Saturday, September 7, 2019

Exploring Vermont - Part 1

Our volunteer gig at Vermont’s Button Bay State Park presented us with lots of free time to explore.  And explore we did, starting with a walking tour of the town of Middlebury and enjoying the views of Otter Creek.  Otter Creek is not really a creek at all--it is Vermont’s longest river!  And it has a small water fall right in the center of town.

Chartered in 1761, Middlebury offers the quaintness of colonial New England with its historic inns, churches, and Green combined with the modern conveniences of major grocery stores, gas stations, and fast food joints.  In fact, Middlebury is home to A & W, Vermont’s only remaining burger joint with car-hop service (and one of only a handful left on the entire East Coast.)  Having never experienced an
A & W before and wanting to help A & W celebrate its 100th annivesary this year, we were compelled to stop for a root beer and some greasy food.  Mom and I shared some fries and onion rings.  Dad, trying to stay on target with his whole foods/plant-based diet, ate a black bean burger.  The best thing about our visit to A & W was meeting Dylan, a 6-year old Siberian Husky.  He sat so rigid and still, I thought he was a stuffed toy like me—that is until food was delivered.  Then he became a persistent, perky pup!

Dylan, with one blue eye and one brown, looks as rigid as a stuffed toy!  

With a namesake liberal arts college in town, Middlebury is steeped in culture and arts.   I visited unique galleries and gardens, and I even took some selfies with “Gravity”, a giant elephant sculpture that came to reside outside the town offices just earlier this year.  The College has a telescope/observatory.   On select Wednesdays during July and August, the College invited the public to do some star gazing, and I was happy to oblige!  We viewed Jupiter and its moons, Saturn and its rings, and some nebulae that I had never heard of before and can’t remember now.

With its curvy mountain roads, spectacular views, and courteous drivers who allow you to enter traffic and who generally follow the State speed limit of 50 mph, Vermont offers incredible motorcycling opportunities.  And we took full advantage of traversing the many scenic byways, clocking in nearly 2,000 miles over the course of our stay!   We were told by several folks to “definitely go” to Lincoln Gap for some great riding. What we weren’t told was that there was a 2-mile ascent on a heavily-pot-holed all-gravel road.  It was a white-knuckle moment for Mom and a bit anti-climatic for this stuffed rat, since I did not think the riding matched our adventures on Iron Mountain Road in the Black Hills of South Dakota or the Tail of the Dragon in Deals Gap, North Carolina.  Nevertheless, we did enjoy that day of riding interspersed with hiking.

Testing out the new Go-Pro on the road to Lincoln Gap.

Interestingly, despite all the pastures, fields, farms and woodlands, we did not see many deer during our stay in Vermont (nor were there many deer crossing signs posted on roadways.  I often wonder how deer know they are supposed to cross the road where the signs are posted!)  Anyway, not seeing deer was definitely a good thing when we were doing motorcycling at night, but perplexing to me, nonetheless.  

While we are on the topic of motorcycling, we certainly had to visit Wilkins Harley-Davidson in Barre, Vermont’s oldest Harley-Davidson dealership.  Founded in 1947 by Harry Wilkins, the dealership is still owned and operated by three generations of Wilkins, including Harry’s spry 90-year-old widow, Barbara.    It was fun speaking to her and hearing her reminisce about the dealership’s early days.  Barre has a nice, old-fashioned downtown.   So, after making our purchases at Wilkins, we grabbed a quick lunch at Subway since they have veggie patties available to fit in with Dad’s whole-foods/plant-based diet.

One of the benefits of volunteering with Vermont State Parks is getting free access to State parks, museums, and historic sites in Vermont.  We maximized these perks, visiting a different State Park each week of our stay.  From Daughters of the Revolution (D.A.R.) and Kingsland Bay, to Smugglers Notch, Branbury, and Mt. Philo, each State Park we visited has some unique feature and provides a great day outdoors.  For example, D.A.R., is quite small with few amenities, so it offers a more intimate, quiet camping experience; Kingsland Bay has some hiking trails along the bluffs and cliffs and a lovely homestead in which you can hold special events.

