Not sure where we’re going…

Day 14 – Canada Trip

Friday we got up and headed out of Niagara towards the US! Niagara was the last destination we had planned for the trip and we had a couple of different ideas about where we would go next, but basically we had no specific destination in mind when we left.

Crossing into the US at Buffalo, NY, James got flagged, so we had to get out of the car and go into the building with one of the border guards so he could make sure this James Jones wasn’t the one on their *watch* list.  Overall this was a very minor inconvenience and I would far rather they be over cautious than under cautious in these days and times.

We were quickly on our way and back in the USA! We once again skipped through New York (the state) pretty quickly and then Pennsylvania. We had tentatively decided to go up into Michigan, then around Chicago and into Wisconsin before heading over into Minnesota, down into Iowa and then stopping to visit my parents in Kewanee, IL on our way home. This was going to require a LOT of driving and we had to be back home by Monday evening so I could go back to work on Tuesday morning (James has off until the following Monday), thus we were really trying to make good time.  Unfortunately since it was the start of Memorial Day weekend, there was a ton of traffic and LOTS of police out, making the drive anything but enjoyable.

When we crossed into Ohio and stopped at the Welcome Center, we did a little calculating about where we were and how much time it would take to get to different places and realized we could be home by 10:30-11:30PM this evening. By consensus, we decided that as much as we’d love to do some more traveling, we were both ready to be HOME! Especially after getting the following e-mail and pictures from our amazing friends Liz and Steve who have been watching the house and gardens for us while we were gone!

Went to your house this evening – – could barely get to the front door! I think the yard bunnies have commandeered the place – – I counted FOUR young ones in the front! Steve saw some in the back – – may have been the same ones, tracking him and keeping tabs on his whereabouts. Two of them were by your blue planter next to the front steps, holding it hostage. I was able to rescue it and we moved it onto the porch.

Everything else is looking really good, except – – I think your house misses you. I just get a sense of lonliness when I walk in; it wants you guys back home, I guess…. 🙂

HOWEVER, the yard bunnies have a sign up saying, “Stay away”!!!   LOL  I still have a good recipe for Hassenpfeffer with rice and gravy if needed…..  🙂

Bunnies are taking over!

View of our front porch and the "bunny mob" that has taken over while we've been gone!

The rabbits had been *pretty* bad before we left, but I guess since we’ve been gone they have really been awful.  The picture below is what they did to the hibiscus plant from our wedding!

Eaten plant

Hibiscus plant (that previously was full of leaves and blooms) after the rabbits got to it on the front porch!

Thus, it was definitely time to get home and reestablish our dominance! 😉

Yet, we still wanted to at least drive through Michigan, so we charted a course that would take us up and through the southern edge before taking us down into Indiana, Illinois, and then home!

We made a few stop along the way, at least one in every state, but overall we were focused on getting home and spending the night in our own bed for the first time in 14 days!

We pulled in our driveway around 11:30PM and finished our 5,352.6 mile Canada trip with many wonderful memories and experiences, but even happier to be home!

States Today: New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, & Illinois

Provinces Today: Ontario

States Total: Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana

Provinces Total: Quebec and Ontario

Niagara Falls

Day 13 – Canada Trip

Thursday morning we woke up to the beauty and splendor of Niagara Falls right outside our window.

Niagara Falls - picture taken by James from the Skylon Tower

I have to admit I was quite content just sitting there looking at it from our room, but we had a lot we wanted to do and see so we headed down to the hotel lobby to talk to the people at their tourist information desk (which was bigger than the check in desks at some of the hotels we’ve stayed at!).

We had picked up a brochure that offered a package deal for four different Niagara attractions and we were planning on buying this and then making our way around to everything. Yet, when we started talking to the lady at the tourist information desk, she made a pretty good case for us going on the hotel’s “Magnificent Niagara Falls Tour”.  It had a huge list of area sites and attractions that we’d see (i.e., at least drive past) and six specific places/attractions we’d get to stop and see.  For me, the best part was that we’d get to travel by tour bus, meaning we wouldn’t have to worry about getting around in the crazy Niagara traffic or finding parking, James would be able to relax and enjoy himself instead of concentrating on driving, and the tour guide would explain what we were seeing/doing.  Another benefit was that we wouldn’t have to wait in line for tickets and in some cases would be able to skip some of the lines and waiting we might have otherwise had to endure. The only downside was the price (which was significantly more than the package deal we were originally looking at), but for me the benefits outweighed the negative so when James asked if we should do it, I said YES!

The tour was literally leaving right then, so we hurriedly got what we needed together and got on the bus.  Due to a combination of it being before Memorial Day (when the craziness starts) and just our lucky day, there were only 16 of us on the tour that day, which made for a much better experience in my opinion because we weren’t crammed on the bus (which was a nice charter bus) and were able to stick with the time-line much better (which allowed us to do slightly more than normal).

Our first stop was to Maid of the Mist, a classic and must if you ever visit Niagara Falls.  I wasn’t completely sold on how *great* it was going to be, but before we even made it out of the dock, I was a believer! It really was a lot of fun and since James had our waterproof camera with him (instead of the expensive/non-waterproof one), he was able to relax and enjoy himself as well.

