New York State Route 97 traces the serpentine path of the Delaware River in Upstate New York, and is no doubt a particularly pleasant and scenic way to travel from Port Jervis to Hancock and all points in between. And it is along this highway, just four miles north of Port Jervis, that you will find one particularly picturesque and astonishing stretch of road, known as the Hawk’s Nest Highway.
Route 97 was built in a kind of patchwork manner, and it took much longer than expected. Most of Route 97 follows a shoreline path along the Delaware at roughly water level. This was impossible for the Hawk’s Nest portion, though, as the shoreline right-of-way was owned by the Erie Railroad and they refused to sell. Thus, the only option was the pave an already-existing narrow dirt road that ran along the shoulder of the bluffs towering over the river valley.
The resulting stretch of highway offers a twisting, rolling, breathtaking ride. Hawk’s Nest Highway is frequently featured as a destination for drivers and motorcyclists alike, and has been used to shoot ads for Porsche, BMW, Saab, Cadillac, and Honda. This stunning ribbon of asphalt did not come cheap; once completed in 1939, the building costs for Route 97 totaled $4 million (roughly $68 million in 2016 dollars), of which $2 million was spent on the Hawk’s Nest portion (which comprises maybe 1/60th of the entire route). Much of this cost was due to the enormous retaining wall needed to serve as a platform for the road. Portions of the retaining wall consist of remnants of the Delaware and Hudson Canal.
Hawk’s Nest Highway takes its name from the Hawk’s Nest scenic location, found just off the road and providing a good vantage point for taking in the panorama. Hawk’s Nest, according to Wikipedia, is named after “the birds of prey that nest in the area,” and not, sadly, after Twin Peaks sheriff’s deputy Tommy “Hawk” Hill.
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