Sunset at D.A.R. State Park

Kingsland Bay State Park

My favorite of those visited, however, is Mt. Philo.  Established in 1924, it was Vermont’s first State Park.  It offers only camping, picnicking, and limited hiking, but it boasts some fantastic panoramas of the Champlain Valley.  Though only a short distance to the summit (3/4 mile), the trail’s 538-foot elevation change provides a robust hike and an easy way to accelerate your heart rate.  This, coupled with some rocky cliffs and ledges that can get slick when wet, is probably why the app “All Trails” rates it as moderate.  But reward yourself with the breathtaking views and a well-deserved rest on the Adirondack chairs that dot the summit.  I was amazed to learn that Mt. Philo (as most of Vermont in general) was once covered by water about 11,000 years ago!  As I read the etching on a building, I decided the poem "Good Timber" imparted some wise words of wisdom.  What do you think?

We should all strive to be like a mighty tree!

The Shelburne Museum is another wonderful place to which you gain free access as a volunteer for Vermont State Parks.  This place is Americana at its best!   The Museum consists of 45 beautifully-landscaped acres of historic homes and structures, like the masterfully-restored Ticonderoga, one of the last passenger cargo steam ships built at Shelburne Shipyard.  The museum is home to pottery collections; collectible dolls; historic guns; folk art; antique quilts, samplers, and appliques; original Chippendale furniture pieces, and an array of other unique artifacts.  I particularly loved seeing the intricate wood-carved Noah’s Ark.  (Hey, how come I don’t see a pair of rats in this Ark replica?  I’m gonna need to speak to management about this faux pas!) One of my favorite exhibits is the Circus Building.  It has life-sized carved animal figures, circus advertising posters spanning 100+ years, and 4,000 miniatures depicting a circus parade!  Talk about talent!  I also enjoyed immensely the special exhibit, “Outside In” by William Wegman, in which the artist combines photography and three-dimensional art.  True ingenuity.  The Shelburne Museum provides a terrific  outing for the whole family and earns one of my coveted 5-cheese awards!

Someone had lots of time, patience, and talent to make this.

No rats in this replica Noah's Ark--a major faux pas by the artist!

How cool is this stair runner!

Life-sized carved animal figures on right and the miniature circus parade on left.

Speaking of cheese, we found Fiolino’s Pizza was within walking distance of the Museum.  Mom and I would have loved diving into a “normal” pizza.  But Dad’s “Happy Cow” app informed us that Fiolino’s has vegan pizza (Rats!).  I must admit, I did not have high expectations for its taste.  But boy, was I pleasantly surprised.  It was the perfect blend of fake cheese (non-dairy, made from cashews), veggies, and tofu crumble.  Delicious AND satisfying.  I award 5 (Fake) Cheeses to Fiolino’s for their vegan pizza!  By the way, Fiolino’s is BYOB.  But right next door is Fiddleheads Brewing Company.  You can order your pizza at Fiolino’s but eat it with a cold brewsky at Fiddleheads for the best of both worlds.

Not bad looking and quite tasty for vegan pizza!

New York and Vermont connect via The Champlain Bridge.  We stopped at the nearby Lake Champlain Visitor Center early in our stay, and found the staff and Hoss, the Center’s blind boxer mascot, to be friendly and helpful.

Hoss may be blind, but he doesn't let his disability get him down.  What a pleasant host!

We learned that the original Champlain Bridge, completed in 1929, provided a 90-foot clearance for steamboat stacks.  The bridge was replaced in 2011, and unfortunately, nothing but a single steel pier of the original bridge still exists.

The view from our Go-Pro as we rode over the bridge.

At the base of the bridge in Vermont is Chimney Point, home to the Abenaki tribe of Native Americans before the French established a buttress there in 1731. Consisting of 30 soldiers, the fortification’s mission was to protect France’s southern border in the New World, which it did until 1737, when the French built Fort St. Frederic on the New York side of the Lake. France now recruited civilians to settle on the lands of Chimney Point.  Settlers were enticed by free bread and free milling of their grain.  Chimney Point was the site of several conflicts, between Britain and France as well as between The Patriots and the Brits during the Revolutionary War.  After the Revolutionary War, Chimney Point was the site of a tavern, and you can visit the portion of the building  where the tavern once stood, perhaps feeling the spirits of its famous guests, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

Representation of the tavern visited by Jefferson and Madison.

