The Ramble in Central Park
A Wilderness West of Fifth


The Ramble in Central Park - NY Times Review - Gallery - Purchase

Every few years, at Thanksgiving, I travel to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to photograph the scenery and wildlife in the company of my aunt, who at the age of 98 is a working photographer based in Jackson. Three years ago I returned from such a visit and wandered into the Ramble. It was late fall, and the vistas had opened as the dense foliage of summer had fallen. I could not help but think how extraordinary it was to have here in the heart of Manhattan this wild area fronting on a beautiful lake. I contemplated the photographic potential of the area, and how even a pocket like the Ramble could contain on a small scale many of the features that the vast tracts of Wyoming offer. (My aunt will ask to see the photos of the moose and the bear and the elk!)

So I set out to photograph the Ramble through the changing seasons, concentrating on the unfolding of spring with its light green leaves and it’s flowers, the development of fall with rapidly changing colors and views, and the snows of winter that transform the Ramble into another, unrecognizable world. I used for the project a Rolleiflex with an f 3.5, 75 mm Zeiss Tessar lens, and a Canon G-10 with an f 2.8 lens and 5X zoom. (I discovered how to meet strangers in the park: the older folk greet you with “Wow, a Rollei,” and the younger people ask “Hey, what’s that?”) 

In a lengthy July, 1860, essay about the Ramble, a New York Times reporter had two very serious complaints: the paucity of benches, and an absence of signs showing the visitor how to get OUT of the Ramble! There are still no signs, and it is still not easy to get out exactly when or where you want to. The reason is simple: the Ramble’s designers’ goal was to make this small area of 38 acres seem large and complex by utilizing winding, twisting paths, and shrubbery and rock hills that blocked visibility. So there is really no logical way to organize a tour of the Ramble, and likewise there absolutely no way to give directions to someone in the Ramble. Our challenge was to find a way to organize the photographs with some coherency. The solution: we created four imaginary “neighborhoods” within the Ramble. (Thank you, Abbeville.) Hopefully these, in concert with Chris Kaeser’s remarkable map, will enable a visitor to unravel the topography of the Ramble with relative ease. Chris’s map, specially prepared for this book, is the most comprehensive I have seen.

Our neighborhoods move, with some imprecision, from east to west. The first includes the Point, which is easily accessed from the Loeb Boathouse Restaurant, and it’s northern rock fields, including Balance Rock and Hackberry Hill. The second area includes the Riviera, Bow Bridge, the Rustic Shelter, the Oven, and Warbler Rock. The third is the Valley (if I might use Wyoming terminology) of the Gill Creek, from the small, still pool nestled in rocks at it’s source, to Azalea Pond, then through fields, through channels in bedrock, and finally to the dramatic Gorge, where it enters the Lake. The fourth neighborhood is simply The West. It is accessed by Bank Rock Bridge, and includes the Arch, the Cave, the Inlet, Mugger’s Woods, and the Upper Lobe.

I am inordinately proud of my collaborators in this project. Their love for the Ramble is palpable. Doug Blonsky, who has devoted his life to the park; Cal Vornberger, the outstanding wild life photographer; Regina Alvarez, who can name any plant in the Ramble for you before you finish asking; Sidney Horenstein, whose knowledge of the complex geology of the Ramble is outstanding; Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, the founding president of the Central Park Conservancy; and of course E. B. White and C. Stevens, not strictly collaborators but very much with us in spirit, as undisputed victors in the Battle of the Ramble. (You’ll find out more about that in a minute.) 

As this book has developed I have had the opportunity to discuss it with many New Yorkers, including some who can see the Ramble from their apartments. I am amazed that many have never visited this magical place, and many did not even recognize the name. I hope this book will open new vistas for the enjoyment of The Ramble for New Yorkers and visitors alike.

© Copyright 2016 Robert A McCabe