The tents have been rinsed and repacked, the laundry washed, and at least some of the gear stowed away, so here’s looking back on a fun trip…
We wrapped our vacation up on Friday with a long drive back to Virginia. Traffic through Pennsylvania was rough due to construction (or at least construction signs and a lot of traffic cones blocking one of the lanes on 81). We were in good spirits though after a morning hike in Ricketts Glen State Park on a trail that passes by 22 waterfalls. We didn’t hike the whole thing and discovered on the first waterfall that the camera batteries were dead, so both good reasons to make a trip back. There are a number of other places we saw on this trip, including Provincetown in Cape Cod, that we’ve decided we’d like to go back to- although possibly in the fall or spring so that crowds aren’t so large. All in all, a great experience and we’re looking forward to our next adventure.
Parks We Camped In: Allaire State Park (NJ) Worthington State Forest (NJ) Burlingame State Park (Charlestown, RI) Shawme Cromwell State Forest (Sandwich, MA) Nickerson State Park (Brewster, MA) Camden Hills State Park (Camden, ME) Acadia National Park, Seawall Campground Ricketts Glen State Park (Benton, PA)
National Areas Visited: Gateway National Recreation Area (Sandy Hook, NJ) Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (NJ and PA) Cape Cod National Seashore (MA) Acadia National Park (Bar Harbor, ME) Steamtown National Historic Site (Scranton, PA)
States Visited: New Jersey Connecticut Rhode Island Massachusetts Maine New Hampshire Pennsylvania
States Passed Through: Maryland Delaware New York West Virginia
Animals Spotted: Deer Bear (thankfully not in our campsite) Rabbits Chipmunks
Tolls Paid: Chesapeake Bay Bridge (VA)- $11 New Jersey Turnpike- $2.35 Garden State Parkway (NJ)- $1.35 Dingman’s Bridge (PA)- $1 New York- $1 Bridge to Newport, RI- $4 Maine Turnpike $4.75
by Amanda As we approached the ticket booth at the Steamtown National Historic Site this morning another family was walking up from the parking lot with a little boy. The youngster pointed at one of the engines on the track bordering the site. "Choo choo," he said. And that about sums up the day. Although hopefully he didn't repeat that mantra throughout the whole site and drive his parents crazy because there were trains everywhere. As appropriate based on the name, steam engines were the star of the site, but there were also diesel locomotives as well, in addition to freight cars, passenger cars, and even a mail car you could walk through. The site is located on a restored Delaware, Lakawanna & Western Railroad yard, centered around a 90-foot-long turntable. The D, L & W railroad was one of the major carriers of anthracite coal mined from the region.
I should digress here and go back to yesterday since Eric said I should write about the tour of the Lackawanna coal mine. First a tip- it's chilly underground, don't wear shorts. Had I had more than a minute to rush to get on the last mine tour of the day that might have occurred to me, but instead I used the opportunity to get a fuller understanding of the air drafts that ventilate the mine. Thank goodness they at least had jackets available for borrowing. It was interesting to walk around down there and get a better understanding of the mining experience. I can't imagine spending a 10-hour shift down there, especially working in some of the smaller veins where you can't stand up. Our tour guide said the average width of a vein of coal in the area was three feet. That's tight quarters.
So back to the railroads, what the miners hauled out got loaded onto the steam engines. Eric was won over by the site before we'd even bought tickets after spotting the 4-8-8-6 steam engine that was out front. The numbers are a wheel count- four forward, eight driving, a second set of eight driving, and six trailing. It was quite a machine. We toured the shop where they repair and restore the trains as well. A lot of metal and a lot of men in overalls. Literally living history inside a building built in the early-1800s. Inside the museum portion we walked through a luxury business car. It put our little Amtrak room to shame. Beautiful. There was also a mail car, which was neat to walk through and imagine the hustle as the train hauled in mail bags hanging from poles at stations as it sped along, sorted the letters, and tossed the bags full of correspondence back out along the route, delivering the mail across America. It was a neat place and hard to go through without getting excited about the heyday of steam locomotives. Eric and I are definitely putting this on the list of places to return to since we didn't get to see it all today.
