Category Archives: Vermont

Vermont Part II: Fairfax

The route up I-89 was another beautiful drive. We passed through Montpelier and Burlington, but never really saw any buildings along the highway. In Texas, when an Interstate passes through a city, the commercial establishments in that community are located right along the feeder road adjacent to the highway. Up here in the Northeast, the exits lead away from the highway and the businesses are not visible to passing traffic. These roads were here first, so why didn’t the traffic engineers down south take this clue when they designed corridors like I-45, I-35 and I-10? The roadway designs up here contribute to a much more pleasant travel experience… that is for sure!

Our second campground in Vermont was located in Fairfax, which is about 25 miles north of Burlington. When I inquired about the roads coming into Fairfax, the campground owner said there were two ways to get there. We could take Exit 18 off of I-89 and go north to our destination, or we could take Exit 19 and double-back to go south toward Maple Grove Campground. The route via Exit 19 was longer, but the road was better, so that was the route we selected. I am usually good with directions, but this trip got me all turned around. We exited #19, but turned the wrong way when we got to the next intersection. Pretty soon we were traveling down a VERY skinny shoulder-less two-lane road toward some town I had not heard of as we researched the drive on this leg of the trip.  Don’t forget: there is no backing up in this rig. Every road we came to had weight restrictions of no more than 24,000 lbs. With all of our 44,000 pounds beneath us, we had to keep driving. We were getting nervous. Finally, Mike spotted a patch of gravel at the edge of a field and quickly turned in. We pulled up maps on the iPad AND our phones to see where we had gone wrong. I was still directionally challenged at this moment, but Mike figured it out and made a big u-turn through the muddy gravel to get us pointed in the right direction. The farm owner was sitting on his front porch across the street watching the whole thing. He waived at us with a big smile as we drove off, and I sheepishly returned the greeting. We did eventually find the campground, and got situated that afternoon without any more confusion.

The small town of Fairfax had one roadside market, two bakeries, two gas stations, a hardware store, a post office, a pharmacy and a restaurant. St. Albans was the next largest community about 10 miles to the north of us, and this is where we had to go for groceries and other errands. It was time to re-stock the pantry and refrigerator, so we drove into town the next day to scope things out and get the items on our list. As we were exploring the area we found a State Park called Kill Kare on the shore of Lake Champlain at St. Albans Bay. It was already 4:30 by the time we stumbled upon the area, so we made a note to return on another day earlier in the afternoon.

On our third day at Maple Grove, the weather was incredibly beautiful and we wanted to enjoy the sunshine for as long as possible. We made our way back down to Burlington (primarily because there was a Petsmart located there) for a quick errand and some sight-seeing. After we bought the dog food in the suburbs, we headed to downtown to see how the locals lived. I didn’t realize Burlington is a waterfront community. Their downtown sits right on the banks of Lake Champlain with parks, walking trails, marinas and other attractions all facing the water. We walked the dogs along a hike-and-bike trail to wear them out a bit, and then we found a waterfront restaurant that would allow them to sit with us on the patio. We had a drink and worshipped the sun as we watched passengers board water ferries that carried travelers to the Champlain Islands or Upstate New York.

After that stop we left the water’s edge and headed uphill into the thick of downtown. Church Street is a four-block pedestrian mall that has been blocked to automobiles. It is a bustling corridor crowded with retail establishments, sidewalk entertainers (i.e.: homeless people with guitars), and outdoor cafés. We made our way down the length of the street and stopped into a couple of spots for al fresco drinks and appetizers. It was all a very charming atmosphere until I watched one of the street performers ruffle through a sidewalk trash can, pull a Styrofoam food container from the rubble, and eat the remainder of its contents. Gross. The charm factor was immediately decreased by several notches.

It was mid-week by now and the sun was still going strong, so we packed up our chairs and Mike’s fishing gear for an afternoon at Kill Kare. This state park is located on a peninsula and used to be a summer camp for boys back in the day. They don’t allow dogs on the beaches or in any of the “day use” areas of this park, so we were very restricted on where we could go with Piper and Cessna. We were basically allowed to walk them around the parking lot. The main attraction at Kill Kare is a ferry that shuttles visitors to another State Park on Burton Island. Burton Island State Park has fishing, camping, walking trails, a marina, a restaurant, and no cars. Campers and visitors park at Kill Kare to catch the ferry with all of their gear and make their way to the next tiny island. We got there at 1:00 in the afternoon, but the next ferry did not leave until 2:30. The park ranger- lady was very nice and must have felt sorry for us. She let us occupy a picnic spot that was located near the edge of the ferry landing. The area was away from the other picnic tables, and the dogs promised to be on their best behavior. Mike fished for small-mouth bass while the dogs napped and I soaked up the sunshine. We spent a few hours enjoying the weather and scenery before making our way back to our own camp late in the afternoon. Game 7 of the NBA Championships was that evening and we wanted to be home in time to root for the Spurs.

