Our Maine Event: A Mammoth Undertaking

8 08 2017

Our vacation was coming to an end.  But we had one more adventure: Mammoth Cave National Park.  And this one we would enjoy with friends and family.

7/19/17 Day 13: Drive to Mammoth Caves. 425 mi./7 hr.

After an uneventful drive…No, I can’t say that.  By this point we were well into the audio-book Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, so deep that the miles just flew by and we were slightly disappointed when we arrived at Mammoth Cave National Park.  I had downloaded two audio-books onto my phone before leaving.  The first was Travels With Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck.  I enjoyed listening to this book as we made our way up to Maine, but Brian didn’t.  In describing his travels, Steinbeck went on too many detours for Brian’s straight-forward engineer’s mind.  But Before We Were Yours—well, this book grabbed us and wouldn’t let us go.   Set in Aiken, it had links to Tennessee, Edisto, and Augusta, but even the local interest was not as enticing as the storyline.

 

 

After setting up our tent in the Mammoth Cave campground, we made our way to the Horse Cave KOA where our friends John and Deborah and their grandson Tristan were camping in their RV.  Before long we were joined by my niece Becky, who drove her son Nate up from Franklin, TN to stay with us.  Nate and Tristan were like-minded ten-year-olds who had hit it off the year before at Camp Invention.  Having them together took away some of the struggle to entertain them each separately, but also provided us adults with ample entertainment just watching them.

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When it’s hot and there’s nothing to do, you make your own fun!

7/30/17 Day 14: Explored Mammoth Caves.

Our first tour of the caves was the self-guided Discovery Tour, one that I had been on many times and so was not particularly excited about.  But this was the first time in the caves for four of our party, so it was a good place to start.  I must say, though, that I left this tour completely enthralled with what I learned from Park Guide Jerry Bransford.  The direct descendant of one of the most renown slave guides at Mammoth Caves, Mr. Bransford told gripping stories of his ancestors’ lives, stories of children being ripped away from their parents, land sold from underneath them, and jobs that evaporated because of their skin color.

Our next tour was also one I’ve done before: Frozen Niagara.   This is a simple tour, but a good one with its views of cave formations including flowstone, stalactites and stalagmites.

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Then, later in the evening, Brian and I took the boys on the Star Chamber tour.  Outfitted with oil-burning lanterns, we got a glimpse of the cave as people long ago did, encountering graffiti on the walls and ceiling made dot by dot with candles on the end of long poles.

And from these three tours, it was reinforced to me that wherever you are, the best way to engage learning is to involve the senses and emotions.   The history, the personal stories, the sheer awe of the place leaves an indelible mark on those who are open to the experience.

7/21/17 Day 15: Drove home.  8 hrs./503 mi.

It was time.  I hated for the adventure to end, but at the same time I was glad to be heading home to our dog and our own bed with a bathroom nearby.   We met Nate’s mom in Franklin, TN where we all were amazed to hear what he remembered!  The teacher in me had been in full bloom while at Mammoth Cave, with the boys reading each sign aloud and me giving quizzes  and points for correct answers.  It was all in fun, but the boys took it seriously, vying for points as we went.  A little competition never hurts!

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When we finally got home, we were greeted by a super wiggly dog and a fridge stocked with dinner left by our daughter.  And later that evening, before bed, we finished the last 30 minutes of Before We Were Yours.  It was that good.  And so was our trip.

John Steinbeck, in his book Travels With Charley: In Search of America, wrote, “Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.

This trip did take us.  It took us through time, through cultures, through geography and geology.  But mostly it took us through ourselves, opening our eyes to new experiences and reinforcing our belief that this is a grand and glorious country.  And after living in a car, tent, or stark cabin for two weeks, I realized how much I can do without and how much I appreciate the “with.”

While we were in Acadia National Park, I read a quote by Donald Soctomoh,  a Passamaquoddy Indian: “We are part of everything beneath us, above us, and around us.  Our past is our present and our present is our future.”  With so much in the media about “living in the present” we forget that it is impossible to do this without remembering who we are, where we came from, where we are going, and our place in the world.  This trip is now a part of me, a part I want to remember and learn from.

