Schoodic Woods Campground
Timeframe: 1st week of August
So I’ve gotten even further behind on posting—we visited Schoodic nearly a month and a half ago! Here’s a quick recap.
After the busy Bar Harbor area of Acadia National Park we reveled in the peace and quiet on the Schoodic Peninsula. This part of the park is about an hour drive away (or a hop on the passenger ferry plus the bus) so not a lot of folks bother to explore Schoodic. That was okay with us because it made for a nice, relaxing week.
After our awesome campsite at Bar Harbor we were ready to be a little let down, but we found another great spot waiting for us. The campground at Schoodic Woods has only been open about 2 years and it is beautiful! There are lots of trees but also lots of open sky which is what we like.
Spaces are big and come with electric hookups, rare for a national park campground.
The bathrooms are the nicest I’ve ever seen.
The architecture of the visitor’s center is stunning. This campground is a great find.
This side of the park is set on a peninsula. The 6 mile, one-way “loop” road travels along the entire shore, but doesn’t connect back to itself. We drove it our first day, but it was even better when we took our bikes later in the week.
Since the road has two lanes, both going in the same direction, cars have their own lane to pass you. We could peddle along soaking in all the water views and not worry about holding up traffic.
When you get to the end of the road you exit the park and have to return on regular roads with no shoulders so we were glad the ranger recommended a bike path that cuts back to the campground. Unfortunately the bike paths on this side of the park are not as nice as those over on Mount Desert Island. These are made of loose gravel, which made the uphill going even harder, but we made it back.
Off course all that exercise meant we deserved a treat. I got out the solar oven and tried a new recipe for Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Bars (recipe below).
Most of the kayaking around here is for those used to ocean waves, and the ranger recommended that we go to a pond outside the park. Thanks to Google, Chuck found a a protected area right off the Frazer Point picnic area recommended by a local kayaker. Mosquito Harbor turned out to be perfect and not at all plagued by its namesake.
We did a better job inflating the kayak this time which made the ride even better. It was fun tooling around exploring the little nooks and crannies.
Just so you don’t think it’s fun and games all the time we did have to do laundry (found the biggest laundromat ever!) and defrost the refrigerator, which meant time for a tiny snowman. 🙂
On our last day we couldn’t pass up one more drive along the loop. This time we stopped at a beach we spotted on our bike ride.
We laughed about the sign but once we got down there we understood. The beach was covered with round stones, golf ball to basketball size, and it was so tempting to take one, but we resisted.
It was mesmerizing to listen to the stones gently tumbling as a wave came in and then the water trickling back out as the wave receded. It would make for a very relaxing nature sound CD!
If Acadia wasn’t so far out here I think we would come back to this little corner of the Schoodic Woods! Who knows, maybe someday we will. For now we’re checking off national park number 12 and heading back to Ohio for some warranty work.
Oh, and if you’re ever in this neck of the woods there’s a great little farmer’s market in Winter Harbor. 🙂
Oatmeal Nut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars
Yield: 12 cookies with kind of a chewy muffin texture.
1/3 cup gluten-free thick rolled oats (33g)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup almond butter (64g)
1/4 cup peanut butter (64g)
1/3 cup brown sugar (70g)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup chocolate chips (57g)
Line GoSun oven tray with parchment paper.
In medium bowl beat peanut butter, almond butter, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla until smooth, about 2 minutes.
Sprinkle baking soda, salt and oats into bowl. Mix until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips. The dough will be very sticky!
Scoop dough into prepared tray, smoothing out and leaving 1/2“ at ends (they puff up a lot and you don’t want them to hit the top of the tube).
Bake in solar oven for 25 to 40 minutes (depending on your level of sun) or until top deflates a bit and toothpick comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Enjoy!
Our first week in Acadia was spent in the busy Mount Desert Island area of the park surrounding Bar Harbor. Last winter when we made plans to come this way, we studied the camping options. Campgrounds in the park were full and private options were cramped and expensive. We settled on a no reservations, cash only, private campground with reasonable rates and hoped for the best. Online reviews of Bar Harbor Campground promised that you could get a site here even on a busy weekend. Since we didn’t really have a back-up plan in this busy area we were a bit nervous. We showed up on Monday just before check-out time and were rewarded with an awesome spot.
Talking to some other campers later, they said they’ve been coming here for 8 years and have never been able to snag a spot with a view. We watched during our time here and you could always find a spot, especially if you didn’t need hook-ups, but the view sites didn’t come open often. Lucky us!
