June, 2016 – Ithaca, New York

Although we had been going back and forth to New York State, it was time to take the plunge and spend some time in the Empire State.  Our destination was a private RV Park near Ithaca, which is located at the southern end of the longest Finger Lake, Cayuga Lake.  Ithaca is also the home of Cornell University, so we expected a college atmosphere.  The trip was less than 2 hours and since a good bit was along I-86, it was an easy trip.  As we approached the Finger Lakes, I was surprised to see that we were leaving the sharp ridges behind with the terrain flatting out a good bit.  In this part of New York, the most dramatic elevation changes are the dips in the terrain at the Finger Lakes.  Spruce Row Campground, about 10 miles north from Ithaca along the shore of Cayuga Lake, is a large campground extending over 0.25 miles back from the county highway and of course our site was at the very back of the campground.  Even though they have more than 200 sites, the vast majority are taken by seasonal campers who leave their RVs there year round.  We had a nice pull-through site located right under a Norway Spruce tree.  We were back to having full hookups, but limited TV coverage (we had just 2 channels which is still twice what we had the week before).  I guess we are just too far from the major cities, which has many other advantages.  During the week we were just about the only campers in the park, with just a couple of transients pulling in for a night or two.  However, over the weekend the park was FULL with a lot of young families camping out.  We met a very nice couple with two children that live in the area and spent some enjoyable time getting to know them.  They were envious of our lifestyle, which made us feel good, and we talk to them about our experiences and how to live full-time on the road.

Campsite

Tuesday was a nice day to begin exploring the Finger Lakes Region, so we choose to stay close and explore Taughannock Falls State Park, about 10 miles up the shore of Cayuga Lake.  The park consists of two parts, the first is a spit of land extending out into the lake with a nice picnic area and the other a gorge where one of the creeks that feed the lake descends over 700 feet from the plateau above.  Within this gorge the stream has cut a gorge through the limestone with walls at the lower end over 400 feet high.  Nearly all of the drop in elevation is achieved by two falls, the main Taughannock Falls and Upper Falls.  Taughannock Falls is the more spectacular, being 215 feet tall, which is 3 feet higher than Niagara Falls making it the tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi.  There is a Gorge Trail that you can hike up the nearly 1 mile into the gorge to access the falls or you can drive to their Visitor Center which has a nice overlook of the falls.  Especially since the Gorge Trail was closed for repairs while we were there, we elected to drive up to the overlook.  Unfortunately the Visitor Center was also closed, but the view of the falls was spectacular, even though you could not get very lose to it.  From this point we elected to take the South Rim Trail up to the Upper Falls, which was around 0.5 mile with only a couple of short steep sections.  Along the trail there are a number of overlooks providing additional angles of the main falls and the gorge above the falls.  There is a bridge at the Upper Falls which provide a nice view of these falls, which are really more of a series of cascades than a waterfall.  From here you can access the North Rim Trail or return to the parking lot on the North Rim Trail.  Our only real choice was to return to the parking lot, at which time I decided to continue down the North Rim Trail to the base of the gorge and meet Kal in the picnic area at the base of the gorge.  We had a nice lunch along the shore of the lake where we had to spend some time skipping rocks since there were millions of great flat and rounded skipping stones on the shore!  Even though it was still early, there was not much else to do in the park, so we headed home for the rest of the day.

Since Wednesday promised to be another sunny and cool day, we decided to continue our exploration of the Finger Lakes and headed west to Seneca Lake where you find Watkins Glen and Watkins Glen State Park.  This state park is actually within the town of Watkins Glen so it easy to find and it was immediately obvious that it was the pride and joy of the town.  Like Taughannock Falls State Park that we visit the day before, Watkins Glen is another gorge where the stream has cut a path through the limestone rocks to the lake.  However, instead of doing it in one huge waterfall, this stream cascades through a 2 mile series of pools, waterfalls, and smoothed channels.  Over the years they have spent a lot of money building the Gorge Trail that follows the streambed all the top with more than 800 steps over the 1.8 miles.  It would have been an arduous climb except for the fact you are stopping every few feet to look at and take pictures of the ever changing views of the gorge.  You do have the choice of either hiking all the way up and back yourself or you can take a shuttlebus to the upper end of the gorge and just walk down.  However, the shuttle only operates on the weekends during the spring, so we didn’t have any other choice but to make the hike ourselves.  Depending upon how you count them there are suppose to be 19 waterfalls.  They have done just a spectacular job that it has been voted the third best state park in the nation by USA Today and I certainly agree!  The trail begins from the parking lot with the Entrance Tunnel hand carved out of the rock.  The Tunnel is certainly is a great way to start as you cannot see any of the falls from the parking lot until you exit the tunnel over a stone bridge and get your first view of one of the best waterfalls.  Along the trail, which in many places has been carved from the limestone walls, you actually get to go behind two of the waterfalls.  There are also two more tunnels, the neatest one being a spiral staircase going to the top of the falls you had just walked behind!!  All in all this was an experience I will always treasure and urge everyone to go to, although you might want to go during the weekend when you can take the shuttle to the top.  Kal was not very happy with me when I decided to go all the way to the top instead of cutting off at a spur that would have taken us to the North Rim Trail.  The main reason was the climb of more than 100 steps up Jacob’s Ladder at the end of the Gorge Trail.  We took the North Rim Trail to return to the truck, which since it was downhill, was much easier.  It was a nice walk through the New York forests that began as a maple/oak forest that transitioned into a spruce/hemlock forest.  Even though the trail was as close as it could to the rim of the gorge, there were only a couple of overlooks where you could see down into the gorge.  After eating a late lunch in the truck, we headed back to the campsite for another lazy afternoon.

