“The Race”, Rhode Island & New London

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A couple weeks ago on a Tuesday I took the Long Island Railroad from Brooklyn to Greenport, NY.  I brought my Feathercraft Heron folding kayak along with camping gear and supplies and paddled up to Orient Point and spent the night near the ferry terminal there.

The next morning there was a heavy dew and not much sun so it took a while for everything to dry out.  I finally packed up and paddled east towards the southern most point of Plum Island.  The tide was coming in and I had to paddle against the current as I crossed the south side of Plum Island, which I later found out is called “Plum Gut”.   There are many large signs posted on the island warning everyone to stay out.  I think I could have stopped on the rocks below the bluffs at the eastern end of the island if I really needed to stretch my legs but I was still good and just took a short floating break near there instead.

I then headed towards the gull islands and encountered more current which forced me to paddle at almost a 45 degree angle to the right the line of sight so that the 2 islands would stay lined up, with the Little Gull light house appearing to rise out of Great Gull Island.  Even as a I paddled at an angle I was still being pushed to the left into the sound.  After a time I was pushed into an area of choppy water that seemed to slow my progress even more although I was still slowly gaining on the Great Gull.  Eventually I noticed that the water was much calmer even further to the left so I moved over and was able to pick up a little speed and finally came around the back side of Great Gull.  There are signs here too asking you not to land as it is a research station.  I did stop briefly at the platform out over the water there since I really needed a break after battling that current.  There is a gang way that connects the platform to the island but it looked like it had been blown down by a storm and there was no sign of researchers on the island that is covered with white bird blinds that they use for observing the birds up close without disturbing them.

Next I paddled the short distance to Little Gull through some pretty turbulent but very manageable water.  I had planned to eat lunch there and thought I might even stay there over night as a worst case scenario but I found it to be inhabited by many gulls, their nests, carcasses, and poop.  To top it off the fog horn at the light house there was emitting a  loud tone every 30 seconds or so.  After landing I grabbed my food bag and headed to the rocks on the south side of the island where there was some obstruction between  me and that horn so I could eat in relative peace.  There I saw a number of seals swimming in the swift currents, smaller grey ones that kept looking at me and one larger darker one with a long snout that I took to be the bull or maybe it was another species all together.

According to the chart high tide at Little Gull was supposed to be at about 2:30 pm so I decided to wait until around that time before continuing east to Fishers Island.  The currents around the island seemed to lighten up just a little bit though it didn’t seem like it was going to get very slack.  Just before 2:30 I decided to try to paddle to the green buoy just to the east of the island to get a feel for the current.  I figured the worst case I could go right back to island and wait for more favorable conditions.  I pushed off and tried to get close to the buoy to observe how the current was running around it but I found it hard to get very close since I was being swept past it towards Fisher’s Island so I decided to just go with it.  The current was pushing me along and also pushing me into the sound so I again paddled at an angle to my line of sight destination that was now the lighthouse at Race Rock just off of Fishers Island.  The seas were pretty choppy at times and less so at others and the waves seemed to change direction until they were coming from directly behind me and got very intense at a couple points about half way to the Rock.  I was later told that standing waves in this area can get as high as 6 feet, I think they were more like 4 when I went through and thankfully there weren’t that many large waves until I reached a much calmer area as I was able to discern more and more details of the lighthouse on the Rock.  The current also changed so that now it was sweeping me out to sea instead of into the sound and the lighthouse that had appeared to be moving to the right across the visible sections of Fishers Island was now moving to the left.  There were many fishing boats around this area, a little further out to sea, and I later learned that this area is called The Race where the really big fish are to be found.  I think if I had paddled a little further out closer to those boats I wouldn’t have had to contend with such strong standing waves as I did trying to keep on a straighter line to the Rock.

The current wasn’t as strong any more and I was soon scaling the long ladder to the foundation of the lighthouse at Race Rock where I could have kissed the concrete.  I then made the short crossing to Race Point at the western end of Fishers Island where I decided to spend the night as it is a very lovely spot and also popular with the locals as I soon discovered.  I met one guy there with his family who was also a kayaker and suggested paddling across the Race to Gardiner’s Point.  It looks interesting but I’d hate to get there and find it’s another sea gull hell like Little Gull.  That’s a pretty long crossing!

