The leaves had changed color early this year, and I knew I had to get out to see them before they fell. The Adirondack, which travels between New York City and Montreal, is renowned for its scenic route alongside rivers, mountains, and forests, so it wasn't long before I found myself in Manhattan's Penn Station, looking for the daily train that would spirit me out of the city and into the picturesque countryside. "All aboard!" I hurried to find my seat for the long journey north.
New York City to Montreal
I sat pensively in the Adirondack's Café Car, studying the hair color of the woman in front of me while noting that it matched the bright red patch of leaves alongside the tracks just north of Saratoga Springs, New York.
"What are you looking at?" A fifty-something blond woman with an Australian accent addressed me.
I smiled and fudged the truth a little.
"I was staring at those colorful leaves." I motioned outside the window at the yellow foliage that surrounded the leafy red patch. "I was trying to figure out what color those are. They are not quite yellow, not quite golden?"
We sat silently, names of colors running through our heads. Lemon. Orange. Crimson. Saffron. Copper.
"Ocher," announced her dark-haired cousin triumphantly, as she placed two cardboard snack trays full of chips and sandwiches down on the dining table.
"Look at the lovely shades! It's just closed in completely, like we're going through a tunnel of leaves." Anne Giles was the blond. She was from Sydney. She and her cousin, Maureen Cummings of Australia's Gold Coast, were traveling via New York from Alabama to Montreal. From there, they'd continue on to Toronto before flying back to Australia.
"We'd miss all this scenery on the plane," said Anne. "And the hospitality of the crew is wonderful. It's really something to be appreciated. I wish we were taking this train back."
"We took the train rather than the plane specifically to view the autumn leaves," added Maureen.
So had a lot of passengers.
"Ladies and gentlemen," had come the announcement as the northbound Adirondack slid out of Manhattan's Penn Station early that morning. "Today's train is sold-out and we will need all seats. Please make all seats available."
Autumn in the Hudson Valley.
The train was packed, full of excited sightseers with cameras on standby. I'd grabbed a seat on the west side of the train, the side by the river. The Adirondack is famous for its scenic route through the Hudson Valley and alongside the Adirondacks mountains year-round. There are snowy landscapes to behold in winter, and lush green forests to view in spring and summer. But in September and October, Amtrak provides the most unique, romantic way to leaf-peep.
We left the rush-hour buzz of Penn Station behind as we rose out of the cut—a narrow stone canyon gouged out of Manhattan's bedrock base—to keep pace with the traffic on the West Side Highway.
"When does it get pretty?" I asked the conductor.
"It's pretty all along. But you're on the best side for the Hudson Valley."
Then, without warning, the sun vanished. We'd zipped back into the cut, and were surrounded by a bedrock so unique that it had earned its own name—Manhattan schist. Carved out of the schist are manmade valleys and cramped railroad tunnels, the circulatory system below the city streets. Amtrak cannot bring its largest passenger cars or panorama cars into Manhattan. They simply won't fit.
In and out of the bedrock we zipped, past graffiti-covered walls, barreling out of Midtown as the commuter trains sped south, carrying workers to their desk jobs at the same pace that the Adirondack was whisking me to Canada. I felt like a naughty child, playing hooky instead of going to school.
We raced the automobiles up to the George Washington Bridge, where men were fishing, casting their lines into the Hudson in the morning light.
Soon the skyscrapers of Manhattan receded. The Adirondack hugged the Hudson's shore. I anxiously scanned the New Jersey Palisades, visible across the Hudson River, for a first glimpse of autumn. But the bluffs were still green, displaying only a few vibrant specks of colored foliage. A half-hour in, we passed under the Tappan-Zee Bridge and the specks turned to splashes of red against the green. The steep cliffs of the Palisades had transformed into rolling hills. [continued...]