National Geographic : 2011 Sep
Visitors have been coming steadily to these mountains since the mid-19th century. In the early days they came by horse-drawn wagon, Lake George steamer, and train. Today you can get to the Adirondacks by making a le o the highway from Albany to Montreal. And yet some approaches still let you feel you're being devoured by remoteness. e soil changes mile by mile on a drive up from the south. Soon a dark wall of trees---red spruce, balsam r, beech, hemlock---surrounds you, and there's a sudden stony persistence. You're climbing onto the Adirondack dome, an exposure of ancient rock thrusting upward, ris- ing faster than anything around it. en comes water, some of it visible, much of it secret: ponds, lakes, creeks, rivers, and bogs too saturated to bear the weight of anything much heavier than a beaver. Here is a place, as the philosopher Wil- liam James wrote more than a century ago, to "aspire downwards." Aspiring downwards for James, like so many visitors then and now, meant climbing upward, as he did in the summer of 1898, hiking up Mount Marcy and Gothics and Basin Moun- tains all on one memorable day. Others aspire downwards deep in the St. Regis Canoe Area, oating in a seam of light, a silent wake trail- ing behind their canoe. At such moments it's possible to pretend you're looking straight back into history, well past 1898, if not quite so far as 1609, when Samuel de Champlain came within eyeshot of these mountains. It's easy to believe, even now, that almost nothing has changed in what James called the "primitive forest." But with few exceptions, almost everything has changed in the Adirondacks. e unbroken green of the summer landscape rolling out from the High Peaks hides a singular fact: New York's Adirondack Park may be the most complicated park on the planet. e best way to grasp its complexity is by con- sidering a simple question: How do you make a park? In Yellowstone---the rst national park in the world---the land was set aside in a single, nearly virginal lump. But by the time Congress protected Yellowstone in 1872, portions of the Adirondacks had been industrial zones for more than half a century, especially along the tributar- ies of the Hudson River and Lake Champlain. e forest was being cut for charcoal to heat forges working iron from Adirondack mines, for hemlock bark used in local tanneries, and for sawlogs milled downstream. is was the logging of legend, before mechanization: breast- high stumps le by men swinging axes or wield- ing crosscut saws, horses skidding logs, rivers regulated as "public highways" for log driving. By 1890, according to the New York Times, there was widespread fear that it was "too late to Leaves of maple and birch make an art of dying on the dark surface of Lake Placid. With thousands of lakes and ponds, the park is a favorite of paddlers and the center of a century-old and still thriving boatbuilding tradition. Verlyn Klinkenborg writes for the New York Times and other publications. Michael Melford specializes in landscape and nature photography.