Rhode Island Part I: Worden Pond

Our first stop in Rhode Island was at Worden Pond Family Campground in Wakefield. The campground is directly across the street from Worden Pond, which is really a lake. Up here they call all lakes ponds, regardless of size. Where we are from a pond is a little tiny hole of water, and a lake is big body of water. Here everything is a pond. Maybe it has to do with the depth of the body of water… I’m not really sure about all of the details when it comes to lakes vs. ponds.

We selected this campground based primarily on price and location. The rate was reasonable, and it was close to many beaches we wanted to see.  They had water and electricity, but no sewer connections. The campground did have a ‘honey wagon’, so we planned to be conservative with water. When our tanks got full, we would schedule the honey wagon to come empty us for a $15 fee. As usual, we only made a reservation for one week in order to see about the place first. If it was nice we would extend our stay, if it wasn’t, we would move to an alternate location for the rest of the time we planned to be in the Ocean State.

Well, let’s just say Mike started researching alternate campgrounds while enjoying his coffee on our first morning at Worden Pond.  The campground was not scary. The bathrooms were clean enough for me to use their shower as part of our water conservation effort. I was initially bummed I had to pay one quarter per 8 minutes of hot water, but our nice neighbor let me in on a secret. The last shower stall in the ladies bath house worked without quarters. Whew, that was good news. I take really long showers and my quarter supply would have been diminished immediately. We had free Wi-Fi, but no DirecTV signal. The park did not have cable, so we had two over-air public access channels. Fine for mental diversions, but not great during college football season.

The place was very big. Most of the sites (more than 300 of them) were occupied by ‘seasonals’. The owners had about 20 designated spots up front, across from the playground and pavilion, for travelers like us – coming and going for short stays. Everyone else had permanent campers to which they traveled from regular houses on weekend get-a-ways. A few of these campers were occupied by full-time residents. The spots were pathetically close together and about 90% of them were piled high with junk and toys. There was trash on the ground everywhere. It wasn’t even fun to walk the dogs around the perimeter of the camp because all the litter was so depressing.

To top it off, someone in a neighboring subdivision had a pet wolf-dog that they let roam loose. One morning as I was getting ready to take the dogs out, I accidentally glanced through the side window of our coach and saw him wandering around. I left the dogs inside and went out to see what the deal was. As I approached him I could tell he wasn’t the friendliest of canines. He was part growling, part howling at me as I sized him up. Just about then our neighbor in a pop-up tent warned me that he “would stay away from that dog, if I were you”. Then he proceeded to tell me how he watched the wolf-dog attack another camper’s dog as they were out walking with a leash. Great. Mike came out and shooed him off. He went one way, while the four of us went the opposite direction to do our business. When we returned to our bus, there was a large pile of crap in the middle of our ‘yard’. Nice doggie. We got the message. We ended up dealing with the stupid stray wolf-dog every morning. He would roam the campground beginning around dawn until he had scavenged and tormented all he wanted. Then he would climb back over the rock wall fence and head home, I presume, to sleep for the rest of the afternoon.

We embarked upon our first excursion a couple of days after setting up camp. Our first stop was to an alternate RV park about 10 miles from us. We wanted to see if Wawaloam campground in Exeter was any nicer than where we were. They had sewer connections but only 30 amps of power. We could do with less power far more easily than we wanted to do without another sewer connection. We took a beautiful drive on the back roads to get there and were pleasantly surprised with what we found. No litter, nice landscaping, clean and neat seasonal sites… much better. We booked our reservation before we left; paid in full for the time we intended to stay there.

After that, we headed toward Route 1A. Seems like we have been on Route 1A since May! We wanted to hug the shoreline of Narragansett Bay as we drove back south toward Worden Pond.  We headed east from Exeter and found the beginning of the scenic drive in Wickford.  I was making mental notes of all the places I wanted to come back to after we relocated to our new spot. The weather that day happened to be incredible. It was an insanely sunny and warm Wednesday. When we arrived at Narragansett Town Beach, it looked like the entire population of the State of Rhode Island had decided to play hooky! The parking lot was completely full and there were people everywhere. We wanted to get out and look around, so we kept driving to find a parking spot. We passed the Narragansett Pier and the iconic Towers (the only remaining structure of a once elegant Victorian-period casino).  We kept driving to see what was next, and the road became a meandering path of magnificent homes and mansions on both sides of us. The estates on the east side of our drive all seemed to be perched on cliffs overlooking the bay.