Thursday was spent in the campsite working on this blog and extending our reservations out another couple of weeks.  We ate an early supper anticipating driving into Ithaca to watch the USA Men’s Soccer game against Ecuador in the knock out phase.  Our destination was a Buffalo Wild Wings, which turned out to be a very good choice.  It was not busy from 9-11 in the evening, however, the people there were all watching the soccer game (and the NBA basketball game being played at the same time) and it made for a very nice atmosphere.  We did order a deluxe plate of chicken nachos, which took us nearly the entire game to eat. Especially since we won the game, making it to the semi-finals in the tournament, it was a very enjoyable, although very late, night.

On Friday I was in the mood for another hike in the woods, although I was not looking for a hike with more than 800 steps!!  We found the Cayuga Nature Center about 2 miles from the campgrounds which had some easy hiking trails.  They also had a nice Visitor Center with interesting exhibits about the factors impacting our natural environment.  They had displays on a variety of topics ranging from the changes in land use since settlement (especially the impacts of deforestation and agriculture), global climate change, invasive species (both plants and animals) and other topics.  They had a small collection of stuffed animals indigenous to the region and a small live animal exhibit of exotic species people had thought to make pets of.  While looking at some of the exotic frogs they had I turned and was surprised to see a ferret checking out my leg.  He and two other ferrets had somehow managed to get out of their cage and the staff were attempting to round them back up.  I spent a few minutes helping to corral them before joining Kal for our hike.  They had a number of trails that wandered through their woods and by maximizing their loops we were able to get in a hike of about 2.5 miles, without a lot of uphill climbs.  I saw the largest stand of jack pine I have run into so far along with a lot of large maples, oaks, hickories, and hemlocks.   Although they claimed this was an example of what the forests would have looked like to the settlers in the 1700s, I would judge it to be much to young yet to be making that claim, although there were a few large hemlocks.

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For Saturday and Sunday, we decided to do something completely different.  Along the highway on our way the past Monday, we saw a small billboard for an Old Timers Fiddlers Gathering in Watkins Glen.  Kal used the internet to find out that it was a festival located at Lakewood Vinyards just north of Watkins Glen along the shore of Seneca Lake.  From our camping neighbors we also learned that on Saturday was the day for the Cardboard and Duc Tape Boat Rally in Watkins Glen, which was suppose to start at 11 according to the internet.  So we showed up in Watkins Glen by 10 to check out the boat rally before going to the Festival which was to start at 1:00.  However, once we got to Watkins Glen we found out the boat rally was not until 2:00, which meant we had some time to kill.  Since Lakewood Vinyards was not in our GPS (although it includes a lot of wineries!!) Kal memorized the route shown in Mapquest.  I should have looked at the map myself, since she took a wrong turn in Watkins Glen heading south out of town instead of north.  After driving a few miles to make sure, we came across one of the many roadside parking/picnic areas that are common in New York.  Since we had time to kill we pulled it and had an early lunch.  Even then we were still at the Winery an hour before the festival was to start.  Actually this was not a bad thing as we were far from the first to arrive and it give us a chance to check out the tasting room at the winery first.  Unfortunately I do lot like wine and Kal was not really interested, so we did not try of the wines ourselves, but I was very impressed with the tasting room and their on-going expansion of the facilities to attract meetings and other activities to their venue.  We learned from the program that the two day Old Timer Fiddler Gathering would start with the kind of music we had expected to find.  We were treated to a range of jigs, hornpipes, bluegrass, jazz, and swing tunes from New York fiddlers.  It was GREAT!!  We set under a tent for 6 hours enjoying the music.

For Sunday, Father’s Day, we once again returned to the Old Time Fiddlers Gathering in Watkins Glen for another day of fiddling.  However, the emphasis the second day was on Scandinavian fiddling beginning with some very old (1600 vintage) Swedish music.  Thus it was much more classical in nature and was a lovely selection of medieval dance music of polonaise and waltzes.  The two fiddlers were experts and the tunes were great, although it was certainly more difficult to stay awake then the jigs of the day before.  One of the fiddlers then stayed to play a selection of traditional tunes from Norway that were just as lovely, although not as rich as the previous Swedish tunes with two fiddles.  This was followed by a local group playing Finnish music that was also very nice.   Since the next activity was going to be a workshop on traditional Finnish dances, we decided we were done and headed back to the campground in time for supper.  We both had such a great time attending the festival that I hope we can find more opportunities for this in the future!!  I should mention that this was a perfect Father’s Day even though there were no presents or fancy meals – just a phone call from each of my children that I treasured.