But my favorite quotation I’ll take from this trip came from Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours:

Oh, child. The best thing is to know. I always tell ’em, best to be who you is. What you is deep down inside. Ain’t no other good way of livin’.

For me, traveling and learning and learning and traveling is a good way of livin’.  It’s who I is.

 

 


 

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Our Maine Event: Cuyahoga Valley National Park

7 08 2017

I had never heard of this national park.  And after I did, it took me a while even to pronounce it correctly: ki-ya-ho-ga.  Located in between Akron and Cleveland, Ohio, it wasn’t even formally a national park until 2000, which helps to explain my ignorance.   And so, we set off to see what this area had to offer.

7/18/17 Day 12: Explored Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Drum roll!  Today was our 30th wedding anniversary and we didn’t have to sleep in a tent!  After a breakfast cooked on the picnic table out back of the cabin (egg burritos, of course) we headed into CVNP.

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The bathhouse in our campground:  I didn’t do it!

There seemed to be no central visitor’s center to this park, just smallish stops with signs or kiosks.  We finally made our way to the Peninsula Depot and bought train tickets for the on-off train that ran through the valley.  It was slightly disconcerting when we looked at our tickets to find that:

a. We had 1 ½ hours before the next train came around; and

b. We had been given the senior discount without having been asked.

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Our Senior discount tickets and Brian’s iconic Krispy Kreme hat

So, to while away the time, we walked up a path by the river where we noticed a kayaker had left his kayak quite abruptly to take a bath and said kayak was caught in the rocks of the rapids.  Quite an interesting dilemma as he and his friend were now up the river without a kayak.

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A kayak caught in an eddy

We boarded the train and got off at the Science Exploration Center, where we had about 20 minutes to explore before the docent gathered us all up for the next leg of the train ride.  Finally, some background into why this is a national park!  But quick.

Apparently, this valley was the site of the Ohio & Erie Canal system constructed in the early 1800s.  Before the railroad came, one could theoretically travel by water from New York Harbor up the Hudson River through the Erie Canal to Lake Erie, then down the Ohio & Erie Canal with only an 8 mile portage to the Ohio and then Mississippi River down to New Orleans in the Gulf of Mexico. Bam.

And then there’s the James A. Garfield connection.  As a teenager, our 20th president worked as a mule driver guiding barges along the canal towpath, until he fell (was pushed?) into the canal, took sick with malaria, and decided to go to college instead, a path that led to the presidency but also his assassination some six months later.  Walking in presidential footsteps, we also took the towpath back to Peninsula Station, although our journey was only a mere two miles and didn’t involve mules or malaria.

Our next exploration of this park was at the Ritchie Ledges, a geologic oddity that while lacking in historic significance made up for it in scenic beauty.  The Ledges are a series of moss-covered sandstone cliffs and crevices thought to be millions of years old from the Sharon Conglomerate, a tidbit of information that I’m sure means something to someone.   Giant cleavages in the rocks make narrow canyons of coolness, a welcome change from the humid warmth of the area, with the straight edges of the cliffs lined with layer after thin layer of pock-marked sand and pebbles.

While there were no signs or kiosks with information explaining this area, there were signs very clearly saying DO NOT CLIMB, signs that were quite frequently and very obviously ignored.  For a brief time, we watched two pre-teen girls who had scampered up a steep outcropping before finding it too scary to descend.  And for once, I kept my Teacher Voice in check.  Their father was below giving them encouragement and advice (“Just get your butts down here, you scaredy-cats!”); we left before we could hear the thuds.

We ended the day by celebrating our anniversary with only our second and last restaurant dinner—pizza—and then ice cream at the Dairy Queen.  Let it not be said that we don’t know how to live it up!





Our Maine Event: Of Driving and Donuts and the Flitting of Fireflies

6 08 2017

7/16/17 Day 10: Drove to Ravensburg State Park, PA.  512 mi./8 hr. 40 min. 

All good Southerners know that in addition to the Mason-Dixon Line, there is a Sweet Tea Line, that imaginary line that on the South side means when you order tea, you automatically get sweet tea.  I would also like to present for your consideration the Donut Line.

