A July 2005 trip
to Catskill by KDKerr
Quote: While the Hamptons lay claim to NYC's beach lovers, the Catskill Mountains are for those who enjoy the great outdoors. For the past two years, my friends and I have traded a weekend within NYC's urban jungle for a retreat among the blue-green hills of Phoenicia, NY.
Located within Ulster County, Phoenicia is a hamlet in the town of Shandaken. According to the 2000 US Census, Phoenicia has a total population of just 381. As you can imagine, there are not too many entertainment options available within a town of this size. If you don't love making your own fun in an outdoor environment, this probably isn't an ideal place to visit.
Each time my friends and I have visited Phoenicia, the weekend agenda has remained exactly the same. On Friday night, we setup tents and build a fire at Woodland Valley campground. On Saturday morning, we cook breakfast before tubing down the chilly waters of Esopus Creek. After tubing, we have a few drinks and appetizers at the Sportsman's Alamo Cantina Tex-Mex Bar and Grill before driving back to the campsite. On Sunday morning, we have a late breakfast at Sweet Sue's before heading back home to New York City.
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On Sunday, the last day of our annual camping weekend, my friends and I head into the small village that is Phoenicia for breakfast. Sweet Sue's is easy to spot because there is always a throng of people milling around the entrance awaiting an open table. The typical 10-15 minute wait gives you enough time to grab the morning paper and wander in and out of the adjacent stores on Main St.
Once inside, you are quickly seated at a small table or booth within the crowded dining room. Diners are provided with paper menus, however, your choices are also visually displayed along the wall on painted canvas boards. It seems that every conceivable concoction of pancake and french toast flavors are available to order. Certain pancake combinations are given special monikers such as "Red Monkey" for strawberry and banana and "Hawaiian" for pineapple and coconut. If Ben & Jerry experimented with breakfast recipes rather than ice cream, this would be their menu.
The service is initially very speedy for placing and receiving your drink and food orders. However, it becomes almost non-existent after the food hits the table. You'll need to issue an "amber alert" to track down your server for a refill or the check. Quasi-poor service issues aside, the dishes are gargantuan! I tip the scales at 220 lbs., and I could only finish half of my pancake mountain. The helpings of French toast appear to be an entire loaf of bread carved into four enormous wedges. In my opinion, you should get a celebratory T-shirt or hat for cleaning your plate.
Backpacker magazine awarded Sweet Sue's some type of national accolade, but I've been unable to track down the exact wording for the honor bestowed upon it. I can only attest that my friends and I love this restaurant, and I would encourage anyone within the vicinity of Phoenicia, NY, to give it a try. My best advice would be to arrive early and hungry!
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on August 2, 2005
49 Main Street
Catskill Mountains, New York
Restaurant | "Sportsman Alamo Cantina Tex-Mex Bar & Grill"
The Sportsman Alamo Cantina is a Phoenicia institution that has been serving food and drink for over sixty years. The restaurant is hard to miss due to the large statue of a woodsman sporting a coonskin cap standing guard at the entrance. While Sweet Sue's attracts the brunch crowd, the Sportsman draws in patrons during the late afternoon and evening hours.
The layout of the eatery provides two separate areas for drinking and dining, an open-air sidewalk cafe and a dimly lit sports bar. It's perfect for those who want to continue enjoying the mountain views or those hoping to escape their natural surroundings. I'm a people-watcher, so I prefer sitting at a table outside along the bustling Main Street sidewalk.
The menu offers traditional pub fare with a Mexican influence. There are Tex-Mex burgers, Alamo wings, and Mexican pizzas, among many other south-of-the-border-infused choices. Everything on the menu is satisfying and edible, but the food will never be considered a gastronomical delight. The Sportsman achieves local greatness from its vast array of adult beverages, especially the frozen drinks. The bar actually boasts the largest selection of tequila in town, which I assume was not hard to accomplish based on the size of Phoenicia.
All in all, the Sportsman Alamo Cantina won't provide you with an unforgettable meal, especially if you are busy killing brain cells with too much drink. What good is it for then? It's a welcome repreive from the limitations of campsite cooking, and it helps balance the intake of late-night s'mores.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on August 2, 2005
Sportsman Alamo Cantina Tex-Mex Bar & Grill
70 Main St
Catskill Mountains, New York 12464
The selection of flavors isn't quite as vast as that of Baskin Robbins or Ben & Jerry's, but I've yet to encounter anyone put off by the limited smorgasbord available here. I had a waffle cone with two scoops of the "Snickers" recipe, a blend of chocolate ice cream mixed with caramel and an abundance of chocolate-covered peanuts strewn throughout. I was SOOOOOO happy! My friend raved about her dish of ice cream called "Piece of Cake," which coincidentally tastes like a piece of cake. I opted not to try her flavor for fear of having to reimburse her with an equal taste of mine (I'm not so good with the concept of sharing).
