Charlie Parker blows Scrapple From The Apple through our radio as Route 32 carries us into the artists’ and antiques colony of New Hope. Fitting, as the bebop pioneer once made a home here in this lazy river town. It’s the heart of what some folks still call “the genius belt.” Hammerstein, Buck, Meade, Michener, Perelman and Dorothy Parker are just a few of the artists who lived in these parts. Along with a portfolio of painters: impressionists and modernists and every genre of brilliance.
We see for ourselves at the Michener Art Museum, where we gaze over beautiful landscapes and watercolors of canal barges and the steam trains that still take passengers over the hills and through the Bucks County woods. Just outside the museum, a mighty locomotive begins to pull four restored luxury cars full of gawking day-trippers along the New Hope/Ivyland Railroad.
A few blocks ahead is Gerensers, the ramshackle ice cream parlor that once boasted “exotic” flavors such as Wild Rhubarb and Cherries for George. We settle for butterscotch and find the Coryell Ferry ready to cruise the Delaware River just out back.
“Welcome aboard,” shouts our river pilot, not for the first or last time today. His long flatboat pulls away from the ragtag dock, through dozens of ducks scrambling for a few tossed crumbs of ice cream cone. We’re off on a half-hour cruise, past a shoreline of sunbathing turtles and a doe and her three fawns. Looming osprey keep eagle eyes peeled for bass just below the Delaware’s surface.
Our pilot offers the mandatory life-jacket advice. “In the unlikely event that you fall overboard, we’ll toss you one of these,” he says, pulling a strap tight around his waist. “Or,” he winks, “you can simply stand up and walk carefully to the most convenient shore.” Turns out the Delaware’s no more than 3 feet deep around here, and clear as gin.
Next morning, after a good night at The Logan Inn (whose legendary ghosts fail to disturb our sleep, thanks no doubt to a couple gin-river inspired martinis) we’re heading upriver on 32, then north on 263 to a slight diversion at the old-time Rice’s Sale. Rice’s is a humongous open-air flea market, and spans acres and acres every Tuesday morning the year round. Historically an antiques and collectables market, Rice’s now may be the world’s largest dollar store. Table after table, tent after tent loaded with handbags, t-shirts, tube socks, perfume, all manner of mops and brooms and household necessities at bargain prices.
We chew fresh hot pretzel braids and window-shop al fresco on a beautiful morning. There’s just the enamel percolator we’ve been looking for. We pocket a silver sugar bowl and 12 tube socks for a fin. Then we get back to the river while the gettin’s good.
Route 32 is called the River Road for good reason. From where Washington crossed the Delaware that cold Christmas night, all the way toward the broad-backed city of Easton, 32 hugs the river shore with the sharp twists and turns of history. It keeps a lazy Delaware canal between our ragtop and the river.
Lunchtime turns up at Dilly’s Corner, a riverside shake shack where we dally over sweet little burgers and grab chocolate malts to go. Point the ragtop north, past 18th-century inns, cozy general stores, campgrounds and boat ramps where busloads of “tubers” slide into the gentle river on giant rubber doughnuts for a sleepy current cruise. We spy one group with an extra tube bobbing with a cooler of cold ones. Our kind of river rats.
Past tiny Erwinna, with its covered bridge, and past Uhlerstown, home to another. Past canal locks and waterfalls and signs warning of falling rock from the cliffs above. Our destination: weird geology.
Just past the bridge to Milford we bang a left onto Bridgeton Hill Road, then a right onto Ringing Rocks Road to a county park unlike any we’ve ever seen. Sturdy climbing shoes and a strong hammer are a must here, as Ringing Rocks Park is a moonscape of boulders, nearly a dozen acres worth, lying in stark contrast to the surrounding Bucks County woods. Good shoes help us scamper among the rocks and the hammer lets us discover the weird charm of these rocks.
They chime like church bells.
