Click on the photo to see more highlights from this month in review.
Best of July and August 2006
Victory lap? Do-Over? An excuse to take a few weeks off work? Whatever you want to call it, our return trip to several Mid-Atlantic and New England destinations was fantastic. Some places we saw for the first time; others we saw with entirely new perspectives. We even remembered to take pictures this time around. Look for new and improved reviews of New Bedford Whaling NHP, Boston NHP, Minute Man NHP and Saratoga National NHP in the coming month as well as loads of brand new reviews. In the meantime, here is our totally biased assessment of the summer months.
Miles Traveled (in Altima) – 2,112
Most Interesting Sign – Mazel Wok, name of a Kosher Chinese restaurant in Woodbourne, N.Y.
Most Interesting Town Names – Drive east on I-84 through Pennsylvania and you will go through Promised Land on your way to Lord’s Valley.
We are quite happy that our mailing address is not Coxsackie, N.Y.
Best Opportunity to Test Michael’s “Jacket of the Year” (Worst Weather Day) – We may have had more days of rain on this short jaunt than in the entire trip. July 22 and 23 in Albany, N.Y. were particularly soggy. A thunderstorm soaked us and had us running for cover on July 28th in Boston. But what is the best surefire way to bring on a torrential downpour? That’s right, pitch the tent and build a fire! A short hike to a beaver dam near Chittenden Brook (Green Mountain National Forest, Vt.) turned into a cross country trail run when Michael’s barometer reading took a dive and we realized we hadn’t put the rain cover up yet. We made it back just as the first of many, many drops began to fall.
Highest Thermostat Reading – Holy heat wave! Temperatures were above 90 degrees almost every day in July. There were rumors of 100+ days in Hartford, Conn. but we don’t have any photographic evidence.
Most Talked About Natural Phenomenon – The Raven. Michael had a rare chance to see his favorite bird inside Fort Warren on St. George’s Island in the Boston Harbor Islands NRA. The New England Aquarium and a local wildlife refuge were there to entertain weekend visitors. Kids flocked towards the tiny screech owl and starfish, crabs and other crustaceans in water-filled bins, but Michael only had eyes for the raven.
"Are ravens rally as smart as they say they are? Can they really problem solve?" Michael asked as the raven tried to untie her bindings. We can’t tell if we entertained or annoyed the young volunteer from the refuge with our barrage of questions and commentary. Gab steered her eager partner away from the table as he was saying, Are ravens your favorite bird because they’re my favorite bird. I really like ravens…..
Most Talked About Unnatural Phenomenon – The influx of folks from “The City” and all that comes with it (more tourism and infusion of cash in local communities – good; increased cost of living and crowds – not so good) was a constant in most conversations we overheard in upstate New York.
Most Beautiful View – Sunrise Burlington! A corner room at the Wyndham Hotel in Burlington, Vt. gave us a stunning view of sailboats and Lake Champlain. We woke early to watch the sun come up and the city come to life. As good as any Sunrise Earth episode on the Discovery Channel.
Incidentally, a few days later we recognized the setting for Sunrise Earth’s “Milk Cows in the Morning” when we stopped at the Marsh Billings Rockefeller NHP in Woodstock, Vt.
Ugliest Park Site Surroundings – Steamtown NHS, Scranton, Pa. We guess there are worse things you can do with an abandoned train yard than make it into a National Park site. But the adjacent mall and parking garage do little for the aesthetics of an already dubious destination.
Most Beautiful Park Site Surroundings – Vermont. Yes, all of it. Before we reached the state, we didn’t want to buy into the all the hype about its lush greenery, rolling hills and striking mountain scenery. Consider us convinced. Vermont just may tie West Virginia as the most beautiful state east of the Mississippi.
Liveliest City Center (Towns) – Burlington, Vt. Have you ever driven into a town that seemed so darn near perfect that you wondered if you drove into a parallel universe? We immediately fell in love with Burlington, Vermont. Great food, friendly folks, restaurants and bars with plenty of outdoor seating, a lakeshore park, large pedestrian-only street in the middle of downtown…Man! Burlington is nice!
Dullest City Center (Towns) – Hanover, N.H. We drove to the home of Dartmouth hoping to grab some lunch, walk around campus and maybe even spend the night. We were surprised to find, well, we didn’t find anything interesting along the main streets of a city we thought would be fun to explore.
Number of Capitol Buildings Visited This Month – Six! (Seven including Harrisburg) Technically, we haven’t toured the inside of our Nation’s Capitol yet but we circumnavigated its grounds all day. That counts, right?
Most Beautiful and Ugliest Capitol Buildings – Nope. Not this time. The last time we called out a capitol of a state which was home to some of our friends, we never heard the end of it. All the capitols we saw this month were equally beautiful. Really they were.