In Aiken, as in most southern cities, there are Dunkin’ Donuts, but also Krispy Kreme Donuts.  Both are delicious, but it is the Krispy Kreme that people become fanatical about, my husband being one of them.  His dream job upon retirement was to work at Krispy Kreme.  Well, that didn’t happen, but his daughter did give him a Krispy Kreme ball cap and Krispy Kreme lip balm.  And a couple of times in our travels, people commented on his hat and shared stories of their own KK addictions.  However, upon traveling north of Virginia, we started noticing lots of Dunkin’ Donuts, but there were no Krispy Kremes to be found.  Sensing a divide in tastes and loyalties, in our travels today we decided that we’d better find out what we were missing.  We stopped at a Dunkin’ Donut shop and ordered a few.  They were good, just not the melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness that one gets when inhaling a Krispy Kreme.  We thought things over from a cultural standpoint and came to the following conclusion: Being as how it is so cold up North, the people must find it necessary to imbibe massive quantities of hot coffee, dipping their donuts into their beverages so as to warm them up.  Now, a denser pastry is needed for this practice, as a KK would most likely dissolve immediately.  Which is probably the rationale behind their name: Dunkin’ Donuts.  Although this theory does not explain why the closest Krispy Kreme to us was in Quebec.

Deep thoughts such as this fueled our long travel days, and this would be one of them.  We traveled from Maine through New Hampshire, then Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and finally to Pennsylvania.  The names of towns along the way were a constant reminder of the immigrant history of our country: Holland, Worcester,  New Britain.  And of course, the Pennsylvania Dutch.  On two occasions as we traveled country roads through Pennsylvania, we encountered Amish families in horse-drawn carriages.  We saw several Mennonite families outside their homes.  The beautiful old farms with lush fields of corn or other crops…well, we would have missed all this had we flown.

Ravensburg State Park was located just outside of Raunchville, PA.  No kidding.  I can only imagine the jokes the local kids have to endure.  The campground was virtually empty so we had our choice of sites.  It was beautiful, with a creek nearby and tall conifers all around.  I was, however, a little annoyed at the pricing: $18 for residents, $23 for out of state, and a $5 “transaction fee.”  Yes, we had to pay a fee for paying a fee.  Even though we paid in cash.  And this for a tent site with no water or electricity, although the showers were free.  Grrrr…

Ravensburg State Park, PA

But I got over it and we went for a walk down the road.  Ahead we could see a picnic shelter.  But wait, something was moving around in it, something large and bulky. BEAR!  Back in the safety of our car, we looked through our binoculars.  Slightly red-faced, we realized that it was just a couple of people in the shelter.  Dang.

That night, I used $28 worth of hot water in my shower.  When I finally walked out of the bathhouse, it was dark.  And I encountered something that more than made up for the unfair pricing.  Hundreds of fireflies were putting on a show, lighting in unison as they flew upwards, then dimming, then lighting again upwards. Synchronous fireflies!  I had heard of their well-attended displays in the Great Smoky Mountain and Congaree National Parks–in the Smokies they even have a Firefly Shuttle to try to manage the crowds.  But I had these all to myself–priceless!  I sat on a log and watched the festivities in my front-row seat in awe.

Cool night, quiet but for the gurgling creek and wind in the treetops, and a magical light show to boot.  I felt sorry for those stuck in hotels.

7/17/17 Day 11: Drove to Cuyahoga Valley National Park. 260 mi./4 hr.

One perk to asking the ranger to explain the “transaction fee” was that she bent over backwards to tell us all about the wonders of Ravensburg State Park.  Built by the CCC in the 1930s, a series of steps fed water into a pool.

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And up an unmarked path, a geologic oddity: Castle Rock, known only to locals and now, to one couple from S.C.  And so, before heading off Ohio way, we climbed boulder after boulder until we could see the sun peeking into the valley below.

On to our next destination.  Cuyahoga Valley National Park above Akron, Ohio, was and still is a bit of a mystery to us.  We had never heard of it before but had decided it would make a good place to explore on our way to Mammoth Caves where we would meet up with our friends the McMurtries and our nephew Nate.  Other than half a dozen primitive sites that were already booked at CVNP, campgrounds nearby were a scarcity.  We found one online, but when we got there we found nothing more than just a field in a county park with a couple of “blue rooms” the only amenities.  So we finally found ourselves in Hidden Valley Campground in a Deluxe Cabin which, for $50 a night, had a bed, a table, AC, and a fridge.  But no bathroom.  Sigh.

