Wednesday, July 1, 2015


Being  from a small town in rural Arkansas, I probably would have never heard of this place, if it hadn't been for a phone call from my sister several years ago, that she made to me while sitting on the magnificent covered veranda of the resort. ( She was taken there by the daughter of her traveling companion, who lived just a short distance from the resort.)  After my sister described what an incredible location it was,( and with much consternation over the spelling of the word), a "Google" search started my quest to see this place in person.  The first step in my "Mohonk Quest" research was to check out their official website, .

I learned that the resort was started in 1869 by two Quaker twin brothers, Alfred and Albert Smiley.  This photo shows the Skytower overlooking the resort, that is also called the Smiley Tower.  The area is part of the Shawangunk Ridge (also called "The Gunks"), and consists of a ridge of bedrock that forms a section of the Appalachian Mountains.  It is located 90 miles north of New York City, near the town of New Paltz, and on the west side of the Hudson River.  In fact, the Shawangunk Ridge around Lake Mohonk was a popular subject of several Hudson River School of painters.   

The rustic A-shaped pavilion provides a transitional space between the lodging facilities, and the marina area, where you can use the canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards to cruise around the lake.  It is unlikely you will get lost on the lake, as it is just half a mile long, and relatively shallow, at 60 feet deep. 

This side of the hotel looks out over the Catskill Mountain Range, while the opposite side looks out over the lake.  As you can see, many of the rooms have balconies.  The edifice, sometimes described as a "Victorian Castle" has been the backdrop for many television and movie stories.  One of the Mohonk film credits is from the 1994 movie The Road to Wellville and  it caught my eye because of its subject matter.  It is about the hilarious situations that occur at a health sanitarium that the Kellogg family built in Battle Creek, Michigan, about one hundred years ago.  The reason it was significant to me, is because I got to visit that REAL sanitarium in Michigan that the movie is based on, and wrote about it (along with lots of photos!) on this blog.  You can find it in my blog archives with the date of August 25, 2012.

Inside the lobby, you will see many displays of historical interest.  The model shown in this photo gave me a "bird's eye" view of how the property was laid out, in relation to the lake and surrounding landscape. 

This was one of the most unusual and beautiful stone arches I have ever seen, because of the large, unsymmetrical nature of the stones.  It made a graceful frame for the lush grounds surrounding the lake.  Because of the Smileys' love for the outdoor life, the area around the hotel was treated as an integral part of the attractions of the resort. 

Much of this area was planned as an experiment in conservation of the natural environment, and as an educational tool for the study of botany, geology, and outdoor living. 

The calm waters of the lake make it an excellent location to practice your SUP (Stand-up Paddleboarding) skills!  

There are many miles of hiking trails on the resort property, and the surrounding Mohonk Preserve .  The Mohonk Preserve is New York State's largest visitor and member supported natural preserve, with 8,000 acres of protected cliffs, forest, fields, ponds, and streams. 

I happened to be visiting the week of Independence Day, so there were plenty of patriotic banners decorating the grounds.  The guestbook of the Mohonk House includes many  U.S. Presidents, so it is very fitting to pay tribute to our nation's signing of the Declaration of Independence, at a location where so many presidents have slept!

For those who were not familiar with the history of the Mohonk Mountain House, this timeline provided explanations and photographs of its origins.  The fact that it was founded by Quakers, a Christian movement with a basis in the belief of the Priesthood of all believers (from I Peter 2:9), and conscientious objectors to military service, might have played a factor in the role that the Smiley family played in the establishment of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.  The Quakers were also very concerned about the well-being of Native Americans and from 1883-1916 was the location of an annual conference to improve the living standards of American Indians.  Albert Smiley was part of the U.S. Commission on Indian Affairs, and hosted the conference each year.  When I read about the Quaker's concern for Native Americans, and also that one of the first "satellite" Quaker missions was in Oregon, it made me understand a statement from an elderly cousin I had who lived in Oregon.  He told me that as a young man, he was influenced by the Quakers he knew, who had come to his rural area of Oregon to minister to the Indians there.  Up until my cousin told me that story, I had mostly associated the Quakers with Pennsylvania. 

Before I ever arrived at Mohonk House, I had read about their magnificent gardens, so visiting them was a priority for my time at the resort, and I was not disappointed!  The round sphere that reminds one of the shape of the earth, with all its diverse nations that make it up, is a reminder to mention that in 1994, the Mohonk House received the U.N. Environment Program Award in honor of 125 years of stewardship of their little section of our beautiful earth! 