The campground was busy and other areas were noisy, but our little corner was peaceful and we debated staying longer. There were blueberries for the picking right out our door and the views couldn’t be beat.
The town of Bar Harbor and the park itself were another story. On our first day we headed to Acadia’s main visitor’s center and found cars circling the parking lot. We managed to snag a spot and headed into the unimpressive visitor’s center. Expecting some sort of display about the park, we found only a movie, store, and information desk.
So we figured we do the loop drive. We found cars and people crowding the famous Thunder Hole area, but at least there were a few parking spots.
We tried to stop at Jordan Pond, an area famous for it’s lovely views of the pond and popovers at the restaurant, but found absolutely no open parking spaces. We continued on to the top of Cadillac Mountain and were met with a line of stopped cars just waiting to get in the parking lot and again not a spot in sight. So we ended up just driving back down.
Another day we tried to go into Bar Harbor to walk around and visit the grocery store. Even though it was a weekday with no cruise ship in port (yes there are actually cruise ships here), the town was crazy! We’re talking Disneyland crowds crazy. Throw in parked cars making the narrow roads even more so and people crossing everywhere and it was just too much for us. Again we ended up driving right back out. The key to Acadia seems is to be ride the shuttle bus (we saw lots of folks waiting for buses) or go places after 3pm. So we settled into a pattern of lazy mornings at camp with excursions into the park later in the day and our experience greatly improved.
With Chuck’s knee still on the mend after the Camden hike, we turned to other ways to experience this national park. Luckily Acadia is famous for it’s carriage trails, financed by and built under the direction of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. The trails are covered in well packed decomposed granite that provides a nice surface for bike riding.
Rockefeller had a vision for drawing people out into nature by installing a system of trails suitable for horse drawn carriage rides. Thus the trails are no steeper than what a horse pulling a carriage can handle. This makes one think that these are fairly flat trails. Do not be fooled. We found lots of hills that had our heart rates climbing with the slow steady inclines, but they were doable. The exception was the path connecting the visitor center to the trails. That spur was steep and I ended up walking my bike.
We rode to several of the bridges built to complement the landscape. Each one was styled for it’s location (one even frames a waterfall) with stones chiseled and fit by hand.
The three we saw were built in 1924, 1925, and 1926 and the stonework was impressive. Apparently the masons got so good at expertly fitting and facing the stones that Rockefeller told them they need to make them more rustic to blend with the landscape.
The stone bridges were pretty cool, but other than that the trails were mostly riding through woods.
One day we rode the Witch Hole Pond loop (about 5 miles) and another day a loop near Upper Haddock Pond (about 4 miles). It was a nice way to get some exercise but not the spectacular views I expected.
Although we never went back to Bar Harbor we did make it back to Cadillac Mountain. I got to drive the narrow, windy road this time and Chuck got to enjoy the views.
At 4:30 we found plenty of parking at the top and great views all around.
It reminded us of the views in the San Juan Islands of Washington.
We even got to watch a cruise ship make a giant u-turn and head out of Bar Harbor.
Our neighbors in the campground told us about a nearby beach and one day we took our new kayak out for it’s maiden voyage. We’ve been thinking about getting kayaks since we started this adventure. At first we didn’t want anything tied on top of our truck. We thought we might look a bit like hillbillies plus we were at the top of our weight limit. When we upgraded our truck weight was no longer an issue, but we still wrestled with hauling kayaks while having easy access to gear in the truck bed. Chuck finally solved all our issues by finding a really good inflatable.
We’d had a cheap inflatable when the girls were younger that seemed to only go in circles, but this boat surprised us. Even though we didn’t have it quite inflated all the way (our newbie error) and the outer cover was a little crooked it glided effortlessly through the water. We got a whole different perspective out on the water. I think we’re going to like it.
Everyone who goes to Maine talks about lobster. We’re not big fans, and since it’s expensive we figured why waste our money. We did however enjoy fish and chips and a salmon sandwich at Beal’s Lobster Pier while on a drive to the quiet side of Mount Desert Island.
We also enjoyed ice cream sundaes at Udder Heaven which was right next to our campground. Thank goodness we didn’t go until the last day or we might have become regulars.
We were sad to leave this relaxing campground. With water views and blueberries right out our door and ice cream a short walk away it was a good spot.
But with reservations at Schoodic Woods, a more remote area of Acadia, it was time to say goodbye.
