Montana Prairie…Sun, Heat, Wind and Beauty

After a brief visit to Billings (see previous post) we set out due north to traverse the Great Plains of central Montana before turning west in the Northland parallel to the Canadian border.

Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge (CMR)

Missouri River, CM Russell NWR

Our first stop on the journey north was the CMR. Once again we found ourselves crossing the mighty Missouri River which so dominates the history of this part of the country with its integral connection to the Lewis & Clark expedition.

We crossed the river within the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge consists of 1.1 million acres which border the river from the Fort Peck Dam on the east to the Missouri River Breaks National Monument on the west – a distance along the river of about 125 miles.

This protected area is primitive and essentially looks as it did when Lewis and Clark journeyed up the river. There is a rough auto road that drops down to the river level and follows the river before looping back to the highway.

We drove the road and were able to see some of the Missouri Breaks (rock formations) as well as a number of the remnants of abandoned praire homesteads. It is hard to fathom how hardy people must have been to homestead in this rugged terrain – most failed.

The refuge is named after Charles M. Russell – an artist known for his western landscape paintings, many of which depict the refuge, and as an early conservationist.

Auto ROAD, CMR

american prairie reserve (APR)

Bison at American Prairie Reserve, Sun Prairie, Montana

The APR is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and expanding the prairie land of central Montana. It is estimated by the APR that a land area of three million acres (5000 square miles) is necessary to preserve the Great Plains in perpetuity. The APR is buying prairie land from private owners and leasing land from the federal and state government which is contiguous to existing public lands (including CMR) to create the reserve.

The APR has also established a sizeable bison herd which freely roams within the reserve. When we were completing our research on Montana we learned that we could camp within the reserve among the bison (at our own risk obviously).

We were definitely up for the camping on the prairie. Adding to the adventure was the need to navigate across 60 miles of prairie devoid of signage and without the aid of satnav. Since we are writing this post you are correct in concluding that our navigator was more than up to the task.

We enjoyed our journey through the prairie and our overnight camping with the bison despite the triple digit temperatures, 30 mile per hour winds and accompanying dust. The opportunity to see these magnificent animals roaming the prairie freely, as they did until the late 1800s, felt as if we had the privilege of traveling back in time.

Of course, we probably all have read about the near extinction of the bison at the hands of Euro-Americans to supply the east with fur and hides. The slaughter of the bison also served to deprive the Native Americans of their way of life.

The Native Americans of the plains not only killed bison for the meat – they used every bit of the bison to make shelters, clothing, weapons and tools. The Native Americans worshipped the bison as it provided so much of what they needed to live.

“When the buffalo went away, we became a changed people… The buffalo was everything to us. When it went away, the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again. —Plenty-Coups (Crow) 1880

When we decided to visit the APR we did not know that the Montana ranching community is adamantly opposed to it. We had the opportunity to speak with a rancher when we stopped for fuel and provisions on the trip to the APR.

The cattle ranchers are concerned they will not be allowed to continue to use the land that the APR buys and leases from the government for grazing. They are also concerned that the APR wants to let the bison roam freely throughout the reserve and not be managed as stock; which could lead to transmission of Brucellosis to cattle, causing spontaneous abortion in pregnant cattle. Bison in Yellowstone National Park have been infected with Brucellosis in the past. How real the concern is we do not know.

In the end though, much of the opposition is to what the ranchers view as a land grab by the federal government. Ranchers have a deep animosity towards the federal government and as you may recall, this has manifested itself in violence on a number of occasions.

The Montana economy is primarily agricultural and extractive – cattle, sheep, barley, wheat, copper mining and fossil fuel. Theerefore, any partnership by the government (in this case with the APR) to de facto acquire more land (which ends up off-limits for agricultural or extractive purposes) is going to be controversial.

Hopefully, the ranchers and APR can work things out, although presently there are several lawsuits in progress.

The montana hi-Line and Sweet grass hills

We departed the APR traveling north through another 50 miles of dusty prairie until we reached the town of Malta and our first paved road in several days. At Malta we turned west to travel on Route 2 to reach Chester and then head north into the Sweet Grass Hills. The area from Route 2 north to Canada and from the North Dakota border on the east to the Idaho border on the west is known as the Montana Hi-Line.

The Hi-Line is emblamatic of Montana – rolling grasslands, cattle ranches and mile after mile of wheat, barley and cannola fields under seemingly un-ending blue sky. This area known as the Hi-Line was sparsely populated until the late 1800s.

