October 31, 2007


Yep, they grow 'un BIG up here!

Historic Philadelphia...

No trip along the East Coast would be complete without a visit to the founding place of our country. Yes, it was Philadelphia that was the home of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson in 1776. And it was in this very room at Independence Hall that the Declaration of Independence was written and signed.

A few days later Congress ratified it in their chamber, and it was history! It was interesting to learn that even Franklin considered this a bold experiment, and was uncertain about its future success. Franklin was just over eighty at the signing, and knew that others would have to bear the burden of making this "Democracy" a "reality.
Philadelphia remained the Capital of our country for the first couple of years, until it was moved to Washington.

The nice thing about historical Philly is that the old district was quite small, allowing us to visit these most important landmarks of our past within a day. We started at the Liberty Bell, of course! Interestingly, one is allowed to walk right up to it (but don't dare touch!). The crack was common in bells of that day. It was difficult to get a good blend and casting of the metals. Once a crack starts, it ruins the "ring" and the bell is retired. Fortunately, over the years, this national treasure was saved.

We were also able to find the set of "row houses" that Franklin built & owned, along with his grave in a nearby cemetary.

Hidden beneath the enormous skyscrapers are small jewels of the past that somehow were spared the wrecking ball.
We enjoyed lunch at the City Tavern, which has been operating in the same spot since 1773. Although the orginal structure burned, the National Parks Service rebuilt it to original plans & details. We were surprised by it's antebellum charm & feel.
We crowned the day by arriving at Macy's, which was the old Wanamaker Emporium before the turn of the century, in time for the evening concert on the world's largest pipe organ...the Wanamaker. It was originally constructed for the 1911 St Louis World's Fair, but found a home here instead, due to the manufacturer's bankruptcy. There's nothing electronic that can duplicate the sight & sound of these giants of the organ world! Although this is considered a "concert organ", it was a pleasant reminder of the days of the Paramount Theater show organ concerts in Baton Rouge.

October 28, 2007

Cape May, NJ - Old Downtown

We were surprised to learn that Cape May has the largest collection of old Vicotrian homes in the country. This morning's early light allowed us to capture the beautiful detail and craftsmanship of a few of the many examples!

October 26, 2007

Cape May "Storm" Birding Today!

What a day here in Cape May, NJ ( the "birding capital of the world"). So, out this morning in rain, rain! fog, 30-50mph wind! wow! It really paid off for the regular observers at Avalon Beach, with a record count of over 132,000 birds by 2:30PM, screaming by in the fierce winds in huge flocks !!!

And it also paid off for Kim & I, today's new sightings:
Black & Surf Scoters, Red Throated Loons, Brant Geese, White Rumped Sandpiper, so a pretty good day considering!

October 24, 2007


Connecticut, connecticut .... is there anything over there worth seeing? And we fall upon another spot where discovery overules intention. Yes, we had "intended" to spend "just a night" in this small, rarely heard of state to join Sharon (one of Kim's horse owning friends) for dinner. So, our overnight ends up being four, including a day's paddle on the Housatonic River, a nice picnic lunch and hike with Sharon, a longer day hike on part of the Appalachian Trail and an interesting drive through some of the most picturesque countryside we've yet to find.

We were surprised to that the Housatonic River State Park was partly closed for the season, but "free", quite a bonus for us full-timers out here.

Sharon lives in Bethany, but decided to drive up and meet us at the Park. The weather was beautiful, so after lunch, we made a short hike down the River, and looped back through a nearby hillside, where we discovered an old stone-lined road that lead up to the AT. The magnificant fall colors were well underway, making the liesurely stroll ever more enjoyable.

The River is a favorite amoung local canoeist & kayakers, featuring Class I & II rapids, and for the most part, fast moving water against the backdrop of rolling hills filled with fall splendar.
A nearby Outfitter suggested a 10 mile paddle that would take us back to the Campground. They were taking some customers on another part of the River, so we did a bike shuttle, and another opportunity for more exercise through the hils.

The upper River was still and quiet for the first couple of miles, creating mirrorlike reflections of the late afternoon colors ahead.

Kim's canoe seemed to jump out against the brilliant shades of red & orange.

Adding to the glorious views we jumped up several large groups of Canadian geese. It was interesting to see them get up, climb high above us into their "V" formation, then circle overhead until we were well downriver only to land in that favorite spot once again.

The longest covered bridge we've seen awaited us at West Cornwall, along with the first Class II ocurring right before & under the bridge. The final three miles to the Park went by quickly, as almost the entire route was fast water and rapids. As the sun began to set, the mountains ahead shown brilliant hues of lemon yellow, orange and apple reds ... what a way to end a great paddle!

Ready to get back into the woods the next morning, we started hiking the road we had discovered a couple of days ago up to the AT. The fall scene seemed all the more intense this morning, and a brisk wind added to the experience raining leaves from above, blanketing the trail ahead with an artist pallete of intense color!

A mile or so and the AT intersected the Pine Knoll Loop, taking us high above the Park campground, leaving all signs & sounds of civilzation behind. Throughout this area are remains of old homes. We found this one along the trail, I'm standing in what must have been the cellar.
The unexpected diversion was more of a climb than expected, but the reward was this magnificant view of that fall spectacle from a totally different perspective ... breathtaking!