We did get to visit though with two of my favorite people who are headed south now on their own trip back home to Charleston. Although only 23 hours long, we had a fun-packed time with my parents and enjoyed our stay at the Radisson, located in the renovated Lakawanna railroad station, an absolutely beautiful building with marble walls and stained glass ceiling panels. Our lodging tonight is not so glamorous but it is peaceful. We're at Ricketts Glen State Park, about an hour outside of Scranton, camping- thank goodness- when we arrived to check in at the park office we discovered we didn't actually have reservations like we thought we did. I don't know what went awry- I remember clicking through the online reservation system, but maybe I missed a final step. The ladies in the campground office got a good laugh out of our discombobulation though and hooked us up with one of the handful of campsites still available for the evening. We strung up the hammock again and have enjoyed relaxing so far this evening. We also had a nice chat with our neighbors across the way, who came over to warn us a bear raided their campsite last night. They had left food out and shortly after they crawled into their tent for the night heard a racket outside. They looked out and there was the bear on their picnic table gnawing away at an unopened ketchup bottle, can of soda, and Tupperware container of garlic among other items. They banged a spoon against a pan and he/she eventually wandered back off into the woods. They also spotted a skunk the other day. We have no intention of meeting any of the wildlife, however, and as usual will be keeping all of our food inside the Rubbermaid container inside the car.
Tomorrow if Eric's knees are feeling better we hope to hike to some of the more than 20 waterfalls in the park and then head south.
by Eric We slept in this morning. It was quite relaxing to not have to be anywhere until later on in the afternoon. I stayed up later than I should have the night before talking to my sister but it’s not often that I get to do that and I do so enjoy our talks. Amanda and I slowly started our day with a shower and a light breakfast and more conversation. It wasn’t long before we realized that we needed to be in Scranton by 3 o’clock so Amanda could go on the tour of the coal mine. So we quickly loaded the car, said our good byes, and headed off. Unfortunately we couldn’t seem to leave Connecticut. Our directions told us exactly what roads to take to make it to the interstate in New York. It seemed, however, that the closer we got to the state line the worse the roads got. We couldn’t actually find the road that we were looking for to cross from Connecticut to New York. We stumbled our way onto the interstate, finally, and headed west. We rolled into Scranton with five minutes to spare. Amanda ran up to the mine, met her mother, and was whisked 300 feet underground. I’ll let her talk about her underground experience, herself, as I would not do it justice. After the coal mine we drove to the hotel, checked in, got all of our bags upstairs, and then promptly left to go find supper. If Scranton doesn’t have a hundred Irish pubs I’d be surprised. The one across from our hotel served very good food, though, and I ate my fill. After supper we played card games in the lobby until we all got tired. Tomorrow we plan on visiting Steamtown National Historic Site and then on to Ricketts Glen State Park.
It was a pretty uneventful day. We packed up all of our stuff and reluctantly left our fluffy bed and headed out. Our trip took us from New Hampshire, through Massachusetts, and into Connecticut. The three-hour trip was made slightly easier by numerous “News from Lake Wobegon” episodes on CD that we brought with us.
Upon arriving in Roxbury we were greeted by family and started working on laundry. My brother, sister-in-law, and niece came over so that my niece could go swimming. I’m not sure why but she loves swimming in the unheated pool. She loves to swim until well after her lips turn blue and you have to convince her it is past time to come out. I decided to take a dip with her and, while I’m not sure if my lips were blue, I was definitely cold.
An excellent supper of steak, corn, and vegetables was served of which we ate our fill. Now we are just relaxing, finishing up laundry, and enjoying being around family.
