A Photographer’s Delight — 4 Aug 2013

Info

  • Map: NYNJTC, West Hudson Trails, Map 114
  • Trails: Otterkill (Red), Trestle (White), unmarked
  • Type: Loop
  • Distance:  ~2 miles (if you cheat), about 5 if you don’t
  • Time: 2 hours (if you cheat), double that if you don’t
  • Exertion: Easy

Getting There

Get off the NYS Thruway at Exit 16 (Harriman) and go north on NY 32.  (On weekends the traffic for the Woodbury Common Outlet Mall might piss you off a bit.  There are alternatives.)  You drive several miles north with Schunemunk Mountain on your left.  In the town of Mountainville, look on your left for signs for the Black Rock Fish & Game Club, and take the left there at Taylor Rd.  Follow Taylor for about a mile, and when it ends at Otterkill Rd., make the left.  Go under the train trestle and watch for a nice hiker’s parking lot on your right.  From the lot, the trailhead is back east on Otterkill, right before the trestle.

The Hike

The “cheating” part of this hike is an unblazed woods road you can use as a short-circuit if like me, you spend too much time admiring the scenery and taking pictures.  The true loop, which I did over a year ago, has you taking the Otterkill to the Jessup (yellow) heading west, with a right to a short jog on the red Barton Swamp Trail, to the Trestle Trail back north.  For a decent day’s exercise, I do recommend the full loop, but truth be told, the cheating route gets you to the best views.  I’ve taken the Jessup Trail a few times, and have to admit there’s not much too see in this stretch of it.  There’s not much on the Otterkill after the nice valley overlook I’ll describe below, and so the full schlep only gives you some extra lookouts on the Trestle, which are nice, but don’t beat the three vistas you’ll see below.

How To Cheat: if you start on the Otterkill, you will walk for about 15 mins or less and might be able to pick out the woods road on your right.  (I built a cairn here this trip, so that might help.)  The NYNJTC trail map clearly shows this road, but it is a little tough to pick up.  Following it varies from easy to hard, but you just pretty much have to keep heading uphill, and sooner or later you will hit the Trestle Trail.  To get to Vista #3 described below, you will have to go left here for a few minutes up the hill and then backtrack, but it’s worth it.

The draw of this hike is the three photogenic spots:

  1. The train trestle on Otterkill Road/Trestle Trail
  2. Valley overlook on the Otterkill Trail
  3. Northward overlook on the Trestle Trail

Vista #2 is nice, especially for panoramas, but the the other two are the stars of the show, each worth a trip in its own right.

Vista #1: The Moodna Viaduct

The Moodna Viaduct is a single-track rail trestle that takes NJ Transit’s Port Jervis Line across the valley of the Moodna Creek.  The land right around and under the trestle is spectacularly unused.  I don’t know why–perhaps it is a farm that’s not being farmed, but the trail map shows it as private land, so you have to wonder how long it will be before some Orange County developer decides how wonderful it would be to spread a schmear of condos across these hills, so go now!

The Hills of the Moodna Viaduct

The Hills of the Moodna Viaduct

There’s a weird kind of industrial beauty to this structure spanning an otherwise pristine valley.  I can’t quite figure out why being a train track makes it better than a road overpass.  Maybe it’s the rust?

Moodna Viaduct

Moodna Viaduct

If you have seen the movie Michael Clayton, you might recognize this location as the place where Michael (George Clooney) pulls his car over to approach the (supposedly) wild horses atop the hill just before his car explodes.  (If you haven’t, I recommend you rent or stream it–tonight.)  Some interesting info on this structure can be found in the Wikipedia article.

The Trestle Trail starts just before the point where the viaduct crosses Otterkill Rd.  A short walk uphill brings you to the junction with the Otterkill trail.  If you take that, you will quickly reach the level of the train track and have the view over the valley.

The Trestle

The Trestle

BTW, the picture above was taken on my earlier trip in Jan 2012, and I prefer it to the shots I took this day.  The sign with the open mouth has since disappeared–not sure whether that’s an improvement or not.  Anyway, here’s a shot from the current trip.

The Trestle (Currently)

The Trestle (Currently)

I suppose that being a responsible blogger, I should caution you to mind the trains that might come down this track.  In a contest of Man vs. Train, Train always wins, so don’t do silly stuff like picnic on the track or try walking over the trestle.  I’d hate for someone to get killed or injured being stupid here and forcing NJ Transit to fence this place off.  Update Oct. 2015: on a return visit here last month with my daughter we discovered that NJ Transit, bless their utilitarian hearts, have erected a fence in this spot, making the snapping of the above photo today if not impossible, then certainly illegal.

Vista #2: the Moodna Valley

Resuming the southbound walk on the Otterkill, you soon reach an outcrop where you have a nice view of the valley through which Moodna Creek flows north-south before it turns to the west and goes under the viaduct.  There’s nothing particularly outstanding here, just some nice verdant hills and not a lot of civilization.  What there is blends in nicely with the terrain.

Moodna Valley

Moodna Valley

This location makes for a great panorama shot, however something was off for me with the lighting, so my stitched-together pic has some very oddly-lighted sections and does not look good.  Perhaps yours will work out better.

Vista #3: the Northern View

Continuing north you can either take the Otterkill to the Jessup and wend your way back to the northbound Trestle Trail (details above), or find the woods road that is no more than a 5-10 minute walk from the valley overlook.  If you take the short cut, hang a left when you get to the Trestle. and walk up the hill for another 10 minutes or so.  (If you do the full loop, this vista will be the 3rd star on the map, and it will probably take you 20-30 minutes of walking once you hit the Trestle.)

This outcrop has an interesting feature, a memorial bench for someone named Sharon Guilfoyle:

Sharon's Bench

Sharon's Bench

(Sharon seems to have passed away in 2007 at only 50 years old, but a Google search for her did not find any other information.)  The bench is a curious amalgam of natural branches and posts as well as some sawed boards.  The construction is quite skillful, with countersunk screws, albeit the raw branches in the back reduce the comfort factor to a degree.  But it is a welcome rest stop, particularly because it looks out on this wonderful scene:

The North View--The Gunks and Catskills

The North View--The Gunks and Catskills

The near range in the foreground is the Shawangunks, and the Mohonk tower can clearly be seen in the middle of the shot.  The Catskills lay beyond, and although this was a very clear day, they are a bit misty here.  My estimate is that this is at least a 50 mile view.  It was a midsummer’s day, so ideal air conditions were unlikely.  (My few shots from the Jan 2012 trip show haze as well, so…I will have to wait for a clear fall day, perhaps.)  You can see the Viaduct from here as well as Stewart Airport (if you dig that kind of thing).  It’s a 180-plus-degree vista, and warrants some serious hang time.  And there’s a nice bench to sit on to take it all in.  Another reason why it’s a bad idea to picnic on the train track–this is a much better spot!

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