We found another beach farther south. Scarborough Beach was a public beach that had hiking and biking trails in addition to sand and shore. We weren’t dressed or equipped for a beach excursion, but by this time we were anxious to find a spot where we could get out of the car to soak up some of the sun and fresh air. We decided we wanted a bar with an outdoor patio and a view of the water. We found a spot where Old Ocean Road met Hwy. 108. It was called Hammerhead Grill. It was near the edge of the water with a great view facing east, and it had an outdoor patio. Just what we ordered… sort of. The summer season was over. This means that even though it was a beautiful day, the patio was locked and apparently bolted. We had to settle for an indoor table with a view through glass and screens. It was still a nice scene, but the air wasn’t quite as fresh as an ocean breeze would have been.

Next to the Grill was what looked like a secret trail heading toward the water. A narrow sand and shell pathway with tall walls of sea grass and other vegetation wandered toward the sound of waves,  mischievously curving back and forth to block the final view until the very last minute of the passage. When we emerged from the maze, we arrived at a beach of rocks and pebbles. The land curved out in front of us to the south, so we could see the Point Judith Lighthouse just across the water. They say Rhode Island is the Ocean State because they have so many beaches. What was amazing to me was that the beaches were all so different from each other. Just a few miles up the road the beach had been sand and flat. Now it was sloped and we were standing on large rocks and pebbles. No hint of sand after the secret path ended. After we took in the view and snapped a few photos, we headed back in the car to find our next stopping point.

While we were at Happy Jack’s Sports Bar the previous week, we were visiting with a Harley-Davidson couple who had stopped in for some wings on their way home from a day of riding. They told us about a place called George’s of Galilee. When I looked at my map I found out it was just around the corner from us. It was time to take the advice from the locals and try the place they recommended. We drove about another mile down 108 and turned left at Galilee Escape Road. I liked the sound of that!

Overlooking the Block Island Sound in a picturesque fishing port, George’s of Galilee Waterfront Seafood Restaurant has been serving its signature dishes since 1948. It appeared as though the owners of the restaurant had expanded its dining spaces and outdoor patios over the years as the popularity of the establishment increased. They had about five separate dining rooms and as many outdoor patio spaces. We decided to sit upstairs on a deck that overlooked the beach and also the adjacent channel through which ferries and boats passed. We shared some appetizers and ordered the lobster pizza with a spinach and fruit salad to take back home with us. As the sun started setting to the west, the shadows got deeper and the ocean breeze became much more brisk. Since we didn’t bring jackets, it was time to drive back home before it turned completely dark and much colder.

We had been pretty good with our water conservation efforts back at camp, and I was getting very itchy to do laundry. If you ask Mike, he’d say I have a ‘thing’ for laundry. I must admit, I am happiest when I can wash and put away at least one load of clothes, or towels, or sheets each day. It helps our tiny house stay clean and well-managed. If our living quarters are going to be compact, the environment is much more pleasant when our surroundings are neat and tidy. Our current logistics were such that if I ran the washing machine, our grey tank would need to be emptied soon afterward.

I walked to the front office to schedule a visit from the honey-wagon. This is when the funky mojo we had at Worden Pond Family Campground got even worse. I tried to schedule an appointment and the guy wanted to know if our black tank was full or if it was only our grey tank.  During the check-in process he reminded me we did not have a sewer connection, but informed me we could dump our grey water straight on the ground… because the “drainage was so good”. I thought to myself, GROSS, and told him we didn’t mind paying the $15 fee to empty our tanks. Now it was time to empty them and he reminded me that we could dump straight onto the ground by our spot. I assured him we were prepared to have the truck come around and take care of us. Then he became a little more straightforward with what he meant. He basically told me that if the black tank was full, they would come to us. Then he explained that they didn’t have room in their septic system for the grey water, so it just needed to be dumped on the ground “since it was good for the soil”. Really? Disgusting bath, kitchen and laundry water is good for the soil at your park? Oh well, never mind then. I went home and ran a load of laundry. Mike and I were so mortified with what came next, we waited to dump the tank late that night after each of our neighbors had gone inside to bed. We finished our stay repeating the same awful task each evening, counting the days until we got to move to Wawaloam. This place was even trashier than I first imagined!

