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.

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

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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


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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

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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

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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

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.
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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

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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

vermont NEK  019After visiting the chapel and the gallery with Angel, we drove over to Montpelier, the capital of Vermont.  Montpelier is also the smallest capital city in the United States – charming.

vermont NEK  025Next we took a tour Ben & Jerry’s Factory, located just outside Montpelier.   I must confess that I never tried Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.  I’m not sure why, but I was always more of a Hagen Dazs kind of girl. vermont NEK  021

Anyhow, the tour was great fun, and the story of these two guys, who built this ice cream empire after splitting a $5 correspondence course on ice cream making from Penn State University, is very cool.vermont NEK  026vermont NEK  027

vermont NEK  022vermont NEK  023Ben & Jerry sold the business a few years ago and it’s now a wholly owned subsidiary of Unilever with “a (very!) independent Board of Directors that’s empowered to protect and defend Ben & Jerry’s brand equity, integrity and product quality”.vermont NEK  029

After tasting some of their ice creams, I’ve become a Ben & Jerry’s fan, and have been chasing down their ice cream shops since then.vermont NEK  028

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vermont NEK  040Staying on the food topic, on Saturday we went to the farmers market in St. Johnsbury, continuing our “tour” of farmers markets.  When we arrived in the town center, we saw a very cute town parade, which kicked off their fall fair.  And the farmers market was a smallish but quality market.

The fall fair also included various outdoor concerts and activities at the Catamount Arts Center.  We spent some time watching women drumming at the Arts Center.  I find drumming very hypnotic and fun.

vermont NEK  048That same jam packed day, we took a quick peek at the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium and found out that the Planetarium was offering free shows as part of the festival, so we stayed.  The museum is northern New England’s museum of natural history and the planetarium is Vermont’s only public planetarium.

vermont NEK  049This museum is possibly one of the most unique museums I’ve ever visited. The building itself is magnificent, made of red sandstone, with towers, rounded arches, eyebrow windows and carvings.  The interior has an oak barrel vault ceiling running the length of the building.

The museum was a gift to the town by Franklin Fairbanks, nephew of inventor Thaddeus Fairbanks, who invented the platform scale, and his wife, Frances.

vermont NEK  053vermont NEK  050The main floor of the museum is dedicated to natural science.  There is an extensive collection of preserved animals including snakes, a Kodiak and Polar bears, a koala, birds of all kinds including a fascinating collection of hummingbirds and many, many more.  Mr. Fairbanks’ original collection was housed on the third floor of his mansion, referred to as his “Cabinet of Curiosities”.  It contained 450 birds, rocks and minerals and various artifacts from several countries including Japan, China and Egypt.

The museum’s late taxidermist, William Balch, of Lunenburg, Vermont, was one of the first to create lifelike dioramas.  The museum contains dioramas of flamingoes, opossums, muskrats, Birds of Paradise, bison and moose.  All of Mr. Balch’s work was accomplished without the help of plastic, Styrofoam or aluminum.

vermont NEK  047The second floor’s collections include artifacts donated by friends and employees of the Scale Company who brought these back from their travels.  These include fossils, arrowhead, Egyptian mummies, early toys, a doll collection and objects from the Civil War.  In total the museum contains over 175,000 objects.

The Northern New England Weather Center is located in the basement of the building. where two of Vermont’s meteorologists broadcast weather forecasts on commercial radio and Vermont Public Radio.  They are called the “Eye on the Sky” and get it right most of the time by the way.  The meteorologists from Maine and Eastern Canada could use some coaching from these guys :-).

vermont NEK  051vermont NEK  052The planetarium show was pretty interesting, though not exactly “out of this world”.  What was out of this world was their Omniglobe, a 60-inch diameter sphere that allows viewers to display patterns and trends of our planet by pressing different buttons.  The globe can show tectonic plate movement, weather graphics, languages of the world, antique map views, and global systems and how we experience them locally, for example, there’s a display of the Japanese Tsunami and its global reach.  The globe can also become the moon and other planets.  I could have played with it for hours!  But the museum closed :-(.

vermont NEK  068vermont NEK  069The next day we took advantage of the fact that St. Johnsbury is located six miles from the New Hampshire border and crossed over to New Hampshire.  We drove around a loop called the White Mountains Trail, New Hampshire’s most scenic drive.vermont NEK  078vermont NEK  054

vermont NEK  079vermont NEK  057vermont NEK  081vermont NEK  080vermont NEK  105vermont NEK  110vermont NEK  085vermont NEK  075vermont NEK  108vermont NEK  071vermont NEK  106vermont NEK  055Of the multitude of options for hiking and touring found along the drive, we opted to take the short loop trail in Flume Gorge, a natural gorge located at the base of Mount Liberty and extending 800 feet. vermont NEK  102

A boardwalk was built on the side of the gorge to allow visitors to walk easily through the gorge and to a 45 foot waterfall, Avalanche Falls, at the top.  A pretty spectacular place.vermont NEK  091vermont NEK  092vermont NEK  095

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vermont NEK  098vermont NEK  099We took another short walk to see Sabbaday Falls, a very pretty waterfall, and one of the most popular in New Hampshire due to its accessibility.vermont NEK  100vermont NEK  077

vermont NEK  073vermont NEK  070vermont NEK  058vermont NEK  056vermont NEK  094vermont NEK  107vermont NEK  076vermont NEK  065vermont NEK  063vermont NEK  067vermont NEK  062Continuing our drive, we also saw a number of pretty covered bridges which are found throughout the area.  And of course the beautiful colors of fall all around us.  So far, fall did not disappoint.

~ Brendavermont NEK  066vermont NEK  096