2013 … A Dream Year

angel  004What a year!  We traveled a total of 9,448 miles in Island Girl, from Florida to Maine to Canada, then south and west reaching Arizona by the end of the year.  We visited 18 states and 4 Canadian provinces.  In October we reached a couple of milestones:  one year of fulltiming and one year of blogging.

Whew!  Here’s a month-by-month recap of our dream year:

January – visited with friends and family in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale.

February – stepped back into nature at Everglades National Park.

March – a nice long stay in Funky Key West for ocean fun and an awesome air show.

April – a busy month: first north and west to the Gulf Coast of Florida for more family time, then back east to the John F. Kennedy Space Center and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, north to St. Augustine, and north again to the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia and the low country of South Carolina, and finally to Atlanta to see old friends.

May – visited the Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Washington, D.C., then ended the month in New York City and upstate New York where we visited more family and friends.

June – a quick stop in Boston and then on to beautiful Maine.

Here was our route for the first half of the year.

July – crossed the border into Canada on the 1st, and spent the month in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.  Discovered absolutely astounding people and places.

August – visited idyllic Prince Edward Island, buggy Kouchibuguac National Park in New Brunswick, then over to Quebec to the gorgeous and oh so French Gaspé Peninsula.

September – visited the St. Lawrence River in Quebec where we saw an amazing number of whales and concluded our fantastic Canadian summer in charming Quebec City, then crossed the border back to the U.S. to enjoy the beautiful Vermont autumn.

October – continued leaf-peeping in Vermont, then began our westward journey with stops at Niagara Falls, then Cincinnati, Ohio, Louisville, Kentucky,St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri, visiting friends and family along the way.

November – a stop in Denver, where the journey began, to get annual checkups for all and check in with friends and family.  Then south to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

December – another busy month.  Traveled around New Mexico, south to Albuquerque, then further south to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge and Las Cruces, then crossed the border to Arizona and ended our most unforgettable year in Tucson.

And here was our route for the second half

Some things we learned:

We ran a little hot this year, with an average stay of 8 nights at our 45 stops, not complaining, it was fabulous, but we’d like to slow it down a bit this year and try staying longer in each place.

We set a goal of no more than four hours driving time between stops and for the most part kept to it; averaging 185 miles per trip, but a couple of the trips were still way too long.

denver  038We stayed too far north too late into the year, and plan to head south earlier next year to avoid frigid cold and snow (although the falling snow was beautiful).

Crossing from the east coast to the west coast really took a toll on us, we were tired puppies by the time we reached Denver, and plan to stay in the West next year.

Our planning paid off in some fabulous campsites, on the other hand, we discovered that it’s best to have a balance of planned and unplanned stops.

Re-connecting with family and friends, and making new friends along the way has been one of the most important parts of our journey.

NYE2014  002And we learned to be grateful each and every day, we are so fortunate!

We wish you all a very Happy  and Healthy New Year in 2014!

~ Brenda, Hector and Angel

Falling Leaves in Southern Vermont

arlington vt  066arlington vt  004We stayed in the town of Arlington in Southern Vermont on our last week in the area.  Again we headed south in order to chase the peak colors.arlington vt  015

Along the way, we saw more beautiful covered bridges, we never got tired of seeing them.  In total, we saw dozens of covered bridges all over the state.  So charming.arlington vt  053arlington vt  008arlington vt  054

arlington vt  011There was a corn maze/garden store near our campground.  It was a little one for kids, but I’d never been in one and wanted to see it, and Hector humored me. arlington vt  009

So we just had a silly time, drinking cider from the farm, walking around the maze and looking at all of the Halloween characters throughout the property. Somehow we escaped without being eaten by the dreaded Pumpkin Rex!

arlington vt  041arlington vt  039The cloudy days continued, and many of the colors were muted.  After the storm and more windy days, we found a number of areas that were ”post-peak” – with many bare trees and leaves on the ground.  But we continued to chase the colors, heading further south on various drives, on one occasion crossing over into Massachusetts.

arlington vt  026arlington vt  018arlington vt  027

We visited another farm, the Merck Forest and Farm Center.   It’s a non-profit organization with  a 62-acre farm a 3,100 acre managed forest.  The center offers demonstrations, apprenticeships, workshops and school programs. arlington vt  016