The next day I took it easy and stayed at another spot suggested to me near the other end of Fishers Island and the morning after I under took the crossing from there to Napatree Point in Rhode Island.  There was a lot of current there also but it was mostly in my favor again.  The biggest challenge was avoiding the many power boats that speed past Napatree.  The long beach there is really nice except for maybe the dead power boat that’s beached there.  The little tourist town of Watch Hill just past that is very nice and not obnoxious and I stopped there for more bottled water and a big deli sandwich.

For the rest of the day and the next I continued east along the coast of Rhode Island until I landed in heavy surf near East Matunuck State Beach trying to find some place to spend the night.  A local there was very helpful and suggested going into the pond nearby to find a spot so I paddled through the breachway and found a little beach near Jerusalem.  I paddled around the connected ponds looking for a better spot but eventually another local told me the the best place was the little beach I had already found, known as “Dog Beach”.  It turned out to be very nice and I found a little hide away in the trees away from the water where people walk and picnic.  There was a white hawk that perched in one of the trees there before sunset making it’s peeping noises apparently not very disturbed by my presence.

I had originally planned to continue on to Cape Cod but the coast seemed to be getting more and more populated as I was heading east so I decided to turn back towards Napatree Point and Connecticut where the surroundings are a little more natural.  I was really tired of looking at beach houses at that point.  It only took me a day to get back to Napatree and I enjoyed being able to explore it a little more than I had the day before.

The next day there were predictions of 100% chance of very foul weather and I was woken by the first drops of rain on my face at 5:45 AM.  I packed up and headed into the moorage at Watch Hill and had breakfast at the diner there.  As I ate the rain started falling hard but had subsided a bit by the time I left so I headed out towards the north west.  I paddled across the channel that lets out of the Pawcatuck River without realizing it, normally there is very heavy boat traffic there but this day I was the only boat on the water and passing the nature preserve after that I really felt like I was out in the wild.  The wind was getting a little stronger and the rain harder as I passed the end of Sandy Point island towards Stonington.  There I was exposed to heavier seas and there were 3 tiny sailboats out in Stonington harbor and a power boat zipping back and forth between them.  One of the boats tipped over and the sailor was clinging to the side of it in the water.  The power boat sped up to it but didn’t interfere as the sailor righted the craft and continued the course that the sailboats seemed to be following.  I also saw a big trawler coming into Stonington from the sound and that was the only other boat I saw on the water that day.

I used the sea wall at Stonington as a shield from the weather as I approached the small bay that I would have to cross on my way to Mystic which seemed like it would be a good place to get lunch.  The waves got worse as I headed towards a small rock island in the middle of the bay.  The cormorants moved to the opposite side of the island as I paused barely out of the wind there to check Google Maps to make sure I was heading to the right point behind which I would find the short cut into Mystic River.  I set off again and the waves became even worse at times.  The hiss of the heavy rain drops falling on wind blown waves was stark and mesmerizing.  The crossing was very short and I was soon out of the worst of the weather and making my way into the Mystic river where I found a slick new restaurant with convenient docking that wasn’t the quaint New England water front venue I had imagined but was very accommodating anyway.  The Guinness and Irish coffee were very nice also!

There I used the AirBnB app on my phone to find a room just outside of Mystic near the river.  The worst of the weather had passed, the predicted lightening never materialized but the wind had gotten even stronger and after trying to paddle back out into the harbor I decided it would be much better to just spend the night indoors.  My AirBnB host was incredibly accommodating and setup an air mattress for me in her living room since her spare room was already rented out.  In the evening she drove me and the other guest, a travelling glass blower, to Mystic Pizza for supper.

The next day was sunny again so I launched from the river dock where a local family had so graciously allowed me to leave my boat over night.  The wind was still kind of strong and I confronted very choppy but manageable seas while making my way to Bluff Point which is another area of natural beauty.  I stayed at the far end near the U. of Conn and a small airport whose planes flew low over head but at least not that frequently.  There I decided I wouldn’t head any further west along the Connecticut coast since it seemed to be getting very populated again.  I went into New London the day after which is a pretty industrial little port though it has a very nice water front strip of cafes and docks separated by train tracks.  I had a second breakfast, bought a few items at the organic market and scoped out the docks.  There is a large floating public dock that doesn’t seem to be used very much at all that’s a minute walk from train, bus and ferry stations. A very convenient transportation hub indeed!

