Vermont – Jul/Aug 2016

Farms and charm – that is the essence of Vermont. Yes, brooks, streams, stone walls, cows, granges, hippies, cowboys, Subarus, hikers and skiers. But in the end, it is farm and charm.

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For those who have never been to Vermont, well, sad for you. In many ways this remains the Free and Independent Republic of Vermont and I salute you Vermont! This may well be one of the most beautiful states we have spent time, and for those who have followed our travels, you know we spend time in a fair number of pretty sweet places.

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Not to sidetrack (you know I never do), but my very first New England impression from this trip was actually on the Mass Turnpike at the Rt. 128 exit tollbooth. We had been traveling for days, and yet when we pulled up to the tollbooth there was this old black man working the booth. This is not prejudicial or judgmental. He was an old black man.

I gave him my ticket and while I was waiting for him to calculate my huge investment in this highway, I couldn’t escape the music he had playing in the background. I asked him, “Listening to Miles?” to which his eyes lit up and he said no, he was listening to this young “white guy from Texas” named Rick Braun.

The reason I mention this is, in the twinkling of an eye, we had made a connection. He and I were locked on. I am pretty sure our backgrounds could not have been more diverse. And yet, in this brief moment in time, we were brothers. Welcome to New England.

The beauty in Vermont is spectacular, and yet subtle. As the photos here will testify, we didn’t find majestic vistas, ocean coastlines, outrageous rock formations, or pristine snow-capped Andes-like mountain ranges. But we found beauty at almost every turn. You almost have to know New England. New England has its own charm, vitality – and ruggedness.

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You can visit places like Manchester, and not to be unfair to Manchester, it has sold its soul to high priced investors, high-value folks from New York and elsewhere, and has capitulated to the high-end retailers. In contrast, Stowe has remained independent – you would have to search for a chain restaurant or retailer anywhere in town, and all the while maintaining its charm. Manchester and Stowe represent two different towns, with two different approaches.

But if one is to find and understand New England charm, wisdom and grace, you need to dig deeper. You need to travel on the back roads of this beautiful state. There are only two interstates (I-89 and I-91) in Vermont and they can (and should) both be easily avoided.  Another benefit to staying off the highways is you get to enjoy all the fresh farm stands! Fresh corn, tomatoes, lettuce, blueberries, basil…

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Fresh picked salad (flowers and all) from one of our farm stands

One of the quirks to Vermont is the abundance of U Pick Blueberries places. Are you sh*tting me? Now I am sorry – maybe I am not getting into the spirit here. But what I am looking for is YOU Pick Blueberries, I PAY for blueberries, and I EAT blueberries. Do I want to pay to PICK blueberries? I think not.

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As a born-and-bred New Englander, I know Vermont is a beautiful state. But it has been years since traveling in Vermont, and I must reiterate just how beautiful this state is, literally from top to bottom and side to side. Perhaps I remember the state mostly from fall foliage and winter skiing trips, but the state in summer is drop-dead gorgeous with green mountains, beautiful farms, cute villages and quaint New England charm.

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On this trip we spent the last three weeks camping in the VT state parks. Let me tell you – most other states could take a lesson from Vermont on how to do state park camping, and do it well.

State parks aren’t for every kind of camper, and in Vermont you should assume that the campsites are geared toward tent campers do not have water or electricity, but are generally large and private. As long as you understand and can live with that, you will be delighted! I would estimate the campers here at 90% tents, lean-tos, or popups, 9% travel trailers, and maybe at most 1% motor coaches – probably less.

From Woodford SP (https://travelwiththeslowskys.com/2016/07/25/bennington-vt-july-2016/) we traveled to Emerald Lake SP just north of Manchester, VT. Emerald Lake SP is a little unique because it is built into the side of a valley, which has the effect of making the campground long and narrow. Emerald Lake is just that – emerald in color.   Bring your boats and swimsuits, but also understand this is a popular place for these activities.

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Emerald Lake

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Emerald Lake SP campsite

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The location is close to towns like Manchester and Dorset, and because we had a stretch of somewhat warmer temps (high 80’s, even low 90’s) we used the time to explore into New York to check out the Lake George scene and a cursory look into the Adirondacks.

