Catskill Camping

There’s been a whole lotta campin’ going on since the last post. Without any real plan in mind, we poured over our maps, and pointed the Firetruck toward the Catskill Mountains. Less than 150 miles, and abundant hiking.  We’re off!

Needing firewood, we stop along the way at a place where there’s a guy with a chainsaw and a sign that says, Lumber, Mulch, Firewood.  He promises to cut us $25 worth, so we set about re-arranging the back of the truck to accommodate the load. That’s a HUGE pile of firewood – we wind up stacking some in the back seat with Jezzy, who is less than pleased to share her space.

Planning usually pays off. Our sights are set on a particular campground that’s close to Hunter Mountain, where we want to hike. Oops – Closed For the Season! Picnic tables stacked up, gates over the drive. Fortunately, there’s another one fairly close. The camping gods must have smiled on the Campshaws that day, as we rolled into North South Lake Campground, one of the finest spots we have ever camped. There are only a few sites available for three days, but the Rangers found a gem of a spot for us – on the lake, with our own private rock patio. The big stone firepit is another bonus.20151005_18174820151005_18192020151006_153752We love to cook Dutch Oven style (modified to Campshaw-style), and we we whip up a huge batch of stew.20151006_184403 Only drawback? It’s very shady, which makes it tough to deploy our solar panel. There’s no electric or water at the sites here, and we need a solar boost to keep refrigeration running. John reels out all the cable we carry, so that we can just reach the afternoon sun by the lake. Eh, we’ll manage.

In three days, we hiked miles thru the High Peaks area of the Catskills. There were waterfalls, vistas, and shady glens. We admire Sunset Rock (both of them!), and Artist’s Rock, and had some spectacular views of the Hudson River. Lunch at North Point. Only a bit more fall color could have enhanced the first two days. 20151007_11301720151007_10543520151007_105905

20151006_150035After three nights, we had to move to another campsite, as the one we were currently occupying was reserved for the rest of the week. Again, we lucked out and got a nearby (full sun!) site for two more days.20151008_173926Of course, it rained, so half of the time, it looked like this…..20151009_17460820151009_150126We stuck up a conversation with our neighbor Suzanne, and she and I, along with her tiny dog Zoe, decided to hike the next day, while John rested his aching feet. Peak color was rapidly approaching, and we had a terrific hike, even though we took a wrong turn (maybe two or three), and ended up hiking nearly 9 miles. 20151008_144338This huge erratic (the name for a boulder seemingly dropped out of nowhere, but actually left behind by the glacier) was my favorite spot. It was perched right on the edge of the cliff.20151008_132824Yep, that’s me – a rare photo!20151008_132720Our hike took us along the edge of the mountain, so we had great views of the valley. 20151008_15300420151008_143816But, boy, were we happy to wander back into camp.20151008_172936You can just see the Fireball on the right edge of the photo.

All sites were reserved for the weekend, so we moved on to Mongaup Pond Campground, located in the southwest end of the Catskills. On the road, we use Google Navigation for guidance. Let me just say this – if you are ever in the Catskills, and The Google tells you to turn on Blue Hill Road – DON’T DO IT!! We were rolling along, enjoying a rolling scenic drive when we made the fateful turn. It seemed odd, but we went along with it – we had no signal to bring up our Google map to check, and these small roads were not on our paper maps. So, we made the turn.  Yikes! This narrow, leaf-strewn road went from paved to gravel. So steep that we started to lose traction on the leafy surface. There were a few white-knuckle moments before we finally got to the top of that impossible hill. We got the hell out of there are quickly as possible, and wandered into a little town.  We knew we were fairly close to the campground, but could NOT figure out how to get there. Still no phone signal. Grrrr. But, along comes a geezer with a paper county map.  Saved!

Mongaup Pond was nice, but LOUD! Smaller campsites, crammed with campers. Still no electric, and really no chance of any solar boost. No phone signal, and just one scratchy AM radio station. 20151010_15310720151010_160621We explored a bit – found a waterfall, but not the beaver dams we had heard about. Bummer.20151011_12525320151011_12403820151011_115138But, now it’s the end of camping season in New York. On Columbus Day, crews move through the park, tipping up picnic tables and tidying up the park for the last time. Guess that means it’s time for us to move along….20151010_164507

Michiganders in Connecticut NewYorkdom

What a difference a week makes. After the opulence of Newport, we were ready for a dose of reality. Nope – that wasn’t going to happen in Mystic, CT. But, we thoroughly enjoyed our three days there, weather notwithstanding.