The second stop was to Journey Behind the Falls.  This was a lot of fun as well, but given the price (almost as much as Maid of the Mist), I don’t think it would have been worth if we hadn’t been on the tour.

We then relaxed on the bus, while the driver gave us a tour of the upstream part of the Niagara River and did a great job explaining how the Americans and Canadians coordinate everything that has to do with the river and their use of it.  We especially enjoyed hearing about the scow barge stuck in the river that has been there since 1918.  At the time they didn’t have the technology to move it and now that the technology exists, the barge is too fragile to be moved and will eventually desegregate completely into the river.

By this time it was lunch time, so the driver took us to “Souvenir City”, which is the ONLY place buses are allowed to park in Niagara Falls. Souvenir City included a small food court, so we got something to eat and then wandered around outside (and a little in the souvenir shop!).

Our next stop was to see the whirlpool rapids.  There is a Whirlpool Aero Car that goes over the rapids and whirlpool, but for this top, we just got out and looked at them while the tour guide explained how dangerous they are (NO ONE is allowed down there and if you get caught in the white part, you’re dead, end of story) and that they actually switch direction at night when the volume of water in the river is lowered (this is done by the Americans and Canadians every evening).

Getting back on the bus, we next got to see the Niagara floral clock made completely out of flowers and the Butterfly Conservatory. The clock was pretty interesting and I got out and walked barefoot on the grass, which they want you to do because their grass is so well maintained!

The Butterfly Conservatory was one of the main things I really wanted to do while we were in the Niagara area and it didn’t disappoint! It was huge compared to the ones I’d been to previously and had a large variety of butterflies.

Our last stop on the tour was Skylon Tower, the tallest structure that overlooks both the American and Canadian Falls.  It is 520 feet tall from street level and 775 feet from the bottom of the falls.  I have to admit this was another attraction I wasn’t that interested in, yet once we got up to the top the panoramic view of the falls was unbelievable! I would strongly recommend it to anyone because it really gives you a birds-eye view of the entire falls area and makes you appreciate just how big it all really is!

After the tour finished, we still had a little energy left in us, so we decided to drive our own car to Welland Canal and the Lock 3 viewing complex.  By this time, the museum and tours had already finished for the day, but we were still able to go up to the viewing area to see everything and there were a number of interesting historical placards and item related to the canal that were on display outside.

To finish the day, we decided to start at Lake Ontario and take the scenic drive along the entire length of the Niagara River to Lake Erie.  We had seen a good size chunk of it while on the tour, but seeing it from start to finish was even better.  We especially enjoyed Fort Erie, located at south-eastern side of Lake Erie, which was the sight of Canada’s bloodiest fields of battle during the Siege of Fort Erie.

It was a beautiful drive and we stopped a number of times along the way to take pictures and check things out.

Provinces Today: Ontario

States Total: Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont

Provinces Total: Quebec and Ontario

Ottawa, Canada

Canada Trip – Day 12

We woke up Wednesday morning to a heat advisory. The temperature was supposed to hit 94 degrees and with the humidity, it was going to feel like over 100 degrees!

After a little wandering and dealing with some heavy traffic in Ottawa, we finally found Parliament Hill.  Ottawa is the capital of Canada and their Parliament Hill is one of their most well known (and visited) landmarks. Finding Parliament Hill was only half the battle, the other half was finding parking in downtown Ottawa! We followed the parking signs for Parliament down to an underground parking structure, yet all of the spaces were full and a number of other cars were driving around like us trying to jump on any spot that opened up.  Finally, after wondering if we were ever going to get a space, we got one and were able to get parked!

Walking up to Parliament Hill, it was amazing to see not only how close you could get (compared to how blocked off everything is in Washington), but that they also had a map with a walking tour conveniently placed near the entrance.  The walking tour covered the whole area (which was pretty big) and the four main spots to check out if you have limited time.

The parliament buildings were architecturally very interesting to check out and we tried to see a little bit of everything while we were there.

We would have liked to have spent more time in Ottawa, but the heat was extremely oppressive and we felt like our time would be better spent heading to Toronto.

The interstate to Toronto was pretty busy, there was road construction everywhere, and with the heat outside (it got up to 96 degrees!) we decided there was nothing we wanted to do *that bad* in Toronto and that we’d rather head towards Niagara Falls and spend more time there.

When it became clear that we were definitely going to make Niagara Falls for the night, we pulled over off the interstate to get a Wi-Fi signal so we could check for hotel rooms for the night. I was thinking cheap, yet as soon as James asked me how I’d feel getting a room overlooking the falls, I was hooked on the idea.  We got it narrowed down to the Marriot or Sheraton and the Marriot ended up winning out.  We ended up with a King suite with a Jacuzzi and fireplace overlooking the falls. In addition, the more we got talking about what we were going to try and do while in Niagara, we decided to go ahead and get the room for two nights!

Arriving at the hotel, we were slight put off by the fact that we would need to “check” our car and rely on the valet if we needed it (or anything in it).  Yet, the hotel was beautiful and once we got to our room I knew we’d made the right decision!

Our room had two comfy chairs set up looking out over our amazing view of the falls (we were on the 19th floor) and the Jacuzzi looked out over the bedroom area and had a clear shot out to the window.  Overall, money well spent!