Sleeping in a tent in the company of fireflies would have been preferable.

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Found on the path to Castle Rock, this is how to engage kids in nature!





Our Maine Event: More Maine

5 08 2017

I’m sure that had we three weeks instead of three days to spend in Maine, we would still be yearning for more, but that’s the way it is with any trip.  At least the good ones.  So we had to pick and choose.  We chose L. L. Bean.

7/14/17 Day 8: Explored SW part of Mount Desert Island and drove to Bradbury Mountain State Park, ME. 164 mi./3 hrs.

Just as you can’t go to Maine without eating lobster, it is also required that you go to the L. L. Bean store in Freeport.  With that in mind, today we were headed to the closest state park at Bradbury Mountain.  But first, we had some sightseeing still to do on the Island.

We headed to the southwest part of MDI (side note: it took me two days to figure out what MDI stood for), going through small towns along the way before passing through Southwest Harbor, which was setting up for its annual Flamingo Festival.  As enticing as that sounded, we had our sights (and noses) aimed right at a small bakery, where we bought some blueberry scones and a loaf of raisin walnut bread.  It’s hard to pass up a good bakery.

We stopped at Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse and hopped around on rocks to get just the right angle for a photo.  Yes, a postcard would have much better photography, but with that mentality, I might as well just watch a video of the area. You gotta make it your own!

Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse 1

While we were there, a woman wearing a Salty Dog tee-shirt came down with her family; turns out they were from Greenville, just about the only South Carolinians we saw on the entire trip.  (Maybe if you’re from S.C., there’s no need to see other places?)  We ate our blueberry scones at Pretty Marsh, which looked more like a lake to us but was indeed very pretty.   Sloping downhill to a pebble beach, the area was surrounded with tall pines that smelled of Christmas .  Again, a storybook scene.

Just off the island, we stopped in Elsworth to pick up more ice and groceries and check out the L.L. Bean outlet, where we had been told was full of discounted returns.  L. L. Bean makes a good product, but even their discounts were too pricey for us.

Bradbury Mountain State Park had a cute little campground: lots of trees and space between sites.  Reality check: it also had pit toilets and only three showers for the entire campground.  Blehhh.  And, a group of young people were camped right beside us.  We anticipated a long sleepless night as we figured they would be a noisy crowd.  It was not to be so, as it turned out to be a group of the Maine Conservation Corps who were working to eradicate invasive plant species in the area.  They went to bed at a decent hour; I’m sure they were exhausted!  The pit toilet was no fun, but we had no problem using the showers, which were free for a change and not in demand at the hours we wanted them.

7/15/17 Day 9: Freeport’s L. L. Bean and Portland’s Gilsland Farm Audubon

Freeport is Disney World for L. L. Bean shoppers. Four floors of all kinds of outdoor wear and paraphernalia, and several buildings with specialized gear.  Outside there was a grassy knoll with a band playing (Pretty Girls Sing Soprano) and L. L. Bean games set up for kids to play.  After shopping until Brian dropped, we sat out there and ate our lunch, chatting with a woman who had two young girls; she encouraged us to visit Portland that afternoon, so we did.

Portland’s Commercial Street was just that: milling with tourists and shops aimed at prying money from wallets in exchange for things unneeded.  After enough of this, we headed back out of town and found ourselves at a place more to our liking: Gilsland Farm Audubon Sanctuary.  A walk to the bay around a meadow refreshed our shop-weary selves.

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Lovingly tended garden plots grew raspberries, rhubarb, and a host of cheery flowers.  A trio of semi-tame turkeys picked their way through the tall grasses, and American goldfinches flitted among the trees.

Ahhh…deep breaths of sunshine-warmed grasslands cleansed us of the day’s consumerism.

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Our Maine Event: Acadia National Park

3 08 2017

 

Today we reached the main (Maine?) goal of our trip.  I had always heard of the beauty of Acadia National Park and was eager to experience it for myself.  It did not disappoint.