Visiting the farm is free, and many of the buildings are open to the public.  The farm center has 30 miles of trails and allows primitive camping anywhere except for the trails for $5 a night, and also has some cabins that they rent.  They make organic pure maple syrup and offer other farm fresh products.  While visiting, Angel met a sheep and some piglets.  She was just fascinated.  She was especially interested in the chickens and bunnies, who ran for cover when they saw her.  
arlington vt  021

We hiked along one of the trails to a beautiful view of the Adirondacks.

arlington vt  028

After the farm, we stopped at an interesting building with a sign out front saying “The Roy Egg Shop”.  We weren’t quite sure what it was or whether it was open, then the proprietor, Mr. Roy Egg, came out and welcomed us in.  He’s a longtime artist and gallery owner and the building is his farmhouse style gallery.arlington vt  030arlington vt  031

Mr. Egg had a nearby road named after him – “Egg St.” in honor of his chicken paintings and woodcuts.  He also has a prize-winning painted egg archived in the White House Gallery.arlington vt  032

arlington vt  033He is a very colorful person and took time to tell us about the building (several hundred years old), his paintings (he’s done landscapes, lots of chickens and some other animals), the Vermont/New York border (it runs through his house!) and other fun stuff.

arlington vt  034arlington vt  036When we left, I asked him for a recommendation for some good local cheese, and he recommended a farm down the road that makes some award winning cheeses.  Consider Bardwell Farms had an open barn door on the property with a refrigerator that was stocked with cheeses for sale. arlington vt  035arlington vt  037

Purchasing the cheese was set up as an honor system asking people who took cheeses to leave cash or a check in a cash box.  There was also cut up cheese in the refrigerator for people to taste.  And they were wonderful cheeses.  We bought three types.  Then we visited a while with the goats at the farm.

arlington vt  001And where would all of this farmland be without tractors.  We found an incredible antique tractor collection on a large piece of land in the area with a convenient road that drove alongside the various vehicles.arlington vt  044


arlington vt  040

arlington vt  051The southwest area of Vermont around Bennington had more beautiful farms rustic buildings.  One pretty scene after another.arlington vt  052arlington vt  055arlington vt  047arlington vt  057

arlington vt  062arlington vt  061The last place we visited was Okemo, a small ski area.  Hector actually skied there after a business trip in the 80’s.  We had a picnic halfway up the mountain and drove to (almost) the top.  Once again the trees at the top were already bare.arlington vt  068

arlington vt  067So even though we did not see peak colors in Southern Vermont it was still really beautiful.

And we learned that peak colors are very elusive; you don’t “catch” the peak, the peak catches you.

~ Brenda

Where to next?

Where to next?

Chasing the Peak in Vermont

randolph  046randolph  097Continuing on our leaf peeping quest, we headed to central Vermont.  Our plan was to “follow the fall south”.  The Lake Champagne campground in Randolph Center had beautifully manicured grounds and a lovely view of the mountains.

randolph  096randolph  061The weather was quite variable while we were in this area.   And one day the tail end of Tropical Storm Karen came through with monsoon like showers and strong winds.

But we also had several sunny days.randolph  060

randolph  043randolph  031On Saturday, we headed back to Montpelier, the capital of Vermont, for their farmers market.  This time we took Angel to the market which was another really good one.

Lots of organic produce, grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, more great cheeses and maple syrup and LOTS of varieties of apples.  And Angel got some nice roast beef – yum!randolph  033

randolph  052We toured around some more along the beautiful roads of Vermont and saw more charming covered bridges along the way.randolph  003randolph  025

And, of course, many scenic little towns along the way.  Each with at least one pretty little church.randolph  079randolph  073


randolph  068randolph  067Then more covered bridges.  It’s incredible how many of these bridges there are.

