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Oliver Rich via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

8 Awesome Facts About the Catskills

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Oliver Rich via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The concrete jungle may be sprinkled with man-made parks and tree-lined streets, but the great outdoors? Not so much. Enter the Catskills, a mountainous region two hours north of Manhattan that boasts more than 6000 square miles of pristine, untouched nature. It’s the backdrop to Dirty Dancing, the nap site for Rip Van Winkle, and where more than 35 peaks rise above 3500 feet. As ski season kicks into high gear, we’ve compiled eight things you need to know about New York’s natural gem.

1. THERE ARE A LOT OF ANIMALS.

The Catskills are home to black bears, cougars, bobcats, coyotes, porcupines and (shudder) a variety of poisonous and non-poisonous snakes. Black bears can be found on nearly every mountain in the Catskills region, which has the highest black bear population in New York State. Cougars and bobcats have been spotted much less frequently.

And the snakes? Well, they’re just about everywhere. The majority of poisonous snakes are found in Ulster County, and there’s a particularly large population at the summit of Overlook Mountain.

2. IT HAS NORTH AMERICA'S LARGEST ZIP LINE …

Located at Hunter Mountain, New York Zipline has the largest zip line canopy tour in North America. Their zip lines reach up to 650 feet long and 60 feet above the forest floor, and visitors can even enjoy a night zipping under the stars with their moonlight tours.

3. … AND THE WORLD'S LARGEST KALEIDOSCOPE.

The brainchild of '60s psychedelic artist Isaac Abrams and his son Raphael, a digital artist, the 60-foot-tall Kaatskill Kaleidoscope is the world’s largest, walk-through kaleidoscope. More than 20 people can fit inside the kaleidoscope—a former grain silo—for an energetic show of colors, music, and trippy images. As it goes with roadside stops, there are plenty of mini kaleidoscope souvenirs on your way out.

4. RIP VAN WINKLE SLEPT IT OFF HERE.

Washington Irving’s iconic story of Rip Van Winkle took place in the Catskills region. In the story, Van Winkle lived in the village of Catskill, which is where he took his notoriously long nap. Today, the legend of Rip Van Winkle continues to live on in the Catskills, with the Rip Van Winkle Wine and Cheese Festival in May, the Rip Van Winkle Golf Trail, and a statue of the beloved sleeper himself atop Hunter Mountain.

5. THE CATSKILL 3500 CLUB REQUIRES HIGH-PEAK CREDENTIALS.

The Catskills region has the perfect challenge for outdoor adventurers: the Catskill 3500 Club. Membership comes at a strenuous price—you have to climb all 35 of the Catskills’ peaks above 3500 feet—but the soreness and struggle come with some pretty immaculate views (and bragging rights).

6. MOUNTAIN STONE WAS USED IN THE CONSTRUCTION OF BIG APPLE ICONS.

While the Catskills are 100-some miles from New York City, they’re a foundational part of some of the Big Apple’s most iconic landmarks. Bluestone, an extremely hard, durable, fine-grained sandstone, is found throughout the region and was used in the construction of the Empire State Building and the base of the Statue of Liberty.

7. NOBODY PUT BABY IN A CORNER IN THE CATSKILLS. (THINK FURTHER SOUTH.)

When it comes to stellar entertainment, the Catskills—a.k.a. the Borscht Belt—had a storied history for many decades before Dirty Dancing, released in 1987 and set in 1963, revived its reputation. But it turns out that infamous summer at Kellerman’s didn’t happen in the Catskills at all. The actual movie shoot took place more than 500 miles south, in Pembroke, Virginia. Nonetheless, the movie helped elevate the profile of this beautiful region once again.