7/11/17 Day 5: Drove to Acadia National Park.  550 mi/10 hrs.  Cabin at Hadley Point Campground.

During our last night in the Catskills, a soft rain shower pattered against our tent, but we stayed dry and cozy.  Stuffing our wet tent into the car, we ate a quick breakfast of cold boiled eggs and fruit and headed up the coast to Maine.  Just before reaching Mount Desert Island, we pulled over at a small grocery store to stock up on ice, fruit, eggs, and other essentials.  We smiled at each other when a local resident reached around our cart and said, “Excuse me.  Just wanted to get this candy baah.”  I held back from saying, “Y’all shore do talk funny!”

No tent for us this evening; I had reserved a cabin with a real bed and a real bathroom.  One of our greatest reservations about tent-camping had been the need to relieve ourselves during the night.  To that end, Brian had brought along a small cup with a lid, which we named the Cup of Shame, that he placed between our cots each evening.  We never had to use it, but it took considerable self-control.  For the next three nights, we were Living in the Lap of Luxury!  Even here, though, two quarters were needed for a seven-minute shower.

7/12/17 Day 6 : Acadia National Park.

The bakery-fresh English muffins we bought yesterday made a breakfast I am still salivating over.  Toasted with butter on both sides on a cast-iron skillet, inserted with scrambled eggs and melted cheese: pure yum.  Other than a drink here or there, we had not yet eaten a meal out.  Before leaving, I had cooked up about ten meals worth of meats: ground beef, BBQ pulled chicken, taco-seasoned beef, etc.  Frozen in Ziploc bags, these made cooking fast and easy on our camp stove.  Lunches were also easy: cold boiled eggs, fruit, veggies and humus.  Breakfasts?  Egg burritos.  So the egg and cheese muffin this morning was a real treat.  It’s the little things.

 

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Before The Hike: from the top of Cadillac Mt. looking down on Bar Harbor

But Cadillac Mountain in Acadia was not one of those “little things.”  The biggest mountain on Mount Desert Island, it was to be our first conquest.  And it was a hard-fought battle.  Our first mistake was starting at the top.  We couldn’t find the trail head at the bottom, so we drove to the top, looked around, and decided to do the hike in reverse: down, then up.  Now, I know better than to kayak downstream and then have to fight my way back up, and I should have known better than to do the hike this way.  But it was rated as a “moderate hike” of only two miles.  No biggie.

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So we headed down around 10:00, just as the day was warming up.  Beautiful vistas of Bar Harbor rewarded us at every turn and the smell of evergreens invigorated us.  Small children tripped around the mountain path, followed by ladies in designer outfits and 90-year-old gents.  I could almost hear bluebirds singing merrily as they flew in circles around our heads.  By the time we reached the bottom, though, we were flushed and our knees ached from climbing down and over rocks. Worse still, we had already drunk half of the liter of water we brought with us.  Which was Mistake #2: not bringing enough water.

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The day had warmed up into the mid-80s as we started back uphill and we soon realized two things: there was a dearth of shade on the trail, and our water was not going to last.  If we had had one or the other, it would have been a different story, but with both, the outcome looked grim.  Brian fell behind, and when he finally caught up it was evident that things were not going well.  We stopped to “admire the scenery” every time there was the slightest bit of shade; even still we were feeling the pinch in a big way.

 

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Admiring the view: Bar Island and the Porcupine Islands in the distance

 

The chirping of bluebirds had been replaced by the heavy panting of a couple of dodo birds who should have known better.

Obviously, we made it, and with few ill effects in spite of all our internal dire predictions.  By 2:00, we were back on top of Cadillac Mountain, consuming bottles of water from our cooler. And my cell phone app told me we had walked 4 ½ miles.  Apparently, the sign for the “moderate” hike only listed the one-way trip.   Yet we had done it.  We had conquered the Mountain.  And learned a thing or two.

But that wasn’t the end of our explorations.  Back in the car, we drove the Loop Road, stopping at the Wild Gardens of Acadia to see pitcher plants, jack in the pulpits, and many other native plants.

