Into Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley

After our thee day stay at West Virginia’s Tomlinson Run State Park, we retraced our drive 45 miles north before turning west towards the Cuyahoga Valley, which boasts one of the handful of National Parks to receive that designation in the 21st century.  This would be Kalynn’s last stay with stop with us, so we once again selected a private park with kid friendly amenities close to the national park and within easy striking distance of the Cleveland airport for her departure flight.  photo 1 Ohio sign_zps1vetxdtu.jpg

Passport America came through once again, leading us to the well reviewed Country Acres Campground near Ravenna, OH.  We secured a spacious electric/water site for the $20 per day PA rate.  They offered us a nicer full hook up spot that included a wood deck for a higher price, but we stuck with the most cost efficient option, and it was just fine, with a near unobstructed view of their catch and release pond.  photo 2 Site_zpsnmgrs18m.jpg

Aside from the confusing road system, Country Acres turned out to be a near ideal choice. Large, level sites in an attractive setting, working free wifi, and plenty of things for the kids including a pool, bounce platform, inflated obstacle course and water balloon battle zone.  The owners were constantly out and about coordinating improvements and repairs. One of the longer term campers had nothing but praise for them noting that they really seemed to put a lot of their profit right back into the camp, adding new features and activities every year.  photo 3 Pool plus_zps1lnk0g71.jpg

We spent two day there without leaving the property except one time for take out pizza. The rest of our time was spent enjoying the amenities, watching the ducks and swan, and trying to keep Kalynn reined in so we could send her back home with but the one skinned elbow from her bike crash.  On her last full day we even managed to finish off an extended math tutoring session with only the small amount of opposition.  Such is the power of promised ice cream.  photo 4 Swan_zpszqpmdmvq.jpg

On our third day we made the one hour drive to the airport, with Rosemarie escorting her to the gate and waiting there until departure.  Though we all had some great times, after 19 days she was ready to go home and we were ready to resume our two person grown up lives again.  photo 5 sunset_zpsbd1ep8is.jpg

While Rosemarie was waiting in the airport, I went geocaching in the area.  I snagged a nearby park and grab to meet my “one in every state” goal, but since I still had an hour I headed for a series of five nearby caches in an interesting location.  Apparently due to the expansion of the airport, an entire subdivision of homes was bought out and then completely removed; the only obvious trace being the three division roads slowly being reclaimed by the grass and wild bushes.  Everything else, including houses, driveways, street lights, telephone polls, have been completely removed.  photo 6 Geocaching_zpsiuvk4vts.jpg

The streets were blocked off by barriers, but since there was no “no trespassing sign” anywhere, I found my way onto the property in Loki by driving over a low point in the curb of the nearby access road and driving across the fields.  It was such fun that after finding one in the series I continued throughout the rest o the former neighborhood, likely driving through what had once been living rooms and the like until i found all five, then headed out the tree lined, empty streets before hopping the curb back to return to the airport and pick up Rosemarie.  photo 7 Pond_zpsbvrvohkl.jpg

Though Kalynn had exhausted us, we took advantage of our first child free afternoon in 19 days to drive to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park visitor center and at least spend a couple of hours exploring the park.  We watched the traditional park movie before getting a couple of recommendations from the rangers short hikes to see the park highlights.  photo 8 Hornet nest_zps791bav2n.jpg

It’s an odd national park, lacking the striking, much less overwhelming natural features that one normally associates with a full national park.  It is a very lovey area with an important natural ecosystem, but, aside from politics, it made its claim for inclusion in the NPS system as much on the cultural importance grounds as on natural wonderment.  The Ohio and Erie canal tow paths cut through much of the park, which has established a hike and bike trail along the historic canal line.  photo 9 Rocks Rose_zpsda9ygwz9.jpg

We did a short hike to see the beautiful Richie Ledges and the opening of the ice cave, though full access to the latter is restricted as part of the national effort against White Nose Syndrome, an easily spread fungus that has been decimating the North American bat population.  photo 10 Ledges Jack_zpsvgwof3wy.jpg

We capped off the visit with a climb down to the lower observation level of Brandywine Falls, a 65′ fall that, like several we saw in NY, has a lot less flow volume these days due to dry conditions.  The hiking in the park looks to be quite nice, but we didn’t have much time to enjoy such things.  We headed back to our campground, extended our stay by one night so as to recover from temporary child rearing, and prepped for our continued journey west.  photo 11 Brandwine Falls_zpsclpqo1h0.jpg

We have made a big push this last week to catch up on the blog; when I published the 19 Months Fulltiming Report I wrote that we were 18 days, 7 stops and four states behind.  We have continued to travel, but we are at least posting at faster rate than we switch locations, so as of today we are only 12 days, 4 stops, and 2 states behind.  Progress! Next up: through Indiana and into Lower Michigan.  photo 12 map_zps4vtn0y1y.jpg


Swinging south to catch the top “spike” of West By God Virginia

We are purely state collecting here.  As we worked our way west from Pennsylvania into Ohio, we dipped 48 miles due south to spend a few days in West “By God” Virginia, as the state’s natives are fond of calling it.  Since my father was born and raised there (though rather far south in McDowell County) I felt obliged to at least stop in and pay homage to the state, uncertain if we would be coming this route again during our RV travels.  photo P8040591_zpsc4lypmx8.jpg

I was unwilling to drive too far out of the way, pushing deep into the state to experience the best she has to offer for instance, but of the campgrounds we researched on All Stays in that northern spike, Tomlinson Run seemed to be the best option for our preferred type of camping.  So for only an hour’s drive and $15 in gas each way, we hit our first and only WV campground. It did not disappoint.  photo P8040593_zpswewtx4qz.jpg

