Two New States – MA & CT (September 28 – October 8, 2020)

On Monday, September 28th, we left Maine and drove 178 miles to Charlemont, MA, where we spent three nights at Country Aire Campground.  This was our first RV stay in Massachusetts, making it the 45th state we’ve camped in.  Being near the end of the campground’s season, there were very few campers around us.  We had a beautiful view from our living room windows of the hillsides with their multi-colored fall foliage.

With rain in the forecast for the afternoon, we got going early on Tuesday and did a 4-mile loop hike in the High Ledges Wildlife Sanctuary of nearby Shelburne.  The hike mostly took us through a thick forest but, toward the end, we were rewarded with a fabulous panoramic view of the village 1,000 feet below us.  There was even a large brick and stone fireplace near the overlook.

We next strolled around the small villages of Buckland and Shelburne Falls, visiting a number of local shops.  Due to COVID, we had to view the Bridge of Flowers from a distance.  This bridge, constructed in 1908 for trolleys, had become obsolete by 1927 when the trolley company went out of business.  Tearing down the bridge would have been prohibitively expensive so it was left to decay.  In 1929, a local couple proposed building a garden on the bridge and the Shelburne Falls Women’s Club answered the call, replacing weeds with plants and flower seeds.  Volunteers have sustained the Bridge of Flowers to this day.

We then visited the glacial potholes in Shelburne Falls.  As glaciers receded at the conclusion of the last “Glacial Age,” fifty separate “pools” were formed, ranging from 6 inches to 39 feet in diameter.  The round holes were the result of the whirlpool effect of water and gyrating stones of varied sizes.  The Shelburne Falls site is one of the largest collections of natural potholes in the world and the site of the largest pothole on record. 

After leaving Shelburne Falls, we drove through the village of Charlemont and stopped at the Bissell Covered Bridge.  The current bridge, built in 2004, is the third generation of the bridge first built in 1880.

On Thursday, October 1st, we drove 105 miles south to Moodus, CT where we spent a week at GrandView Camp Resort.  We had a little excitement on this short drive.  First, Phil was unable to get across to the proper lane as we passed through Hartford, CT and had to drive through downtown Hartford to get back to the right highway.  Then, upon arrival at the campground, Phil second-guessed himself about pulling up a narrow driveway that turned out to be the actual entrance to the campground.  After passing the driveway, he sat on the country road and called the campground office for guidance.  Fortunately, the nearby golf club had a large roundabout that enabled him to get turned around easily.

The campground has an interesting history.  In 1946, the Grand View Resort and Day Camp was built as a vacation place where nearby city-dwellers could get away to the fresh air and relaxing atmosphere of the country.  The resort contained a hotel, playhouse, cottages and a swimming pool (ala the movie “Dirty Dancing.”)  By 1975, air travel, cruising and RV camping became more affordable and such resorts in Moodus became a thing of the past.  The location served as a Jewish heritage center and retreat for the next 20 years, then as a basketball camp for city kids for a short time.  After that, the resort fell into disuse and was vandalized by trespassers.  The current owners have lived across the street from the resort for 50 years and witnessed the good times and bad.  Since buying the property, they are attempting to restore what they can, adding camp sites and modern facilities. 

After a rainy Friday, we finally got out to explore the area on Saturday.  Our first destination was Old Saybrook, CT, first settled in 1635.  Our first stop was at the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, known affectionately as “the Kate.”  Katharine Hepburn had summered in the area as a child, returned throughout her career, and spent the last six years of her life here.  The cultural center was created after her death in Old Saybrook’s disused old town hall.  Although it contains a museum, it is now closed due to COVID.

We then drove to see the Lynde Point Lighthouse in Saybrook Point.  The lighthouse is only truly accessible by boat but we were able to get close to it on foot, down a road next to a golf course and through a neighborhood of beautiful homes.

We then drove to New London, CT.  We drove by the U.S. Coast Guard Academy but, to no surprise, it is closed to visitors currently.  We next stopped at the Old Town Mill, which was originally built in 1650.  Although having since been rebuilt, it operated continuously for 300 years.  The neighborhood looked rough, with a homeless shelter across the street, so we made a quick visit.

We next drove to see the New London Harbor Light.  Since this lighthouse is now privately-owned, we could only view it from the road.

Our next stop was at Fort Trumbull State Park.  The museum is closed due to COVID but we were able to explore the grounds.  The first fortifications at this site were built during the American Revolution.  The current fort (the third on this site) was built between 1839 and 1852.  The fort also served as the first home of the Coast Guard Academy, from 1915-1932.  The Coast Guard’s training ship, the Barque Eagle, docks at Fort Trumbull 2-3 times a year and we were fortunately able to see it.

