Compare and Contrast

Remember when you were in elementary school, and the lesson was to Compare and Contrast? That’s the theme of this post – our last two camping experiences could not be more contrasting.

Here’s our campsite at Lakawanna State Park, near Scranton, PA.20150911_172317Our two nights there were peaceful and quiet – the most notable sound being the rain that persistently drummed on the roof. We wandered for miles through the Park trails. Nothing truly notable, but there were plenty of wonderful scenes.20150912_10400520150912_12021420150912_12193320150912_125554wpid-20150912_104900.jpgOkay, now Compare and Contrast those peaceful scenes with our current campsite at Winter Island Park in Salem, MA.wpid-20150913_164925.jpgIf you peer just to the left of the tree in the center of the photo, you’ll see the Fireball tucked into our little square of pavement in this busy parking lot at Winter Island Park in Salem, MA. We’re right next to the boat ramp.  Behind us (behind where I’m standing to shoot this photo) is the sewage treatment plant. But, the other view is the gorgeous Salem Bay.  Wow – it’s a knockout sight, especially at sunrise.wpid-20150916_060545.jpg20150913_160535Our first order of business is to check out the NHS Visitor Center and see the film. Actually, there are two films here – we only saw the one you had to pay for, which centered on the witch trials of 1692. Nineteen men and women were hanged, and one 81-year old man was pressed to death (a most gruesome way to die) before the fervor passed, and life moved on. In the city cemetery in the center of town is a quiet, moving memorial to these individuals.20150914_13130420150914_13153420150914_131744(I flubbed my panoramic shot just above, causing some of the lettering not to quite match up properly. But, you get the idea.)

If you have a vision of a colonial New England town, Salem would fit the bill. The main historical sights are easy to find by following the red line self-guided walking tour through the city. Particularly fascinating to me at the towering homes, many built in the 1700s. Compact courtyards, carriage houses, shutters, and some elaborately details soffits make this a photographer’s delight. It’s a sad fact that my photos really don’t convey the beauty of this area.20150914_12185020150914_12401720150914_12334820150914_122741-120150914_12341920150914_122459Loved the guy who was brave enough to hang a NY Yankees jersey in his window. That takes guts in this town!20150914_122116One cannot help but be struck by the challenges of living in these historic homes, where repairs are frequent and expensive. I’m thankful that there are folks willing to take on these challenges, and maintain these places for us to enjoy.

Churches are everywhere.20150914_12153220150914_121350wpid-20150915_103048-1.jpgOf course, an important part of Salem’s story is her history as an important port. There’s a replica of the three-masted, square rigger merchant ship Friendship in the harbor. We climbed aboard as guests of the National Park Service. Although the ship was completed in 1997, work continues on it. Unknowingly, we went below deck and wandered around – startling the Park Ranger on deck when we came back up from the hold. Apparently, that door was supposed to be locked. Ha! Our gain.20150914_14245520150914_14202020150914_14040720150914_141409Across the street from the wharf is the Customs House, where vessels entering the port paid tax on their stores. 20150914_103035Although we didn’t visit the Peabody Essex Museum, we did enjoy the willow sculpture commissioned by it which sits near the town center.20150914_104010Another fairly crappy shot, but I do remember this sculptor’s show at the Meijer Sculpture Gardens in Grand Rapids several years ago. Whimsical and fun.

What would be a visit without an exploration by bicycle? That was the plan for our second day, having logged nearly 9 miles by foot on Day 1. Our plan was to circle the bay and roll around Marblehead. We didn’t find much there, although it is the location of one of the oldest cemeteries in New England. Established in 1632, there are nearly 600 Revolutionary War soldiers buried here. wpid-20150915_112858-1.jpg20150914_130111Marblehead is also the home of Fort Sewall, which is neatly bunkered below ground. This Fort sits on a gorgeous spit of land, jutting into the bay. Originally a British fort, was captured by the Americans, and used in as a base all the way through the Spanish-American war.wpid-20150915_120207.jpgPoor time management hampered our plans for cycling to Gloucester, a fishing village north of Salem. We pedaled most of the way there, but turned back at Manchester by the Sea, because we realized we were cutting into the time when Jezzy needed to be walked and fed.

