Saturday, August 31, 2019

Hiking in the Adirondacks

Last century we hiked a fair amount in New York, but this century most of our hikes to date have been in New England. Nancy and I returned to New York this week with two days of day hiking out of Keene. The town of Keene is home to many of the Adirondack High Peaks including Mount Marcy (5344'), the highest mountain in New York.

On Thursday, August 29, we hiked Table Top Mountain (4427') and Phelps Mountain (4161'). Both mountains are a short ways off the Van Hoevenberg Trail which is the most popular route to Mount Marcy. We parked at the High Peaks Information Center adjacent to Adirondak Loj (not far from Lake Placid).

The photo below shows a spider's web that we saw early in our hike.

Table Top Mountain is a so-called "trailless peak." There is no official or maintained trail from the Van Hoevenberg Trail to the summit of Table Top, but there is a well-used "herd path." We had no difficulty navigating, and we were on Table Top before noon. The photo below shows Mount Marcy from the summit of Table Top:

Phelps Mountain is a mile from the Van Hoevenberg Trail via the Phelps Trail. The photo below is from the summit of Phelps and shows Mount Marcy (the highest peak to the right) and Table Top (the rounded mountain in front of and to the left of Marcy) where we had been earlier in the day:

The photo at the top of this post was taken as we left the summit of Phelps. The mountain on the horizon in the center of that photo is Mount Colden.

Thursday's hike: 12.5 miles, elevation gain 3570'.

On Friday, August 30, we hiked Lower Wolf Jaw Mountain (4175') via the W. A. White Trail. This trail begins in the Adirondack Mountain Reserve owned by the private Ausable Club. We parked in the hiker parking lot at the intersection of NY-73 and Ausable Road in St. Huberts, a hamlet in the town of Keene.

It had rained earlier, but the rain stopped by the time we were on the trail. Like the day before, it was a pleasant day, mostly sunny, with temps in the 60s. The photo below is from the summit of Lower Wolf Jaw and shows Mount Marcy to the left and Algonquin Peak, the second highest mountain in New York, in the distance to the right:

Friday's hike: 10.2 miles, elevation gain 2825'.

Nancy has now hiked 21 of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks. Will she become an Adirondack 46er? Stay tuned. My 46er number is 3056W.

Trailhead parking can be a problem in the Adirondacks. See this article dated 8/26/19 in the Burlington Free Press about overuse in general, and this article dated 7/17/19 in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise about parking in particular. Nevertheless, we did not see overcrowding. We had no trouble parking. While we met numerous people on the Van Hoevenberg Trail, it was not overly busy, and we met few people on any other trail. The summits we visited had from zero to two other people on them while we were there. Hiking on a weekend would undoubtedly be different.

We stayed two nights at Dartbrook Lodge in Keene, and enjoyed two dinners at the Forty Six restaurant next door. We recommend both. The most overcrowding we saw during our trip to New York was at the restaurant. It was deservedly popular, and reservations were needed even on a weeknight unless you wanted to eat very early or very late.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Rokeby Museum

Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburgh, Vermont, was the home of the Robinson family from 1793 to 1961. Four generations of Robinsons lived at Rokeby, so named after the poem Rokeby by Sir Walter Scott.

The museum includes the main house, pictured above, various outbuildings, trails, and a visitor center constructed in 2012. Foundations are visible of three other major buildings that were once part of the complex: a sheep barn, a dairy barn, and a school called the Brick Academy.

Nancy and I visited Rokeby today. This museum is well worth a visit. I encourage you to include a house tour in your visit. Reservations for the house tour are recommended. Check the website for times.

Following are brief comments about a few of the Robinsons in each of the four generations.

First generation

Thomas Robinson (1761-1851) and Jemima Fish Robinson (1761-1846) were Quakers from Newport, Rhode Island. They moved their young family to what is now called Rokeby in 1793. In 1810 Thomas purchased some of the first Merino sheep that were imported from Spain, and eventually the farm had more than 1500 sheep. (Sheep in Vermont peaked in 1840 at 1.6 million. See The Spanish Sheep Craze That Forever Changed Vermont.)

Second generation

Rowland Thomas Robinson (1796-1879) was born at Rokeby. He married Rachel Gilpin (1799-1862). Rowland T. and Rachel Robinson were abolitionists who made Rokeby a stop on the Underground Railroad and sheltered dozens of fugitives from slavery.

Third generation

George Gilpin Robinson (1825-1894) and Rowland Evans Robinson (1833-1900) were sons of Rowland T. and Rachel Robinson. They transitioned the farm from sheep to dairy.

George never married. Rowland E. Robinson married Ann Stevens (1841-1920). He was an artist, but turned to writing when he began to experience problems with his vision. Although blind in his later years, he continued to write with Ann's help.

Fourth generation

Rowland Thomas Robinson (1882-1951) ("Rowlie") was the son of Rowland E. and Ann Robinson. He married Elizabeth Donoway (1882-1961). They continued the dairy farm operation, and also took in tourists when travel by automobile became popular in the 1920s. (One of the outbuildings is the Tourist Cabin.) Rowlie and Elizabeth had no children and when Elizabeth died in 1961, she left the site, buildings, and contents to be operated as a museum.

