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Travel

The Frontier Towns in Hiding

Part 1

The John S. Cook and Company building in Rhyolite, Nevada, USA – a ghost town abandoned after gold mining rush ended. Photograph by Brian W. Schaller: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_town

Like a movie set in the wild west of a bygone era, a dusty town breaks the earthen surface somewhere on the American continent. In fact, this town could be any found along the American Frontier. For those with time to spare, a meandering tour of the main strip can be finished in minutes.

Adjacent to the only intersection, there is the sole child you see in such towns; the kid’s high tops brush the pavement as gravity pulls his body downhill and then he disappears. The multistory buildings are lonely, seeming to beckon for human occupation; clearly this is no metropolis and yet, that in itself is a charm. There is blessed silence in this town: no ever-present horns scream from the invisible mouths of passing vehicles; few traffic dangers creep upon the usual group of marching cosmopolitans. However, the town is missing the expected hubbub of a commercial center with such architecture. It is not what is expected of the American frontier.

It is common these days for people to imply the physical American Frontier is gone- pushed into the land of unicorns and old fashioned, gun slinging cowboys. However the frontier town is still alive. Such old centers of commerce have only slipped unnoticed into the lesser-seen realms of the American landscape, but their health as individual towns is another matter.

…the frontier moved from the focus of the American psyche and to the background of our collective imaginations, as well as to the exotic landscapes of foreign shores…

stock photography

Representative of so many frontier towns in America, these dusty jewels are being lost to the brutal natures that disintegrate all civilizations, returning engineered structures to dust. The frontier occupied the foreground of the nation’s attention when the country was forming and storming into the wild- when the boundaries of the old union were still vague. The Appalachian Mountains stood as real boundaries separating cultures and tongues.

A Nebulous Promise

These forgotten regions once served as the nation’s decentralized, industrial heart, like the districts found in Michigan and Western New York State, now commonly referred to as the Rust Belt. It is also reflective of the coal-energy producing regions like West Virginia that have long represented a kind of nebulous promise to the pioneer of day’s past. Yet, when most of the gold and coal was excavated and industrial production began to drastically change to favor machines, unfortunate masses of workers were culled from corporate payrolls, and it was the quintessential pioneer who often took up those older occupations being eliminated. And so the frontier moved from the focus of the American psyche and to the background of our collective imaginations, as well as to the exotic landscapes of foreign shores.

These towns and what remain of them, though small as they have become, may still offer big solutions. For when cities are stressed with growing populations, these original frontier towns can serve as important safety valves that continue to reduce population pressures in urban areas and related social problems.

Part 2: Coming Soon

Categories
Travel

How to Travel Without Feeling Like a Tourist

  1. Research the regions and cities you are traveling in advance. Rely on blogs, web chats and conversations with people who have already been to the areas you plan to visit. Use reference books primarily for the general information- like history. Online maps, like those offered by Google or Bing offer current information about merchants and sites in a city or region, but consider verifying the information is current.
  2. For major attractions and locations, visit during off-peak times.

Traveling to the port or station by automobile or bike is a great way to avoid building up stress and negative interactions…

  1. Traveling to the port or station by automobile or bike is a great way to avoid building stress and negative interactions. Also, bike travel or a commute via energy efficient, private and comfortable vehicles is better for the environment and your body than the gasoline or diesel-fueled alternative – especially during traffic congestion. Inviting other passengers will greatly bring costs down. Please plan to arrive to the airport or station early!
  2. In developing nations and regions, try to avoid using taxis without odometers as well as independent cab services. There have been numerous reports in developing nations of impersonators or dishonest drivers who quote one price and then change the price during the drive, etc.
  3. Use only a carry-on during the actual transport and if you require additional luggage, consider sending it separately through mail or shipping services and in advance of your travel so that it arrives at your destination around the same time you do.

Avoid casual fashion styles meant for travel…

This model traveler is dressed casually. Stock Photography.
  1. Try to avoid casual fashion styles meant for travel which often combine specific travel pieces like fanny packs, belly bags, oddly decorated baseball caps, tube socks with shorts, etc. Instead dress up or dress very down- super casual.
  2. If you are in a busy area like a city and want to stare up into the cityscape and take pictures, please be respectful of your fellow pedestrians. Consider stepping off tot he side to see or capture that perfect image of the skyline. I recommend looking to your left (or whatever side opposite traffic) and when the path is clear, step as far as possible in that direction. Nodding or smiling to the approaching pedestrian to signal you are preparing to gaze or take a picture helps keep people from colliding into your body or equipment and creates good will.
Categories
Travel

Visiting the Catskill Park in New York State

For any visitor or denizen of New York City, the Catskill Park of New York State is a unique, cultural and geophysical destination.  Located approximately 90 miles northwest of Manhattan, it is a state mandated, pristine environment.  Opinions about the origin of the Park’s name differ, but common explanations are that during the fur trade with Europe, there were many large felines and bobcats, but they were hunted largely to extinction; another explanation of the Park’s name is that from a bird’s eye-view and on certain maps, major ridges of the Park resemble the outlines of a tiger’s paw.  The Catskill region is accessible by automobile, bus, airplane and train.  It pays to plan in advance: depending on the season, travel to the Park can be a moderate challenge.