Since Connecticut doesn’t allow dogs in their State Park campgrounds (boo), we elected to stay in Seaport RV Resort. We usually avoid RV parks, but sometimes it’s all about location. Unhappy with the site we were assigned, they offered us the choice of about ten available sites. We selected the only one which was shaded  – a reasonable choice on the hot, humid afternoon when we checked in. Oops – a mistake. Very hard rains overnight nearly turned the T@DA into the SS Fireball. We should have been able to predict this calamity.20150930_07001720150930_073239It rained every day we were there, and that damn puddle never receded. Our patio mat was floating, and we made several unfortunate missteps out of the camper into the lake. In all fairness, though – the rest of the park was really pretty nice.

Mystic was a whaling town, until the demise of the industry in the 1920s. Over the next decade, town leaders decided to recreate the town into a living whaling museum. Not the cute type with costumed actors, but real people doing real work. We loved watching and chatting with the cooper (barrel maker).20151001_114829 Barrel slats are all consecutively numbered so that the barrels can be taken apart and reconstructed.

One of only five drydocks for wooden ship restorations in the US is located here. Ships are reconstructed mostly using original tools and methods. 20151001_125919Their showcase vessel is the whaling ship Charles Morgan, which survived in the brutal industry from its launch in 1841 until the 1920s.20150930_14292620150930_141149 After a multi-year, $5 million restoration, it sailed in 2014, and is permanently docked in Mystic. This is a photo of her under sail on her first voice after restoration. Wow. 20150930_135603There are films of the whaling expeditions, which are both horrifying and instructional. But, to wander the shipyards and chat with the folks who perform this amazing restoration is quite uplifting

We spent a fair amount of time (over two days) at the blacksmith shop.20151001_12065520151001_120455 Chains and all manner of forged materials are manufactured here, the hard way. 20150930_143102The head blacksmith’s hands were amazing – I asked if I could photograph them, and he obliged, although I was unable to capture his gnarly, stained and stunted fingers.20151001_121400 Remember the movie Amistad? All the leg irons and shackles in the movie were made by this Mystic blacksmith.20151001_120757 The educational reproduction ship is also docked here, although its future seems uncertain. 20151001_133205All in all, I have to admit at being captivated by the living Mystic museum (except for the Planetarium, where the program was laughable). Films, interviews, and working exhibits brought the era alive. An entire hall is devoted to mastheads from some ships that are long gone. Sadly, the lighting in this room doomed my attempts for any decent photos.20151001_11283520151001_112620We loved the history lesson, and there was none of the cloying historical reconstruction that can drive me crazy. We took full advantage of the fact that our ticket was good for two days.

Although we never saw the cantilevered drawbridge in Mystic raise up, we did see a crew team out for practice. So elegant.20150930_151902Can the rain stop yet? Apparently not.

After three days, we headed inland, scuttling our original plan to explore Long Island. The moisture pushed northward along the coast by Hurricane Joaquin was making us miserable, without any relief in sight. We wanted to make sure we weren’t caught up in an epic disaster, should Joaquin come ashore (he didn’t). After spending a few hours consulting maps and guidebooks, we decided to head to Hyde Park NY, home of the FDR Presidential Museum and Library. Our headquarters for this exploration would be the Mills-Norrie State Park, just a few miles from the Museum, and only 170 miles from Mystic.

But, wait! As we pass through New London CT, what’s that sigh about the Nautilus Submarine Museum? After speeding past, we ha to pull off the road and see if this was something we needed to explore. It turned out to be a worthwhile stop.