The Ice Cream Station is very narrow inside and most conducive to placing an order and not much else. Just outside, a porch with tiny plastic chairs or a collection of adult-sized picnic tables provide you with seating that features a backdrop of the Catskill Mountains. However, it's hard to enjoy the view when you are feverishly racing against the elements intent on melting away your tasty frozen treat.
In the hot and sweaty month of July, or anytime during the summer for that matter, you'd be remiss not to make a stop into the Ice Cream Station. I'm sure dessert menus abound at most of the surrounding restaurants, but for my money, I'm going with the historically proven satisfaction that only comes from ice cream.
On a side note, a not very well-advertised miniature golf course sits behind the Ice Cream Station. My friends and I just happened to notice it, but didn't partake in a round of 18. Therefore, I cannot attest to the presence of any windmill- or clown head-themed holes.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on August 3, 2005
Ice Cream Station
Catskill Mountains, New York 12480
Attraction | "The Town Tinker - Tubing the Esopus"
The Town Tinker has everything you need and a bit you don't for your tubing expedition, such as: inner tubes ($10), inner tubes with a seat ($12), life jackets ($3), helmets ($3), creek sneakers ($3), wetsuits ($15), and tube taxi transportation ($5). Typically, you will only need to spend $20 to rent an inner tube with seat, life jacket (mandatory), and transportation. You must wear shoes that will not fall off, meaning no slides or flip-flops. Following 5-minutes of safety instruction from a teenager who says "okay" after every sentence, you're ready to conquer the Esopus.
The Town Tinker provides access to two tubing courses, one novice and one expert, each two and a half miles long. The novice course is for riders looking for a "lazy river at the waterpark" type of experience. The expert course requires you to navigate among large rocks and some jostling rapids. Each course will take about 2 hours to complete from start to finish. For a really exciting ride, check the Town Tinker site for the official "Water Release Dates." The Esopus Creek is part of the NYC watershed and is used to transfer water to the Ashokan Reservior by way of the Shandaken Portal. Depending on watershed conditions, the portal is opened a few times per year which creates a much higher and faster waterway.
My friends and I went tubing on the Esopus Creek with a water temperature of 60F. Those first few steps into the water chilled you to the core. We've always taken the expert course, and I couldn't imagine doing otherwise. There are many lazy spots to drift along during the trip. Unfortunately, I kept falling behind my group so I had to do some extra paddling to keep pace. I got tossed out of the tube on two occasions, and my body definitely felt abused the next morning. However, tubing will continue to be a mainstay on any trip I take to Phoenicia, NY. Bring a change of dry clothes so you can spend some time walking around the small village area.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 1, 2005
The Town Tinker (Tubing)
10 Bridge St
Catskill Mountains, New York 12464
Attraction | "Woodland Valley"
For the past 2 years, my friends have motivated me to join them for a weekend excursion to Woodland Valley campground in Phoenicia, NY. Woodland Valley offers city slickers like me the opportunity to go car camping. Not far behind pitching a tent in your backyard, this has to be the least strenuous form of camping available. You drive onto a campsite and unload your equipment directly from the car. When camping requires little to no effort, sign me up!
Each campsite is limited to six people, two tents, and two vehicles. My friends and I had to reserve two sites for the weekend because we had three tents. We actually preferred paying for the extra site for the additional room it provided. We arrived a few minutes prior to the 9pm cutoff, and it took me 30 minutes to setup my friends two-man tent. While I consider myself a Renaissance man, wilderness survival is not currently part of my skill set. Unfortunately, we missed the man selling cords of firewood from 7:30 to 8:30pm.
Later that evening, we were reprimanded twice by the staff for excessive noise. Quiet hours are from 10pm to 7am and are strictly enforced. The golf-cart-driving Camp Nazi, who scolded us twice, was actually quite a jerk. We were talking and drinking beer around the fire, but we were hardly being loud or rambunctious. Thankfully, this guy was the only negative experience during the trip. On Saturday evening, we didn't receive any admonishments for our noise level (probably because the aforementioned jerkface was off duty).
Most importantly, the Woodland Valley campground has excellent bathroom facilities. After tubing the Esopus, I paid $0.25 to take a most welcome 10-minute shower. There are three shower stalls available, and one is even outfitted for disabled campers. Yes, a few spiders are hanging out in there, but in my opinion, the facilities are top-notch for campground living.
Upon my return to city life, I also learned quite a few interesting tidbits about the Woodland Valley campground. It is surrounded by Slide, Panther, Cornell, and Wittenberg Mountains. Slide Mountain is the tallest peak in the Catskills, and Panther Mountain is the impact site of a meteorite that hit 350 million years ago. There are popular hiking trails from the campground to each of the mountains, but I haven't yet been asked by my friends to "take a hike."
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 3, 2005
Woodland Valley Camping
Woodland Valley Road
Catskill Mountains, New York