The Maple Grove Campground was very small with only about 30 spots. Most of the other campers were “seasonals”, there to enjoy the entire summer. Lucky for us, they had camped here before and knew the area. When our neighbor, Bill, spotted Mike’s fishing gear he was happy to guide him to a great fishing hole just down the road. With Bill’s advice, Mike found his way to some falls beneath a dam that happened to be a hot spot for trout fishing. Mike went down a couple of times and got lucky with a few catches. We were able to have “brownies” for dinner one night… but they were pan fried in butter and olive oil as opposed to being baked in the oven. He gave the other trout to Bill and his wife as thanks for pointing him in the right direction.

Our only other “field trip” on this stop was to Stowe. We took a 45-minute drive through the mountains one morning because we planned to find a place to eat breakfast in this resort area. We arrived in town and kept driving up the mountain toward the ski resorts looking for a place we could eat outside. The weather was beautiful again, and we were hoping we could find somewhere that allowed dogs on the patio. The search took up most of our morning because very few places were open for breakfast, and the ones that were did not even allow us to tie the dogs to a fence anywhere near their establishments. It was also warm that day, so we couldn’t leave the dogs in the car and let them wait for us. We did find an outdoor café right on Main Street where we could eat, but by the time we placed our orders breakfast was over. We settled for soup and sandwiches. After lunch, we walked the length of the central business district – which took about 20 minutes. We made our way back to camp along another route down the mountain, and spent the rest of the day relaxing with a campfire.

The last three days of our stay at Maple Grove were rain outs. No grilling dinner outside. Our usual routine is to cook outside when at all possible. On our last night I had run out of ideas for menus that could be cooked on the stove-top. We decided to go into town and eat at the Country Pantry. One of my favorite parts of this trip is visiting mom-and-pop establishments that embody the American entrepreneurial spirit. This restaurant was a great example of that. It was owned by a couple from Bosnia who had immigrated to the United States. Upon arriving, they first landed jobs washing dishes and doing other odd jobs. They briefly moved to Florida but returned to Vermont because they liked it better. (I’m guessing the weather and terrain in Vermont more closely resemble their homeland than does Florida). With help from a mentor who was also in the restaurant business, they opened their restaurant in Fairfax and found success. The charming restaurant was meticulously clean, the service was attentive, and the food was fresh and delicious. I had salmon and Mike had bacon wrapped meatloaf. He even splurged and ordered bread pudding with maple syrup and vanilla ice cream for dessert. It was obvious that everything was made from scratch with fresh ingredients. By the time we finished our dinner, the sun was trying to make a brief appearance through breaks in the clouds before it set. It was a perfect ending to a wonderful 10-day stay in the northwestern corner of the Green Mountain State.

The next morning we packed up early in an attempt to get away before the forecasted rain started up again. After bidding farewell to our wonderful neighbors, we pulled out of Maple Grove and drove east through Vermont and most of New Hampshire. Our next campground was located near the border of New Hampshire and Maine. Although our trek was only 116 miles, we knew it would take us about 3.5 hours to make the drive through the mountains. If we could make the trip on dry roads, the experience was guaranteed to be much less stressful.

 

The view during our day at Kill Kare State Park.

The view during our day at Kill Kare State Park.

Lake Champlain water is so clear.

Lake Champlain water is so clear.

Mike's fishing hole.

Mike’s fishing hole.

Sunset on our last night in Fairfax.

Sunset on our last night in Fairfax.

The marina in downtown Burlington.

The marina in downtown Burlington.

Windmills at the next "hill" over from our campground.

Windmills at the next “hill” over from our campground.

Vermont Part I: East Thetford

As we begin to navigate our way through the Northeast, we really need to pay special attention to the routes and roads we choose for our travels. The terrain is more mountainous, and we want to stay on major interstate or intrastate highways. The Monaco is a bit too large to amble down winding 2-lane country roads with no shoulder – that is what the Honda is for. If we were to come upon a low bridge crossing, a weight restricted bridge, or one of the many historic covered bridges in Vermont, it would be a nightmare. There is no backing up in this bus, especially with the car hooked up behind us.