The Nautilus was the first US nuclear submarine. IT was named after the Nautilus in the Jules Verne novel 20 Thousand Leagues Under the Sea of which there is a first (or perhaps just an early) edition copy onboard.20151002_105508There’s a free museum onsite documenting the history of submarines in the US Navy, complete with a fascinating 50 minute film, which provided a taste of life for the current and past sailors who have served on subs. So many heroes, and such a tough life. It really was inspiring to watch. We toured the Nautilus – and the cramped passageways and tiny personal spaces are truly remarkable.20151002_110647 I really cannot imagine being confined to living like this – the training for submariners must be pretty intense to weed out any of the sailors who have the will, but not the ability to live in such confinement. Imagine bunks four beds high in an eight foot room. It was noted that these spaces are larger than all newer subs, except for the very newest, such as the Ohio, the largest sub in the US Navy. Steel rings outside the museum indicate the diameter of the Holland (the first Navy Sub), compared to the Ohio.20151002_11211020151002_112258 This was an extremely interesting (and free) museum – there’s lots to see here.

Onward to Hyde Park, in the rain. The seaside cedar shake cottages of the Massachusetts and Connecticut seashore give way to the clapboard farmhouses and meticulously-manicured farms of the Connecticut byway. We roll through one picturesque town after another, before finally crossing over into New York. Suddenly, we’re on the massive Hudson River, where the Gilded Age and the clapboard houses bump heads. Such a contrast.

Our first order of business the next day (since it’s STILL raining) is to head for the FDR Presidential Library, on the grounds of the family home of FDR and Eleanor. 20151003_11540220151003_115211This was a huge treat. I’ll just share a few of the images – we are becoming huge fans of the Presidential Libraries. Hearing the speeches, seeing the films, and seeing all the documents of the era is wonderful. An unexpected bonus was that we rolled in the same morning as the Bentley Club. There were six of these beauties in the parking lot.20151003_112142What a difference the change of a few words made…20151003_13354120151003_13165720151003_11575420151003_115947FDRs battle with the crippling effects of polio are well documented, and there’s no sugarcoating his struggles. There also is no sugarcoating of the split in his and Eleanor’s marriage due to his infidelities with Lucy Mercer. Although they stayed married, separate lives were lived. Eleanor’s achievements are well documented. I was touched by this photo of her carrying her own suitcase thru LaGuardia airport in 1960, on her way to confront the KKK in Tennessee. What a woman!20151003_134754Gifts from both citizens and foreign leaders are highlighted. One that really caught my eye was a vest made of buttons collected by a California admirer. 20151003_141730The sender included a letter instructing the President to take a photo of himself wearing the vest, so that she’d have a picture of “her boy” wearing her creation. Made me laugh. Roy Rogers sent custom spurs.20151003_141517Shirley Temple, a childhood star, made the President an honorary member of her Police Force.20151003_141641 FDR and Eleanor are both buried on the grounds.20151003_143147Practically next door to FDRs house was a mansion owned by Frederick Vanderbilt, grandson of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt.20151003_15272420151003_152506 The east coast seems to be littered with Vanderbilt mansions – this large, wealthy family was into showy displays of wealth. And they aren’t the only ones – the State Park in which we are camped also has a huge mansion of its own. We just don’t see wealth on this scale in Michigan which has been deeded over to the State or National government. Out here, it’s everywhere.

John and Jezzy owned the steps of the the Staatsburgh State Historic Site, the mansion owned by Ogden Mills, overlooking the Hudson River. 20151004_13095120151004_131409 The diversity of this trip has been amazing. Today was our first day of sunshine, (after six solid days of rain), and we were delighted to throw on our boots, hitch up Jezzy, and hit the trail along the Hudson for six miles or so, even though it did end up at another mansion. Tomorrow, we’re going to cross the Hudson into the Catskill Mountains, camp in the dirt and just hike for a few days.Pit toilets, rustic camp – back to our camping roots.

Thanks for hanging in there with me on this – part of my reason for doing this blog is simply to document (for us) where we’ve been, and what we’ve seen. Five years from now, when we’re drooling on ourselves in a nursing home somewhere, perhaps we’ll look at these old posts and remember some great trips. I hope so. It’s a long, strange journey some days….

Grand Canyon of the East

20131018_113748An appropriate moniker for Letchworth State Park in New York.  The canyon itself is 650 deep with slate/sandstone walls.  The Genesee River flows through the bottom – kind of a frosty, minty green color when we arrived Thursday, and a swirling brown madness all day today after big rains last night. 20131017_162514 The change in color was amazing, although you can’t really pick it up in the photos.

