We headed to Black Bear Campground (https://blackbearcampground.com/) in Florida—Florida, NY that is, in Rockland County. We stayed here several times previously as weekend RVers, and it was the location of Mom’s very first work-camping gig!
The park has several amenities like swimming pool, activity center and playground for the kiddies, hiking paths, and a fishing pond. During the summer months, it offers a bus tour to New York City with a seasoned guide for an extra fee, a convenient way for first-time visitors to get an overview of the City without the stress of driving in themselves. But the Park, like others close in proximity to major cities, does not come cheaply: $80/night or $480/week are the discounted rates (FMCA/Escapees/Good Sam/AAA) for the back-in sites. They offer no monthly rates. So that’s a lot of cheese money, especially since it is not of the same caliber as Cherry Hill Park outside Washington, DC, which has similar prices. But logistically, Black Bear Campground turned out to be a godsend. You see, as we were driving, we noticed that the engine fan on Big Boomer, our International Durastar 4400 medium duty truck, was running constantly, and it was getting increasingly more difficult to hear our own voices. Oh, no, not good. Thank goodness Arkel Motors (https://arkelmotors.com/) in New Windsor, NY, said they could look at it at our convenience. We opted to get ourselves settled in at Black Bear that afternoon and bring the truck in the next day.
While Dad awaited Big Boomer’s diagnosis the following day, Mom and I caught up with campground friends. She introduced herself to this season’s work-camping crew at Black Bear. And since she kept in touch with Park owner Rita, Park Superintendent Frank, and fellow work-camper Genie, she enjoyed the opportunity to chat with them all in person rather than via phone/text/email as she had done since 2013. I am particularly fond of Genie. Despite her petite stature (I am almost as tall as she is!), she is a dynamo! From planting trees to arranging flower gardens, she has a knack for botany. And as a true animal lover, she has a heart of gold. Speaking of animals, some of my own past acquaintances popped over to say hi, too!
My pal Genie
Some of Genie's gardening talents
My campground friends...
Turns out Big Boomer’s medical treatment entailed a new engine fan clutch—to the tune of $3,000 (God only knows how many cheese squares that equals)! But these are the trials and tribulations for which you must be prepared when entering this nomadic lifestyle. Despite what some folks may think, full-time RVing is not necessarily more economical than traditional housing (case in point, this RV park costs nearly $2,000 if you want to stay for a month in a back-in site). And it is important that your budget can handle the costly pitfalls of repairs/maintenance. Of course, the part we needed was not in stock. So, we were required to return when the part arrived from the supplier the following day. Arkel Motors were true to their word, received the part as planned, and installed it expeditiously. Arkel Motors is a top-notch outfit with outstanding customer service.
After we left Arkel Motors, we took a scenic drive along Route 209. As we passed through Ellenville, there was quite a bit of commotion. Turns out an early morning fire destroyed the local auto dealership at which the HBO series, "I Know This Much Is True", is filmed. I looked for Mark Ruffalo or Juliette Lewis to get an autograph, but alas, no celebrity sightings for this rat.
We continued our scenic drive into Ulster County, to visit brothers Brian and Eric Ellsworth, who own Rip Van Winkle Campgrounds (https://www.ripvanwinklecampgrounds.com/) in Saugerties, NY. Comprised of 160-wooded acres, I think this is one of the most lovely, family-oriented, privately-owned full service campgrounds I’ve ever stayed at in this Northeast Corridor. You get the true experience of camping in nature, yet have all the amenities you need and want: Wi-Fi, cable TV, and secluded, spacious sites. And plenty of good old-fashioned family fun, from a swimming pool, arcade, hay rides, and even a remote-control car track. Not to mention all the special events like Christmas in July, where the entire park gets decorated, or the coolest Halloween funhouse ever! The brothers are carrying on the work started by their grandfather, who founded the campground in 1966. It’s a special place, and Mom was proud to be part of their work-camping team in 2014.
It was also wonderful visiting with Bonnie Schroeder whose family owns Brookside Campgrounds (http://properties.camping.com/brookside-campground-ny/overview) in Catskill, NY. This is one of the only campgrounds in the entire Tri-State area open year-round with winter water sites available. It is very kid-friendly with easy access off Route 32. The Schroeders are personable folks who extended many kindnesses to us when we stayed at their Park in 2014, and with whom we have remained in touch.
Bonnie showing us her efforts to support The Daffodil Project, dedicated to raising awareness of the horrors of the Holocaust
The Hudson River Valley, in which these two campgrounds reside, offers a wide array of activities, cultural events, and tourist attractions, and we visited many wonderful places on our prior stays. A small sampling of first-rate experiences include Storm King (https://stormking.org/), 500 acres of sculptures, hiking trails, and special exhibits; a tour of Saugerties Lighthouse on the Hudson River (https://www.saugertieslighthouse.com/), which acts as a bed and breakfast--how cool is that!; Hunter Mountain (https://www.huntermtn.com/), at which we hiked and snow-shoed in winter (no skiing for this rat and his family) and attended Oktoberfest, a German-Alps festival that now offers free admission; and the Motorcyclepedia Museum (http://motorcyclepediamuseum.org/).
