My fellow explorer and I discussed many possibilities of where to go this Saturday. He sent me a link about the Freedom Tunnel (much less patriotic than it sounds). It’s an Amtrak train tunnel that runs underneath Riverside Park and is home to some apparently quite famous graffiti. Both of us were a bit freaked out by the possibility of getting hit by a train, caught trespassing, or in a confrontation with a homeless resident, so we decided to explore above the Freedom Tunnel instead.
We met at the north end of Riverside Park and took an underpass to get on the west side of Riverside Drive. I have to say it again – I love this old stonework.
We walked south along the drive for a while, since the path further west seemed to be closed. It looked sort of like a construction area, but that hadn’t been touched for a while.
We came across this structure made of stone between our path in the park and the road. It took me a few minutes of peering into its “windows” and cracks to realize its purpose: a shelter for floodlights for the church tower behind it! I was surprised and glad that the architect(?) chose such a grand, imposing style for such a modest purpose. Perhaps it was under a mandate to match the rest of the park’s architectural features?
When it was possible again we descended into the heart of the park. While walking down we passed a middle-aged couple walking up. The woman followed the man and they both walked purposefully on the curb, not on the stairs. Such a simple thing delighted me. It was like a dance improvisation, a childlike exploration like the “keep off the floor” or “don’t step on a crack” games. It reminded me too of how I think I appear on my explorations: enjoying the space in a way you wouldn’t quite expect to see. Thank you, couple, whoever you are!
We reached the bottom of the stairs into the park. Tennis courts were to our right, the Henry Hudson Parkway in front of us, through the trees. I walked straight ahead, at first to look at the traffic go by, but then noticed a grate in the middle of the grass. What was that? I sat in a corner of the metal grating and looked down through it. It was the Freedom Tunnel! A thrilling moment. The train tracks sat quiet and it smelled like dank, abandoned building. My exploring buddy and I sat and talked here as I took in the space. I decided I badly wanted to watch a train go underneath the grate so Amtrak schedules were researched on smartphones. “3:45,” he said. “What time is it now?” “2:15”. Ah, we could catch that later. Just as we were ready to move on, a train horn sounded in the distance. I made quizzical face. What train was that? Before I knew it, a rush of that cold, musty air hit me right in the face. I may have squee-ed or screamed. I put my face up to the grate and saw the train rush by, right below me. The silvery top of the Amtrak car seemed out of place in the formerly desolate tunnel. What luck that we caught it!
That satisfied, we continued walking. There were joggers and dog walkers out. It was a nice day!
We eventually came to a sort of plaza with a lookout to the highway. There were steps down to another platform below that were blocked off, but it looked too intriguing and not too dangerous so we snuck down. It made sense that this was closed off though—the landing at the bottom of the stairs on both sides was cracked and sunken in, leaving big holes in the floor! The train tracks ran under the plaza, so now sort of next to us. No trains came by then, but we could see inside through five large archways. There were two half-walls surrounding the train tracks, so we couldn’t actually see them. Leading up from under the center archway was an indentation, a sort of valley perpendicular to the tracks. Looking over the side of the lower platform we were on we saw a door that must lead into this trench. The door was labeled with a big parks department sign, “RIVERSIDE PARK.” How strange that it should imply this locked door leading into the train tunnel was marked as if it led into the park! What was this indentation for, maintenance purposes? Once inside, how does one cross the tracks—are those doors through the two half-walls?
We crept back up the stairs and continued our walk. To our right were recreation areas: basketball, soccer, even a skate park. To our left, stairs back up to the street level. Big, old trees everywhere, sometimes flanking our path in formal rows.
Further still we came across the Peter Jay Sharp Volunteer House. It’s a vaguely praire-style house, apparently recently(?) quite improved. So much more beautiful than any tool shed/meeting space I’ve ever seen!
The time neared 3:45, so we found the closest grate to wait for the train. Where we had reached in the park the grates were in a sort of 2×2 pattern such that they were on either side of the actual tracks. I went far to the east side of the eastern grate to look at an angle to the west to see the train tracks. It was a different view than last time, though I felt the same rush. This time I took a picture. I thought about taking the train just one stop so I could be in the tunnel. Maybe I will sometime.
Though the park continues way south, 96th Street seemed like a logical place to exit. We were hungry and the sun was starting to threaten to set. I watched the traffic for a minute at the 96th Street on/off ramp to/from the Henry Hudson. I remembered how dangerous that interchange was from having driven it many times. When I started to complain about bad driving, my co-explorer whisked me away.
Being back in the thick of the city after spending so much time in the park was strange, like a different world. Food was consumed and I took the 1 train from 103rd Street uptown to the car around 125th Street. I’ve never gotten off the train at 125th, though passed through the station many times. I geeked out a little bit about the elevated tracks on such a high bridge and snapped a picture of the tall escalator.