Biggest Disappointment(s) – The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington D.C. I guess we expected more than walls and waterfalls. The tribute to one of our favorite president’s was probably our least favorite D.C. stop. Long, crowded, uninspiring. Sigh.
Finding the Zane Gray Museum in the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River closed until further notice was also a bummer.
Most Pleasant Surprise – On the way home from a long day at Harper’s Ferry NHP, we decided to stop in the small town of Brunswick, Md. where a passport stamp for the C&O Canal NHP was rumored to reside. While searching the streets for anything resembling a Visitor Center, we heard an ungodly roar. We turned a corner to find two NASCAR cars gunning their engines for eager fans. Yes folks, we had stumbled on to Brunswick’s “NASCAR Day” and were rewarded with up close and personal views of the car Tony Stewart ran last year in Chicago. Michael was a little more excited than he will admit.
Most Unpleasant Surprise – Tickets to the top of the Washington Monument were sold out by 9 am the Saturday we drove to D.C. We hadn’t even boarded the Metro at Shady Grove by then! The ticket attendant told us people often began lining up by 6:30 a.m. on summer days. At that point, we were still in bed. Helpful hint: you can reserve tickets online at reservations.nps.gov before you go and pick them up at the small kiosk in front of the Monument. A small service fee applies.
Proudest Accomplishment – Filling the tank for under $3 per gallon every time - no small task when traveling through Connecticut and Rhode Island, states infamous for pricy petrol.
Unsolved Mystery – Why is there no affordable place to stay between Narrowsburg, Pa. and Albany, N.Y.? Did you know that Poughkeepsie, N.Y. is a top tourist destination? We didn’t.
Mystery Solved – More like revealed in all its glory. We finally saw the inside of Fenway Park! More on this later….
The “Fancy Meeting You Here” Award – When Michael and the Ranger at the Martin Van Buren NHS started chatting while waiting for the next house tour to begin, we learned that he had been stationed at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve when we were there two years ago. He recognized Gab!!
Runner Up: A flooded basement and a found address book put one of Gab’s coolest friends back in touch with her a few weeks before this leg of the trip. We promptly took him up on his “if you’re ever back in Boston…” invitation and spent 4 fabulous days in Winthrop, Mass. With Bill and his fiancé Carol watching the planes go by.
Most Gluttonous Day – Even though we had already polished off a huge grilled steak dinner at Leunig’s Bistro (thank you, early bird special!) we simply couldn’t leave Burlington, Vt. without another taste of American Flatbread. We topped off the night with a small flatbread to go and savored fond memories of our days in Burlington.
Best Sporting Experience – Boston Red Sox vs. Anaheim Angels at Fenway Park. This is when having some friends who know a city really helps. We drove to the stadium and parked just steps away from Yawkey Way, where we stocked up with food and drink and chatted with the nice lady on stilts. After a few laps around the interior, we tried a few different views of the game: first in standing room only, then in our proper seats in the bleachers and then, into four impossibly empty seats in the loge level behind third base. We watched extra innings from padded seats in the shade.
Much as we hate to admit it, Fenway is a classic American sports venue, even better than Boston Red Sox fans tell you it is. And we all know how modest they are. July 29 was a perfect day. A million thanks to Bill and Carol for making it happen.
Most Scenic Drive (Highways) – Route 100 through Vermont, along the Mad River. A rainy morning gave way to sunshine peeking through the clouds as we toured small towns, stopped at country stores and got out to take photos of covered bridges and waterfalls right next to the road. Route 100 was made for road trips and leisurely drives.
Best Day Hike – A 4-mile morning walk along the carriage paths at the Marsh Billings Rockefeller NHP. We had time to waste before the 10 a.m. tour and hot coffee to drink so we set out into the woods and found ourselves at a duck pond just as the morning light was just right.
Highest Price for Gas – $2.99 per gallon, Cumberland Farms, Foxboro, Mass. Phew! This price was actually 5 cents higher than its listing on http://www.gasbuddy.com/ earlier that morning.
Lowest Price for Gas – $2.57 per gallon, Giant Foods, Hershey, Pa. Frequent grocery trips to Giant resulted in 30 cents off each gallon with our rewards card. Can’t beat that.
Most Out of the Way Site – Boston Harbor Islands NRA. Ok, it wasn’t that far, but you do need your own boat or a ticket for the ferry to get there. Any place where there is a chance of being stranded by water transport counts as out of the way.