Today, we leave Salem and move to a Wompatuck State Park in Hingham, our base for exploring Boston. We’re pleased to know that our campsite here (#16) is going to be occupied for the next few days by someone from our T@B/T@DA Facebook group.  What are the chances of that?

Camps and Rants

Boy, does it feel great to be out of the house for a few months – we’re finally done with the patio and roofing projects. No more yard, no more garage-cleaning. Time to camp!

I’m especially excited about this trip, because it’s taking us to places that are new to me, and largely unexplored by John, too. September/October are great camping months – every geezer in decent health with an RV hits the road on Labor Day, and we are no exception. The first month of our journey has been plotted out – we’re leery of finding full campsites on September weekends, so we’ve made a few strategic reservations, and simply plotted out the other stops. Hope this works…

OUr first day on the road is a long one (for us). We try to max out around 300 miles a day – with fuel/food/random stops, that’s a full day on the road for us. So, we plotted our first two nights at West Branch State Park in Ravenna, OH – a 330 mile distance from home. Checking in, we asked the Ranger what his favorite site was – “if 58 is open, you’ll love that one”, was his response. We bee-lined it to 58, and Bingo! It was perfect. wpid-20150907_173252.jpgBluff over water, no neighbors, and a deep site which allowed us to get away from the road. Perfect. However, Labor Day was still in full force, and we were in the midst of what John coined PER – Petroleum Enhanced Recreation. Every dude with a boat, jetski, or other petroleum-sucking device was screaming along the water. Directly across the waterway from our campsite was the beach, which roared with the last happy sounds of summer. Knowing that Tuesday would bring peace and quiet, we actually enjoyed the commotion. Tuesday morning…..wpid-20150908_073407.jpgMountain bike trails surround this state park, so we, emboldened by our endeavors from the previous week, decided to saddle up and hit the Trail. Yikes! It was even scarier than our last expedition. But, I guess we’ll never get any better at this unless we extend our Fear Zone a bit. We did catch a few nice scenes of tranquility to calm our racing hearts.wpid-20150908_073407.jpgThis park is open year-round for camping, and we would definitely go back. The facilities were first-rate, and the campsites well spaced. Good job, Ohio!

On the road Day 3, heading to the Allegheny National Forest in PA, we traveled along a gorgeous section of Interstate and State highways. (I have a newfound appreciation for all allergy sufferers – never have I seen such abundant goldenrod. It must be miserable to have fall allergies). We circled the National Forest, traveling through one tiny town after another, finally landing at TwinLakes Recreation Area, near Kane, PA. This was a bit of a shock.The National Forest Service website characterized this as an “extremely popular campground”, so we expected to find some signs of life.The Campground Manager site was had an RV and all kinds of paraphanelia lying about, but there was just one other trailer. No big deal. We picked a site, set up (expecting rain – we were not disappointed), and wandered off to explore. wpid-20150910_181912.jpgHmmmm, all the water spigots appear to be shut off. The bathroom is open, but there’s no water in the sinks, and the showers are inoperable. The toilets, thankfully, are the marvelous composting-type. I’ve only ever seen these in National Parks or National Forest campgrounds, and they are wonderful. No water needed – no stink. Wish they were in every campground.