Other children, relatives, friends, and employees also lived at Rokeby at various times.

Elizabeth Robinson believed that the most important legacy of Rokeby, to be preserved as a museum, was the work of her father-in-law, Rowland Evans Robinson, probably the most popular Vermont author of his day. (For more information about Rowland E. Robinson see Wikipedia or this recent column by historian Mark Bushnell. Books by Rowland E. Robinson can be purchased in the gift shop at the visitor center.)

But today much of the interest in Rokeby concerns the second generation and the abolitionist work of Rowland T. and Rachel Robinson. The visitor center includes the permanent exhibit Free & Safe: The Underground Railroad in Vermont which features the stories of Simon and Jesse, two fugitives from slavery who were sheltered at Rokeby in the 1830s.

Rowland T. Robinson was a leader in the Vermont Anti-Slavery Society. In 1843 anti-slavery societies across the northern United States held 100 conventions "to examine the question of American Slavery." Below is the announcement for the convention in Ferrisburgh, organized by Rowland T. Robinson, which included Frederick Douglass as a speaker:

Rokeby was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1997. (Only 3% of the places in the National Register of Historic Places are designated as National Historic Landmarks.) Both nomination forms contain interesting information: the 1974 nomination form includes information about Rowland E. Robinson (the author in the third generation); the 1997 nomination form includes considerable information about Rowland T. Robinson (the abolitionist in the second generation).

The Robinsons apparently never threw anything away. The house is much the same as when they lived there, and its rooms are crammed with housewares, furniture, art work, books, and other "stuff." (The guided house tour is recommended.) New discoveries are still being made. In 2017 a small, wooden boat in rough shape but with the legible name of "Lucy" was discovered in one of the outbuildings. The 150 year old boat was restored and "Lucy" is now on display in the house. See Rokeby's tiny boat poses historic puzzle.

In addition to the site, buildings, and artifacts at the museum in Ferrisburgh, more than 15,000 Robinson family letters from Rokeby are kept in the Middlebury College Special Collections.

Sunday, August 11, 2019


Our backyard is becoming a veritable wildlife refuge. On Monday it was two bears, today it is two bucks! We often have deer in our backyard, but it is not common to see a buck, and this is the first time I have seen two bucks together.

Photo taken from inside our house at 7:04 AM today. They took off as soon as I opened a door.

Friday, August 9, 2019


In Vermont this year we are swamped with bears. (Black bears, which are the only kind of bears in this part of the world.)

Earlier this week my wife and I were sitting on our back deck just before noon when we heard noises in the woods. We expected to see deer, or possibly people since there are houses on Vanat Road not far through the woods. Instead we saw two bears come barreling out of the woods, running as fast as they could, charging straight toward us!

One bear was chasing the other. They did not appear to be playing. We jumped up, and I waved my arms and yelled. The first bear never slowed down, but veered slightly to our right, and ran by us. It ran between the house and the car which was parked in the driveway, and disappeared into the woods below the driveway headed toward Greystone Drive. The second bear stopped on our lawn, looked at us for a few seconds, then turned around and walked back into the woods from where it had come.

The photo at the top of this post shows the second bear. The photo below shows where the first bear ran between the house and the car.

Both photos were taken from our back deck where we were sitting. The first bear ran within 24 feet of us. The second bear stopped 110 feet away. It is 190 feet from where we were sitting to the edge of the woods where the bears emerged.

Bear sightings have become more common in recent years. Towns in Vermont have a social media platform called Front Porch Forum. In my town of Cambridge, people have posted on Front Porch Forum about bear sightings 14 times this summer.

In May the Cambridge selectboard saw a bear at a selectboard meeting! Granted, it was not a regular meeting at the town office. It was a special meeting, a site visit to inspect a road issue. We all saw a very large bear across a field about 300 yards away.

In June a bear visited the garage of our next door neighbor who took the following photo from her house:

These incidents are just the tip of the iceberg. Nearly everyone you meet in Vermont has a bear story, or several.

There have always been bears in Vermont, but not as many as today. I grew up in this town in the 1950s-1970s on a farm where I spent much time in the fields and woods. I started driving Vermont roads in the 1970s. Beginning in the 1980s I spent considerable time hiking and backpacking in Vermont's beautiful mountains. I did not see a bear in the wild in Vermont until I was middle-aged, perhaps around 2000 or later.

In recent years I have seen several bears, usually from a car while driving. Seeing two bears explode out of the woods in the middle of the day and run toward me while sitting on my own back deck was certainly a new experience!

Vermont's black bears have made a strong comeback. Their numbers are higher today than they have been in 200 years.


More information:

Living With Black Bears by the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department

Bears Are Back by Jane Lindholm, "Vermont Edition" on Vermont Public Radio, July 3, 2019, audio, 9 minutes

If you are planning to visit the Green Mountain National Forest in southwestern Vermont, take note of this Food Storage Order issued on July 23, 2019 requiring approved storage of all food and food waste items because of bears.