Vermont Foliage Journey – Day #2

Our plan today was to start by visiting the Rock of Ages granite quarry and then go to our Harvest Host overnight location, the Morse Maple Sugar Farm. The quarry is about 20 minutes southeast of Montpelier, and the sugar farm is about 5 minutes north of Montpelier. The quarry was a perfect place for us to visit because we love to see what people in a locale do for a living, and we love to see the things that are unique and that characterize an area that we visit. The Rock of Ages quarry was all of that and more.


Because we are staying in our overnight locations for single nights only, we have the trailer in-tow almost everywhere we go. That means that we brought it with us to the quarry. When we got to the quarry there was not enough space in the parking lot for a trailer, so I did not pull in to it. (I’ve gotten myself into situations that were very difficult to get out of before, and I am always trying to avoid those.) I parked alongside a driveway and went in to ask if this would be acceptable. The question led to a discussion of the way that the quarry tour would operate today. On weekends, the tours are “caravan style,” which means that Rock of Ages provides a lead car and everyone else follows along in their own vehicles to the top of the hill where the guide talks about the features of the quarry. While I was listening to this I was thinking, “I came in here to ask if it was OK to park my trailer on the driveway instead of pulling it in to the parking lot, and now I’m finding that I’m going to have to drive it up this steep winding road to be able to participate in the tour. Hmmm. Not exactly what I wanted.” But the guy was a step ahead of me. He told me that, since it was just the two of us, we could ride along in the lead car and leave our trailer where it was. Talk about an immediate change of attitude!


The lead car driver, Pam, was also the tour guide. On the way up to the quarry I was peppering her with questions about herself and her role at the company. She normally does not do tours, but because they had passengers along (us), the 16-year-old that is the normal tour guide was not permitted to drive. So, wow; we really upset the apple cart! But this company was so gracious to accommodate us and make things easy for us. It was smooth sailing all the way.

Pam – Our Rock of Ages Guide

Up at the top, we looked down into the actively-mined part of the quarry. Since it was Saturday there were no quarriers extracting granite. The pit was full of this beautiful aqua water. Pam explained that the color is caused by a particular type of algae that grows there.


It was fascinating to learn the history of the company and to see their pride of workmanship in their products. While no one really likes to think about such things, they are a premiere producer of gravestones and memorials. The granite they mine here in Barre, VT has a soft gray color, and beautiful darker gray flecks. From a distance it just looks gray, but up close you can see the darker speckling caused by the flecks.

A Close-up of Barre Granite


After leaving the quarry we headed for the Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks, our Harvest Host overnight location. I will say that I had no idea of the extent of touristy-ness that we were in for. I imagined a quaint, rural farm that focused on maple sugar-making. What I found was an extensive presentation of everything a VT tourist could desire, from maple candy to T-shirts to wall décor to cookbooks to, well, you name it and they have it at the Morse Farm. Burr Morse, evidently the head honcho, has created several strange wood carvings that adorn various locations throughout the compound. A separate building, part of which is made to look like a woodshed, houses the actual maple syrup boiler and a video presentation of the operations. The amazing thing is that there were literally dozens of people filing through all of this, all day long. They bring them in by the tour busload. Now don’t get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed all of this. I just wasn’t prepared for the hubbub. It was a ton of fun, and we were certainly a part of the Vermont tourist scene.


The Fake Woodshed (Theater)
One of Burr Morse’s Carvings
The Business End of Things (The Sugarworks)

I got an opportunity to meet and speak with Cheryl Peterson, a member of the Morse family. She was friendly and outgoing, but didn’t have too much to say about the operations. One of the things she said did surprise me, however. She said that she had been over toward Stowe the day before and had never seen such vibrant leaf colors. Now, coming from what I believe is a life-long Vermonter, those are some pretty amazing words, wouldn’t you agree?


They directed us to park our RV “anywhere you like,” and I chose a location that I felt was out of the way, over in a corner of the main parking lot. It turns out that I parked right next to one of the farm’s major attractions: the goats (James and Rex). James and Rex were good, quiet, well-behaved neighbors, but they sure drew a lot of foot traffic from interested agri-tourists. Tourists who were obliged to walk right across in front of our front door because of the way I parked.


Vermont Foliage Journey – Day #1

For months we’ve been looking forward to, and planning, a fall foliage trip to Vermont. After we joined Harvest Hosts, we noted that there were several Harvest Host locations throughout the state of Vermont. We decided, for sure, on visiting Fresh Tracks Farm: Vineyard and Winery, and the Vermont Wildflower Farm. We also knew that we would visit either the Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks OR the Cold Hollow Cider Mill OR the Bragg Farm Sugarhouse. Today our goal was to reach the Fresh Tracks Farm, just south of Montpelier. To reach this goal we would have to cover almost 350 miles, which, at the pace we usually manage, would be nearly 8 hours of travel time. This would be our longest travel day with the trailer so far. A good test of our ability to travel this way.