Provinces Today: Ontario

States Total: Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont

Provinces Total: Quebec and Ontario

Heading into Canada… finally!

Day 11 – Canada Trip

Tuesday morning we packed up and headed to Rock of Ages, the reported world’s largest granite quarry, located in Barre, Vermont. Most of the attractions at the quarry didn’t open until the Friday before Memorial day (i.e., this coming Friday), but the visitor center and factory tour were free and open, so we figured we’d go ahead and check it out.  Upon arriving we noticed a school bus and a number of kids running around and when we walked into the visitor center one of the workers asked if we were interested in seeing the quarry.  We said absolutely and she said for free (yes free!) we could just follow the school kids up and follow along with their tour.  The kids were leaving almost immediately, so we hurried up and got back in our car and got in line behind them on the way to the quarry.

The first thing I noticed about the quarry was the dust! We had just washed our car the night before and the by the time we got to the top of the quarry the car was covered in a thick layer of dust!

Dust aside, the quarry was very fascinating to watch and our tour guide was very knowledgeable about the goings on of the quarry and the factory. James really enjoys quarries, so the surprise of getting to see this one made him really happy.  He really enjoyed seeing and hearing about how they were able to get the granite out of the ground and the different machines they use.

Following the tour, we got to then see the “Wal-Mart” of the granite quarry where people can come and pick out the piece of granite they want and the back of the factory where the granite had been cut into even smaller pieces.

The tour next included an informational video about Rock of all Ages and the process of etching and carving the stone.  The video really helped set the scene for the factory tour where we got to look down on all of the activity going on to cut, carve, and etch the stones.

We lost the kids and the tour while looking at the factory, but caught up with them in the line to etch your own granite.  This was another area that was supposed to be closed until Friday, but we followed along with the kids and James took pictures while I etched my Maple leaf with the words Vermont.

Even though they let me etch my souvenir for free since we had followed along with the kids, we went ahead and went back to the visitor center and paid for the etching and a magnet before leaving.

Our next and last official destination in Vermont (and the US!) was the Ben & Jerry’s factory tour in Waterbury. We got our tickets for the 1pm tour as soon as we got there and then with plenty of time to spare took a walk out to the “Flavor Graveyard”.  The Flavor Graveyard had tombstones with funny epitaphs on them for flavors that had been discontinued.

The actual tour was pretty interesting, but both James and I agreed that it wasn’t nearly as good as the Hershey tour or even the Jelly Belly tour from last July.  What I did really like was the ice cream!! The free sample for the day was Boston Cream Pie (new for this year) and it was edible, but nothing I’d ever buy. Yet after the tour, we went ahead and bought the flavor ice cream we wanted! James got Cherry Garcia and I got Chocolate Peanut Butter Swirl, both very good!

With our bellies full of ice cream, we headed north first to Burlington for gas and lunch, and then across the border into Canada!!!

We crossed into Canada around 3:30pm with no problems at all.  The security person asked for our passports and where we were going and that was it, we were across the border!

Shortly after crossing into Canada, we saw a sign for a covered bridge, so we went ahead and veered off of course to check it out. It was on a side road and we almost missed it, but James turned around and we went through it and got a few pictures.  We then stopped and exchanged some US currency for Canadian currency at a rate of .92 per 1.00 (ouch) and got back on the road toward Montreal.

The traffic in Montreal was pretty heavy, but we were finally able to navigate to the Montreal biosphere located on Île Sainte-Hélène in the middle of Montreal.  The Biosphere is home to Canada’s Environmental Museum, which was getting ready to close when we got there, so instead, we ended up walking around the dome and the island for a while.

The island was beautiful with lots of ponds, trees, and wildlife (especially the Marmots).

Leaving Montreal we had to deal with more heavy traffic, but the navigation system did a great job of getting us out of the city and on the road to Ottawa, our stop for the night.

States Today: Vermont

Provinces Today: Quebec and Ontario

States Total: Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont

Provinces Total: Quebec and Ontario

New Hamphsire and Vermont

Day 10 – Canada Trip

On our way out of Skowhegan, Maine, we noticed the Weston Dam and stopped to briefly check it out!

We traveled two hours to get out of Maine before entering the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  It is amazing how mountainous the northern part of Maine and New Hampshire and we spent most of the day driving or hiking through the mountains.

Our main destination was to the Flume Gorge in Franconia Notch State Park.  Back on Saturday when we came through New Hampshire for the first time, James had picked up a brochure for this state park and the pictures of the gorge and waterfalls were way too much of a lure to ignore.

The Flume Gorge is on a two mile trail that is slightly strenuous with a lot of steep uphill hikes.  Yet, the hike was definitely worth the amazing beauty of the flume as well as the numerous other waterfalls, ponds, wildlife, and overall beauty of the area.

The first part of the trail was very scenic and took us up towards the Flume.

We then got to the Flume, which was absolutely amazing.  It is a natural gorge extending 800 feet at the base of Mount Liberty.  The granite walls get as tall as 90 feet and are only 12-20 feet apart.

Once at the top of the Flume we took a while to catch our breath and take in the the beauty here as well!

