By Laini Miranda & Dave E. Leiberman, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
We just returned home from two months living out of our converted Subaru while we traveled 8,300 miles around the country. We outfitted our Subaru Forester with a platform bed and two drawers underneath to maximize storage, which we designed and built ourselves, and brought along enough creature comforts so that we didn’t miss a thing while we were on the road or wild camping.
These sunglasses are probably the most important gear we own and the most noticeable improvement to this trip versus our previous desert adventures. Dave has enjoyed Warby Parkers in the past and both of us are usually very happy with our standard >$20 sunglasses. These Smith glasses, however, are game changers. I have the rose gold lenses, Dave the green/grey, and we both love how they don’t change the color of the world outside but just enhance it. The polarization is different from any other “polarized” glasses we’ve tried.
Outside almost all day everyday on this trip, we notice that the way the Smith Chromapop Sunglasses filter intense sun while balancing shadows and contrast throughout the day is nothing short of magic. They are also light enough that you don’t notice you’re wearing them all day. Dave even wore them inside a few times without realizing they were still on.
Good hiking shoes are everything. Laini initially bought these Keen Targhees for a 6-day Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu and has sworn by them for the past 11 years. The soles have just finally started to come loose a bit, but it wasn’t anything that some Shoe Goo (another recommendation) couldn’t fix. Dave has also owned his Merrels for many years and had a similar issue with his sole towards the end of our road trip. Both shoes provide so much comfort and support that we barely even notice our feet on 7+ mile hikes. We especially love these shoes for their Vibram soles that seem to let us scale pretty vertical slickrock boulders with zero slippage. They are also both waterproof, making them perfect for creek hikes (for deeper or more frequent waters we’d recommend an actual water shoe like Keen’s Newport style).
We bring multiple pairs of socks with us, but find ourselves washing these out overnight to reuse them since they’re the most comfortable, lightest weight socks we’ve tried. The merino wool lets you wear them for two or three days straight before you even need to wash them (we try to stick to no more than two). These work great for our low hiking shoes, but they also make them in mid-calf for boot styles.
This collapsible water bottle/bag is indispensable for us on our long hiking days. We fill up with our water pump, throw it in a backpack on our way out, and roll it up when we’re finished with it. The super durable handle is also useful for clipping to a backpack and the large threaded mouth is both pleasant to drink out of and compatible with most 42mm threaded filters. The BPA & PVC-free material can also be frozen or filled with hot water. Generally this 4L container plus two water bottles hydrates both of us for 6-7 mile hikes. On longer hikes we bring a water cube and stash it after a mile or so. They also sell a handy Plug-N-Play Cap Kit that can turn your Seeker into a solar shower or camp tap.
Made from 50% recycled plastic, this water bottle is super lightweight, has a great drinking spout, and doesn’t spill when closed tightly. It touts a “patented twist cap that provides an experience like drinking out of a glass”, and as someone who hates drinking out of Nalgenes, I can attest to that branding. It’s so lightweight and comfortable to carry with its durable and flexible handle, I usually prefer to hold it while hiking instead of clipping to my backpack.
These fans are indispensable in desert camping. We did a ton of research to find ones that were rechargeable, kept their charge throughout the night, and didn’t make too much noise. We prefer the convenient hook and fan/light combo of the $29.99 model and find that this is all we need for most nights in the tent, but the Karacel is a great second fan for extra hot nights in the tent or car.
Does just what the name suggests and makes a delicious cup of coffee. We also love that it’s the same height as a standard 16oz Propane tank and our mess kit so all three fit perfectly side by side in the front compartment of our car kitchen drawer.
This may not be the best mess kit out there, but for the price you really can’t beat it. We’ve used this for the past 3 years and love it. The food-grade anodized aluminum is super lightweight, compact, and everything nestles inside each other to fit in one small carrying case. On our road trip we only take with us the two pots, sponge, and spatula, and keep our mugs inside the pots.
Again, there are certainly better versions out there, but we love how lightweight and inexpensive these mugs are. They fit perfectly in the pot of our mess kit and can be clipped to our backpack if we’re on the move.
We shopped around a bit, but I ended up going with Wirecutter’s pick for best solar shower. With the hooks on each edge of the bag and some reusable zip ties, we strap this to our roof rack clear-side-up and by the time we reach our campsite the water is as hot as our home shower (sometimes after extra long summer drives we actually need to leave it in the shade for a bit to cool it off before using––the thermometer on the bag is really helpful for this scenario). The durable strap is made to hang from a tree, but we use it just as much from the roof of our car. In the backcountry of the desert when no one else is around for miles you don’t even need to worry about a privacy tent. Pull the nozzle down from the hose to open the valve, push it back up to close. Two of us can shower (one of us with long knotty hair), and we still have water left in the bag.
You might wonder where one goes to the bathroom when backcountry camping. If you must know, this portable toilet is actually excellent. The accordion wall design collapses to a mere 2 inches and fits in its own carrying bag when traveling. When we set up camp, we pop in the bottom circle which makes the accordion take its cylindrical form, place the seat over the top, and it can apparently hold up to 330 lbs. The seat is surprisingly comfortable for being so small, and it closes so tightly that you really can’t smell a thing when it’s latched. We use these compostable toilet bags (only for solid waste) and tie them to the roof rack until we get to a dump station. TMI? Sorry.
This is perhaps the best $15 we spent in our car living. We stick one of these in each shoe when we take it off and don’t even notice we have several pairs of sweaty sneakers and sandals in our car. These things may actually be magic.
Ok, so our secret to comfy camping is that we bring our big pillows from home because we generally prioritize our sleep, but a last minute thought to throw one of these in the car was great for our long driving days. We continue to keep this in the car since it compresses into such a compact log, and even becomes a nice lumbar support. In the future we may just bring two of these on longer road trips since they are actually quite comfortable––just make sure you give it enough time for the shredded foam filling to fully expand. The attached cover is so soft you don’t even need an extra pillow case.
This 1oz tube is a lifesaver for when you need a quick shoe repair on-the-go. Parts of both of our soles came loose at certain points with all the hiking we do between slickrock and loose dirt. We use this goo at night, hold it in place with some masking tape (painter’s tape, really), and the shoe is good to go the next morning.
We use these for so many things while camping we can’t leave them off the list. The 10” ties hold up to 50 lbs, and are sturdy enough to secure our solar panels and solar shower to our roof rack even while driving on major highways.
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
We just returned home from two months living out of our Subaru while we traveled around the country. Without much pre-planning, our route took us 8,300 miles from upstate New York through Wisconsin, South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, The San Juan Islands, Oregon, Utah, Colorado, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and back home to New York.
We outfitted our Subaru Forester with a platform bed and two drawers underneath to maximize storage, which we designed and built ourselves, and brought along enough creature comforts so that we didn’t miss a thing while we were on the road or wild camping (other than friends and family, of course!).
Here’s a round-up of some of the things we learned we can’t live without, in no particular order:
We keep the Jackery Power Bank on the floor behind our front seats, plugged into the 12V cigarette lighter in the rear of the car. The Jackery powers our car fridge, cell phones, laptop and fans. The 2.4A in the USB outlet charges our phones so much faster than the car USB does, we’ve actually been keeping it in the car even when not on a road trip. While driving any substantial distance, the Jackery stays at a healthy 99% and rarely drops below 50% even overnight when not drawing power from the car. We use the 60W solar panels to top off the Jackery on days we aren’t driving.
Our car fridge sits next to the Jackery on the floor behind the driver’s seat and stays plugged into the 12V plug on the Jackery at all times. We keep the fridge on “Eco” mode, which fluctuates between about 38 and 44 degrees. We opted for the C9 because that was as much space as we could dedicate in our Subaru and it worked well for us, but I definitely see the benefits of the larger C20 model with the raised lid if you have the extra room. Most days our Alpicool stored: 1L milk, 1 block of cheese, turkey, 4 or 5 string cheeses, jam, hot sauce, and 3 beers, with a little room to stuff random things on top if needed. This refrigerator is miraculously quiet. We almost never notice it while driving, and even when sleeping in the car, the compressor isn’t loud enough to be heard over our earplugs, even with it located just below our heads. The great thing about keeping the Alpicool behind the driver’s seat is that the passenger can easily access its contents with the lid on top. We love never having to deal with melted ice as we used to with our cooler, and find that this size fits enough for a week in the desert.
This is a cleverly designed, high quality solar “briefcase” that we use to top up our Jackery when not driving. The 20-25 watts we get with full sun keeps our Jackery from depleting even when powering our Alipicool fridge throughout the day and night. It’s easy to position it for optimal sun exposure on top of or beside the car, especially with the two kickstands attached to the back. It then folds up into a slim briefcase we can quickly slide into any free gaps in our car.
This 4-inch foam mattress is what kept us on the road for 7 weeks and has us wanting to go right back out. The tri-fold feature of this mattress allows us to keep it semi-folded when not in use, and easily move it between the car and our tent to make every night as comfortable as sleeping in our bed at home. The twin is 75 x 39” and perfect for two small adults. We purchased this for $89.99, but it does seem to fluctuate on Amazon so we recommend grabbing it whenever you see a good deal, even if you’re not car camping anytime soon! We plan to use this in place of an air mattress whenever we need an extra guest bed.
This is an integral part of our kitchen and bathroom setup. We cut a hole in our pull-out wood counter exactly the size of this sink, pop it in, and immediately have a basin for washing dishes, brushing teeth, doing laundry, and everything in between. It has a push drain to release water when ready, and collapses down to a perfect sized cutting board. At just over an inch collapsed, it’s easy to store anywhere. It does drip a bit with the drain plugged, but since we only use it outside that doesn’t really bother us. We now can’t imagine ever camping without this.
Did you think you can’t have running water in your car?? We bought a longer silicon tube for this pump, inserted it into our 7 gallon water container and have water on demand. We use this baby constantly–filling up our water bottles while driving or before hikes, making food, washing dishes, brushing teeth, etc., and we only had to charge it ONCE in our 7 weeks on the road. While these water pumps are generally made to be used on top of a water cooler jug, we fashioned a bottom for it with inspiration from a YouTube video by Todd Parker: cut a notch in a roll of electrical tape, stuff that inside the base, add adhesive neodymium rare earth magnets to the bottom, affix a metal plate to the surface you want to hold the pump, and you have a beautiful faucet with running water! We most often use this pump either from the front seat to fill up water bottles during long drives, or affixed to the metal plate next to our pop-in sink in the back of the car for cooking or washing up. We bought this 25-ft braided sleeve so we can move the long hose back and forth without the silicon tube collecting dust and grime, also a brilliant Todd Parker recommendation. (Note: we do not personally know Todd Parker.)
This is a simple product that lets us turn our car windows into screens. On the nights we opt to sleep in the car instead of setting up our tent, we put one of these window sleeves on each door, open the window, and voila, great airflow without the mosquitoes. We also leave one of these on the rear window above the refrigerator during the PNW heat wave to reduce the heat in the car, but we don’t recommend them on any other windows while driving since they also reduce visibility (an added plus for when you have to sleep in the Cracker Barrel parking lot).
Sun Shades are a must when leaving the car in the desert sun. We tried two different kinds and like these the best. It takes about 10 seconds to stuff these two rounded rectangular pieces into our windshield and just as long to collapse them back into a small circle that fits in the car door pocket. We use ours so frequently we just keep it in the slot between the seat and the door.
This tent is brilliant. Its color-coded poles and ingenious architecture enables us to pitch it in under 2 minutes. Usually one of us pitches the tent while the other starts the fire or preps food. The upper portion of the tent is full mesh, which allows for optimal air flow and viewing of the Milky Way. In the desert we tend to not need the fly, but for the few days of torrential downpours and strong winds we encounter in the Colorado mountains, when we are thrilled at the durability and protectiveness of the fly and footprint. We used to use the 2 Plus model, but the 3 Plus is extra luxurious and easily fits our 4” tri-fold foam mattress plus plenty of room to hang out on rainy nights (Note: the 2 Plus would also fit the twin 4” tri-fold). We also love the location and quantity of pockets and hanging loops for all our tent gear.
We use this blanket daily, whether it’s the rug by our tent (the 2P is the exact length of our REI Half-dome 3), or a blanket on a pebbly beach. The fabric side is extremely soft and delightful to lay on, while the under-side is waterproof and more durable. Though it is thick enough to keep us comfortable even on a lava rock ground in Craters of the Moon, it is light enough that I barely notice carrying it on a 2 mile hike to Third Beach in Olympic National Park. It even dried remarkably fast after 2 straight days of torrential downpours in Colorado. One of us remarks almost every day about how much we love this blanket.