There are 2 interstate highways that run through Vermont. I-91 runs the length of the state from south to north. I-89 starts about midway through the state and cuts a diagonal line from the eastern side to the northwestern corner, ending at the Canadian border.  We found a small private campground close to the I-91 and I-89 intersection called the Rest-N-Nest. They could accommodate a rig of our size, had water/sewer/ 30 amp electric hook-ups, offered a Good Sam discount, and had spaces available for the dates we wanted. Since most of our criteria were satisfied, we made reservations and headed there from our spot in New York.

We made most of the drive in the drizzling rain and reached our destination in about 5 hours. I had only been to Vermont once in the winter, but this time there was no question why they call this the Green Mountain State. The mountains and fields are flowing ribbons of vivid green. As you look in the distance it appears that an artist has isolated that section on the color wheel and painted a picture with every imaginable hue of emerald, jade, olive, lime or kelly. Of course the leaves of the trees are green, but there is more. The floor in the woods is not dirt or pine straw; it is underbrush of feathery fern and other varieties of lush groundcover.  Even the boulders have green moss growing on them. The drive up the interstate was actually featured as a scenic drive in our 2012 Rand McNally Road Atlas. It was like we were driving through a postcard the whole trip.

I looked up the meaning of green and learned that it symbolizes growth, harmony and freshness. There is a strong emotional correspondence between this color and safety. It is the most restful color for the human eye and has great healing power. It suggests stability and endurance. Yes, even though the weather was crappy, we were in blissful moods when we got to the Rest-N-Nest. We had outrun the rain for the moment, so we had the chance to set up camp without our umbrellas or rain ponchos. The rain started up again once we were settled and kept coming down for the next 36 hours, or so. We were so peaceful and safe that it didn’t matter in the least!

We were ready to get out and about on the third day of our stop since the skies had dried up for the moment. I had asked our hosts at the campground about some local restaurants we should try and we were pointed to a place down the road called Isabella’s for breakfast. She said the place served breakfast and lunch, but we should do breakfast since they served local Vermont Maple Syrup with their pancakes and French toast. Sold! The tiny family-owned diner had about 8 tables and a counter. Breakfast was delicious and gave us the jolt we needed to run our weekly errands.  Our list included groceries, a credit union that reciprocated services with FAAFCU, and an auto parts store. The closest town that offered those conveniences was Lebanon, New Hampshire. Vermont and New Hampshire are separated by the Connecticut River, so we had another picture postcard drive for about 15 miles south along the water before we reached Lebanon.

Vermont is the 49th state when ranked by population. The towns are tiny, and it seems like driving 20 miles to run basic errands is no big deal to its residents. During the brutally cold winters I can see where this could get old fast.  However, with the views during summer, I started making up errands I needed to run… just to go for a scenic drive every once in a while. This is why I wasn’t worried when the “super” Wal-Mart we selected for grocery shopping had no produce section. Mike found out from the bank teller that Hanover had a Farmer’s Market on the campus Green of Dartmouth College from 4 – 7 that afternoon. I wondered if Ivy League vegetables were better than regular Farmer’s Market veggies. We returned to the Rest-N-Nest to drop off our purchases and my husband. Then I left for another drive along the river to scratch more items from my grocery list. As I left the bus, Mike warned me to go easy on the bread.

I found the tents and a parking space fairly easily. The school year was just ending, so students were moving out of dorms and rental houses on every corner. It seemed like everyone was walking down the sidewalk with a suitcase or a dolly stacked with boxes. I grabbed my earth-friendly shopping totes and headed for the goods. It wasn’t a big outfit, but the vendors offered everything one could possibly need: from eggs to jewelry to brick-oven fired pizza for snacking. I went from tent to tent with my list and got almost everything we needed to last another week. My bags were full with eggs, bread (only one loaf), spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, cheese, scallions, salsa, and more. Mike only told me to go easy on BREAD, but I didn’t give him a chance to mention anything else from the baked goods category. This is how I justified stopping at a tent from a local bakery on the way out. I abided by his request while purchasing a couple of muffins for breakfast and some granola to go with my Greek yogurt. I veered away from their cinnamon loaf and bagels, so I think I did great!