We were excited to spend more time in Vermont, especially since there was the promise of ice cream. 🙂 So we crossed that beautiful bridge, this time with the Airstream in tow, and headed further north on Lake Champlain to Grand Isle State Park. I picked this park because another full-time blogger (watsonswander.com) mentioned a cool bike ride in her post about the area, but we’ll get to that.
Grand Isle turned out to be a nice park, kinda like Keuka Lake. We had a big grassy site.
You could bike or walk down to the lake area.
And the grounds were well maintained. They even planted flower gardens.
We were just outside of Burlington, and with all the small towns there would have been plenty to keep us busy for a week or more, but we only had a few days here and with rain in the forecast we had to make sure we got in that special ride.
This bike path is on a causeway that goes several miles right out into the lake. The causeway, built of large chunks of marble, originally was for trains, but now is a gravel bike path. There is one small section that used to have a swing bridge in the rail days for boats to pass through. Now it is crossed via a bike ferry. Yep, a ferry just for bikes! Of course it only goes about 200 feet, but it’s still cool.
We set off mid morning and timed it just right. Several cars pulled in after us filling the small lot. As we swatted at the mosquitos we got our gear set and headed off downhill through the trees, spotting a snake a little too late (he looked like he’d been run over before us) and came out of the woods onto the causeway. At least the bugs were gone, but now we had to contend with a strong headwind. It was only a short distance to the ferry.
After crossing, we continued on the causeway, fighting the wind and loose gravel. You are right out in the the lake for several miles with beautiful views. On the other side we were once again in the woods but came out at a city park. It was a good spot to rest a bit and enjoy the small schoolhouse.
Our plan was to follow the path into north Burlington and eat lunch. Leaving the park we headed in the direction we saw another biker take, but it turned out to be a spur and not the way through. That little detour added a few miles (and a hill) to our trek. Consulting the map we found the correct way, through a neighborhood, to reconnect with the path.
By now we were getting tired and hungry. The bike map showed a couple of locations with food. The nearest turned out to be a boat shack selling chips and candy bars. Not the lunch we envisioned. With a detour in the trail ahead our option was to ride several more miles to the next food or turn back. We turned back for the little park, stopping to eat the snacks that luckily I had packed. Then we retraced our path, back onto the causeway.
This time the wind was at our backs so the going was much easier and soon we were at the ferry dock. With one last final push back up the hill to the parking area we loaded our bikes and headed back to camp to find food.
No wonder we were pooped–17 miles with no lunch! At least I earned a star for my longest bike ride and got in some exercise before our next stop.
We had a short drive to Little River State Park, but the last bit had us wondering if we’d make it. The good quality gravel road suddenly turned into a rutted narrow mess veering up a hill. It looked like you could keep going straight through a gate and we thought perhaps that was the way, but a park worker out tracking a bear assured us we needed to head up the hill. (Note, Chuck saw the bear pass about 5 feet from our window one morning.)
This was true forest camping on a very hilly site above a reservoir. Since our site was so gloomy and dark we headed out each day. Chuck got to hating the bumpy dirt road. The sun could barely make it through the trees to offer any light (thank goodness we have good batteries!). Again we were reminded this is not our kind of camping, but we were here for other reasons. Ice cream! We planned this stop solely to make a visit to Ben and Jerry’s in Waterbury.
We were surprised to find it is also the home of Green Mountain Coffee which has a beautiful location shared with the Visitor’s Center in the old train station. Next door was a park filled with lots of folks out walking in the noontime sun. It was a nice spot to relax, but we were on a mission.
Ben and Jerry’s is a huge tourist draw, and they seem to have it down. We pulled in and were directed to open parking spots by teenage attendants in tie-dye shirts. As we walked into the tour building we had only moments to wait before the next tour. The tour guide has his spiel down so well he seemed like a robot.
Basically the $4 tour walks you up some stairs to watch an entertaining 7 minute movie highlighting B&J history, then into a viewing gallery where tv monitors play another short clip about the ice cream making process as you peer at the equipment below, and back down the stairs into the tasting room where you get a mini scoop of whatever ice cream they are featuring that day. For us it was AmeriCone Dream.
My advice: skip the tour and read the very informative panels next to the patio that tell the same story. Then spend your $4 on ice cream at the on-site scoop shop where they’ll let you taste as many flavors as you want and “not even get mad” according to the girl directing folks at the front of the line. I couldn’t bring myself to try more than two even with her assurances. 🙂
B&J are know for the large chunks of add-ins, the reason being that Jerry, or was it Ben, couldn’t taste the flavors so they kept making the chunks bigger until he could. Their top seller the last several years is Half Baked, a mixture of chocolate and vanilla ice creams with chocolate chip cookie dough and brownie chunks.