This brand has nailed the compact solar light game. We highly recommend their Luci Solar String Lights and the Luci Lux Inflatable Lantern. Both give off warm light and offer 3 different brightness settings, as well as a battery level indicator. The string lights are long enough to provide light to our tent between a couple trees, and the Luci Lux (which flattens to less than an inch) is the only lantern we now use while camping. The attached strap lets us easily hang it from the opened hatch of our Subaru or the tent ceiling. The lowest setting, warm light, and frosted/matte finish also makes for a perfect pillow-side lamp.
Walking the Gorge Trail in Watkins Glen State Park in New York’s Finger Lakes is, in a word, spellbinding.
The centerpiece of the 778-acre Watkins Glen State Park is a 400-foot deep, narrow gorge cut by the Glen Creek that was left “hanging” when glaciers of the last continental glaciation, some 12,000 years ago, deepened the Seneca valley, creating rapids and waterfalls through layers of hard rock. The textures and shapes of the soft shales, sandstone and limestone – which erode at different rates – are gorgeous.
If you have ever visited a slot canyon, and marveled at the smooth, twisted, perfectly contoured curves, walk the Glen Creek Gorge Trail, where you can watch Mother Nature working her magic.
We don’t waste time after arriving at the Six Nations Campground in the park in the afternoon, in order to take advantage of the beautiful sunlight. So we drop out things and rush down to the Gorge Trail for a taste of what we will see more completely the next day.
In the course of a 1.5 mile stone trail, with 800 steps and beautiful stone bridges you see 19 incredible waterfalls.
The waterfalls range from those that flow from dramatic heights of 200 foot-high cliffs, to those that cascade; you see waterfalls coming in together from different directions, cutting through the sedimentary rock of shale, sandstone and limestone, making exquisite, remarkably perfect shapes and cuts that are astonishingly precise and straight or curved, and cascades of falls that twist.
In this “hanging valley,” we also see “hanging gardens” – the tender mosses, ferns, mosslike plants (liverworts) that drape over the rocks and down the rock walls, the delicate plants that stubbornly grow, albeit slowly in crevasses in the rock walls. They depend on continuous moisture trickling down, and you can see differences in ecosystems based on the amount of sun, shade and moisture that a section of the rock wall gets. (Visitors are told not to pick anything.)
You are enveloped by a feeling of perfect peace – the sound of the flowing water, the cool of the green moss and moist rock, the fresh smell, the late afternoon light that turns the tops of the trees into shades of yellow and gold. The gorge is fairly narrow, so you feel cocooned in this primal, Jurassic Park-like setting.
Looking down into where the water flattens out at one point into soil what appeared to be a giant fossil skeleton, exposed in the low water. It is exciting to imagine.
We walk back to Mile Point Bridge where we follow the trail back into the Six Nations Campground, after this brief survey mission.
Back at our campsite, we set up our tents and go downtown to where John, who checked us into the campground, had recommended as the best place in Watkins Glen for sunset: the marina on the southern tip of Seneca Lake. There is a rock wall that is very popular for people to walk out to watch. We opt to go to the Village Marina for dinner where we can dine outside and take in the sunset.
The colors that blaze through the sky, reflect back in the water, after the sun went behind the hills, are spectacular.
The next day, we stroll down from our campsite to the Gorge Trail.
We enter the Gorge Trail at Mile Point Bridge, giving us our first stunning view. We walk the half-mile to the end, at Jacob’s Ladder (a set of 180 stairs that goes to the Upper Entrance), and then return, choosing to go back along the Gorge Trail rather than connect to the Indian Trail that goes along the rim for views down into the Gorge. Going back this way on the Gorge Trail we go down in elevation towards the Main Entrance in the village (many people who don’t want to do the 1.5 mile trail both ways start park up here, hike down, and take a shuttle bus back, $5).
Just beyond the Mile Point Bridge is Frowning Cliff, a gorgeous waterfall, then the climatic scene, Rainbow Falls (most dramatic from the other direction on the way back; you walk behind the falls along the trail), aptly named because, on some afternoons, the sunlight comes at just the right angle to create rainbows.
On to the Central Cascade (plunging more than 60 feet, this is the highest waterfall in the Gorge), Glen Cathedral (the horizontal layers of shale were formed 380 million years ago; ripples in the rock were created by wave action at the bottom of an ancient sea floor that eventually turned to stone), then a steeper descent, through the Spiral Tunnel (hand cut in 1927) to the Cavern Cascade, where you again walk behind the waterfall) and across Sentry Bridge (look for a round flume hole in the rock where, in the 1800s, water was once diverted to power a mill where the visitor center now stands) to the new Visitor Center and main entrance on Franklin Street in Watkins Glen.
Along the way, we meet up with a park ranger who we tell about seeing what appeared to be a giant fossil. He tells us that it was exposed only two days before and might well be a titanoboa – a giant sea snake that could be as big as 45 feet long. This exciting news passes from one to another as people come to that spot to view it. Another park ranger tells us that a naturalist is coming to investigate.
For awhile, visitors to Watkins Glen State Park that morning had an extra thrill beyond the breathtaking scenery: the prospect of seeing a newly discovered fossil of a prehistoric sea snake, Monster in the Glen.
We finish walking the trail, have a delightful lunch at the Harbor Hotel on the lake. By now it is the afternoon and markedly less crowded (everyone seems to come out early for the walk) as we walk back on the Gorge Trail.
By the time we get back to where the “titanoboa fossil” would have been, we see the naturalist has etched in the soil, “Not a Fossil,” and smudged the image completely away, having revealed the fossil to be a hoax (people had remarked on what they thought were footprints leading to it).
So, if we didn’t witness a major fossil discovery, we were witness to the hoax. ow the mystery is: Who created the hoax? How? Anyway, it got everyone buzzing that day.
Also, on my walk I saw in black rock what looked like an ammonite. That too was smudged away on our return.
This stunning gorge has been visited by tourists since 1863 and was privately operated as a tourist resort ($1 admission per person, equivalent to $34 today) until New York State acquired the property, in 1906 for a state park. (It is named for Samuel Watkins; “glen” comes from a Greek word meaning “small, narrow, secluded valley”.). After the 1935 flood destroyed the trail, it was rebuilt with a stunning series of stone walks, staircases (there are 800 steps altogether), bridges and tunnels cut through the rock, by Franklin D Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps between 1935-1940. (You can do the trail one way and take a shuttle bus, $5, back).
Capping this experience is the beautiful Six Nations Campground – beautiful trees, excellent restroom facilities, and a glorious Olympic-sized pool. There are also a couple of pavilions that can be rented for groups and even the Iroquois Lodge, which is essentially a house that can be rented instead of a campsite (altogether, you can imagine a wedding here, with photos in front of waterfalls; there are also lovely accommodations in town including a luxury Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel, right on Seneca Lake, where we enjoy lunch). Where we camp, we are just a short walk down to the Gorge Trail.
Six Nations Campground is named for the Haundenosaunee Confederation, more commonly known to us as Iroquois (Haundenosaunee means “They made the house”), a reminder of whose land this was before the European colonists came. The loops of the campground are named for the nations of the Confederacy: Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the park brochure notes, is renowned for its organization and democratic system, one of the first of its kind (Ben Franklin is said to have drawn upon the Iroquois Confederation for our US Constitution; suffragist Melinda Gage drew upon the Oneida’s matriarchal structure, in which women could be chiefs, own property, have custody of their children in a divorce, to set out demands for women’s rights in 1848).In 1842, what remained of the First Nations were relegated to the Six Nations Indian Reserve. (More information is available at nearby Ganondaganb State Historic Site, 7000 County Rd. 41 (Houghton Hill Rd), Victor, NY 14564).
There are seven moderate trails in Watkins Glen State Park ranging from 0.7 to 7.6 miles and from 479 to 1,171 feet above sea level, but we focus all our time on the Gorge Trail (1.5 miles), captivated by the views and the enchantment of the place. Other trails – the Indian Trail (2.4 miles) and the South Rim Trail (2.6 miles) provide views of the Gorge from above. You can connect from the Gorge Trail to Lovers Lane Loop which takes you to a Suspension Bridge for a view above the gorge. You can also do a Gorge Trail, Outer Rim and Finger Lakes Trail combination (7.6 miles, about 3 hours) (see alltrails.com for more detail). (The trail is closed in winter.)
It’s about 3:30 in the afternoon when we return to the campsite. We go to the gorgeous, Olympic-sized pool to refresh before returning to the campsite for an amazing steak dinner David and Laini prepared over the campfire they built for our second night camping.
It is no wonder that Watkins Glen State Park was awarded the third best among 6,000 state parks nationwide in 2015, and is consistently among the state’s top parks.
Watkins Glen State Park, 1009 N Franklin St, Watkins Glen, NY 14891, 607-535-4511, https://parks.ny.gov/parks/watkinsglen/maps.aspx.
There is so much to do in Watkins Glen, in the heart of the Finger Lakes, you could easily make this your base for a week.
Auto enthusiasts know Watkins Glen for its famous NASCAR races. The pavement is dotted with names of winners throughout the years, the crosswalks painted like the race start/finish. Auto racing is still sacred here, with much of the quaint village (the downtown was a recipient of New York State’s $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative award) themed for autos.
Wine enthusiasts know Watkins Glen as the southerly point of Seneca Lake, from which you can drive up Winery Trails on both sides.
Nearby is the Corning Museum of Glass; about 1 ½ hours drive away is another jewel, Letchworth State Park, “The Grand Canyon of the East,” where we camped and hiked last year; a half-hour away is Ithaca.
The Finger Lakes region has over 1,000 waterfalls and gorges, 650 miles of shoreline, more than 16,000 acres of National Forest, and over 2,000 miles of hiking and biking trails. There is plenty to explore indoors at museums, art galleries, historic sites, theaters, wineries, breweries.
With summer turning to fall foliage season (which is amazing here), plan early and secure tickets and lodging.
Excellent planning aids are available from The Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance, 309 Lake Street Penn Yan, NY 14527, 315-536-7488, 800-530-7488, www.fingerlakes.org.
New York State Begins Weekly ILoveNY Fall Foliage Reports; New Interactive Map
The 2021 fall foliage season is underway in New York State. Fall is one of the most popular travel times in New York, attracting visitors from around the world to explore the state’s unique communities and support local businesses. To help travelers and foliage enthusiasts plan a fall getaway, I LOVE NY has begun issuing its weekly fall foliage reports and will now include a new enhanced interactive progression map (www.iloveny.com/foliage).
The foliage report is compiled each week using the on-location field observations from I LOVE NY’s team of volunteer leaf peepers. More than 85 spotters extending across the state’s 11 vacation regions are tasked with keeping track of the color change in their area as leaves progress each week. Reports detail the predominant leaf colors, approximate percentage of change, and how much color change has progressed relative to peak conditions.
New this year, I LOVE NY is introducing an enhanced, interactive map that tracks weekly foliage change and progression across the state throughout the season. The map, located on the I LOVE NY foliage website, showcases great foliage viewing locations in each of the various regions throughout the state. Visitors can also use the map to see what the foliage is like during peak viewing in a given area, and learn about nearby, must-see attractions.
Thanks in part to its size and location, New York State has one of the longest and most colorful foliage seasons in the country. On any weekend from late September through mid-November, part of the state is likely experiencing peak foliage.
Travelers are also invited to share their photos of New York State’s amazing foliage on social media by using the #NYLovesFall hashtag. Photos submitted to this hashtag have a chance of being featured on the I LOVE NY fall foliage website and official I LOVE NY social media accounts reaching nearly two million followers. Reports and the new interactive map are updated Wednesdays throughout the season at www.iloveny.com/foliage.Reports are also available toll-free by dialing 800/CALL-NYS (800/225-5697) from anywhere in the U.S., its territories and Canada. For more information on how to volunteer for as an I LOVE NY leaf peeper, e-mail your name, address and phone number to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
In a stunning demonstration of New York City’s famous resilience and grit, Bike New York, New York City and TD Bank pulled off the 2021 TD Five Boro Bike Tour, hosting 20,000 riders as they rode 40 miles of car-less urban streets and bridges. “A truly New York City experience in a truly unusual year.”
Last year’s ride was cancelled because of COVID-19, and this year’s ride, the 43rd edition of the Five Boro Bike Tour, restricted to 20,000, substantially fewer riders than the 32,000 that typically join the ride because of COVID-19 protocols, was originally set for August 22, but Hurricane Henri had other ideas.
As it turned out, postponing the ride by a week rewarded riders with perfect weather for cycling – overcast, misting and a comfortable 72 degrees.
Participants who came from all 50 states and 16 countries had a ball, and were treated, as has become tradition, to bands welcoming the riders to each borough, well organized rest areas and water stations with the added dimension of COVID-protocols, superbly organized street closures manned by New York’s finest and Bike New York volunteers, excellent signage. And all on incredibly short notice.
An incredible feat accomplished by numerous New York City agencies, including the Departments of Transportation, Sanitation, and Police.
The route was modified somewhat – possibly because of the short notice for even the August 22 date (the ride wasn’t announced until May), and then it had to be hastily put together for August 29.
So we skirted Central Park, riding up Central Park West, instead of going through it, and had our rest stop outside of Triboro Park in Queens.
But the biggest change was where the ride finished: at the new Empire Outlets right at the Staten Island Ferry terminal, where there is also NYC Ferry’s newly launched St. George route (which connects St. George to Battery Park City and West 39th Street on Manhattan’s Westside) and waterfront walk, where the Finish Festival was held.
Still, there were those iconic experiences you only get on the Five Boro Bike Tour, of riding down the FDR, over the Queensborough (59th Street) Bridge, on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, and over the Verrazano Bridge, plus the chance to see neighborhoods in all five boroughs.
Bike New York was scrupulous about maintaining COVID-19 protections- every rider had to show proof of vaccination to pick up the registration packets (but not to ride) and wear masks at the start and finish, indoors and on the Staten Island ferry but not while riding (unvaccinated individuals could not go inside).
The number of riders was reduced from 32,000 in past years to 20,000, to allow for more spacing. Also, over the years, the organizers have developed a terrific method of staggering starts by “waves.”
Andrew Bregenzer. EVP, Regional President at TD Bank, the title sponsor of the TD Five Boro Bike Tour since 2007, told the riders, “We believe in quality of life for New York. We’ve been a New York bank for 20 years. The ride today has new meaning, perspective. This is the greatest city in the world. Celebrate resiliency of New York City.”
“New York City is proud to celebrate the cycling boom—and the return of iconic events that highlight great neighborhoods in all five boroughs—by welcoming the TD Five Boro Bike Tour this summer,” said New York City Senior Advisor for Recovery Lorraine Grillo. “We look forward to welcoming locals and tourists alike to enjoy a safe, exciting event this year.”
“Given the pivotal role that bikes have played in protecting the health, wellness, and safety of New Yorkers through the pandemic—especially for essential workers commuting to their jobs—it feels right that bikes will also play a part in powering New York City’s economic revitalization,” Ken Podziba, President and CEO of Bike New York, remarked when the 2021 tour was announced in May. “The Tour has been a landmark event for NYC for decades, and it’s a true highlight for international tourism. We hope our ride will continue to support the city we call home as we all strive to come back strong from these hardships. Now more than ever, New Yorkers need a safe and welcoming space to reconnect, to celebrate.”
The ride is a fundraiser for Bike New York – in fact, it is one of the world’s biggest charitable bike rides, along with Bike Expo New York, one of the country’s most attended consumer bike shows. Proceeds from the Tour fund its free bicycle education programs. In 2020 alone, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bike New York taught bike riding and bike safety skills in a virtual classroom to more than 25,000 kids and adults.
The ride also supports Bike New York’s advocacy for safe biking and bike lanes. “We fight for safer, more equitable streets,” said Podziba.
Bike New York provides a completely free, year-round curriculum of classes for children and adults at every stage of their cycling journeys, from first rides and fundamentals to commuting and touring.
“When COVID-19 brought the world to a standstill, Bike New York was forced to temporarily suspend its in-person programming. Though cycling events came to a halt, the need for bike resources swelled as a huge influx of people turned to cycling for transportation and recreation. We knew we couldn’t slow down.
“To address the sudden surge in demand for accessible bike education, we pivoted from teaching in the streets to bringing our lessons to the virtual classroom. Since launching our digital education program and Virtual Bike Education Resource Hub in April, we’ve helped hundreds, if not thousands, of students build their bike skills, confidence, and know how—and with aspiring cyclists from across the country tuning in to our weekly classes, we’re making a difference far beyond the five boroughs.”
Bike New York also has a Recycle-A-Bicycle program, which accepts donations of old, used, and broken bikes, which are completely restored, refurbished, and sold or salvaged for parts, and out of the waste stream. In 2019, RAB reused or repurposed nearly 12 tons of material, which saved 77.95 metric tons of CO2 emissions.
In July 2019, Bike New York celebrated the opening of Brooklyn’s Shirley Chisholm State Park by launching a free bike share pilot program designed to make exploring nature as easy as checking out a library book. The Bike Library hosts a fleet of 84 bikes (refurbished by graduates of Recycle-A-Bicycle’s Earn-A-Bike program) available for park visitors to “check out” for rides around the grounds in the summer and fall.
In the Library’s first three months, park-goers took 8,585 rides along 10 miles of car-free pathways by scenic Jamaica Bay. The Library reopened and expanded for the 2020 season, offering New Yorkers a meaningful way to enjoy the outdoors while social distancing and other pandemic restrictions were in place.
“We know that one of the best ways to encourage healthy lifestyle choices and regular physical activity in children and young adults is to give them the freedom to explore on two wheels.” Bike New York partners with Woodhull Hospital, Lincoln Hospital, and New York Cycle Club to produce our Kids’ Ride Club, a friendly, fun group ride program for youth cyclists in low-income neighborhoods. And to challenge kids to see what cycling life is like beyond city limits, Bike New York held its inaugural bike touring trip for teenage bike enthusiasts in 2019, a tristate adventure that pushed them out of their comfort zone to prove just what amazing things they could accomplish together.”
Last year, Bike New York partnered with One Community, a nonprofit dedicated to professional training and employment placement, to pilot an intensive, hands-on bike mechanic training program that helps formerly incarcerated New Yorkers continue down the path of rebuilding their lives through the power of stable employment. The program focuses on the particulars of repair and maintenance for Citi Bikes and prepares participants for a well-paying union job on Citi Bike’s mechanic team. Recycle-A-Bicycle provided 60 hours of instruction, as well as tools, materials, and support, to a cohort of students. (Learn more here.)
In 2019, Bike New York began a concentrated effort to actively engage in and spearhead local-level advocacy initiatives. Within its first year, projects included:
Providing expertise and detail to the City Council’s Streets Master Plan Bill, which passed in October of last year. It commits the city to install 50 miles of protected bike lanes per year starting in 2022, and to measure bike network connectivity.
Supplying a broad set of ideas for Mayor de Blasio’s “Green Wave Plan,” issued in July 2019. It raises NYC DOT’s target for protected bike lanes from 20 to 30 miles per year in 2020 and 2021. It also calls for more attention to the quality of barriers along protected bike lanes, bike-speed signal timing, and bike parking.
And in the summer of 2020, Bike New York launched Street Action Now! program to instruct a cohort of students how to analyze unsafe street conditions, perform a street audit, and work with community boards to prompt real change on their blocks.
In addition to supporting Bike New York’s endeavors, hundreds of riders on the Five Boro Bike Tour were biking in support of charities and organizations including New York Cares, Planned Parenthood, Ronald McDonald House, The Hope Program, Sanctuary for Families, Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy (visit bike.nyc to see the charity partners).
Bike New York made provision for riders who paid their fees but could not come on the rescheduled date of August 29 – they could defer the fee for 2022’s ride or get 50% refund.
TD Bank has been the title sponsor since 2007; Manhattan portage is the presenting sponsor. Other sponsors include Bloomberg, Amazon, NYU Langone Health, Trek, New York Bike Lawyers, Nestle Quik New York Times, Con Edison, NYC Ferry, NYC & Company and Empire Outlets.
Pulling off such an ambitious event was further demonstration, “There’s no stopping New York.”
One of my favorite places for a driveable getaway is Sandwich, Cape Cod’s first village, settled in 1637. Sandwich is an enchanting jewel where history, exquisite architecture, fascinating attractions abound in a compact, walkable area, a short distance from the delightful Sandy Neck beach as well as the Cape Cod Canal biking trail. It is quintessential New England, an idyllic place to visit, to stay, to make your hub for exploring Cape Cod.
All through Sandwich, you see homes that bear the names of the ship captains who commanded the packet ships and clippers that made this area a mercantile center.
Many of these quaint historic houses and buildings (including a church) have been turned into charming bed-and-breakfast inns, but if you want to extend your time travel back to when the Patriots were debating revolution, a wonderful choice is the Dan’l Webster Inn and Spa, at the heart of the village. It is also is the most substantial in size, with 48 rooms, amenities and services that include a full-service Beach Plum Spa, offering the best of past and present.
The present inn sits on property that was once a parsonage, built in 1692 by Rev. Roland Cotton; in the 1750s, it was converted to the Fessenden Tavern, one of the first and most famous of New England’s taverns and a Patriot headquarters during the American Revolution (the Newcomb Tavern, just across the pond, served as Tory headquarters). In the late 1800s, the inn, then known as the Central House, hosted famous visitors including President Grover Cleveland and poet Henry David Thoreau.
In 1980, the Dan’l Webster was acquired by the Catania family’s hospitality company which operates the popular Hearth n’ Kettle Restaurants, as well as the John Carver Inn in Plymouth and the Cape Codder Resort, in Hyannis. Since acquiring the Dan’l Webster, they have restored it with exquisite taste and respect for its heritage – there are antique furnishings and Sandwich glass.
The Catania family also acquired the historic house next door. A marker outside the house tells the story: Nancy Fessenden married Capt. Ezra Nye in 1826 and moved into the house following their wedding. She was the daughter of the innkeeper (now the Dan’l Webster Inn). Nye was a famous captain who broke the speed record by sailing his clipper ship from Liverpool in 20 days, in 1829. Restored by the Dan’l Webster Inn in 1982, the house now offers accommodates four luxury suites, each named after prominent people associated with the inn, dating back to 1692.
The Dan’l Webster has become an award-winning hotel, spa and dining destination. Recognized as a Distinguished Restaurant of North America (placing it in the top 1% of restaurants in the country) it offers a choice of the casual Tavern at the Inn, the cozy Music Room or the more formal (and romantic) ambiance in a lovely glass enclosed Conservatory.
The Tavern at the Inn is an authentic replica of the two-centuries-old tap room where Daniel Webster made regular visits and which had been a meeting place for local Patriots during the Revolution.
In a village of many substantial attractions and places of interest, what truly stands out is the Heritage Museum & Gardens – a destination attraction. It hits on a spectrum of cylinders – 100 acres of magnificent grounds and trails on the banks of the Shawme Pond; the vast, stunning and notable gardens that feature internationally important collections of rhododendrons, including those created by Charles Dexter, collections of hydrangeas, over 1,000 varieties of daylilies, hostas, herb, heather gardens, and more than a thousand varieties of trees, shrubs and flowers along beautiful and easily walked paths.
Also, the JK Lilly III collection of vintage cars and folk art, and you can take a ride on a delightful working vintage carousel. There is also – imagine this – Hidden Hollow, an enchanting family-friendly outdoor adventure center where you can get a “squirrel’s perspective” of the forest. You should allocate the better part of a day to visit. (Heritage Museums & Gardens, 67 Grove Street, Sandwich, MA 02563, 508.888.3300, www.heritagemuseumsandgardens.org, open daily through Mid-October.)
What built Sandwich, though (and likely the reason that so many of its magnificent buildings reflect the prosperity of the early-1800s) was that in 1825, Deming Jarves built a glass factory to manufacture glass with a revolutionary process that made it affordable for the masses (Sandwich glass is still a thing). The factory grew rapidly to be one of the largest producers in the country with over 500 workers producing over five million pieces of glass annually by the 1850s. By the 1880s, labor strikes, an economic depression, and new factories being built further closer to natural gas fuel sources forced the factory to close.
Today, you can visit the Sandwich Glass Museum which displays original pieces created during the 1800’s and provides demonstrations of glass blowing techniques. The museum’s theater shows a great documentary of the history of Sandwich. Throughout the village there are several glass blowers and artists with open studios to visit, creating a dynamic center for contemporary glass art (Sandwich Glass Museum,120 Main St., 508-833-1540, www.sandwichglassmuseum.org).
A short walk from the Dan’l Webster Inn is the Dexter Grist Mill, a working grist mill since 1654 where you can still buy ground cornmeal, or draw fresh water from the well (as many locals do for their personal supply).
The Hoxie House, built in 1675, was lived in until the 1970s but was never modernized with electricity or plumbing. This saltbox is named after a whaling captain who owned the house in the mid-1800s. it is now a wonderful little museum house showing what family life was like in the 1600s.
Benjamin Nye Homestead & Museum, is the 18th-century home of one of the first 50 men who settled in Sandwich.
Also, the Wing Fort House, built in 1641, the oldest house in New England continuously owned and occupied by one family (63 Spring Hill Rd., 508-833-1540).
A short distance away, you can visit the Green Briar Nature Center & Jam Kitchen (6 Discovery Hill Road off Route 6A), which celebrates author and naturalist Thornton W. Burgess, who wrote the Peter Cottontail stories. There are nature programs, nature trails, a working 1903 Jam Kitchen, jam-making classes (508-888-6870, www.thortonburgess.org).
One of my favorite things about Sandwich is the proximity to the Cape Cod Canal which offers a 6.2 mile-long paved path (on each side) for biking, roller blading or just walking (the banks of the canal are also popular for fishing). Along the trail, you can visit the Aptucxet Trading Post, built by the Pilgrims in 1627 to facilitate trade with the Dutch at New Amsterdam and the Narrangansett Indians.
The Cape Cod Canal is a marvel (there is a visitor center on the mainland side that tells the history). The canal was constructed in 1914 – up until then, there were a tragic number of ships that were wrecked trying to sail around the peninsula. But it is astonishing to learn that interest in building the canal dated back to the earliest settlers: in 1623, Pilgrims scouted the area as the place best suited for a canal. In 1697 the General Court of Massachusetts considered a formal proposal to build a canal, but no action was taken. In 1776, George Washington, concerned about its military implications, studied the site. But it took until 1909 for construction to start. (60 Ed Moffitt Dr., 508-833-9676, www.capecodcanal.us).
Cape Cod also has the most marvelous network of dedicated bike trails.
Sandwich offers easy access to other marvelous places to visit on Cape Cod, like Falmouth, Wood’s Hole, Hyannis but you should spend at least a day on the other side of the Sagamore Bridge, in Plymouth, to visit a score of historic attractions associated with the Pilgrims, including the Mayflower II and Plimoth Plantation, one of the best living history museums anywhere.
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lake Winnipesaukee, “The Smile of the Great Spirit,” gets its name from a charming and romantic legend of the Abenaki Native American tribe who lived in this New Hampshire Lakes region for 11,000 years. The tranquil setting here indeed, immediately brings smiles to generations of visitors.
And Mill Falls at the Lake, in Meredith, proves a fabulous base for immersing yourself in the pleasures of New Hampshire’s Lakes Region.
With a most picturesque setting on Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire’s largest lake, Mill Falls is a most unusual sort of lakeside resort complex, with four distinct inns – Bay Point and Church Landing on the water, connected by a lakefront boardwalk, and The Inn at Mill Falls and Chase House across a busy boulevard. Mill Falls also offers a full-service Cascade Spa, EKAL Activity Center, five restaurants, 12 shops in a four-story Marketplace housed in the historic mill with a 40-foot waterfall, and a vibrant Main Street community to complete the experience.
Mill Falls’ name pays homage to its heritage – the story told in historic photographs that grace the walls. Meredith started as a mill town powered by the flow of water.
In 1983 Meredith Bay Corporation bought the mill property, raising most of the buildings, but reconstructing the historic old mill into a four-story “Marketplace” shopping experience. Most of the original hand-hewn beams and wide barn boards remain; a half-ton copper cupola acquired from the North Woodstock church tower was hoisted to a new perch on the mill roof. A shopping plaza with three new retail buildings was created and the lovely 54 room Inn with swimming pool was added. The area was beautifully landscaped, incorporating the waterfall.
The opening of the Inn at Mill Falls and the Mill Falls Marketplace was the end of the industrial chapter for Meredith, but the beginning of a new era for the town.
In 1993, the company acquired an office building on the lake, which was reconstructed into the Inn at Bay Point.
Then, in 2003, after St. Charles parish moved, HHH acquired their old church and waterfront property – a spectacular promontory that juts into Meredith Bay. Rather than raze the church, HHH incorporated the structure into its stunning design in the style of the great shingled camps of the 1880s. Church Landing opened in May 2004.
In addition to a spectacular new inn, Church Landing added 1,000 feet of boardwalk to create a three-quarter mile contiguous public walkway along Lake Winnipesaukee’s waterfront, connecting Church Landing with The Town Docks Restaurant, The Christmas Loft, two public parks, and the existing walkway system that extends past The Inn at Bay Point. It also includes two 60-foot docks and a public gazebo and pier, which are attached to the existing town docks system. The final and crowning touch to Church Landing is the full-service Cascade Spa.
Yet another incarnation has taken place with the acquisition of Mill Falls at the Lake in 2019 by Procaccianti Companies, a New England-based, second generation privately-held real estate investment and hospitality services organization. The property is managed by its hospitality management affiliate, TPG Hotels & Resorts.
The new owners acquired the activities center, EKAL (lake spelled backwards), so has control and access to the rental bikes, kayaks, paddleboards, aquacycles, canoes that are now incorporated into a new daily schedule of programs, including both free activities as well as fee-based ones.
The new General Manager Nick Squire and new activities director, Sharon Wells, are turning this lakeside gem into a full-fledged destination resort, and even a wellness retreat.
“Everything I do is sharing wellness,” the aptly named Sharon Wells (her motto, ‘Sharing wellness”) tells me during the ice cream social she is hosting on the Boathouse patio on a Saturday afternoon.
Sharon, who has spent her entire career in wellness, came to Mill Falls in April to create an activities program. Her idea is to expand it with creative and clever ideas.
She organizes a schedule of daily activities that are provided at no extra charge to guests – like pilates, yoga, cardio kick boxing, or meditation on the boathouse lawn; paddleboard yoga, a fun ice cream social on the boathouse patio, jump rope, water balloon toss on the boathouse lawn, Art at the Lake (paint in plein air), a campfire or a fire spinning demonstration. She invites the Coast Guard to give a talk on reading navigation charts, local fisherman to talk about their life, an herbalist to do a plant walk, wild animal demonstrations by the Squam Lake Science Center, a presentation by the Loon Center (there are 26 loon pairs on the lake).
A score of activities are available to guests at extra fee – guided hikes, guided bike rides, guided kayaking trips, a sunset cruise on the Mill Falls’ pontoon boat (also available for charter) and in winter, skiing at nearby Gunstock Mountain – that take in the spectacular nearby preserves, mountains and lakes.
Sharon is developing weekend programs organized around wellness, hiking, leaf-peeping and the like, and plans to add Winter Wonderland activities, ice skating for when the lake freezes, snow shoeing, micro-spiking, Nordic skiing, winter hiking (check the website for dates). A group can request customized programs.
“My background is wellness, fitness, health. I came here in a time of need to be healthy. Heart disease, diabetes, cancer, mental illness, obesity, drug addiction, alcoholism – these are top killers in US. The only way to become healthy is to be educated – get outdoors, eat better, meditate, work body-mind-spirit.”
She adds, “’Winnipesaukee’ means Smile of the Great Spirit – it’s about experience, memory, enjoying one’s family, exploring and discovering lakes region. True experience is gained through exploration – nature, beauty. I want people to appreciate the larger world beyond you. Let people feel calm, serenity, peace of wilderness. This place offers Yesteryear Simplicity – a place to de-stress, refresh, eat well, live well. We teach how to live a healthy lifestyle,” as she offers returning kayakers her cucumber, ginger and mint smoothie.
After leaving the ice cream social, following Sharon’s suggested route, I take my bike for a 10-mile ride following the lakeshore to get a taste of these neighborhoods.
Lake Winnipesaukee is the largest lake in New Hampshire–25 miles long, 15 miles wide at its widest point, it has 72 square miles of surface, 182 miles to circumvent the lake, and contains some 244 islands, some as small as a quarter acre. (Neighboring Shaum Lake was where “On Golden Pond” was filmed).
Lake Winnipesaukee is 45,000 acres – about as big as Lake Tahoe, but because it is not deep (as Lake Tahoe is) and as little as a few feet deep near the shore, the water is in 70s, comfortable for swimming, and there are beaches.
The setting is incomparable: crystal clear waters of the spring-fed Lake Winnipesaukee at the foothills of the White Mountains, surrounded by three mountain ranges and a the wooded shoreline.
It’s a haven for boaters – and if you don’t have your own, there are many places to rent any manner of boat or watercraft. There are ports all around the lake where you can just tie up and go ashore to enjoy restaurants, go to shops, buy ice cream.
There is much to explore on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee by boat or by car. Meredith is a restored mill village, where you can browse through antique, art and craft galleries. Weirs Beach has arcades and boardwalks, waterslides, a public beach and an activity center. Wolfeboro is a picture perfect village, right down to its historic Main Street. Center Harbor, Moultonborough, Tuftonboro, Alton, Gilford and Laconia all have their own special flavor. All communities have public parks and docks, and feature varied activities such as fireworks displays and band concerts throughout the year.
Mount Washington Cruises, a New Hampshire tradition since 1872, offers scenic and sunset dinner dance cruises on the 230-ft. M/S Mount Washington and two smaller vessels, the US mail boat, Sophie C., and M/V Doris E.
It is a special experience to cruise along on the M/V Sophie C – the oldest and one of only two floating United States Postal Service post offices still operating – as it makes its deliveries to eight of the lake’s islands.
Floating post office service was started on Lake Winnipesaukee in 1892. The Sophie C. was built by Boston General Ship & Engine Works in 1945 to temporarily replace the Mount Washington, when the Navy commandeered its engines and boilers during World War II and took over the mail route from the Uncle Sam II in 1969. Sophie C. delivers mail Monday-Saturday, June to September, sells postage, and collects and postmarks outgoing mail. Sophie C. also operates as a sightseeing boat, carrying up to 125 people on her two cruises a day as she delivers mail, and sells ice cream and snacks to residents of the islands she serves.
There are any number of places nearby for hiking, biking, mountain biking: Belknap Mountain, Mt. Major, Chamberlain-Reynolds Memorial Forest, West Rattlesnake Mountain, Red Hill, Gunstock Recreation Area, Abenaki Tower, Cotton Valley Trail and Russell C. Chase Bridge Falls Path.
Wakefield, which prides itself on being a bicycle-friendly community, offers six loops ranging from 11 to 52 miles long.
Gunstock Mountain, 15 minutes away from Mill Falls, offers hiking trails, treetop adventures, mountaintop yoga classes, and electric biking; ski lifts, which in winter, access217 acres of skiable mountains, are open year-round.
Hermit Woods Winery offers wine tastings and tours (Food & Wine Magazine included it in its 2017 “500 Best Wineries in America”).
The 18-hole Waukewan Golf Club course,designed and opened by Dr. Melvyn Hale in 1958, is a few minutes away from Mill Falls.
Funspot, founded in 1952 by Bob Lawton offers 600 games including 300 classic arcade games, a 20-lane ten-pin and candlepin bowling center, indoor mini-golf, restaurant and tavern (it was named the largest arcade in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2008). Lawton, who reportedly still works at Funspot, is a former representative to the New Hampshire legislature and revived the Weirs Times in 1992.
The timeless all-seasons resort on Lake Winnipesaukee, Mill Falls offers 171 rooms across all four inns, each with its own special ambiance – Church Landing, Bay Point, Chase House, and The Inn at Mill Falls – with all the elements for a family gatherings, destination wedding, corporate event or wellness retreat.
Church Landing (which includes the Boathouse where I stay) is a luxurious lakefront lodge with 70 rooms and is the best choice for a family or resort stay. It has two indoor/outdoor pools, the full-service Cascade Spa and Salon, stunning grounds and landscaping that just invite you to sit with a book or just gaze out to the lake, a small beach from which you can swim to a dock. You wander through Chase Landing, through lovely libraries and sitting areas, the walls covered with bookcases, stone fireplaces, a stunning mural depicting the lakefront, pool room, a patio with a stunning stone fireplace, wicker furniture, old wood beams. There is also the Lakehouse Grill which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and has a lovely bar/lounge, with a lovely Adirondack feel and stunning views to the lake. The atmosphere is just wonderful.
My room, a spacious king suite with a balcony overlooking the lake, in the Boathouse, is a charming stone building with gorgeous wood rafters, and an old timey Adirondack-style rustic elegance that instills tranquility.
Bay Point is a 24-room inn perched at the end of Meredith Bay with gorgeous views; completely renovated in 2018, it has a nautical ambiance.
The original Inn at Mill Falls, with 54 rooms and an indoor pool, is set within a restored 19th-century linen mill with a tumbling 40-foot waterfall. It is adjacent to the Marketplace shops, restaurants and main street activities. (Pet friendly rooms are available.)