Around this time James Hill, a railroad executive, began the construction of the Great Northern Railroad (GNR), envisioning a railroad extending from St. Paul, Minnesota to the Pacific Ocean. He envisioned this railroad as a trade route ultimately extending to Asia. The construction of the railroad through northern Montana brought multitudes of ranchers and farmers into the area. The railroad brought supplies to the towns that popped up along the railway and moved their crops and stock to market. Today the railroad and Route 2 run side by side through most of this area.

The photos above are from our stop in Chester – our departure point from Route 2. We had fika at Well in Chester and met several local farmers and ranchers. The coffee shop owner is also the local pastor, a firearms dealers and a substitue teacher – apparently not unusual in this part of the world based on our conversations. The town is tiny at 311 acres and a population of 1099 and it was obvious that there is a real sense of community here.

After our stop in Chester we were on our way north. We were surprised when we turned onto Route 409 North that is was paved but as so often happens here, the pavement ended abruptly in just a couple of miles and we were back to traveling on dirt roads once again.

The Sweet Grass Hills are dominated by three buttes – West, Gold and East. The buttes stand at about 7000 feet and they can be seen from a significant distance because of the gently rolling grasslands around them.

The Buttes of the Sweet Grass Hills

We spent the remainder of the day touring the Sweet Grass Hills following Route 409 and Route 552. While that sounds straightforward – we assure you it is not – the 409 and 552 are meandering and unmarked routes crossing other dirt roads and forking off in multiple directions (with many of the trails not shown on our maps).

Nonetheless, this backcountry tour was amazing. This is remote country inhabited by cattle and a handful of ranchers. The wind apparently never stops on the prairie adding to the sense of isolation and remoteness – we felt it in just the day traveling through the area.

West Butte
Whitlash Community Presbyterian Church

Whitlash, population 15, was the only named place on our tour of the hills. We did not see anyone at this bend in the road called Whitlash. We stopped for a “pop” at what we thought was a store based on a sign for cold pop. Upon entering we found a coin operated washer and dryer and a soda machine but no people. When was the last time you purchased a 12 ounce cans of pop for 50 cents?

About three miles east of the terminus of Route 552, the road became paved once again and we cruised into Sunburst in search of a well deserved chocolate milkshake.

We had the opportunity to chat with several life long residents of the area while enjoying our shake. We learned that this tiny town which is just eight miles from the Canadian border was once home to the largest refinery in Montana and one of the largest in the states when it was in operation.

Sunburst sits in the aptly named Kevin – Sunburst Dome, a significant deposit of oil and gas. The refinery was purchased by the Texas Company (Texaco) in 1929. During World War II the refinery was a major supplier of aviation fuel for the U.S. military.

Texaco closed the refinery in 1962, concluding a 30-year run of prosperity for the town. Subsequently, the refinery was leveled, the site remediated and the town returned to its agricultural roots. The only vestige of the refinery today is the road sign declaring that Sunburst is home to the Sunburst High School Refiners athletic teams.

First Peoples Buffalo Jump

We wrote above about the literally life sustaining importance of the bison to the Native Americans of the plains. Traveling south from Sunburst we visited a buffalo jump used by Native Americans to to kill the bison that so sustained their way of life.

A “buffalo runner” disguised in bison hide would lead the short-sighted herd towards a precipice, sometimes running for days to bring the herd to the jump. Other members of the tribe would follow behind, agitating the herd. The agitators would usually be disguised as wolves.

Once the bison went over the edge the rest of the tribe went to work. Any bison not killed by the plunge were quickly dispatched. The entire bison was disassembled – blood and meat for immediate consumption. The remainder of the bison was set aside for making tools, clothing, teepees and weapons. Meat not eaten during the ensuing feast would be dried for consumption after the last of the fresh meat was eaten.

The photos above show the cliff at First Peoples Buffalo Jump – thought to be the largest of the 6000 known buffalo jump sites in North America.

Thoughts on the Prairie

We thoroughly enjoyed our trip through the prairie and grasslands of central and northern Montana. It is unquestionably beautiful country, but it is also without a doubt a harsh environment. We experienced many days of temperatures well over 100F. There is little to no shade, the wind never stops blowing and it is dusty, dusty, dusty.

Visit, but go prepared for extremes in weather, keep your fuel tank full and carry as much water as you can if you are going to venture deep into the backcountry.