The campground has 54 sites, 39 with electric connections, divided in some manner between those that may be reserved and those that are walk up, first come first serve only. Upon arrival we talked with the check in desk about our options, and they recommend we drive around the campground and select one of the dozen or so spots still open, but pointing out that site # whatever might not be available because a couple just went to look at it, so if we liked that spot, make sure and have a back up option in case the took it.  photo P8060627_zpsslrhhjs2.jpg

And thus we fell prey to the “you can’t have it”self induced marketing trap.  We headed down the loop road with that site (lets call it #17, which might even be right) picking out one or two alternative spots along the way, but upon spotting 17 we wanted it.  We didn’t even give it a thorough look, we didn’t even check out the last loop of sites.  Someone told us we might not be able to have it, so we decided we must have it.  Don’t do this.  Resist it. There were several other even better sites, it would turn out.  photo P8050616_zpsqtd0skwy.jpg

Don’t get me wrong, it was beautiful and spacious!  We didn’t have any trouble reaching the connections (such a challenge not uncommon problem in state parks,) it was a pull through rather than back in site, had no neighbor to the front, rear or right, and the left neighbor was across the road!  But it was laughably unlevel, particularly in the lateral direction.  At full extension our right side hydraulic jacks did the trick, but put the right side tires off the ground and the door step, at full extension, about 18 inches from the dirt. Ah well, we put the foot stool there and made do.  It really was a beautiful spot, with the hollow dropping down steeply away from our site and the the tree canopy giving us shade.  photo P8040597_zpsyqyrzvqi.jpg

Though the park had much to offer, two of the best unintended features were the ready made friends that Kalynn found in the neighboring site.  There is something about camp that removes traditional boundaries to childhood friendship.  School cliques are absent, the various pressures around appearance and class are neutralized, no one knows anyone and thus everyone needs to take that first introductory step.  Camp kids know this instinctively.  Kalynn found two sweet and spirited girls roughly her own age, and they were pretty inseparable the three day stay.  photo P8070631_zps5mwuygo6.jpg

Of course, the existence of the pool helped keep everyone happy and playful.  I don’t mean a regular little pool, I mean a great big honkin’ West Virginia pool complete with a three story twisting water slide.  Sure, it had an entry fee not included in our camping payment, but at $5 per adult, $4 for a child, and no charge for veterans, the $9 we spent on each of the second and third days was well worth it for the hours of entertainment it provided.  photo P8050603_zpsupvs0npf.jpg  photo P8050608_zpspt3vjrfw.jpg

We took a leisurely drive through the beautiful park, exploring the ponds, boat house, and trail heads.  Tomlinson Run is a very well maintained  and large state park, definitely worth the time if you are in the vicinity.  They should probably rent something more than the unwieldy paddle boats and awkward rowing john boats at the boat house; a canoe rental option likely would have sucked us in, but it was still a lovely location.  photo P8050618_zpsv3bztvhw.jpg

We also spent part of an afternoon on a short day hike to find a local geocache, as is mandatory for me in every state.  Without expectations we were surprised at how nice a short hike this turned out to be.  It lead us down some very nice trails along side the challenging Frisbee golf course before we found the cache across a small brook under some tree roots and rocks.  photo P8060624_zpsucjrvzaj.jpg

All in all this was a great stop for us.  It had enough activities to keep Kalynn occupied and happy, and the sort of camping in the woods atmosphere we most appreciate.  photo P8050623_zpsqrs0tbvw.jpg  photo P8050619_zps9ipvzcs6.jpg




Cutting across the northwest edge of Pennsylvania, and another fantastic RV park.

As we circle under The Great Lakes towards Michigan we are making sure to stop in every state at least for a few days, our view, as we have said before, being that all of them have fantastic places to visit and great campgrounds to enjoy.  As we would be passing through the NW corner of Pennsylvania, we made sure to schedule a stop there.  Having just left a state park, we aimed for a private campground for this visit.  photo Welcome to Penn_zpsanrmltxw.jpg

Since the niece was still with us, we restricted ourselves to Passport America (referrals available!) participants with plenty of kid friendly things and a swimming pool.  We had about four to choose from that were generally along our route, and ended up selecting Whispering Winds Campground and Cabins for its solid reviews, nice amenities, and location within the heart of the Allegheny National Forest.  photo Creek with cat_zpszcprurcu.jpg

For $18 a night we got a full hook up site in an extremely well cared for campground.  We sprung for the cable TV option for an additional $2 a day.  In addition to the pool, rec room with billiards and air hockey tables, free wifi, playground, and very clean shower house, the property has a clear running little brook running right down the middle of it, resulting in most of the sites, including ours, backing directly onto it.  This is pretty much my dream feature for any future home, so it was great to experience it for a few days.  Kalynn and I spent plenty of time exploring it, catching crayfish, and spotting fish and even one water snake.

 photo Creek and KK crayfish_zpsu671k0i4.jpg

Kalynn is happy, having just caught her first crayfish

The property is not all that wide, but very deep, pushing back right up against a National Forest boundary, with a hiking trail leading out of the back fence line into the woods. Alongside the creek towards the rear of the property we found scores of black and blue butterflies on the damp ground that would rise up in a cloud around you as you passed.

We enjoyed it so much we didn’t feel the need to explore the area as much as we might have, instead spending our days swimming in the pool, catching up on a bit of TV, and of course, the dreaded hour of math tutoring.  The place is such a nice little resort, with one of the few heated pools in the region, that locals purchase seasonal passes and use it like a day spa without even camping there.  How great does a campground have to be to get that kind of commerce?