One local I met while she was photographing a bridge shared that this year Vermont has not had as many red trees as they normally have in this area – she said the red color was at about 75%.randolph  022

randolph  017The conditions needed in order for the most intense colors to be revealed include:  rain in the spring and summer (which she says they almost got too much of), then a series of clear, sunny days and cooler temperatures (night and/or day) in the fall.  This fall there has been quite a mix of cloudy and sunny days, and the weather has been warmer than usual.randolph  004randolph  044randolph  029randolph  009randolph  049randolph  013randolph  005randolph  056randolph  071randolph  012randolph  023randolph  015randolph  072

randolph  026With all of this farmland, there are many very interesting and rustic barn buildings around.randolph  006randolph  058randolph  057randolph  024randolph  059randolph  055

While Hector was photographing yet one more covered bridge, a bunch of cows appeared.  They are rotated from one field to another to maintain the fields and so the cows can always get some fresh grass.  The guy that was herding them called out to each cow (there were about 30) by their individual name!randolph  019randolph  020

randolph  018randolph  021

And, speaking of cows, we visited one more farm, Sugarbush Farm.  They make maple syrup as well as cheese.  There we learned quite a bit about the process of making maple syrup.randolph  011

randolph  094Vermont is the largest producer of maple syrup in the U.S.  Maple syrup is considered Vermont’s first agricultural harvest of the year and is considered “seed money” for many farmers who use the sale of their maple products to purchase seeds to plant when the weather warms up and help keep their farms going.

randolph  095The production of maple syrup is a sustainable activity and one that keeps the beautiful maple trees in the state – approximately 25% of the trees in Vermont are sugar maples.  Lucky for us since they are so beautiful in autumn.randolph  083

randolph  048randolph  047Vermont was the first state to pass a law to establish purity and quality regulations for maple syrup, and their syrup is 100% natural.

It takes four maple trees, at least 40 years old, to yield enough sap in six weeks (40 gallons) to produce one gallon of maple syrup.  No wonder it’s expensive!

Then on to another ski town,  Killington.

We brought Angel along, and stopped for a short hike down the Queechee Gorge on the way there.  It’s a smaller gorge but pretty scenic with lots of trees and fallen leaves along the way.randolph  062randolph  066randolph  064

randolph  089randolph  090randolph  091

One more stop along the way was the town of Woodstock, which had some cute little shops.   Here we discovered the Vermont Flannel Co., which had nice quality flannel clothing.  I bought a robe to prepare for the colder weather we’re about to experience the next few weeks.  Very warm and furry.randolph  070randolph  069randolph  085randolph  087

Killington is a pretty large ski area (for Vermont).  The trees at the bottom were very pretty but the top was definitely post-peak.  Peak colors are very elusive.randolph  081

Killington was getting ready for the Killington Hay Festival to be held that weekend, yet another fall festival.   People from various businesses construct animals out of bales of hay to display in front of their storefronts.  There were some pretty elaborate ones.

While driving around we stumbled upon a wedding inside of a covered bridge!  There were people on both sides directing traffic and asking cars to drive by as slowly and quietly as possible.  What a romantic idea to have a wedding in a covered bridge.randolph  054

Next, Southern Vermont.

At this time, we’re in Kentucky headed towards Denver via Kansas City, and catching up on blog posts.

~ Brendarandolph  053

The Farm and the Museum

shelburne  013Two great places to visit while in Burlington are the Shelburne Farms and the Shelburne Museum.  Both are located in Shelburne (on the outskirts of Burlington), and are separate entities but there is a family connection that links them.shelburne  003

Because I’ve lived in cities all of my life, I’m very interested in farms, how they are run, what the day to day life is like etc.  I’d read that the Shelburne Farms was an interesting place to visit, and convinced Hector to go.shelburne  005

We took a guided tour of the farms (you can also tour the property via various walking trails).  This tour takes you around the property on a wagon pulled by a tractor, pretty charming.  And the tour guide provides information about the farms’ interesting history.shelburne  004shelburne  006shelburne  008shelburne  009

In a nutshell, 3,800 acres of land, located on the shores of Lake Champlain was purchased in the 1880’s by Dr. William Seward Webb and his wife, Eliza ‘Lila’ Vanderbilt Webb, who had inherited $10 million from her father, William Henry Vanderbilt.

They’d planned to create a model agricultural estate and their plan was initially a success.  In addition to a horse breeding facility, the property had a dairy, a pheasantry, a piggery, yachts, golf links, 25,000 square feet of greenhouses, state-of-the-art electrical and communications systems, and hundreds of employees.