I headed back towards Bluff Point and then to Mystic Harbor and Napatree and Sandy Point again.  I had a lobster roll at Abott’s along the way, a local institution, and on another day had lunch at the Cooked Goose along the Pawcatuck River.  On my way back west I stopped at the tiny hamlet of Noank at the tiny public dock and beach there.  It’s very quaint with just a few tiny shops including a very convenient bakery coffee shop next to a liquor store and also a huge old white church that seemed kind of out of place there.

I stayed on Bushy Point again, there are a couple spots on the little island there.  The day after that I headed into New London again on the last day of my adventure.  I tied up at a tiny floating dock there and had lunch at the Exchange whose deck directly overlooks the little dock so I could keep an eye on my boat while I ate the pizza that was pretty decent but not great.

After lunch I paddled the boat to the big public dock again where I unloaded and disassembled and packed the boat.  The dock is a bit high for kayaks but I managed to unload without too much trouble though it was a little challenging.  With most of the gear removed it was very easy to lift the bow onto the dock, even at that height, so that the stern teetered up out of the water and I could then rotate the whole boat onto the dock.

After I got everything packed and rolling I managed to get it all over to the Greyhound bus station only to find it closed!  It was supposed to be open from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm and I was supposed to retrieve my will call ticket there that I purchased online earlier.  The train station office next door was open and the nice lady there wasn’t surprised that yet another person was asking about the Greyhound office that was closed when it was supposed to be open.  She told me I should have just gotten a ticket from her on the commuter train to New Haven and change there to the Metro North to the City.  I called the Greyhound complaint line and they told me I could just show the driver my ticket reference number and photo id and it would be ok.  When the bus did show up half an hour late the driver started to give me a hard time about it and saying it wasn’t his problem that the office was closed.  Finally after scrutinizing the receipt email on my phone he reluctantly let my onboard.  That and other things like the way he was driving led me to the conclusion that he wasn’t having a very good evening.  At first I wanted to give him a little piece of my mind about customer service when we were safely arrived at the Port Authority where he couldn’t kick me off the bus any more but by the time we arrived almost 2 hours late at 2AM I was over it and just wanted to get a taxi home and go to bed as soon as possible.

Besides crossing the Race and riding the rain storm it wasn’t an incredibly challenging expedition though paddling most of the Rhode Island coast in one day was pretty strenuous.  I crossed from Noank to Napatree one day, and back another which didn’t take too long going with the current.  My next expedition will definitely be in some place that’s much more wild.  I heard there’s a water trail in Maine that’s quite nice.  Besides Cape Cod maybe the rest of the New England coast is just too developed and so many beach houses and suburban power boaters who don’t understand what you’re doing get to be tiresome after a while.  If I were to kayak Rhode Island again I’d go through more of the breach ways and explore more of the ponds, there’s usually more nature to be found in them, unlike the ocean front that is dominated by beach houses and large public beaches with just a couple notable exceptions.

Things that worked really well this time out were:

  • My home made Pemmican energy food / protein bar / meal replacer. The saturated fat packs time release energy and more of it than any sugary bar. I kept some on deck at all times to avoid paddling on an empty stomach. You never know for sure where and when you’ll be able to prepare or procure your next full meal. Recipe to come…
  • Larabars! A great sweet treat when the pemmican is getting monotonous. Very impressive list of ingredients, no sugar, no junk.
  • My home made, just add water, gluten-free pancake mix with buckwheat and TigerNut Flour. I’m not anti-gluten per se but these ingredients just have more nutrients than wheat.  They were great with clarified butter I made from grass-fed butter and raw honey! Recipe coming soon…
  • Home made dehydrated salt pork!  Very easy to make and perfect in scrambled eggs made with Ovaeasy Egg Crystals.  Even after being carried around for 2 weeks the pork still smells and tastes fresh!  The pre-cooked bacon they sell these days is a good choice also.  Boar’s Head makes a nice one.
  • My home-made, ‘soffritto’ based beef jerky cooked with organic orecchiette, sun dried tomatoes and garlic.  Jerky is easy to make at home but you have to use very lean meat so of course this dish gets a generous dose of olive oil and some of that butter too.
  • Buffalo Trace White Dog. At 125 proof a little goes a long way.  Concentrated liquor is easy to carry, just add water.  A comparison of the effects of white spirits to those aged in wooden barrels could be the subject of another post.  This is powerful medicine!
  • CC Pocket AM/FM/NOAA Weather Radio.  The weather was hard to listen to but helpful, some of the NPR talk shows weren’t too bad, and I got to catch up on the world of party/power mix radio! (“Where are u now that I need ya?”, “Watch me ne ne.”, etc…)
  • Sea to Summit Mosquito Net. Actually kind of a pain to get it stretched out comfortably but still a lot easier and a tiny fraction of the weight of a tent. I brought a silnylon tarp along also in case of rain though I only used it twice as shelter on very windy beaches.
  • Trolling with floating lure and sinkers on a simple foam winding board.  Caught a porgie first time out then the lure got snagged and lost.  I’m replacing it with this one that’s a little bigger: Rapala Original Floater 11 Fishing lure. I got the board in Croatia, they sell these things at any tackle shop in the Mediterranean but I can’t find any like this with Google.
  • Kokatat Tropos Light Storm Cag did the job in a heavy storm: acts like a poncho on land and perfect protection on the boat as long you’re not trying to paddle into strong winds.  I wasn’t worried about being seen with the bright orange cag as I am sometimes in the dark grey Heron.
  • My electric bilge pump system described in another post.  It was very helpful after some of my surf launch and landing mishaps. A kid working the chandlery in Greenport said the pump itself seemed excessive but I find it’s perfect, that boat can hold a lot of water.
  • Big cheap duffle bag that held all the parts and many accessories for the Heron, except the skin that I just rolled and strapped around the duffle bag.  That sat perfectly on a standard kayak cart that has a bar that flips down for a stand like this one but without the strap in the middle, the bag needs to sit down in there.   Much cheaper and easier to handle than Feathercraft’s own wheeled bag system and I like the dual purpose for the cart, though I only used it for the assembled boat once.  Probably wouldn’t work out so well for air travel.

 

Drying out my gear at the dock in New London before packing.

Drying out my gear at the dock in New London before packing.

All packed and waiting for the bus.  I should have taken that train back there instead.

All packed and waiting for the bus. I should have taken that train back there instead.

Monte Santu, Portu Pedrosu, Golgo, Nuraghe Orgodùri

The cape of Monte Santu is a point on the east coast of Sardinia where towering cliffs meet the sea, funneling wind and waves in a such way to make sea conditions very rough and challenging for sea kayakers in comparison to the areas just to the north and south of it.  Luckily there is a hidden cove called “Portu Pedrosu” right at the roughest part where you can take a break, stretch your legs, and even camp for the night as many people do even though it’s technically prohibited to camp or bivouac anywhere in the area of Baunei.  It’s also a good base for hiking up into the surrounding landscape though hiking is pretty strenuous in this area at this time of year for people like me who don’t perform so well in high heat and humidity.

I spent last Friday night there and then on Saturday I paddled a bit further north to Cala Goloritze, one of the most scenic beaches in this part of Sardinia.  Most people arrive at this beach by driving to the high plain up behind Baunei, an area called “Golgo”, where they park their cars and hike an hour and a half down 500 meters in elevation to the beach.  Boats are not allowed to land there as at other beaches but kayaks are ok.  My plan was to leave my boat there at the beach and hike up to Golgo with a back pack with everything needed to stay over night and attend the “Sagra di Capra” or goat festival being held there that evening outside the historic San Pietro church that resides in the middle of Golgo.

The hike was pretty rough in the summer heat but not so bad since it was already after 4PM.  At top there is a parking/camping area and small cafe that sells over priced drinks and water which I was counting on to rehydrate myself after the trek.  After that I walked about a kilometer to the church/fair grounds just in time to get on line for the roasted goat feast.  They were also offering a plate of local cheeses so I decided to get one of each.  The strips of goat flesh on the skin were greasy tasty but the actual meat inside was very dry and tough and I over heard a man commenting that the goats were too old.  The cheese was quite tender on the other hand.  The fresh ricotta was amazing and there were a couple very nice pecorinos and a soft smoked cheese that was so strong that one bite burned my mouth to the point where I couldn’t taste any of the other cheeses afterwards.