We toured the Abbe Museum (blowing right past the sign that said $9 each) and then walked a mile on a boardwalk to nowhere and back.  We (okay, I) clambered over rocks at Thunder Hole, explored Sand Beach (it’s got nothing on SC beaches) and walked around the edge of Jordan Pond.

By the time we returned to the cabin, it was 7:30 and we had walked well over 8 miles.

Neither of us had trouble sleeping that night.

7/13/17 Day 7 : Bar Harbor.

Another day, another adventure in Maine.  Without really any plan in mind, we rode the free shuttle into Bar Harbor.  After muffins and coffee at a side street bakery, we booked a half-day kayak trip in the harbor.  We paddled in tandem sea kayaks, stopped to explore the shoreline on one of the Porcupine Islands, and spotting cormorants, porpoises, and one bald eagle high up in a tree overlooking a cliff.

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But the real adventure was the shuttle ride back to camp that evening.  A large, loud, and boisterous family took up half the bus.  Based on their behavior and speech, we figured they must be from New York.  Probably the Bronx.  Wherever they were from, they were having a great time, although probably not making any friends with the locals as they hollered “BAAAA HAAAABAAAA” over and over out the windows.  The ringleader kept his family in stitches as he did impressions from various movies in a booming voice, throwing out vulgarities like candy at a parade.  Brian said it best when he told me in a low voice, “Well, we didn’t see any moose, but we did ride a bus with a family of jackasses.”

This being our last evening on Mount Desert Island, we decided we’d best eat some lobster or we would never hear the end of it back home.  So we drove down the road to a lobster pound, which I discovered is a place that serves lobster boiled in huge barrels outside.

1st and only lobster (2)

Never having had lobster, I sucked up my fears and sat down to a huge segmented creature with long antenna on my plate that only moments before been clattering around in a vat of water.  I read over the instructions on the paper place mat for as long as I thought I could get away with it, and then had at it.  I did my best, cracking legs, claws, and body, pulling out the meat and even sucking on the smaller parts as I had been instructed.  But when I got to the liver, that was it.  Green mush.  Not going there.

1st and only lobster 4

 

I have, over the course of my lifetime, tried to like shrimp and other crustaceans.  I have tried.  I just can’t.  Rather than trying to force myself to like something I just don’t, better to save it for those who do like it.  ‘Cause it just ain’t happening.





Our Maine Event: The Catskills

2 08 2017

 

Since our trip to Maine involved lots of hours in the car, we planned to offset the driving with a full day in an interesting location.  All my life I’d heard of the Catskills, mostly in the context of the story of Rip Van Winkle, so we made this one of our stops.  And I’m glad we did!  Although we never saw old Rip, we did see signs of life, both past and present.

7/9/17 Day 3: Drove to the Catskills. Russell Brook Campsites. 379 mi./6 hr. 50 min. 

We’re getting good at this traveling thing.  Up at 6:45 and on the road by 8:00.  We traveled through some beautiful countryside as we passed through Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and finally New York:  rolling hills, fields of crops and pastures with horses, old red barns with white stone silos.  Air travel may be faster, but you miss so much.  Our campsite was in the woods by a babbling brook with a crackling fire, the air just crisp enough to appreciate the fire’s warmth.  Picture-book camping!

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7/10/17 Day 4: Explored the Catskills.

After an egg burrito breakfast and a free, hot shower  that cleansed our bodies and our spirits (showers at Shenandoah N.P. were $1.50 for 5 min.), Brian and I set off in search of a hike.  Coasting down a steep hill, I didn’t notice the patrol car with a radar gun at the bottom until it was too late, and although Brian cringed, I made a quick U-turn which brought us side by side since this just happened to be at a trail head.  But all was well.  The police didn’t even glance our way, so we took off up the little-used trail that was part of the Finger Lakes Trail system.  Crumbling stone walls led us to marvel at the effort needed to build these property markers.

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Nevertheless, but for a couple of chipmunks and a couple piles of intriguing scat, there were no signs of life.  We soon tired of hiking uphill with no idea what was ahead, so we turned around and headed back to the car.

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I’m guessing, bear?  (And yes, I do brake for scat.)

