountain Bike Rules of the Trail”; “Rooms with a View” (fire towers); “Buzz Off” (all you ever wanted to know about black flies and how to defend yourself against the damned things); “An Epic Trek” (the Northville-Placid Trail).
And that’s just the first couple of chapters.
The book concludes with a brief “If Time Is Short” segment that sports a “10 Must-Do Adirondack Classics” list (row a guideboat, visit a Great Camp, watch the sunset from an Adirondack chair while sipping an Adirondack cocktail, recipe provided) and, finally, even more “Nuts, Bolts, and Free Advice,” from blogs to hospitals to whom to call if your car breaks down. If you decide you must have just one travel guide to the Adirondacks, get this one. You will not be disappointed.■