June 2016 – Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania

Expecting to have to pay over $40/night for an RV site this summer in the northeast, I was pleased to find a Corps of Engineer campground along our route that offered camping sites for $34/night, which after Kal’s Senior Pass cutting this in half, made for the ideal situation.  We have loved all of the COE campgrounds we have stayed in, although we would have to make it without a sewer hookup.  Since we were only staying a week, this would not be a problem.  The trip north from central Pennsylvania was a beautiful drive along the Susquehanna River until we intersected with US 15, which is the future I-99 corridor and was every bit an interstate.  The only issue we had was with our GPS choice of roads once we left the main highway.  The GPS was telling us to turn left onto PA 49, but the sign we saw for Tompkins Campground was to the right.  We tend to trust the signs when there is a discrepancy since the GPS could just as likely be taking us to their maintenance area or offices.  However, in the center of Lawrenceville (which is a very small town with this single stop light) there were no further signs for the campground and the highway was turning south away from Cowanesque Lake which we knew was on the other side of the highway.  Therefore, we decided to once again trust the GPS and let it direct us around the block and back the other way on PA 49.  After traveling the entire south side of the lake, we finally got around the headwaters and traveled back up 4 miles on the north side of the lake.  Except for the road being very rough, we found the campground with no problem.  We did find out that we should have gone the other way as the sign indicated and turned left at the stoplight.  After crossing the bridge and entering New York for about a block there was another sign for the campground.  This would have saved us about 10 miles of driving.  In any case, Tompkins Campground lived up to our expectations for a COE campground.  The sites are all very spacious with trees in between each site.  It was a back-in site, but since they angled the paved pad it was simple to back into.  We had to put the RV all the way back into the site with the rear end overhanging the pavement in order to have enough room to “parallel park” the truck at the front.  It was tight, but not a problem once Kal figured out how to park the truck in less than two attempts.  We had a quiet location, with plenty of woods, and few neighbors during the week.  Over the weekend it did fill up to about 2/3 capacity, but even then it was quiet.

Campsite

After spending the better part of the week mainly taking it easy in the campsite, we were ready to see some sights (or at least take in a few hikes).  So on Tuesday we headed over to the sister lakes south of Cowanesque lake that we were staying at to the twin Tioga-Hammond Lakes.  They are also COE lakes with a campground at Hammond that we could have stayed in.  Our goal was to find a couple of easy hikes that were shown to be loops about a 1.5 miles long.  However, our trail map seemed to indicate that they branched off another trail that began on a woods road heading uphill into the surrounding hills.  After making our way up a moderately steep climb about a 1/4 of a mile we had seen no sign for the other trails.  Not knowing what else to do we continued climbing up the road until the “trail” we were on took off on a much steeper climb up the hill.  We still had not seen any sign of the trails we wanted, but decided to continue on the road since by this point it was fairly level.  The woods road continued into state lands up to a small parking lot for hunters, where it ended.  So we turned around and hiked back to the truck, which was now all downhill, still looking for the hiking trails we wanted.  We still did not find the trail and even though we had only hiked about 1.5 miles, Kal had had enough of climbing.  We did take the truck in search of the trails we had been looking for and finally found them.  The trailheads for each of the trails was a small picnic area near the offices about 100 yards from where we parked the truck to hike up the road!  Such is life on the road.  Except for being more strenuous then we were looking for, the hike was still a pleasant walk through the lush PA forests on a beautiful (and cool) day.

Tuesday evening was the US Men’s Soccer Team second game against Costa Rica in the group play stage of Copa America tournament.  With TV reception limited to just NBC at the campground, we would have to find a sports bar if we wanted to watch the game.  Kal found an Applebees in Corning, New York, about half an hour away, so we headed there for a late dinner with the game starting at 7 pm.  Unfortunately, this was the time for the start of their coverage, so we had an hour to wait until the game began at 8 pm lasting until after 10 pm.  It was going to be a late night.  Therefore, we paced ourselves with 4 of their sampler appetizers spaced throughout the evening.  By the time the game started we had gotten friendly with a couple of people at the bar, who were not interested in the soccer game.  They were there to participate in the Tuesday night Trivia Game that also stated at 8 pm.  So for the next two hours we had to listen to each of the trivia questions along with answers and results from their DJ, all the while listening to our bar mates talk about everything except the soccer game!  I was not able to concentrate on the game myself (the couple of beers I had did not help), but we thankfully won the game in convincing fashion thereby salvaging the tournament after the loss to Columbia last week.

