Coloring the Void

living nomadically

Archive for the category “Pennsylvania”

“We’re on a road to Nowhere”

We had four days with no agenda, no place to be, so we pulled out of Elk Neck and headed north. We wanted a cheap full hook up park for a few of days and after searching reviews and Passport America, decided on Spring Gulch RV Resort in Pennsylvania Dutch Country.

Spring Gulch is a Thousand Trails park, so our expectations were on the low side. We are members with a Zone Pass and have used their parks all over the country. This park was very similar, with their typical tight gravel sites. It seems to have quite a few amenities, but most were not open and we weren’t really interested anyway. But, we will probably not bother returning to the park, if only because of our interaction with the front desk. The ladies were nice enough but I just can’t get past our conversation. After finding our reservation, asking about our rig and assigning us a site, I asked if we could upgrade to full hookups instead of the E/W site we were assigned. She said, “Sure. You wouldn’t have fit in that site anyway.” I think my mouth actually hung open as I was left speechless. We did fit into the full hook up site we were eventually assigned, all 36′ of it for our 34′ bus. The campground itself was mostly empty except for the seasonal RVs so I’m not sure why she was so controlling on site assignment. My only thought is that she was worried she would have a sudden rush of campers on Tuesday and would need the larger sites for them.

The second big negative for the park was the laundry facilities. It was off by itself across a field with no parking anywhere. There were after hours campsites about 100 yards away (and over a fence, no less), so Mike parked there to lug our three loads of laundry. The spots, like the rest of the campground, were empty and it was during office hours so Mike thought it wouldn’t be a problem. Of course, one of the campground employees raced over to inform him that he couldn’t park there as they are campsites and someone else might park there. The employee ranted for a good five minutes about what is allowed and not allowed. The next morning, a back hoe and a couple of trucks were also parked in some of the after hours spots. I wonder if they had to listen to the old guy’s speech?

In spite of the campground, we did enjoy our stay in the area. Intercourse is one of our favorite towns in the Lancaster area. It is where you will find Immergut Hand-Rolled Soft Pretzels, probably the best pretzels we have ever had. Stoltzfus Meats and Deli is also a great place to stop for local foods. Their restaurant isn’t bad either.

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I didn’t do a lot of photographing here. While I would have loved to capture images of the Amish going about their daily business, I understand their desire not to have their picture taken.

We had another reason to run up to Pennsylvania this trip: my great great great great great grandfather got off a boat in 1750 and settled his family on a farm in Buffalo Valley. I had finally located where he and his son (my great X4 grandfather) were buried and I was interested in seeing the area in the US where this branch of my family started. We found the cemeteries in which they were buried but, unfortunately, 300+ years of weathering can do some damage to  stone. The cemetery plot map of the oldest section was not in the church (someone had taken it home) so I had to be content with the idea that I had probably seen their final resting places and I had seen (and walked) where they did.

For lunch, we stopped by a local favorite, the Cruiser’s Cafe. the place is tiny and crowded but the burgers are great and the service even better. And, how can you beat $2.60 for a hamburger? The broccoli cheddar poppers were very good, too.

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After a long day of cemetery stalking, we headed back to the short bus. On the way, we stopped in Mount Joy for dinner and came upon Bubes Brewery.  The restaurant/bar/brewery is in a 200 year old building that just oozes atmosphere and time. While we were only able to enjoy the bottling works restaurant, which was extremely good, the place so impressed us we are returning when we head south in the fall to try the Catacombs. While there, we had really good food, tried five of their beers (loved them all except the fruity one), and people watched. We would have stayed for the beer pong tournament, but we were tired and it had been a really long day.

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Friday morning we packed up and headed back south, to Lake Laurie RV Resort in Cape May, NJ. We had been invited to meet up with LEOOnly friends Kenny and Connie. They had a seasonal site at the park and spent many summer weekends there.

Lake Laurie RV Resort, owned by Sun Communities, had recently been taken over by KOA. While many of the reviews of the resort are less than stellar, the recent take over had brought some great improvements including the addition of large open pull through sites for transient RVers. The new sites were well tended, well spaced, and extremely level. Currently the sites only have electric and water but the park offers pump out service with 24 hour notice. Just beware: the gentleman pumping our tank was a little over zealous with his job. He worked hard to increase the suction to “get out the sludge” until we stopped him. It really isn’t a good idea to generate a lot of suction in a black tank which we knew from previous boating experience.

We met up with Kenny and Connie that evening for happy hour at The Boiler Room, a bar/pizza/music room in the basement of Congress Hall. The pizza and beer were good, the conversation was great, and we returned to the park for entirely too much more happy hour to end the night.

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Cape May evening shopping

If I was looking for a romantic getaway, Cape May would be the place. It has an understated elegance and refinement helped by the restored Victorian houses and sea breeze. One would be perfectly content to slowly stroll the streets, sip a glass of wine in a street side cafe; it radiates gentility and has just a little bit of (I hate to say it) southern charm.

We weren’t in the romantic mood on Saturday so we headed over to Wildwood, just down the road from Lake Laurie. If Cape May is a reserved, responsible older sister, Wildwood is a brash, in your face, younger brother. It is beer instead of wine, bouncing around instead of strolling, yelling and laughing instead of library voices. And we fit right in.

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How to solve the matching shirt dilemma without actually matching.

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The beach at the boardwalk with the tide out.

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Fun!

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Panorama of the beach at the boardwalk

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After a full day of bouncing around and stuffing our face with more pizza (it is New Jersey after all) we headed back to the short bus to meet up with Kenny and Connie for dinner. They were wonderful hosts who fed us again, this time with great beef skewers and burgers cooked on the grill. We had to shut it down early because of impending rain but we had a great time and look forward to meeting up with them again.

Sunday morning we packed up early and headed out to Cherry Hill, NJ. We had a ‘date’ with  Tim and Donna, more LEOOnly friends who offered us their driveway (and more food!) for the night. They are seriously considering full timing and wanted to pick our brains. We did our best to encourage them over a wonderful meal they cooked. Being in their house kind of made me jealous; Donna has an amazing sense of style and has built or designed quite a bit of their furniture. I don’t have the space for it now but if we ever stop full timing, I’m stealing some of her ideas.

Monday morning came and we pulled out of their driveway just after the worst of rush hour. We had nowhere specific to go, so we headed north into Pennsylvania. We landed at Mount Airy Lodge, in the Poconos. In the 60s and 70s, Mount Airy Lodge was the place to be, kind of the “Kellerman’s” of the Poconos. They then went ‘honeymoon’ with champagne tubs and mirrors on the ceiling. By the 80’s interest in the Poconos as a vacation destination died (just like the Catskills) and the resort closed. It was torn down and the new owners built a hotel and casino. The casino allows overnight RV parking in one of their parking lots so we took advantage of their hospitality and stayed a night, played a few slots (lost this time), and unwound from all activities of the weekend.

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“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.

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