The newly renovated Chase House, across the street from Meredith Bay, offers 21 guest rooms and the Camp Restaurant with a cabin-style atmosphere, servers embodying camp counselors, and specializes in comfort food. (There is no actual children’s activity camp at Mill Falls)
There are delightful restaurants in each of the lodging buildings – Camp, Lago, Lakehouse Grill, Waterfall Café, Giuseppe’s Pizzeria and Ristorante – are run by The Common Man company. I thoroughly enjoy breakfast in the charming Lakehouse Grill, in Chase Landing, with a wonderful Adirondack ambiance and views of the lake. There is also the Town Docks restaurant in the midst of the complex– a bustling place each evening, with outdoor lakefront seating.
Mill Falls on the Lake is exceptionally well set up for wedding, meetings and conferences with several ballrooms (and now, in summer, a permanent tent on the lawn) and meeting rooms.
Mill Falls is very much a four-seasons resort – I see how marvelous it is in summer, I can only imagine how magnificent fall foliage is here, when the colors turn to crimson and gold, then winter white with the lake frozen enough to skate, and then, the pastel colors of spring’s renewal.
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
When I finally reach the summit of Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park’s highest point at 1500 ft., having huffed, puffed and sweated my way by bike up the 3.5 mile long, ever-rising winding road, little kids come up with amazement. “We passed you on the road. You rode up here!” I must confess to beam with pride while also taking in the view. Looking down to the ocean, Bar Harbor and the Bar Harbor Inn at sea level where we started our ride some 20 miles and several hours earlier, I realize, “Wait a minute, We rode from there!” (In fact, the ride is mostly uphill from mile 12 to 20) The view is amazing, but having that physical, mental achievement is all the more satisfying.
That is what a bike tour is. The scenery, the attractions, the things you see and do are all amazing, but when you bike, there is that added component of being physically and mentally engaged.
Biking up Cadillac Mountain is the pinnacle of Discovery Bicycle Tour’s six-day Coast of Maine bike tour – and a peak of personal accomplishment – but each day presents its own series of highlights and delights. After all, this is Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park on Maine’s Mount Desert Island, with one of the prettiest seacoasts anywhere. The daily itineraries are outstanding – each day’s route so carefully designed for a great ride, interesting attractions, gorgeous scenery.
This means we ride at our own pace, stop for photos or take a breath, take in the view, hike a trail, or just smell the roses. The guides never pressure you to keep with the group or finish the ride at a certain time. One of the two guides rides sweep to make sure everyone is okay, and the other drives the van along the route (where possible). They make every accommodation for riders, so when feasible, even shuttling some to the top of a slope, or on one day, starting three miles further. The two toughest climbs – Day Mountain and Cadillac Mountain are optional.
Another aspect of the way Discovery designs its itinerary is that it adds a lovely mix of other activities to round out the experience: a sunset sail on the historic schooner, Mary Todd; sea kayaking, a hike (we choose to walk across the land bridge at low tide to Bar Island) and on our last morning, they arrange a 4:30 a.m. drive up Cadillac Mountain in the van (you have to get a reservation to drive up Cadillac) for the sunrise, considered one of the primo-supremo experiences in Acadia. (Unfortunately for me, I miss out when my phone dies and I miss the alarm, but I awake just as the sun is rising out my window and dash down to the Shore Path.)
Both our guides, Cindy Burke and Tom Walsh are long-time veterans and particularly of this Coast of Maine itinerary, and filled us with marvelous insights into the history and people of the island, as well as point out specific parts of that day’s ride. And they have a particular challenge, having to re-jigger the rides inside Acadia after June storms forced the closure of the Eagle Lake carriage roads.
Being able to ride at our own pace is key. At the most popular Acadia sights and overlooks – like Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Bubble Pond, Cadillac Mountain (where cars now need a timed reservation even to drive up), I can just get off my bike and strut over and spend as much time as I like, as when I wait and wait to try to get a photo of a whale’s geyser-like burst of water we spot offshore at Thunder Hole (at high tide, it is said to sound like thunder, but Cindy says most of the time it is a gurgle). Or when I just stop along the road to watch a lobsterman collect the lobsters, throwing back the ones that did not meet the rigid bigger-than-3.5-inches-and-smaller-than-5-inches regulations, and when I just want to get a better image of the stacks of lobster traps and realize Tom is waiting patiently (no judgment!) on the road until I continue the ride.
On our first day, we are encouraged to arrive by 1 pm for an orientation, getting fitted to our bikes, and then an optional 9.9-mile “Schooner Head Overlook Warm-up Ride” on the Park Loop Road in Acadia – except that it is raining. We decide to do it anyway and even when the rain becomes a real downpour, it is wonderful fun (and so fantastic to go into the Bar Harbor Inn’s heated pool and hot tub after). And it shows us, yes, we can ride hills in the rain!
For our Day 2 ride, we are ferried in the van to the start at Seal Cove Auto Museum, where they have pre-arranged our admission. I walk in and am completely enthralled. The museum has an outstanding collection that includes automobiles that are the last of their kind (a 1913 Peugeot is worth $3-5 million; a 1905 Pierce Great Arrow is very rare). But what makes the visit even more fascinating is its special exhibit, “Engines of Change: A Suffrage Centennial.”
Here I learn that Bertha Benz, inventor, business partner and wife of Karl Benz, got fed up with her husband’s endless tinkering so on August 5, 1888, grabbed her children and became the first person to drive an automobile over a long distance (65 miles), field testing the Benz Patent-Motorwagen. Her trip brought worldwide attention for the vehicle and got the company its first sales. (We actually see the 1886 Benz Patent-Motorwagen in the exhibit.)
The notes for the exhibit are fabulous: “In 1873, Harvard doctor Edward Clarke claimed that stimulating a woman’s brain would enfeeble her reproductive organs. Later, when automobiles were invented, it was a common belief that they were far too complicated for women to operate.”
Indeed, by giving women mobility, independence and an opportunity to demonstrate their capability, bicycles and automobiles were the “engines of change” that directly resulted in liberating women and winning the right to vote. Indeed, automobiles were even used in petition drives (we see examples of these cars and photos in the exhibit).
“Before 1900, few women would have had Bertha Benz’s access to an automobile. They did, however, gain greater geographic freedom through the invention of the safety bicycle in the 1880s…Early suffrage leaders credited the bicycle with doing more for women’s emancipation than anything else in the world. Women could more easily go beyond the limited areas where they could walk. This glimpse of a larger world appealed to many women and paved the way for embracing the automobile.”
“A girl who rides a wheel is lifted out of herself and her surroundings,” Ellen B. Parkhurst wrote ca. 1890. (Bicycles also paved the way for new, liberating fashion – bloomers, bicycle pants, and pants that converted to a skirt.)
“The bicycle did more for woman’s equality than anything” and automobiles further bolstered that. On the other hand, the notes say, “the 1917 Spanish flu almost put suffrage out of business.
Meanwhile, automobiles were designed to appeal to women – the electric automobile was clean, noiseless, and slow, versus the fast, loud, gasoline cars oriented to men. (Seal Cove Auto Museum, 1414 Tremond Road, Seal Cove, Maine, 207-244-9242, sealcoveautomuseum.org).
I spend a fair amount of time in the museum before heading out for the day’s mile ride, which takes us to charming coastal villages. A stunning scene is at Thurston’s Lobster Pound.
Another highlight is the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, the only lighthouse within Acadia National Park (one of the most photographed in Maine). I walk a beautiful trail to a rocky area below the lighthouse where you have to scramble over the boulders to get any view at all of the Lighthouse (the best view here would have been to get further down to the water, but it starts to rain again).
I continue riding, stopping to hike the Ship Harbor trail, pass by the Wonderland Trail, and ride into the scenic Seawall picnic area, where, we are told, Nor’easters have been so powerful, they spray the rocks onto the road.
Our ride ends in charming Southwest Harbor, where the van returns us to the Bar Harbor Inn.
Almost all the rides include Acadia on the Park Loop road and on the marvelous carriage trails.
Built so that horses pulling carriages would not be strained (we even see one of the carriages as it returns to the stables in the park), much like rail-trails, they are not particularly steep but are a bit steeper and hillier than rail-trails. A good portion of the rides are also on the roads which can have longer, somewhat steeper climbs.
There are 45 miles of gravel carriage trails in Acadia – the gift of philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. who wanted to travel on motor-free byways through the mountains and valleys by horse and carriage. Today, the opportunity to bike through forest is one of Acadia’s special draws.
Constructed between 1913-40, the roads were designed to preserve the line of hillsides and save trees, align with the contours of the lands, and take advantage of scenic views – hence the ups and the downs. Some 16 feet wide, they are in the style of broken-stone roads commonly used at the turn of the 20th century. Tom points out the magnificent architecture of the stone bridges that span streams, waterfalls, motor roads and cliff sides (there are 17 of them), the two gorgeous gate lodges, and the granite coping stones used as guardrails that line the roads (which Rockefeller complained were too precise, not natural enough), affectionately nicknamed “Rockefeller’s teeth.”
Tom and Cindy had to re-jigger rides almost on the fly because sections of the carriage roads (notably the Eagle Lake carriage roads) they normally ride are closed for re-construction after a major June storm (but we hardly noticed, though I had to almost sneak through a barrier to get a photo of picturesque Eagle Lake). Of the 47 miles of carriage roads, Tom estimates we bike almost half. (I try to imagine how I would have figured out where to go in Acadia without their route maps that say, “Sharp left onto Around-Mountain Carriage Road, Post #14. Stay right at Post #1, right at Post #20, left at Post #19, right at Post #18, Left on Post #13, Left on Post #11, straight at Number #6”)
Day 3’s ride also begins with us being ferried to the start – on the “quiet side” of Mount Desert Island, for a delightful ride along the scenic coastal Sargeant’s Drive, passing lovely “cottages” into Northeast Harbor, a quick visit to the Asticou Azalea Gardens before we enter Arcadia National Park and ride the Carriage Roads. We get to the renowned Jordan Pond House (famous for popovers, but the crowds are ridiculous) and here we can choose to take an 8.2 mile extension to Day Mountain, with a 694-foot elevation. (No one does the extension because there is some possibility of rain.)
Wednesday, Day 4, breaks up biking with a sensational day of kayaking and hiking. National Park Sea Kayak Tours does a marvelous job. We kayak about 6.5 miles, spotting harbor seals, porpoise, loons, bald eagles, and are back just in time for low tide which lets us walk the land bridge to Bar Island. (There is something very magical about a land bridge appearing every day, then disappearing back under the water, especially so when as we return, fog rolls in, blanketing the scene.). Walking back to the Bar Harbor Hotel, you see the same image as depicted in the historic photos, from the 1940s.
Day 6 (Friday), which is the getaway day, offers a mild 10-mile ride on the Duck Brook Carriage Roads, passing beaver ponds and the scenic Eagle Lake. I take my time, really taking in the landscapes.
But before, they have organized a ride up to Cadillac Mountain for sunrise, which means meeting at the van by 4:30 am (my phone dies and I miss the wake-up, but get up on my own at 5 am for sunrise, so walk along the shore path).
We have enough time each afternoon to really enjoy the historic Bar Harbor Inn (it dates from 1887), which hands down has to be one of my very favorite places to stay in Bar Harbor – luxurious but cozy, exquisitely landscaped, a stunning (heated) infinity pool with one of the prettiest views in the world, a spa, a dining room with picture windows out to the water where we have lavish breakfasts (and a choice to have continental-style breakfast in the pool house), magnificently poised on the point overlooking Frenchman Bay and the Shore Path, walking distance to Bar Harbor’s shops and restaurants, and all our rooms are oceanfront with a balcony (www.barharborinn.com).
Bar Harbor is bustling – some say it is the busiest summer in this popular tourist town since perhaps forever with people making up for last year and not taking a chance on putting off experiences – but we just breeze passed the crowds and the line of cars. Well, maybe “breeze pass” is an exaggeration. We pedal passed at whatever speed we can muster or choose. Also, because our lodging (in the absolutely gorgeous Bar Harbor Inn) and dinner reservations are booked well in advance, we have both when it is obvious that others, traveling on their own, do not.
Cindy, who is a history buff, regales us with wonderful insights into the places we ride: The interesting, if disturbing, history of American Indians on Mount Desert, the Wabanaki (“People of the Dawnland”), consisting of four distinct tribes—the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot – who had come seasonally to Mount Desert Island for 12,000 years to hunt, fish, harvest clams, berries and sweetgrass for basket-weaving. In the early 1900s, they had encampments on Bar Island and at West Harbor and sold baskets and goods and performed as Western Indians for tourists at the hotels. “They were allowed to stay because they had stuff the whites wanted,” Cindy says. She recommends visiting the Abbe Museum, which has a partnership with the Smithsonian Institution and holds the largest and best documented collection of Maine Indian basketry and contemporary Wabanaki craft tradition (abbemuseum.org). (I regret not having the time to visit.)