I loved the graveyard where they have tombstones for all the retired flavors! I spent a good while reading all the funny epitaphs and wondering about some of the stranger concoctions. Note: they have RV parking so no excuses for not stopping. 😉
So what do you do after you’ve had huge scoops of ice cream? Go cheese tasting of course! Not far up the road was a Cabot outlet. Cabot is kinda like the Tillamook of the east. There is a big creamery where you can see the cheese making process, but this was just a tasting room/store.
They must have had 30 different kinds of cheddar cheese for you to taste and I think I tried nearly all of them. We found a couple of favorites to buy. Next door was a Lake Champlain chocolate shop. We walked through, but after all that ice cream and cheese my tummy said enough so we passed.
One day we drove to Montpelier and toured the capitol building. The strange thing is that you can see the dome from the outside, but there is no rotunda on the inside. That shiny dome is just for looks. The downtown area seemed busy, in fact this whole area of Vermont seemed vibrant but pastoral.
Vermont was the first state to outlaw slavery and is proud of it’s part in the civil war. It is a state of small landowners, many of whom got their start farming Merino sheep. They cut down the evergreen trees for grazing land, made good money selling the wool to the British, and built the lovely brick farmhouses you see dotting the countryside. Then the British stole some Merino sheep, took them to Australia, and undercut the price. So Vermonters turned to the dairy business which of course led to yummy ice cream. In place of the evergreens deciduous trees grew covering the hillsides with the lovely fall color and giving us maple syrup.
Speaking of syrup, just outside of town we stopped at a Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks. (Have you figured out yet that we basically ate our way through this place?) It’s worth it just to see the funny proprietor, Burr Morse, in a short video about the process and view his fanciful stump carvings.
One interesting fact is that darker maple syrup is not boiled longer, it’s from later in the 4-6 week season. Sap runs in early spring when it’s freezing at night and just above freezing during the day. They use tubing, not buckets, nowadays to gather the syrup which is put through reverse osmosis then boiled down.
And they don’t plant maple trees because it takes 40-50 years before maples produce sap for syrup so you just have to be lucky enough to have them on your land. We tasted the four different shades of syrup, each more intense in flavor than the next. According to Morse, use lighter syrup for pouring on your pancakes and the darker stuff in recipes to provide more maple flavor.
Another day we drove to nearby Stowe. It was not all that impressive, mostly a tourist area with restaurants, shops and nearby winter skiing. It was spread out into several sections but there was a nice bike path linking the areas and I wished we had brought our bikes. We walked through a few shops and then went to Alchemist Brewing. They had a cool modern building. Tastings were free so Chuck tried a couple of beers while I was mesmerized by the canning machine. The weird names, like Heady Topper and Focal Banger, were fun.
On the way back we stopped at Cider Hollow Cider Mill. As we pulled up we saw everyone sitting around eating bags of cider donuts so of course we had to try some. The building was mostly a retail store with all sorts of local canned jams, sauces, and other delicacies in addition to the usual souvenirs. Way in back we found them pressing apples into cider and tasted the yummy results. Chuck liked the cider donuts and I liked the maple taffy. I know, it seems the only reason we are in Vermont is to eat everything in sight! 🙂
Of course on our last day we had to make a return visit to B&J. You’ll find flavors here that you can’t get in stores. This time Chuck tried the Maple Walnut which is only available at this location in a nod to Vermont maple syrup. I tasted their new almond milk based flavor, which was good, but opted for Triple Carmel Chunk. Good thing we’re leaving Vermont. I don’t think we can handle any more tastings!
Next we head out of the woods to the coast of Maine. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen the ocean!
We left Niagara Falls on a Sunday so we got caught in the line up for the dump. Note to self: check out on Mondays or Tuesdays or… From Niagara we headed for the Finger Lakes. Trying to avoid tolls (common on the interstates out east), our GPS wound us up and down hills on bumpy backroads criss-crossing the countryside. It was scenic for me, but for Chuck it was not so much fun.
Still it was sunny when we arrived at Keuka Lake State Park to find a nicely maintained campground on the hillside above the lake. Again we had to park on the grass (what’s with that here in the Northeast?) but there seemed to be a bit of gravel underneath on one side so we aimed for that. We set up and sat down to enjoy the sunshine in our large private site. It was a good thing because when the rain moved in the next day the rest of our campsite quickly became a puddle and we weren’t sitting outside anymore. 😦
On one of the nicer days we headed for Watkins Glen about 40 minutes away. This natural gorge has 19 waterfalls along the 1.5 mile trail. It was beautiful and I kinda wished we could go back and walk it all again another day.
