Though written for my parents’ generation, I was among millions of children enchanted by the plight of the Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Grey Bridge. Growing up in a nautical, lighthouse-obsessed household — my mother climbed the stairs twelve stories to the top of the Cape Hatteras Light while eight-months pregnant with me — it fit a theme. Looking back now, it’s also a story about that critical childhood need loudly touted in the Eighties of my childhood: “self-esteem.”
Another reason it fascinated us was that every summer, on our annual eight-hour August odyssey from our Pennsylvania home to Grandma’s house in Maine, Dad would twist through a complicated spaghetti of exits in Fort Lee, NJ — sometimes we stopped for lunch at a deli there that he particularly liked — and snag the Palisades Parkway. The traffic and the density of the roads and quickness of the turns always made me anxious, perhaps bleeding off of my parents’ stress in the front bucket seats of our big blue eight-passenger van on city streets meant for sedans.
In the middle of all that stress and bustle, we would push ourselves up as high as we could with our seatbelts still on, craning our necks to see over the barriers along the roadside. “Do you see it? Almost there. Look! There it is!” Across the river, at the foot of the Great Grey Bridge, a flash of red.
It’s the Little Red Lighthouse, guys! I see it!
Thanks to the fame of the book, the lighthouse still stands, inactive, in Fort Washington Park at the foot of the George Washington Bridge, and there’s even an annual Little Red Lighthouse Festival.
That park has been on my NYC Bucket List for years now, but that’s not where we headed today.
Palisades Interstate Park, Part 1
Today we kept to the Jersey side, just north of the Great Grey Bridge, to walk along the Hudson River with a view across to Inwood, Washington Heights and the Little Red Lighthouse.
We started from the Ross Dock Picnic Area, which was clearly not an original idea. The park was full of families and gatherings of friends in masks, every parking space and all the picnic tables taken, the playground alive with the sounds of creaking equipment and children’s laughter.
The Shore Trail that goes some dozen miles or more along the west bank of the Hudson River, starting not far below the George Washington Bridge and extending into New York. We didn’t have the time (or frankly, the stamina!) for that kind of undertaking, but we decided to see how far we could go in 45 minutes and come back again.
The early foliage and the views back towards the bridge, the lighthouse, Ross Dock and the city didn’t disappoint.
Palisades, the Interstate Part
A week later, restless to get out of the house and knowing that the leaves would be closer to their peak fall color, I urged my hiking buddy back into the car, this time to head almost to the border with New York, the State Line Overlook.
The overlook itself was mobbed with people, though that didn’t seem to concern the pair of falcons perched high above both the Hudson River and Palisades cliffs, and the concrete Old Route 9W that ran along the cliff’s edge from the 1920s into the 1950s, and where the greatest crowds were walking, big Jewish and South Asian families, lots of strollers and kids, yelling and footballs flying.
While I appreciated the views from the overlook, we were there for a walk, and set out southward along the cliff’s edge towards the Women’s Federation Monument.
The Women’s Federation Monument honors the women who fought to make the Palisades Interstate Park possible. After the Civil War, quarrying on the Jersey side of the Hudson threatened to bring down the mighty Palisades cliffs (as Snake Hill later would come down in Secaucus), but women on both sides of the Hudson saw a beautiful natural monument under threat. Through their Women’s Federations, they lobbied hard to preserve the Palisades cliffs, and eventually the interstate park was decreed.
There was one particular spot along the trail where you could see up close a bunch of maples in the middle of changing. I don’t know that I’ve ever noticed before how the leaves change their color from the edges inward.
A couple times during our walk, it began to rain, but the canopy caught most of wet up high and kept it away from us, but it was a reminder that colder times are on the way. We could also see in many places where Isaias and other hurricane remnants had felled great trees still leaning precariously against their neighbors. Altogether, though, it was a really nice outing.