And before we head out on the Day 5 ride, which starts with a turn onto Schooner Head Road, Cindy tells the story of a woman who perished on Titanic. Her house, High Seas, on Schooner Head Road, may be haunted, Cindy says, relating her personal experience.
Everything about the Discovery Bicycle tour is topnotch – on three nights, we enjoy wonderful dinners in some of Bar Harbor’s best restaurants and for two of our rides, we are provided box lunches we pre-ordered to take with us.
The ride is billed as “easier to intermediate,” but it is best if you do not expect the rides to be easy or expect that “coastal Maine” has anything “flat.” There are lots of ups and downs – mostly short – and the rides are definitely do-able if you have the right mental framework (“I can do it.”) and the guides do their best to accommodate riders’ ability.
Coast of Maine is a particularly relaxing bike tour – because as much as I enjoy inn-to-inn (or supported camping trips) so that every day you are moving forward to a new destination, this trip spends all the nights at the Bar Harbor Inn. That means we don’t have to pack up each morning to get our luggage out to the van and no matter how thoroughly wet we get, we can luxuriate and relax in a heated infinity pool and hot tub. (Boat/bike tours have the best of both worlds).
A bike tour is also one of the best ways to enjoy traveling in these times of concern over COVID-19.
Notably, Thistle Cone surveyed all the tour participants as to our COVID-19 vaccine status and reported back to us that we were all fully vaccinated (which I appreciated knowing). A bike tour also maximizes our time out of doors, socially distanced; our hotel rooms all had our own access and really, the only times we were gathered together inside was for breakfast (if we chose), the morning meeting and the dinners in restaurants, which, notably, were also following COVID restrictions of distancing and capacity.
They are also monitoring and reacting to changes in conditions, for example, recently asking guests to wear masks in the van and where social distancing isn’t practical. “The good news is that your tour deposits are completely refundable (with no penalties for changes) until the final payment date. So you can reserve with confidence.”
There are still several departures of the Coast of Maine bike tour this season.
Also, Discovery Bicycle Tours offers what may be the first to design an itinerary on New York State’s new Empire State Trail, from the tip of Manhattan to Albany (the trail continues north to the Canadian border, and connects with the 353-mile east-west Erie Canalway).
In addition, Discovery has bike tours to Cape Cod; Idaho; Mickelson Trail & Black Hills, South Dakota; Tucson & Saguaro National Park; Lake Champlain Islands; Crater Lake & Scenic Bikeways; Texas Hill Country; as well as abroad including Bike & Barge Moselle River; Catalonia Trails; Chile’s Lakes & Volcanoes; Cotswolds & Stonehenge; and New Zealand Trails.
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
There is a mystery to be unraveled, as intriguing as an Agatha Christie whodunnit, but without the murder and mayhem: How were the 26 passengers on the historic Maine Windjammer, Victory Chimes, who came from as far as California, Utah, North Carolina, Virginia, and Pennsylvania connected? And who among us is the interloper, unconnected to anyone else? Is it coincidence or providence that brings us together?
The mystery provides marvelous intrigue during the course of the six-day cruise sailing from Rockland, Maine, among the islands of Penobscot Bay.
A windjammer cruise is as much about experiencing the thrill of the Great Age of Sail, when these mighty schooners sailed with the wind and waves to bring the timber, building stones and raw materials that built the nation – literally engines of the economy – as it is about reconnecting with the joys of simple pleasures as basic as conversation and song.
Song and storytelling, indeed, are the theme of this sailing (many Windjammer cruises have a theme or focus), which features music on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings by singer/songwriters Mike and Amy Aiken. And on another enchanting evening, several of us listen in as Mike and the multi-talented Chef Adam Travaglione (who is also a musician in addition to being a fabulous chef, raised in his family’s restaurant) compose a song honoring the legacy of the Victory Chimes. The Aikens have sailed up to Rockland on the boat they have lived on for the past 21 years from their homeport on the Chesapeake (a clue to solving the mystery).
Here in Maine are the largest concentration of these historic sailing ships in North America, nine of which are members of the Maine Windjammer Association, sailing out of Rockland and Camden.
Each has its own story, its own character. And each sailing is different, even on the same ship – the product of the serendipity and alchemy of people (passengers as well as captain and crew), weather (which often provides the drama, whether because of fog or squall), and where we wind up anchoring. There is no itinerary. The captain sets course following the wind, weather and whimsy.
Each afternoon, after we drop anchor in some cove or harbor, Captain Sam Sikkema, the newest owner/caretaker of the Victory Chimes’ 121-year legacy, gathers us around with a map, reviews that day’s route and tells us the back stories of the people and places where we have sailed. In the afternoon or the morning before we set out again, we tender to shore to explore. (Maine has some 3,000 islands and 7,000 miles of coastline.)
Deer Island; Little Island; Burnt Isle (privately owned, but we are allowed to walk a shoreline trail); Merchants Run – so named because of the deep water that accommodated the big ships carrying lumber, granite, cattle, which island residents would stockpile and sell to the bigger ships; Crotch Island – named for its notch – is half its original height because so much granite has been taken out to build buildings in New York City and federal courthouses.
We watch as fog literally rolls in and envelops the Victory Chimes anchored in Brooksville, as we tender back to the ship. Later, anchored in Pulpit Harbor on North Haven (which, Captain Sam tells us, was mentioned by the explorer Samuel Champlain in 1515 and the osprey nest on a rock that leads into the harbor), we again watch as fog rolls in, making everything around seem to vanish as if by magic.
The Victory Chimes – the largest in the Maine Windjammer fleet at 128 feet and the only three-masted schooner left in North America out of 4,000 built in the Great Age of Sail – was designed to be sailed by just three, which seems amazing considering how 10 of us line up to help haul in the line to raise the sail.
“Victory Chimes not only exemplifies the 19th and early 20th century development of large American wooden schooners intended primarily, though not exclusively, for the coasting trade on both east and west coasts, but she is the only surviving example of the ‘Chesapeake ram’ type and one of only two surviving examples of a three masted schooner in the United States.”
To give you an idea of just how big – and the challenge of keeping such a historic vessel sailing – the masts of Oregon Douglas fir are over 80 feet in height. “A straight tree 110 feet tall is required to get the necessary length a full 21 inches in diameter.”
There is a six-horsepower Sea Gear engine to raise the anchor (the same one that was installed in 1906 to replace the original donkey engine) but no propulsion engine, so now – as then – there is a yawlboat, Enoch, that pushes the ship when the wind is not sufficient. That innovation, indeed, is what made the Victory Chimes such a cash-cow for its original owner, who made back the $12,000 he paid to build her in 1900, in the first year.
Designed by JMC Moore, her stout build, simple rig and yawl boat made her one of the most profitable ships ever to sail. The Edwin & Maud (as it was originally named by its first Captain, Robert Riggen for his sons) was one of 30 “Ram” schooners – nicknamed for the way they “rammed through” the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal and through the sea. Victory Chimes is the last one.
The schooner rigging – as opposed to the square rigging of ocean-going ships – was a major American innovation that allowed the vessels to be nimble and fast, and operated with a minimal number of crew for maximum profit for the owner.
Cruising each day, we get to help raise the sails, but it is really a marvel to watch the intricate ballet of the crew performing physically demanding tasks – even daring-do – such as climbing those 80-foot tall masts to repair rigging, or snapping to with agility, strength and precision, to reposition sails and rigging to sail us out of the way of a storm.
Captain Sam or Chief Mate Tripp shout commands or signal with hand gestures and the crew calls back, “Ready throat, ready peak. Mainsail halyards hoist away.”
We pull rapidly, the line flying through our hands, until the line finally strains. Then comes the order to “Heave,” to which we respond “Ho” as two crew members pull down vigorously on their lines. Heave. Ho. Heave. Ho. Then, “Throat make fast. Peak make fast.”
And finally the call to “ease up” which is our order to take two steps forward followed immediately by the command, to “drop the line”.
Things get exciting – and we passengers just stand quietly out of the way, watching in awe and fascination – as the crew races to maneuver Victory Chimes out of the way of a squall. Captain Sam shouts out with urgency: “Hard left. James start the boat. Ahead 2000. Take in the mizzen. Take in the outer jib, then take in everything else. Bring James his foulies!”
Captain Sam navigates far south, tacking to avoid the storm. “The crew mustered the hell out of that squall,” he says later with a combination of pride and relief.
I love the language of sailing – “Scandalize the fore main;” “Cast the jigger right off” – and this description of Victory Chimes’ rigging: “The traditional ‘ram’ rig was a standing jib, flying jib, staysail (also called a forestaysail), foresail, mainsail and spanker (or mizzen), which Victory Chimes carries today. The heads of the fore, main and mizzen sails are supported by gaffs and the feet are laced to booms.”
(It’s amazing how many everyday expressions come from sailing: “Above board.” “Learn the ropes.” “Know the ropes.”)
The Edwin & Maud worked carrying cargo through World War I, the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression and World War II. By 1944, still sailing as a merchant vessel out of Baltimore, Edwin & Maud monitored the anti-submarine mine field at Chesapeake Bay and kept a sharp lookout for German U-Boats.
But then, mechanization of the war effort gave rise to bigger ships that made the old wood ships uneconomical. Hundreds were burned or just left to decay.
By 1946, the Edwin & Maud ended her career transporting cargo – lumber, mainly, but also salt, pumpkins, fish scrap for fertilizer or anything to pay the freight – and was converted into a new concept of “dude cruiser” by Herman Knust of Chesapeake Bay Vacation Cruises.
Originally, where the cargo hold would have been, are now 19 cabins (15 with two-berths, two with four berths and one each with a single and a triple berth) with the main saloon and galley.
In 1954, Capt. Frederick “Boyd” Guild brought the ship to the Maine coast and renamed her Victory Chimes after a Canadian coastal schooner he admired as a boy that had been launched on Armistice Day.
She survived a succession of other owners: A Minnesota bank president wanted to sail it on Lake Superior but couldn’t get certified (his own bank foreclosed). It was purchased at auction in 1987 by Domino’s Pizza and renamed Domino Effect. When Domino’s sold off its fleet, Victory Chimes was slated to be sent to Japan to be converted into a restaurant.
Captain Kip Files and Captain Paul DeGaeta, who oversaw the Domino’s restoration, purchased the vessel to keep her from leaving the country, changed the name back to Victory Chimes and returned her to the Maine windjammer trade. Maine’s Legislature welcomed her back with a special resolution.
In 1997, Victory Chimes was named an American National Historic Landmark under the Maritime Heritage Program of the National Parks Service, becoming one of only 127 vessels with that designation. (Apparently, though, historic vessels are not entitled to tax credits as historic landmarks.)
I had sailed on the Victory Chimes some years ago in the exciting annual Schooner Race with Captain Kip Files, who was her caretaker for 24 years.
Now Captain Sam Sikkema has the weighty responsibility of being Victory Chimes’ owner/caretaker. He acquired Victory Chimes in 2018 and had a great season in 2019 before being locked down by COVID-19 in 2020 – for perhaps the first year in its long history. PPP funding helped them stay afloat.
Captain Sam has had quite a sea-going career that began with sailing dinghies with his father on Lake Michigan. He has sailed around the world, on every ocean, in schooners, square riggers, training ships, yachts, fishing vessels and commercial vessels, as well as worked with maritime museums and shipyards as a carpenter and a rigger. Over the years, he sailed as crew on Niagara, Bounty, Sorlandet, Denis Sullivan, Californian, Red Witch, Nina, Robert C Seamans, Spirit of Bermuda, Alabama, Highlander Sea, Columbia, Victory Chimes and the 1841 Whaling Ship Charles W Morgan (serving as Captain Kip’s Chief Mate). He has been Captain of the sailing vessels Friends Good Will, Lynx, Tole Mour, Harvey Gamage, and the training ship Picton Castle, taking her across the North Atlantic Ocean four times. And he sailed the world with his cat, Fiji, who delights us with her antics.
“Of all the places I’ve sailed, my favorite place to sail is right here on the coast of Maine.”
“I am truly honored to be the new caretaker of this vessel and hope to bring new life to her while holding true to the authentic nature of the experience you have enjoyed in the past,” Captain Sam writes to past Victory Chimes passengers.
Cara Lauzon joins Mike and Amy Aiken for their Friday evening concert, when we are anchored in Rockland Harbor.
But on an evening when they aren’t performing, song spontaneously breaks out – starting with commercial jingles of our Baby Boomer youth, then going to popular rock and roll songs (Broadway musicals are not allowed).
For the “A” personalities on board (Sherman, who sailed his own boat up from the Chesapeake to come on this ship, crewed a sailing ship to Antarctica; Karen and Eric were next traveling to Alaska to fish, others share stories about biking trips in Europe), a windjammer cruise provides a rare luxury to just chill out. But each evening when we anchor, Sherman is first to take out the small sailboat (as is Captain Sam), Ed grabs the rowboat, and Glenn jumps into the water for a swim.