The area is known for wine tasting and with over 200 wineries in the Finger Lakes region trying to decide where to go was daunting. I read a couple of wine trail brochures and a Fodor’s article and settled on a few of the wineries on nearby Seneca Lake.
Our first stop at Anthony Road was disappointing. The grounds were beautiful, there was even an old Airstream behind the barn, but the place felt sterile. They had a small gallery and a beautiful porch overlooking the lake but it was so quiet in the tasting room that sound echoed in the building.
There was no friendly welcome but still we bellied up to the nearly empty tasting bar and plunked down our $5 (different from wineries we’ve been to in other places everywhere here charges $5 for a tasting flight which sometimes you get to chose and sometimes you don’t). The gal behind the counter offered little chatter beyond the description of the wines, even when we tried to strike up a friendly conversation. She’d pour one wine, give us the rehearsed spiel about it’s characteristics then turn her back to stare out at the lake. Oh well, they did at least have a decent Pinot Gris.
The next stop was a much smaller winery, not on the official “tasting trail” (with over 200 wineries in this region only some pay to be in the tasting trail brochures). Here we were greeted warmly, and as we tasted our wines, we had a friendly chat about our travels. I think Red Tail Ridge probably ended up being our favorite stop.
Our third stop was another major winery but this one was friendlier than our first. At Fox Run we discovered a new wine called Arctic Run. How could we resist the blue bottle? This region is know for it’s Dry Rieslings and while they were ok most of them weren’t what we wanted, but this blended white table wine said it went well with guacamole and chips. Wow that’s right up our alley!
By now we were both kinda tasted out, but stopped at Three Brothers since they had a brewery as well. This place was interesting just for the decor. We opted not to taste but instead bought an IPA and some root beer to take home with us which both turned out to be pretty good.
The Finger Lakes area has a large population of Amish and Mennonite families. We saw several horse and buggies clopping along the side of the road. One day I stopped at Oak Hill Bulk Foods, a Mennonite store to marvel at the huge selection of items packed in little bags. From hundreds of candies to flours, pudding mix, oats, pretzels, nuts, pasta, spices and more, they had it all. But the most amazing thing were hidden in little white bags near the register–fry pies! Oh man, these things were amazing!
I opted for cherry with cream cheese and black raspberry. When I got back and we ate them we couldn’t believe how delicious they were. They took us back to those Hostess pies of our youth, only so much better! Needless to say we made another stop to get more before we left town and I’m actually thinking of going back later in the summer. It just might be feasible since we need to return to Ohio for some warranty work the first of September. Hmm, if I route it right… 🙂
Chuck had some decent weather to try out his new toy and got a great shot of our solar installation. Should be fun to get some arial shots of the places we visit.
Next we head to the Adirondacks and then to south Lake Champlain for the 4th of July. Then we have a week in Vermont with a visit to Ben and Jerry’s before heading to the coast of Maine and up to Acadia for our next National Park.
After all the activity at Alumapalooza we needed a little time to recharge. Chuck found the perfect spot on the shores of Lake Erie at Maumee Bay Campground.
This large park was peaceful and green, just what we needed. The sites had a semi-manicured garden sort of feel and there are lots of birds to watch. There was even a small laundry room on site so we were able to catch up.
We enjoyed a ride on one of the many bike trails out to views of the lake, but mostly we just relaxed and killed the tiny black ants that had found a path inside (our first invasion since we hit the road). Luckily there were just a few.
Before the weekend got underway we headed out to Stow, Ohio where a small city campground had first-come first-serve sites. There are no campgrounds at Cuyahoga Valley National Park and this was the closest option, plus at just $11 for electric hook-ups the price couldn’t be beat. It was a bit like camping in a city park, you know the kind with baseball fields and basketball courts, but served the purpose.
It was hard to tell exactly where the sites were because there were no defined parking pads, just a big grassy field dotted with trees and power posts randomly placed down the middle. Luckily one of the regulars helped us figure out the boundaries of the huge sites. It felt weird to drive right on the grass and park, but later when the park supervisor came through to collect our fee he said we were good. Even with the weird “camping next to a baseball field behind a neighborhood” vibe, it was convenient to Cuyahoga.