Be seeing you!

Visiting the U.P. Doesn’t Make You a Yooper

Fika at Velodrome Coffee in Marquette was our first destination as we returned to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for the first time in over two years.

Pictured Rock National lakeshore

The Pictured Rock National Lakeshore (PRNL) was created in 1966 to protect a 42 mile section of coastline along Lake Superior. The 15 mile stretch of sandstone cliffs rising as high as 200 feet above the water is the real attraction here. The total protected area is around 71,000 acres which provides a buffer zone between the lakeshore and commercial logging.

We toured the lakeshore by boat. While there are a substantial amount of hiking trails throughout the park which lead to the cliffs the best views of the various formations are from the water. We would recommend a boat tour if you are going to be in the area but would not recommend PRNL as a multi-day destination unless you are going to camp in the park and kayak from the beach through the formations.

Iron mining

While iron ore mining and production is very often portrayed as nonexistent today in the United States, it is still quite active in parts of the Upper Peninsula and Minnesota. In fact iron ore mining has been ongoing here in the Marquette Iron Range since 1847.

The completion of the various shipping canals and locks throughout the Great Lakes facilitated the efficient movement of iron ore by lake freighters to ports further south-close to major manufacturing operations for steel and auto-making.

More to come on iron mining when we post from Minnesota where we will be traveling through the Iron Range.

Iron Ore Loading Dock, Marquette, Michigan

Iron ore heritage trail

Carp River

The Iron Ore Heritage Trail (IOHT) is a winding and hilly 47 mile trail that utilizes the former rail lines that were used to bring timber and iron ore to Lake Superior. The trail runs through many wetlands and wooded areas as well as a number of closed and abandoned mines.

We rode the trail from the west to east (from Ispheming towards Marquette) which means a long uphill climb as you return from Marquette to your starting point. One of our favorite trails to date because of the fast downhills and corners.

Keweenaw Peninsula (KP)

Portage Lake Lift Bridge

The Portage Lake Lift Bridge pictured above connects Houghton and Hancock, Michigan. The bridge is the widest and heaviest double deck lift bridge in the world. When the bridge is in position for automobile traffic it sits a mere four feet above the water. The bridge fully raised provides 100 feet of clearance allowing large lake freighters (lakers) to use the canal.

The canal itself came about as mining companies sought to decrease the time it took to haul copper from the copper-rich Keweenaw Peninsula to markets. Work on the canal began in the 1860’s with dredging and widening of several narrow riverways to Portage Lake thereby creating a east/west canal and shaving 100 miles off the trip.

When the canal was completed, the northern half of Keneewaw Peninsula technically became Copper Island. For a number of years all traffic had to go across the canal via ferry boats while winter allowed for crossing on ice roads. As the demand to cross the canal increased, a series of bridges were constructed to allow people, vehicles and trains to cross the canal. The current bridge is the fourth bridge to connect the southern and northern halves of the peninsula. The first three were swing bridges which were slow and unreliable. The second bridge was destroyed when a freighter collided with the bridge. The current bridge came into use in 1959.

Copper mining

Quincy Shaft #2 Rockhouse

Copper was first utilized on the peninsula by Native Americans long before the arrival of Euro-Americans. The Native Americans utilized copper for tools and jewelry. Copper had been separated from rock by retreating glaciers and was scattered around the surface in abundant quantities requiring no mining or excavating.

While the first copper mine in the Upper Peninsula began operation around 1771 it was not until around 1840 that large scale commercial extraction of copper (as well as iron and silver) commenced. The rush began in earnest when the the state’s first geologist, Douglass Houghton, released his report affirming the abundance of high grade copper on the Keweenaw Peninsula.

Copper was mined for the next 150 years on the Keweenaw Peninsula where a narrow seam of copper runs from the Wisconsin border to the tip of Keweenaw Peninsula (Copper Harbor). The mines in Michigan produced more than 14 billion pounds of copper during that period of time and during the late 1800s was the largest copper producer in the world.

The mines began to mature around 1900 as the depth of the shafts made the cost of extraction unviable. A number of mining operations closed down and the population of Keweenaw Penninsula declined for a number years.

War is good for business and the increased demand for copper during World War II brought prices to a level which made copper mining in the penisula viable again. Several mines continued operation until 1969 when a labor dispute triggered the closure of those mines. Today most of the copper production in the United States takes place in Arizona.