The drive was uneventful, thankfully, and we arrived at Fresh Tracks at about 3:30 PM. We met Courtney, one of the harvesters, and Sarah, one of the counter servers. Sarah directed us to park our RV along the side of the parking lot, near the covered bridge (walking trail bridge). Sarah was very friendly and informative as she talked with us about the farm and the various wines they produced. I was interested to learn that the name, “Fresh Tracks” referred to ski tracks rather than tracks from wildlife as I had at first thought.


In the evening, Fresh Tracks hosted a musician and a bonfire. The event was very well attended, and it felt fun to be a part of a “happening” here in central VT. The woman who was the singer/songwriter/keyboardist was accompanied by a guitarist. The music was OK, but not much to my liking. Still, it was nice to be a part of this event.


This was our second Harvest Hosts visit. In the first, back in the summer, it was a treat to meet the owners and talk with them at length about their enterprise. Here, we did not have the opportunity to meet the owners, so that was slightly disappointing. It was nice to be able to stay overnight for “free,” and after the bonfire/live music event ended, it was pretty quiet. Our RV parking spot was right next to VT Route 12, so it wasn’t totally quiet.


Farewell Allegany State Park – For Now





Bear Caves.


Was there really any choice in the matter? I just had to take the hike to Bear Caves. Didn’t I?


So; yeah. There’s a trail called the “Bear Caves” trail. And yeah; there really are caves there. But no – there are no bears in the caves.


The park literature explains that bears don’t like the dampness and cold of these caves. But it doesn’t really explain why they are named “Bear Caves.” I guess it doesn’t really matter. It was a worthy walking destination, and it was quite cool to see the caves. No; I didn’t go into any of them. Most of them seemed too narrow, and they seemed to offer only a risk of getting stuck. So I just looked. In one of them I stuck my camera in and snapped a picture around the corner, but the pic didn’t turn out very nicely, so it isn’t even worth sharing.


So, on this last day at the park, aside from a nice hike to the caves, I didn’t do much except pack up the trailer and then drive home.


The drive home was mostly uneventful except for the fact that I almost plowed into a stopped school bus that was invisible over the crest of a hill above Naples. I guess I learned from that to take the hills and curves more slowly. Lesson learned.


Porcupine Damage; Gigantic Boulders

In spring of 2002 I took a backpacking trip to ASP. On that trip I hiked out about 3 miles along trail #9 (The North Country Branch of the Finger Lakes Trail), starting in the northeast area of the park, and camped at a lean-to that was in a remote area. I remember this especially because there was a “Notice” posted on the lean-to about porcupines eating the wood. During the night I slept in a tent near the lean-to instead of sleeping inside it. All night long I could hear the animals chewing on the wood. The lean-to was quite new at the time.


Today I decided that I would like to re-visit that lean-to. It was a stupendous day for hiking, with bright sunshine and temperatures in the mid to upper 50’s. There was no wind to speak of. I approached the area of the lean-to from the opposite direction this time. I took Trail #9 from ASP Road #1, which meant that I had between 2 and 3 miles to walk before coming to the lean-to. As I walked I wondered what I would find. Would the park have found a way to protect it from the porcupines, leaving it in as-new condition?


When I got to the lean-to I was shocked to see the effect of 14 years of neglect. The structure had fallen in, leaving about half of it still standing. Obviously the park had not succeeded in protecting what had been a beautiful structure.



There was a couple sitting and enjoying a picnic lunch nearby, so I struck up a conversation with them about the lean-to and about hiking in ASP in general. John and Sue were from north of Buffalo, and they reported that they had been hiking here for about the past ten years. As long as they can remember, the lean-to has been in a state of some disrepair, and they have watched as it has deteriorated over the years. They had been unaware that porcupines had been the culprits.


Another area of the park that is fascinating and well worth a visit is an area called Thunder Rocks. There are about a dozen huge boulders, some as big as a house. Getting there requires driving a few miles on a gravel road, but that’s the kind of thing my Toyota 4Runner excels at. The pictures I began to take when I first arrived seemed to me to lack the perspective needed to get a good sense of just how awesome these boulders are, so I took a couple of “selfies” just to give the necessary size perspective.





An Allegany Day and Evening

I hear from people all the time about how wonderful Watkins Glen State Park and Letchworth State Park are. I agree; they are great parks, and they are well worth a visit. I rarely hear about Allegany State Park, and that is a marvelous curiosity. ASP is a very large state park that sits in the far southwestern area of New York State, virtually on the Pennsylvania border. When I found myself with a three-day weekend with my wife away at a special event, I decided on ASP as my destination. I really could have gone anywhere. Here are the major factors that went into my decision: (1) it’s not too far from home but not really too close either (2.5 hour drive), (2) it has great hiking trails, with a high likelihood of seeing wildlife, (3) it has lakes for kayaking and fishing, (4) it has dark skies for stargazing, (4) there are many campsites at two different campgrounds, so no reservations would be needed.