The weather forecast for Wednesday was for periods of rain throughout the day and cooler temperatures with highs in the 60s.  Not trusting the weather (we did get periods of light rain) we decided to spend the day out of the weather and headed to a nearby casino in New York State.  Tioga Downs Casino south of Elmira, New York, is really more a racetrack then a casino.  On most Sundays through the summer they hold races, which are mostly harness racing.  While this may seem dull to some, I would be interested to see a race sometime.  If this is too tame for you, then they also were advertising camel racing in the casino.  Since it was during the week, we were out of luck except for seeing a couple of horses training on the track.  The casino itself is rather small, but again being during the middle of the day on Wednesday, there were not a lot of people there so we had our choice of slot machines.  It turned out that Wednesdays are Senior Day which means you get to eat at their buffet for a good price.  We also agreed to join their player’s club since for new members they give you $10 free play for the first $10 bet on the slots.  The line for the buffet at 11:30 was still pretty long so we decided to play the slots for a while before eating lunch.  After an hour we could wait no longer and decided to wait in line for the buffet, which had not gotten any shorter.  The price was good and the selection was pretty good, but the food not so much.  Kal could not eat their fried chicken and the ribs I got were dried out and not very tasty.  In any case, we played another couple of hours on the slots before Kal had lost her $40.  By this point I was actually up about $15, so the day turned out well.

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The weather on Thursday was clear, windy, and temperatures only in the upper 60s.  It is fun listening to the local weather forecasters complaining about the lack of summer weather, and although I admit having lows in the upper 30s was a bit surprising, we were hoping for a lot more of this spring type weather.  To take advantage of the day we decided to check out the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon which we had heard about from some locals last week.  This “Grand Canyon” is actually called Pine Creek Gorge and extends over 47 miles in north-central Pennsylvania.  It is a U-shaped valley carved out by the glaciers with an old railroad bed (now a hiking and bike trail) along Pine Creek.  It begins near Wellsboro in the north with depths over 800 feet with maximum depth of 1450 feet near Waterville.  Near Wellsboro there are two state parks that provide viewing opportunities of the gorge.  Colton Point State Park is located on the east rim of the gorge and offers multiple views.  There is a Rim trail that is easy to moderate in difficulty that goes along the rim and circles back up a side canyon before cutting back to the parking lot in a loop.  Along the trail there are a number of overlooks with nice stone railings built by the CCC back in the 1930s.  It was a very nice walk in the morning and we ate lunch sitting on one of the benches overlooking the gorge.  After lunch we traveled back down to the creek and up the other side to Leonard Harrison State Park on the west rim of the gorge.  These two state parks are actually just a few thousand feet from each across the gorge, but unless you want to take the Turkey Trail that descends down through the gorge, you have to drive about 40 minutes to get from one to the other.  Unlike Colton Point, which is very rustic, Leonard Harrison is constructed for the tourist.  They have a very nice, but small, Visitor Center and a gift shop where I was able to find a lapel pin to add to my collection.  Behind the Visitor Center is a nice paved walkway along the rim where you can see both up and down stream.  There is also a 0.6 mile Overlook Trail that we took out to another observation point built by the CCC.  Even though shorter, it was also more difficult with more than a 200 feet elevation change to climb back to the parking lot.  Consequently, by this point we had enough climbing and headed back to the campgrounds.

The weather on Friday was also going to be pleasant, so we decided to check out Newtown Battlefield in New York that we had passed traveling to the casino on Wednesday.  I had expected the battlefield would be from the French and Indian Wars for which this would have been an extreme southeast location being part of the northwest frontier at the time.  However, it turns out this was a significant battlefield from the Revolutionary War, which really surprised me.  From other sites last year, I was aware of the campaign of General Sullivan who was dispatched by General Washington to stop the raids of the Iroquois Indian Six Nations who allied themselves with the British hoping the British would limit settlements in their land.  To counter this General Sullivan was sent with about 5000 soldiers of the Continental Army to burn the Indian villages and crops in August on 1779, the third year of the Revolutionary War.  While this campaign was successful, the only significant engagement was at Newtown in western New York, near the present day city of Elmira.  It tuns out that this is actually the largest battle of the Revolutionary War in terms of people, however, the battle did not last long as the British loyalists and Iroquois allies quickly abandoned their earthworks when General Sullivan attempted to surround their position.  When we visited the site I expected to see the location of the battle itself with an opportunity to walk around the area.  However, it turns out they don’t know exactly where the battle took place as the earthworks were temporary to begin with.  They do know where the the Iroquois town of Newtown was located along the Chemung River and so they are in the correct general area.  It is doubtful that the hilltop where the memorial stands played much of a role in the battle since the battle itself would have taken place down near the river.  In any case, this is the site they choose to erect a memorial for the centennial in 1879 which consisted of a stone tower that you could climb up to a platform overlooking the valley.  However, even this is now gone due to disrepair over the 30 years and a hole blown in the side by kids setting off dynamite in the tower.  The monument that now stands on the site was erected in 1912.  They do have a nice observation platform overlooking the valley with a couple of interpretive signs about the battle.  There is also a small Indian village they have built of log cabins similar to what they would have lived in at the time.  However, except for the empty cabins there is not much to see at this location either.  Suffice it to say that we were disappointed in the Newtown Battlefield and after looking around for about an hour we had seen everything there was to see.  We did eat lunch at a couple of picnic tables near the Indian village with a nice view over the valley.  Consequently, we arrived back at the campgrounds early in the afternoon.