We scan the waters for seals, porpoises, birds. The photographers among us are constantly looking out for picturesque scenes to capture, reminiscent of the great seascapes of Winslow Homer and J.M.W. Turner and the Maine landscapes immortalized by the Wyeths (which we can see in the Farnsworth Museum, in Rockland).
Even in the rain it is pleasant on board – the crew puts out awnings so we can still stay on deck if we want and the Victory Chimes, the largest of the Maine Windjammers, with a capacity for 40 passengers, has a fairly large mess area, which doubles as a kind of lounge when it is not set up for dining, where it is pleasant to spend time reading in the evening. There is always coffee and tea, fresh fruit out and whatever dessert is left over from lunch or dinner.
Eating aboard the ships is one of the distinct pleasures. I can imagine a slight rivalry among the ships for best cook, and Victory Chimes cook, Chef Adam, would easily be among the winners, especially with his freshly baked everything (not too sweet or rich). Chef Adam prides himself on researching alternatives for people who have diet restrictions.
There is a routine to the day around food: coffee is brought up to the deck at 7 am; the bell for breakfast is rung at 8 am, precisely after the flags are raised. Lunch is served at noon. Appetizers are brought up to the deck at 5 pm (there is a cooler for you to store your beer or wine, but wine is served with dinner), and dinner at 6 pm. There is always coffee and tea and fresh fruit available. Meals are served family style – breakfast in the galley, lunch and dinner mostly served on deck.
While every windjammer cruise is different, there are certain constants – the feeling of being transported back into this Golden Age of Sail and the traditional lobster dinner. Some of the captains do it on a secluded beach; others, like Victory Chimes, serve on board (as elegant as eating lobster can be) but each one is an unmatched culinary experience of the freshest, most succulent and sweetest lobster in unimaginable abundance that spoils you for lobster forever.
The hours spent sailing are relaxing and chilling out – like a floating beach holiday – reading, playing games like backgammon, scrabble. A group is doing macrame (usually there are knitters or knotters). But a main activity is just chatting, which is key to solving the mystery of what brought all of us together on this particular cruise.
By the time we depart – having celebrated birthdays and anniversaries as if we have always been joined – Diana has thoroughly investigated and charted the connections, solving the mystery: Just about everybody – through college roommates, music, book club, Philly folk festival, sailing, childhood friendships, neighbors and family, is somehow directly or indirectly connected to the Aikens. Who is the interloper? Me. (See her diagram.)
You stay overnight on Victory Chimes at the dock before departing Rockland (giving me time to enjoy Rockland and an outdoor Blues festival). On return, you depart usually by 10 am, giving you time to see the sights in Rockland – the not-to-be-missed Farnsworth Museum of Art and Homestead (www.farnsworthmuseum.org); walk the three-quarter mile long breakwater to the Rockland Lighthouse, and visit the Lighthouse Museum. If you overnight in the area (there are lovely B’n’Bs like the LimeRock Inn where I stayed on a prior visit), visit the Owl’s Head lighthouse (www.lighthouse.cc/owls/) and the Transportation Museum, both in Owl’s Head.
Definitely make time to visit the Farnsworth Museum, an absolute gem of an art museum with an extraordinary collection of Wyeths – NC, Andrew and Jamie. Reopened after the COVID-19 lockdown, it is presently showing stellar exhibits (all on through December, except for “Parallel Visions”, an astonishing exhibit matching Andrew Wyeth’s paintings with George Tice’s photos, which ends in October to make room for the Farnsworth’s annual holiday display), showcasing Maine’s role in American art. Key exhibits include “Betsy’s Gift: The Works of N.C., Andrew, and Jamie Wyeth,” “Women of Vision,” “Betsy Wyeth, Partner and Muse,” and “Transforming the Ordinary: Women in American Book Cover Design,” (Farnsworth Art Museum, 16 Museum Street, Rockland, ME 04841, 207-596-6457, email@example.com, www.farnsworthmuseum.org).
For 2021, the Victory Chimes is offering 3, 4, 5, and 6-night cruises through Sept 28.
If Yellowstone National Park makes you feel you have fallen into some surreal, other-worldly, “I can’t believe this is real” state, next-door neighbor Grand Teton National Park, barely an hour’s drive away, is Mother Nature in her purest, most pristine condition.
We leave West Jackson, going through Yellowstone Park. We realize we will miss Old Faithful by just a few minutes so go straight to West Thumb again (Eric had missed it the day before), wanting to be immersed, again, in its calming Zen – with the broad blue lake and intense thermal pools. The hour of the day changes the experience, but West Thumb is marvelous.
Then we are off to the Grand Tetons. Less than an hour’s drive away, Grand Teton National Park is a majorly different landscape and different experience from Yellowstone.
Leaving Yellowstone National Park from the South entrance, we drive into the Grand Teton National Park on the John D. Rockefeller Jr Memorial Parkway, encompassing 24,000 acres. Rockefeller bought up the land to preserve it and donated 32,000 acres to the federal government.
Here, there are sweeping vistas to snow-capped mountain peaks. Indeed, the 2.7 billion year old rocks in the core of the Teton Range are some of the oldest in North America, yet the mountains are mere youngsters in the planet’s geology. Ten million years ago, the movement on the Teton fault generated massive earthquakes, pushing up the mountains while the valley floor dropped, then erosion and glacial action sculpted the landscape and created habitats for plants and wildlife.
We see this on display when we stop at the overlook to Mount Moran, which, the notes say, “reflects all the geologic forces shaping the Teton Range. Formed of a massive block of metamorphic gneiss, cut by dikes of igneous granite and diabase, capped by sedimentary sandstone and flanked by glaciers, this formidable peak dominates the park’s northern skyline. The gneiss and granite are among the oldest rocks in North America, 2.7 and 2.5 billion years old. They form the core of the Teton Range. The vertical ‘Black Dike’ of 775 million year old diabase is about 150 feet wide and juts from the mountain face because the surrounding gneiss has eroded away.”
We pick up a picnic lunch at a well-stocked market at the Colter Bay Village and drive to the Chapel of the Sacred Heart for a scenic place for a picnic (swim, also), stopping along the way for some of the iconic views of the park, like Mount Moran.
We head next to Jenny Lake, one of the most visited places in Grand Teton National Park for good reason. Tucked away at the base of the Teton Range, the lake is a centerpiece of the park. From the east shore, you have stunning views of Teewinot Mountain, Mount St. John, and into Cascade Canyon. From the west shore, you can look back across the lake towards the valley of Jackson Hole. Here you find the Jenny Lake Visitor Center, housed in the historic Harrison Crandall Studio, dating from the 1920s.
We opt for the most scenic hike, which proves to offer just the right amount of challenge, that takes us to the most impressive features – Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point (about 3 miles one way), with an option to either walk back, finish the loop (5 miles more), or take the shuttle boat (fee charged) from just below Inspiration Point back to the Jenny Lake Lodge.
The hike is absolutely gorgeous and fun – Hidden Falls, cascading 100 feet, is stunning, and the extra hike a half-mile almost straight up to Inspiration Point gets interesting with a rocky, sheer cliff as a special finishing touch to make you feel you have really accomplished something.
From here, you can connect with the Cascade Canyon trail, and we go in search of a spectacular view that is supposed to be just about the next bend, and the next bend, and the next.
Cascade Canyon, a glacially carved u-shaped canyon, passes between Teewinot and Mount St. John to provide easy access into the Teton backcountry. This out-and-back trail is a popular option with visitors who want to get into the mountains without gaining a significant amount of elevation. While following Cascade Creek, the trail provides spectacular views of the surrounding peaks, including the Grand Teton, Mount Owen, and Teewinot. This trail also provides an opportunity to spot wildlife like moose and bears (really recommended to have bear spray with you and we heard a harrowing story from a restaurant manager encountering a bear here), as well as some of our alpine species like pika. (We spot a marmot.)
The trail continues 4.4 miles back into the canyon before splitting but you can turn back, making the hike as long or as short as you like. (Cascade Canyon is accessible via the Jenny Lake Loop Trail, 14.6 miles roundtrip, or you can shorten the hike to 8.8 miles by taking the shuttle boat.)
David, Laini and Eric continue further on the Cascade Canyon trail while I return to Inspiration Point for our hike back down, deciding to take the shuttle boat back. (If you are planning on using the shuttle boat, check their hours and prices – we are told to be at the dock no later than 7 pm; tickets are purchased directly at the boat dock; you can also rent a kayak at the marina.)
We finish our day in Jackson, an absolutely stunning town that makes a great effort (and success) to keep its Western charm.
We manage to get a table on the outdoor patio at Roadhouse Brewing Co for dinner (sensational beer).
Our second day in the Grand Tetons starts with a photo safari, as we hunt for iconic photos of the Grand Tetons. Indeed, the layout of the Grand Tetons – those vast vistas with the backdrop of snow-capped mountain peaks – makes this area especially popular with photographers. (Actually, Jackson Hole is a base for one of the most iconic wildlife photographers, Thomas D. Mangelsen, who has a gallery in Jackson, Images of Nature, as well as several other marvelous galleries; you can also visit the National Museum of Wildlife Art, 307-733-5771, www.wildlifeart.org.)
So we set out to find the iconic places, pretty much following Route 89/191 before swinging back on the Teton Park Road. (Of course, the time to be here is sunrise when the colors are most dramatic, but we do the best we can with what we have.)
We head to the top photo site on everyone’s list, Mormon Row on Antelope Flats, and the most photographed barns in Wyoming, possibly the world (probably because it is billed as the “most photographed barn”): the Thomas Alma Moulton Barn with the pointed roof and John Moulton Barn with the rounded roof, in front of the towering Tetons. If you are really lucky, a bison or few may wander into view. The structures date back 1890s, built by Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints homesteaders. The best time is at sunrise.
Next is Schwabacher’s Landing – absolutely so picturesque. Here I am lucky to have the river calm and reflecting the mountain range. We walk a short distance and find a lovely spot under a tree to have our picnic lunch. I spot a beaver dam which is largely responsible for setting the scene, by damming up this branch of the Snake River and creating the ponds that let us photograph the reflection of the Tetons when the water is calm.
We continue on to the Snake River Overlook, a scene made iconic by Ansel Adams who was commissioned to photograph it for the National Park Service in 1941. His famous photograph showed the Snake River meandering through a pine forest, with the Tetons in the background, but in the more than 75 years since, pine trees have blocked a lot of the river bend so you can’t re-create the scene. Nonetheless, you feel you are channeling, or at least paying homage to Ansel Adams, when you shoot your own, using the filter to change to black-and-white for better effect.
Right at the Elk Ranch Flats, we get that iconic Wyoming image of a herd of bison in front of the snow-capped mountains.
The famous Oxbow Bend provides another great reflection of the Grand Tetons and Mount Moran in Snake River.
We next head over to the Signal Mountain road, off of the Teton Park Road, for the sweeping views of the valley from the summit.From here, you can see clearly the geology that controls the park’s natural communities, from valley wetlands to mountain alpine. The NPS notes describe how Ice Age glaciers periodically blanketed this landscape, last retreating 14,000 years ago, leaving behind river channels, outwash plains, glacial moraines, potholes, deep canyons and jagged peaks. Glaciers act like conveyor belts depositing rocky debris as ridges called moraines that contain rocks ground to the consistency of flour. Rock flour retains moisture allowing lodge pole pine forests to flourish. As glaciers retreat, blocks of ice drop to the valley floor and become buried in outwash gravel and when the ice melts, the resulting depression (pothole) forms a pocket of forest or wetland surrounded by a sea of sagebrush in the outwash plain. (This place is best at sunset, but then you would have to drive back down the steep, winding, narrow road in the dark).
Of course, the best photos are taken at sunrise and sunset – but that isn’t always practical, so you do the best with what you have.
After our photo/sights safari, we want to literally get into the swim of this exquisite wilderness. We head back to the Jenny Lake Lodge area to hike along String Lake trail, just north of Jenny Lake, which connects to Leigh Lake. Again, the scenery is just breathtaking -stunning views of the “Cathedral Group,” which includes 12,325-foot Teewinot Mountain, 13,770-foot Grand Teton and 12,928-foot Mt. Owen. At almost six-tenths of a mile we pass the Leigh Lake Trailhead. From here the trail continues to follow along the eastern shore of the narrow lake. We go purposefully to take in the gorgeous view of Mt. Moran, which, at 12,605 feet is the fourth highest mountain in Grand Teton National Park. It was named for artist Thomas Moran whose landscape paintings played a critical role in the creation of Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first national park (as we saw when we hiked the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone trail).
