Coloring the Void

living nomadically

Archive for the category “National Historic Site”

Letting the Days go by

We made the quick jump from south of Boston to north of Boston with no problems and little traffic, landing in Salisbury Beach State Reservation. The campground was the opposite in every way from Wompatuck State Park. The sites were wide open, close together, and had electric and power. While it wasn’t as close together as a typical tourist area private RV Park, they were really close together for a state park. Looking back at our pictures, neither Mike nor I stopped to snap a few of the campground. Probably too excited to be back at the beach!sal61sal62

We did quite a bit of touring in the area, and not much hanging at the beach, though. There are so many wonderful towns to check out!

We went as far north as Cape Porpoise, a village just past Kennebunkport, a town we loved when we had visited about 15 years ago. It is still a beautiful town, though it is getting kind of crowded. On the way back, we drove Shore Road, where the Bush compound is located and stopped to admire the view.

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Pier 77/Chowder House restaurant entrances. Too bad it was 10AM, too early for chowder.

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Views along the Maine coast

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more views from Maine

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and yet another. Can you blame me? The coast is beautiful!

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St. Ann’s Episcopal Church – right on the coast with a beautiful ocean view.

Our favorite town to visit in that area of Massachusetts is Rockport. It is a beautiful little town right on the coast with some of the best lobster rolls outside Maine.

For me, this is the perfect New England coastal town to set down roots – too far from a city to commute but close enough to a city to visit, plenty of things to do and places to eat, and an unhurried attitude in the people who live there. If only it wasn’t so far North! Though the weather is somewhat tempered by the sea, the winters still get a little too cold.

We also passed through Gloucester, a town that used to be my favorite New England town. Over the years, it has gotten so big and so crowded, it is hard to even find one’s way around, let alone find a place to park. We did manage a spot down at the waterfront where we waited out some of the traffic before heading back to camp.

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We didn’t spend much time in Surfside, a beach town right next to Salisbury Beach. Our initial first impression was that it was a miniature version of Ocean City, MD and we just weren’t in the mood for crowds and boardwalk fries. We did run around Newburyport though most of our time there was checking out the boats. We were still debating the merits of different traveling styles and whether or not being live aboards was a viable option.

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We even managed a stop in Salem for a day. Unfortunately, we picked the one day a week the Peabody is closed. We did manage lunch and a beer at Beer Works. We weren’t thrilled with the fruit beers (a little perfumy) but the pale ale and the witch city red were good.

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One of the historic wharves of Salem.

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The Burying Point cemetery, right next to the Witches’ Memorial.

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The “Friendship of Salem” just before the haul out.

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Stickworks, art by Patrick Dougherty

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Because buried deep inside my brain somewhere is Beavis. Or Butthead.

Most of the time we were in Salem, our thoughts were on getting to the local ASPCA. We had finally decided we didn’t want to live without a dog or two in our lives any longer and we wanted to find a dog that needed a family. We struck out in Salem. There were only five dogs in their shelter, all pit bulls. The wonderful volunteer did tell us that they would be receiving a ‘shipment’ by the end of the week, but we would be gone by then. As we would find all over New England, there aren’t as many dogs needing families up here as there are down south so the shelters here rescue them and get them shipped north. We decided we would continue to look as we headed north anyway.

We had a great time in Salisbury Beach. The weather was perfect, fellow campers are friendly, and there is a lot to do in the area (maybe too much). Some day we may return and will definitely include this campground in our list of places to stay.

 

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Have you ever seen the rain…

It wasn’t the shadowy, buried in trees, sites that I didn’t like. It wasn’t the lack of water or adequate power (20 Amp only). It wasn’t even the location. But I still came away with a bad taste in my mouth about Wompatuck State Park. Plenty of people love it; the reviews are great. We had no problems with the lack of water as we arrived with full tanks and had a spigot right next to our site. The 20 Amp power didn’t bother us as we shunted off all our 12V needs to the batteries (by turning off the converter) and ran those off solar. And the trees were kind of nice during the day when it was in the 80s. There was something else.

On arrival put out our awning as it was cloudy and we heard drizzling through the copious trees. We thought nothing about it and, after lunch, we went up to the park headquarters to scope out some hiking trails. We were prepared to ignore the warnings about a new (?) tick disease (Anaplasmosis) that people were worried about as people tend to get worried about the most unlikely things. Crossing the parking lot (the large very empty parking lot) the sound of drizzling grew louder. I looked up – no definite clouds in the sky, just a slight haze from the heat. The drizzling sound grew louder. I looked up again, towards the tree in front of me. I looked at the leaves to see if rain drops were hitting them because they weren’t hitting me. Hmmm, there aren’t many leaves. And the sound grew louder. And then I was right under the tree, looking up, and a caterpillar fell on my shoulder. And it hit me. I looked up. I looked closer. ARGH! I ran out from under the tree as quickly as I could. The sound. The missing leaves.  I looked down, trying to avoid them with each step but it was impossible.  I raced to the jeep.

“You know that drizzling sound?”

“Yeah.”

“Its not rain.”

“Huh. Okay. what is it?”

“Caterpillars. Thousands and thousands of caterpillars.”

“No shit.”

“No shit.”

Actually, there was plenty of s$%t. When we got back to the campsite, the sound was even louder – instead of one lone large tree we had about 50 on our site, hanging over the picnic table, fire pit, rv, awning, car…everything. The picnic table was covered with tiny black specs – caterpillar poop. Since the fire pit was directly under trees, there was no way we were going to cook on it. We sat on our chairs under the awning listening to the ‘rain.’ After a few minutes, I looked over at Mike. He had a caterpillar on his shoulder and two on his leg. I sighed as I wiped two off my chair. It was going to be a long week.

Wompatuck Park, in spite of the caterpillars, is a pretty nice park, especially considering the fact that it is about 15 minutes outside Boston. It is close to the Hingham Ferry, which will take people right to the historic port area of Boston. There are plenty of bike trails and hiking trails all over the park. The sites are mostly large and private and while we were there, quiet. They have bathrooms with hot water showers that were well kept. I think, at any other time of year, we would really like this campground.

We decided to make the best of it. Besides, we had tickets to the Orioles/Red Sox game and we weren’t going to miss it.

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We got lucky and a ‘friend of a friend’ not only snagged us a primo parking space for the jeep, they took us on a tour of the Green Monster.

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The Green Monster

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The view from the Green Monster.

Fenway is a beautiful ball park. It seems much smaller and more intimate for games that Camden Yards but there is a ton of stuff to do and places to eat. We probably walked about ten miles just circling Fenway to see everything.

We had excellent seats right behind home plate. For us, being from Birdland, the prices were extremely steep. I completely understand why Boston fans come down to Camden Yards to see games.

The Orioles won! We had a great time at Fenway Park and could now cross another ballpark off our list.

We really had the urge to get out of the campground during the day so we headed down to Plymouth. We saw ‘the rock’ and the Mayflower II in its home.

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Plymouth Rock. Much greater in the mind than in reality.

We also did a lot of driving around, checking out the different towns, docks, and marinas. We fell in love with Scituate, MA.  It has an incredible small town feel with a marina that is probably bigger than the town. Being only 25 miles from Boston, it would be a great town to live in (for us).

Like Narragansett, RI, Scituate will be added to our list of “towns we would love to live in if we ever move where it snows.”

We were in Wompatuck over the weekend and unfortunately, the ferry from Hingham, a commuter ferry, runs only Monday through Friday. So our plan was to head in to Boston on Monday to see the historic sites, then leave on Tuesday. Monday morning I woke up and couldn’t take it any more. The “drizzling” had entered my brain so deeply nothing would drown it out. I was on the verge of having panic attacks because the trees were closing in. So, we pulled out at about 9AM. Luckily, there was a space available for the night at our next stop, Salisbury Beach State Park.

 

 

Watching the ships roll in

Scenes at the Cape Cod Railroad Bridge, the railroad crossing for the Cape Cod Canal. Trains still use it though we were never able to catch one on it. The bridge goes up and down, spending most of its time up for boat traffic.

At the Woods Hole Science Aquarium. It is free to get in and great for kids (or adults who love sea life). It isn’t very big but they do have touch tanks and lots of information. Mike and I both grew up on Jacques Cousteau and followed the explorations of Alvin, so  visiting Woods Hole was a no-brainer. The small town ended up being one of our favorites though we didn’t get to spend much time there.

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Probably the prettiest lighthouse we visited was Nobska Point Light just outside of Falmouth. The location is sublime (even in the rain) and just what one would expect of a New England Light house.

Falmouth is also a boating town, with a fairly large marina (by Cape Cod standards) and tons of mooring balls. They have a very good, small farmer’s market and a great, walkable downtown core. During our stay, we tried Maison Villatte for desert (amazing chocolate and almond croissants and bread). We had lunch at La Cucina Sul Mare and really enjoyed their lunch specials and their incredibly reasonable prices; definitely a place I would go back to. The food was prepared well. We met a friend for burgers and beer at Liam McGuire’s Irish Pub. Both were good as was the conversation. While we couldn’t stay for the daily live music we were assured that it was the big draw for the standing room only crowd. If you go, get there early!

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We thought the red boat would make a perfect Great Loop Boat. Its a little larger than we want but the big windows and all that deck space would be a wonderful place to watch the world drift by.

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Dexter Grist Mill in Sandwich. They still grind corn here, and they sell it, too. In the pond, we watched fish mark and protect their territory, making small circles free of debris which they circled to keep other fish out.

On another rainy day we passed through Barnstable and stopped at the Coast Guard Museum for a visit. Our actual reason for being there was the Old Jail, built in 1690. Its history is pretty cool but we didn’t get to see any of it – no one was there. It sits on the grounds of the Coast Guard Heritage Museum, so we wandered through that instead. The museum had displays starting from the beginning of the existence of the coast guards, right through modern times. What I found most fascinating was the light ships – boats that were constructed to be used as light houses where light houses couldn’t be built. Yes, I lead a sheltered life; I had never heard of them. There are none operating in the US (as commissioned light ships) at this time, but they can be found in places like New York, Virginia, Michigan, and Delaware. None currently on Cape Cod.

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See that little point sticking up on land way way over there (about center right in the image)? That is the Sandy Neck Lighthouse in Barnstable. Unless you have a boat, a resident sticker, or the ability to walk ten miles (round trip) in sand, that is as close as you can get to it. I had none of the above (okay, we could have walked the ten miles but had absolutely no desire to) and so we viewed it from the Barnstable Beach. Two things we noticed about parking on Cape Cod: the beach parking is expensive ($20/day, every day) and people go to parking lots and sit in their cars, especially parking lots with a view. All over Cape Cod, from the time we arrived to the time we left, there was not one parking lot we visited that did not have at least one car with a person in it just sitting. In some places, there were ten or more; some reading, some napping, some eating, some just staring. But there was always a person hanging out in their car. We go a lot of places. We have been all over the country and hung out in a lot of parking lots. But we have never seen anything like the parking lot vigils in Cape Cod.  Why? We will never know.

There was even a car parked at the Sargo Tower in Dennis. Okay, that is our jeep and it was us. The Scargo Tower was built specifically for the view. While we didn’t get the full view the day we were there, the view was pretty impressive. On a clear day, one can see all the way to Provincetown, which is where my camera was aimed for the bottom picture. We could see the Cape Cod Bay, but not any further.

We visited Chatham one day, a very pretty town at the elbow of Cape Cod. We caught the “Sharks in the Park” installation but missed out on the “Lifeboats in the Shops” scavenger hunt. I guess we don’t shop enough.  We managed to find (and get up close to) the Chatham Lighthouse and the beautiful beach attached.

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As you can see, the beach has some great sand bars off shore. From a map, it seems they stretch for miles. If we ever return, we will head here with our kayak. It looks like a great place to play Robinson Crusoe for a day.

We then headed up to Chatham Pier and Fish Market but it wasn’t open. We did get to see a few seals though, and a lot of work boats.

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If you want to buy a float, this is the place to do it. They also have wicked fudge. Eastham.

We also found another lighthouse, Nauset Light which had been moved a bit away from the coast. Fascinating fact about lighthouses – they each have their own light pattern. This enables boat/ship captains to verify their location at night or in fog when land masses can’t always be seen. This particular lighthouse is the one on the Cape Cod Potato Chip bag.ma301

We also spent an entire day wandering around Provincetown. It is like Key West of the North with the same funky beach vibe and far out people.

 

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This picture was taken a few hours earlier than the one before it. The streets get crowded as the day progresses.

The Pilgrim Memorial can be seen from just about everywhere in the town.

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The remains of the Provincetown Theatre

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We ate lunch at the Lobster Pot. Good food but pricey, a tourist location.

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lots and lots of boats in P-town.

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We also spent some time wandering the coast of Provincetown – there is a lot of it!

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The bay is taking back the land, including the parking lot. Way off in the distance (near center) is another lighthouse (Race Point Lighthouse).

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The causeway will take you to Woods End Light Station on the Provincetown Spit. The lighthouse is that bump above the couple’s head.

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Our two weeks on Cape Cod went very, very fast. We only saw and did about half of what we planned to. We never made it to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard. We didn’t spend a lot of time at Cape Cod National Seashore.  We didn’t eat a gazillion lobsters or gallons of chowder. Time got away from us. If we had been ‘vacationing’ for two weeks, we probably would have done all that and more but we would have been exhausted afterwards. We tried that last year in Alaska and burned out after about 10 weeks of non-stop go. So we took it easy in Cape Cod and still enjoyed every minute.

One thing Cape Cod did was solidify our desire for a boat. We spent hours looking at boats and debating the kind of boat we want. Like RVs, there isn’t a single boat that can do everything we want well. But there are a few that can do much of what we want well enough. Being raised around the Chesapeake Bay, we love gunkholing. Sailboats are very limited in their gunkholing ability (don’t tell a sailor that!) so we are looking at shallow draft trawlers. Our previous boat would float in 18 inches of water and we loved getting all the way into little creeks to hide away from the deep vee and sailboat crowds of the bay. With that settled, we debate on towable vs. non-towable and keep going back and forth, debating live aboard size vs. ability to drag the boat around the country visiting water from coast to coast. Depending on the day, we vote for one or the other. Some day we will figure it out. Or, the perfect boat will magically appear in front of us one day like a rainbow and it will be too good to resist.

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taken while driving.

“Ticking away the moments…

…that make up a dull day. Fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way…”

That pretty much describes the last three weeks, which is why there have been no blog posts. Well, that and we didn’t have internet or cell phone service for most of the time.

When we left Virginia we headed north to Greenbelt, Md. We had a wake to attend for a beloved family member and many friends and family to catch up with. We spent the week at Greenbelt Park, a federal campground just ten miles outside of Washington, DC. We love the park, at least during the spring and fall, despite the negatives heaped on it by other users. While there, we didn’t get one tick, we had great solar, and the weather couldn’t have been more beautiful – 70s and sunny every day.

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Site 145, with great solar and satellite reception (at least in April)

Greenbelt park is a dry camping park but, being only $16 per night so close to DC (and about 1/4 the price of other local campgrounds), it is an amazing campground and a great outdoor experience. There are hiking trails, great roads to bike on, a walk to the metro, and nice camp hosts. There is water and a dump station available, though the dump station is kind of a pain to use. We stayed in three sites while we were there due to other people having the best spots reserved. The best site for us was 145; it got five hours of sunlight for our thirsty panels and we were able to access a satellite that carried the Orioles games. Site 138 is also good for solar and satellite.

If you are booking a site for Greenbelt online, be careful. The locations of campsites on the recreation.gov website is inaccurate. Also, all campsites are listed as drive-in whether they are back-in or pull-through. Many of the pull-throughs here are actually ‘pull-overs’ as they are wide spots in the camp loop road. Most are barely 8′ wide and if one has a slide on the driver’s side, chances are you will spend the entire time there being worried about someone hitting it.

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This is an image of two campsites across from us, I think 143 and 144 (neither on the web site/non-reservable).

From Greenbelt, we headed over to Front Royal to visit with more family. We spent an extended weekend at Shenandoah River State Park, in a lovely, large spot with a view.

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The view behind our campsite, #14

Shenandoah River State Park is a great alternative to the Federal parks up on the mountain. While we didn’t have cell signal, we did have electric and water hook ups and plenty of open sky for the satellite dish. The perks come at a cost though; the state park is $45/night once one adds in all the fees. The state park is just outside the federal park and about eight miles to Front Royal, a wonderful town that seems to have doubled in size over the last ten years.

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Cousins David and Dylan joined us for a couple of days of camping. The sites are roomy enough for everything and a tent.

Our plan, when leaving Front Royal, was to drive down into Shenandoah National Park and camp at Big Meadows for a few days. I love hiking on the Appalachian Trail and some of my favorite parts are in the park. Two things turned us away: we couldn’t go down Skyline Drive to Big Meadows because we couldn’t fit in the tunnel (12’6″ max) and there was a wild fire close to the central entrance and the road was alternately open and closed depending on how the wind was blowing. So we headed north on Route 81 and landed in Charles Town at the Hollywood Casino. They have a large parking lot for oversized vehicles and parts of the lot are pretty level. The only negative is the train tracks immediately behind the lot; I could feel the whole bus shaking when the train went by. We stayed there one night as the forecasts called for rain. It was a quiet night and we left $40 richer than when we arrived, thanks to a very willing penny slot machine.

While hanging out at the casino, we realized we were really close to some family land in Bedford, PA. We headed in that direction, trying to beat the impending storm. We made it to Shawnee State Park just as the skies opened up. We got parked and hook up to electric and waited out the rain. The rain was a great test of our patch job on the passenger slide out, as it hadn’t really rained since we left Wakefield, VA. Turns out, the patch is a success and we have no more leak!