Saturday was spent doing laundry and cleaning the RV, along with working on this blog, which has become a normal activity during the week.  Saturday was also the date for the final game of the group stage for the US Soccer Team, so we once again headed to the Applebees in Corning to watch the game.  This time we were careful to check the actual start time for the game, which was at 7 pm this time.  Even though Applebees was fairly busy we were able to get seats at the bar facing the game and this time were able to concentrate on their game against Paraguay.  In my opinion the team looked good during its defeat to Columbia and obviously played well in their 4-0 win over Costa Rica, although I was not able to pay much attention to this game.  During the first half they looked great against Paraguay and had a 1-0 lead at halftime.  We expected a continuation of this effort in which case we could extend the lead, however, Yeldin started the second half with two quick yellow cards for dangerous play within 30 seconds of each other.  I know the players and coaches for both teams were upset with the referee for inconsistent calls, the second foul certainly warranted a yellow card.  I could not believe Yeldin did this, especially since he has only gotten a single red card once in his career.  In any case, this changed our strategy and from that point on we were outplayed by Paraguay.  I believe we were fortunate that Paraguay did not tie the game as they certainly had a lot of opportunities.  It is fair to say that our defense is finally improving and this game put them to the test.  Later that evening Costa Rica managed to beat Columbia in their game, so not only did we win two games, thus advancing to the knockout rounds, but we even won the group!

Sunday was a quiet day in the campgrounds with an easy walk around Cowanesque Lake on their Moccasin Trail.  When we checked in on Monday the volunteers told us about a waterfall at the headwaters of the lake, which we had to check out.  I guess it was not terribly impressive being only about a 6 foot fall of a creek entering the river, but it was a waterfall!!  We also spent some time watching something disturbing the water along the shore amongst some cattails.  At first we thought they could be otters as there were some definite huts close by.  However, we are fairly certain with photo evidence that they were actually some kind of fish flopping around.  We much enjoyed our stay in another COE campground, far from any large city, and would stay here if we ever pass this way again.

June 2016 – Sunbury, Pennsylvania

After spending three weeks at William and Kristin’s house, the RV and truck were ready to be back on the road and we were looking forward to a slow trip through Pennsylvania and New York. Since Monday was Memorial Day, William was off work and was there to see us off around 11 in the morning. We had a 3 hour drive ahead of us into central Pennsylvania. The last half of the trip was along the Susquehanna River which has a storied history. Besides being the main “highway” during colonization of the area, it provided the main artery for logging the area until the railroads were built in the late 1800s. This led to massive deforestation of the entire region and along with the mining operations, most notably coal, with its runoff into the river. Consequently the Susquehanna River’s ecosystem was devastated and is still recovering. Today the hills are covered with trees and the Susquehanna River appears healthy, although the old coal mines are still acidifying the water to an extent. We had also left the rolling hills behind in Maryland and has ascended into some series hills in central Pennsylvania. It is beautiful country in the spring. Our destination was Fantasy Island Campground just outside Sunbury, PA. It is located not just along the Susquehanna River, but actually on the river since it lies on Packers Island in the center of the river between Sunbury on one bank and Northumberland on the other. This certainly made it convenient for shopping, yet it was a quiet location on the island. The location of the campground is interesting, partly due to its location on an island and also because this location was an amusement park with a roller-coaster, Ferris wheel, Olympic sized pool, dance hall, and carousel, which opened in 1900. Unfortunately the only part that survived to today is the carousel house which they use as a rec-hall in the campground. Fantasy Island Campground is a medium size campground with about 100 sites, however, all but about a dozen are occupied with seasonal campers so it looked full except for the small transient area in the center. Throughout the week there were just a couple of other transient campers, so we had this area pretty much to ourselves. My only complaint about the campground is that all of the pull-through sites were already occupied with seasonal campers, so we had to attempt to back-in our RV. With the proximity of the other campers and vehicles across from our space this was very difficult for me, especially since the sites were not angles to make for easy access. Fortunately, one of the seasonal campers came over with a suggestion. Instead of backing in, we took the RV around to the other side and drove through that back-in site and we were all set!! I did waste some time trying to straighten up the RV on the pad somewhat, but with the proximity of the RVs across from us, I did not have any room to maneuver very much and finally just gave up.

Campsite

After spending the past three weeks being busy just about every day on either the RV or helping William, we were looking forward to just taking it easy. Therefore, on Tuesday we just lazed around the campground and I got caught up on this blog, which was nearly a month out of date.

On Wednesday we were still not ready to travel much so we decided to stay close and check out the Shikellamy State Park, which is located just across the road from the campground. We drove into this picturesque park looking for a map of the hiking trails, which we found at the park office. Come to find out, this park is actually in two sections, with the smaller section on Packers Island consisting of a paved path along the river, a marina, and picnic areas. Although we took advantage of these trails later in the week, since we could access them by walking under the bridge from the campground, it was not what we were looking for. The other section was across the river on top of the 360 foot high bluff overlooking the river. We drove over there and had a nice 1.7 mile hike through the Pennsylvania forests. Part of the trail is along the bluff where you can get some great views of Northumberland across the West Branch, Packers Island on the North Branch, and Sunbury across the Susquehanna River after the two branches converge. By zooming in the camera I was able to get a unique picture of one end of our RV from on top of the bluff!!

