The year was 1983 and we had been invited by some college friends to join them on a canoe trip to a place I had never heard of... Skinner's Falls. We met at 8 a.m. at the McDonalds on Route 23 in New Jersey. We continued towards High Point, down into Port Jervis, and found Route 97 at the north side of town. I was amazed as we passed through Hawk's Nest, New York, winding along the cliff hundreds of feet above the Delaware River. We could see the people in canoes, but the journey wasn't over. Another hour up and down lovely hills, sometimes the road followed the eastern banks of the river, other times it would veer off into the woods. Soon we passed Narrowsburg, and then, just about 5 miles further north, we made a quick left turn onto a gravel road into the woods. At the bottom of the dusty hill was a campgrounds named Lander's. We checked in, found our campsite and began to settle in.
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That was almost 20 years ago. Since then, Lander's has put a huge sign up on the roadway so their location isn't an experienced guess, the road has been paved, and the campground has become a summer mecca for 20-something river lovers. We will probably not return to Lander's Campground at Skinner's Falls, or any Lander's Campground for that matter. It's not that they don't provide adequate services (Lander's is perfect for once-a-year or first-time campers because if you forget something essential like ketchup, they have it for sale), or haven't been pleasant to deal with over the years. It's the noise. We didn't mind it when we were in our 20's and could stay up all night with our main goal being the "get the keg kicked."
You can see some nice photos of previous Canoe Trips by visiting http://www.geocities.com/Yosemite/Cabin/7777.
At one moment on Saturday afternoon I heard:
Van Morrison's Moondance
The Marshall Tucker Band,
Stevie Wonder hits from the 70's,
the latin rhythms of Tito Pruente, all competing at full blast across the large, treeless oval field sliced up into campsites. There was the clank of a horseshoe game at the north end of the field and a loud contest of Eastern European men in speedos kicking a soccer ball at the south end. A little later, we took a walk around the campground. My husband observed the soccer match and commented, "Hey that one guy in a speedo must have really made an impression!" All the noise was drowned out from time to time by the freight trains which would pass by, blasting the horn so loudly that my toddler would literally leap into Mommy's or Daddy's ready arms. The din continued into the wee hours.
On Saturday we rented inner tubes from the Lander's store and my teenage son and I walked into the river, wearing bathing suits and our mandatory life vests and river shoes. We jumped into the tubes just north of the bridge which crosses into Pennsylvania, and started floating. As we passed under the bridge I noticed the row of cliff-swallow nests. The swallows do a great job keeping the campgrounds relatively free of stinging bugs. The river was high this year and the current swift, and we can hear the water at "the falls" as soon as we clear the bridge. Skinner's Falls is a beautiful tumble of giant shale rocks and is about the whitest water you experience on the entire Upper Delaware. It's great fun to ride the tubes through the rapids, swim to the eastern shore and walk up onto the rocks, catch a few rays, then haul the tube back upstream and do it again.
Even if you don't want to get wet, you can enjoy sitting on the rocks and watching the canoeists and rafters pass by (and count how many capsize), relax with a picnic lunch and enjoy the rushing sounds of water. The area is beautifully wild, with pale rosa rugosa, bright blue forget-me-nots and lovely mountain laurel lining the banks.
There is lots of wildlife in the area as well. If you choose to canoe or raft you will likely swim alongside some huge shad or eel. Some years, we all waded into the river, huddle over, very still, and catch crayfish with our bare hands. This year, we were able to check off Merganset (a pretty water bird swam right by our campsite with a parade of little ones behind) in our Peterson's Eastern Birds book. You may also come face-to-face with snakes, muskrat, mink, raccoons, beaver, skunk or porcupines. Our national bird, the Bald Eagle, was recently removed from the endangered species list, and there are about a dozen nesting pairs along the Upper Delaware. Look for signs to Observation Platforms along the river, or while canoeing or rafting, look along the mountain tops for these magnificent creatures!
There are some nice places to visit while in the Upper Delaware region. Our favorites include:
* Breakfast at the Hawk's Nest Restaurant, right on Route 97. If you have to wait for a window seat, wait. The view is breathtaking, and the blueberry pancakes... Mmmmmmm!
* Roebling's Delaware Aqueduct. An early project by the engineer who designed the Brooklyn Bridge, the aqueduct (now a toll bridge) has an interesting history that's worth learning about.
* Minisink Battleground Park. We stopped here on a motorcycle ride one time and found the walk in the woods a beautiful way to stretch our legs. Learn about a harrowing chapter of the American Revolution you probably did not read in your high school history books!
It is the beauty of Skinner's Falls that calls us back every June, but we will probably choose a quieter campsite next year. There are more rustic sites available in the Narrowsburg area (visit www.narrowsburg.org or call 1-888-252-7234).
See you next year at the Falls, the weekend after Father's Day!