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Our campsite in the nearly completely empty Shawnee State Park

The rain let up enough for us to go find the family land. Cousin Wayne has turned it into a great retreat, complete with bonfire pit, covered pavilion, and enough firewood to get an entire regiment through a PA winter. We also visited Fisher’s country store to stock up on various bulk items like flour and organic baking supplies. I had recently bought a bread maker and I was dying to try the possibilities. So far, so good – I managed to make an incredibly flavorful very crusty bread which is impossible to find outside of Italian delis. We also stopped by the Coffee Pot, just because, well, coffee.

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Nothing inside now, but it used to be a restaurant.

The next day we headed over to see the Flight 93 Memorial. The building and grounds are absolutely beautiful, a fitting memorial. A warning though – the visitor center and displays are overwhelmingly sad – go prepared.

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The walk along the crash site (left) to the wall of names. The visitor center is the building in the left center.

The rolling countryside of Pennsylvania is rather pretty (pastoral, really) even in the rain. Driving in the highlands though, one will run into fog quite frequently. I love fog – it lends everything an ethereal quality, even in the dark.

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After the Memorial we decided to go see the Johnstown Flood Memorial. We never actually made it there as we got completely distracted by Johnstown on our way. The town itself was unexpected. Often, unless we research or hear by word of mouth beforehand, towns are just dots on the map. On some maps, one can tell the size of the town by the size of the dot. We didn’t have that kind of map. We expected Johnstown to be a tiny little town like Bedford or smaller, particularly since it had been wiped out by floods three times. Well, Johnstown was huge, in relative terms. Though the population now is closer to 20,000, at one time 80,000 people lived here. The town was the heart of Bethlehem Steel. We only had about an hour in the town and spent most of it driving around and looking at the buildings. It was raining so I couldn’t shoot, but Johnstown is definitely on our list of places to return. I am completely fascinated by Rust Belt Cities and their architecture. In Johnstown, I saw bits of Baltimore and Cleveland, a little of Cumberland and Ellicott City. The town is trying to revitalize itself and has attracted new industry to the area. While there are many decaying homes and buildings, even in the rain the city felt hopeful.

Two last things on our stay in Bedford: food and birds. We ate at Jean Bonnet Tavern, a landmark built in the  1760s on the Lincoln Highway. It has served as a tavern, inn, trading post, and family house for over 250 years. The food is good (try the french onion soup) but the draw is definitely the building itself.  The birds… for two days, we watched a robin flit around our bus every time we went outside. By the third day, we realized something was up. He was carrying stuff in his beak and would get agitated when we were around. Not as agitated as the Robin in Front Royal who spent two days, non-stop, pecking at our roof, but agitated none-the-less. So went went looking and didn’t find anything until finally, later that evening, Mike found it:

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A robin’s nest on our front leaf spring.

It was a shame to have to clear it out but we were leaving in the morning and didn’t want them to lay eggs. We hope they found another home.

From Bedford, we headed a little south to Lazy A Campground in Hedgesville, WV, just outside of Martinsburg. This is a lovely little campground nestled in the hills of West Virginia, far enough from everything to be idyllic but close enough that a quick drive gets you into town.

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We were only there for two days but we fell in love with the campground, even if we didn’t much care for Martinsburg. If you find yourself in Hedgesville, definitely stop by Orr’s Farm Market. They have the best apple caramel loaf I have ever had. They also have pick your own strawberries and apples in season, though April isn’t much of a season for anything that grows around there.

Next we headed to Little Bennett County Park, in Clarksville, MD. Mike had a dental appointment and surgery in Frederick, and we had been hanging around waiting for it for a couple of weeks. Sometimes, that’s just how things go. The surgery went well and we were glad to leave Little Bennett Park. If it hadn’t been the closest campground to the dental office, we would never have stayed there. The campground offered electric only hook ups for $47/night and the sites were small, heavily treed, and unlevel. Maybe if it hadn’t rained all three days we were there, it wouldn’t have been so claustrophobic. It definitely won’t be on our return-to list, but it was very convenient for what we needed.

Mike finished up his recovery time by driving to Elk Neck State Park. We’ve stayed there a few times before, and were returning to visit friends. We grabbed a site on the river with a lovely view for the weekend. We were in the Elk loop; dry camping with some sites having a view of the River/Bay.

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Site 139. Not the greatest for solar or satellite but the view was nice.