Although it was overcast all day today, the rain held off for us to explore some in Portsmouth, only about 25 minutes from where we’re staying in Exeter. We had lunch in the downtown area, but with the skies looking threatening and all the road construction occurring (why would they do that during tourist season?) we didn’t walk around much. We did go to the Fort Constitution State Historic Site located on New Castle Island. The area was originally the site of Fort William and Mary, an earthwork fort constructed in 1632, and later renamed Fort Constitution. We also strolled around Exeter a bit stopping in at a snack bar in what used to be a movie theatre but closed when fire regulations changed and it would have had to add sprinklers. Eric had a strawberry ice cream cone, fulfilling our New Hampshire ice cream consumption requirement (we’ve made a point of stopping for ice cream in every state we’ve passed through), although the lady behind the snack bar counter volunteered that it was actually made in Rhode Island. It was delicious, as was my piece of apple pie, which was the last one. Yum.
I’m writing this from the Exeter Inn where we’ll be enjoying sleeping on a bed with an actual mattress tonight. It’s a cute inn. Housekeeping delivered cookies a few hours ago as an evening snack and we went down and had a drink at the bar. We haven’t explored the town at all, and they’re calling for rain tomorrow, so I don’t know how much we’ll see. We had planned to head into Portsmouth for the day.
It was a fairly uneventful day. We stopped in Portland, ME on the way to New Hampshire. We took a tour of the observatory that was built 200 years ago to signal that ships were coming into the harbor. The downtown waterfront area was busy and parking was tough to find, so we didn’t stay long. We did walk along the waterfront for a bit though and saw the train run by the Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum.
We also had a bit of a scare just before our final toll plaza ($4.75 total for the day). The car right behind us suddenly turned almost 180-degrees in the middle of the Interstate. When it finally stopped an 18-wheeler hit it but didn’t look like it did much damage. Luckily, traffic wasn’t moving very fast, so it looked like everyone was fine, but it was a shock being so close to the crash. And in another unexpected toll plaza happening, in Maine we passed those portable orange diamond signs that said “survey crew ahead.” However, much to our amusement, instead of coming upon guys using those tripod-looking leveling equipment and whatnot, we stopped at the toll plaza to find people in orange vests handing out actual surveys about our toll road usage. Handy they already had applicable signs.
We’re enjoying another breakfast at the Common Good Cafe where it’s a little hectic this morning due to the crowd, most of whom are unfamiliar with the partly do-it-yourself procedure. We’re sitting next to a nice retired couple who are originally from NY but are living in Florida now and are frequent Maine visitors. The guy at the table on the other side is a retired finance professor from Tennessee on his first trip to New England. It’s fun to be in the type of place where nobody is rushing you to leave and it’s perfectly acceptable to have a long multi-table conversation. After breakfast we’re headed to Portsmouth, NH where we’re going to enjoy a shower at the inn where we have reservations since we decided not to take advantage of the quarter-operated showers at the camp store down the road ($1 for three minutes, $480 for the whole day, as the park service employee who checked us in noted). In keeping with theme of “P” cities I think we’ll stop in Portland, ME along the way too just because we can.
Up until today we really hadn’t explored the west side of Mount Desert Island even though our campsite was located here. Today we planned to see the sights instead of trekking all the way over to the Bar Harbor side.
Our morning started off slow since we got in so late last night. We eventually biked over to the Common Good cafe for brunch. Since we had been there before we were pros at knowing the process of getting your own drinks and bussing the table, including putting food scraps into the compost container. We sampled different items from the menu, all of which were quite tasty, and borrowed the free WiFi to upload more pictures to the blog (as you have probably already seen). After returning from brunch we loaded up into the car and headed down to a neat lighthouse on the south side of the island called the Bass Harbor Lighthouse. It wasn’t a tall light but served its purpose over the years.
After the lighthouse we set out to find two Earthcaches that were in the area. One took us down a gravel road near a pond and was one of the huge boulders left by a glacier. The second took us to Seal Cove, not to be confused with Seal Harbor, that was an outcropping of rocks also associated with the glacier. These rocks were believed to have been left by the glacier upon its retreat which did go some 400 miles out into what is now the ocean.
We stopped at Corner Cafe, in Southwest Harbor, to have a late lunch. The food was tasty (they also made smoothies!) and we enjoyed several games of Bocce afterwards (yes, Amanda won).
