Saturday, August 3, 2013

Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine 2013

Like so many other RVers, we keep track of states we have visited while towing our RV. Check our blog’s U.S. map display to see which states we’ve been through with our RV so far (sorry but we don’t include Canada). In case you're wondering how we got from Michigan to New York without passing through Ohio or Pennsylvania...we snuck through Southern Ontario.

Just because a state isn’t filled in with a color doesn’t mean we haven’t been in it before. For example, technically our first visit to New York occurred in 2000 to attend Jennie’s wedding in upstate New York’s Old Forge area. Our second visit was soon after Alrick was born in 2004 while the kids lived in Amityville on Long Island. However, our latest visit occurred while towing our RV which meant that New York was again “new” to us. Likewise Vermont was “new” in spite of a prior visit to attend a conference at Middlebury College some years earlier. Looking at the map, clearly we have more “new” states to add in the eastern U.S. even though we’ve been in a number of these states before - just not with our RV. By the way, we can’t really explain why we have so far avoided Kansas and Oklahoma except to ask: would you want to be traveling through these states during tornado season?
We’ve confirmed two distinct differences about our travels east versus driving west that came as no surprise. First was increased traffic congestion. And second, everything is more expensive. From fuel to food to RV park rates, prices on average are noticeably higher. Again, not a huge surprise but it certainly reinforced why we enjoy traveling in the western United States. More open space, less stressful driving conditions and less cost.
In an effort to resolve the nagging vacuum breaker issue we made an unscheduled early morning stop at Ballantyne RV. We have to say that on the rare occasions when we’ve had to make an unscheduled stop for RV service, most of the dealers have been able to quickly fit us in (especially when they understand we’re fulltime RVers). Ballantyne was no exception. And while they failed to have the correct part in stock, they were able to install a shutoff valve in the water line leading to the toilet. Using the part number they supplied, we then went online and ordered the necessary part. We had the part shipped (2-day air) to the Pumpkin Patch RV Resort in Bangor, ME where we would be in less than a week’s time.
By midday we were driving through hilly and scenic southern Vermont. A huge obelisk caught our eye as we passed through the town of Bennington - definitely would have to find out what that was all about.

Pine Hollow Campground, Vermont
Our destination for the next few nights was the Pine Hollow Campground located outside of Pownal, VT about seven miles from Bennington. The park was definitely off the beaten path - secluded and quiet. The only unfortunate bit happened when we discovered that the newly installed shutoff valve for the toilet waterline was not functioning properly. Fast and speedy service at Ballantyne RV but a faulty valve proved to be extremely disappointing.
Bennington had a Home Depot. That was first on our list of “to do’s” the next morning

Farmer's Market, Benningtin, VT
With a replacement valve in hand our next stop was to the local Saturday morning farmer’s market where locals sold fresh organic vegetables, cheeses and baked goods. Next up was an exploration of downtown Bennington where we discovered the “Catamount Prowl Festival” was in full swing. “Catamount” is another term for “mountain lion” or “puma”. Many visitors to Sturgeon Bay in Door County, Wisconsin, may recall all the artistically rendered sturgeons that adorned Sturgeon Bay streets. The Catamount Festival included dozens of artistically rendered life-sized mountain lions. We figured that a similar treatment of moose had occurred some years earlier as there were artistically treated life-sized moose scattered around town. Either that or moose in Vermont are very different from the rest of the world.

a few of the Catamount Prowl entires
Several interesting shops caught our eye - like the Catbird Gallery. And of course the local Madison Brewing Company was impossible to pass up where we settled for a light lunch and a sampling of local brews.
Fortified with lunch we set off to seek out the large obelisk which turned out to be the center of a state historic site. The Bennington Battle Monument commemorated Brigadier General John Stark and his allied American forces defeat of two detachments under the command of British General John Burgoyne’s invading army in 1777. The actual battle took place five miles northwest near Walloomsac, NY. There, Stark’s army engaged a combined force of British troops, Indians, Loyalist and German mercenaries who were intent on raiding the local arsenal depot’s bounty of desperately needed supplies located near the present site of the monument.

