Monday, August 31, 2015

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK....Some things change...

...but very little.



There's the sea, the fragrant greenery and the immutable stones...and, of course, the boats...



Nearly every year since their honeymoon, Joanie and Tim return to Acadia. We often tag along.


This year we scheduled two weeks at Seawall Campground in the Park while they rented Aunt Betty's Cottage near the heart of Bar Harbor. They enjoy strolling the dog-friendly streets with Chance.

We love hearing the rush of the surf from our campsite, the low-key gentility of SouthWest Harbor and the morning popovers at the Common Good.

WAIT! Where are the Popovers??

Oh, thank goodness, they have just moved their location a few miles from the ravenous but appreciative Seawall campers to the middle of Southwest Harbor where the view isn't the same but the clientele equally appreciative and surely more numerous. The new location has outdoor seating, great free WIFI and superior popovers coming out of the volunteer-run kitchen every few minutes. Live music is a regular addition and there are always warm conversations with folks from all around.

The charms of the little town are many. Pies baked before your eyes ...




..pretty little shops and a bakery window stacked with fresh bread.










Many things change for the better.

The roads South from Bar Harbor are smoother this year.

But the evil winter season was devastating to the Flamingo population...

Every library on the island has a book sale this month. People around here stock up for the long winter, but they are good about re-donating the books in the Summer. continue to try to unbalance, Balance Rock...

...or one-up nature...


...the best food in town is at Mama Serpico's...


....where the fun is

non-stop... find crabs and share their delight...


....young men scale mountains and share the glory...



... Grandmothhers act silly and we all laugh...










Saturday, August 22, 2015

Franconia Notch and the Kancamagus Highway

When last we passed through Franconia Notch it was late September -- County Fair time. The Fall leaves were just loosing their grip in the face of blustry winds. B&B's were everywhere, inviting but desolate; Large parking lots were empty at "attractions", most restaurants were shuttered.
..might be pretty busy in Summer, we noted.
YEAH!! No wonder that guy winced when we told him where we were heading.
Our converstation with Wayne had been very pleasant as we met by the edge of Joe's Pond and exchanged our liberal, granola-eating, live-free-or-die, used bookstore Bona Fides, but our planned itinerary caused him unspoken dismay.
We said goodbye to Wayne and rough-textured hwy 15 and slipped down a long smooth entry to Interstate 91/93. (we can be excused this lapse since this leads to the ONLY Interstate that is also a National Parkway. The Notch is gorgeous and the traffic moderate, so we were totally unprepared for the madhouse at the Flume/State Park Visitor Center which includes shops, snack bar and admission tickets. We were looking for a camping place at the park and a chance to ride the bike trail.
That's Full, we heard from a very cheerful attendant.
Commercial or goverment? she asked reaching for the catalog of New Hampshire campgrounds.
You need hook-ups?
Not really.
That your Airstream?
Errr, Yes.
...and you don't need hookups?
....but you want to stay close to this...?
Time once again to declare our Granola-eating Bona Fides. This accomplished, she whipped out a strip map of the Kancamagus Highway.

This is 34 miles of National Forest Highway -- the FIRST National Scenic Byway. She quickly highlighted a necklace of five NF campgrounds.
This one is about midway ... (between the waterslides of Lincoln and Conway was left unspoken).
The Gauntlet of vacation experiences for the next few miles left little doubt that we would prefer to leave "this" in our wake.
Look a waterpark..take the next left!
We "proceeded on" to Jigger Johnson NF campground, the forest-lined road cooling us and the 3000 foot climb doing the opposite for the Ginormous Mechanical Conveyance (GMC). The forest has reclaimed this "intervale" where White Pine 80 feet to the first branch were once marked with the "Broad Arrow" of the English king, destined to be masts for the Royal Navy. Then came settlers, part-time loggers, then railroads, then industrial clear-cut logging just before the great fires. Our site is spacious, level and surrounded by 85 year old trees and lots of low conifers. The White Mountains are back and getting better.

Nearby, the Russel Colbath Historical Site taught us much about the place and the logging history. The interpreters were a joy and we nearly overstayed our welcome.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Goodbye to Loonies, Hello New York

Wait, did I get that right?

We slipped across the border at Johnstown/Ogdensburg with not a Looney in our pockets, having never entered the Province of Quebec. The nearest New York State Park happened to be Cole's Creek on the St Lawrence. We were awarded the last Electric site and, as a bonus, they somehow failed to fill a site next to ours. We had a large grassy spot with friendly neighbors and a view of the River. It was crowded with family fun in other parts of the park, but we were blissfully isolated. And Concierge service? Garbage pickup at the site and firewood delivery! These Americans really know how to live.

A few repairs were accomplished, stores replenished and a bit of Amish produce acquired. We played with our electronic gadgets like teenagers and got caught up with everyone online. Five days to Acadia; we better get back on those bikes soon.