At the base of the bridge in New York is Crown Point, where you can see the foundations of the French Fort St. Frederic along the Lake’s shoreline.  During their conflict with Britain, the French actually burned down their own Fort St. Frederic rather than let the Brits get their paws on it.  No twisted knickers for the Brits, though—they built their own fortress on the narrows in 1759 at a slightly higher elevation.  Named Crown Point, it housed 4,000 men at its peak.  However, it never saw any direct attacks and served more as a staging site for the Brits.  Crown Point succumbed to a fire in 1773, leaving the main fort in a bit of a shambles.  The Brits, having already defended their position against France in the New World, saw no reason to rebuild the main fort.  Instead, they left a skeletal crew there, quite fortuitous for the Patriots’ Green Mountain Boys, who were successful in capturing cannons and artillery from the Fort for use during the Revolutionary War.  Having lost the Revolutionary War, the Brits left the fort in 1780.   It deteriorated over the years, leaving only a fraction of the original structure to see today. 

Where France's Fort St. Frederic once stood.

The remains of Britain's Crown Point, with the Champlain Bridge in the background.

We also visited Fort Ticonderoga in New York (known as Fort Carillon during the French and Indian War).    This site is operated by a private non-profit organization; hence the steep entrance fees.  Good thing my parents look much older than their actual ages--they were given the Senior Rate of $22/person.  Stuffed rats like me quality for the children’s rate of $12/person.  The good news is that you get access to the site for 2 days with your ticket and the ticket also includes a visit to Mt. Defiance.  Fort Ticonderoga is on a peninsula with views of both the Green Mountains and the Adirondack Mountains.   Therefore, everyone vied for its strategic location, from the French to the British to the Patriots.  The museum offers several interpretive programs like demonstrations by the resident oxen.  These beasts of burden worked hard back then and still do now!  The Fort housed many interesting artifacts.  I particularly liked the exhibit that highlighted the contents of soldiers’ and officers' food rations during both the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War.   I was horrified and saddened to learn cheese was never on the menu!

The site also contains The King’s Gardens, which had some beautiful heirloom horticultural specimens.

This butterfly really enjoyed this garden.

Can you spot the peregrine nest on the left side of this photo?

We really enjoyed participating in the Captain-A-Ship Maze Quest, whereby we had to locate 8 different stamp stations within a corn maze to complete our game card.  At one point, Dad got separated from Mom and me and I had to rescue him, wasting my valuable time.  But I accomplished my mission and added my autograph to the Successful Quest Bulletin Board.  It was nearly closing time, so we used our ticket the following day to finish touring Mt. Defiance.  Though Mt. Defiance offered some nice views of Fort Ticonderoga, photo ops of the summit were less than stellar due to cell towers and power line obstructions.

Aerial image of corn maze

Aerial view of the corn maze courtesy of Fort Ticonderoga website

Can you see my autograph on the Successful Quest Board?  It always contains a self-portrait.


View from Mt. Defiance....

...of Fort Ticonderoga

Modern obstructions in the background (plus Mom's lousy photography skills--don't tell her I said that) ruined this photo of the summit.

We visited the actual town of Ticonderoga to grab lunch.  While there, we learned about their hydroelectric project and about the manufacturing process of a Dixon Ticonderoga pencil.  You would be astonished at how complex it is to make a good old #2 pencil.

Dad with some giant Ticonderoga Pencils

We visited Burlington on several occasions via motorcycle.  Burlington is a cool place, a combo of Lake Champlain waterfront, urbania, and a touch of country ambiance.  We learned all of Burlington’s electricity is produced through renewable sources (wind, solar, hydro).  It certainly helps that most folks are using wood for home heating purposes.  We strolled the Greenway through Waterfront Park, where vendors and crews were setting up for one of several upcoming summer festivals.

We did a few miles on the 14.5 mile Island Line Rail Trail, too, which lead us to the hidden gem, Rock Point (We had to backtrack, having missed the cutoff the first time).  Owned by the Episcopal Archdiocese, we were required to get special use passes to enter Rock Point.  The passes are available on-line free of charge and must be in your possession when you walk along the 2 miles of designated trail within the 130-acre Church property.   From sand to scraggly rock, the trail brought us to the Lookout, a high bluff from which we watched folks swimming, diving, canoeing, and wakeboarding.  I had a spiritual moment at the sanctuary in the woods, thanking the Man Upstairs for creating such a diverse, magnificent universe!  We stopped along North Beach, and I noted how the coarseness of the sandy shores of Lake Champlain differ greatly from the beaches of NJ that we revisited earlier this summer.