Around 1910, the farm operation began to shrink, and the couple’s heirs (Dr. and Mrs. Webb’s children) struggled to make it profitable.  They sold and leased various parcels of the land.  As they continued to struggle to maintain the estate and pay taxes, they considered selling some parts to big companies.

At this point, their children (Dr. and Mrs. Webb’s grandchildren) came up with a plan to create a non-profit, which they founded in 1972.  The remaining 1,400 acres of the farm are now used for conservation education “to inspire a sense of stewardship around the environment”.

shelburne  012shelburne  011The organization offers education programs for students, teachers and others.   Children of all ages can learn about sustainability and their connection to the natural and agricultural world.  Much of the land is under conservation easements, and there have been various renovations and rehabilitations of the buildings.

shelburne  002The non-profit is funded through tours such as the one we took, sale of the (delicious) cheese made on the farm, the gift shop, the inn that is now located on the original family residence and the programs.

shelburne  010The tour includes a partial tour of the inn and its grounds and provides an insight into their cheese making and their programs.

One of the children’s programs has the children harvest vegetables from the garden, milk the cows and make cheese, grind wheat berries and make dough, then make a pizza with their fresh ingredients.

The grounds of the farms are lovely and have a gorgeous view of Lake Champlain.   A fascinating place.

In 1913, James Watson Webb, the oldest of the four children of Dr. William Seward Webb and Lila Vanderbilt Webb, married Electra Havemeyer.  The couple received the southern portion of the Shelburne Farms estate as a wedding gift.

shelburne  074shelburne  014Electra (great name!!) Havemeyer Webb founded the Shelburne Museum at this location.  Electra’s parents had been collectors of European and Asian art.  Electra became a collector in her own right, but with a focus on American art and architecture.  The Shelburne Museum “is one of the nation’s finest, most diverse and unconventional museums of art, design and Americana”.

shelburne  104shelburne  075Electra collected 18th and 19th century buildings from New England and New York and relocated more than 20 buildings to Shelburne to house the museum collections.  The museum has a total of 38 buildings (25 are historic) housing 150,000 artifacts.

We decided to visit the Shelburne Museum after reading about it on fellow fulltimer, blogger, island girl and new friend, Mona Liza’s blog.  She and her husband visited the museum this last summer and wrote an intriguing post about it.

The collections are truly amazing and include:shelburne  015

shelburne  029About 225 carriages and horse-drawn vehicles from the late 18th to the early 20th centuries, including a Conestoga wagon, a wide variety of sleighs, a “school bus”, stagecoaches and farm and trade vehicles.

shelburne  023shelburne  016A 1946 gift of 28 elegant carriages from the estate of Dr. and Mrs. Webb was what prompted Electra Havemeyer Webb to create the Shelburne Museum.

The barns where the carriages are housed are also quite unique:  one, a 1901 80-foot diameter round barn, is one of only two dozen built in Vermont, the other, a horseshoe-shaped barn, completed in 1949, was modeled after a unique horseshoe-shaped dairy barn in Georgia.  It’s 283 ½ feet long and 32 feet wide.

We’ve never seen such a complete cross section of carriages and sleighs with all their different uses. Formal ones, sporty ones, public transport, business uses.  It is also interesting to note many design details that carried forward into the age of motor vehicles.

Then there is an exhibit devoted to the golden age of the circus in America.  The horseshoe-shaped building that houses the collection was conceived in 1950 and constructed on site in 1965.  Its unique shape was purposely adapted to the artifacts it contains.

shelburne  031shelburne  042The main display that runs the length of the building is of a hand-carved miniature Arnold Circus Parade, measuring 525 linear feet. It’s carved on a scale of one-inch to one-foot and is the equivalent of one of the two-mile long processions that used to travel routes up to ten miles long.

shelburne  048shelburne  057This miniature recreates the pomp and pageantry of the extravagant processions that once heralded the arrival of the circus during the Golden Age of the circus between 1870-1950.  It took the artist 25 years to create with the help of five assistants.  Wow!

shelburne  032

shelburne  046The building also houses antique circus posters and a complete set of beautifully restored carousel figures.