We made two trips into the park and we kept wondering how this got to be a national park. Most of it looked like many of the city parks in Seattle, with trees and greenery and a bike path next to the river. We could have been on the bike path back in Bothell—it looked exactly the same. I’m guessing that folks who aren’t from Seattle probably have a better appreciation for this park, but we did find a few cool things.
Many folks take a train ride through the park, but we didn’t figure you would see anything different than the scenery we saw driving through so skipped it. We wished they had an option to ride a canal boat through the locks, that would have been cool! But I think much of the passageway is no longer deep enough for boat travel although if you had your own kayak you could float sections of it.
We started our visit at the Boston Store Visitor Center. This restored 1836 building focuses on the craft of building canal boats which became a big industry in the area.
The boats were 14 feet wide and up to 80 feet long. They had to be able to float in just four feet of water. Some boats were for carrying goods and others for carrying passengers but all were pulled by teams of mules who walked along the towpath on the sides of the canal. Boats often carried an extra set of mules. Sometimes whole families lived on the boats and parents would tie young children with rope to the center of the boat so they couldn’t fall overboard.
After that we walked the boardwalk to Brandywine Falls but skipped the loop trail as there really was nothing to see.
Then we headed over to the Ledges Trail and walked 1.5 miles of the trail and while the rock ledge formations were kinda cool, the trail made us think of Seattle.
On our last day we drove the scenic gorge Parkway and walked out to Bridal Veil Falls. After all the flat farmland in the midwest I’m not sure why we weren’t more excited to be in the trees, but after all our years in the Northwest I think we just yearn for a different kind of scenery.
After that we headed to the another visitor’s center.
This one told the history of the canal system. I think this was the most interesting part of the park. Both Jefferson and Washington were proponents of building a national canal system back in the late 1700s and by 1840 there were over 3000 miles of canals in the US linking New York to New Orleans. The Ohio & Erie Canal (not to be confused with the Erie Canal in NY) opened in 1827 between Cleveland on Lake Erie and Akron. When finally finished in 1932 it was 308 miles long, with 146 locks and a rise of 1206 feet and connected to the Ohio River.
The canal became a major transportation artery for goods heading out of and into Ohio. On the outbound trip boats mostly carried farm products and raw goods like timber and coal and on the inbound trip they carried manufactured goods like nails and cloth. Before this everything had to be carted by horse and wagon, so most folks grew or made what they needed. The canal system led to a national economy. The canal system was short lived though. By the 1860s railroads were prominent and became the favored mode of transport. One interesting fact, President James Garfield was a canal boat worker as a teenager, driving the mules that pulled barges along the canal.
Since we were there on Saturday we got to see one of the original, hand-operated locks in action.
I don’t think Cuyahoga will make the list of our favorite parks. It seems like a great regional park. Supporting that is the fact that by far most of its visitors are locals who come to bike or jog along the river towpath, hike in the woods, or mountain bike (they had an impressive mtb trail system in the Gorge Parkway area). Still I was excited to put sticker number 11 on the map. Only 48 more parks to go!
It has been a cold spring in the Northwest and we were hoping to escape to better weather as we made our way east to Ohio for the big rally at the Airstream factory. Unfortunately that didn’t happen but luckily we managed to mostly stay out of the snow. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Leaving Missoula we were barely 25 miles out of town before we got stuck in a 2 hour back-up, totally stopped, because of an accident that blocked eastbound I-90. We heard about the accident on the news just before we left, but knew were were heading westbound. They neglected to mention that the highway patrol was alternating traffic in the westbound lanes to let the eastbound cars get around as there are no other roads to get through this stretch. What a mess!
This was one of those times I was glad I could run back to grab food and use the restroom in the trailer!
Luckily we hadn’t planned too long of a driving day and stopped for the night at Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, a bit east of Butte. This was one of our stops last summer and back then it was sunny and warm. This time we awoke to big snowflakes coming down and skedaddled out of there before it started to stick.
We hoped we could out drive the front, but it seemed like we just kept traveling with it.
Some days we’d drive all day and finally make it out of the storm only to have it catch up to us in the evening. The whole drive across the country is a blur of rainy highway and chilly nights. Bottom line: we will not be coming north this early in the future!
We had planned to stop at Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, but with the bad weather there was no point so we just stayed at a KOA near the freeway and kept driving. We did see lots of pronghorn antelope (like 100) through Wyoming and Western South Dakota which was kinda cool. We spent the next night in Chamberlain, SD at an overpriced Army COE campground (sorry no picture of that one). Finally after 4 days straight on the road we decided we needed a day to recuperate and stayed 2 nights in Sioux Falls, SD at a nice little campground in the middle of a neighborhood.