 

The weather of Thursday was again hot and muggy with periods of rain in the afternoon so we just stayed close in the campground. However, Kal found out about a local brewery from a friend on Facebook, so we decided to check it out for an early dinner. We found Selin’s Grove Brewery in nearby Selinsgrove, PA. The Brewery is located right downtown but we were able to find an easy parking space on Main street across the street from the brewery. The taproom is located in the cellar of an old house where they have done a great job turning into a friendly environment. The brewery is actually in a small building just behind the house where you would find a garage along the alley. It is quite small but produces enough craft beer to supply the tap room which is their only outlet. They had a number of different brews on tap and I tried 3 of their ales and porters. Kal even had a porter herself, which is very unusual, but seemed to like it although it was necessary to eat dinner before she would be safe behind a wheel. We were hoping to try out some local fare, however, they mostly served a variety of sandwiches. However, they did have a seasonal cheese plate with local cheeses that we enjoyed a lot. Along with sharing a nice vegetarian chili in a bread bowl, we called it good. I hope to do more of this I the future as it was fun to talk with the locals, have some nice craft beer, and sample the local cuisine. However, I need to be more careful in the future as I got too drunk on those 3 beers and had a rough time back at the RV before falling asleep in the chair attempting to watch the USA women’s soccer game on TV.

Friday was again raining so we decided to drop in on the Farmer’s market in Sunbury, which is housed in an old building right downtown that has been a market for over 100 years. We found the market near the center of the town, which is itself a nice downtown area, and wandered around looking at the offerings. Unfortunately, the spring is not the best time for fresh local produce, which was evident from the sparse pickings in the market. We decided not to buy anything and instead just walked around town. Sunbury is a quiet town in central PA, but is obviously cared for by the residents. The only structure of note that we saw was an old prison that looked like a medieval castle with barb wire at the top. We found out from a local that it was no longer being used as their prison following a fire that gutted the interior a couple of years ago. The local government is still undecided about what to do with the structure, which is typical.

On Saturday and Sunday, we just took it easy in the campground watching the seasonal campers come out to “play” (including a time trial with the golf carts around the campground). We did manage to do the laundry and clean the RV, but other than that, not much was accomplished.

May 2016 – Hampstead, Maryland

The trip north into Maryland was a long trip being over 4 hours, but for the most part the highways were four lane and not too much traffic.  The only notable occurrence was due to the GPS system.  The shortest/quickest route according to the GPS was to head towards Washington D.C. and take the beltway around to head towards Baltimore.  Since our first experience with this traffic nightmare on our first trip to William we have avoided anything to do with the beltway and knew better than trying to pull the RV through that mess.  It would certainly not be as fast as the GPS thought it would be.  To get the GPS to select a route that stayed well to the west of D.C. Kal found it necessary to tell it to avoid interstates.  After stopping for lunch at a Walmart parking lot in Leesburg, Virginia I knew we had a problem.  In order to avoid Interstates, the GPS was directing us to a ferry across the Potomac River!!  We knew this was crazy since we knew we should be able to take US 15 north to Frederick, Maryland.  Thankfully, I realized the problem long before we would have turned off the highway for the ferry and changed the settings!

We had originally planned on visiting William for two weeks before heading into Pennsylvania and New York, however, I was late in making reservations last month.  When I did get around to it, it was proving difficult to find an opening for Memorial Day weekend, plus it would be expensive!!  Therefore, we decided to just stay three weeks with William and Kristin, avoid Memorial Day, and pick up the distance on the other side.  Especially since this blogs spans a three week period when we did not visit any interesting places, I am not going to give a day by day account of what we did.  Suffice it to say, that it rained some part of every day the first week, so we did not accomplish anything besides laundry and basic cleaning of the RV.  Thankfully, the rain held off until late Thursday night giving us a welcomed window of opportunity to attend the Pentatonix concert.  For those of you that are not familiar with this singing group they are an “a cappella” group that we all fell in love with when they won the third season of The Sing-Off in 2011.  While Kal and I only catch the occasional tune through Facebook, William and Kristin have all their music.  Suffice it to say it was an AMAZING concert even though we did not know many of the songs.  The sounds and harmonies they can create with only their five voices is unbelievable.

On Saturday we volunteered our time and effort to assist with the “Spring Cleaning” of Paradise Stables where Kristin works.  This included power washing the ceiling which was over 20 feet high, power washing the stables, and power washing the center aisle walkway.  Kal and my jobs were generally limited to assisting to sweep out the continuous flow of water from all this washing!!  Consequently we got wet and my feet were freezing by the end of the day since I forgot to bring another pair of shoes to change into, even though Kal had gotten them out of the RV for me.  We also met William’s horse, Hawkeye.  He is part Percheron and is very big.  Kristin’s Arab gelding looks tiny in comparison.  We had a nice pork rib dinner with the owners after we finished around 6 that evening.  Kal and I spent at least the next few days recovering from the intense physical labor we were not used to.