Our final day in the area was met with a forcast for rain, so off we went in the truck, taking most of the day to complete a sixty mile loop through quiet farmlands, quaint hamlets & towns, lunch at the Mayflower Inn, and Kent Falls, New England's largest waterfall. Hope you enjoy looking at these shots as much as we did taking them!

October 20, 2007

Newport, Rhode Island

I had remembered from an afternoon’s visit years ago the charm and beauty of the town of Newport. Set on a small island that originally was “Rhode Island” and coupled to the mainland by the Jamestown Bridge, this seldom talked about jewel of the East Coast has much to offer. We were on our way to western Connecticut, when Kim suggested we double back and spend “a day” there to see the magnificent mansions of America’s richest families Bellevue and Ocean Avenue. In sounded easy enough and only a slight diversion from the plan, so the U-turn was made, trailer set in a isolated, country park only minutes from the old downtown, and, like so many times before, we find ourselves back on the road again tonight after four wonderful days and nights!

The most interesting aspect of this community is that while places like Boston, Salem & Plymouth are “billed out” as having old the old colonial charm, rich in history and unspoiled by modern encroachment, to our surprise, Newport IS the very definition of this type of place. As we drove day after day, the eye was treated to numerous examples of not only the quaint small sea town life of the 17 & 1800’s, but also stunning examples of wealth and opulence depicted in the “small summer homes” of the likes of the Vanderbilt’s, Rothschild’s and countless other multi-millionaires of that era.

The best known example of this culture is “The Breakers”, the 138,000 sq ft summer home of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Kim & I were enamored by the scale of this creation, from the massive front gates, the sprawling manicured grounds, the immense thickness of the front door, and the countless examples of gorgeous materials & craftsmanship throughout the inside tour. Although we were not allowed to take pictures of this beauty, I’m not sure they could convey the feelings one had when walking through the structure. (Which took a full hour to basically spend a few minutes enjoying perhaps a fourth of its 72 rooms!) http://tickets.newportmansions.org/mansion.aspx?id=1000

Our tour ticket included one other choice of the five open homes maintained by the Newport Preservation Association. On the recommendation of the tour guide we chose “The Elms”, the home of Mr. & Mrs. Edward Julius Berwind the “coal baron” of the US at the turn of the century. http://tickets.newportmansions.org/mansion.aspx?id=1002
I guess the word “smaller example” of these awesome creations (being roughly half the size of the Breakers), would be a poor choice. While different in style and choice of materials, still an immense structure to call one’s “home”. I certainly had a hard time understanding why someone would want to live in these. While impressive examples of workmanship, materials & quality, there is no feeling of “coziness”, “warmth” one gets from a normal sized home. It’s more like being in a large hotel, walking through ballrooms, meeting halls, commercial kitchens, and the like. The bedrooms were so large that the queen-size beds (yes, they had them back then!) appeared to be from a dollhouse rather than a mansion.
Kim & I were both taken by the massive trees in these estates, most brought in from Europe in the late 1800's. Note Kim is the tiny spot in the center of the gigantic weeping beech below.

The “Cliff Walk” is listed in the “1000 Places of the World to See” and it certainly lives up to this recommendation. Three and a half miles along the ledge with beautiful views of the Atlantic on one side and the rear grounds of fabulous homes on the other. Cormorants and gulls abound, but no new sightings for the birding life list.

Another highlight of the area was tour of Fort Adams, the largest fort in America by far from this era. The Fort tour is also unique in that portions of the Fort are restored, showing what it looked like when built, and other areas are left as tattered ruins, giving one a feeling of its age, and all it has been subject to over the years. http://www.fortadams.org/history.htm

Probably most unique is that the tour included a trip out to the end of one of its many listening tunnels, dug far underground and outward from the Fort to detect an enemy trying to tunnel into the well protected structure. It was truly an impenetrable design in its day, and thus, it was never attacked. http://www.riparks.com/fortadamshistory.htm

We were going to leave on Friday morning, but rainy weather along with the discovery that Beausoleil was playing in nearby Falls River, made us stay. And, what a great decision that was! They were playing at the Narrows Center for the Performing Arts, and old converted 3rd floor warehouse with excellent seating and acoustics. Open seating, and as luck would have it Kim & I walked in and got THE front row center seats, complete with cushions already in place on the old church pews! http://www.rosebudus.com/beausoleil/

Michael Doucet and the drummer were “really on”. I had seen them live years ago, but nothing like being 30 feet away! I’ve always loved his voice, but wow, what an incredible job on the fiddle! It also was a treat to see Mitch Reed as opposing fiddler. I had met Mitch in Lafayette a few years ago, when attending his Saturday afternoon Cajun jams there. He also plays with a good friend of mine, Joe Hall. http://www.lsue.edu/acadgate/music/hall.htm Three hours of fantastic music and a great dancefloor to boot! What a great way to end a delightful week in a beautiful setting…

On the drive out the next morning, we enjoyed the increasing fall colors that were really starting to paint the charming town of Newport. We will be back!