The legacy of the cooper mining industry is still highly visible on the Keweenaw Peninsula today. There are numerous mine-shaft rockhouses scattered along what is now Highway 41. The rockhouse stood over the mine shaft. The rock was brought up the shaft in train cars (skips) and dumped into rock crushers below, which then fed uniform sized pieces of rocks into rail cars below the crushing machines.

Another lasting legacy of the copper mining on the Keneewaw Peninsula is pollution. The good news in that regard is that because the copper here was native copper is it 99.99% pure and as such the slag, rock waste and tailings are much less toxic. Having said that, there was enough concern that an EPA Superfund Site was created to deal with the waste. The site has been removed from the Superfund list as a result of the remediation effort.

The Keweenaw Peninsula economy has transitioned to focus on tourism and timber as the main sources of employment. This area is a haven for boating, fishing, hunting, hiking, mountain biking and OHV riding.

Copper Harbor via the m26…but first, breakfast

WIth a day of exploration in front of us we have learned that is is essential to be well fortified. So we stopped at Slim’s Cafe in Mohawk. Slim’s Cafe has been serving breakfast to Yoopers and visitors for over 40 years. In addition to the massive and tasty breakfast it is mandatory to have their absolutely delicious cinnamon rolls. Do not leave without purchasing cinnamon rolls!

After fortification at Slim’s, we spent the day touring the KP from Houghton to land’s end at Copper Harbor. The M26 winds along the western coast of the peninsula providing wonderful views of Lake Superior and the coastline. Beautifully preserved lighthouses dot the coastline and provide excellent opportunities to learn about the history of the area.

Eagle Harbor Light Station
Lake Superior from West Bluff, Brockway Mountain

We veered off the M26 a few miles south of Copper Harbor to take in the views from Brockway Mountain. The “mountain”is 720 feet above Lake Superior and on a clear day provides a panoramic view of the lake as well as Copper Harbor and several other lakes.

After descending Brockway Mountain we continued to Copper Harbor and followed US Highway 41 through the village where the highway terminates. This is one of those places where you feel as if you are at the top of the world.

On the day we visited the village, the sun was shining and the sky and lake were deep blue. We had a picnic lunch sitting at the waters edge. We could not, however, keep ourselves from envisioning being here in the dead of winter with the 85 brave souls that call this village home. The cold, the wind and prolonged darkness that occur at this parallel is requires a level of self-sufficiency we do not possess.

Copper Harbor, Keweenaw Peninsula

We decided to return to Houghton by a more rustic route. While Highway 41 ends in Copper Harbor you can continue on via the dirt roads used by loggers and eventually loop southward down the peninsula.

Mandan Road

We had the opportunity to meet with many residents of the Upper Peninsula – known as Yoopers. Yoopers do not consider themselves as Michiganders. In fact, there have been numerous attempts in the past by Yoopers to form their own state – unsuccessfully, obviously.

Yoopers clearly see themselves as separate and distinct from the city folk downstate. This is outdoor country where sled racing, skating, ice fishing, snowshoeing are part of everyday life. Of course the most Yooper outdoor winter sport of all is probably outhouse racing (paint your own mental picture!)

Many of the Yoopers we met made it very clear that to be able to live here year round a person must be extremely self-reliant and self-sufficient and you better know how to drive in the snow! Yep!

Next stop Minnesota.

Be seeing you!

New River Gorge National River (NRGNR)

New River Gorge Bridge photographed from Long Point Trail
New River Gorge Bridge photographed from Fayetteville Station Road
New River Gorge Bridge photographed from Fayetteville Station Bridge

The New River Bridge is quite a sight to see and truely an engineering marvel. It is the fourth longest single arch bridge in the United States and sits at a jaw dropping 876 feet above the floor of the gorge.

But for our money, the real attractions of the NRGNR are the history and artifacts of a way of life that existed down in the gorge for more than eighty years. The gorge was scarcely inhabited until surveyors discovered coal, and not just any coal. The coal in the gorge was high quality “smoke less” coal – highly prized for its high carbon content with minimal waste.

Within the gorge the remains of the Nuttallburg Mine provide insight into the workings of a coal mine and the life of the miners and their families. It is considered one of the best preserved mining complexes in West Virginia.

Visiting the site is a commitment in and of itself. The mining complex sits deep in the gorge at river level and requires driving down a windy, narrow and sometimes steep one lane road.

Keeney’s Creek Road (CR 85/2)
Drive to Nuttallburg Mine Site

The Nuttallburg Mine began operations in 1873 after the completion of the Chesapeake & Ohio railine through the gorge was completed. The rail line enabled the shipping of large quantities of coal as the river was not navigable and getting coal up out of the gorge by road was not feasible.

Because mining in the early days was very labor intensive and the local population was small, the mine operators needed to import workers. Workers came from all over Europe and Canada to work at the mine in a variety of capacities. As a result, the mining workforce and their families were a very diverse population.

The mine also employed African American workers who worked side by side with the other employees. However, outside of work the black employees and their families lived in a segregated town on the opposite end of the mining complex with their own church and school.

The mining town here appears to be typical of mining towns in this era as it was self-contained with its own schools, doctors, blacksmiths, social clubs, athletic teams and company store.

Coal Conveyor, Nuttallburg Mine, NRGNR

The coal conveyor pictured above is 1385 feet in length and brought coal down from the mine 600 feet above the gorge floor. This conveyor was built in 1926 and could move 125 tons of coal per hour.

Coal Tipple, Nuttallburg Mine, NRGNR

The company store was a necessity because the employees had no means to travel from the mine complex. Therefore, the company paid the employees in a company issued scrip and most likely significantly overcharged their employees.

Henry Ford leased this mine and others during the early 1920s in order to control the coal supply that Ford needed for automobile production in the Dearborn, Michigan plant. Ford made substantial investments in the mine including the state of the art coal conveyor.

Ford ultimately sold his lease back to the Nuttall family when he found that he could not control the the railroad companies and often could not get his coal to Michigan when he needed it.

The mine continued operations under three different owners until the mid 1950s when it became abundantly clear that the mine was “played out”.

Today the National Park Service manages the mine complex and is doing a good job protecting the area and providing research and education relating to the history of the mine and the town of Nuttallburg.

Thurmond, West Virginia

After our exploration of the remains at the Nuttallburg Mine site we ventured south and then east along the Dunloup Creek on County Road 25 to the town of Thurmond. The only way to get to Thurmond was by rail until 1921 when CR 25 was built. Crossing the New River today to Thurmond entails driving across a single lane bridge shared with the railroad.

Car and Train Bridge, Thurmond Road, Thurmond, West Virginia

At one time Thurmond was a rail center where short coal trains were assembled into longer trains that hauled coal out of the gorge. It was also the only place in the gorge where steam engines could load coal and water.

While the town “thrived” (population 462 in 1930) during the early portion of the 20th century the advent of the diesel locomotive rapidly diminished the need for the fueling and servicing of steam powered locomotives. From 1930 on the population diminished steadily although passenger trains continued to bring visitors who stayed at the two hotels that had been built during the prosperous days. Unfortunately, both of the hotels burned to the ground and those events put the finishing touches on the demise of the town.

While the town essentially vanished by the 1950s, the rail lines continue to be operated by the CSX Railway- still hauling coal out of the gorge from the many active mines that remain operational today (more on that topic in a future post about coal country).

Today the population of Thurmond is four and most of the property in the town is owned and managed by the National Park Service. The former depot pictured below is now a visitor center during the summer months.

Thurmond, West Virginia,

Additionally, the Amtrak Cardinal train which runs three times a week from New York City to Chicago still stops at the Thurmond Depot. Not surprisingly, there is only one other stop in Amtrak’s entire system where fewer passengers board the train.

Main Street, Thurmond, West Virginia

An interesting feature of the town is that it never had a main street. All of the commercial buildings in town sat directly along the railroad tracks because there was no room for a street in addition to the rail line in the narrow river gorge.

The Coaling Station pictured below was built in 1922 and could hold more than 500 tons of coal for re-fueling steam locomotives.

Coaling Station, Thurmond, West Virginia
Thurmond Depot, Thurmond, West Virginia

We enjoyed exploring the New River Gorge National River and highly recommend this area for its beauty and history.

We will spend the next several days touring “coal country” in the southern part of the state before turning east and heading for Lewisburg, West Virginia for several days of bicycling the Greenbrier River Rail Trail.

Be seeing you!

Maine: Ever So Briefly: OTR 5.1

We departed Gorham, New Hampshire driving due east on Route 2 to Bethel, Maine. https://www.sundayriver.com/ In Bethel we took a break at DiCocoa’s Bakery & Cafe for coffee, tea and delicious baked goods. We highly recommend stopping here when you are in town. http://www.cafedicocoa.com

From Bethel we traveled north on Route 5 where we stopped in Andover for provisions. Andover is a small town in western Maine that dates back to 1788 and its roots as a lumber town go back to those early days. Ethan Allen Furniture operated a sawmill there until 2009.

This region of Maine has seen almost no Covid-19 cases and we did not see a single local resident wearing a face mask. When we entered the local grocery we were advised that “we don’t wear masks here, when it is your time it is your time”. Good luck………

Because of it’s geographic location Andover was chosen as the site of the Andover Earth Station, one of the first satellite earth stations. This antenna installation was utilized to communicate with the Telstar 1 satellite which provided the earliest satellite television and telephone service between Europe and North America. The original antenna was dismantled in the early 1960s. Currently the site is operated by Verizon in support of their satellite communication network. Today, Andover is primarily a destination for hunters and fishing enthusiasts.

After provisioning in Andover we traveled north through South Arm and into the backcountry of the Richardson Public Reserved Land Trust. There are 37 land trust areas in Maine. The land trust areas provide dispersed camping opportunities in addition to a multitude of outdoor recreation activities. https://www.nrcm.org/explore-maine-map/public-reserved-land/

Part of our reason for heading to the Richardson Lakes area was the opportunity to put the Beast into 4wd mode on the many forest and logging roads and trails that run through the reserve. We spent a fun afternoon circling around the perimeter of the 22,000 acre preserve before heading to Worthley Lake to camp.

Lover’s Lane, Richardson Lakes, MPRL
Richardson Lakes, MPRL
Worthley Pond, Peru, Maine

After our night at Worthley Pond we made the short trip to Hallowell to spend the day poking around in this historic town situated on the Kennebec River. The town was first settled in 1762.

The town has a prosperous history which was driven by the logging, shipbuilding, granite and ice industries that benefited from access to the Atlantic Ocean via the Kennebec River. Ice from Hallowell was taken by sailing ships to Cuba and various Caribbean Islands.

Today the town is a tourist draw with its many restaurants, pubs, shops and art galleries.

As many of you know, we are coffee and tea fans and were very pleased that Hallowell is home to Traverse Coffee Co located right in the heart of town on Water Street. Highly recommended. http://www.traversecoffeeco.com

Water Street, Hallowell, Maine, Pop. 2381

From Hallowell we made our way to the coast and the lovely town of Boothbay Harbor. The town sits on a peninsula which extends into the Bay of Maine and as such is a popular summer vacation destination and yachting center.

Our friends Dianna and Scott were vacationing in Boothbay Harbor while we were in town and they graciously allowed us to bivouac on their property during our stay.

Our Hosts: Scott, Dianna, Joanne, Penelope Rose, Phoebe Jane
Bivouac, Boothbay Harbor, Maine

While in Boothbay Harbor we visited the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. This botanical garden is an absolute gem located on apx. 300 acres. The gardens are thoughtfully designed for touring and there are walking trails that provide access to the Back River which abuts the property. https://www.mainegardens.org/

The gallery below consists of photographs taken by the talented photographer Phoebe and feature her sister Penelope.

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens
Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

In addition to the botanical gardens we spent an afternoon in town at the harbor. Again we were blessed with an excellent coffee cafe in the heart of the shopping and restaurant district along the harbor. Highly recommended. http://www.brisettos.com

Portland was our destination after departing Boothbay Harbor. We had not visited Portland since 2011 so we were excited to get back to the city and see if the food, coffee and art scene is as vibrant as we remembered.

We spent our first afternoon walking around the city mural hunting and quickly found a plethora of fine works both authorized and unauthorized. We have included several works here but would refer you to our earlier post: Street Art From The Road:OTR 5.1 which includes a selection of murals from around Portland.

Portland, Maine – East Bayside

The third wave coffee scene in Portland has grown since our last visit but we continue to place Tandem Coffee at the top of our list. In addition to the great coffee the Congress Street cafe has an excellent bakery.

We made our first visit to Speckled Ax Coffee. This roaster and cafe operator opened in 2012. The coffee is excellent. Speckled Ax is unique in that they wood roast their coffee – not a common or easy way to roast coffee – but they have certainly mastered the technique.

Casco Bay, Portland, Maine

After taking in a nice sample of the street art and coffee scene we took advantage of the wonderful weather to ride the Casco Bay Ferry across the bay to Peaks Island. The island is about three miles off shore from the Portland waterfront and the ferry ride is just 20 minutes.