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Lake George in NY

From Emerald Lake we headed a bit north up to Lake Carmi SP, which might be 5 miles from the Canadian border. Because I wanted to stop at a particular brewery (The Alchemist) in Stowe, we ended up driving towards Lake Carmi by way of Smugglers Notch. By the way, if you are a beer drinker, The Alchemist in Stowe is a must-stop-by. I will say that again – make this stop!

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Now I am not feint of heart when it comes to driving on narrow, curvy roads. BUT… Smugglers Notch is different. It is beautiful, and I would encourage everyone to cross this pass, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone towing something, like we did. Fortunately for us there was very little traffic, but if there was any amount of traffic coming the other way, well, hang on. Even though this road handles traffic in two directions, at many points the road is only suitable for one vehicle; said vehicle not being an F250 towing a 27-foot Airstream. At one point the single lane road winds between enormous rock outcroppings. Think narrow hair-pin turns, no visibility, and boulders on both sides with zero tolerance for error. Oh, and there is a 16% grade on the other side. Other than that, this is a perfect road to tow.

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This is NOT a one-way road!

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While there are a thousand trails and places to go up in Smugglers Notch, one of the easy places we stopped at was Bingham’s Falls, named for the guy that is attributed to putting Stowe on the map back in the 1800’s. The falls are beautiful, as is the surrounding scenery.

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Bingham Falls

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Above Smugglers Notch, Lake Carmi SP was really a pretty campground and we stayed there for 3-4 days. Situated right on Lake Carmi (pro CAR my), we had a chance to paddle around the lake – really nice particularly near sunset.

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Lake Carmi

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We also biked on a 15-mile rail/trail from Castleton University in Castleton to Green Mountain College in Poultney and back. The trail is nice although not as well used as other trails we have used before, and the scenery along the way is gorgeous.

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For a day trip (without trailer) to see what was around us we exited Lake Carmi by scooting north and west over to the Grand Isle. If you look at a map of northern Vermont you will find Grand Isle sitting in the middle of Lake Champlain. This is a neck of land that slithers in between all the nooks and crannies of Vermont, and you don’t want to miss it; you will have views of Lake Champlain on both sides of you.

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Note the two hungry mouths, top left bird hole

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Two uses of wind power

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Lake Champlain

We departed Lake Carmi by heading north and east just below the Canadian border. We were treated to more exceptional beauty! The reason we headed this way is we wanted to include the town of Greensboro in our path towards Little River SP. In Greensboro you will find Hill Farmstead Brewery. Are you detecting a theme here yet?

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Hill Farmstead Brewery is another “must see” in your journeys if you have a fondness for good craft beers. Ooh la la. You will assume you have been misdirected, because you will travel over about 5 miles of dirt roads to get there, and it is nestled in the Vermont hills in seemingly the middle of nowhere. Nowhere is a good place to be in this case.

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Camped at Little River SP in Waterbury, VT, we took an opportunity to hike some trails within the park and hiked a really nice 6-mile hike. Even though this state park is technically located in Waterbury, you will find the temperature about 5 degrees cooler in the state park than in Waterbury. No complaints.

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A little early to be changing colors

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While up near Stowe and Smugglers Notch, we opted to drive the toll road up Mount Mansfield.  While not normally our style, it did provide us some pretty nice views of the area.

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Great view looking down towards Smugglers Notch

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I told Karen I was sure we could do the black diamond run in our F250, but she opted for the green toll road trail instead

Did someone say Ben and Jerry’s?  Don’t make us beg. At this point it does not look we will visit Ben & Jerry’s. Yes, it is 5 miles down the road. We’re thinking we’ll buy a pint or two and wave as we drive by. How insensitive – I know. Maybe on our way out of town we will be struck with remorse and make the trip. No promises. I am just thinking it will be Wally World in there and that just doesn’t ring right.

If you’ve made it this far in this post, you are a better person than me.  Maybe this has been the Long Tale!  None the less, figure a time to get up to Vermont!

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