A Catskill Catalog: March 5, 2008

The winters are long in the mountains. About February and March, a day of blue sky and sunshine seems as necessary and valuable as nourishment. So, on a beautiful, clear, cold Saturday afternoon, a pair of friends and I took a ride north on Route 30 to explore Vroman’s Nose.
Vroman’s Nose has been described as the perfect place to hike for those who want the maximum payoff in “wow-factor,” and in views, with the minimum investment of time and energy. It’s a 600-foot high rock formation that rises sharply from the Route 30 roadway just outside Middleburgh in the heart of the Schoharie Valley.
When I first came to the mountains, Route 30 seemed to be a more prominent entrance roadway to our part of the Catskills than Route 28 was. At that time, our region had yet to be discovered by many in the New York metropolitan area, and connections to Albany and points north seemed to carry more traffic than those to New York and the south. Even so, Route 30 could be a hair-raising adventure as late as the early ’70s. I remember well driving too fast – I was young – to negotiate comfortably the big sweeping-turn bridge that carried the road over the railroad tracks at Hubbell Corners, at the entrance to Roxbury, a turning roller-coaster rise in the road that could take the unsuspecting motorist by surprise. My heart may still be in my throat!
Further up that state road, near Bouck’s Island at the entrance to Fultonham, the old road used to follow an ancient native trail that hugged the side of the mountain on a steep cliff, the precipice on the side of the road a sheer drop of 50 or so feet. For a kid from the suburbs of New York, my first ride to Margaretville on that cliff-side pathway was a clear indication to me that I was entering a rural world outside of my previous experience. To tell you the truth, part of me was a little disappointed when the state rerouted the road to safer, saner low ground across Bouck’s Island. I liked the adventure of that old trail.
Bouck’s Island was the home of the “Dutch Governor,” William C. Bouck, a farmer and a Jacksonian Democrat who was the 15th governor of New York, serving in 1843-44. Bouck, it is said, spoke with a distinct German accent, although he was born right in the valley, a valley that was settled in the early 1700s by Palatine Germans, refugees from the Thirty Years War-ravaged Rhine River valley. Americans from the very beginning of our nation, many continued to speak German as their first language well into the 19th century.
A ride up Route 30 to the lush and fertile Schoharie Valley provides a number of pleasant diversions and attractions. The road climbs out of Grand Gorge leading the day-tripper to all this and more: the Gilboa fossils; Mine Kill Falls; the power-pump storage electrical generating plant; Mine Kill State Park; Lansing Manor; the Blenhiem covered bridge; some of the most beautiful agricultural fields in the state; the revolutionary war Middle Fort; Middleburgh, the oldest settlement in the Schoharie Valley; the architecturally significant Village of Schoharie; and Vroman’s Nose.
Called Onistagrawa, or Corn Mountain, by the native peoples, Vroman’s Nose was formed by the melting of the ice cap and northward retreat of the glacier that covered virtually all of our state 20,000 years ago. Once an island in the huge post-glacial Lake Schoharie, Vroman’s Nose today rises above the flat and broad valley floor. That valley was formed when a break in the natural dam that held the lake led to a powerful rush of water that broke through the rock to form the Grand Gorge and the Delaware River valley that begins in that rift.
The easiest climb up the nose begins in a parking area on its northern or backside. You’ll recognize the nose-shaped promontory on the left side of the road as you approach it driving toward Middleburgh. Just past Bohlinger’s Fruit Farm, take the first left onto Middleburgh Road. The parking area is a half-mile up.
The trail leads up across a knoll, turns right to follow an old wagon road up the shoulder of the mountain, then turns left again to lead the hiker to the summit. It is a four-fifths of a mile walk, moderately steep. The summit makes any momentary huffing and puffing worth it.
At the top, the views are spectacular. The carefully laid out farm fields and orchards are beautifully arrayed before you. The meandering Schoharie Creek glimmers ribbon-like below. The farms below look like a kid’s toy model from this eagle’s-eye view. The summit itself is a flat, plateau-like dance floor of rock.
No guardrail or fence separates that nearly 10-acre table from the sheer drop 600 feet to the valley floor. You might get a touch of vertigo. While snow cover prevented my friends and I from any close inspection of the rock floor at the summit, I’m told that scrape-marks in the surface of the rock show the direction of glacial retreat, marked by gravel and stone dragged over its surface 12,000 years ago.
If you’re looking to get away and outdoors for a bit, try Vroman’s Nose. The payoff is in the view.