The owners and their work campers do a phenomenal job of keeping the place in perfect working condition and beautifully appointed.  From the modern shower house to the wood foot bridge crossing the creek, it is just plain well done.  photo Pool us_zpsfxv88eyk.jpg

I struggle to come up with any downsides other than the shaky cell phone service in the area, and the need to be very careful driving a big rig down one of the campground roads due to the significant drainage control hump across it; though warned by the check in desk, I over-focused on finding our site and rocked the living heck out of the motorhome, opening up a cabinet and exploding a bottle of cayenne pepper all over our hallway floor.  An easily avoidable and small price to pay for a great campground.  photo Site_zpsenm22bu0.jpg

Other than that, buy your liquor before getting to this town; I am not clear if it was a state or local ordnance, or merely the size of the nearby village, but we could not find any place that sold anything other than standard domestic beer.  Tragedy!  photo Creek 1_zpscqoyeexo.jpg

19 Months Fulltiming: July 2016 Report

The problem with trying to write a dozen paragraphs with relevant photos for every place we visit is that it tends to become a bit like work (and thus something we can procrastinate,) resulting in the blog routinely being a couple of weeks behind.  That wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for some of you giving us fantastic recommendations on things to do and see at our latest stop, but because of our delinquency those recommendations often come a week or more after we have already left the area in question.  Thus we missed Jim’s craft beer brewery recommendation and barely managed to incorporate Amy’s Michigan pointers.  So we are making a big push to catch up.  This post finishes off our July travels, meaning we are 18 days, 7 stops, and 4 states behind. That will be mostly fixed this week.

The Distance: 1,022 miles, the first 1/3 finishing our tour of New England, and the latter 2/3’s of it winding through upstate New York.  Not our biggest month this year, but we have definitely picked up the pace since our languid June in Maine, and August looks to be an even bigger mileage month.  Our 2016 total is 4,653 miles.

The Places:  Eleven stops in July, almost evenly divided between New England and upstate New York.  We extended our stay in Maine with a one week stop at the “no reservations” Bar Harbor Campground before renewing our westward journey.  After a one night stopover at Walmart, we entered New Hampshire, spending five days drycamping in the White Mountain National Forest at the Blackberry Crossing and Pasaconaway campgrounds. We finished off our New England travels with two days at Groton Forest Road Campground in Vermont, with day trips into Montpelier and Waterbury.

We entered upstate New York very close to the Canadian border, skirting around the north end of Lake Champlain for our first stop at Twin Ells RV Resort on the edge of the Adirondack Mountains.  We continued around and through the range to Adirondack Gateway Campground for a few days of relaxation before picking up niece Kalynn at Syracuse airport.  From there we would hit two more New York private RV resorts, Cherry Grove and Niagara Heartland, and two NY State Parks Robert H. Treman and Letchworth to finish off the month.

We had full or partial hook ups for 21 days, and dry camped/parking lot camped for 10.  We stayed 19 nights at private campgrounds, 11 in public campgrounds (all state parks) and one night parking lot camping at Walmart.

The Budget:   Exactly on budget.  We were on a path to be 7% or 8% under, but we paid for the unaccompanied minor airline fees for niece Kalynn, and a small medical bill from a few months ago caught up to us, putting us within $1 of dead even.   Aside from the flight costs, having a kid with you really challenges the finances.  Who knew?!  We are actually pretty happy with the way the month turned out; despite challenges and some pricey tourist destinations, we put our finances back on track after an ugly June.

The Drama:  Serenity and Loki didn’t give us any problems this month, aside from an electrical cut out issue associated with the hydraulic slide outs and the ignition switch, which we resolved easily and appears to simply have been the result of me turning the ignition key on while we were parked with slides out for a few days.  The true drama, as you can imagine, was from having an 11 year old RV with us for the last ten days of the month.  Exhausting!

The Improvements:  Really now, nothing significant to report.

All of our monthly reports, as well as our first full year report, 2015 in Review, are linked below.

2016 Reports:

2015 in Review

Four NY State Parks: Camping at Robert H. Treman & Lechtworth, day trips to Taughannock Falls & Watkins Glenn

The New York State Park system is amazing; grand in scope and very well maintained.  We tend to think of National Parks as huge, requiring days if not weeks to explore, and state parks as small scale bits of nature that can often be experienced in a single day if you are just looking for the highlights.  Not so many of the huge state parks in the NY system.  Indeed, one could easily imagine Watkins Glenn or Letchworth as true national parks; sure, they can’t match the awesomeness of the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone, but I found them easily as impressive, if not more so, than Cuyahuga Valley, Congaree, or Hot Springs National Parks.

My dad and stepmom had strongly recommended Robert H. Treman for the great falls system and fantastic day hikes, and our own online research pointed us towards Watkins Glenn, both in the lower Finger Lakes region outside and west Ithaca.  With the latter’s campground completely booked, our decision was made easier, and we secured four days in the drycamping section of Robert H. Treman.  At just over $25/night it is a touch steep for a site with no connections but it turned out to be the best choice for us: far less chaotic and crowded than Watkins Glenn, with the option of actually swimming in a section of the river right next to the lower falls.

Our site was quite spacious and heavily treed, which provided necessary relief from the sun driven heat, particularly since generator use was restricted to a few hours in the morning and evening.  For most of our stay the camping area was not much more than half full, though the electrical hook up sites stayed packed.  No worries, we paid less and had a wonderful, large, and level site with plenty of squirrel activity to keep Pad Kee Meow entertained.  photo IMG_0597_zpsy7zke2qo.jpg

On our first day we spent part of the afternoon swimming in the lower falls area.  Since it was still the weekend we had to contend with significant crowds, mostly day use people, but it was still a fun time, and the falls themselves are pretty impressive.