Some are chipped nearly white; a sign of popularity among swinging hammers and tire irons. Clang! Bong! We find three good ones that sound the old NBC jingle: ding-dong-ding.
Beyond this odd rock festival is a woodsy trail to a tumbling waterfall. We imagine stealthy Delaware Indians, the first humans to revel in this beautiful sight. At least three stories tall, the falls pour with a teeming head into the glen below. Reminds us that we have reservations just up the road apiece, in a country inn whose happy taproom calls our name.
The late afternoon finds us dreaming bells and boulders during a porch doze at the Indian Rock Inn. Here’s a beauty of an inn, just across from the canal. And with a suppertime river view we chow down on Chef Val’s perfect escargot. We wolf lamb chops and wash ‘em down with a bottle of red from a wine list priced as far from the city as the Indian Rock itself.
The Inn’s taproom – The Barking Dog Saloon - lures us for a nightcap, and it’s here where our arts and oddball music journey comes full circle. Local fingerpickers line up at the open mike and the evening whirls with feisty fiddle tunes, Irish jigs and bawdy parlor sing-alongs. Glasses fill for us on the house and new friends with big grins slap our backs in welcome. Goodnight Irene, goodnight.
Life is good along the river, where tomorrow there’s more to come as the ragtop looks further north. Along the way we’ll look for you around the bends and back roads.
Here's where to eat, sleep and what to see along the way. When you find something great, please share it with us. For the whole maps and a slew of photos, check us out at www.visitpa.com/shunpiker.
The Logan Inn
Chef Pete Gialias runs this 16-room inn dating from 1727. Sixteen rooms, a fine restaurant, happy tavern and great outdoor dining. Plus a central location that lets you park free and walk everywhere. 10 W. Ferry St. New Hope. 215.862.2300. www.loganinn.com
Make like Washington and cruise the Delaware! You’ll find it out back of Gerenser’s Ice Cream at 22 S. Main St. 215.862.2050.
Michener Art Museum
A real treat, especially for $4. Rotating exhibits of great painters and a cool tour of the creative minds of Bucks County’s “genius belt.” Union Square on Bridge Street. 215.862.7633. www.michenermuseum.org.
Andre Le Noble’s eclectic menu is a fusion of his native France, Asia and Latin America. Sounds confusing, but it’s muy delicioso. Beautiful patio dining, too. (We had fabulous politically incorrect foie gras.) 5 W. Mechanic Street. 215.862.5851. www.zoubinewhope.com.
Rice’s Sale and Market
If you can’t find it here, you don’t need it. Tuesday mornings only, no matter what the weather. Off the beaten track at 6362 Greenhill Road on the outskirts of New Hope. Directions at www.ricesmarket.com.
Every day along the river is a beautiful day for a Dilly Dog and a chocolate malt. Where Rts. 32 and 263 converge just north of New Hope. 215.862.5333. Learn more at www.Hollyeats.com/Dillys.
River Country Canoes and Tubes
Channel your inner Huck Finn with an inner tube. “River Dan” hauls you up river in a bus and sends you floating back to base where great barbecue’s waiting on the grill. Maybe the laziest day you’ll ever spend. 2 Walters Lane in Point Pleasant, 8 miles north of New Hope. 215.297.5000. www.rivercountry.net
Ringing Rocks Park
Bring a hammer or swing a tire iron and ring them rocks! A beautiful spot for a hike through the woods and a picnic lunch. On Ringing Rocks Road, just west of 32 in Upper Black Eddy. Check out this site for more info: www.unmuseum.org/ringrock.htm
The Indian Rock Inn
Tom and Beverly Schweder make us feel right at home. No phones, no tv, just a lazy river view and great food from Chef Val Gerischer’s kitchen. Bring your guitar or banjo and sing along with the jam session at the Inn’s Barking Dog Saloon.
2206 River Road in Upper Black Eddy. 610.982.9600. www.indianrockinn.com