On the way back, we scout a great place for swimming in the glacial water (many of the areas have communal bear boxes for you to stow your stuff while you swim; we actually spotted some very large scat on the small wooden bridge). Refreshing. Brisk. Exhilarating. And the backdrop!
The town of Jackson is really fun, and so striking. The mountains come right into town (Snow King ski resort is right there); the National Elk Refuge is there (the herd seems to spend the summer elsewhere); an incredible network of bike paths take you all the way into the national park (there are many bike rental shops, plus City Bike which Eric and David used to explore).
We finish the evening in Jackson at Figs, a Lebanese restaurant (who would imagine!) at the swank Jackson Hotel (the meal is excellent), then wander around.
You can have a western musical dinner (“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and a saloon-style dinner at the Playhouse (Monday-Saturday, 307-733-6994, www.MTIShows.com.
Check out the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, a popular place for drinks, dancing and live entertainment since 1937, with an iconic vintage neon sign of a cowboy on a bronco.
The Elk Antler Arches that mark the four corners of Jackson’s historic George Washington Memorial Park (Town Square), is another iconic feature of Jackson. A stage coach makes a regular rotation around the square.
The next morning, we get to explore the town more, before I head out to the Jackson Hole Airport and David and Laini continue their road trip in their Subaru Forester they converted into a camper van, for points west.
We loved our stay at the Elk Country Inn, delighted with the accommodations (we booked months ago) that include two queen beds plus a sleeping loft with another queen bed, refrigerator, microwave, coffee maker, balcony, parking. The hotel also has an indoor/outdoor pool, laundry facilities (really appreciated), serves a lovely full breakfast, and is walking distance to everything, and a very short drive into the Grand Teton National Park. (Elk Country Inn, 480 West Pearl Avenue, Jackson 83001 WY, 307-733-2364).
(The Elk Country Inn is one of the Town Square Inns of Jackson Hole; the others are the 49er Inn & Suites, Antler Inn and Cowboy Village Resort, 800-4-TETONS, townsquareinns.com).
We split our stay among three hotels, staying two nights in each – in Gardiner, West Jackson and Jackson – researching and booking on hotels.com and booking.com. We appreciated the ability to cancel reservations (sometimes a special rate is nonrefundable, but most bookings on hotels.com can be cancelled for free) which gives us the ability to modify our itinerary. Seeing all the “no vacancy” signs everywhere we went confirmed we were clever to book early, especially this year when travel is resurging and the national parks top the list.
Whitewater Rafting Adventure in Big Sky
Between Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton, we spend a day in Big Sky, Montana, to go whitewater rafting on the Gallatin River, with Geyser Whitewater Expeditions.
We take the half-day (three hours) rafting trip on the Lower River, which affords “the most exciting” part with class III-IV rapids. Indeed it is. There is very little floating, most of the time being splashed, bumped, soaked and generally thrilled as you go through rapids with names like Screaming Left, Straightaway, House Rock and down the Mad Mile. Much of the setting is scenic, under the rock walls, but much is also alongside the road. The rafting is really fun, and our guide, Clay Kincer, is excellent – competent (most important), funny and informative and clearly enjoying his job. They rent the wetsuit as a separate charge (usually recommended).
There is also an Upper Whitewater trip, with Class II-III rapids (not as rough but you get some good soakings), and a scenic float (class I-II gentle cruise).
The company, founded in Big Sky by Eric Becker in 1992, also offers Adventure Zipline Tour; Nature Zip Tour (a half-day rafting and a pass to the Zipline Adventure Park), whitewater kayaking, and an Ousel Falls bicycle adventure (46651 Gallatin Road, Gallatin Gateway, MT, 406-995-4989, www.raftmontana.com)
We set out on the second full day in Yellowstone National Park to see its climatic attraction with the dramatic name that seems to come out of the 19th century: The Grand Prismatic. Indeed, it was named by geologists in 1871 for its striking coloration, mimicking the colors created by a prism dispersing white light into red, orange, yellow, green, and blue.
But though we are in a hurry to get to the Grand Prismatic as early as possible (because of the anticipated crowds), en route, we stop off at another site with the intriguing name, Artist Paint Pots. To be candid, after the spectacular sights of our first day in Yellowstone (Mammoth Hot Spring, Norris Geyser, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone), this place was a bit underwhelming, but you get close to puckering bursts of bubbling goo, spots of color that look a little like boiling paint, and little spits of steam, which Laini dubs “random boiling earth.”
We also encounter a herd of bison on the road.
Grand Prismatic Hot Spring
The Grand Prismatic Hot Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin is the largest hot spring in the United States and the most photographed thermal feature in Yellowstone National Park, thanks to its surreal colors and enormous size – 330 feet in diameter and more than 120 feet deep.
The striking colors are produced by thermophiles – microorganisms that flourish in the extremely hot water. Each band of color is a different collection of thermophiles, because they have specific ranges of temperatures in which they can live.
This easy 1.6 mile boardwalk trail overlooks the hot springs – but there are places where there is nothing between you and the Grand Prismatic (so be especially careful of children). (Since this trail is one of the most popular places in the park, weekdays and early mornings are the best times to visit).
Excelsior Geyser Crater is the other major feature in the area. Once an active geyser, Excelsior Geyser blew itself up and now is a 200 x 300 foot hot spring sitting in a crater. It discharges an impressive amount of water, at the rate of more than 4,000 gallons per minute.
From here, we drive to the trailhead that leads to the Fairy Falls Trail, but cuts off to an observation platform that looks down at the Grand Prismatic, so you can see it in its extraordinary entirety. We decide not to hike the trail and travel on, actually in search of a swimming hole that Eric knows. (https://www.nps.gov/thingstodo/yell-trail-fairy-falls.htm)
We turn off to a gorgeous two-mile drive through a canyon along the Firehole River with a gorgeous view of Mystic Falls. The swimming area is actually closed, but we go further on to a place where people fish but folks seem to have commandeered for swimming – just above where the water begins rushing to the falls.
It’s a short drive further on to the Old Faithful area, just as the world-famous geyser is shooting up in air.
Old Faithful Geyser is one of the most famous geysers in the world and the most renowned feature of Yellowstone. What is so remarkable is how predictable the eruptions are – averaging 94 minutes plus or minus 10 minutes – based on the duration and height of the previous eruption, hence the name. (The National Park Service publishes the time for the next expected eruption, https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/geyser-activity.htm; allow time to find parking and get to the geyser). There must be a thousand people gathered around a wide semi-circle to watch.
Old Faithful averages an eruption of 130 feet into the air, lasting 90 seconds to 5 minutes, shooting out 3,700–8,400 gallons of water. Water temperatures have been recorded at 203°F at the vent, which is above the boiling point of water at this elevation.
This is not the only hydrothermal feature to see in the area. In fact, Old Faithful is just one of hundreds of hydrothermal features in the Upper Geyser Basin, including 150 geysers—four that are even more predictable than Old Faithful—within one square mile, plus hundreds of hot springs. An extensive trail and boardwalk system provides up-close views of many of these features, and connects to nearby Black Sand Basin and Biscuit Basin.
The historic Old Faithful Inn, built in 1904 using native wood and stone, is an attraction in itself with a very surprising architecture inside. The architect was Robert Reamer, who set an architectural standard for luxury accommodations in the park that blended with the landscape. He designed more than 30 Yellowstone projects between 1903 and 1937, 18 of which still grace the major areas of the park.
With COVID-19 restrictions still in place, a guy in front is counting off 35 people to enter at a time; a woman controls capacity entering the gift shop. We get ice cream and make our way to a terrace overlook to Old Faithful. This is our rest stop to get us to the late afternoon, when we plan to drive through Hayden Valley, the other most popular place (besides Lamar Valley) where wildlife are most likely to come out to the watering holes.
(Yellowstone park’s lodges and campgrounds, including Old Faithful Inn, Old Faithful Lodge Cabins, Old Faithful Snow Lodge, Canyon Lodge and Cabins, and Roosevelt Lodge Cabins are managed by Xanterra, 307-344-7311, www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com).
We head over to West Thumb, which proves to be a total surprise.
West Thumb is a caldera within a larger caldera formed after a powerful volcanic explosion 174,000 years ago that caused the earth’s crust to collapse. The depression produced by the volcano later filled with water to become this large bay of the Yellowstone Lake, the largest lake at high elevation in North America.
There are active hydrothermal features on the lake bottom here and elsewhere in the lake, which cause stunning ripples and patterns in the water.
Perhaps because it is late in the afternoon, and all is so still and quiet (and West Thumb isn’t as crowded as Grand Prismatic or Old Faithful), I feel an incredible tranquility here at West Thumb. The predominant colors – blues and greens – are so calming, so Zen.
West Thumb Geyser Basin is the largest geyser basin on the shore of Yellowstone Lake, but what is most interesting is that we see hydrothermal features that lie under the lake, too. The heat from these features can melt ice on the lake’s surface. I overhear a Ranger say that early visitors would catch a fish, then cook it over the boiling cone, appropriately named Fishing Cone.
Here, too, there are the stunning colors in the pools produced by thermophiles – those heat-loving microorganisms.
Yellowstone Lake has 131.7 square miles of surface area and stretches roughly 20 miles long by 14 miles wide. It also has 141 miles of shoreline. At its deepest, it reaches 430 feet though it averages a depth of 138 feet. It is the largest lake at high elevation (above 7,000 feet) in North America.
The lake’s main basin is part of the Yellowstone Caldera, which was formed 630,000 years ago. West Thumb was formed by a later, smaller eruption, 174,000 years ago. The arms of the lake were formed by uplift along fault lines and sculpting by glaciers.
Framed on the east by the Absaroka Range, Yellowstone Lake is considered the heart of Yellowstone. Its waters are the lifeblood for a large network of plant and animal communities including trumpeter swans and moose that thrive on the aquatic growth in shallow waters along the shore; trout which live on zooplankton living in these waters; cutthroat trout that are food for pelicans, otters, eagles, black and grizzly bears, and other wild life.
And just as we round the turn on the way out, we spot a deer feeding at one of the pools, oblivious to the people watching. Laini had just commented that the scene didn’t look real but like one of those enhanced reality apps, and then we spot the elk, so graceful, so uncaring about our presence, drinking. Laini dubs it “Narnia Pond.” It truly seems enchanting.
We have now reached the best part of the day for wildlife viewing. So we head off to the Hayden Valley, considered one of the best places in the park for wildlife (Lamar Valley, which we drove through on our way into Yellowstone, is another.) for what proves to be a photo safari.
Sure enough, we spot a bear, a mule deer, a fox, a coyote. The trick is to watch where others have stopped and look where they are pointing – we come upon a large group and just catch the last patch of black of what we are told was a mother bear with two cubs going back into the forest.
We arrive at a promontory where a line of serious photographers have staked out a place with their tripods, binoculars and massive lenses, communicating sightings by walkie talkies. One spotter sees a family of wolves – but it is 1 ½ miles out.
Hayden Valley is covered with glacial till left from the most recent glacial retreat, some 13,000 to 14,000 years ago and is marshy today. The valley has historically been the major location of the bison rut (mating season), though recent trends have seen the herds move north to the Lamar Valley. Grizzly and black bears are often seen in the spring and early summer. Coyotes and wolves are also seen in the valley.
On the south end of Hayden Valley is Mud Volcano, a hydrothermal area rich in features that let off a “rotten egg” smell from hydrogen sulfide gas.
It’s about an hour’s drive from Hayden Valley in the center of Yellowstone, to the town of West Jackson. We get the last rays of sun and a sunset. By the time we get to West Jackson, where we have booked the next two nights of our stay, it’s after 9 pm, and Eric has staked out restaurant reservations at Madison Crossing, housed in what was West Yellowstone’s first school, built in 1918.
Then it’s on to our charming cabin accommodations at the Elkhorn Country Inn and Cabins, which we found on booking.com. A plaque tells the story how our cabin was restored and repurposed from historic cabins that was used to house US Army troops from 1886-1916. The cabins were moved around until ending up at the hotel’s property in the 1950s. The owners preserved and reused the wood – 100-year old floor boards were used for the headboards – and even found old military fatigues used as insulation. The hotel serves a pleasant continental breakfast (excellent coffee).
Elkhorn Inn & Cabins is located just a few blocks into the park but with the popularity of West Jackson, bustling tourist town, loaded with charming restaurants and shops, this West entrance is much more crowded, with a line up of cars that extends for blocks. Patience.
(Elkhorn Inn & Cabins, 29 Gibbon Ave, West Yellowstone, MT, 59758, 307-733-2364, 800-246-8357)