Kalynn got braver on Rosemarie’s bike, resulting in the inevitable first crash and associated skinned elbow, but to her immense credit she barely shed a tear and literally got right back on the bicycle.  photo IMG_0546_zpsuiwyxige.jpg

That evening we had significant rain, the resulting run off leading to the closure of the swimming area for nearly two days.  This provided two opportunities: we could take pictures of the lower falls without all those pesky people in the way, and we now had the time to visit the nearby Taughannock Falls.  photo IMG_0539_zpsyewgvylm.jpg

We had first seen Taughannock Falls from the upper viewing area during the evening rain shower, and were quite excited to get to the bottom the next day, having spotted several swimmers enjoying the seeming very nice swim hole below the the 215′ fall.  The following day upon making the one mile hike from the lower falls parking area, however, we learned that swimming was actually prohibited, and without the rain adding to the water volume the falls were little more than a trickle, the up stream region having experienced unusually dry conditions.  photo IMG_0554_zps6h3h4tbm.jpg

But we had come to swim, so we were gonna swim somewhere.  We drove a few miles down the road to the section of the park sitting on Cayuga Lake, complete with marina and swim beach.  The latter was a very contained, as in small, beach filled with day use people, swimming in a roped off murky area near shore.  The slightest step out of the roped off area, even knee deep, resulted in lifeguard interaction.  It was awful, but we made the best of it.  photo IMG_0556_zpspgrg3dxs.jpg

The next day went better.  We made the half hour drive to Watkins Glenn State Park, which contains a stunning set of falls and pools with hiking trails on either side of the deep gorge they have cut over millennia.  Aside from the very confusing, bordering on unsafe vehicle entrance to the park, it was a great experience.  photo IMG_1062_zpskxaeles4.jpg

We truly enjoyed the round trip day hike, but again, swimming was completely prohibited.  Sure we spotted a young couple risking arrest by swimming in one of the most inviting falls pools you can imagine, but we weren’t there to take that kinda of risk.  photo IMG_1066_zpsfllpc1vj.jpg

We instead visited one of the actual designated swimming pools in the park for a couple of hours of play and another informal swimming lesson for Kalynn.  At the end of our visit, while in conversation with one of the ladies running the gift shop, I expressed my disappointment at not being able to swim at either Watkins or Taughannock, though we really enjoyed the former as well as our camping experience at Robert H. Treman.  She strongly recommended we visit Letchworth State Park if we could fit it into the schedule.  photo IMG_1065_zpsxemxfzvm.jpg

And so we did: we did not have any reservations for the last two days of July anyway, so we secured an electrical hook up spot at Letchworth.  This place is gigantic, at least by state park standards.  Referred to by some as “The Grand Canyon of the East” or perhaps just “of New York,” it is 17 miles long and encompasses more than 14,000 acres along the Genesee River.  It includes three major falls, scores of minor ones, and 600′ cliffs in some places along the river gorge.  With 66 miles of hiking trails within the park, you could spend quite some time here exploring.  We only had two days, so we would be limited to the short ones to see the major falls.

Thankfully we are no longer travelling without a tow vehicle.  With the swimming pool at one end, the campground 5 miles towards the center, and the falls area at the opposite end, you really need a car to take advantage of all this place has to offer.  We ended our short stay with an educational reptile encounter aimed at the camper kids.  I didn’t knock any of them out of the way to touch all the snakes and lizards this time.  photo IMG_1039_zpsz5ayjew9.jpg

Closing out our review of this quad of NY state parks I can’t help but mention, or perhaps reiterate the downsides.  We have been to a lot of parks, many on the state level, in a score of states, and none of them are as tightly controlled and restricted as in NY.  Fenced off areas, lots of rules, no getting in the water even along the entire 17 miles stretch of the Genesee, and tiny designated swimming spots with aggressive lifeguard control.  photo IMG_1038_zps1jzigz5t.jpg

I was told that swimming used to be allowed at Letchworth, but someone had died, so the obvious state response was complete closure, unless of course you are paying money for the white water rafting.  Even the man made pools are operating at a level of micromanagement we have not previously seen.  Its not just the 10 minute pool break every hour complete with a laconic life saving drill, its the overabundance of restrictions in every regard.  I am just not used to it, and was almost relieved to get to the less restrictive state park in West Virginia on our second stop after leaving NY.  photo IMG_1036_zpsqt3ual1a.jpg

Ah well, am I being to hard on NY?  Is it a necessity just because of their popularity and thus need to control the crowds?   Regardless, we generally enjoyed our stays in the parks, and were particularly impressed with how well maintained they are since some other states seem to be operating theirs on a shoe string budget.  photo IMG_1043_zpst5ifqxqd.jpg



Changing our RV pattern to make it a bit more kid friendly for a few weeks

Ever since we had Maria and Kalynn RV with us for a couple of days back in June, we have been looking into the possibility of Kalynn travelling with us a bit longer before the summer ended.  After a few false starts, we made arrangements for her to fly from NYC to Syracuse on a one way, non-stop flight on Jet Blue. As we solidified our travel route we would lock in a return flight.

Incidentally, the unaccompanied minor fees most of the airlines charge are outrageous considering that they don’t do much of anything in terms of additional labor or assistance. They don’t escort the child, the person dropping them off is the escort all the way through security until boarding.  The only thing they actually do is seat them on the plane and walk them from the arriving gate to the exit point to verify the identity of the pick up adult.  Hardly worth $100 to $150 for each direction!  Ah well, at least we were able to get both tickets for a very low point value from our various mile stashes.  photo Falls 2_zpsbtqjcnbm.jpg

So Friday morning had us up early and headed from our last campground at the southwest edge of the Adirondacks over to Syracuse airport in our RV.  Yes, in our RV.  Turns out SYR is very easy to get into even with a big rig, and we pulled into the cell phone lot with no problems.  Rosemarie walked across the short parking lot and road directly into the terminal to meet Kalynn as she exited while I waited with the vehicles, and then we were on our way to anther New York campground.  photo Airport lot_zpsw1cjrfrs.jpg