Our final stop in New London was the Whaling Wall, a large mural originally painted by environmental artist Wyland in 1993, with annual touch-up work begun in 2006.  There were several other large murals on the downtown walls.

Jan attempts to collect stone coasters from each of the states we visit so we stopped at a store in Waterford to buy one for Connecticut.  Unfortunately, the only ones mentioning Connecticut specifically mentioned Waterford.  We had not yet visited any site in Waterford so we set out to rectify that situation.  We decided to visit Waterford Beach Park, which has a ¼-mile stretch of sandy beach along the Long Island Sound.  From the beach, we could see some sort of a kite festival further up the shoreline so we headed that direction.  This required some rock scrambling but, once past the rocks, we came to another large park with signage that referenced Camp Harkness.  We didn’t think much of that since we knew that Harkness Memorial State Park was in the area.  However, when we reached fences that kept us from reaching the kites, we sensed that something was amiss.  As we headed back to the Waterford Beach Park, we were approached by a security guard who asked if we were passholders.  We learned that Camp Harkness is one of the few state parks in the country dedicated exclusively to individuals with disabilities and that we were trespassing.  After our apologies, we returned the way we had come.

On Sunday, we hiked the 2.3-mile Machimoodus State Park Trail.  The was mostly a very easy hike, although there was one short, steep ascent that took us up a hill overlooking the Salmon River.

We then visited Gillette Castle State Park.  This was the former home of William Gillette, an American actor, playwright and stage director in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, most famous for his stage portrayals of Sherlock Holmes.  Gillette built a castle, known as Seven Sisters, on a hilltop overlooking the Connecticut River.  The castle included many features to accommodate Gillette’s many cats, as well as a 3-mile-long narrow-gauge railroad for riding around the property.  Although the house and museum were closed due to COVID, they did have period actors portraying William Gillette, dressed as Sherlock Holmes, and his wife.  We learned that William Gillette was quite rich for his time, earning $1,000 a week at a time when the minimum wage was 14 cents per hour.

On Monday, we drove to the Day Pond State Park in Colchester, CT and hiked the 5-mile North Loop.  The beginning of the hike was fairly straightforward and we were able to follow the trail markers.  We did pass a gutted-out car on the trail and have no idea how it could have gotten there.  The second half of the hike became more of an adventure.  We were attempting to follow a route that had been recorded in Alltrails and it deviated greatly from the marked trail.  Phil walked most of the way back with his phone in his hand, trying to follow the Alltrails map.  Many of the paths had obviously not been heavily traveled and having lots of dead leaves on the ground made the paths even harder to follow.  The trail had so many switchbacks that we could have gotten lost easily without internet access.

On Tuesday, we headed to Gay City State Park in East Hampton, CT for a hike.  However, when we arrived at the park, we discovered that there was a parking fee for out-of-state vehicles.  There was no gate attendant.  The process involved paying the fee online and recording the confirmation number on a piece of paper that would be displayed on our dashboard.  In addition to not wanting to pay $10, we discovered that we didn’t have anything to write with in our car so we left.  Our fallback plan was to hike the 3-5-mile Chapman Pond Preserve loop in East Haddam, CT.  This hike was mostly a walk through the forest, although we did walk along the banks of the Connecticut River awhile.  Other than two men we saw leaving as we arrived, we never saw another soul on the trail.

On Wednesday, we drove to Devil’s Hopyard State Park in East Haddam, CT and hiked the 3.3-mile White and Orange Blaze Loop through the woods.  The loop only involved a 403’ elevation gain but that doesn’t really reflect the effort involved.  The trail went up and down sharply a couple of times and included some challenging rock scrambles.

Our stay in Connecticut was the 46th state in which we’ve camped over the past five years.  We now only lack four small states: Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware and Hawaii. 

Maine 2020 – Part 3 (September 18 – 28, 2020)

On Friday, September 18th, we left our 2-month home in Trenton, ME and drove 180 miles south to Biddeford, ME, where we spent 10 nights at Homestead on the River Campground.  This is the same campground where we began our 2020 stay in Maine, also where we spent 15 nights in 2019.

On Saturday, we hiked the 2.5-mile Clayton Park In-Town Loop in Biddeford.  The trail we hiked, although very nice, was rated as moderate by Alltrails but was not nearly as challenging as the moderate trails we hiked near Acadia.