In upstate New York, the benefits of travel by train include faster and more comfortable accommodations compared to a bus, car or truck.  However, planning a spontaneous train ride to the Catskill Park require good logistic ability.  The Rhinecliff train station is 37-40 miles and 60-63 kilometers from the park entrance.  This trek is not for pedestrians or hikers and software applications don’t show perpetual conditions.  Yet, the traditional tourist or backpacker who can plan travel in advance should have no major problems from the station, if they allow themselves sufficient time.  The shortest ride from the train station requires crossing a major bridge and the payment of tolls; if you prefer to avoid a major bridge, an alternate travel choice will reduce the time transiting from the station to the park.  Altogether, coming by train and bus or private automobile are fantastic options for this destination.

The Catskill Center in Arkville has in-depth information about specific local attractions and the region’s local history.

Travel to the Catskill State Park by Route 28.  There are other options and they provide their own unique experiences.  Following one’s arrival in the towns of Kingston or Rhinebeck, Route 28 offers a direct way to the core of the Park making Route 28 the seemingly best option.  Route 28 is an ancient trail that was eventually paved.  It is the best contemporary route for its great driving experiences too – offering copious, scenic mountain-views and numerous access points to major trails, lakes and events.  The Catskill Center (www.CatskillCenter.org) has great information about specific attractions and the region’s local history.  It is approximately 55 minutes from the park entrance on Route 28 in an area named Arkville.

Urbanites come to the Catskill Park as a respite from the pressures of city-living.  They appreciate nature’s abundance of cresting mountain peaks, knobby pines and woodland creatures.  Foreign travelers often visit because of easy access from New York City.  Brief, but intimate conversations with such visitors also reveal a desire to observe the many human cultures that inhabit the park interior.  Folklore and international history have become major reasons for touring the Park. Tourism has long been a major boon to the area.  Since the 1950s however, the Catskill region has seen an exodus of many businesses and local people have been relocating to other towns and cities. 

With a fairly recent rise in racism, hate and xenophobia state-wide, visible minorities, women and others who are inexperienced with mountain living should remain on marked hiking trails, wear bright color accents in the woods and practice the avoidance of entering onto the private lands that abut the park.  Such people will benefit from traveling with a partner and should be prepared for the rare, negative interaction with the occasional, misguided local.  It must be noted that crime and violence have fallen greatly and overall since the Park’s founding.

This is a major trail off of Route 29 in the Catskill Park

An Indigenous Romeo & Juliet Story

In the Catskill Park, indigenous American culture, also known as Pre-Columbian culture is prevalent in location names and it is how the majority of communities express themselves through art and style.  The first, commercial center within the Park, Phoenicia, is along Route 28 and the town offers many festivals and events.  Further along Route 28, legend claims the hamlet of Big Indian was found at the foot of a tree where a tall native Munsee Man and a European woman eloped, and then where the giant Munsee was murdered by a jealous settler.  It is most likely a true indigenous recount that parallels Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet love story. 

Moving further west along Route 28, one reaches Pine Hill after leaving Big Indian. Within this hamlet, the Pine Hill Community Center on Main Street (www.pinehillcommunitycenter.org) offers many resources for the hiker, climber, camper and visitor.  As this community center is a nonprofit organization, donations are strongly encouraged.  The idea of the pioneer is also sacrosanct in Phoenicia and Pine Hill. The men and women who live in this State Park pride themselves on being rugged, independent, straight-shooters. 

Statue of quintessential New York Pioneer on main thoroughfare of Phoenicia, New York.

Late summers and early autumns are the best times to visit the park.  In the summer, it is common to witness a bear (the caniform) wandering a thoroughfare in one of the park’s many hamlets.  Speaking to a local, you might even hear several stories of bears entering basement-level apartment windows to eat the tenant’s food accidentally left out at night.  The Catskill State Park is a special place in New York and there are few places on Earth similar to it, along with the few human cultures that call it home.