Having an 11 year old with us meant we needed to keep her entertained (for our own sanity), and that meant changing our general RV park selection criteria.  Now all those “family and kid friendly” type amenities switched from being negative qualities to strong positives in our prioritization.  And we would need more than ever to keep the costs down, so ideally we were looking for Passport-America participants with a lot of free child oriented activities.  Unfortunately we would be staring our RV experience with Kalynn on Friday, and were unable to find a PA park in the region that did not exclude the weekend, so we would have to spring for full price.  photo CG site_zpseubjmkqj.jpg  photo CG pool_zps2occxfr0.jpg

Our first selection was Cherry Grove Campground in the very small town of Wolcott, less than an hour from the Syracuse airport.  This is exactly the sort of property we would usually skip over, but for this situation it was ideal.  Affordable at only $33 and change a night ($34 plus $3 AC charge minus 10% military discount) with playgrounds, a pool, jumping pillow, putt putt golf, an ice cream shop, planned activities and, perhaps most importantly, other kids.

 photo CG putt putt_zpsxhtsj0gh.jpg  photo CG kids games_zpsixroj7en.jpg

We filled the two days we had there with pretty much all of those activities, along with an hour of math tutoring every day (you can imagine how much “fun” that was) and casual swimming lessons.  Rosemarie got to play a bit of bingo, and the local publication from the chamber of commerce led us to a very small farmers market where we scored a big loaf of fantastic banana zucchini bread, and fresh fruit and veggies from the young Amish pair there.  Cash only, of course.  photo CG market Amish_zpsthzhpgno.jpg  photo CG other kids_zpswyoxb1xk.jpg

For our next private park, we needed something in the Niagara Falls region, and again we just couldn’t find a Passport-America participant in the area that did’t have exclusions for our time frame.  The best deal we found was about 40 minutes from The Falls at Niagara Hartland RV Resort.  We locked in two nights at the AAA 10% discounted rate of $30 a night.  This park had a few less amenities than Cherry Grove, no pool for instance, but it did have a nice sized chain of man made ponds, a playground, and a chicken coop.  We were fortunate enough to be there at the same time as a family with two daughters and their friend, all very close to Kalynns age, so that worked out pretty well.  photo NH chickens_zpsqcn9bwe9.jpg  photo NH site 1_zpsvqywjtjf.jpg

Our second day we made the run to Niagara Falls.  Here we employed a couple of common sense tricks that have served us well to avoid overpriced tourist traps: don’t park right next to the destination, pack your own lunch and snacks, and don’t buy from the first vendor.  The parking closest to the falls charged a flat rate of $20 a day!  I found a metered spot just a couple of blocks away and spent only $6 for our three hour stay.  We would later enjoy our own prepared meal in a nearby park, avoiding the overpriced stands next to the falls.  And rather than the $45 tickets offered by the first vendor, which included an unnecessary bus ride between the points of interest, we just purchased out tickets for the Maids of the Mist boat tour directly at the gate for about $18 each for us adults, and less than $11 for the child.  photo Mist 1_zpsmgyjuakl.jpg  photo Mist 2_zpsvagmzgvz.jpg

We only had a 15 minute wait to board; they have a really efficient system, able to pump through close to 20,000 visitors per day on peak days.  The boat tour is totally worth the price of admission, putting you right up next to the major falls, especially the Horseshoe Falls that are not nearly as easy to see from land on the US side.  The power from them is amazing; as you approach in the boat the massive volume of water pouring over the cliffs creates its own wind system, blowing cool air and mist across everything.  The boat pilots make sure to give both sides of the boat a turn to experience each angle of the falls before returning to the landing.  photo Mist 3_zpsuycxg8z6.jpg

Two excellent private parks started our kid-oriented RV adventure off quite well, and if you are in those regions with children we can recommend both Cherry Grove and Niagara Hartland.  Next up, four NY state parks.  photo NH neigbors kitten_zpslhjk1cb4.jpg  photo Falls 1_zpsyuj3rkub.jpg

Out of New England into New York: Two stops as we pass through the Adirondacks.

During our initial rough planning for this year’s circuit, Up State New York, like Maine, is one of the regions for which we allocated more than the anticipated six to seven day per state average stay.  Though we lingered in Maine longer than even we anticipated, we made up a bit of time in Vermont, so felt comfortable taking a, for us, leisurely route through The Empire State.  Excelsior!  photo IMG_0827_zps0jx2bt3n.jpg  photo IMG_0825_zpsthrsq7jm.jpg

We started with the Adirondacks, the extreme north-east region of the state adjacent to Vermont.  Via mostly back roads, we swung north around the top of Lake Camplain just a few miles from the Canadian border and crossed into NY, turning south just a few miles to our first NY stop: Twin Ells Campground.  We had picked this stop based on the strong recommendation from our temporary neighbors in Vermont, who also lean towards Passport-America participating parks.   At $15 a night for full hook ups, its pretty hard to beat!  photo IMG_0291_zps4wyvgrfl.jpg  photo IMG_0295_zpsaaisgw5e.jpg

Larger than most places we stay, and formally arranged in parallel streets, our site was plenty large and included a couple of big trees.  The campground was in excellent condition with a large pool and the usual assortment of RV resort type activities and amenities.  It has a heavy percentage of longer term and seasonal residents, with a big increase in kid population on the weekends as relatives come to stay.  For us, it was mainly a place to relax and regain connectivity after seven days largely cut off from phone and internet service in New Hampshire and Vermont.  Their multiple antennas provided solid internet connectivity for the majority of our three day stay.  photo IMG_0287_zpsuabmulqv.jpg

This was also the first RV park we experienced that had total metered electricity, even for short termers, at 20 cents per kilowatt hour.  It was interesting to compare the cost of shore power electricity to our estimates of generator usage.  During our stay we used the air conditioners sporadically (only one of the days was particularly hot) and ended up paying $8 total for the three day stay.