There are several acres of formal gardens, so it is nice to have park benches placed throughout the grounds, for the purpose of resting and meditation.

Even though there was a fine mist falling when I was visiting the gardens, it did not keep the families away from exploring the area!

I have visited many formal gardens, but I do not recall ever seeing an all- stone sentry tower as beautiful as this one. 
I once participated in a photography seminar where the leader asked each of us in the class, "Why do you take pictures?"  There were many interesting responses, and one person said, "to prove I have been to a particular place."  I think that is why "selfies" are so popular---people want to "prove" they have been to a certain place, or been by the side of a famous celebrity.  So here is my "selfie", to prove I was successful in my "Mohonk Quest"!!  And I want to assure you, it was not easy!  When I read the room rates on the Internet, I knew there was no way I was going to devote that much of my travel budget for a hotel room, so I started looking at other options.  I read that one can buy a hiking pass for the grounds, but it does not allow you to set foot inside the hotel or in the lake; however, I decided the hiking pass was my best option.   I had read that if one does not get to the parking lot very early, you might not even be able to buy a hiking pass, because the numbers sold are limited to a designated quota.  I had also read that the hotel was a bit remote, and sometimes difficult for "newbies" to find.  For that reason, I decided to do a "trial run" of finding the place, as soon as I arrived in New Paltz, New York, after two days straight of driving from Arkansas.  It was getting late in the afternoon, but after a few wrong turns, I found myself at the entrance gate, with a smiling Mohonk staff member, clipboard in hand, waiting to find my name on their guest list.  I literally begged the young woman to allow me to go in and have supper at the hotel, since it was too late to buy a hiking pass. I explained how I had just driven in all the way from Arkansas, and I wanted with all my heart to see this famous "American Castle" I had heard so much about!   She called her supervisor to see if they could make such an exception.   I did not know what the outcome would be, but I had determined that no matter what the meal cost, I was going to "bite the bullet" and pay it, so that I could see inside!

By the grace of God (and after a check of my photo I.D, and running my credit card through their system), they allowed me to purchase a supper meal ticket, saying they had space for me, since it was a week night.  The price of the buffet meal was $86.  Granted, it is the most I have ever paid for a buffet ( unless you count the $100 per plate charity  fund-raising affairs I sometimes attend)!  My frugal mindset of "eat enough to get your money's worth" was battling against my knowledge that if I ate too much, too fast, my medical history of reactive hypoglycemia might kick in, and cause me to pass out, amongst a roomful of startled strangers!  I kept reminding myself of the "Mindful Eating" practices I had learned from reading the blog by one of the family members of the hotel's founding Smiley family---Dr. Nina Smiley---who teaches extensively on the topic of Mindful Eating( ).  As a Registered Dietitian, I have shared some of her behavior tips with the healthy living class I lead, called First Place 4 Health (  ).  I am pleased to report that the food was delightful, the view of the Catskill mountains from the dining room was magnificent, and the wait staff treated me like royalty!  This reference to being "treated like royalty" reminds me of one of the commentaries I read about the I Peter 2:9 verse I mentioned earlier, as being a founding principle of those of the Quaker Faith (also called "Friends").  "But you are a chosen people, a ROYAL priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."  I find it reassuring to read that the Bible says that Christ-followers truly are "ROYALTY"!!   (By the way, I ate very mindfully, and hence DID NOT pass out!  YEA!)
This relaxing veranda on the west side of the hotel is a popular place to "rock out" any stress and frustrations that may be weighing down guests.  Since it is located just 90 miles north of the bustling, crowded, stress-filled streets of Manhattan, I can understand why people are willing to pay so much money to come stay at the Mohonk Mountain House.  It was a reminder to me that the time I spend in the serenity of my own back porch in the Ozark Mountains of  Arkansas, is priceless, and makes me much more appreciative of it!

I knew that it would be a little risky driving the narrow mountain road back to New Paltz after dark, dodging deer that might run out in front of me.  However, I did not want to miss a single moment of daylight, as I completed my "Mohonk Quest".  The pink hues of the evening sky were the last photographs I took during my visit to Mohonk Mountain House.  My visit there gave me "MILES OF SMILES"!!