Stairway to Heaven Hike, Vernon NJ

Art, Hike of the Week, hiking, New Jersey, Outdoor Adventure, plants, watercolor
Sunny Mud Path

Sunny Mud Path, Vernon NJ

The Stairway to Heaven hike in Vernon showcases some of the most beautiful parts of northern New Jersey. But what did I choose to paint from this hike? A puddle of mud! I’m sorry, but beautiful vistas don’t always scream “paint me”. I found beauty in this mud puddle for these reasons – simplicity, reflection, composition, and color. The view from a mountain top can make for an excellent painting, but I’m craving a certain something else these days – something sort of interesting, though difficult to pinpoint.


I like a good architectural challenge once in a while – buildings in truthful perspective, arranged with charm. This time, I”ll take a couple of cedar trees and a muddy path, please. The freedom to paint a simple landscape promotes a sense of joy and relief, as if a tremendous weight has been lifted.


I’ve broken a painting rule – the reflection of a subject in water should be darker than the actual subject. Not in this painting. But that’s the way it is – there is a thin layer of water covering the muddy path, making the reflection of the tree appear lighter because the sun shining on the mud under the water is bright.


There’s no mountain in the background, but artistic liberties must be taken to make things a bit more interesting. Even without the mountain, the composition of this scene made me stop walking. I saw the potential for wonderful depth  – the muddy path and lighting draws the viewer further into the painting.


This scene is located at the base of Waywayanda Mountain. The habit is mostly field with numerous red cedar pioneering the area. Whether the trees were planted here, I do not know. I found the color contract tremendous. Red-ish green cedar trees (hence the name Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana) against a straw-yellow field, with a cobalt-blue bright sky (some of that in the reflection).

That’s what hooked me then, not sure what will hook me next 🙂


Icebox Falls – Watercolor 18×24”

Art, Hike of the Week, hiking, Outdoor Adventure, watercolor

Icebox Falls – watercolor 18×24”

The mind never stops churning, even on a relaxing weekend upstate in the Catskills (NY). The Glen Falls House is where we stayed and everyone was super nice. There are short nature trails on the property, some of which, lead to one of the most beautiful waterfalls I’ve ever seen. It’s not a big waterfall, but the surrounding rock formations are hypnotic.

Painting this was FUN. I worked on it a couple of hours after work for a little over a week. The water was the biggest challenge but the scene already offers great contrast between the light coming in through the trees and the darkness underneath the rocks. The Eastern Hemlock stand at the top of the falls really hit home. I love these conifers and who knows how long until they are destroyed by the woolly Adelgid. Finally, I went for more glow and stronger color to depict the funky vibe I feel from the Catskills.

Indian Head Mountain Hike, Catskills, NY

Hike of the Week, Life Balance, Outdoor Adventure

Here’s a look back on a great hiking weekend in spring (May)…

We were extra anxious to get the Friday workday over with and head to the Catskill Mountains, but the weather report called for rain all weekend. Didn’t matter, we were determined, even if that meant getting drenched and having to haul a wet tent and wet gear back home. Pruney fingers are a small price to pay for some time in the mountains.  On Saturday morning, we woke up excited like kids on Christmas at hit the road (I even skipped my coffee ritual).

A couple hours later we made a left on Prediger Road and parked at the trailhead. It was around 10am, but the parking lot was already at maximum capacity. We registered by signing the book and began marching through the woods via the following loop hike: Devil’s Path (red blazes) to Jimmy Dolan Notch (blue blazes) and back to the parking lot via Devil’s Path. The loop is about 7 miles, but we decided to extend the hike a bit by climbing up to one of the overlooks on the way to Twin Mountain to have our PB&Js.  There are about 5 scenic overlooks on this hike including Indian Head Mountain, which has earned our vote as favorite scenic point in the Catskills (so far).


We made sure our rain jackets were easily accessible, but luckily there was no need – the day was cool and overcast and we were fortunate enough to have good visibility at the top – The Hudson River cut through the landscape below, like a long winding mirror, and up above, other peaks purpled out in the distance, rise up into the gray sky. Spruce forests occupy the first few hundred feet at the top of the peaks. It is noticeably cooler in these mountain top spruce forests and the cool moist ground is covered with a diverse array of moss. This is my favorite setting, but likely the most sensitive to recreational use.

On our descent, we were dazzled by two gorgeous types of trillium scattered along the trail sides – Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum) and Wake-robin (Trillium erectum). Aside from differences in size and leaves, the Painted Trillium has white petals with crimson veins extending from the base of each petal, whereas, the Wake-robin’s entire flower is maroon or dark-purple. We also found Dutchman’s Breeches (not actual pants, but an herb with flowers that kind of look like dangling teeth), Trout lilies, different species of Violets, and other forest herbs. Lastly, a shrub that we’ve often seen in the mountains – Hobble Bush (Viburnumlantanoids) – was really bursting with color in these last weeks of May. Hobble Bush is a native perennial shrub with two types of flowers – large showy flowers with no stamens or pistils on the outside and little egg shaped flowers toward the center of the flower cluster.