The negative factors at our campground in no way influenced our over-all impression of the State of Rhode Island. The geography was so varied for such a small state. At one minute we were driving through hilly terrain shaded with a dense tree canopy, and one mile down the road we would be parallel to dramatic cliffs and blue ocean vistas. Money Magazine named the South County region “One of the 12 Best Places to Vacation in North America”.

On Saturday Game Day we did a little bit of exploring before settling in at a local sports bar to watch college football. I’m always asking Mike to drive down Highway 1A. I’m curious to take the road that leads to the end. There are many Highway 1A’s in America. Today, 1A was east of us toward Watch Hill and Westerly. My friends from Foxwoods Casino told us we needed to visit there.  Wikipedia says Watch Hill is an affluent coastal village in the New England town of Westerly. It sits at the most-southwestern point in the entire US state of Rhode Island. It came to prominence in the late 19th and early 20th century as an exclusive summer resort, with wealthy families building sprawling Victorian-style “cottages” along the peninsula. Watch Hill is characterized by the New York Times as a community “with a strong sense of privacy and of discreetly used wealth”, in contrast with “the overpowering castles of the very rich” in nearby Newport.[2] Today, it is best known as the backdrop for the Ocean House, the only Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five Diamond Hotel in Rhode Island. In reality, I’m guessing today it is best known as the place where Taylor Swift recently purchased a reported $17 million oceanfront mansion. (I knew which one it was immediately because it was the only mansion with a guard in the front drive).

I’m going to put Ocean House on my list of places to which I would like to return as a guest. My list started with Little Palm in the Keys. Then we found that place in New York called Mohonk Mountain House. My next entry is this grand yellow and white Victorian treasure perched above Block Island Sound. The tiny village of Watch Hill has only one block of commercial businesses. We were there mid-morning and the place was packed. All parking spots on the streets were taken. There were a few parking lots that were full or closed. We had planned to get out and walk the dogs around the area, but we couldn’t find anywhere to deposit our vehicle. We cruised the area, circling the block a couple of times. Finally, it was time to give up. We left Watch Hill and drove toward the small town of Westerly. Maybe we could find parking there.

We had better luck parking near a beautiful community park in the center of Westerly. Fortunately for us, we stumbled upon Wilcox Park at a time when the dogs really needed to stretch their legs. The historic park was originally designed by Warren Manning with specimen trees, shrubs and display flower beds on fifteen acres. Fifteen acres is a large municipal park. It also had a koi pond, dwarf conifer collection, a fountain, monuments, flower gardens and perennial borders. Pathways through the park crossed over carpets of perfect green grass. Families played with children on blankets, or snapped photos near the duck pond. A party of wedding patrons was even gathering near a corner gazebo for an afternoon ceremony. It was a perfect setting. How many times do you get to say “today was a walk in the park”! We wandered around the rest of the downtown streets before making our way back to the car. The dogs were tired, and it was time to start part 2 of our Saturday. It was time for football.

Of course, OUR game was going to be broadcast on the fabulous LHN… which meant we were hoping to find it on the radio later in the evening. We had already given up on the possibility of actually watching the Longhorns play Ole Miss. We had to settle for watching the A&M vs. Alabama game that started at 3:30 that afternoon. We picked to watch it at a nearby Tavern called Mews. It was the perfect bar. They had tons of televisions, an excellent beer and scotch collection, and autographed $1 bills plastered all over the walls and ceiling. We were so lucky. The perfect park and the perfect bar in the same afternoon! We shared some buffalo bread and a Sicilian calzone while I worked on the $1 bill we were going to leave on the wall. The waitress brought me a Sharpie and a stapler. When the game was over we went home and built a campfire. We sat beside the flames for the rest of the evening and listened to a live stream of the Texas Game on Ole Miss Radio. We tried to listen to UT announcers, but our website made us pay money and then the feed was faulty. We finally gave up and listened to our opponent’s announcers call the game. The signal was strong and steady… the charge was zero. Way to go longhorns. Oh yes, and we lost the game too. Must have been more of the bad mojo from Worden Pond.

We saved the best for last on this stay. Our last Sunday in Wakefield featured glorious weather. The clear blue skies and crisp air made for a wonderful backdrop as we took our bicycles on the 30 –minute ferry ride to Block Island. Our neighbors back in Voluntown had told us the best way to see the island would be to take our bikes for the day and explore at our own pace. It was a fabulous suggestion. When we got off the ferry, we decided to ride on a loop around the island. Mike was our leader. I was following him on the narrow street we shared with cars, mopeds and pedestrians. The roads were sloped and curved, so I was getting a good workout on my legs too. We were off to a great start with clean air, gleaming sun, and exercise all at once.

We were making our way to the Southeast Lighthouse as Mike detoured to the right on a whim. I thought he had probably seen an historical marker or an interesting building. I must say I was NOT expecting him to have spotted 2 camels in the distance. What? And, was that a yak? Did I just see that kid feeding an alpaca? Yes, we certainly needed to get off our bikes and check this out. We had stumbled upon the Abram’s Animal Farm, which is a family owned farm that services their adjacent Manisses Hotel. The farm provides fresh produce for the hotel’s restaurant, but the owner started collecting exotic animals years ago.  He had quite the collection of various species all mingling amicably in a large sloping fenced-in pasture. Did you know the result of a cross between a zebra and a donkey is called a Zedonk? Well we saw one with one eye! The Abram’s family has managed to collect llamas, emus, kangaroos, a gigantic tortoise, several species of exotic birds and pheasants. Of course they also have the usual cows, sheep, and chickens sprinkled into the mix of animal menagerie. We hung out for a while. The farm provided cups of food for the animals in the pasture. They had an honor system where you could leave a dollar and feed an animal. The llama just took whole cups out of the human’s hands and tipped them back like a shot glass. The yak would open his mouth wide, bearing his huge square teeth, and wait for people to pour the cup down his throat. I hope the camel’s name was Mr. Wednesday, because he stood proud and regal while we all snapped photos of him posing for the camera. He was loving the attention. The whole experience was so unexpected to begin with, we couldn’t stop grinning at how bizarre everything seemed at this private, but welcoming, make-shift petting zoo.

Back on bikes, we continued up and down and UP and down Spring Street until we reached the Southeast Lighthouse. I was ready to put my transportation down for a minute and walk the jelly out of my legs. This stately lighthouse is not necessarily tall at 52-feet, but it doesn’t have to be because it sits high atop the Mohegan Bluffs. Its elevated location allows its flashing green light to project out into the ocean. That is important since we were spending the afternoon on a 7,000 acre “stumbling block” of the New England Coast. Built in 1874 under order from President Ulysses Grant, the building is now a Registered Historic Landmark. According to Coastal Living Magazine, the historic structure is even counted among the top 15 Haunted Lighthouses in America. Legend has it that in the 1900s a keeper murdered his wife by pushing her down the steps. Her spirit never left her home. It is said she harasses men only—by shaking them, lifting their beds, or even locking them in a closet or out of rooms. We stayed safely outside and admired the building from afar. I did not want Mike getting locked in any closets because I didn’t want to lose my biking buddy for the rest of the day. After admiring the majestic view and attempting to capture some of the beauty on our camera rolls, my legs felt strong enough to tackle a few more hills.

