The day broke unseasonably warm as we prepared for a day trip up to Beacon, N.Y., to visit the Dia Art Foundation. Spring, possibly early summer, came early to Brooklyn, and I was glad for the sunroof on the Lexus hybrid I was driving for the weekend (for a review of the car, the Lexus CT 200h, click here).
We packed a picnic of hard salami, provolone and a baguette, dodged the head of the Brooklyn St. Patrick's Day parade, and made a beeline for the freedom of the Palisades Parkway that lay just across the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, N.J. Getting out of the city brought with it all the usual aggravations, but traffic was light because it was the Sunday after St. Patrick's day carousing.
The skyline opened up as we crossed the Hudson on the George Washington Bridge, and New Jersey greenery quickly followed. With the sun high and windows down, Kip Moore's Somethin' Bout a Truck became the day's anthem, despite the complete dissimilarity of the Lexus hatchback to a pickup. Country music, an open road and the first edge of spring combined with the same heady exhilaration of oxygen and gasoline in a combustion chamber.
The Palisades Interstate Parkway runs along the New Jersey Palisades, the line of cliffs that run along the western side of the Hudson. Driving north, the Parkway offers unparalleled views of the receding city and the expanse of the Hudson on the passenger side, while mid-Atlantic pine forests creep right up to the edge on the driver's side. The driving is fantastic, as the Palisades Parkway is closed to commercial vehicles, and light Sunday traffic makes it easy to live a little and dig into the road's twists and turns.
We followed the Parkway from New York until its terminus at Fort Montgomery, N.Y., before crossing back over to the east side of the Hudson on the idyllic Bear Mountain Bridge. Continuing north on Route 9D from the bridge, the road is lined with hiking and fishing spots along the river, and West Point is visible on the far side.
We continued on route 9D until we reached the riverside town of Beacon, N.Y., just below the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. The trip took just under an hour from the George Washington Bridge.
Beacon is the kind of New York river town that would like to be called quaint and spell shop shoppe, but its working-class and railroad roots are still quite evident, which is almost refreshing compared with downstream Hudson Valley towns like Irvington or Tarrytown. While Beacon might not be as nice to abscond to for a long weekend, the town is perfect for an afternoon road trip.
The main attraction is the Dia Art Foundation, a world-class modern art gallery installed in a renovated 1929 Nabisco printing plant. The large, airy spaces and natural lighting enhance the collection of minimalist paintings and spatial sculpture, and it lends itself particularly to large-scale installations.
One exhibit was particularly striking, given the day's road-tripping theme. The main hall on the western side of the gallery houses a collection of sculpture by John Chamberlain. The sculptures are abstract, but they are constructed from crushed cars and guard rails, a somewhat chilling swan song to automobiles and drivers long gone.
Shaking off the sight of crumpled and mangled cars, we returned to our jaunty hatchback and picked up some ice cream before returning to New York. Zora Dora's Micro Batch Ice Cream and Paletas was a cheap and surprisingly good stop for a snack. The flavors of the day included Guinness, Bailey's Irish Crème and Pistachio Mango.
We made one final stop on the return to the city. The magnificent St. Philip's Church in the Highlands lies just to the west of Route 9D, and its brooding grave yard and tower on a hill make a striking impression in the late afternoon. The Episcopal church was established in 1770 when it was granted a charter by King George III, and many of the broken and leaning gravestones clearly date back to the very early 19th century.
The church was apparently rather pro-Tory during the Revolutionary War, and the church warden colluded with Gen. Benedict Arnold to hand over West Point to the British army. Legend has it that a mob came to burn the church down during the war. According to the tale, George Washington himself stood in the door of the church and stopped the mob, saying, That, sir, is my church! A stained glass window in the vestibule now depicts George Washington.
We left the church with a deepened sense of history and made our way back down the Hudson toward the modern vibrancy of New York City. The Palisades Parkway proved as relaxing on the return as it had been exhilarating on the departure.