We were blissfully without plan, but knew we must cross into Vermont near Rouses Point. The Vermont Tourist Information changed all that. There you find personable help and MAPS, beautiful MAPS. Maps of bike routes and a particularly gorgeous Guide to the Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail. The route follows the Milk Train through what was once modestly called the "Dairy Capitol of the World". This map has everything -- great graphics, history, services at each town, enticing photographs, road loops. These communities really want you to have a good time. Our personable advisor pointed us toward Lake Carmi State Park.

It's named for Carmi Marsh who owned the land. They used his first name 'cause Lake Marsh wasn't that appealing.

We settled in and soon were looking at this as we rode along the Missisquoi River.

The trail was hard packed and scenic and, don't forget, through the Dairy Capital of the World, which means...Dairy-Aire, that exquisite eye-watering, nasal-cleansing aroma of Methane, now produced and concentrated in huge covered arenas and directed toward you with fans the size of 747 engines. Each Dairy operation is proudly marked on the map, likely so you will remember to take a deep breath. Now we Southerners like our air mixed with paper mill and petrochemical accents and this just doesn't "smell like money" to us. But we endured. What unsettled us though were the multiple crossings of busy highway 105 on sharp oblique angles. It took both of us to STOP, watch for traffic and pick a safe moment to cross. It was as safely constructed as possible but made us wonder how traffic interlaced when the Milk Train was running.

We note for futher scientific inquiry that Dairy-aire may have some short term beneficial effects. As we rode away from the last dairy, we both noticed that we could sense the soap-clean scent of the young woman walking her dog 50 yards down the embankment, and the cigar smoke from a car speeding by, and, while climbing out of the valley toward the park, the aroma of pot roast near a farmhouse. We talked about returning the next day to ride the rest of the trail... Naaah!



The welcome we received at Ontario Provincial Parks was always warm. The young people that run the registration are competent, cheerful and well-informed about their park. They whiz through computer chores that baffle oldsters, sell firewood and ice, mark your availible sites, answer questions about the wildlife and history and SMILE.
Ontario builds their parks for camping, so the emphasis is on shaded sites for a family to set up one of those palatial-sized tents and maybe a dining fly/bugscreen. There are few sites dedicated to the mullti-slide satellite equipped set. This being Summer, there are lots and lots of bikes, kids, dogs, cartop boats, floaties and harried parents that don't have too much time to chat. We are good with all that.
We arrived at Neys PP in grey, drizzly weather and landed a site right on the shore. Al had somehow gotten the idea that a pebble beach was awaiting, but it was the usual narrow Great Lakes beach with lots of telephone pole shaped driftwood that should not be burned because of it's picturesque qualities. Did I say it was grey and miserable? I think that "colored" our perception some. We hiked some and looked over the little model of the POW camp once situated here. (You know, they didn't site those POW camps in the primo scenic areas, Eh?) We did (nearly) fondle a full body mount of a young Woodland Caribou (shot by accident by a Moose hunter with eyesight issues). That perked us up, but we learned that the Caribou were on a island and your own private vessel was required. In the immortal words of our hero, Meriwether Lewis, We Proceeded on...

Lake Superior PP was on our list and the highway views as we passed along the length of this Huge park were spectacular. We should have stopped lakeside at Rabbit Blanket campground and explored the pictographs and hiking, but we found ourselves in a long line at the beach campground competing for one of the last available sites in this closely packed enclave. The overworked clerk warned us that a trailer like ours couldn't get in that site last night. Goaded by other onlookers, we gave it a try and nearly sacrificed a mirror to roadside trees. We proceeded on to ...

Pancake Bay PP where we found yet another beach park and an equally skilled young clerk who fixed us up with a one night, stay-hitched, pull-through site, but failed to warn us about the infernal swamp of a dump... We proceeded on, but this time Patty took the reins and next day we turned off the main drag of Massey ON, went just a few blocks and came upon...
Chutes PP which had yet another charmer in the office, huge shaded sites and scenery like this...

Chutes was named for the log flumes built around the falls to drive logs to the Spanish River and then on to Superior. The park is off the Around Lake Superior Greatest Hits list just far enough to make the perfect stop. We did laundry, ate a wonderful meal, hiked all the trails and still had time to visit the Massey Public Library (open tonight 7-9PM) and post a few blogs. We love this park. A nearby sister park has lots of lakes to paddle, more hiking and canoes for rent. Plenty to do.
The roads in western Ontario (just over the border) were superb -- the smooth pavement, occasional big views and thoughtfully placed passing lanes. As we wandered East, they deteriorated measurably until, on this leg, we covered 20KM of dirt and detours. (big road project, not nearly ready for new surface yet). Motels and outposts at roadside looked bleak, like we were crossing the Yukon soon. Our goal this last day was Champaign PP. The amiable young clerk met us outside the door in welcome, but we wanted to see the sites first; we had endured the frost-heaved and broken approach road. The sites were horrible. No attempt to level anything. There were tent sites where you would have to be "on belay" to sleep in your tent.
The bridge to the campsite was interesting,

but we proceeded on without stopping.