We didn’t do much in the area as our discussions with the management and locals resulted only in recommendations that all cost money, and we are still cracking down.  Regardless, Twin Ells is well maintained and a great value for any short termers passing through the region.  photo IMG_0820_zpsjsks74ij.jpg

We departed and headed south then west, bound for the opposite end of the Adirondacks Mountain region.  It was a beautiful drive, but I was glad to be done with the twisting, turning, occasionally high gradient and bumpy roads.  We had picked another PA participating park with good reviews and an interesting seeming property, Adirondack Gateway Campground.  This was more our style of place, smaller, a higher percentage of shorter term campers spread out on the sprawling property.  We had a choice of wide open or moderately treed lots, selecting the latter as we always do.  This would be our last stop before picking up niece Kalynn, so we intended to luxuriate in the peace and quite of this laid back park.  photo IMG_0337_zps23ih5jte.jpg  photo IMG_0398_zpslqqbrqe1.jpg

It did not disappoint.  The owners were extremely gracious, allowing us to hang out on their porch most of one afternoon to use the available wifi.  The park boasts a nice rec room, a golf driving range, tree house, hiking trails, ponds, and deep woods primitive campsites accessible by four wheel drive vehicle, which we explored.  They were setting up for their annual Christmas in July event, and also conducted a hay ride one evening, taking us through the neighboring farm, complete with working maple syrup orchard.  photo IMG_0837_zpsfsykup4r.jpg  photo IMG_0836_zpsywar15f6.jpg

At $16 a night, all in, for our full hook up site, Adirondack Gateway Campground is another excellent value, just don’t confuse it with the other, similarly named park at the other end of the Adirondacks.  The owner reported that they have had several confusing episodes from this similarly named place, even having people actually show up having made reservations at the other one.  photo IMG_0818_zpsbvkjf3nt.jpg

That the end of our quiet times, we have a tween niece joining us for the next few stops as we explore the Finger Lakes and Niagara regions.

A short stay in Vermont

Having lingered in Maine longer than planned, we needed to pick up the pace a bit if we want to hit all of the places on our very rough planning list.  We didn’t make up any time in New Hampshire what with our five day stay, so we chose to keep Vermont down to a couple of days, three max.  Unlike in New Hampshire, where all the recommendations pointed us to the White Mountains, we had received no specific or consistent “must see” areas for Vermont.  So we made reservations at a full service park and Passport-America participant that had solid reviews in the usual places.  photo IMG_0691_zpsfjzxomdh.jpg

Groton Forest Road RV met our criteria, providing a power and water site for less than $20 a night.  Nestled on nine acres, the rectangular lay out is bordered on three sides by a tree line or horse pasture.  Located about 20 minutes from Montpelier, it is owned by a couple of apparently very handy men that do their own maintenance and repairs, resulting in an unusually high standard.  It is pretty common to go to RV parks, even higher end resorts, and find plenty of shaky issues, be it old plumbing, poor ventilation, slipshod carpentry, etc.  At Groton Forest Road we found very little if any of that.  The facilities were in excellent shape; everything looked new and clean.  photo IMG_0693_zpsem6iysqt.jpg

The park seems to have settled into a three zone method of assigning sites.  The full season people are at the top of the rolling hill, the horse campers and their trailers are in the middle, and us short termers at the bottom.  We had a wide open site in a well manicured grass area with one big tree providing a little cover.   We enjoyed the relaxation, immaculate pool, and luxury of having power and water after our five days of drycamping in New Hampshire.  photo IMG_0261_zpsjbtrgyrk.jpg

The only down side is the lack of connectivity.  We had no connection to the vaunted Verizon network at all, and though the park has free WiFi, I found it pretty unusable, even by RV park standards.  I had trouble connecting to the server, and only occasionally was able to use it for basic functions.  Our neighbor reported the same situation, but to be fair Rosemarie had much better luck on her Macbook.  photo IMG_0689_zps0cz8jjuj.jpg

The location, however, turned out to be excellent.  We had the relaxation inducing country location, but within easy striking distance of Montpelier and surrounding areas.  We spent one of our days making a run to several of Vermont’s well known industries, starting with Green Mountain Coffee’s visitor center, sampling some of their latest flavors and options.  Then we headed up the road to the Cabot Cheese Center, where they had free samples of someting like thirty of their cheeses and spreads.  We stepped next door to Lake Champlain Chocolates before heading up the road to Ben & Jerry’s factory.  We chose not to do the half hour tour due to the one hour wait, but did enjoy seeing the facility and taking a few pictures.  We capped off the day by swinging into the Cold Hollow Cider Mill for a very refreshing sample of their fresh pressed best.  photo IMG_20160721_121110_zpsf9jgpzq0.jpg

We ended up only staying two days in Vermont, but would gladly return to explore more of this beautiful state.  Alas, we were now up to one week without any connectivity, and chose to move on and catch up.  Next time we are in New England we hope to give The Green Mountain State more of our time.  photo IMG_0264_zpsufyzteef.jpg

Five days in the White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

After departing Bar Harbor we made a one night stop at Walmart again before continuing west into New Hampshire.  Our research, along with every recommendation provided by those familiar with the state, lead us to the Kancamagus Scenic Highway, which cuts through the White Mountain National Forest generally along an east west line.  Of the more than twenty national forest service campgrounds in the range, six are along the Kancamagus.  We researched the easternmost four, which seemed to offer mostly the same experience: first come, first serve drycamping in the woods near the clear running Swift River.  photo IMG_0423_zpsslqyzxz7.jpg