Friday we relaxed after the drive, Saturday we ran around town, and Saturday night we hung out with  Andrew, his wife and his beautiful daughter. He is an Air Marshal and had some great stories to tell about his travels around the world.

Sunday morning we were relaxing and taking it easy until CRACK! Something echoed through the camp loop. I waited a few minutes, then went outside.

“We should move.” “Why?” (Mike pointing) “See that tree? That was the sound.” “Oh. Crap.” “I’ll go change.” “I’ll pack the chairs.”

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On the right side of the tree, one can see the very long crack running up the side. The tree was fairly straight when we arrived two days before.

The tree didn’t look so bad if you stood near the rear of the bus. Until the wind started blowing. Then its weaving could make you dizzy as it circled around in the sky. And unfortunately, the lean was right over the center of the bus. So, we packed up everything in less than ten minutes and moved. We found site 125, in the same loop, with great solar potential. There was only one other camper so we had our choice. After parking, we managed to get satellite, too.

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So, in the 24 days we spent in the DC area, we had ten campsites in six campgrounds and a casino. I’m pretty sure we didn’t have time to hike and stuff because we were too busy moving all the time. But, we’ve seen some new places, enjoyed some old ones, and spent quite a few good times with friends and family. We will pretty much continue this pattern, bouncing up the east coast, until we settle in Massachusetts at the beginning of June.

2015 – we had a blast!

(Yes, I know am way behind my blog posts. But my computer ate three before I published them and I just didn’t have the brain power to completely rewrite them. And then, we were kinda rushing around doing 100 things and nothing. But, they will be updated over the coming month, once I finally get the pictures edited. Again.) Anyway.

We started the blog in May and for quite a few months, updated it religiously. But, we did have plenty of adventures before May and we found some pretty amazing places that we want to return to in 2017.  In 2015, we didn’t make reservations anywhere, just moved and stopped when we felt like it, where we could find space. The results varied, from hell in Florida to bliss in Alaska and all the stages of both in between. So, here is part of our year in review, with highlights and pictures.

January found us in 18 different spots, from Maryland to Texas. Yes, we drove and moved that much. We were on a mission: to get to Alaska and, looking at January, we were hell bent on getting there as quickly as possible. By the end of January we realized we needed to slow down and wait for the weather to catch up with us – it was still REALLY COLD in most of the country. We did manage to find some great spots for a couple of days (our longest stay was three days) and took some great pictures.

In Florida, we got to see manatees up close in Blue Springs State Park, eat great oysters at Eddy Teach’s Raw Bar (now closed), watch amazing sunsets at St. George Island State Park and visit with quite a few  friends.

In Texas, we met up with more friends, ate amazing BBQ at Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, breezed through San Antonio, and set up camp in Big Bend.

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Manatees at Blue Spring State Park

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Sunset at St. George’s Island State Park

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Mission in San Antonio Texas

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The Rio Grande near Big Bend, Tx

In February, we fell in love with the town of Terlingua then quickly made our way through New Mexico to stay awhile in Arizona. We browsed Arizona for a while, though we didn’t sit in one place for long. We had Marv Braun, of Precision RV fix the absolute clusterfu%k the dealer made when re-installing our solar system (he also added a panel and swapped our batteries for AGMs). We made a quick visit to Tombstone and Bisbee, got lost in the Dragoon Mountains, and wandered the back roads of Prescott. Our longest stay at a campground in February? Three days, if you don’t count the stop in Casa Grande to visit with Marv (six days). We were still in a hurry.

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Great Sand Dunes National Monument

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Lost in Arizona

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The backroad from Prescott to Jerome. Probably one of the funnest drives in the area.

In March, we ran the border at Organ Pipe National Monument, went to the Escapees Escapade, hung out with my brother in Gilbert, then raced to Desert Hot Springs, CA. We ended the month with a week in Coarsegold at the Escapees Co-Op just outside of Yosemite.

We fell in love with Organ Pipe and in Desert Hot Springs, we had the best sushi ever (and really good noodles) at Domo Sushi. We visited Joshua Tree National Park and found it completely packed with Spring Breakers so we beat a hasty retreat out a back road that had us testing the abilities of the Jeep (it passed). After browsing for a day in Yosemite, we cancelled our week of reservations at one of the Valley campgrounds – it was just entirely too crowded and most of the campgrounds hadn’t even opened yet!

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The US border in Organ Pipe.

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Creek in the Superstition Mountains

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Joshua tree near Palm Springs, CA

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Yosemite Valley in March

April had us pushing northward faster than we expected because of the crowds. We had no reservations and they were hard to come by. Many of the state parks had sites available but they were too short for our rig. So we made our way North to Oregon and then Washington.

