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.

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.

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.

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.

Our site at Blackberry Crossing: Huge and very classy

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.

Pad Kee Meow, having finished off half a bottle of wine, searches for a WiFi signal 

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.

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 7-9 minutes) we didn’t see it as an actual useful amenity.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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?

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.

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.

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 1,530 feet it’s not exactly challenging Everest, but it gave fantastic views in every direction.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Getting instruction…

…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.

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.

Some of Jack’s welded garden art

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.

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 the 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 too indulgent with the cat’s frequent reluctance to walk in the direction we intend.

Finally free of the dominating child 

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.

We stayed in the state more than twice as long as planned, but have no regrets.  Whatever short shrift 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.

Not pleased with the no rock taking rule


18 Months Fulltiming: June 2016 Report

Hard to believe that a state so enraptured us that we have stayed for more than three weeks, but such is the effect of Maine, at least in the summer!

The Distance: 578 miles, three quarters of which occurred in the first week of the month as we followed a circuitous and backtracking route from Newport to Cape Cod and back to Connecticut before pushing north to Maine.  Once there we only moved about about 165 miles between our various campgrounds.  This month saw a significant reduction in our mileage from May, but we expect next month to be a bit more aggressive.  Our 2016 total is 3631 miles.

The Places:  Seven stops in June, mostly in Maine.  Upon leaving Newport we sprinted east to Cape Cod, stopping at Campers Haven in Dennisport for three days.  We then backtracked west to Chamberlain Lake Campground in Woodstock Connecticut, picking up Maria and KayKay from NYC to take north with us.  We arrived in Poland Spring, Maine for Junior and Kaytarra’s wedding and all of the associated family gatherings, staying for ten days.  We followed that with our first ever Walmart parking lot overnighter before moving closer to the coast and Blueberry Pond Campground in Powland.  Rosie flew back to Florida while I stayed at Meadowbrook Camping Area in Phippsburg, close to Bath.  Finally we headed north to Mt Desert Narrows Resort near Acadia National Park for the last three days of the month.

We had full or partial hook ups for 29 day, and dry camped/parking lot camped for one.  We stayed the entire month in private RV campgrounds except for the single night at Walmart.  Contrast that with last month when we didn’t spend a single night in a private park.  We do try to vary things up.

The Budget:   We totally busted the budget this month, ending up a whopping 31% over. Four new tires and a battery for Loki accounted for nearly 2/3 of that, but when you get together with family, especially for a wedding and birthday celebration, there tends to be a bit more extravagant spending.  Though we tried to crack down in the latter half of the month, it simply was not enough to overcome the first two weeks.  My consumption of $60 worth of lobstah certainly didn’t help!

Though we took advantage of Passport-America discounts for 20 of the nights and a weekly partial discount for 7, we still ended up with an average nightly cost of nearly $26.  We had but a single free night drycamping; we may have to try a few more big box parking lots next month.  For the year we are roughly 3% over budget.  Let the crack down begin in earnest!

The Drama:  Loki gave us some problems coming back from NYC, developing a significant vibration which turned out to be the rapidly deteriorating tires, probably due to age and over inflation.

The Improvements:  We have now replaced seven of the ten tires between Serenity and Loki, and the other three on the motorhome need it sooner rather than later.  We also have a new starter battery for Loki, the old one finally giving up the ghost during the trip from Connecticut to Maine, no longer able to hold a charge after we nursed it along for a month.

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

2016 Reports:

2015 in Review

Maine Part 4: Mt Desert Narrows near Acadia National Park

We have had three significantly discounted campgrounds in a row: Poland Spring on a weekly rate and then three additional nights at 50% off with Passport-America, followed by three and six nights at at Blueberry Pond and Meadowbrook, respectively, both also on PA.  For our last stop in June, we wanted to continue the streak of campground fee savings, but were starting to run up against one of the common PA restrictions for coastal Maine: many participating places exclude the peak summer months, just as south and coastal Florida parks tend to exclude the peak winter season.

This meant that if we wanted to see Acadia National Park, and do so affordably from one of the private campgrounds with hook ups rather than the drycamping options within the park itself, we could allow no further delays.  Fortunately, the last three days of June happened to be during the week rather than the frequently excluded weekends, and we locked in a reservation for a power and water site at Mt Desert Narrows Camping Resort.  We left Meadowbrook late Tuesday morning to make the circuitous three hour trip north.