I arrived at the park shortly after noon on Saturday. The weather was spectacular, so you would expect a good-sized fall weekend crowd at the park. It was evident that there were a lot of people out enjoying the day at the park, but it is such a large park that there were no places that were crowded at all.

I selected a campsite in a large, open, grassy field so that I would be able to enjoy stargazing at night. I did not want a site with electricity, because I wanted to put my new solar setup to the test. However, all the sites that would provide me with good stargazing were electric sites. That meant I would be paying the premium price for an electric site (50 amp!) but not using it. Oh well. You can’t always get what you want. There were only about six or seven other parties camping in this loop, and there are a total of 42 sites in the loop. (The campground map indicates that there are a total of 164 sites in all the loops of the Cain Hollow Campground.)


After setting up camp I spent a couple hours fishing and kayaking at Quaker Lake, which is less than a mile from the Cain Hollow Campground. There were several other kayakers out on the lake on this beautiful fall day, but the lake is so large that they were seen mostly off in the distance.



I had brought a little bit of kiln-dried firewood with me, but I knew that I would need more. I spent some time gathering, cutting, and splitting some downed trees that I found in the woods next to the campground. When a neighbor saw me splitting he came over and offered the use of his sledge hammer to help with the job. I really appreciated the thought, but I didn’t need the tool. We introduced ourselves to each other, and I invited Jeff and his group over to see stars and planets through the telescope later at night.


The stargazing was good but not great. My telescope has a lot of electronic, navigational features that are not working properly. I was able to manually find Saturn and Mars, but not much else of interest. Further, I couldn’t get it to focus completely. I don’t know what’s wrong with the darn thing. I was thankful that Jeff and his folks did not come over.


I ran the furnace a lot at night because the temperatures were well down into the lower 40’s or upper 30’s. I wanted to operate all the electrical things in the camper without exercising any conservation efforts, because I wanted to see how quickly the battery got discharged and how quickly my 100-watt solar panel would be able to recharge it. I did not use a meter to measure my voltage, but the solar control panel indicated a “partially” discharged battery in the morning. I was very pleasantly surprised when I noticed at 9:00AM (in bright sunlight) the charge was back up to full. So a full night of keeping the furnace running (on and off as needed to keep the temperature in the mid 50’s) used only enough electricity to enable full recharging with about 2 hours of sunlight. Amazing.

The Wrap-Up

Meeting up with old friends half-way home and “camping” in their driveway was the highlight of our trip home. We are no longer interested in 12 or 13-hour driving days, so this was an ideal way to break the trip into reasonable chunks.


Thursday evening was Bible Study at the church we used to attend, so we went along and saw some more of our old friends. Lovely time!

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Elaine with Dawn, Tom, and Tina at Beaver Valley Christian Fellowship

By the numbers, our trip looks like this:

  • Number of miles driven: 1735
  • Number of gallons of gas purchased: 118
  • Average price per gallon: $2.16
  • Average miles per gallon: 13.1
  • Average cost per mile: $0.17
  • Total # of Days on the Road: 16
  • Number of “free” camping nights: 2
  • Total cost for camping: $278.40
  • Average camping cost per night: $21.42 (using senior discounts)


Here’s the whole trip in a nutshell:

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River Day

This was to be our last day of relaxation before beginning what would be a two-day drive home. So we wanted to make the most of it. I was still pestered by the desire to do some river kayaking (even though, sadly, without whitewater), and my research had led me to information about the Bluestone River, less than an hour south of us. The Bluestone River and a dammed section of it, the Bluestone Lake, were available for kayaking. We decided to go there for a picnic and an afternoon of kayak explorations.


As has been the case for a week and a half now, the roads to get there were incredible. Winding, steep, and narrow. Once again I was glad I didn’t have the trailer along with me on this one.


The park was OK but not fantastic. There were hardly any people there, and we realized that the children are all back in school now. The pool was closed. We found a nice, quiet spot on the riverbank with a launching area for the kayak. I took about an hour and a half or two hours to paddle the river, and I saw lots of birds and wildflowers.


Here is a Great Blue Heron I was watching for a while:

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I saw a bird that I couldn’t identify. Later I looked at about 50 pictures of birds, and I couldn’t find any that even closely resembled it. What is it?

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Here is a white heron that I was watching:

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It was a relaxing day, but we didn’t meet any people to write about. Tomorrow we begin the drive toward home.