shelburne  061And an intricate 3,500-piece miniature three-ring Kirk Bros. circus, which is considered a masterpiece of American folk art.  A brakeman for the Pennsylvania railway created it during his work breaks for his four children.  He used a simple penknife and foot-powered jigsaw and spent forty years to complete it!

shelburne  030There is an operating vintage 1920s carousel outside.  Something about carousels brings back happy memories of my childhood :).

shelburne  086shelburne  088Then there is the Ticonderoga, a 220-foot Lake Champlain steamboat that’s a National Historic Landmark.  Electra had not intended to collect a steamboat, but she was persuaded to save it from the scrap heap.    And she spent millions relocating it to the museum and renovating it to its 1923 glory.

shelburne  089What was fascinating to us about the Ticonderoga was how luxurious it is.  The boat was basically a ferry that made day trips across Lake Champlain from various points in Vermont to various points in New York.  But it existed during a more glamorous era.

shelburne  092The woods, fabrics and other materials are luxurious.  The Ticonderoga is the last walking beam side-wheel passenger steamer in existence.

Thank you, Electra for rescuing and preserving this beautiful example of another era.

A railroad exhibit with a 1915 10-wheel steel locomotive, a fully equipped railroad station and telegraph office and a private luxury railcar used by Dr. Webb and tons of other railroad themed items.

A log cabin designed to resemble an Adirondack hunting camp.  It contains lots of game heads, hunting trophies, woodcarvings, and Adirondack-inspired furniture.

A fully stocked general store with a barbershop, post office and taproom and an Apothecary Shop with patent medicines (still contained in the flasks) and medical equipment.  Amazing!

The Electra Havermeyer Memorial Building – furniture, art, even original molding from the founder’s New York City apartment were relocated to a faux house built for the purpose of showcasing them.  Some excellent old west bronzes were on display in one of the rooms.

An antique toy collection.shelburne  099

shelburne  103A weaving and quilting display.shelburne  102

shelburne  106shelburne  105They even had a covered bridge!shelburne  077shelburne  078shelburne  076

We spent almost an entire day at the museum and didn’t see everything.  For example, we didn’t see the firearms collection which apparently is pretty extensive.  And we missed a number of art, furniture, and decorative arts collections because we simply ran out of time.

shelburne  073We left right at closing.  The tickets to the museum  are good for two days, and, even though we managed to see quite a bit in one day, we can certainly understand why!

~ Brenda

Vermont’s Champlain Valley

burlington  076Okay, it’s official.  We LOVE Vermont.  Granted, she is wearing her beautiful autumn petticoat, but it’s not just the beautiful mountains and quaint towns we love, it’s the people and the vibe.  Huge focus on the environment and a pervasive local food movement.burlington  042

We stayed at North Beach State Park in Burlington.  From our campsite, we could walk to the “beach” at Lake Champlain, overlooking the Adirondack Mountains in New York.

burlington  036burlington  035Burlington is a college town and has been called one of the most livable small cities in the U.S.  Downtown has lots of restaurants, bars, art galleries and shops.  There’s also a pedestrian mall with more shops, street vendors and performers.  And of course, there is the waterfront at Lake Champlain.burlington  034

burlington  071burlington  012As we went for one of our leaf peeping drives in the area, we found more of the charming covered bridges that Vermont is famous for.   In fact, Vermont has the largest number of covered bridges in the United States, there are just over 100!  Sadly, during Hurricane Irene two years ago, two covered bridges were destroyed and many sustained some type of damage.burlington  070burlington  013burlington  021burlington  065burlington  066burlington  064

burlington  041burlington  063But back to Burlington.  We toured the town, located the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shop 🙂 and did a little shopping,burlington  031

The next day we went to the farmers market, a good size market with lots of great food.   Lunch options included Peruvian, African, Indian and others.  And we found more great cheese and many options from local farms that focus on sustainability.  Many of the offerings were organic as well.
burlington  033burlington  032burlington  062burlington  046

That evening, we went to that most traditional of Vermont activities:  the reggae party cruise ;-).   We noticed announcements about the cruise at the farmers market.  It sounded like a one time deal, as opposed to the typical tourist cruises, and was featuring a singer who was “actually from Jamaica”. We love being on the water and we love reggae, so it was a perfect combination.