We drove around the reservoir that supplies water to NYC, noting the restrictions on its use: only paddle boats allowed.  At one landing, we were impressed with the number of row boats, kayaks, and canoes that were tucked away on the edges of the lake, although we didn’t see a soul around.  What a shame on this beautiful day!  And too bad these boats were tied down with no paddles around or I might have been tempted to take one out for a quick spin.

We happened along a trail head called the Palmer Hill Trail, so after eating a quick lunch from our cooler we set off down the path.

 

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The trail led through woods into a beautiful meadow shoulder-high with milkweed, black-eyed Susans, pale yellow sulphur cinquefoil, barely pink musk mallow and a yellow flat-topped flower I took to be some kind of Queen Anne’s lace.

musk mallow

Musk Mallow

Fortunately, I didn’t pick any of this buttery beauty as I later found out this was wild parsnip, whose sap can cause phytophotodermatitis, that is, a blistering rash that develops when the sap is exposed to sunlight.  Ouch.  I hope whoever mowed the path wore long sleeves!

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Wild Parsnip

Standing on a rock at the top of the meadow, I heard a huffing sound coming from the woods.  Immediate thoughts of bear hurried me back down through the meadow, past ancient apple trees loaded with hard green fruit, and over a small brown snake that slithered under my feet without me even noticing.   A grand, glorious ramble.

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Common Milkweed





Our Maine Event: Shenandoah

2 08 2017

Two weeks in a tent.  In the summer.  All the way to Maine and back: almost 3,000 miles of driving. What were we thinking? But that’s exactly what my husband and I did.  And we had a great time.  Even Brian, but don’t ask him to admit it!  Here’s how we rolled…

7/7/17 Day 1:  Drove to Shenandoah National Park.  502 mi./9 ½  hrs.   Big Meadows Campground.

After stopping in Fort Mill to have brunch with our daughter Annalise, we drove on to Shenandoah National Park, arriving around 5:30.

IMG_6063Needing to stretch our legs after the long drive, we set up our tent, grabbed an apple, and headed out for a four-mile hike around the big meadow.  Along the way we saw several groups of deer who were very used to people and then watched two bucks bounding through the meadow.

IMG_6060We made the first of many egg burritos for supper.  Although the weather was cool and the cot comfortable, sleep didn’t come easily for me.  Brian, on the other hand, slept well.

 

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A rested camper is a happy camper.

7/8/17 Day 2: Explored Shenandoah. 

We started our day by walking through the exhibits at the Visitor’s Center.  It’s sad to realize that this beautiful park only came about because the federal government, through eminent domain, forced people off their land, many of whom had lived here for generations.  In Aiken County, a similar scenario occurred with the moving of Ellenton and Dunbarton when the Savannah River Plant was built.  However, this was done for reasons of national security, whereas Shenandoah was developed so that people on the east coast could have a natural area for recreation.  It doesn’t seem right.  But that didn’t keep us (or lots of other people) from enjoying it.  Shenandoah is beautiful.

Our first hike of the day was a three miler to Lewis Falls.

2017-07-08 7-17 Acadia trip 002The trail led us through thick forests, around mountain sides, and to a small but pretty creek that leaped over the side of a cliff beyond our view.  Part of the trail joined the Appalachian Trail, where we were overtaken by a hiker wearing a kilt.

 

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Proof.

Later in the afternoon we joined a group led by a ranger at Milam Gap.  She gave us all the ins-and-outs of hiking the AT.  Interesting, but not on my bucket list.  In the evening, we attended a program at the amphitheater on raptors.  It’s always enlightening for me to be on the audience side of one of these talks!

Several memories stick out: the last rays of daylight catching the campfire smoke, a group of young people practicing on a slack line, another group singing the Shrek theme song to ukulele music, and the muted sounds of voices sifting through the trees: laughter, kids whining, shrieks.  Oh, and I won’t forget the cramped $1.50/5 min. shower that we shared. But it was good to see a wide diversity of ethnicities enjoying the camping life, more than I’d ever seen before: Ethiopians, Asians, and African Americans, to name just a few.  Most campgrounds I’ve been to are only populated by people who look like me.  In the case of Shenandoah’s eminent domain take-over, I’m not sure that the end always justifies the means, but I sure do like these ends.