After eating I headed through the brush to a nearby tree covered nuraghe to setup my hammock.  I lost my shirt along the way and had to scramble through the dry stream beds again the next morning to find it.  Once I was setup I put on the spare shirt I had and walked back to the church, this time along the road, to check out the evening’s entertainment.  On stage a man was playing traditional Sardinian songs on accordion along with more modern material accompanied by electronic rhythm tracks.  Much of the performance was pretty far from traditional but there were many opportunities for people to practice their traditional Sardinian dances, mostly teenage girls dancing with each other.  There was a large, well-served bar where all the men folk were standing around discussing whatever it is they discuss.  I enjoyed a few cups of home made aquavite di vinnacia (“abbardente”, “filu ‘e ferru”) and then headed back to my illicit camp site.

In the morning I was awakened by a small heard of goats who stood around staring at me while the bells around their neck jangled making it impossible for me to fall back asleep so I finally had to get up and scare them away.  Just getting out of the hammock was enough to send them scurrying as they seem to be pretty skittish animals.  This area is home to a huge population of domestic animals wandering around freely: goats, sheep, pigs, cattle, donkeys and even a few horses.

After a little breakfast of cereal biscuits I packed up and headed back to the church to maybe catch some of the religious procession scheduled for that morning though mainly I wanted to retrace my steps and find the shirt that had dropped off the back of my pack the evening before.   Luckily I didn’t have to go too far back into bush to find where it had fallen.  I suppose it was lucky that it hadn’t been eaten by goats yet either!

I returned to the church and had some water and saw the end of the procession where they take the efigy of San Pietro out and carry him around.  I bought two small brass livestock bells from a vendor there as souvenirs and headed back to the cafe at the trail head that leads back down to the beach.  I had an amazing mozzarella and tomatoe sandwich with a Coca Cola, something I never drink, but at noon the heat was such already that it seemed like something I needed.  The walk back down to the beach was almost worse than the walk up the day before as the sun was higher and hotter and I always find going to down to be more difficult, although less strenuous, than going up.

After transferring my load from my pack back into dry bags and launching the kayak again I headed back south towards Portu Pedrosu again.  Not far from the beach I stopped at a little sea cave to cool off.  As I paddled into the cave the cold air from inside hit me as a very welcome relief.  I beached the boat inside and took a little swim.  I also climbed out of the above water entrance to the cave, jumped off the rocks into the water and swam back in though the water level entrance.

I spent two more nights at Pedrosu.  I took a little hike the next day but it was so humid and still that I was exhausted and feeling a little ill again after just 2 hours with only minor ascents.  On Tuesday morning I headed back out into the wind and chaotic waves at Monte Santu but I didn’t have to battle the seas very far until conditions got much calmer just to the south.  I felt much more comfortable out there on the waves than I did out on the trails.  I had enjoyed a couple hikes back in May and there were a lot of tourists in the area at that time specifically there for hiking and trekking.  There’s not much of that now though there are still some die hards.  At this time of year the best place to be is in the shade or on the water, or maybe lying on the beach in the sun and moving as little as possible.

Below are pictures of Nuraghe Orgodùri which is not very well preserved being mostly caved in and filled in but it’s still an interesting place as just a huge pile of rocks covered with big shade trees. The cove shown is not Portu Pedrosu, but the next cove just north of it called Portu Chuau which is also very protected but not the best kayak landing.

Su Sirboni – kayak touring in Sardinia

I’m told that “su sirboni” mean “the wild boars” in Sardinian. I did not see any while I was there. I did see amazing rock formations in red granite and darker volcanic rock along with one of the nicest white sand beaches you’ll find anywhere and another beach made up entirely or dark stones with a character all it’s own. The pictures tell the story:

 

After starting out in Santa Maria Navaresse and heading south and battling heavy seas around Arbatax things start to get a bit calmer in the afternoon as I pass Cea. My destination is in the distance:

The next day I stopped to take a break on a beach just north of Su Sirboni with a cute little Juniper tree:

I didn’t take any pictures on the beach at Su Sirboni where I had lunch so here’s the satellite image. The buildings there are a small vacation village that has been shut down, I dont’ know why. The beach itself is very gradually sloping white sand, which somewhat rare in Italy where most beaches are more more pebbly.