Our way back to the visitor center was fun and filled with a lot of different scenic views and furry woodland critters!

After leaving the Flume, we headed over to see where New Hampshire’s “Old Man of the Mountain” was before it fell.  Old Man of the Mountain was a naturally occurring old man’s face on the side of the mountain was an iconic figure for New Hampshire.  In 2003 much of the face fell leaving only a little bit of his forehead.

We ended our day finally crossing over into Vermont and stopping for the night in the state capital, Montpelier. Before actually checking into our hotel, we stopped by the state capital to check it out. It was pretty small, but pretty and a lot of people were outside enjoying the beautiful weather.

After checking into our hotel, we headed back to downtown Montpellier for dinner.  We parked and tried our first choice, but it was closed Monday’s, so we walked around downtown looking for someplace good to eat. After asking some college age kids for suggestions, we ended up at J. Morgan’s Steakhouse, just down the road from the capital.

If the seafood meal of the trip was Jasper’s, then the steak meal of the trip so far was J. Morgan’s Steakhouse! The bread basket was actually a loaf of warm homemade bread drizzled with garlic olive oil and shredded Vermont cheese, yum!  Our meals were even more delicious, with James getting the special bone-in fillet mignon and me getting the ribeye.  Both of our steaks were cooked perfectly, had amazing flavor, and literally melted in our mouths! We also both got the garlic mashed potatoes and vegetables, all of which were cooked and seasoned to perfection as well! The entire meal was excellent and I was happy that James finally had his favorite meal of the trip!

With our meal finished, we meandered back to our car and then drove around until we found a car wash. The car windows were filthy and the car was pretty dusty as well, so it was a much needed wash.

States Today: Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont

States Total: Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont

Acadia National Park

Day 9 – Canada Trip

Sunday started bright and early with James driving across the street to do some laundry (we only brought enough clothing for a little over a week) and me getting ready and getting things packed. James came back to get me once he switched the clothes over to the dryer and we had enough time that we went ahead and had the continental breakfast at the hotel before going back for the clothes. After folding the clean clothes back into the suitcase, we made our way east to Acadia National Park.

We started at the visitor’s center and with our mistake in Gettysburg still fresh in our minds, we went ahead and got the Acadia National Park Audio Tour CD of the driving tour of the park and the extra booklet! We started the tour around 10am and didn’t finish the 15 stops plus an extra side trip to see the lighthouse until around 5:30pm! Each stop had an overlook or a short trail that allowed us to really experience the many different environments and views the park had to offer.

Frenchman Bay Overlook. Leaving the visitor’s center, our first stop along the tour was Frenchman Bay Overlook. This was our first real look at what the park had to offer and we were amazed by the beauty and expansiveness of what we could see.

Duck Brook Bridge.  The audio tour skipped Duck Brook Bridge, but the motorist guide booklet included it, so we decided to check it out.  Yet, we completely missed it even though we literally drove over it!! When we realized we missed it, we turned around and went back to where it was.  From this direction, it was more obvious where the bridge was and we pulled over to take some pictures.  The Duck Brook Bridge is the largest continuous concrete arch bridge east of the Mississippi.

Sieur de Monts Spring.  The Sieur de Monts Spring, Nature Center, and garden walk were all contained in one small area.  On the way to the spring there were a few bridges and an *Emery* trail we got a laugh out of wondering if it would eventually lead to our house! The spring itself was encased in plexiglass in so we weren’t able to really enjoy it, but the nature center and garden walk were both pretty nice.

Beaver Dam Pond. Opposite of the bridge, Beaver Dam Pond was on the audio tour, but not the booklet, yet one glimpse of the this scenic pond surrounded by mountains and we quickly decided to stop. The pond has one very visible dam and two beaver dens along the other side of the pond.

As we were driving along the auto tour, we saw a number of tourists and a couple of rangers along side of Precipice cliff looking up with some super high powered binoculars.  We pulled over and found out they were watching a pair of falcons who they *thought* were nesting in the cliffs.  With your naked eye, it was impossible to see the birds, but looking through the binoculars you could definitely see the male falcon.  The rangers said the male had flown out of an overhang and the female had flown in, so they were pretty sure that’s the location of the nest.

We stopped at one of the next overlooks and from here we got picturesque views of a couple of classic summer cottages on the ocean.

Sand Beach. While everything we had seen so far was wonderful, the Sand Beach allowed us to actually get out and really enjoy the park. We stayed at the beach for a while enjoying the salty sea wind and the multitudes of landscapes surrounding the beach.

Thunder Hole. We thought we were following the audio tour on our hike down to *Thunder Hole*, yet after getting back in the car and heading down the road a little further, we realized we were just at a really cool trail leading down to cliffs overlooking the ocean and the sand beach.

The real Thunder Hole had an actual chasm that was constantly being beaten on by the ocean and at high tide (and occasionally during low tide) it sounds like thunder when the water hits the back of the chasm walls.

Otter Cliffs. Standing on 110 foot high cliffs looking out onto the Ocean, Otter Cliffs is one of the highest headlands along the Atlantic coast north of Rio de Janeiro.