Even thought it was rainy and cool, we managed to see the falls. On a sunny day Falls Park looked like it would be a nice place to hang out and enjoy the trails, cafe and picnic areas. They even have music and a farmer’s market there in the summer.
We also went to the biggest outdoor store I have ever seen, Scheels. This place was like it’s own mall with a ferris wheel inside, a mini bowling game called roller ball, video shooting gallery (it was a little disconcerting to see a 7 year old girl holding a rifle and nonchalantly shooting deer on the screen, poor Bambi!) and it’s own restaurant. They had casual clothes and shoes plus clothes and gear for every outdoor sport imaginable and even home decorating stuff. It was like REI, Cabella’s and Sports Authority all rolled into one and then some.
But alas, the weather was still windy and wet and we had miles to cover so after our shopping day we hit the road again.
Are we there yet?! I guess I never realized exactly how far east it is to Ohio. We needed something interesting to see so headed for Effigy Mounds National Monument on the Iowa/Wisconsin border.
Native Americans in this area created huge mounds of dirt in the shape of bears and birds and other animals nearly 1000 years ago. There wasn’t a lot of definitive information at the visitor’s center but it seems it was a spiritual act used for burial. Today all you see are grassy mounds. Maybe from above it would be cooler. But we did enjoy a short hike during a brief sun filled morning and great views of the Mississippi River.
We stayed at nearby Pikes Peak State Park, not to be confused with Pikes Peak in Colorado. It was discovered and named by the same man. The campground was a little dark and compact for us, but luckily it was pretty empty mid-week.
It did have some great views of the Wisconsin river meeting the Mississippi.
After 2 nights it was time to keep moving. Somehow I missed the sign for Iowa, but we made our way across all the “I” states.
We were headed for Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Knowing that we loved Padre Island National Seashore, when I saw Indiana Dunes on the map I thought it would be a great place to stay our last few days before making the final trek to Ohio. Not so much.
The National Lakeshore is a disconnected park, with bits and pieces surrounded by neighborhoods (some nice and some not so nice), a prison, and a couple of towns that seem down on their luck. Not far to the south is a steel mill. This area is a suburb of Chicago, as evidenced by the packed parking lot at the train station. It’s an hour and a half ride into the city and some campers make the trip.
Just across the street from the campground entrance was a wood fired pizza oven in an old Studebaker. For less than $20 we got two thin crust pizzas and a bottle of butterscotch root beer. Their speciality, The Purple Pig, with pulled pork, barbecue sauce and a tangy purple cabbage slaw on top was delicious!
As for the lakeshore, you have to drive to the disconnected beaches from the campground. So after doing laundry and errands and enduring the rain, I decided we had to see at least one of the beaches.
After a quick visit to the small visitor’s center (not much exciting there except for the outdoor art), we visited Beverly Shores. It looked just like the ocean. I was surprised by how soft the beach sand was, but just to remind us we weren’t in Mexico the cold wind kept whipping at our faces and we could see industrial bulidings along the shore both to the east and the west.
The best part was a collection of houses from the 1933-34 World’s Fair. A developer moved them here to entice people to buy his houses in the area. Each house is unique. You can look at them from the street, but they are occupied so you can’t go inside except for once a year when they have an open house. There is some sort of partnership where people live in them as they work on restoration.
The pink Florida house was pretty cool, as was the cabin, but our favorite was the one made from metal panels kinda like an Airstream! 🙂 It was modern looking on the outside but the inside was supposed to have a traditional layout and furnishings.
I’m sure there are some more scenic parts to the National Lakeshore that we missed, at least I hope that’s the case since we weren’t impressed. We were not sad when it came time to move on.
Next up Jackson Center, Ohio, home of Airstream and the reason we’ve been making this crazy, long trek across the country in the chilly spring weather.
It’s been a while since I last posted. We’ve been covering lots of ground visiting family, which I’ll get to in another post, and there hasn’t been much time to write. But I realized I never posted this blog about our great time at Lake Mead in April. Reading it over, I’m wishing I was back there right now…
Las Vegas Bay Campground
After boondocking at Trona Pinnacles we needed a place to dump our tanks and get fresh water. We also needed a city so we could run errands (Easter basket traditions must live on!). Las Vegas Bay Campground on Lake Mead didn’t get great reviews, but it was close to Henderson, a suburb of Las Vegas with lots of shopping.