Spring Street turned into Mohegan Trail and then Lakeside Drive. The houses we passed were all quintessential New England summer houses, with Victorian details juxtaposed against hearty brown shingles outlined in piercing white trim. They seemed to be randomly scattered across the landscape facing all directions to take advantage of the views and the wind-flow. Some of the cottages were small and conservative, while others were large estates that sprawled onto landscaped lawns at the end of winding primitive drive-ways. The properties featured lots of space between each other, so it seemed like owners and guests would really feel they were getting away from everything when they spent time there.  As inviting as the architecture was, the island’s scenic natural expanses were even more spectacular.  There were meadows and ponds. Fields of gardens were sectioned off with stone walls. Yellow wildflowers dotted the canvas of green grass.  All with the backdrop of the blue Atlantic Ocean shimmering off in the distance until the sky met the water. In the early 1990s, the Nature Conservancy named Block Island one of the “Last Great Places on Earth.” I definetely felt like we had discovered an enchanted treasure on this daytrip.

We rolled into New Harbor after a couple of hours and arrived at the inevitable… it was time for a drink. We found a great spot called The Oar nestled on the banks of The Great Salt Pond. They had sets of Adirondack chairs set out on the grass at the water’s edge facing several marinas. We were happy to sit back and sip our bloody Mary’s while we watched all the boating activity in the busy harbor. Our next stop was on the patio of the Beachead Restaurant across from Crescent Beach. We shared some seafood nachos for lunch and continued on our way, completing our circle back at Old Harbor. It was still too early to board our return ferry. We parked our bikes on a rack near the terminal and continued our pub-crawl on foot.  We found an outdoor bar right on Ballard’s Beach, basically adjacent to the docks. They had a one-man band playing Pink Floyd. (Think about it, kind of impressive). We lingered there for about an hour until the clock told us it was time to get to the ferry. I was reluctant to end the fabulous field-trip we had taken that day.

That night after our campfire, we didn’t have to dump our grey tank onto the ground – thankfully. We planned to drive ourselves to the dump station on the way out of the park in the morning. Like it or not, they were getting some grey water in their septic system. When I went to bed on our last night at Worden Pond, I quickly drifted off to sleep and dreamt all night of washing machines and long hot showers in my own bathroom. I think we both were eager to make the shortest-drive-ever over to Exeter and get set up at Wawaloam.

 

The beach at Galilee.

The beach at Galilee.

I always imagined the first thing we'd see on Block Island would be... camels?

I always imagined the first thing we’d see on Block Island would be… camels?

Looking toward Mohegan Bluffs on Block Island.

Looking toward Mohegan Bluffs on Block Island.

A fishing boat near the Port of Galilee.

A fishing boat near the Port of Galilee.

The first stop after our bicycle ride on Block Island was at a place called Oar. They had Adirondack chairs perched at the edge of the water so we could relax and enjoy the view of New Harbor.

The first stop after our bicycle ride on Block Island was at a place called Oar. They had Adirondack chairs perched at the edge of the water so we could relax and enjoy the view of New Harbor.

Southeast Lighthouse on Block Island.

Southeast Lighthouse on Block Island.

We drove down one of Rhode Island's designated Scenic Byways to get to Worden Pond Family Campground. This is a stretch of Ministerial Road.

We drove down one of Rhode Island’s designated Scenic Byways to get to Worden Pond Family Campground. This is a stretch of Ministerial Road.

Looking out on Rhode Island Sound toward Point Judith Lighthouse.

Looking out on Rhode Island Sound toward Point Judith Lighthouse.

We are aware it is illegal to deface American money, but we took our chances and marked on a dollar bill so we could add it to the wall at Mews Tavern. They gave us the sharpie and the stapler, so we figured it was safe.

We are aware it is illegal to deface American money, but we took our chances and marked on a dollar bill so we could add it to the wall at Mews Tavern. They gave us the sharpie and the stapler, so we figured it was safe.

We couldn't watch the Texas game on the fabulous LHN, so we went to the local tavern and watched Alabama vs. A&M instead.

We couldn’t watch the Texas game on the fabulous LHN, so we went to the local tavern and watched Alabama vs. A&M instead.

Our view of Block Island as we approached on the Ferry.

Our view of Block Island as we approached on the Ferry.

The sky was magnificent on our last evening at Worden Pond Family Campground.

The sky was magnificent on our last evening at Worden Pond Family Campground.

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