Another outing suggested by our hosts was the Quechee Gorge. About 20 miles southwest of us was “Vermont’s Little Grand Canyon”, one of New England’s most popular natural wonders. The brochure said a trip through central Vermont was not complete without a visit to this spectacular site. We definitely wanted our trip to be complete, so we loaded up the dogs and headed that direction. We were not disappointed. A waterfall cascades 163 feet down through a canyon to the Ottauquechee River below. There are walking trails extending in both directions from the falls, and a state park is situated adjacent to the natural attraction. We walked the dogs to the end of the trail in one direction, and then turned around and walked along a path DOWN to the river then back UP again. On this day we were able to get double credit on one activity: visit tourist attraction and work out the glutes… check. Just as we reached the top again, it started to rain. I had wanted to stop into some little shops near the area, but lost interest when the atmosphere stopped cooperating. Instead we opted to find a little watering hole where we could grab a drink and watch some of the U.S. Open Golf Tournament on television. We drove in search of somewhere for about an hour before we gave up and headed back home. Casa Martin turned out to be a great place to grab a drink and some golf on the big screen.

I took Mike and the dogs back to Hanover one afternoon to poke around for a while. We walked around the tiny town looking for a place with a patio that allowed dogs so we could grab a snack and do some people watching. Unfortunately there is no such establishment in Hanover. There were plenty of places we wanted to stop into, but none would allow dogs. After Cessna and Piper were tired from their little tour of the college town, we parked the car in a lower level of a parking garage where it was dark and cold. They waited for us in the back of the Honda with the windows rolled down while we had a tiny pub crawl. Hanover was even more chaotic on this Friday afternoon than it had been on my previous visit. Not only were students still shuffling down the sidewalks toting most of their belongings, incoming freshmen were meandering around in what looked like some sort of orientation program. To top it off, it was graduation weekend and there were hundreds of alumni in town for little mini-reunions. Everyone had a name tag and was wearing Dartmouth colors. We were just dressed normally, and I was kind of glad we weren’t sporting any U.T. gear that day. It would have been harder to blend in if our burnt orange clashed with all the green. We ended up talking to a former baseball coach while we were at the Canoe Club. Among some of the other things we talked about, he told us that the Quechee Gorge Bridge is a popular spot from which people jump to their death. Turns out that men mostly jump with their shoes on, while women seem to always take them off and place them on the sidewalk before the fall.

Our final excursion from the Rest-N-Nest was to one of those events we got lucky to stumble upon. The 34th Annual Quechee Hot Air Balloon, Craft, and Music Festival was scheduled for our last weekend in the area. The balloons were scheduled to take off at 6am and 6pm both Saturday and Sunday. Saturday’s weather was predicted to be the most pleasant, so that is the day we chose to drive over and check it out. We got there around 4 in the afternoon so we could explore some of the festival before the balloons took off. We had a drink in the beer tent, sampled a lobster roll and savory crepes from the food court, and then strolled through the vendor areas looking at jewelry, stained glass and other festival crafts. After we had seen all we wanted to see, we parked ourselves out in the open field to see about the hot air balloons. When we sat down the crowd was gathered around the edges of an empty field.

We didn’t exactly know what to expect, but we bided our time with some more good people watching. After a while the balloon crews started coming into the field with their trucks and trailers. We watched them unload their baskets and lay out the balloons. It was getting close to the 6:00 hour, but it didn’t look like these guys were in too much of a hurry to get up and going.  By 6:30 we were about to give up when the first balloon started inflating. The crowd got energized with all the buzz.  There was a giant roar when the first balloon started floating up into the air. The once empty field was now jam-packed with a rainbow of colors and the sounds of each pilot firing their burners into the balloon envelopes. I would estimate there were twenty or more balloons that participated in the event. After about a dozen were in the air above us, we made our way back to the car and watched them glide over the mountain tops for most of our drive home.  The next morning we found out that two of our neighbor campers had been up in one of them that night! The lucky ladies had chosen to attend the festival and take a ride as part of dual milestone birthday celebrations.

Our last Sunday in Central Vermont was a rainy Father’s Day. We passed the time by calling our dad’s and watching the golf tournament. I took the opportunity to sit at my computer for most of the day and finish another entry to the blog. The skies cleared slightly once evening arrived so we were able to grill some pork chops for dinner. We have learned that travel days are not very enjoyable if too much fun is had the night before, so we had made it an early bedtime and got good rest before heading out toward Burlington the next morning.

We found the beer (and wine) tent at the festival!

We found the beer (and wine) tent at the festival!

Finally, the balloons started inflating.

Finally, the balloons started inflating.

The frenzy.

The frenzy.

We got to watch them in the air for half of the drive home.

We got to watch them in the air for half of the drive home.

My bounty from the farmer's market in Hanover, N. H.

My bounty from the farmer’s market in Hanover, N. H.

A section of the walking trail at Quechee Gorge.

A section of the walking trail at Quechee Gorge.

Site 7 at Rest N Nest Campground.

Site 7 at Rest N Nest Campground.