As we were driving toward Henderson we were following the tail end of a huge storm that dropped hail and rain on Vegas. Luckily we only caught a little of the rain and by the time we made it to the campground it had cleared up. We had our pick of spots since much of the place was empty.
Sadly this campground had an abandoned, sketchy feel to it. We couldn’t quite put our finger on why, but it partly had to do with a couple of run down trailers that looked like they had been parked there a while. This campground had the longest stay limit we have ever seen, 30 days, and they looked like they had been there longer than that. Plus this wasn’t a campground active with people walking their dogs or anything. We did see the host a couple of times out pruning the landscaping and there was a great view from our site, but it just didn’t feel like a place we wanted to hang out much. That’s ok. We were here to get things done.
Reading the park brochure I discovered we were only 10 miles from Hoover Dam so we decided to go there first thing in the morning. Of course for us that means about 10 am. 🙂 I had been once as a kid, but didn’t remember much about it and I have to say it wasn’t what I was expecting. Other dams we have seen are massive and can be viewed from a distance. Hoover Dam, while very tall, is wedged in a narrow canyon. It was crazy-filled with people like Disneyland. For some reason I thought there would be a big parking lot and a visitor’s center that overlooked the dam, but parking was $10 or in a couple of small lots on the hillside.
They do however let you drive across the dam. So after going through the security check-point and letting them look at all the gear stowed under our bed cover, we followed the line of cars winding their way down into the canyon, across the dam while avoiding the pedestrians crossing, and up the other side to a viewpoint high above.
I snapped photos out the window and we parked on the hill, but didn’t want to trek all the way down to the visitor’s center with Chuck’s bum knee and all the throngs of people to contend with.
So we were satisfied to see what we did and headed back across. Instead we stopped at the small Lake Mead Visitor’s center which was pretty informative.
Then we headed into Henderson to get some lunch. We wanted to go to REI so found a BBQ place nearby that wasn’t great. Traffic and lots of freeways in Henderson made us want to get out of there. It just didn’t seem like a great area. We shopped for Easter goodies for our daughters’ baskets, did a grocery run, stopped at the post office and headed back to the trailer.
The next morning we were hitched up and ready to leave the area. As we headed north through the park we got a big surprise. This area is stunningly beautiful. Colorful cliffs rise out of the desert and wildflowers dot the side of the road. If you’re ever in Las Vegas I recommend taking the drive along the western side of Lake Mead and exploring the natural beauty of the area.
Our destination was Stewart’s Point, a very large boondocking area at the northwestern edge of Lake Mead. It was strange driving in because you suddenly enter a section of houses before coming to the boondocking area, but it turned out to be perfect. We parked the trailer and took the bikes around to explore since there were huge ruts in many of the roads. We settled on a large open gravel area on a high point overlooking the shoreline and the distant mountains on the other side. Turned out to be a great spot with views all around.
There is plenty of room here to explore and all sorts of cool pebbles to discover underfoot, even some kind of small white shells. Just like at Trona, we had very strong winds one day making it hard to go outside (I guess that’s just something you find in the desert), but other days we rode bikes around and sat outside enjoying the views.
Another Airstream pulled into a spot nearby and soon we met Rhonda and Bruce, full-time RVers for 8.5 years. They invited us over for a delicious dinner in their vintage trailer. Bruce made chili and homemade gluten free cornbread, yum! We swapped stories for quite a while and hope to cross paths again so we can return their hospitality.
We took a very worthwhile trip to Valley of the Fire State Park. It is only about 12 miles away, but a whole different world of amazing red rock scenery.
We drove out the White Domes Scenic Byway. It was a beautiful drive and we were surprised when the stunning red rocks gave way to pastel ridges of white and peach and gold.
The hike down into the canyon was definitely worth it. This is another place that has provided a backdrop for movies. The way the wind and water have eroded the sandstone it so cool.
In another part of the park we found these cool rock cabins build by the CCC in an area with petroglyphs.
Another day we walked the short 1/2 mile loop around Redstone, a smaller area of red sandstone in Lake Mead. It’s a nice picnic stop if you take the drive to explore the lake.
We celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary while we were here. I never would have thought that this is where we would end up all these years later. Chuck kept saying let’s spend the whole day together for our anniversary. Ha Ha. We do that every day.
But to make it special we opened a bottle of wine, broke out some appetizers and enjoyed the view. And after dinner we lit a campfire. We’ve only had 3 or 4 campfires since hitting the road. We don’t really like to end up smelling like smoke, but once in a while a spot really calls out for a campfire and this was one of them. It was a fitting end to our special day.