8. IT'S HOME TO A VARIETY OF BREWERIES, WINERIES, AND DISTILLERIES.

It’s easy to imbibe in the Catskills with breweries like the Catskill Brewery, wineries like Windham Vineyards, and spirits crafters Catskill Distilling Company, which is located right across from the farm where the infamous 1969 Woodstock music festival was held (in Bethel, not Woodstock, despite the name). The Catskills get extra hoppy in April when the annual TAP NY beer fest—the largest craft beer festival in New York—takes place at Hunter Mountain.

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How Far Out of Town Can You Get in an Hour? This Map Will Tell You
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Sitting through traffic on a Friday is no fun. Depending on where you live, though, it could either be a minor headache, or a traumatic event on par with heading to the airport the day before Thanksgiving. The Washington Post recently mapped out just how far you can get out of town on a Friday afternoon in major American cities in just one hour.

The Post’s Sahil Chinoy used traffic information culled from cell phones and car sensors by the location data company Here Technologies to map out travel times from downtown neighborhoods at 4 p.m., 7 p.m., and 10 p.m., showing how car travel varies by city and time on a Friday night. (They’re all estimates based on July 28 data.)

A U.S. map shows blue radii around cities illustrating a travel time of one hour in a car at 4 p.m. on a Friday.
Sahil Chinoy // The Washington Post

Unsurprisingly, considering geography and city culture, the answer can vary a lot. Compare Southern California and Northern California, for instance. In L.A., well-known for its horrendous traffic, an hour can’t even get you through the county. You’ll be able to travel 25 miles in that time period, at best—probably while suffering through that weird phenomenon where all the cars on the road slow down for seemingly no reason. But in Sacramento, you speed through up to 50 miles at rush hour. (You can get more than 50 miles from Las Vegas, too, but it’ll mostly land you in the middle of the desert.)

Some cities remain active long into the night, too, while others empty out right after the workday ends. In New York City, you can’t even get past the New Jersey suburbs at 4 p.m., and that doesn't change much as the night goes on. In most other cities, though, there's much less traffic by 10 p.m. compared to the late afternoon and evening. In Boston, for instance, you can travel 25 miles farther if you leave at 10 p.m. compared to leaving at 4 p.m.

The map shows what you probably already expected: In cities that were built around the car, it is, for the most part, easier to get out of town. Older cities on the East Coast like Philadelphia or Baltimore have tiny one-hour radiuses, while cities in Texas and the Midwest are easier to navigate behind the wheel.

Geography matters a lot, too. Cities that are built around water tend to be harder to escape from, like San Francisco, Seattle, and New York. If you only have a few bridges that lead out of town, they’re going to get clogged with traffic, while a city with several large highway arteries can move more people. Miami is virtually impossible to travel from because the city is wedged between the ocean and the Everglades.

That traffic time does more than just eat into your weekend plans. It’s really bad for your health. You’re essentially stewing in emissions, and long commutes on a regular basis are associated with stress, high blood pressure, and obesity. That may be fine if you’re trying to get out of the city for a weekend in the country every once in a while, but if you’re just trying to get home on a Friday night, that’s a different story.

For a closer look at the data and how it varies based on the time of day, see Chinoy’s graphics at The Washington Post.

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Take a Tour of Singapore's Incredible Supertree Grove
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There aren't many parks like Supertree Grove. Tucked inside Gardens by the Bay, a nature park in Singapore comprised of 250 acres of reclaimed land, Supertree Grove is a futuristic colony featuring 18 manmade tree-like vertical gardens, which are home to more than 160,000 plants, including more than 200 varieties of bromeliads, orchids, ferns, and tropical flowering climbers.

Visitors to the park are encouraged to walk from one tree to the next along a raised path overlooking the city. At night, the photovoltaic systems built into the supertrees light up with solar power, covering the area in dazzling purple hues.

Supertree Grove was commissioned by the Singapore government as a way to improve the quality of life for its residents, but they seem to have achieved more than that: the park has become a must-see site for horticulture enthusiasts and curious travelers from all over the world.

You can see more of these Supertrees in the video from Great Big Story below:

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