The following week continued to be wet and even turned cold enough to get out our heavy coats again.  Finally, we got some warm (even hot) weather the third week and finally accomplished what I had planned on doing.  I did a complete clean of the RV which involved shampooing the carpet, cleaning and treating all the cabinets inside and out, cleaning and treating the rubber roof, washing the outside of the RV, washing all the mirrors and windows, lubricating the slides, treating all the rubber gaskets, checking the lug nuts on the tires, cleaning the retractable awning, and washing the insides and outside of the truck.  We also got the truck in for its 100,000 mile check-up which thankfully cost less than $1500 even though they had it for 3 days.  I am going to miss the mechanics at Hampsted Performance as they did everything I could think off and a number of things they found out from Ford to check on.  Except for the normal replacement of oil, filters, and flushing the coolant system, they found little to be concerned with except for the differential which is starting to collect metal fillings in the fluid.  They assured me this was normal for 100,000 miles but we need to start having this serviced every 40,000 miles.  Something else for me to try and remember to have done in a year.  Meanwhile, Kal got all of the 6 acre farm mowed, which was no small feat even for a small farm tractor.  We also helped William and Kristin get needed chores done around the farm to get it ready for finally bringing their horses home from Paradise Stables.  They will also be boarding a rescue horse being adopted by their friend Julie, who was a boundless bundle of energy whenever she showed up during the week and each weekend.  With Kal and myself supplying minimal assistance, they got the farm ready for inspection which is required before they can bring Julie’s horse to the farm.  This included leveling and packing very small stone in two of the stalls, fitting rubber mats in one of the stalls, hanging a couple of gates, and putting up new boards on their fences.  Unfortunately, we were not able to get us much of the fencing done that we wanted to, since around 1:00 on our final Sunday there, William accidentally cut the power cord on the circular saw, thus “cutting our work short” according to Kristin.  In addition, on Wednesday during the third week the ground had finally dried out enough to begin some much needed repairs on their basement which drastically needed to be sealed to keep water out.  Last fall they had found black mold in the basement and any heavy rain was leaving standing water at one end.  Therefore on Tuesday, Kal and I took it upon ourselves to move some decorative stone and lava rocks from their flower bed next to the house.  This turned out to be 145 stone blocks and multiple buckets loads of lava rocks for William’s tractor.  Thankfully, he had a tractor that could do the heavy hauling or we would not have been able to complete the task.  Even then it took us most of the day to complete.  By Wednesday evening, they had an 8 foot ditch all along the back of the house and at least a 4 foot ditch along the front.  On Saturday they returned and did the same to the north and south sides of the house, which meant we had to enter the house across two boards and they had disconnected the air conditioning/heat pump unit.  Unlike the previous weeks when the temperature struggled to get into the 70s, the weather was now sunny and in the upper 80s.  However, with floor and ceiling fans we were not to bad off in the house, where William and I spent all day Saturday playing a D&D style game on their dining room table while Kristin worked and Kal watched TV as the house slowly heated up.

Our future plans do not include returning to William and Kristin again with the RV, however, as they start their family I am sure we will have to at least drive or fly back for visits in the future.  In summary, it was great to spend the extended time with them.  I hope we were not too much of a burden and provided at least some assistance in the many chores they are going to have maintaining their horse farm.  We are now looking forward to seeing all of the kids at the same time once again in about a month at Niagara Falls!!!

May 2016 – Charlottesville, Virginia

For those of you that follow our posts I apologize for not posting a blog for nearly a month, but after spending a week near Charlottesville, Virginia, we spent three weeks at my son’s house in Maryland and I had very little time (or interest) in working on this blog.  Therefore, this post is nearly a month old, but I will see what I can remember.  Our trip back into central Virginia was uneventful and we even managed to move without it raining on us.  Since it rained nearly every day for the past week, as well as, the next week, this was an accomplishment in itself.  As we pulled into the Heavenly Acres Campground, we wondered how it got its name.  Neither of us was impresses with what we saw, but since Good Sam has it rated as 7 out of 10 for appearance we should have not been surprised.  The staff were very friendly and we did have a pull through site, which was about the best feature of the campground.  Most of the sites, including ours, was overgrown with weeds and the condition of the seasonal RVs in the campground was very poor.  Their idea of decoration was to plant flowers in old bathtubs scattered along the roads and the boxcars they used for cabins were in very poor shape.  On top of all this, the bathrooms were single stall out-houses with flush toilets that tended to be clogged much of the time.  Suffice it to say we would not stay here again.