It wasn’t an action packed day, like we’ve seen almost every day since starting this adventure but we did get in some nice rest and reading in the hammock at our camp site so that was good.
Tomorrow we have to be going earlier than we have been as of late. Checkout time is 10 AM and the earlier the better so they better know how many sites they will have available to new campers coming in. We are planning a stop at the Common Good restaurant for breakfast and then heading down to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Last night had the lowest temperatures we’ve seen so far. It wasn’t freezing but it was definitely in the low 50s. This meant sleeping in our sleeping bags instead of just on them or under them. We were able to sleep in until around 9:30 unlike those around us who have kids that were up well before.
I’ve also noticed that we have the smallest footprint of any camping setup out here. Everyone has these massive condo tents and at least two on every spot. We, on the other hand, are simply using our hiking tent that is just big enough for two people to sleep side-by-side. I should mention that this is the first campsite that we’ve had where it was actual camping and not just living out of our car. Our car, now being over 50 yards from our site, isn’t as accessible as it has been at all of our previous drive-on sites. Of course we are still living out of car so I’ve been using the term “camping” loosely.
Amanda reminded me this morning that this is our last campsite of our trip. When we leave here on Sunday morning we’ll be heading for a hotel in New Hampshire, then to my sister’s house, then to a hotel in Scranton. I’m not sure how I feel about that. So far I’ve really enjoyed camping. It’s relaxing and gives you a new perspective on things.
Amanda enjoying an un-commonly good breakfast.
We stopped by the Common Good restaurant, which overlooks the seawall, and had a very good breakfast. The restaurant offers free soup and live entertainment in the winter and also operates a free soup kitchen year-round. I had “deep dish French toast” which actually had a layer of blueberries which were awesome. All of the ingredients were local and organic, where possible, and garbage was separated into compost, recyclables, and everything else. Pretty cool if you ask me.
After breakfast, although we might should call it brunch for accuracy, we headed to the east side of the island to Thunder Hole where, just before high tide, the waves coming in make a monstrous roar and spit water high into the air as they come into contact with the rocky coast. This particular geographic wonder really puts on a show during storms. Unfortunately for us the seas didn’t have it in them to give us the spectacular show that we’ve seen in pictures. The nearby rock formation, however, did produce some interesting splashes and was fun to watch. Thunder Hole was followed by a hike down to Otter Cliffs and then a quick drive over to the gardens which represent many of the plants in their habitats found in Maine.
Just sitting on the beach.
We ventured back into Bar Harbor to find supper. We also remembered that we should have looked up Geocaches for the area, of which we still hadn’t, and so we found some free WiFi and ate a nice supper at Hot Spot. Amanda didn’t want to know, but found out anyway, exactly how many caches we had walked by in the past day. So after supper we quickly made three finds and made plans for a few others. I’m not supposed to mention how many we had actually walked by earlier in the day.
The sun was setting and so we made our way to Cadillac Mountain once again. This time, however, it wasn’t to see the show that the sun puts on when it sets but rather to watch the entire universe be our entertainment. Once it was dark the night sky just lit up. I’m not sure if I’ve ever viewed the sky when it was so alive! You could clearly see the Milky Way’s “cloud” and many stars that I’ve never seen before. Tonight was at the end of a meteor shower but there were still quite a few meteors to be seen. One went directly over our heads and was big enough that you could actually see pieces breaking off and burning up. We stayed up at the top of the mountain for over an hour just watching the sky come to life. We even saw a satellite come whizzing across the sky with the sun reflecting off one side. Very cool.
After all that we ventured back to the west side of the island where our campsite is located. All of the flashlights have migrated to the tent so we had to make our way through all the other campsites in complete darkness. Amanda burst out in muffled laughter a few times. We found our tent, without incident, and climbed inside. She’s working on a book while I’m working on this post. Unfortunately it won’t be posted until the morning.
Tomorrow our plans are to stay on this side of the island and visit the nearby lighthouse, hike some trails, and go find a few Geocaches (including a couple Earthcaches).