We found a peaceful site in Klamath where we wandered around huge trees for a couple of days. We landed a last minute oceanview campsite in Harris State Park in Oregon and stayed put for a week – until the rain drove us out. We stopped at Newport (loved it) and Seaside (loved it more), then raced up to Chimicum, WA in need of some rig repairs. We then bummed around Washington and continued to do that the first two weeks of May as we waited for our departure to Alaska.

jeep

In the Redwoods, the jeep is very tiny.

marina docks

Newport Marina Sunset

ocean

The Oregon Coastline

In May, we did last minute prepping and purchasing, including getting Belle’s shots before we took off for the Great White North. The border crossing was easy but the price shock wasn’t. Gas and many food items doubled in price. But, the scenery was amazing, the places to boondock beautiful and we were finally on our way to Alaska!

We were wowed by Fraser Canyon, enjoyed  Terrace and Stewart, got an oil change in Whitehorse, and finally settled for a breather in Haines. We got to see bears, moose, foxes, and glaciers and we were barely in Alaska.

June found us in Wrangell St. Elias Park finding McCarthy, then Valdez  watching eagles play, and left us on the Kenai Peninsula dodging forest fires.

While McCarthy didn’t live up to expectations, Valdez kept our attention and we managed to stay a week. It ended up being our favorite Alaska town (though Haines was a close second). Seward was beautiful, Homer was busy, and the Kenai River was crowded. June was more than sensory overload but if I had to relive one month of my life over and over, it would be this one.

In July we made back up to the heart of Alaska, visiting Anchorage and Fairbanks, then pushing north to the Arctic Circle. Unfortunately, while there, Belle had another stroke. We were tired and she was sick, so we began our push back south. It wasn’t really a direct path, as it took us through Chicken, Dawson City, Skagway, Toad River and down into Montana by the end of the month. There are many places we missed – we drove through the Canadian Rockies but didn’t have a chance to stop for long – but it gives us an excuse to go back.

The month of August was spent bouncing around Montana, with a brief ‘vacation’ down in Cody Wyoming. We found some beautiful places to stop and spend some time. We also found the best brisket in the country and the best biscuits and gravy in the country (sorry – it is a friend who is an amazing cook!). We found ghost towns, an endless number of backroads, and quiet, out of the way, places to hide.

The weather was finally turning so we headed south in September, spending a couple of weeks in Utah before ending up in Usery Park.  We finally followed the White Rim trail, nearly got car-jacked by wild horses and got to watch an amazing lunar eclipse before meeting up with family at the end of the month.

October was almost completely dominated with visiting family, though we did get a brief break at Balloon Fiesta. Another bucket list item done! Seriously, if you ever get the change to go to Balloon Fiesta, do it. And I highly recommend it in an RV.

The first half of November we chilled with family around Phoenix and then raced back to Virginia for Thanksgiving.  We managed to stop for some amazing meals and moments with both friends and family on our trip east (Did I mention the most amazing burgers that are worth a 200 mile detour in Roswell? Yeah, we are still reminiscing about those.)  and then settled in Wakefield, VA on the family farm.

December we holed up just outside DC at Cherry Hill RV park, where we caught up with dentists and doctors, more friends and family, and celebrated the holidays.

squirrel

We finished up the month in South Carolina, and started the new year there, too.

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If I had to do it all again, I would. And I probably would only change one or two things. Yes, we sped through many, many states when I would have preferred to linger. And yes, we acted like vacationers with a time limit rather than permanent travelers. But, now that we have done the trip once, we can do it again in 2017, but a little bit slower. There is still so much of the country to see…

Garnet, MT and DeLorme Maps

One of the reasons for our stay at Salmon Lake State Park was to go to Garnet, MT, a ghost town restored by the BLM. We headed out on a beautiful and cool day, taking the easy gravel route suggested by the BLM.

mountain view

Beautiful views on the way to Garnet, obscured by smoke haze from drifting Washington and Oregon wildfire smoke.

Garnet is an old mining town in the mountains of Montana, not far from Missoula. It grew quickly, faded quickly, burned down, was revived, and then abandoned again before the BLM took it over and started restoring it. While it doesn’t have as many buildings as other ‘famous’ ghost towns, much of the restoration is very well done and includes furniture and the like from the period.