Otter Cove Causeway Bridge.  The Otter Cove Causeway Bridge curve along the natural sand bar and give a perfect view of the cove. The bridge is different from other bridges along the loop because it was created mostly of solid rock fill.

Jordan Pond House/Carriage Paths. We actually skipped the Jordan Pond House and carriage paths the first way through because there was absolutely no parking, but after doing Cadillac Mountain, we came back and spent a little time looking around at the house and the carriage paths.  There are 45 miles of carriage roads that were donated by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to help preserve the park from the evil of *automobiles*, but today they are used by carriages, horseback riders, bicycles, and hikers.

Bubble Pond. Similar to Jordan Pond House, we did Bubble Pond after Cadillac because the parking lot had been full, and were really glad we decided to come back. It was situated by more of the carriage paths and another one of the beautiful arch bridges and offered a peaceful place to catch our breath and take in the natural beauty around us.

Cadillac Mountain Road. On our way to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, there were a number of scenic overlooks that we took advantage of and even the drive itself offered amazing views!

Cadillac Mountain Summit. Climbing and weaving our way to the summit. At 1,530 feet, the Cadillac Mountain summit is the highest point of land along the Atlantic coast.  The panoramic view was unparalleled and the only blemish was the fog that kept us from being able to fully see the amazing expanse of ocean, bays, cliffs, and the surrounding mountains and hills.  We took the scenic hike around the summit to take advantage of all the different angles and views available from this height.

We’d only had a small breakfast and a few snacks along the tour, so by the time we got done with Cadillac Mountain and circled back to see the carriage trails, Jordan’s Pond House, and Bubble Pond, (around 3pm) we were extremely hungry! We planned on heading to the other side of the island in order to see one of the lighthouses and we wanted to catch the end of the audio tour that concluded on Sargent Drive, so we decided to try finding a restaurant in Northeast Harbor. After weaving our way around the town, we found the Colonel’s Bakery and Restaurant. After the crowds from the busier side of Acadia (even though we heard it is significantly worse starting next weekend), it was a welcome relief to find the restaurant relatively empty.  I got the fresh shrimp appetizer, but otherwise James and I went pretty basic with cheese burgers and fries.  The food was good and hearty, but I went ahead and got one of their homemade chocolate cookies which really hit the spot!

Sargent Drive.  We continued our way to the lighthouse via Sargent Drive, which is a scenic drive along the bay.

Lighthouse. James and I were both expecting something a little bigger when we saw the lighthouse, but still endeavored to make the best out of it by hiking to both sides to try and get the best shot possible… even with the fog trying to thwart us! On the far side, we wandered off the trail (imagine that!) and ended up getting a pretty good view of the lighthouse and to the other side, a rainbow was even peaking through the fog.

Mount Desert Island Historical Society. On our way to the lighthouse I noticed a picturesque bridge and garden area by the Mount Desert Island Historical Society museum.  On the way back from the lighthouse, we went ahead and stopped to get a better look and ended up with some amazing pictures!

After leaving Acadia, we stopped back in Ellsworth at Wal-Mart for some much needed supplies (i.e., cherry Pepsi for James) and an external 500 GB hard drive for all our pictures. Up until Acadia we had over 65 GB’s of pictures, and in Acadia alone we took another 20+ GB of pictures! James had been downloading all of our pictures onto his laptop in order to keep the memory cards free, but with this many pictures, it was starting to overload his laptop, so we figured it would be best to get an external hard drive to keep them on instead!

We loaded up the car with our supplies and headed back towards New Hampshire. It was too late to make it all the way there that night, so we stopped in Skowhegan, ME for the evening.

States Today: Maine

States Total: Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine

Massachusetts and Maine

Day 8 – Canada Trip

Saturday morning we left Brockton, MA and made our way north to Walden Pond. Walden Pond is outside of Concord, MA and is the site where Thoreau lived from 1845-1847 and gained the inspiration for many of his best known works.

Upon finding the pond, we parked and checked out the replica of Thoreau’s cabin near the parking lot.

The pond is surrounded by thick woods and nature trails, but we focused on trying to find the original site of Thoreau’s cabin.  I say trying because the paths branched and intersected each other without many markings and the map was confusing to figure out.  We wandered in the woods for a while, not seeing anyone else, before finally stumbling upon the path that led to the cabin site. They had the site for the cabin and shed blocked off and a large cairn pile off to the left of the site.  The plaque for the site indicated that the location of the cabin had been lost until 1945 when Roland Wells Robbins spent a year researching and excavating the Walden Pond area until indisputably found the actual cabin site! (Side note: before Robbins found the site of the cabin, two other sites had erroneously been marked as the site of Thoreau’s cabin).

After finding the cabin and our way back to the parking lot, we set off to Ipswich, MA. Ipswich was a random choice of destinations picked because it had one of the number one clam restaurants and the oldest arch bridge in North America.  Upon arriving, we found the Choate bridge and got out to check it out.  Other than a small sign next to it, there really wasn’t much pomp and circumstance attached to it, and it was actually a pretty heavily used road.  As we walked around trying to find a good angle to see all of it, we noticed an old fashioned barber shop. James needed his hair cut before we left on vacation and there didn’t seem to be any other patrons in the establishment, so he decided to go ahead and get his hair cut while in Ipswich.