Finally, we got a day in New York City. Having lived in NJ all our lives until we began our full-timing lifestyle, and with Dad working in the City for a good portion of his career, we have done all the traditional sightseeing and cultural events, from the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center to The Guggenheim and The Cloisters, from the Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy to a visit to Chinatown, from seeing the Rockettes at Radio City to viewing Broadway plays (you get the drift). So, we opted for an excellent alternative to the typical tourist attractions: New York City Slavery/
Underground Railroad Tour (https://insideouttours.com/tours/nyc-slavery-underground-railroad-tour/).
The tour originates outside the National Museum of the American Indian (https://americanindian.si.edu/), another free-of-charge Smithsonian building. The building was once the US Customs House, erected in 1907 when the US was becoming an economic powerhouse. The Museum itself is of interest, and I want to go back to see more exhibits since we had limited time this particular day.
Damaras Obi, our guide for the New York City Slavery/Underground Railroad Tour, is an impressive orator and knowledgeable historian. She doesn’t just spew dates and facts in a boring fashion. Instead, she presents a cohesive narrative, using background info, historical context, and visual aids to give a full perspective on the issue of slavery in New York City. You won’t find this kind of insight in our traditional history books. This tour is a unique, intriguing, educational experience, and it receives one of my coveted 5-cheese awards!
Speaking of 5-cheese awards, we ate dinner that evening at our all-time favorite steakhouse, Benjamin Steakhouse on 41st Street (https://www.benjaminsteakhouse.com/). Dad was one of the restaurant's very first customers, bringing clients as well as Mom here regularly. So, everyone there, from owner Benjamin, to chef Arturo (who worked previously at Peter Luger, another iconic NY steakhouse), to wait staff (all are attentive, but Rickey is exceptional), treats us like family. But don’t think we are special, because the folks at Benjamin Steakhouse indulge everyone like this, whether first time visitors or long-time patrons. One thing unique about Benjamin’s is its consistency: it treats its staff well, hence, many staff members (like Rickey) have been there for years; its customer satisfaction has always been a priority; and the quality of its food, particularly its aged beef, has never diminished. From the first time we dined here 11 years ago, it has been a 5-cheese rated experience. No wonder Benjamin is on various “Best Steakhouses” lists and has won a Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence Award for multiple years. The porterhouse steak for two, cooked medium rare, is TO DIE FOR, with its filet so tender, you can cut it with a spoon! I know what you are thinking—how does steak conform to Dad’s plant-based diet? Well, Dad cheats RARELY, saving his chips for a big payday—and this was it! So, if you want a place with ambiance, excellent food, and exemplary service, look no further: just go to Benjamin Steakhouse (and if you don’t believe me, read their reviews)!
Dad with Rickey, an exceptional member of the Benjamin staff, who treats us like family.
We spent some time walking the City streets, perusing the Farmer’s Market at Union Square, smelling the wonderful flowers on Florist Row, and admiring the gardens at City Hall. I even made some new friends! It was a very busy and tiring, but extremely fun day!
Gardens at City Hall
This adorable guy (not me, my friend) and the ladies in the window are a great marketing maneuver. Who wouldn't go in to shop at a store with such attractive models.
Alvin was goofing off somewhere, so I joined Simon and Theodore in enticing folks to come inside this particular shop.
Since we have visited Black Bear campground and its surrounding areas several times, we wanted to go somewhere we had never been before. So we opted to visit Sterling Forest State Park in Tuxedo, NY and hike within the Doris Duke Wildlife Sanctuary. Named for the billionaire tobacco heiress, the Doris Duke trail winds through heavily wooded areas. We went on a weekday morning, and we were the only ones on the trail, though it was a bit wet and buggy. The trail is well marked. Yet, somehow we managed to get lost, not once, but twice! How, you ask? My nitwit parents were yapping and consequently missed turnoffs at intersecting trails, which resulting in quite a bit of backtracking. Nevertheless, it was a nice hike, complete with streams, mountain rock, and a gradual elevation change. There is a rock outcropping that gives a panoramic view of the area.
View from the outcropping
The town of Florida, NY, has some cool shops, like Werner’s True Value, one of those family-owned hardware stores that have everything you could possibly need, from paint to patio furnishings to mousetraps. We picked up a pot and soil for the new cherry tomato plant we purchased at a local church sale. If you like Polish foods and delicacies, there is Florida Bakery and Deli. We didn’t eat here this visit, but have done so in the past, and Dad says the homemade pierogies are just like his Grandma made.
We took a day trip to go to the gravesite of my Grandma and Grandpa. It has been 5 years since I had a chance to say hi, place some blooms, and tell them how much I love them. I only knew Grandpa about a year from the time Dad rescued me from the toy store to the time Grandpa passed. Although Grandpa was sometimes Grumpy, I had a way of always getting a smile out of him. Grandma was a huge part of my life. She cuddled me and tucked me in to bed every night. She even added to my wardrobe, buying me a pair of pajamas! I miss them both terribly, but I know they are residing in the heavens, their shining stars serving as my beacon, giving me comfort and guidance.
Well, it is time to venture to our 6-week volunteer gig at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Basking Ridge, NJ. I’ll tell you all about it in another post. Talk to you soon!
We would like to thank the following organizations for all the great service and support they offer to the RVing community: