Bear Essentials

In my college days in Bombay I was often nicknamed ‘Rip Van’ – owing in no small measure to my penchant for an afternoon siesta. While I get little of that luxury these days, I continue to be a late riser or ‘not a morning person’ in politically correct parlance. So what on earth was I doing at a little past 7 on a saturday morning last weekend?

Correction! This photo was taken around 7 but I was up at 6 that same morning. For those of you who know me well enough, you will appreciate that there can only be one motivation to get up that early – to watch a train maybe? Spot on! 🙂

50 minutes after leaving the Queensboro bridge on Manhattan’s Upper East side and we were at the Bear Mountain State Park.

Less than a 50 mile drive north of New York on the very scenic Palisades Parkway and you’re literally thrown into the lap of nature – with a few trains for company of course! Why else would Jaimin, Sriram, John and me bother making our way there? 😉

We had gone there to watch trains for sure (North American freight in particular) but had no idea what we had bargained for. Unadulterated air, ample sunshine and the right amount of nip to make it a truly enjoyable day. It was just perfect. The drive up to there had been beautiful as well with limited foliage (brought on by winter) allowing us unhindered views of the Hudson River below and the northern inhabited parts of New York City alongside. Just before our exit we spotted a fox by the side of the road signaling the presence of wildlife in the area. We were to spot a deer as well later on which had sadly met its demise on the tracks.

To give you a better sense of the geography of the area – the Hudson river meanders it’s way through to upstate New York flanked on both sides by mountains. Bear Mountain (elev ~ 2000 ft) is on its western bank and where we were to spend most of our day.

The railway line on our side hugs the contours of the river and exclusively carries freight originating in the Newark Port area to destinations upstate and beyond into Canada. CSX is the operator here and rail traffic is made up mostly of double stacked container trains and ‘road railers’ (trailers piggy backing on flat cars). And without getting any more technical, let’s get back to the geography! The patches of white you see near the track is snow that hadn’t yet melted – we were further north of and at a higher altitude than the city of NY. The railway line is heading south (back to the city i.e.) from this view and circles behind the lower hill you see on the left of the picture – that area is in fact a bird sanctuary! To our right is Bear Mountain.

Now for the other side..

This is looking north towards Albany with the mighty Bear Mt. bridge connecting the west with the east. Not visible in this picture is another railway line on the east side (right) also running along the riverside. That line is exclusively for passenger trains – Metro North commuter trains originating from NYs Penn Stn through to Poughkeepsie and Amtrak’s inter city trains also originating at Penn and running through to upstate NY and onto Canada – much like their freight counterparts on the west side.

To much of a good location is not a good thing – so we decide to move on!

We would end up walking the ‘permanent way’ for almost 4 miles and this was just the beginning. After a 5 minute wait on the other side of the tunnel (barely seen in this picture) we were greeted with our 3rd spotting of the day – a northbound freight train!

Unlike passenger trains, freights rarely follow a time table so it was anybody’s guess when a train would appear or if it would appear at all! The God’s had been kind to us on that day and no less than 6 trains showed up in a matter of hours. This was no.4 – another northbound service (double stacked containers if you look closely enough) seen here snaking it’s way through the bird sanctuary and over a trestle bridge..

Train no.4 closer to us now and this view should give you a good idea of just how massive the Bear Mt. bridge really is.

Turning around 180 degrees a short while after the locomotives have passed me (the 110 car train continues by) and you can still see it working it’s way up north along the river..

And while we’re still reeling from that amazing sight, along comes no.6!

I would like to believe that you cannot possibly get a better fishing spot than this one!

And finally we sign of with a Montreal bound Amtrak on the west side..

But we’re not quite finished with our day yet! Don’t worry – no more railway jargon – just a relaxed afternoon in the village of Coldspring. We drive over the bridge this time and from our high perch we can clearly see a part of the bird sanctuary (left), the trestle bridge and the pier which we sat on for over an hour watching west side trains go by.

Coldspring is a tiny riverside village, no more than a 20 minute drive from Bear Mountain. Even by US standards it is very tiny..

The village is essentially made up of a main street coming off Route 9W and descending down to the banks of the river. Apart from being tiny and quaint, the undulating nature of the terrain it occupies only adds to its charm.

It is as much a quaint village as it is a railway town. The east side line splits the village into two unequal parts with the old station building (the new one is only a commuter halt) having been converted into the biggest restaurant in town and suitably called ‘The Depot’

The biggest also means (in most cases) the most expensive so we chose to have a late lunch at the Foundry Cafe instead.

The most fabulous food north of New York! Er, that’s to much of an assumption, but you get the drift am sure? 😉 Corn Beef Quiche with fresh garden salad and some mixed fruit crumble to wrap it all up – superb!!!

Oh and we also had some home made lemonade and cookies (which were seriously good!) at a local stall the village kids had set up – an American tradition missing in the bigger cities these days.

They’re sitting right by the tracks in fact with ‘The Depot’ to their left (right of pic) and the smaller part of the village behind them. The mountains in the background are along the route of the freight carrying west side line. And talking of trains (again!) how could we leave good ‘ol Coldspring without visiting at least one (of two no less!) rail hobby shops – says a lot about a town that spans a few hundred metres!! 🙂

As if we hadn’t had enough of a good time, Jaimin (who knows these parts well) took us for a bit of a detour on our way back to NYC – right to the bottom of the Palisades Parkway or Englewood Cliffs Park. To the west side of the Hudson yet again – only this time with a different view..

We started the day near the Queensboro bridge at dawn and ended an absolutely wonderful outing near the George Washington Bridge at dusk. I couldn’t have choreographed that couple any better – romancing the NYC skyline behind!

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