With his hair freshly shorn, James followed me down to the bank of the river to get some pictures of the Choate bridge.

The bridge was interesting to see, but since there wasn’t much that went along with it, we headed off to see what else was around pretty quickly. Randomly walking around, we stumbled upon a visitor’s center where we picked up a brochure of the area before deciding to head over to the Clam Box for lunch.  The woman who cut James’ hair had warned us it would be busy at the Clam Box, but even we were surprised how packed the parking lot was at almost 1:30 PM.

The Clam Box is carry out only, but does provide indoor and outdoor seating (just no service).  Once we got parked, we walked up and got in line to order. Luckily the line wasn’t that long so we were able to order and take a seat inside to wait for our food.  Once our number was called, we were amazed at the amount of food.  I got a mini order of native clams and fries, while James got a full order of chicken and fries, and neither of us was able to finish our entire meal!

By the time we were done eating, we were both ready to get back on the road and head to Maine for one of our most anticipated destinations, Acadia National Park.  On our way, we briefly passed through New Hampshire (like maybe 15-20 minutes) before entering Maine.  We’re planning on spending more time in New Hampshire on our way to Canada.

Once we entered Maine and knew we’d be driving for a while, we decided to listen to our Gettysburg audio auto tour CD.  It was two hours long and really helped pass the time, as well as really helping us to better understand what we had been looking at while in Gettysburg.  Very informative and educational, we highly suggest it to anyone who decides to do the auto tour of Gettysburg!

Almost 30 miles to our ending point for the night, Ellsworth, ME, James decided to stop and see the *reputed* tallest Paul Bunyan statue in the world in Bangor. I admit, it was pretty cool to see and definitely worth the three block detour we took to see it!

We pulled in for the night at Ellsworth, ME, just in time for dinner. I had been waiting the whole trip for my Maine lobster and tonight we decided was the night! The front desk clerk said a good place for lobster was just about a block down the road and even gave us a three dollar off coupon, so after dropping our stuff off in the room we walked to Jasper’s.  The outside and inside weren’t anything to brag about, but the food was a completely different story.

I decided to splurge and get their specialty, the 1lb stuffed lobster, while James went the steak. As soon as we ordered, the waitress brought out rolls and homemade (still warm from the oven) cornbread. Hands down, this was some of the best cornbread I’ve ever had.  It was sweet (but not too sweet) and crumbly without being too crumbly, and with a little bit of butter it was pure heaven! This was the perfect precursor to my stuffed lobster, which included fresh shrimp and scallops in the stuffing mixture.

The texture and flavor of the stuffing was perfect and the lobster itself had that perfect cold water sweet taste!  Even my side dishes of broccoli and rice were perfectly cooked and flavored (a feat in itself!).  James said his steak was ok, yet this being seafood country, we weren’t expecting much and at least it wasn’t bad.

Even after this huge meal, James and I both decided to go ahead and get dessert.  James went with the Apple pie a-la-mode’, while I did the key lime pie.  James was once again neutral with his dessert, but mine was ridiculously crazily amazing! The tart flavor of the key lime filling was perfection and the crust was nice and thick with the perfect consistency, a homemade by scratch piece of perfection!

After all but licking my plate clean, we gave our compliments to the waitress and then walked back to the hotel for some much needed rest!

Side Note: The meal was so good, I completely forgot to use the three dollar coupon!

States Today: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine

States Total: Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine

Connecticut and Rhode Island

Day 7 – Canada Trip

Leaving the hotel around our normal 10AM (hey, we’re on vacation!), our first destination for the day was Dinosaur State Park, CT.

Dinosaur State Park has the largest on site collection of dinosaur footprints in North America and is housed in a unique dome building.  Leading up to the building is a granite trail that briefly illustrates the beginning of earth to the present day.

It was amazing to see the over 500 dinosaur footprints and to imagine not only the time period they were created, but the wonderment of the person who found them in the 1960’s.  After walking around inside and checking everything out, we went outside to walk a little of the trails surrounding the dome.

Less than 10 miles from Dinosaur State Park was our next destination for the day, Wethersfield, Connecticut. And what might some of you be wondering is the significance of Wethersfield? It is the town from which Wethersfield, Illinois was named.  Wethersfield is no longer a city anymore, but has retained its status as a township and is the place my paternal grandparents lived and graduated from in the 1940’s, my father in the 1970’s, and me in the 1990’s! Growing up I had always heard of Wethersfield, CT in regards to the history of Wethersfield, IL, so when I realized we’d be this close it it, I had to visit.

Our first stop was the High School to get my picture in front of the Wethersfield High School sign and then in our wanderings through the town, James happened across the historical society.  This ended up being the perfect place because we not only got a map of historical landmarks around the area, we also got a heads up on the best ones to visit.  Based on these recommendations, we wandered around Wethersfield taking in the history.

When we got back in the car after our tour of the area, we noticed on the GPS that the state capital building was only about 5 miles away from where we were.  Taking this as a sign, we pointed the GPS in that direction and made a brief pass by the capital before heading south east towards Devils Hopyard, our last destination in Connecticut.

