Phoenicia calls


Ulster hamlet activities include tubing, antiquing

By John W. Barry • Poughkeepsie Journal • June 12, 2008

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Among the used art books stacked on shelves, racks of secondhand clothes, vintage radios, black-and-white pictures of strangers and kerosene lanterns strung from the ceiling, sit boxes of used, vinyl LPs in carefully preserved record jackets.

For $20 or less each this past Sunday, you could have scooped up used copies of "Ravi Shankar: Live at the Monterey International Pop Festival," "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" by Neil Young, two self-titled albums by Duane and Gregg Allman, "Her Majesties Satanic Ball" by the Rolling Stones and an instructional record for those wishing to learn how to disco dance.

Welcome to Homer & Langley's Mystery Spot, an antiques shop that bills itself as an "emporium and odditorium." This time tunnel of treasures is only one reason to visit the hamlet of Phoenicia, an easily accessible, picturesque community nestled in the Catskill Mountains that offers everything from whitewater tubing to brick-oven pizza.

About 25 miles west of the traffic circle in Kingston, Phoenicia sits alongside the Esopus Creek, a few minutes off Route 28. Phoenicia is one of several communities in the Town of Shandaken, whose name, according to the town's official Web site, www.shandaken.us, is of American Indian origin and means "land of rapid waters."

Phoenicia is the largest hamlet in Shandaken and was once a busy hub of the Ulster and Delaware Railroad.

"Except for a few new buildings," according to the town's Web site, "it hasn't changed that much since the original 11 lots were laid out on each side of the street in 1853."

More than two-thirds of the land in Shandaken is state-owned and Shandaken is home to Slide Mountain, which, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation Web site, is the highest peak in the Catskill range at 4,220 feet.

My wife and I spent a relaxing afternoon in Phoenicia this past Sunday, strolling up and down Main Street, window shopping, admiring the Catskills from the sidewalk and, of course, eating.

Our day started at Sweet Sue's restaurant and, for about $25 including tip, I had a Greek omelet, tasty home fries and a slab of whole-wheat toast. My wife had an eggs-and-vegetables dish, toast and a buckwheat pancake.

As we were paying our check, I noticed one posting in particular on a bulletin board near the bathroom. What caught my eye was a question mark.

I ventured over to get a closer look and was intrigued by what I read: "Come visit Homer & Langley's Mystery Spot; Phoenicia - On the Boardwalk; The Catskills' Most Famous Odditorium."

A boardwalk? In Phoenicia? We left Sweet Sue's - which now serves dinner, by the way - and headed to the Mystery Spot. It's a true find, particularly for anyone who collects vintage vinyl records, and it indeed sits on a boardwalk-like deck off Main Street.

From the Mystery Spot, my wife headed to The Tender Land Home, which sells housewares, gifts, home accessories and very nice toys for children, including backpacks on wheels in the shapes of animals.

I headed to the bridge that spans the Esopus Creek and serves as the western gateway to Phoenicia.

Tubing is enjoyed

A tepee and carved bald eagle on the grounds of the Black Bear Campground and RV Park welcome visitors, and the road leading to the bridge affords great views of folks tubing in the Esopus.

Town Tinker Tube Rental is an anchor of Phoenicia and the Catskills, offering whitewater adventure that can be maneuvered with nothing more than a life jacket and tube.

For $18, you can rent an inner tube, life jacket and secure a spot on the Tube Taxi. You can tack on $3 for a tube with a seat, $3 for creek sneakers, $15 for a wet suit and $3 for a helmet.

The skies Sunday in Phoenicia were ominous, but the stream of tubers was steady down the Esopus, as was the line of people paying for gear and waiting for the taxi.

Additional outdoor recreation is available a short drive in the other direction from downtown Phoenicia, east on Route 214 toward Hunter Mountain. Devil's Tombstone, one of the oldest campgrounds in the New York state Catskill Forest Preserve, offers primitive camping sites, a day use area and a small shallow lake, all tucked into an area known as Stony Clove.

Devil's Tombstone offers access to trails leading to some of the highest peaks in the Catskill Forest Preserve, such as Hunter Mountain, home to the highest historic fire tower in New York state; Indian Head; West Kill Range; and Plateau Mountain, a grueling hike that offers majestic views of the Catskills.

Back on Main Street, The Nest Egg is one of those general store-type places that offers a little bit of everything.

Inside this corner store you will find jewelry, magazines, toys, homemade spreads, camping gear, books on snowshoeing, hiking and camping in the Catskills, Christmas decorations and, last Sunday, belt buckles and bags of shells, each selling for a buck on the front porch.

The Nest Egg is one of those places perfectly suited for the visitor, but which is not bogged down by tacky tourist stuff. In fact, you seem to soak in as much Catskill Mountain color at The Nest Egg as you might by climbing a nearby mountain.

Art lovers can pop into The Arts Upstairs, a gallery on Main Street that offers a lot of space for artists.

Recently, part-time Phoenicia resident Marisela LaGrave projected images of her work, as well as video, out the second-floor window of The Arts Upstairs, onto a building across the street gutted by fire, but which she has wrapped in plastic. Upcoming projections are scheduled.

Also on Main Street are two eateries that offer patio seating, as well as a traditional dining room inside.

You will know you are outside Brio's by the rich, deep aroma of pizza fired in a brick oven.

And you can't miss the Sportsman's Alamo Cantina, a bar and grill. There is a monstrous statue of Davy Crockett out front that, like the Catskills surrounding Phoenicia, inspires awe but offers up an opportunity for fun.

Reach John W. Barry at jobarry@poughkeepsiejournal.com or 845-437-4822.

Tubers come and go at Town Tinker Tube Rental.

Tubers come and go at Town Tinker Tube Rental.

 

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