During one visit to Burlington, we partook of an early lunch at The Skinny Pancake.  It specializes in crepes and touts the availability of “breakfast all day”, though when we arrived, they were sold out of several breakfast options.  On another day, we ate at Henry’s Diner, which has been a Burlington mainstay since 1925.  This was like a New Jersey diner, where you could get anything from a tuna fish sandwich to a juicy steak to Greek Souvlaki any time of day.  Maybe its diverse menu came with the building—the original diner was purchased from an owner in New Jersey!  The Skinny Pancake and Henry’s Diner both provided options for Dad, so we all were happy with our meal selections.

The decor in Henry's--definitely old school diner!

Burlington is a college town, so it has quite an active night life.  My old fart parents (after taking a late afternoon nap) ventured to Club Metronome on a night it featured retro music from the 80s and 90s.  Glad they had a good time ‘cause riding the motorcycles home in the pouring rain at 2 a.m. could definitely have put a damper on things.  Serves them right--trying to be young!

Lots of night life on Main and Church Streets, with Church Street closed to vehicular traffic.

No visit to Vermont is complete without touring the Vermont Teddy Bear Company.  The place is well worth the nominal entrance fee.  Buddy, the first handcrafted Vermont Teddy Bear was “born” in 1981 and was designed to look like Groucho Marx.  Needless to say, Buddy was WELL received and the business evolved considerably.  Today, this factory manufactures 750 bears a day and welcomes 50,000 visitors annually!  There are literally hundreds of different bears from which to choose—astronauts, brides and grooms, skiers, even Zombie bears!  There are limited edition bears like the Woodlands Santa Bears being offered in 2019, or you can customize your own special bear.  Each bear consists of 20 pieces of fur that are cut and sewn.  Peak season is Valentine’s Day, when the employee count goes from 150 to 1,500!  Vermont Teddy Bear Company is very community-minded, offering all Vermont 4-year-olds a free Teddy.  They also design special “Bears That Care” wherein a portion of the sale price of these distinguished bears goes to a specific charity (Make-A-Wish, Shriners’, American Legion, just to name a few).  And bears come in a variety of sizes, too.  I look quite miniature to some of these teddies!  As a matter of fact, a huge Teddy Bear made of hay sits outside the factory late in August.  It is designed by Wyatt Vincent of VT Bale Creations, a local landscaper dedicated to raising awareness and much needed funding for various charities.

Buddy Bear, designed to resemble Groucho Marx.

What a cute couple!

This guy is an Amazon!

Do these bears make me look fat?

Vermont Teddy Bears are guaranteed for life; therefore, they have a busy medical center.

Huge Teddy Bear made of hay from VT Bale Creations.

We attended the 98th annual Champlain Valley Fair.  I found it unusual that of all the rural, pastural towns in the Champlain Valley, the Fair is held in Essex Junction, which is quite a developed area.  Despite the odd setting, it was great fun.  I saw lots of fine-looking fowl, and never knew there were so many types of cows.  We quietly observed a mama pig settle in with her 7 offspring, born just 2 days earlier.  This year’s new food item—deep fried bubble gum!  Our main attraction was tickets to our first Demolition Derby.  What a hoot!   Why is it we are all so obsessed with destruction?

The fair was faring well with attendance.  Parking lot and grandstands were packed.

Work-camping opportunities are available with this traveling company!

Additionally, most of the towns within the Champlain Valley offer farmers’ markets and band concerts during the summer months.  We checked out several, starting with Bristol, Vermont.  A band has performed a free concert in their Green every summer for the last 150 years!   We purchased tickets ($7/person) for a performance by the LCD Jazz Band at Braedon’s Town Hall.  Featuring “Swing Through the Years”, audience members of all ages, from senior citizens to youngsters to high school students from a nearby music camp, got on the dance floor.  How refreshing to see multiple generations having good old-fashioned fun TOGETHER!  We attended several farmers’ markets at Vergennes, Vermont’s smallest city in size AND population, and many of the  vendors actually had produce!   The city also sponsored Vergennes Day, featuring music, games, food, and crafts.  We enjoyed listening to “The Hitmen”, whose diverse repertoire included covers by Van Halen to Darius Rucker.    

It was at Vergennes Day that I met Aaron the Stuffed Dog.  His parents had him tied to a signpost with a $20 price tag on him!   What did he do to tick them off?  

It makes me wonder what will happen to me when my parents die.  Will I be left at the curb, too?  Perish the thought!  I'm awfully cute and lots of fun.  Can I count on YOU to adopt me?

We would like to thank the following organizations for all the great service and support they offer to the RVing community:

Escapees RV Club


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