We realized that the party was going to take place not on a regular tour boat but on one of the car ferries that goes over to New York – interesting.  It had been raining on and off since we arrived in Vermont, but fortunately, this was a perfect afternoon for a sunset cruise.  Clear and calm. burlington  037

burlington  043And so we set off with lots of college students and a few other older fogies like us. Well, as a genuine island girl I must say the reggae music was just ok, but the setting was fabulous.  We watched the sunset from the party ferry, had a few rum punches and danced.  A great time.burlington  052burlington  050burlington  045burlington  044burlington  055burlington  053burlington  051burlington  048burlington  049

burlington  059

burlington  081We continued our leaf peeping by driving out to some other areas near Burlington, including Stowe, a very well known ski area.  The back roads of Vermont are stunning.  We often would just turn down a random road to see what we would find and more often than not would be rewarded with a beautiful scene.  burlington  068burlington  019burlington  025burlington  080burlington  003burlington  067

burlington  020burlington  008burlington  001burlington  026burlington  011burlington  079burlington  009burlington  083burlington  002burlington  088burlington  028burlington  085burlington  029burlington  086burlington  005burlington  077burlington  007burlington  084burlington  010burlington  017burlington  018burlington  075burlington  069burlington  073The weather was variable with some sunny days and some cloudy “white sky” days.  But the fall leaves were stunning just the same.

And we found more of those beautiful covered bridges.  Why were these bridges covered anyway?

burlington  014burlington  006There are theories that they were covered so the horses wouldn’t get spooked when they realized they were above flowing water, or to protect the flooring from snow.  But the real reason is that they were covered to protect the structural members – the trusses.  That is why most have lasted so long.

burlington  022burlington  082burlington  015And another thing, the covered bridges were sometimes called “kissing bridges” because couples could kiss in private.  So Hector and I decided to stop the car in the middle of one of the bridges that had a sign saying “kissing bridge” and kiss.

A woman was driving to the bridge from the other side and, rather than getting irritated at having to wait, gave us a big thumbs up.  I love Vermont.

~ Brendaburlington  089

Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom

vermont NEK  109When I heard that there was an area of Vermont called the Northeast Kingdom, I knew that I had to go there.  It just sounded like a fairy tale.  It’s located, of course, in the northeast corner of the state and is the most undeveloped area in Vermont.vermont NEK  018

vermont NEK  001vermont NEK  003We had a lovely campsite by the Moose River in St. Johnsbury (Moose River Campground … imagine that).  We’ve come to really appreciate the smaller, privately owned campgrounds.  Many of these campground owners are very proud of their campgrounds and keep them immaculate and nicely decorated.  Much appreciated.

Moose River Campground had several really nice antique tractors that were still in use around the campground.vermont NEK  004

vermont NEK  060St. Johnsbury is the largest town in the Northeast Kingdom, by population (over 7,000).   We arrived just as the leaves were starting to turn, which was our intention, since we planned to be in the state for a month.vermont NEK  005

On our first day we took a nice drive around the area and stopped in at Dog Mountain, 150 acres of privately owned land on a mountain stop nearby.   The artist Stephen Huneck, who made beautiful paintings and carvings of dogs, usually black or golden labs, bought the property and turned the barn into a studio space.  During a near death experience, Mr. Huneck was inspired to build the Dog Chapel on the property.  It opened in 2000.

vermont NEK  010vermont NEK  006I was not prepared for the impact that the Dog Chapel would have on us.  As we walked in, the first thing we noticed was that the walls were completely covered (more than once over) with notes and photos memorializing dogs.  Combined with the beautiful place, stained glass windows and wood carvings designed by the artist, it took our breath away and made us choke up.  What a wonderful inspiration.vermont NEK  009vermont NEK  007

Sadly, Mr. Huneck commited suicide a few years ago, after financial problems forced him to close down some of his galleries and lay off a number of employees.  His wife, Gwendolyn, committed suicide earlier this year.  The chapel now memorializes them as well, making it even an more impactful place.vermont NEK  008vermont NEK  016vermont NEK  017