Peaks Island is part of the city of Portland but does have its own police station, post office and elementary school. Post elementary students ride the ferry to and from the mainland to attend school.

The full time residents of the island have a long history of trying to secede from the city – most recently in 2011 when the city reevaluated properties on the island and property taxes increased by over 200%. As with previous attempts to secede the Portland City Council Council voted no.

Ah well, a beautiful spot to visit even if you cannot afford to own a house. We took in the island scenery on a rented golf cart and dined on fresh sea food before returning to Portland

Portland happily is as handsome and interesting as we remembered. From Portland we meandered along the coastline and stopped for a hike as we made our way to Portsmouth for our final overnight before returning to Connecticut.

Susan Bartlett Rice, Biddeford, Maine

Our final day on the road required a short detour to Dover to check out locally renowned Flight Coffee and fuel up for the final leg to The Fort. A nice cafe for planning your next adventure! https://www.flightcoffeedover.com/

We thoroughly enjoyed our brief swing through Maine as the final segment of our brief return to the road. While all aspects of travel are not back to pre-pandemic conditions we think the country has opened up enough to allow life on the road to be enjoyable and safe. To that end we plan on departing The Fort in October for a fall tour of West Virginia and Virginia.

The Grid, Worcester, Massachusetts

We could not actually make it back to Connecticut without more coffee and tea so we ventured into The Grid district of Worcester for fika and found several fantastic murals to boot. Life is good.

Be seeing you!

New Hampshire: On The Road 5.1

Loading the Beast
Pandemic Travel Wardrobe

Howdy! After shortening our winter/spring roadtrip by about 50% we finally got back on the road for a short adventure. Based on the title above you have probably figured out that we journeyed up the road apiece from our home base in Connecticut to the Granite State, New Hampshire. This trip was intended to “test the waters” for travel conditions in the new normal of the forever pandemic. Our choice of New Hampshire reflected its proximity, the fact we had not visited the state in some time and the state is welcoming visitors from all of the other New England states.

View from Bald Mountain, Franconia Notch

We visited Nashua and Manchester briefly on our trip north to the White Mountains but our main focus in New Hampshire was on camping and hiking.

The White Mountain National Forest offers significant camping options as well as a seemingly infinite amount of hiking options. We were fortunate to have very comfortable and mostly sunny weather which made for some wonderful (and occasionally strenuous) hiking.

Hiking in New Hampshire is so rewarding with its abundance of streams, rivers, lakes and waterfalls to be found along the way not to mention the views from the ridgelines and summits.

Franconia Falls, Lincoln, New Hampshire
View from Pine Mountain, Gorham, New Hampshire
Cherry Lake, Pondicherry National Wildlife Refuge
Beautiful Stands of Birch Trees are Scattered Throughout the Forest
Riding the Trails near Gorham, New Hampshire

Littleton, hard on the Ammonoosuc River, was one of our favorite small towns in the Franconia Notch area. It has a well preserved downtown with a variety of shops as well as a number of eateries right along the river. Of course, best of all there was an excellent coffee shop with ooutdoor seating on the riverbank (Inkwell Coffee & Tea).

Bridal Veil Falls, Moultonborough, New Hampshire
Franconia, New Hampshire

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in New Hampshire and plan to explore all of northern New England on a more comprehensive basis at some point in the future. Next stop: a short swing into Maine to visit friends in Boothbay Harbor and then visit the beautiful city of Portland.

Be seeing you!

P.S. Don’t forget to check out the art and coffee photo galleries in the sidebar.

Route 25

After flying to Spokane we made the drive to Rossland via the very scenic State Route 25. Route 25 originates in Davenport and ends just before the border with Canada so we were able to travel the entire route from start to finish. Lots of great scenery as much of the route hugs the river following the many bends and also rises above for spectacular vistas. The ferry is the Gifford-Inchellium Ferry. The church is located in the “town” of Hunters, WA.

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Kolob Terrace Road

On Wednesday afternoon we drove the Kolob Terrace Road to take in the views of the terrace and Zion NP to our east. The road ends at the Kolob Resevoir after 24 miles and an elevation gain of over 1000 ft. We traveled to mile 18 where the road is still closed due  to remaining snow making the road impassable. Great views and a refreshing drop of about 10 degrees in temperature from the desert floor below.

 

Kolob Terrace