Devils Hopyard was an out of the way state park the boasted a beautiful 60 foot cascading waterfall and walking trails.  The top of the falls was visible from the road, but we went ahead and hiked down to the bottom of the falls for a better view.  Even though these falls weren’t as high as the Cunningham Falls, they were much more scenic and allowed us to get up close and *feel* the mist spraying up from the force of the falls.

Once back in the car, we pulled out the map and tried to figure out which route to take to Massachusetts.  Originally we were going to cross over into Rhode Island at the south-west corner and cut diagonally across the state, but I really wanted to do *something* in Rhode Island, so I convinced James to follow along the south end of the state and into Newport!

Newport is everything you ever heard about it… very pretty and loads of historical significance, but it is very high class and pricey!  By this point we hadn’t eaten since breakfast and were both starved, yet the crazy traffic, narrow roads, and limited parking made it hard to find somewhere to stop.  We finally pulled in at the first public parking area we could find and got out to walk to find dinner.  We walked around briefly before we found a fancy Italian restaurant that didn’t look to busy.  We quickly got seated and struck up a conversation with our waiter who initially claimed he had never heard of Illinois. He later made it seem like he was just joking when we both looked at him like he was an idiot and James mentioned Chicago, yet his next statement about him never having a reason to leave the Island and that he rarely did made us wonder if he really was joking or not! Idiot waiter aside, the food was excellent and definitely what we needed to energize us for the cliff walk we were about to embark on!

The Cliff Walk runs along the south to south-eastern coast of Newport and provides an amazing view of the ocean and the many famous homes along the coast. We didn’t want to do the entire seven miles round trip, so we caught the walk at Narragansett Ave and only walked about ½ mile south down the walk.

We ended the night by driving out of Newport and Rhode Island into Massachusetts, finally stopping at the rattiest hotel of the trip to date in Brockton, MA.

States Today: Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts

States Total: Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.

Pennsylvania and New Jersey

Day 6 – Canada Trip

Thursday morning we kept with our normal 10AM departure to Hershey World (less than a five minute drive).

As soon as we got in, we bought our tickets for the 11:15AM trolley tour and then headed towards the free factory tour.  It was nothing like the Jelly Belly tour we did last July. It was really cheesy with lots of singing automated cows (Miiiiiilk Choooooocolate…. Miiiiiilk Choooooooocolate….) and a mock factory with chocolates glued to conveyor belts that kept circulating around. Yet, even as cheesy as it was, overall it was interesting to hear how the chocolate bean is processed and everything that goes into making milk chocolate.

After the *factory* tour, we got our free mini Hershey’s bar before browsing through the Hershey store for a souvenir magnet.  They only had packs of magnets and the best was the “classic” set of seven, which had a picture of the Hershey factory. After getting my magnets, we decided to get some ice cream and then head to the car to reorganize before the trolley tour.

The trolley tour was the highlight of our visit.  It started at Hershey road and did a tour around all the major historical locations relevant to the founder of Hershey Chocolate, Milton Hershey. The tour guide knew his history and was pretty funny, which really added to our overall enjoyment. I think the thing that struck us the most was what a major philanthropist Hershey was and how much he really cared about the people who worked for him and orphaned children. It was a very well spent hour and also included samples of different types of Hershey’s chocolates!!

After finishing up the trolley tour we headed east on Interstate 78 towards Shartlesville, PA, home of Roadside America – the largest indoor miniature village.  Roadside America appears rather rundown and I imagine few people see the sign along the interstate and pull over to check it out, but wow they don’t know what they’re missing! For $6/each we were able to peruse the village at our own pace and even got to see the *nighttime* show that they put on every 30 minutes.  It was amazing to see the detail and time put into the exhibit.  Nothing has been changed (other than routine maintenance and cleaning) since the creator died in 1963, so it really captures an idealized (non modern) America.  Roadside America has been open for over 60 years and I hope it’s still open in 60 more! Definitely worth a stop if you’re ever in the area!

After leaving Roadside America, we thought we’d stop at the next exit and get something to eat.  Unfortunately the little mom and pop place James picked out was not only a few miles off the interstate, it also closed at 2pm (it was just a little after).  Thus instead of turning around and going back to the interstate and the typical fast food places, we decided to follow the road we were on (a backwoods 2 lane road) and see where it took us.  After a little driving, we ended up at “Maggie’s Kitchen” in West Penn Township. It was an out of the way restaurant with a lot of character and a lot of roosters in the windows.  Some of the character was in the form of signs with funny sayings on them, including: “If we see you smoking we’ll assume you’re on fire and take appropriate measures” and “We cash personal checks up to a maximum of $20… if you have six pieces of ID and leave a $50 cash deposit until the check clears”.

Maggie's Kitchen

With our bellies full, we got back on the road with New Jersey in our sights.  We didn’t have any specific place we wanted to visit in New Jersey, so after looking on the map we decided to cut across and then up to the highest point in New Jersey located in High Point State Park.  We had no idea what it was or even if we could get to the actual point, but it sounded interesting and we decided to go for it!