We arrived in Ellsworth, the closest town just off of the Mt Desert Island, just as serious lunchtime hunger was setting in.  We made the spur of the moment decision to pull into JJ’s Ice Cream Academy and World Class Lobster Rolls, for the obvious reason of lobster rolls and ice cream, but also because they had a large empty hard packed lot beside them that allowed me to pull in and through easily without having to disconnect the tracker.  In addition to a great lobster roll for me, they had a terrific crab roll for Rosemarie, and delicious, rich ice cream in Maine oriented flavors.  We sampled both the wild blueberry and maple walnut.  A fantastic and highly recommend place.

We continued on to the island proper, and  after a few miles pulled into our campground. Mt Desert Narrows is a probably the ritziest place we have stayed since leaving South Florida.  It has relatively spacious sites on a rolling property overlooking the bay, with beautiful views from nearly any point.  We were able to walk less than a hundred yards right down to the water’s edge for a quick dip in the cold but tolerable clear water.  The property is well manicured with plenty of resort style amenities and a helpful front staff.  It is, in short, the type of place we probably would not splurge for if we had to pay the full price, but on Passport-America it was fantastic.

We got quite lucky on our site draw, getting one of the largest “value” spots, a long pull through, at the top of a rise, and with no significantly sized RV beside us we had nearly unobstructed views of the water.  We relished every minute there.  This is the type of place we could see ourselves coming to for an entire month or longer some future summer.

But this location was not supposed to be about relaxing in the RV park, but rather exploring Acadia National Park.  So on our second day we drove to the Hull Cove Visitor Center (there is a free shuttle bus but we wanted to have a bit of independence and control over our timing) to collect the standard maps and brochures and watch the traditional short park movie.   Afterwards we hopped on the #4 Orange route shuttle for a 90 minute tour of the park.

It was beautiful, particularly for the first half hour when the weather was clear.  We hopped off at Sand Beach, a rare “pocket beach” with extensive sandy stretches rather than rocks, but that would be our last exploration on foot for the day since a cold drizzle and heavy fog set.  We decided to make this our scouting trip, returning during better weather for some day hiking and related exploration.

As we headed back to our campground, we stopped at a handful of lobster pounds along the way to compare prices to the ones we had seen in Ellsworth, and were pleasantly surprised to find a few affordable options, so when dinner time rolled around, I had a 1.6 pound soft shelled lobster, which unlike the hard shelled version do not requiring any tools to eat, and are considered sweeter but contain less meat than the hard shelled.  I took it as take out from the place a mile up the road, Rose Eden Lobster, and got it freshly steamed for less than $13 all in. Our budget is blown, but thankfully Rosemarie doesn’t care for this particular crustacean, otherwise it would be that much worse.

Our last day at Mount Desert Narrows we examined our options for staying longer, if not in this park then at least in someplace near by.  While the resort had one cancellation leaving bay front site open, the cost was prohibitive, even with the 15% discount they offered me we still would have been paying over $85 a night, and everything else on the island itself was booked up for the Fourth of July long weekend.  We dug a little deeper and found an affordable option to stay, details in a future post.

Maine Part 3: Where to stash Jack while Rosemarie is in Florida?

So, Rosemarie’s sisters planned to converge on Coral Springs, FL from their respective homes in California and New York.  Dolores would be staying a full month while Melissa would be flying in for two short stays during that period.  Since her sisters had gathered together from afar, of course Rosemarie would attend, the only question was timing.  That was answered during our last couple days in Poland Spring when Melissa finalized her first trip itinerary, resulting in an evening of travel agent adventure for yours truly as I worked through our wide array of frequent flyer plans looking for the best option to get Rosemarie from Maine to Fort Lauderdale.  Southwest Airlines provided the most point efficient option, a one stop set of flights from Portland through Baltimore-Washington.

Since by that time we would have maxed out the Passport-America rate option at Blueberry Pond,  we needed a cheap stayover option for me while she was gone.  Our usual exploration through AllStays, RV Park Reviews, and the PA website resulted in the selection of Meadowbrook Camping Area, an affordable place 20 miles further east on a coastal peninsula just south of the Bath shipyard.

This would be ideal: a power and water hook up site for $20 a night all in, including reasonable resort amenities and without the very common Passport-America three day maximum and weekend restrictions.  The catch?   No reservations for the PA discount, walk ins only, and cash only upon arrival.  Five days in advance the front desk was moderately confident that a spot would be available for the dates I needed, but no promises, so call the morning of arrival.  We did so, and they still had a few openings.