At $22 a night they are a bit steep for drycamping, but hardly the most expensive we have paid.  (MacKerricher State Park in CA was $36).  It would be nice to have readily available free boondocking sites in beautiful and accessible areas, such as what we experienced at Lake Mead in NV, but here in the BLM-free east that’s a tough proposition. Even so, the $8 per night we paid at the Amistad National Recreation Area in Texas seems more appropriate for publicly funded federal areas.  Ah well, we are moving west for the rest of the summer so perhaps we will find some of those more affordable or even free sites.  photo IMG_0419_zpstwlyghqp.jpg

Sight unseen I suspected we would like the easternmost Covered Bridge Campground best, but due to a height restriction we would need to approach it from a different route, and if it was full we would need to back track the same way before reconnecting with the Kancamagus to continue onto the next campgrounds.  Since we would arrive on a Saturday, and having heard that they can fill up on weekends, we thought it best to skip Covered Bridge and go straight to Blackberry Crossing Campground, which required neither an alternate route nor backtracking to get to the next campground should it have no open sites.  photo Covered Bridge_zpsvlvkpgpg.jpg

Blackberry is the smallest of the four we eventually checked out, containing around 20 sites.  There were a handful still available when we arrived, and we selected the largest easily accessible one that did not have neighbors on both sides.  Even if the campground had been full, the spots are so big and tree covered that any one of them would have provided reasonable privacy.  Thinking we might still move to one of the other campgrounds after we had a chance to check them out, we only paid for two nights.

Though we had made the drive in clear weather, by the time we arrived a drizzle had set in which would continue through the night and sporadically the next day.  During the clear parts we explored the area, including the nearby very quaint town of Conway, at which we resupplied, washed clothes at the laundromat, made phone calls, and scouted out the library for future WiFi use.  The one downside to camping in the White Mountains was a complete lack of connectivity.  We didn’t expect a drycamping facility to have WiFi, but none of the campgrounds had cell service either, requiring a drive nearly the full way back to town to get a couple of bars.

During both of our trips to Conway we tried in vain to find the mythical Moose Lodge that the Ellsworth Lodge from Maine assured us was here since they helped to establish it.  Unfortunately they are not fully up and running yet, operating out of one of the member’s homes while their building is being renovated.  It took us extensive research just to find this out since we could find no associated phone number, finally getting the scoop from the local American Legion Outpost that has conducted a joint event with the nascent Conway Moose Lodge.  Ah well, maybe next trip to New Hampshire.  photo Cat on our creek_zpslj03jnl3.jpg

One of us took a swim in one of the larger sections of the Swift River, and we explored the other three nearby forest campgrounds.  Covered Bridge, right across the street from Blackberry Crossing, is significantly larger but did not seem to offer anything significantly different.  Ditto for Jigger Johnson (yes, Jigger Johnson,) six miles deeper into the mountains.  The only thing of note was the existence of pay showers there, but at the outrageous price of $2.50 a shower (the few private campgrounds that still use pay showers usually charge 25 cents for a 7-9 minutes) we didn’t see it as an actual useful amenity.  photo IMG_0408_zps6umkxrfb.jpg

We met one of the camp hosts while exploring Jigger Johnson, and upon hearing that we were hoping for something with more direct river access she pointed us two miles further up to road to Pasaconaway Campground.  There we would find three sites that backed up directly onto the Swift River, if they were not already taken.  Check them out we did, finding the better two of the three empty.  Though I was reasonably confident that they would remain open, the next morning I took Loki up there bright an early to secure one of these three coveted spots for a three day stay.  photo IMG_0415_zpsd4fdh0qy.jpg

Man what an ideal campground for us!  The same heavily wooded and very spacious sites that all of the Kancamagus campgrounds offer, but backing directly onto the water.  We would step over the log defining the end of the site and stroll 30 feet down to the edge.  From there we could explore either direction, finding a sandy beach and four foot deep crystal clear swimming hole just downstream.  We spent the majority of our days lounging by the river, just as we had the Salmon River in Idaho.  photo Swift River_zpsusc45mmx.jpg

Even the cat seemed to like the river beach, what with warm sand to rest on and clear water to drink, other than when she misjudged the jump across a side brook and ended up tummy deep in the cold water.  Pad Kee Meow also appreciated the abundant and insanely overconfident small animal life in the region.  She would have had a red ground squirrel that foolishly hung out on top of our cooler had I not spotted the impending mayhem and jerked her leash back at the last second.  Even with my pull it was inches that separated the rodent from tooth and claw.

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Precariously balanced on the river rock, the deadly mountain cat hunts for river salmon.

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We completed our five day stay and reluctantly left behind the beautiful Pasaconaway Campground, assuaging our regret with the knowledge that Vermont will offer a wonderful experience as well.  Should you get to New Hampshire, we strongly recommend the White Mounts, the Kancamagus, and the Pasaconaway Campground, particularly the three spots just beyond the camp host’s.  photo IMG_0414_zpspukudmkt.jpg
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Maine Part 5: Extending our stay in Bar Harbor a full week

A set of five posts from us about one state should be a pretty strong indicator of how much we love it.  Maine, at least in the summer, is fantastic, and we just couldn’t tear ourselves away once our three days at Mt Desert Narrows Resort were up.  The problem was that the impending July 4th weekend had a lot of places at full capacity, and those with openings were charging at peak season, holiday weekend rates.  Mt Desert Narrows had one spot open up based on cancellation, but it was one of the premium waterfront sites, and even with the 15% discount they offered it would end up being abut $85 a night!  No way were were going to spring for it, so what to do?  photo Acadia bridge_zpso68bg8re.jpg