Most of the trip was pretty winding and involved a number of small towns, but we easily found the entrance to the park and saw a large phallic looking monument on top of the highest peak in the area.  We took a wild guess that this was what we were looking for and started working our way up to it.  The monument was very ADA accessible and allowed us to drive almost all the way up to the monument.  The view on the way up and once we got there was amazing! As James got out to take pictures of the view, I looked up towards the monument and saw a porcupine! I yelled at James to hurry up and come over to take its picture, but by the time he got there the porcupine was almost out of sight and we did NOT plan on following him!

After taking some more pictures of the area, we hiked the short trek up the hill to the monument. The panoramic view from here was even more amazing than the parking area and even though it was much windier, it was still quite memorable!

On the way out of the park, we stopped at the restrooms and as I went to wash my hands a bird flew from the inside of the bathroom out a hole between the walls and the roof.  It scared the heck out of me, but also brought my attention to where the bird had flown from… its nest! Made inside the bathroom on the windowsill!

I made James come and look at the nest and eggs in the women’s restroom, and then we checked out the view of the pond and saw three ducklings.

With a full day of traveling and seeing things under our belt, we got back on the road and almost immediately crossed over into the state of New York. For this area of New York we didn’t have anything planned other than driving through on our way to Connecticut, but we’ll be back in New York when we cross into the US from Canada at Niagara Falls.  We stopped for the night shortly over the Connecticut border in Danbury.

States Today: Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut

States Total: Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut.

West Virginia, Virginia, and Pennsylvania

Day 5 – Canada Trip

Wednesday morning started with our normal relaxed pace.  We left the hotel around 10 AM and headed north to West Virginia.  Our first stop was the West Virginia Welcome Center, right across the Virginia/West Virginia Border.  It was absolutely beautiful with a flower beds scattered all around the area.

While I took pictures outside, James went inside and talked with one of the visitor center guides.  We didn’t have any destinations planned for West Virginia and were only planning on passing through it on our way to Gettysburg and then Hershey (in Pennsylvania), yet the guide told James about Harper’s Ferry, WV, and how there was a great route from there to Gettysburg.  Thus, our morning took an unexpected turn to Harpers Ferry, the location of important abolitionist (John Brown’s Raid) and civil war (Battle of Harpers Ferry) history.

The first thing I noticed about Harpers Ferry was the beauty of the area. Situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, Harper’s Ferry starts along the banks of the rivers, yet climbs up to bluffs above. The rivers separate West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland from each other. Overall there was a very historic and old feel to the location and the buildings.  We even got a good work out when we climbed the stairs and then hill up to Jefferson’s Rock.

Leaving Harper’s Ferry, we got back on track to Gettysburg… until… James saw a sign for Cunningham Falls in Maryland. Granted it was after noon and we hadn’t even gotten to our first stop yet, but what the heck, we decided to go ahead and see the falls.

After winding around and up to the park, we realized the falls were actually the tallest cascading waterfall in Maryland at 78 feet!  Even though my shins (and James’ knees) were aching from all the uphill walking at Harper’s Ferry, we took the 1 mile round trip hike up to Cunningham Falls.  The hike was very peaceful and we only saw a few people the entire time.

Finishing up at the Falls, we finally headed for Gettysburg. Our original plan was to briefly stop by Gettysburg and do a quick (less than one hour) look around and then go north to Hershey World in Hershey, PA (the first thing on this trip that was originally on our list of things to see/do).  We made it to Gettysburg around 1:30PM and initially found it very confusing. We hadn’t prepared at all because it wasn’t one of our original destinations, so we had no clue what to see or do.  The parking lot for the visitor’s center was crazy busy and we couldn’t even tell where the actual entrance was!  Thus, we drove past the visitor’s center and tried to find an actual historical site to get out and look at.  We found the cemetery, so James pulled out and I got out to look around.  It was actually pretty interesting and I even got to see the location where Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address!

Yet we still hadn’t seen any battlefields, so I told James to try to figure out where all the tour buses were going and follow them! By some strange luck, James managed to find the first stop on the Gettysburg auto tour.  We had seen some signs for the auto tour when we were around the visitor’s center, but we didn’t know where or what it was. Thus when we found the first official stop, we figured we’d follow along for a while and see what we found.

Four Hours (yes, FOUR HOURS) later, we finished up the 15 stop 18 mile auto tour by a stop at the visitor’s center!  The auto tour ended up being really amazing (even though we weren’t always exactly sure what we were looking at) and wound around and all over Gettysburg highlighting the major points of the battle.  Once we finished the tour, we decided to finally (after fighting it since we got there) stop by the visitor’s center. The visitor’s center was new as of 2008 and was beautiful inside and out!  We made our normal stop by the gift shop to get a magnet and also found the fully narrated audio auto tour!! The audio auto tour was a CD that went stop by stop through the auto tour of Gettysburg explaining each stop and extra things in between. We decided to go ahead and get the CD, so that way we could listen to it as we traveled and catch up on everything we missed!

Finally, after a full day of activities, we headed to our first official destination of our trip, Hershey World! Unfortunately when we got there they had already closed for the day, so we went ahead and called in a reservation to the Quality Inn closest to Hershey world and got some dinner.  Once we got to the hotel we found out that they had upgraded us from a regular king room to the king room with a Jacuzzi!  What a great way to end a great day!

States Today: Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania

States Total: Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia, West Virginia, & Pennsylvania.