As the hike came to an end we reveled in the fresh spring greenery, which in a few weeks will darken into that deep summer green. It was time to camp – or as some may put it – glamp! After a short drive down a very steep Platte Clove road we arrived at Rip Van Winkle campground – a family style private campground with a heated pool, children’s playgrounds, fishing pond, and many other festivities. Luckily, our campsite was tucked away in a quiet place on the edge of Plattekill Creek in the middle of an Eastern Hemlock stand. I think that Rip himself would have personally selected this site if he were to stay at his campground. There’s something for everyone here and it is the perfect base camp location for day hikers looking to explore the park’s Northeastern peaks and waterfalls.

We relaxed on the creek, read our books, identified some plants, boiled up some ramen noodles, burned a few pieces of birch wood, and then of course the rain finally came. This forced us to brush, put stuff away and retire into the tent for the night. I tried to read a few more pages, but before we knew it we dozed off to the sounds of water falling softly onto our shelter. The worst thing about camping is having to get up out of the tent to pee (especially in the rain). One sleeps remarkably better after overcoming that challenge.

The next morning, another 7 mile loop hike would have been nice, but in reality we needed to head home and get ready for work. But, first we treated ourselves to breakfast at Bread Alone, a bakery in Woodstock, NY.  Our local supermarket carries Bread Alone bread, but we soon discovered that they don’t just make bread (alone); they have a delicious breakfast menu, amazing dark coffee, and more. Bellies full and slightly caffeinated, we left the quirky hippie town en route to Jersey with a smile on our faces that read – what a weekend!



Hike of the Week, Life Balance, Outdoor Adventure

Shenandoah National Park

Virginia, USA / Sperrysville, VA

7:35 PM / 25ºF

Cloudy / Windy (approx. 25 MPH)

Moon: Waxing Crescent


Cait and I did not plan to hike Old Rag Mountain today, but we did anyway. Old Rag is no joke – it offers intense rock scrambles, some of the most difficult climbing we have ever done. The next level would be to actually strap on climbing gear. A weather system rolled in as we scrambled closer to the summit; at least 50 mph winds made the climb even more dramatic. You had to hold your ground to make sure you wouldn’t be knocked over.

The rocks at the top of Old Rag are over a billion years old. (basement rocks) These rocks make up the Grenville Mountains (the ancestral mountain chain before the Appalachian Mountains formed). After battling the wind and surviving the summit, we made our way down the trail to the Old Rag Shelter where we ate our PB&J. Someone left a few logs still smoldering and we were able to warm our hands and butts. Many of the trees have started to flower and others were leafing out. (dogwoods, striped maple, elm, eastern red buds) We also found a gorgeous large flowering Trillium (trillium grandiflorum) on the way down.

Coming down from the adrenaline rush of such a challenging hike, we made our way back to the car sure to snap a few pictures and get some video on the drive out as the sunlight perfectly danced along the newly bloomed redbuds and the open green meadows.


Busy Day at Norvin Green

Hike of the Week, Life Balance, New Jersey, Outdoor Adventure


This weekend, we decided to venture out into Norvin Green State Forest, located in Ringwood, NJ near the Wanaque Reservoir. It was our first time hiking this area; it is funny to think that we’ve never been here having lived in northern NJ all these years. A symphony of chirping Spring Peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) erupted as we jumped out of the Jeep to pull on our hiking boots. It was a gray day and it felt chilly, yet humid, with a gentle breeze. As we walked toward the trailhead, the place had a sort of eerie vibe to it – maybe it was due to the random stuff strewn about the grounds or old buildings, like the one marked “Nature House” that was guarded off by caution tape. “Surely, there must be a squatter or two in there”, I thought.

The eerie silence was soon shattered – acoustics ensued just a few yards up the trail as a group of young individuals paraded around with music whining from one of their smartphones. A bit further away, people in other groups shouted over one another in languages we did not understand. We did not spend much time at the overlook areas for these reasons, but it is nice to see people excited for early spring and get outside. We were surprised that no one else was around when we reached Chikahoki Falls (South Norvin Green State Forest) – this called for a special activity – it was time to chomp down on a big Crispin apple! We sat across from the falls, enjoying the apple and some tasty pumpkin bread that my momma whipped up the night before – now that’s livin’.

Finally, a quick plant report: Pitch pine in higher elevation areas and various hardwoods like American Beech and Oak in other areas. Many more to unveil later once flowers and leaves emerge. Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is quite abundant in the shrub layer in this section of the NJ highlands. May is typically when K. latifolia blooms, but we have yet to time it right. Another thing to look forward to and be thankful for!