Everything has the forlorn look of summer’s end. The beach is empty. wpid-20150910_114733-1.jpgwpid-20150910_114113.jpgIt’s a beautiful thing – having this marvelous site to ourselves. After a rainy night, we decide to hike down an old logging road to explore. My photography skills don’t convey the beauty of all the wildflowers springing up alongside the road. There wasn’t anything exceptional – but the abundance of color and absence of noise made it a memorable afternoon. After a few miles, we saw this – seeing a stop sign in the middle of nowhere was unusual, to say the least. Of course, we wandered down this path.wpid-20150910_125140.jpgAfter a half-mile or so, the enormous amount of Leaves of Three lining the path got my attention. Sad, because this was such a beautiful path. Carefully, we backtracked.wpid-20150910_125539.jpgwpid-20150910_125233.jpg

How can a walk in the woods be so restorative?  This unknown species of butterfly was unconcerned enough to let me get right on top of him/her to take a photo..wpid-20150910_134927.jpgBeautiful colors, peaceful surroundings.wpid-20150910_134106.jpg

Day 5 is a short mileage day, along one of the most gorgeous stretches of roadway I have ever seen – US 6. Although our planned stop for the day was only 200 miles away, The Google (as we affectionately refer to our mapping wizard), advised us that it would be a 4+ hour trip.  For us, that means easily six hours.  Our actual time was 7.5 hours (so, don’t wonder why we try to limit our days to 300 miles, max!) But, what a journey….wpid-20150911_100418-1.jpgwpid-20150911_095040-1.jpgIn nearly 200 miles of travel, I don’t think there was one piece of litter on the roadside. Picturesque villages popped up every 25 miles or so.  Beautifully maintained farms and rustic scenes entertained us, but there was no place to pull off for photos.  Go see it yourself – it was amazing.wpid-20150911_134642.jpgIt was curious that this stretch of highway seems to want to be a BBQ mecca. John finally succombed to stopping for brisket (he was sorry – Pennsylvania ain’t Texas!). But they did have an interesting mural in their outdoor seating area, so it wasn’t a total loss.wpid-20150911_143135.jpgSo, we’ve landed on Day 5 (September 11) at Lakawanna State Park. This is one area where I made a reservation, worrying that nice weather might fill up the park in early September, leaving us stranded.  At least at this park, the camping loops are segregated between pet/non-pet.  When making our reservation, I chose a site in the rustic/pet loop – knowing that we didn’t need electric/water for a few days, and I liked the looks of the sites (as far as I could tell from the website).  Oh boy – did we luck out!  The pet sites are tthree times larger than the non-pet sites.  Old-growth trees with very high canopies surround us. The light is ethereal.wpid-20150911_172317.jpg As I write this, two Barred Owls are having a conversation nearby.  The only other camper in this entire loop seems to have gone to bed hours ago.

So, we’re off to a great start.  Checking out the State Park map, it looks as though there are dozens of trails to ride/hike.  If the predicted storms come through, we may drive into nearby Scranton to see what the city looks like.  September rocks!

OK, a few more random thoughts……

Pennsylvania has some crazy road signs.  Here’s my favorite.And my 2nd favorite.

How is it possible to have such a beautiful highway (US 6) with No Litter? Who picks it up? Or, is it possible that drivers/passengers have recognized how wonderful it is to have a gorgeous roadway? And keep their litter in their own cars? Nah…not possible.

Camping is wonderful. Thoughtfully laid-out spaces make the camping experience exquisite. I know that the main attraction of many Michigan state parks is the proximity to our beautiful shorelines. But, do our parks really need to be parking lots with RVs?  The more I camp elsewhere, the less I want to camp in Michigan State Parks. Sad. (We have many wonderful State and National Forest campgrounds, though).

Ohio and Pennsylvania are the goldenrod capitols of the universe. Glad I’m not a person with allergies.

Every state should have a bottle/can redemption law. Recycling facilities in campgrounds are inadequate. Where some State Parks have set aside containers specifically marked “Aluminum Cans Only”, idiots have deposited their trash, plastic, glass, and other crap  Do they really think a Ranger or Camp Host is going to sort through this to recycle the few cans for cash for their kids’ programs? Hardly!

West Branch State Park (OH) calls their Camp Hosts – “Camper Hosts”. Thought that was funny – that’s the only time we’ve seen that.