On Sunday, we drove to Kennebunkport and did some shopping at Dock Square.  We then attempted to do the Goose Rocks Beach Walk.  Unfortunately, the tide was in so we were unable to access the beach at the trailhead.  In an attempt to get to the beach, we walked back along Kings Highway, through a neighborhood of expensive beachfront homes.  After every few homes, there was a pathway leading to the beach but they were all labeled as Private Property.  Finally, after about a mile, we reached a public access entrance to the beach.  We spent some time on the beach before returning back down Kings Highway to our car. 

On Monday morning, we got ready to drive to Portsmouth, NH.  However, as we started to back the car out of our campsite, the rearview camera was not functioning.  Then, as we began to drive, the navigation system froze up.  We pulled into a parking lot and called our dealer in San Antonio.  No service managers were available but they said they would have one call us; no one ever called.  We then called the Mazda dealer in Portsmouth to see if we could get in that afternoon while we were in town.  They agreed to fit us in at 3 pm.  We returned to our trailer and Jan used Google to research our issue.  She found that several people had had similar issues and many of them had come up with solutions.  When we returned to our car to attempt some of the fixes, everything was working again.  We may never know what caused the problem but we were glad the problems were resolved for now.

When we finally arrived in Portsmouth, our first mission was to find a place to eat.  Our first choice, as well as others we considered, were closed due to COVID.  After doing a loop around downtown, we settled on a Mexican restaurant, La Caretta.  After lunch, we continued to stroll through downtown before heading to Prescott Park.  On our return, we walked through the neighborhoods near the water where homes from the late-18th and early-19th centuries have been beautifully restored and now serve as either residences or museums.

On Tuesday, we drove to Freeport.  We started at the flagship L.L. Bean store, then strolled along Main Street.  We had hoped to get a snack at the Whoopie Pie store but it was closed on Tuesday.  We finally decided to have a pizza at the Maine Beer Company, where COVID-related safety procedures were taken to a level we had not seen anywhere else.

On Wednesday, we returned to Kennebunkport and hiked a couple of miles out-and-back along Parsons Way.  Although not truly a trail, Parsons Way is the sidewalk along Ocean Avenue that runs from Colony Beach to Walker Point, the summer home of George H.W. and Barbara Bush.  Henry Parson donated this property in 1944 for the public’s enjoyment.   The views of the ocean are spectacular and there are many benches along the way to allow visitors to relax and soak up the scenery. 

On Thursday, we hiked 3 miles at Timber Point in Biddeford Pool.  Timber Point, now part of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, is a historic summer estate that was developed in the 1930s by architect Charles Ewing for his family.  The southernmost tip of the property is Timber Island, which is only accessible by foot near low tide.  We timed our arrival so we could cross over to the island, then enjoyed the waves as they crashed on the rocks as we walked the circumference of the island.  Upon returning to the mainland, we visited the Ewing estate where the original buildings are still in place.  On our drive home, we stopped at the Pool Street Market and picked up a lobster roll that we shared for lunch.

We spent Friday in Cape Elizabeth, ME, just south of Portland.  Our first stop was at Two Lights State Park.  The park’s name originated from the twin lighthouses, built in 1828, that are located nearby. Although neither lighthouse is visible from within the park, the park does have a wonderful 1.3-mile loop trail through the woods and along the rocky Atlantic Ocean coast.  We climbed down the rocks and enjoyed sitting by the crashing waves.  We also explored the remains of a U.S. Army battery that protected the harbor during World War I and II.

For lunch, we stopped at the Two Lights Lobster Shack Restaurant.  This popular takeout shack sits on a rocky crest above the Atlantic coast and across a small inlet from one of the lighthouses, which is now a private residence.  We ate at a picnic table near the cliffs.  Phil had a clam boat and Jan had a shrimp boat. 

After lunch, we headed to nearby Williams Park.  A former fort of the U.S Army, Fort Williams operated from 1872 to 1964.  Three artillery batteries were manned there during the two world wars.  Portland Head Light is located within the park.  This lighthouse, built in 1787 at the direction of George Washington, is the oldest lighthouse in Maine and the most photographed lighthouse in the United States.  We hiked the loop trail around the park and climbed down the rocks to get a closer view of a hole in one of the cliffs.

On Saturday, September 26th, we headed to Portland intending to spend some time exploring the shops in Old Port.  Finding a parking spot proved to be a major challenge as downtown was very busy.  The one spot we finally found had a meter that only took quarters.  Our pooled collection of quarters only bought us a little more than an hour of time so we had to rush through a number of stores.  We then tried to find a parking spot that took a credit card but, after driving around a while, we gave up and drove to Freeport again.  We visited the Whoopie Pie store that had been closed on Tuesday. Jan also purchased a lobster trap buoy she had seen on our previous visit to Freeport.