note Carol for a scale comparison
Initially Stark’s forces were successful in fighting back the British, however, a counterattack very nearly turned the table on the American forces. Were it not for the last minute arrival of New Hampshire’s Green Mountain Boys, the outcome would have been very different. The battle was of no small consequence. Due in large part to Burgoyne’s inability to secure much needed supplies, his army was forced to surrender on October 7, 1777 following the Battle of Saratoga, a major turning point in the American Revolution.
The monument was impressive. Standing 306 feet tall, the cornerstone was laid in 1887 and the completed project was dedicated in 1891. The monument’s base is 37 feet square. Constructed from blue-grey magnesian limestone (known as Sandy Hill Dolomite), it has an interior elevator (fee required) that takes visitors up 200 feet to an observation level where twenty eleven-foot high slotted openings offer views of the surrounding hills of Vermont, New York and Massachusetts. And no, we didn’t feel the need to subject ourselves to a small dark elevator...

artful moose and Silk Road covered Bridge
While visiting the site’s gift shop the fellow on duty persuaded us to take a short driving tour of three covered bridges. Upon reflection, the bridges were not terribly scenic. They would have been better observed while canoeing or kayaking the river that they crossed. But the driving tour lead to a couple of other area attractions: Bennington College and The Old First Church.

Old First Church, Bennington, VT
The latter was the first Protestant church which was dedicated in 1806 (the original meeting house on the same site was built in 1763). The adjacent cemetery contained the graves of Revolutionary War patriots as well as British and Hessian soldiers killed in the Battle of Bennington. The site of Ethan Allen’s home is on the cemetery’s border.
One notable citizen of Bennington is buried there - Robert Frost. His grave is located close to and behind the church (signs mark the way) under the shade of a birch tree. Back again at our RV, the rest of the afternoon was taken up by Tom replacing the defective shutoff valve with the new valve purchased at Home Depot.

"One could do worse than be a swinger of birches."
On 28 July we managed to get packed up just before it started to rain at Pine Hollow CG. In fact the better part of the morning was spent driving east in the rain on scenic Hwy 9 which included the Molly Stark Scenic Byway. The route passed through Wilmington, VT where we would have liked to have stopped but due to a lack of any safe RV parking (and rain) we continued over Hogback Mountain overlook (brief stop at the gift shop) and then on into Brattleboro on the Vermont/New Hampshire border. Of interest is the fact that before plate tectonics shifted a half billion years ago, Vermont was located on where the present day equator is located. Just imagine what bird watching in Vermont today would be like if it were not for plate tectonics?
Our target for the day was Portland, Maine so without much ado, and with the assistance of our current audio book selection (Stieg Larsson's “The Girl Who Played With Fire”) we passed straight through New Hampshire knowing that on our way back west we likely would spend a bit more time in the “Live Free Or Die “ state. One interesting observation: major rest stops in New Hampshire all seem to have a state owned liquor store which made for some interesting people watching.

Eartha at DeLorme
During a pit stop at a rest area outside Yarmouth, ME we stumbled upon the world headquarters for DeLorme maps. Ever use a state gazetteer? Chances are it was printed by DeLorme. Housed in a three story glassed-in entryway was “Eartha” the world’s largest rotating and revolving globe created from printed satellite images of the earth. It’s scale was 1:1,000,000, or, approximately one inch represented 16 miles on earth. Two electric-driven motors rotated Eartha at a 23.5 degree axis duplicating the earth’s rotating axis. One combined rotation/revolution took 18 minutes. One could sit and quite literally watch the world go by!

Old Orchard Beach RV Resort site
Portland, ME was home to a few friends we had met during two separate visits to Ecuador. Jim and Naomi Honeth were participants on our 2010 tour of Southern Ecuador. And during our 2010-2011 two month volunteer gig at Tandayapa Lodge, we had met Luke Sietz. Luke was the next host in line to take over our duties once we had left Tandayapa.
Old Orchard Beach Campground was where we for the duration of two night stay in Portland. Clearly a vacation destination park where park models abounded. Not exactly our style of park but again, the further east we traveled, this type of RV park had become prevalent. And this park was by far the most expensive daily rate we’ve ever paid to stay in any RV park to date!