As a Michigan flatlander, it’s been an impressive trip through the State Parks of New York – such diversity we just don’t see, although Michigan has its own spectacular shoreline beauty, and northern woodsy remoteness.  Fall colors here are definitely waning, although some of the yellow birches are defiantly hanging tough.20131017_15042720131017_161920 Letchworth SP is huge – probably 20 miles from end to end, along the canyon.  Many of the trees are identified with their planting date back to the 1860s.  The park is beautifully maintained and clean.  Most of the NY parks have a carry in/carry out policy, which means there are no trash barrels to be found.  Amazingly enough, the policy seems to work here, as litter is scarce.  We found ourselves carrying Jezzy’s little poop-loaded bags for miles!   Many of the trails, bridges, stairways and picnic areas were built by 3000 CCC corps workers each year between 1933 and 1941.20131018_11523520131018_111251 Hiking today, we climbed probably 1500 of these steps.  20131018_115905Slate walls, some with mortar, and some stacked up in that particular New England-y kind of way line many of the paths, leading to the waterfalls.  Did I mention enormous waterfalls?  20131017_151423We hiked from the lower falls past the huge middle falls to the upper falls today.  A railway bridge, built in 1875 towers over the upper falls.20131017_152634

On and on – this park has it all.  Stone picnic tables scattered around areas with log shelters, complete with fireplaces.  Bubbling creeks falling over rocks to join the Genesee at the bottom of the canyon.20131018_142641  We hiked only three of the two dozen or so trails here, and just got a taste of the variety of terrain.  But, we are hooked.

Locations like this make me wish I were a better, more patient photographer.  Or, at least one with better editing skills.  But, if you get a chance….visit this park.  Take a hike.

We’re making the long haul home tomorrow – a very long day for us of about 450 miles.  Hoping the Canadian border folks keep their mitts off Jezzy’s food.

Roadtrip. Has. Ended.


Baseball Fever

Heading toward New York, we steamed across southern New Hampshire and Vermont across some of the most beautiful roads we have yet traveled.  Although the prime colors were probably a week past, the lush rolling scenery was a real treat.  Picture puzzle perfect.

There wasn’t anyplace to camp really close to Cooperstown, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame.  We wound up at some crappy little campsite, conveniently located 150 yards from the Interstate and 50 yards from a busy state highway.  Noisy?  You bet!20131014_151702 But, for one night, we can make do with anything.  We rolled out by 8:30 the next morning.  But, I’m tired of putting $.25 in a slot for a shower.  This one was bad….

We didn’t know what to expect at Cooperstown.  Neither of us had done any research about the area or the Hall itself, so we were unprepared for this amazingly beautiful little town.  In my mind, I was expecting a modern museum, and what we got was a museum in a New England town hall.  Charming.

If you’re a baseball fan, this is Mecca.  History, artifacts, stories of the great players and plays.j We started with a multi-media presentation, which was unimpressive.  Sitting in a fake baseball stadium auditorium with a bunch of Seniors singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame – you can picture this, right?  Lame. Let me outta here!   John and I split up to explore on our own terms.

Really liked this early beer ad.  20131015_095244

I was particulary interested in the history and evolution of the Negro Leagues and the area of women in baseball.20131015_10404920131015_10511420131015_10534020131015_095153

Every single scrap of Detroit Tiger memorabilia was closely examined.  20131015_111037There’s practically an entire wing devoted to Babe Ruth.  Pretty impressive. 20131015_113243There was a running video of some of the great plays of 2013, and I could have watched that forever.  Baseball players can be amazing athletes.

The Gallery area of the Hall contains plaques of the Hall of Fame players, each with a summary of their achievements. 20131015_113202On and on…..

20131015_114326Leaving the Hall, we collected Jezzy from the Fireball, which was parked out on the street attracting admiring glances.  Decided to wander around town for a bit – there’s more baseball-related stuff there than you can imagine.  Lots of shops selling memorabilia, baseball cards, bats, and whatnot.  Cooperstown is also the home of James Fenimore Cooper, and there’s a large park area with a statue of him.