Driftwood PP was laid out with the same disregard. Details would sound like whining, but would you really like to be camped next to the site with four tents, three flies, two boat trailers and about 19 people plus dogs? We took a murky pull through, didn't drive the entire road network to the shower or take the "path through the woods" which would pretty well undo any effects of the shower. We used the marginal power to plan our run for the border.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


During what Good Sam's calls our "disablement", we were fortunate to be close by a truly great National Monument. We spent portions of two days walking the grounds of the reconstructed North West Company summer Headquarters and soaking in the exhibits. The modern Heritage Center tells the story of the Ojibwe people, their history, and the essential skills they shared with the traders of the Scottish-owned North West Company and which made them the most profitable enterprise in the world for the years a Beaver felt Top Hat was the fashion. The emphasis is on the respectful nature of the partnership between the two cultures and the canoe-building, forest navigation and established trade routes of the Objibwe.


This is the Great Hall where the richest men in the world ate and entertained at "corporate headquarters" in the wilds.

Wild rice and maple sugar, two Objibwe trade goods in addition to pelts.


Alexander Mackenzie's luxurious quarters, quite a change from living on snowshoes all winter just a few years before.



The Park Service interpreters were incredible. This young man quietly carved a lacrosse stick while spinning yarns and answering questions about the period. We could have listened all day. Over this weekend ( second weekend in August) three hundred reenactors will join them for the combination Rendezvous and Pow Wow of the Grand Portage Band. This is an event for the Bucket List.











What if you were entering Terra Incognita, say along the North Shore of Lake Superior where No kind of Verizon cellular service reaches you from the US and the only signal from nearby Canada informs you that the costs will be prohibitive once you get in range. Say, for the first time in your traveling life, you have back-to-back reservations at Ontario's finest Provincial Parks for the next 18 days. The weather is clear, traffic is light, your documents are in order and you are carrying no illegal food stuffs which might endanger the lives and agriculture of our friendly neighbors to the North.

Why look! A national Monument AND a gas station with attractive prices, just before the border. How Fortuitous, he exclaimed. AND, it is large and commodious, easy to manuever in and spotlessly clean...part of the Grand Portage Casino complex...

What, you ask, Could go wrong?

Well, your right front trailer axle hub could crack, your wheel going a tad asymmetrical, loud screeching of complaning metal and cries of horror from bystanders. That might happen just as you pull away from the pumps...

We stopped, blocking horrified convenience store customers in their parking places, ASSESSED, and pulled away to the parking apron to yet more shrieking from metal and spectators.

We took advice from all assembled. Letting the air out of the tire and pulling up on levelers helped free the tire with no further damage, but the carnage was impressive. Clearly, this JUST happened. The grease wasn't burned or even hot. The guts of the brake assembly were a tangled mess, but the lugs were tight. The fracture to the bearing cup was new and clean. No sign of careless maintenance. The tire temperature sensor had not even peeped. We were lucky this happened as it did: Happening WHERE it did, Not so lucky.



Well, one bit of Luck. Part of the Casino complex is a pleasant campground and site #1 was the easiest to access and empty. This I learned from Richard, who as I was told, would know what to do if anybody did.


It was Sunday. It was Festival day in Grand Marias, forty plus miles back and, if we left right away, we could arrive during the Parade which would assure that no one would be at their place. Halfway back we MIGHT get cellular service to try our Roadside Assistance folks at Good Sams, but we thought it would be prudent to depend on ourselves to find someone capable of fixing this. Then, if necessary, risk the towing.


The people of Grand Marais and Grand Portage are warm, generous and neighborly folks. We learned this through the week, long before the recent mechanical unplesantness. They know and like their neighbors and LOVE their home on the North Shore.

When we drove back into Grand Marais, on Sunday --during the big Fisherman's Picnic Parade -- with our fractured hub, the staff at the Municipal Campground could not have been more helpful. They went through mental inventories of who might be helpful, referring to folks by first names, waving off the place Good Sams was planning to drop our trailer using a towing company no one thought capable. They fixed on Greg Olsen and called him. We later learned that Greg was pulling a float in the parade at that moment with dad's tractor. But right after the parade he appeared on his motor scooter.

Yeah, this is the kind of job I usually get...only Bigger and by the side of the road.

He talked us through the problem which was mostly about Nobody keeps those parts in the county. But he would do his best to get us rolling again. The brake parts were questionable but...

We took a day off to visit the really terrific Grand Portage National Monument and Heritage Center interupted only by a run to the ER (but that's another couple of stories).

Next day, Greg announced that ALL the parts would arrive and he would have us running by sundown. And he did, with grace and skill and a number of pretty good stories of his own.