Upon arrival, things were a bit more complicated.  The friendly and enthusiastic people manning the desk are seasonal work campers, i.e., RVers exchanging part time labor for a campsite, much like Rosemarie and I did at Cape Disappointment State Park in Washington state last year.  This meant that they were not experts on the complicated reservation system, and lacked certain program override authority to make our check in a smooth process.  It took nearly an hour just to get everything sorted out, and we ended up having to spend one night in an overflow spot with power and water for the expected $20, but then had to move to a full hook up (power, water, sewage) spot since none of the less expensive power and water only sites were available for a rig our size.  This increased the rate to about $24.50 for the remaining five nights.  That is still a good deal, and moving after the first night was not a great burden since we did not do a full campsite set up.

Meadowbrook Camping Area is a touch less “nature oriented” than our previous two places; it’s closer to a traditional RV resort, boasting ameniteis beyond a pool and WiFi.  They had a recreation room and two restaurants on premises.  The property is a large rolling grass field bounded on three sides by woods, with the majority of the RV sites, especially for big rigs, in the open field without much cover, or backed up against the tree lines.  It does have a one mile nature trail and an extensive beaver pond, but generally lacks the sense of being in the Maine forest that Poland Spring and Blueberry Pond provided.  So what does it offer that our previous two places did not?  In short, lobsters and paint ball.

Rosemarie’s flight from BWI to FLL nearly cancelled due to weather

Meadowbrook maintains a “lobster pound” which, for the non-New Englanders, is not a temporary home for wayward crustaceans awaiting adoption or return to their miscreant owners.  It’s a term for a big tank of live lobsters and the cooking facilities to turn them into delicious meals.  For $7.99 a pound you can select your dinner, with options ranging from single pounders to monsters approaching three.  They will cook them for you, providing implements of shell destruction free of charge, with melted butter and corn on the cob or baked potato side dishes extra.  Steamed clams by the pound also served daily.

Let me tell you, this is a good deal.  I had focused on lobster rolls for our first two weeks in Maine, but during our later days here I have had the opportunity to compare prices of traditional lobster meals at over a dozen places (no, I didn’t eat at them all, just checked their prices.)  What you find is that at many a lobstah (proper Maine spelling) pound, they want to sell you a package deal, usually a 1 1/4 pound lobster with a couple of side dishes at about $19 to $26, or for just an à la carte lobster-by-the-pound meal they may charge a modest prep/cooking fee.  Meadowbrook did neither of those, and their pound rate was quite competitive.  I was strong for four days, but on evening five, I hit that.  A 1.75 pound hard shelled bit of deliciousness and a baked potato side for less than $17 after taxes, having brought my own sour cream and melted butter to save a few bucks.

As for the paint ball: Meadowbrook has a large battle ground in the deep woods.  Junior and Nazir visited me on my last full day there, and we took a hike along the nature path near it.  I expected an eyesore, i.e., ugly and haphazard plywood structures and barricades covered in old paint.  Instead I found nearly an acre of natural woods defined and encircled by a 15′ tall mesh net wall, which relied primarily on tree and ground elevation cover and concealment for the players.  I did not have the opportunity to play, but it looked like a great area.

One final activity: During our check in Rosemarie spotted a flyer on the front door of the campground office advertising a veterans’ appreciation lunch sponsored by the local American Legion post.  Eager to find activities to keep me out of trouble, she had me call and make arrangements to attend.  Thus Saturday found me at the Phippsburg Sportsmen’s Association, which provides space to the Legion, attending a brief ceremony and follow on hamburger and hot dog meal.  Many thanks to American Legion Post 216 for their warm welcome of an out-of-towner vet.

I picked up Rosemarie from the Portland airport on Monday afternoon. Since we had not been to a Moose Lodge in over a month (not since five states ago in Delaware) we decided to take advantage of our proximity to the only Maine Moose Lodge we had found in our google searches.  We stopped in for a drink and received a warm welcome; we find that most of the lodges are eager to hear from out of towners about what brought them in.  We also learned that the only other lodge in the state is in Ellsworth, not far from our next stop near Acadia.

There you have it, our third RV campground in Maine, and we couldn’t be happier with our three choices.  Looking at RV options in central coastal Maine?  Consider this:

  • Do you want a beautiful wooded site on a freshwater lake chain complete with eagles and loons, but still possessing RV resort amenities such as a pool and fully functional WiFi?  Try Poland Spring Campground.
  • Perhaps you need something with a bit more personal touch, including campground owner hosted meals and nightly bonfires, but still in a beautiful natural setting yet only ten minutes from Freeport?  I unreservedly recommend Blueberry Pond Campground.
  • Or maybe you must spend your days in close simulated mortal combat with friends, strangers, or whomever will enter the fray, and your evenings gorging on fresh boiled Maine lobstah and clams without having to leave the premises?  Then Meadowbrook Camping Area is for you.