By this time, I was running out of steam, and my camera battery was shot.  No photos to share.  We motored on to Robert Treman State Park near Ithaca for our next couple of nights.  Photos from a newly re-charged camera (and body) to follow….

Different Strokes

That was the apparent theme of our camping weekend with two other T@DA families.  It would be hard to imagine more different approaches to camping than the three of us.  We had hoped to have a fourth T@DA join us, but family issues prevented them from coming until a surprise appearance (sans T@DA) on Sunday morning.

Ellalou and Ray are the most recent owners, having purchased their unique turquoise and silver T@DA this past summer.20131013_105025 Theirs is a more spartan model, having no built-in microwave, hot water heater, shower or screen door, although it shares the same floor plan as the rest.  Their camping style seems to match – they have (not yet, at least) not crammed every little corner and cubby hole with stuff.  They do have a crockpot and a small portable microwave aboard, but no other big items that I remember.  The turquoise is eye-catching, and everyone in the campground who passed by our little T@DA compound (“Holy cow! It’s an impoundment,” I overheard one passerby say) took a photo of it.  They are still adding and changing stuff – trying to figure out the best configuration for them, and how to best utilize their space.  It’s also a bit easier for them to keep the amount of ‘stuff’ they carry to a minimum because they both work, and haven’t spent more than a week at a time on the road. (yet)

At the other end of the spectrum are Sandi and John.  Entering their white and silver T@DA, it was amazing for me to realize that they had the same basic camper as ours – it was that different.  Their T@DA has decor – curtains, a Halloween chandelier, fishing photos, and pennants galore.  It was warm & homey – Sandi said that she wanted her T@DA to look like the cottages she remembered as a kid.  Well done!20131013_15484920131013_154903

They keep their table permanently folded down into a couch or lounging area.  Sandi has enough tableware to stage a class reunion!  They also travel with two crockpots, electric coffeemaker, electric frying pan, and a huge electric cooler, as well as a campstove and grill.  It’s all very well organized, but it’s a lot of stuff.  In addition, their awning was festooned with lights.20131012_103202  Naturally, we made their campsite our dining and campfire headquarters.  Sandi and John are natural hosts.

John and I are somewhere in the middle. 20131013_102244 We’ve probably made the most modifications, storage-wise to suit our needs.  Since we plan to camp for months at a time, utility is our primary concern.  We also have no electric appliances – we make coffee (lots of it) in a pour-over Melitta carafe, and have removed our microwave.  We cook and grill everything outside, and I’d have no idea how to crockpot a dinner.  Have to admit that the Fireball looked pretty institutional compared to both other units.  It suits us.

We were sad that Cathie and Jay were unable to bring their navy/white T@DA for our ‘inspection’.  They purchased theirs about the same time as we did, and from our conversation, it sounds as though our camping styles might be somewhat similar – camping in National Parks and public facilities often.  They have also purchased solar panels which they are trying out, and it was great to have someone to compare notes with.

While everyone else went ‘junking’, or antiquing, we took a hike on Saturday.  Short, steep, and scenic.  Lunch at the summit.  All good.  Sunday, John and I cycled out to Everett Dam State Park, and the region beyond. 20131013_13202720131013_134631 It was nearly a perfect ride – a bit of civilized riding on paved road, about eight miles of hard-packed gravel road, then some serious up & down hills on pavement.  Interesting sights, and some well-needed exercise.20131013_12524220131013_13421120131013_164441

We parted company with Ellalou and Ray, and Cathie and Jay – all from Vermont, on Sunday.  We left Monday morning, as did Sandi and John – they’re headed home to the Boston area.  It was great to meet fellow travelers.

We’re camped in a small, near-the-expressway campground west of Albany tonight.  It’s as close as we could get to Cooperstown – tomorrow we’re headed in to spend the day at the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Depending on the weather, we’ve got between four and six nights before we roll back into Grand Rapids.  The weather forecast isn’t great for the next few days, so we may just hunker down and drive home if we can’t figure out a good reason to hang out in New York and Ohio for a few additional days.

Not ready for the reality of fall yardwork and the approach of seriously cold Michigan weather.