part of Portland waterfront district
After we parked and disconnected, it was off to Cabela’s. In need of a pair of new shorts but with little time left in Wisconsin, Tom had ordered a new pair online. We figured that by the time we reached Portland’s Cabela’s that the shorts would be waiting for him (free delivery with an in-store pickup). And they were. However, Tom discovered that the color of his ordered shorts wasn’t what he thought it to be and exchanged them for a different color. It turned out that the in-store sale price was less than the online sale price. The refund allowed him to buy a second pair of shorts for only $11! Meanwhile, Carol had signed up for a no fee Cabela’s card. The incentive was that it netted her an immediate twenty dollar off coupon which she used to purchase an already on sale “Life Is Good” T-shirt for the amazing sum of .48-cents!
After Cabela’s we drove down to the Portland waterfront area to scope out the whale watching trip launch location. We’ve discovered that it’s always crucial to to scope out things like parking options for these kinds of events, especially in a high tourist area. Not surprising there were some horrendous parking fees. Some charged as much as $10/hour! But the representative at Odyssey explained that the lot they had their customers use only charged $10 for a whole day’s parking.

the boat but we never got to board
We knew that Luke had worked summers for the Odyssey Whale Watching Tours so we had made prior arrangements for him to join us on our tour. Luke is an excellent young birder who we would rely upon to sort out seabirds while on our outing. And besides, we were excited about seeing him again.
Watching local weather reports we had grown concerned about possible poor weather for the boat trip and sure enough, the next morning we got a call from Odyssey to inform us that due to fog, the morning’s tour had been cancelled. We rescheduled for the afternoon tour but then learned that Luke would not be able to meet us for the afternoon tour. He had a prior commitment to pick his parents up in Boston at the airport. Bummer. We would not be getting together with Luke after all.

Jim, his son, and Tom at Pine Point
However, Jim Honath generously offered to meet us for some birding at Pine Point, about a half hour’s drive from our RV. Naturally, an offer to bird with a local birder could never be refused! Jim and his son accompanied us around the shore of Pine Point. Jim introduced Carol to a local lobster boat crew who gave her a first-hand demonstration on the art of catching and handling a lobster. The tide was out so there were a handful of shorebird species to scope as well as watch a family of Common Eider feed nearby.

from boat to belly - fresh Maine lobster
Jim suggested we drive a short distance to walk part of the Eastern Trail, a hiking and biking trail that cut through part of the Scarborough Marsh. A few new year birds: Nelson’s Sparrow and Glossy Ibis. During our walk the tour boat company called to say that once again, due to fog off the coast, the whale watching trip was cancelled for the day. As this was our one and only chance we could not reschedule. Bummer.
Time for plan B.  After we had finished our walk and Jim and his son who had departed for home, we followed up on another of Jim’s suggestions: to return to Pine Point to grabble with some fresh lobster at Bayley’s Lobster Pound. That turned out to be an excellent suggestion. Not only was it our first experience wrangling a whole lobster but the young woman who tended the outdoor bar instructed us with step-by-step instructions on how to crack open a lobster without us looking like idiots! Suffice it to say, eating fresh Maine lobster right out of the ocean has probably ruined us from ever eating lobster that hasn’t been fresh caught.

Dimillo's in Portland, ME
Still with some extra time we added to plan B. We learned that Naomi Honath was working that afternoon very near the Odyssey Tour Company. Concerned about finding a good parking spot, the woman at Bayley’s suggested parking at at Dimillo’s, one time ferryboat no nonverted into a floating bar and restaurant. The advantage of parking at Dimillo’s was not only do they serve gtreat food and drinks, but that with the purchase of the same, our parking ticket would be validated. We would essentially buy some food and drink for about the cost of a two hour parking fee. A much better use of our money don’t you think?

Carol and Naomi
On the upper deck of Dimillo’s we enjoyed more local brew (from the Shipyard Brewing Company) and a tasty cup of New England Clam chowder with a commanding view of the Greater Portland Casco Bay Region. A quick phone call to Naomi wound up with us meeting her briefly at dockside next to where the Odessey was moored. When we again pass through Maine in September we hopefully we’ll be able to catch up with Jim and Naomi and possibly Luke (if he’s not already back in college) for an extended visit.

Pumpkin Patch RV Resort near Bangor, ME
Our next overnight was near Bangor, ME at the Pumpkin Patch RV Resort. The park had been recommended to us by Robin and Golda. Their past recommendations have turned out well and this was no exception. Upon our arrival we collected out mail (forwarded from SD) plus and our 2-day overnight RV part (which took five days to arrive). While Carol was off doing laundry and grocery shopping, Tom replaced the vacuum breaker.

Bangor was the last U.S. destination before we entered New Brunswick, Canada. In Canada our phone will be turned off for the duration plus access to wifi will become severely limited. We will be sporadically off the grid for quite some time. However, we are very much looking forward to many new and interesting places to visit as we head into the Canadian Maritimes.

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