Campsite

Even though the campground was not the best we have stayed in and the weather was terrible with rain nearly every day, we were glad we had returned to central Virginia.  Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello is located in Charlottesville, but since we had visited it in the past, we put it low on our objectives for the week, which means we did not visit Monticello due to the weather.  However, we did drive over the Skyline Drive in Sheanandoah National Park over to Staunton, Virginia to visit Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum on Wednesday.  Thankfully it did not rain on Wednesday until late in the day, but it would not have mattered since nearly all of the day was spent indoors, especially since the small formal garden was closed while they dealt with a disease killing their boxwoods.  Since this a Wednesday morning at the beginning of May, there were not many visitors to the site, in fact, we were the only visitors until just before noon.  Consequently we got a private tour of Woodrow Wilson’s birthplace.  In fact, this is known as his birthplace since the family only lived here for a couple of years before moving to Georgia.  Consequently, I doubt he remembers this home although the family continued to have connections with Mary Baldwin College that was just down the hill.  The home was built by the Presbyterian Church as an inducement to attract a good minister and was the main reason Woodrow’s father moved his family down from Ohio.  Although Staunton has grown over the years so the home is considered part of downtown today, at the time is was all alone at the top of the hill.  Therefore the back porch of the home was designed to be a showplace with nice columns and two stories since this would be the view from the center of town.  In comparison, the front porch is very modest in comparison making this an odd house.  In fact, the church used their home as a meeting place and church socials to be hosted by the minister.  We had a great time with our tour guide and actually made him late for his next tour.  While the home itself was not impressive on the inside, they had a number of period pieces that were interesting.  For instance, the wood burning stove in the kitchen had burners over the firebox and a totally enclosed baking oven on the back of the stove that set out in the room.  The museum itself was a bit of a disappointment, consisting of only a couple of rooms with small exhibits about Woodrow Wilson’s education and political career.  I did learn a couple of things I did not know about Woodrow Wilson.  For instance, he is our only President with a Ph.D. degree and he was the President of Princeton University before running for public office.  The most interesting parts of the museum were the 1919 Pierce Arrow limousine that he used during his last years as President and was purchased for him after retiring.  The have done a great job in keeping the car in perfect condition and even take it our for parades a couple of times a year.  It weighs more than my Ford F350 truck!!  The basement of the museum is also interesting, as they have created a full size model of the trenches the soldiers fought in during World War I, which dominated most of his Presidency.  I had hoped for a more extensive Presidential museum like we have visited for later Presidents.

BackEntrance

Due to the weather, we did not do anything the rest of the week.  The campground did not even have laundry facilities, so we decided to just wait until we got to William and Kristen next week.

However, the weather forecast for Saturday was suppose to be clear, so we took advantage of the forecast and visited James Madison’s Montpelier, which was less than 20 miles from the campground.  Although there was no forecast for rain, it did manage to produce a shower while we were there.  Thankfully we were inside on the tour when it happened.  Even there were signs at the entrance to the property, we were initially confused by what we saw.  Instead of a grand mansion, our first impression was this was a horse farm.  Along with the horses, pastures, and stables we could see, there was also a full racetrack and jumps for what looked like a steeplechase track.  In addition, we almost got told to pull into a very muddy field of a lot of tents that was going to be a wine and cheese festival that afternoon.  This was all before you can even see Montpelier.  It turns out, that while all of this was part of the property, it was modifications made by the duPonts who bought the property in 1901 and turned it into a very large Thoroughbred horse ranch with multiple stables, pastures, and racetracks until Marion duPont Scott bequeathed the property to the National Trust for Historic Preservation with a $10 million endowment in 1983.  Although in Madison’s time it was a large tobacco plantation, the National Trust obtained the property with the stipulation that it continued to be a horse ranch as well.  Since 1934 the National Trust has been working to restore the house and grounds immediately surrounding to the condition it was in when Madison retired there after his Presidency.  This meant dismantling over half of the mansion, but thankfully the duPonts had maintained the central portions with only modest modifications.  They have also built a nice Visitor Center that includes a small cafe, the duPont art exhibit, and a room that reproduces Marion’s favorite room in the house. It is a striking Art Decor style room with the walls full of family pictures of the horses, family, and friends.  There are a number of tours available for the house, including specialty tours.  For instance we could have chosen a tour of the house that focused on James Madison as the “Father of the Constitution” or a tour of the ongoing archeological works.  We chose to take just the standard tour of the house, which began with a short video about James and Dolley Madison.  We learned that James Madison inherited this 5000 acre plantation from his father, which began as a 2000 acre patent by his grandfather in 1723.  Madison’s father, James Madison, Sr, built the original two story brick home in the 1760s which was expanded by James, Jr in 1797 to accommodate his mother in one wing and he with his new wife, Dolley, in the other.  During this period it actually had two front doors.  The final stage of construction during his Presidency added a large drawing room and wings on both sides of the house.  They have done a great job in the restoration which is now fully opened to the public.  There is a great tour of the downstairs and you are free to tour the bedrooms upstairs and the two kitchens in the basement.  In the back there is a large leveled backyard used for entertaining and a nice walled formal garden with statuary and flower beds.

 

After eating lunch in the truck, since the weather was cool and wet following the showers, we walked over to the family cemetery where James and Dolley Madison are buried along with a short side trip over to the slave cemetery. While the gravestones of James and Dolley are today miniature monuments, at the time of his death they were very simple headstones and the slave graveyards had no gravestones in evidence.  We then walked back up to the Visitor Center to take a quick look at the duPont art exhibit and Art Decor room before proceeding out the back to some extensive trails.  The trails provide access to some hardwood trees well over 100 years old and thus are termed “old growth” although none of them date from the time of James Madison.  I suspect all of those trees were cut at the time for construction purposes.  Even then the majestic oaks, yellow-poplar, and maples  made for a mature forest you rarely see.  Thankfully it did not rain again that day and we had nice 2 walk hike through some beautiful forests.