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New York Art Escape: NYC and Bear Mountain State Park

Author: soliteyah (More Trip Reviews by soliteyah)
Date of Trip: June 2011

Then it was upstairs to the dizzying collection of Impressionists and other 19th- and early 20th-century European art. Think big name after big name (Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, Degas -- and lots of 'em), plus tons of famous pieces. It was thoroughly enjoyable, if somewhat overwhelming. I think we were starting to feel a little art-ed out after a couple of hours (and the previous couple of days). Our final stop was a couple of photography exhibits. I particularly enjoyed the "after dark" exhibit, with cityscapes, black and white portraits, etc. Some thought-provoking images.

We grabbed an overpriced lunch at the museum's Terrace Cafe before hurrying to the subway, the hotel (to pick up our bags) and Grand Central Station, where we took the Metro North train to New Rochelle. There we picked up our rental car and then sat in traffic much of the way to Bear Mountain State Park (it was July 4 weekend).

As its name suggests, the Overlook Lodge has an amazing view over the Hudson River and surrounding mountains. (Alas, our room didn't have quite the same -- we looked out over trees and the parking lot. Oh, well). Our room went for the rustic charm effect; the headboards of the beds had bear paws and branches etched into the wood, and the duvets had moose, cabins and other let's-go-hunting fare. There was also a microwave and fridge, and free continental breakfast.

We arrived around 5:15, and after we got settled decided to drive to the top of Bear Mountain (you can hike it as well, but I'd been having some knee problems and wasn't sure I was up to a strenuous 3- to 4-hour hike). It was actually a lovely time to be up there -- cool weather, a sinking sun, and a bunch of people enjoying themselves with lawn chairs and a picnic dinner. The views were gorgeous: densely forested mountains and the blue Hudson below.

We were hungry, so we headed down the mountain to nearby Highland Falls for Mexican fare at Hacienda. The decor was a little over the top, but the food was decent, ample, and reasonably priced. (I got some chicken thing and Mom got fajitas. Then we over-indulged with a big glass of ice cream each. Unnecessary but delicious.)

When we got back to the lodge, it turned out that perhaps the room was a little TOO rustic: I saw a mouse! It ventured out in the area of my suitcase/bed, then disappeared into the bathroom (or so it seemed). We didn't see it for a while, but I went down to the front desk to see what could be done since I was too scared to go into the bathroom. The young woman at the front desk grabbed a plastic container and lid to catch the critter, and accompanied me upstairs to search the bathroom. No luck there or in the closet, so she went away for bit, returning with a young guy equipped with a water pitcher and a towel. They vanished into the bathroom, shut the door, and proceeded to make a little racket (a few bangs and laughter). No dice with the mouse. They checked the closet, under the beds, under the TV/chair/etc., and the guy finally declared us mouse-free. There was a pretty significant gap under the door to the next room, so our guess is that he escaped that way. The guy put a towel plus a garbage can up against it to block the gap. Fortunately, the mouse never showed its little face again!

While I'd ordinarily be pretty grossed out by that sort of thing, we didn't leave the hotel for a number of reasons. First off, we were staying in the middle of a state park; the occasional wildlife is to be expected. Second, the staff handled the incident about as well as they possibly could have, with good humor and thoroughness. And finally, it was July 4th weekend, so our other options were probably pretty slim!

storm king art center sculpture gardenWe spent the bulk of our day at Storm King Art Center, a huge sculpture garden with dozens of large-scale installations scattered across beautifully laid-out grounds. The pieces themselves honestly were a bit abstract for me -- I wouldn't have given them a second look in a museum setting, and their titles (Luba, Gox 4, or the ever-popular Untitled) were rarely illuminating. But within the context of sweeping green fields and panoramic mountain views, they looked pretty fantastic. There were several wooded paths as well, with sculptures cropping up unexpectedly around nearly every curve. My favorite piece was called Sea Change, two tall curved pieces of stainless steel that rotated slowly, giving the impression of sinuous movement. Very cool.

I was pooped by the end of our visit, with a sun-induced headache, but the day marched on and so did we. We returned to Bear Mountain State Park, where we paid the admission fee and joined what seemed like thousands of people picnicking, boating, playing softball or badminton, etc. on this gorgeous Saturday of July 4th weekend. We were sick of walking for the moment, so we rented a pedal boat for an hour ($5 per person, per hour), and proceeded to bumble our way along the fringes of the lake, turning haphazardly in one direction, then the other, and getting approximately nowhere. (We were outmatched only by the hapless Indian folks who drifted their canoe into us while desperately trying to row away. Considering that Mom and I had put our feet up and our boat was dead in the water, crashing into us took some effort. It was like the world's slowest bumper car collision.)

We did eventually get the hang of it (the secret: steer gently and don't over-correct), enough to pedal around pleasantly for another 30 minutes or so. By then we'd mustered the energy to walk around the perimeter of the lake (about 1.5 miles). It was noisy on the picnic side but quieter in the woods on the opposite bank -- a nice, low-energy walk to close out the day.

The front desk was very helpful in finding a nearby fireworks show for us to check out (about 20 minutes away). Great fun!

rodin sculpture pepsicoWe woke up on our last day to steady rain. We abandoned any plans to squeeze in a morning hike and checked out of the Overlook Lodge after breakfast. We drove to Purchase, NY to get in one last taste of art at the Donald M. Kendall Sculpture Gardens, at the Pepsico headquarters. A couple of friendly staffers gave us a map of the gardens and showed us where the bulk of the sculptures were, to help us focus since we didn't have much time. One of the first pieces we saw, a large red metal thing, reminded me strongly of some of what we'd seen at Storm King -- turned out the same artist had done work for both places (Alexander Calder). A lot of the other pieces here were less abstract; there was a lovely Rodin, for example, and some people sitting on a bench as though waiting for a train. We particularly liked the little courtyard area, where various office buildings surrounded a large fountain where a sculpted girl was swimming with a dolphin. On three sides were mini-sunken courtyards with ivy-covered gardens, flowers, fountains and more sculptures. Quite a beautiful setting for a corporate office!

We enjoyed the garden but were getting soaked in the rain, so we gratefully made our way to the Neuberger Museum across the street (on the campus of Purchase College/SUNY). We had a hard time finding the place once we parked -- seemed like some buildings were under construction and signage was poor -- but we eventually turned a corner and stumbled upon it. It wasn't a large museum, just two floors with some mostly modern art on the second floor (the permanent collection) and some temporary exhibitions on the first. We didn't spend much time with the visiting African exhibit (mostly wooden carved items and a few headdresses, etc.) because we were running low on both time and energy, but we did enjoy the installations of a Mexican artist, Betsabee Romero, whose main focus seemed to be cars: tires made of chewing gum, long cloths patterned with tire tracks ribboning down from the ceiling, photos of vibrantly painted Mexican cars in the desert. There were a few videos too. Fascinating.

We returned our car to New Rochelle, waited nearly an hour for the next Metro North train into the city, and then continued back home via NJ Transit -- a lovely ending to our New York art escape!

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