Most Helpful Roadside Stop – The Ranger Station (give specific location) in Washington D.C. You could track down each stamp and brochure from each D.C. NPS site, of which there are dozens. Or you could just GET THEM ALL RIGHT HERE. Michael distracted the Ranger with talk of the weather while Gab furiously stamped away and tried not to hyperventilate with excitement.
Most Inappropriately Named Rest Stop – State Liquor Store Rest Stop, I-93, N.H. How was that approved by the highway commission, we wonder?
Best Burger – CH Evans Brewing Company/Albany Pump Station, Albany, N.Y. Gab built her own with gorgonzola and bacon while Michael opted for the signature Pump Station Burger, a delicious concoction which blends beer, bbq sauce and scallions right into the patty. Mmmm…burgers…..
Best Smelling Factory – Ben and Jerry’s Factory Tour, Waterbury, Vt. Is this place really a factory? The tour was slick, perhaps a little too slick, and is it really a “free” sample when you paid 3 bucks to get on the tour? Either way, the scent of ice cream is in the air and it smells good.
Best Giant Statues – Uncle Sam, Santa Clause AND Mighty Mouse (on an elephant no less) are all standing tall in the parking lot to greet visitors at Magic Forest Park, south of Lake George, N.Y.
Best Missing Statue – There are four alcoves on the Saratoga Monument but only 3 statues. The officer who, by most accounts, was the hero of Saratoga was purposefully omitted. Poor Benedict Arnold.
Almost Celebrity Sightings – Gab swears Gallagher and Dr. Z, Daimler Chrysler’s new spokesperson were sitting next to us at American Flatbread in Burlington or at least dead ringers for the two D-list celebrities.
There was a case of mistaken identity at the shipping docks in New Bedford, Mass. A fisherman saw us wandering around with cameras and asked, “are you guys from the newspaper?” He was absolutely baffled that we would choose to vacation in New Bedford and that we thought the ships were photo-worthy.
Best Campground – Chittenden Brook Campground, Green Mountain National Forest, Vt. Many thanks to the forest ranger in Warren, Vt. for making the recommendation. Tucked away in the Green Mountains, this beautiful campground next to a babbling brook was shady, clean, comfortable, and hardly crowded. We spotted just a few other campers on our evening walk around the grounds. Even with the rain, we are glad we camped here.
Worst Driving Experience – Traveling north on Routes 9 and 9N alongside Lake George, N.Y. It wasn’t horrible, just unexpected. We expected a quiet scenic drive with a lake view, not a bustling, crowded chain of resort towns filled with factory outlets, mini golf, motels and boat rentals. Kids and families everywhere! Now we know.
Biggest Stretch – Scranton, Pa. as a National Historic Site. We won’t elaborate. This is kind of like picking on the scrawniest kid in class.
Harpers Ferry, WV • Dillsburg, PA • Brunswick, MD • Frederick, MD • DIllsburg, PA • Shady Grove, MD • Washington DC • Hershey, PA • Scranton, PA • Greentown, PA • Lackawaxen, PA • Narrowsburg, PA • Woodbourne, NY • New Paltz, NY • Albany, NY • Kinderhook, NY • Catskill, NY •Hudson, NY • Colonie, NY • Waterford, NY • Saratoga, NY • Schuylerville, NY • Lake George, NY • Bolton Landing, NY • Ticonderoga, NY • Burlington, VT • Waterbury, VT • Montpelier, VT • Inasville, VT • Waitsfield, VT • Warren, VT •Rochester, VT • Woodstock, VT • Hanover, NH • Concord, NH • Lexington, MA • Concord, MA • Winthrop, MA • Boston, MA • Cambridge, MA • Quincy, MA • Dorchester, MA • Foxboro, MA • Providence, RI • New Bedford, MA • Newport, RI • Hartford, CT • Scranton, PA •
Harpers Ferry NHP • Old Post Office Tower NM • World War II National Memorial • John Paul Jones Nacional Memorial • Department of the Interior Museum • Constitution Gardens • 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence Memorial • Vietnam Veterans Memorial • Lincoln Memorial • Korean War Veterans Memorial • DC War Memorial • Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial • George Mason Memorial • Thomas Jefferson Memorial • Ford’s Theatre NHS • Peterson House • Steamtown NHS • Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River • Martin Van Buren NHS • Thomas Cole NHS • Saratoga NHP • Marsh Billings Rockefeller NHP • Saint Gaudens NHS • Minute Man NHP • John F. Kennedy Birthplace NHS • Longfellow NHS • Boston NHP • Boston Harbor Islands NRA • Boston African American NHS • Adams NHP • JFK Presidencial Library • Roger Williams NM • New Bedford Whaling NHP • Touro Synagogue •
USA-C2C.com is an independent website, not affiliated in any way with the National Park Service, the National Parks Foundation or any of their partners.