One look at a New York State road map reveals a pasta-like road network of literally hundreds of roads. So many to chose from, how does one decide?
From third to fifth to fourth back up to fifth, I am navigating my way through the central Catskills on my all around favorite road in New York State. Favorite for scenery, favorite for driving fun, and favorite for small towns. Route 30 cuts a jagged line from the northern Adirondacks straight through the Amsterdam, Oneonta and then down through the Catskills. I love this road, besides being an incredibly fast road, and fun to drive on due to its banked turns, long straight a ways and scarce traffic, it takes me through a part of New York State I cherish- the rural, yet thriving part.
I absolutely love towns like Stamford with its grand old Victorian houses surrounded by rolling farmland and home to the Delaware Rivers headwaters to the old hard-times-blue collar industrial city of Amsterdam with its towering smokestacks of mills and its red brick daylight factories that once were filled with workers but now mostly lay abandoned to the delight of photographers like myself, who imagine what they must have been like at the end of the 19th century.
Driving on route 30 brings me back to the days when farming was king and strip malls were a thing of the future. The black top is present, replacing the once worn dirt road, but the old men on tractors mowing their three acre lawns with their shirttails flowing in the wind are still present. The roadside ice cream stand is the most crowded business establishment for miles, with long lines of families with kids bobbing up and down trying to make the tough life threatening decision of strawberry or chocolate. Numerous red barns dot the roadside, like so many other New York roads, most of these forgotten relics lie in desolation waiting for the heavy snows of winter to make their roofs crumble like paper machete. Sometimes old farm equipment and forgotten trucks call these barns, sometimes featuring a political endorsement on their side home. Makeshift signs on telephone poles proclaim large barn and garage sales to your right, and as you pass by driving 60 miles per hour you may get a glimpse of an old peace women with short bushy hair, a flannel shirt and a cigarette dangling from the corner of her mouth sitting at a table full of old china, antique furniture and stuffed dear heads. The farm stand in the summer beacons he passerby to sink their teeth into a homemade blueberry pie, or maybe some fresh picked garlic and tomatoes are more your type. Sunday mornings are filled with stop and go traffic heading to church, the tall steeples in towns like Roxbury and Middleburg are the skyscrapers of the Catskills, families dressed in their Sunday best congregate in parking lots filled with American trucks and antique cars being taken out on their weekly Sunday drives. Every now and then you pass one of these ancient muscle cars and strain your head to watch it as it passes, old fords built up as dragsters driven by men as old as the cars put any of the new “rice burners” to shame.
The smell of fresh cut long grass wafts into my open car windows and fills my senses with its sweet scents, as the sweat beads down my bare shirtless back onto the towel preventing my back from sticking to my seats. Jim Mills and his expertly played banjo and high pitched voice is joined by equally as talented mandolin, bass and fiddle players. Don’t forget to drive up Mountain Ave in Stamford to check out the views from the top of Mt Unsyantha. The road that leads to a mountain top park and a hang gliding launch pad, is a must for owners of 4 wheel drive vehicles. The road is a bit rough and steep but driven, hiked or ridden up it is very rewarding. Views of the patchwork of farmland, forest and occasional red barn is phenomenal and peaceful.
The peacefulness of the drive is interrupted momentarily as one forgets all of the rural-ness and is suddenly thrust face to face with a rather large car dealership followed by a huge ugly Wal Mart and then a mall and then gas stations and more destruction of the views and peace of mind that comes with living the rural life. Oneonta, abruptly ends your love affair with the rusting trucks sitting in front yards surrounded by weeds, caved in red barns, old men on riding mowers and fishermen in waders peacefully casting for brook trout in the streams. The first sign of the small city is the Audi dealership, followed by Wal Mart and other likeminded establishments. Not all is bad Oneonta does have a beautiful downtown of nice old red bricked detailed façade buildings, and the ever present large grand Ante Bellum Victorian houses. Then once again you are thrust into the wilderness. Once again a canopy of trees shades you from the sun, casting forth an unrecognizable pattern of sun, shade, shade, sun, an occasional singing of the tires wakes you to realize you are crossing a concrete bridge over a rushing half dry stream, riddles with stones and fly fishermen, with a view of the old bridge abutments form possibly a long forgotten rail road or even a covered bridge. The asphalt is never ending and I am sure there are many other comparable even better roads in New York State but route 30 holds its place at the top of list.