Garnet, MT

Garnet from the path down the hill from the parking lot

staff office

the staff office

store

A tavern

Store

Inside a store in Garnet

building

Building (hotel) in Garnet

Kitchen

In the Kitchen

hotel room

Hotel Room

Sewing room

Sewing room

wash basin

wash basin

bedroom chair

a sitting area in a bedroom

bedroom

another bedroom

Because many of the rooms are so small, the were shot with a fish-eye lens. I corrected some distortion, but some (such as The Bedroom) couldn’t be helped without completely altering the scale.  Many of these were also shot at 1600 ISO so I could get a larger depth of field (6.3-9). I greatly prefer natural lighting so no flash was used.

We greatly enjoyed wandering around the town site. The staff and volunteers were very friendly and mostly very knowledgeable. The site is very dog friendly and we ran into quite a few leashed and well behaved dogs.

There are two roads that get to Garnet – one from the north and one from the south. Both are gravel roads and look pretty innocuous. But, there are lots (and I mean lots) of roads back in that area and they all look the same. As we were leaving on the south route, we ran into a passenger car with an older man at the wheel. He looked shell shocked. He wondered if there was any other way out of Garnet other than the way he came. We told him the northern road, Garnet Range Road, was a really easy gravel road down to Route 200 and from there he could head into Missoula. It was the longer way back, but easier. What we didn’t know is the driver had made a mistake, the same one that we made: take Cave Gulch into Garnet, not Bear Gulch. However, in both our defenses, the roads aren’t marked, either from the intersection where he didn’t make the turn nor in Garnet, where we didn’t even know the other road existed. I still giggle at memory of the look of relief on his face when he found out he didn’t have to drive that road back. For us, in the Wrangler, it was a simple and fun back country road; for him, in a large four-door passenger car with no clearance and a wife who obviously had had enough for one day, it was probably the stuff nightmares are made of. Bear Gulch Road is a single lane, cliff hugging, unmaintained, dirt road for its last few miles into Garnet. It starts out down at Route 90 pretty tame but, at about mile 8, it changes personality.

Bear Gulch Road

The view from Bear Gulch. Those other roads over there?  Not Bear Gulch, most likely Clam Gulch.

Bear Gulch

Bear Gulch road for most of the way – cliff side and skinny. The drop off on the right is about 200 feet though it is an angled drop.Please forgive the dirty windshield.

Bear Gulch road

Bear Gulch Road – a wide spot in the road to pass. Note the side road going off to the left before we drop into the switchbacks.

We got down to Beartown – it is really nothing more than a wide spot in the road with a house on the corner, now. We pulled out our Delorme Montana Atlas and Gazetteer and looked it over. “Okay, we can go around this really long way or we can cut off most of that by just taking this shortcut…” Rule number one: If I say shortcut, remember that means distance, not time. Rule number two: If Delorme puts a road on a map once, it stays on the map forever.

So we took a right onto Ten Mile Creek Road. Ten Mile Creek Road would run into Union Peak Road which would take us back into Garnet Gulch Road. Simple. And it was, for a while. There were bumps and washouts and ruts but the road kept on.  There were a few houses on the road and someone trying to sell lots in a housing division. It was a very pretty area.

road

10 mile creek road

Sluice

A very large sluice on Ten Mile Creek.

Until the road went away. Or it didn’t. At first, we missed the turn off for the ‘official’ road as we were driving through what appeared to be a field. We followed a power line road right to the edge of a mountain. So we turned around. We found the road again wandering off the edge of the field and right into a ditch that was crossed by some logs. Some very old logs. Luckily, the jeep doesn’t weigh much. We continued on and the road came back, long enough to take us into a cow pasture.

cow

cows on Ten Mile Creek

Ten Mil Creek Road turned into Union Peak Road and we were home free! Union Peak Road is a BLM road so we thought all was good. Until we got to a road block. “DANGER!” “DO NOT GO!” “TURN BACK!” And there was a huge ditch cut into the road for no other purpose than to stop people from going forward. I started getting worried about Montana Militia and such as we contemplated our next move. Driving all the way back wasn’t happening. We were on a public road on public land and there was a drive around for the ditch. We aren’t sure who put in the ditch, or why, but we went around it anyway.

And nothing happened. We drove down the road.

Union Peak Road

Union Peak Road

There was about a mile of road where it was obvious that someone spent days if not weeks clearing storm damage and blow down. Maybe this is what the warning was about?  We will never know. We made it back onto gravel and then back onto asphalt pretty quickly. We got to see some back roads areas of Montana we would have missed otherwise. Montana is a beautiful state and there is a lot to see, much of it away from the highway.

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