Cross referencing the options on All Stays with the information on RV Park Reviews I ran across an interesting bit of information about a local campground: they operate entirely on a first come first serve basis, no reservations accepted.  It was located just a couple of miles up the road and their rates, considering the timing, were decent: $40 a night for power and water.  So during one of our excursions we swung into Bar Harbor Campground to scope it out and get a feel for the availability come Friday, July 1st. The park is exactly the style of private campground we enjoy most: lots greenery, water access, and space between neighbors.  The front desk staff made no promises, but suggested that if we arrived early in the day we should be able to secure a drycamping spot, and maybe a partial hook up one if we were lucky.  photo Beach_zps0auvjgzd.jpg

So Friday morning saw me up and driving the tracker around their 300+ site, maze-like park shortly after they opened.  I dropped off a couple of our big plastic bins in one of the nicer available drycamping spots (which make up about 40% of the park) to claim it per their process, before continuing to scout the rest of the campground to see if one of the hook up sites opened up.  Every one either had an RV  or a “taken” sign on it until I got to the final “T” loop and stumbled onto the very last available power and water site.  I left the tracker there to claim it, walked back to the office to make payment for four days (cash or check only), retrieved the bins from the now unneeded dry spot and drove back to Mt Desert Narrows to finish breaking camp and move Serenity to our new campground.  photo Site 1_zpsgq2tirvm.jpg

With four more days in Bar Harbor, we were able to enjoy more of Acadia National Park, this time in clear weather.   We made the drive up to Cadillac Mountain, the highest peak in the park.  At 1530 feet it’s not exactly challenging Everest, but it gave fantastic views in every direction.  photo Cadillac 2_zpsvjdpoeod.jpg  photo Cadillac 4_zpsclvta2zc.jpg

We also had the time to find the local Moose Lodge, #2698 in nearby Ellsworth.  Turns out we had driven by the nondescript building twice without realizing it was the lodge; even the moose statue out front struck me as just New England decoration since it seems like 10% of businesses around here incorporate a moose into either the name or decor.  The existence of the Flying Moose Lodge, “a wilderness camp for boys” in the area had given us fits while trying to google the address and phone number of the (non-flying) Moose Lodge.

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We made our first stop in on Sunday for the “meat raffle” which is pretty much what it sounds like: you purchase a number for $20 which gets you into 24 separate drawings for various cuts of meat.  Aside from nickle/dime/quarter poker with family, we don’t do much gambling, but this sounded fun, so we sprung for the entry fee.  We ended up winning two of the drawings, taking home more than five pounds of chicken breasts and six pounds of various pork chop cuts!  Our grocery bills for the next few weeks should be a bit lighter.

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While the meat raffle was a great event, what really stood out about this lodge was the incredibly warm reception we received from the members.  We’ve been nicely welcomed in most of the 19 lodges we have visited, but this was a level beyond; it was like we were out of town family rather than strangers passing through.  Everyone was open, gregarious, and ready with advice on how to best enjoy Maine, particularly the food.  We got particularly good advice on lobster (best way to make your own lobster rolls) and clams (go for the cherry stones, the best.)   And local member, current Jr Governor and former Governor Jack invited us to his big 4th of July bash the next day.  photo party people_zpskdtg30a1.jpg

What a great party!  There must have been a hundred lobster, mounds of clams, trays of shish kabobs, and plenty of side dishes.  I got some hands on assistance in improving my lobster opening technique, sampled some local beer that had as of yet evaded my palate, and purchased 5 pounds of cherry stone clams from Scott per our previous arrangement at the moose.  Though more than stuffed from the party food, on advice we steamed the lot that night before putting them back in the fridge for the next nights dinner.

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Getting instruction…

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… and putting it to use.

Given that they were already cooked and seeing my obvious enthusiasm, the crew sent me off with a bag of three soft shelled, pound and half lobsters.  During the next two days I put to use my recently gained knowledge on how to properly prepare a Maine lobster roll, supplementing the spaghetti and clams we prepped from our cherry stones.  photo Party food_zpsmjrv8j2z.jpg

Jack also gave us a tour of his house and property containing a truly unique collection of his own welding art.  His house is one of the easiest to find: just look for the  big metal dragon and other oddities out front.  So we want to give a big thanks to Jack, Larry, Christy, Krissy, Scott, and everyone else that made or coastal Maine trip so fantastic.  The Fourth of July party was like a big Moose Lodge anniversary gift for our 12th year. Rest assured, we have one of your fancy bar chips and metal moose car tags to take back to our home lodge in Venice to show them how it’s done.

Though we had only paid for four nights at the Bar Harbor Campground, we kept in mind the option of extending to a full week should we be having too much fun to leave, particularly since they offer the seventh day free.  So Tuesday morning I scouted out the ocean front sites to see if anyone had departed following the big weekend.  Sure enough, I found site K-10, with a nearly unobstructed view of the bay, recently unoccupied.  Out came the plastic bins to secure the site before I stopped into the front office to pay for the additional time.  We moved Serenity down to the new spot, leveling as best we could on the somewhat steep grade.  photo Site 2 fog_zpsavhcgamb.jpg

Our neighbors included a child of 8, Catherine, that gave us a whole new perspective on how to properly walk a cat.  We still laugh remembering commanding way in which she manhandled Pad Kee Meow, basically lifting her front half off the ground by the leash and harness when the cat thought it was time to stop, resulting in a half waddle forward on her back two legs while being constantly reprimanded.  Though kitty was less than pleased, it taught us that we had perhaps been a bit to indulgent with the cat’s frequent reluctance to walk in the direction we intend.

We spent our last three days on the East Coast relaxing.  One final trip to the Moose, a bit of wild blueberry picking right from our campground, a drive through Acadia, and beer tasting at Atlantic Brewing Company finished off our month in Maine.  photo Blueberries_zpsq2e9govh.jpg

We stayed in the state more than twice as long as planned, but have no regrets.  Whatever short service this means for the rest of the states on this year’s route can be made up for during future trips.  So long Maine, the rest of New England awaits us.

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Not pleased with the no rock taking rule

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