I finally had the pleasure of meeting Francesco Muntoni from Cardedu Kayak. I had heard a lot about him, he’s a big proponent of sea kayaking in the Ogliastra region of Sardinia. This day he was out with a student conducting a private lesson:

Private beach for me! With volcanic rock:

Here’s my Feathercraft Heron on the stone beach at Coccorrocci:

Looks like there’s a good place to hang a hammock up there:

Nice hang!

Looking south along the beach:

Next day on the water, lots of red rocks:

Many interesting shapes in the rock. Some remind me of a big 3D graffiti tag rendered in stone:

I had been trolling a little spinner behind the boat on my way back north. As I prepared to stop for a break I reeled in the line and as I was doing so this little fish hit the lure. I let it go as it was rather small. Later on, just north of Torre di Bari I hooked a much larger fish that put up quite a fight as tried to reel it in but eventually got loose before I had a chance to see it. I had pizza for supper that evening at Cea:

Heading north, the cape on the right is Arbatax and the cliffs far beyond that mark Capo di Monte Santu:

I’ll be in Sardinia for 2 more months so a lot more pics to come. I would’ve had some sooner but my Canon Powershot D-10 died on me. The above photos were taken with a new Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS4 that I finally got to replace the Powershot after finding out there was no way to get it repaired in Italy. Hopefully it holds up better!

Bear Mountain, Bald Mountain, Dunderberg & Doodletown

tree porn

Only an hour and a half away from midtown Manhattan by bus, this place, along with Harriman State Park, is a real treasure.  I can’t believe it took me this long to finally go check it out.  I’ve always admired the wooded areas just north of the city from inside the confines of motor vehicles.  The weathered boulders and large trees with lots of space between them plus little to no undergrowth always seemed very inviting. If you’re looking for some place to hang a hammock for the night, as I usually am, even when I don’t have plans to actually do so, then it doesn’t get much better than this.  You’re spoiled for choices here though most of the trees are actually too far apart for a comfortable hang.

Besides the magnificent trees there are rocks everywhere, of all sizes, and in many places the trails are quite difficult to walk due to the uneven surface.  You never know if the next rock you step on is going to stay put or shift under your weight.  The last thing you want is to fall and or twist your ankle especially with a heavy pack on your back.  Good hiking boots are essential and I’ll be sure to buy myself a good pair of trekking poles before I ever head out there again.  The steep trail up the north face of Bald Mountain was particularly brutal!

At the top though it was all worth it.  The view was incredible and the setting was quite lovely.  Water was a bit of an issue though.  On the south side of the mountain there is another trail that crosses a little stream that is fed by a small swamp.  No matter which part of the stream I chose to pump water out of it kept clogging up my filter so that I’d have to clean if after every liter or so.  Even after it was filtered it retained a weird greenish yellow tint to it.  I dubbed it “Dunderberg Tea”.  It was however quite cool, refreshing and tasted just fine.

To the east I found part of the Dunderberg Spiral Railway route that was never completed.  According to the map construction ended abruptly in September 1890.  Sounds kind of suspicious though I suppose there’s a good reason you could find if you cared to look it up.  The trail got really rough there and then I found myself between impenetrable walls of short straight trees on both sides of the path which was kind of strange and spooky in sharp contrast to the openness of most parts of the forest.  I had to turn around since I had already run out of water some way back because I hadn’t been able to filter as much as I had wanted to that morning…

On the lower elevations to the north, between Dunderberg and Bear Mountain itself, you have the abandoned village of Doodletown with a number of old homestead sites and cemeteries.  I didn’t get to explore it much because I was hurrying to catch the bus back to the city which I ended up missing anyway.  All of this stuff was starting to remind me of the Blair Witch Project but then I have an over active imagination some times.

Again the top of Bald Mountain was marvelous and there is plenty of room to have a group camp out there some day.  I believe you’re not supposed to camp outside of the provided shelters in the park(s) but as long as you’re smart and not obnoxious about it you can do pretty much whatever you want, especially in the off season.  For such a gathering I would bring some kind of bucket to try to let the sludge settle out of the swamp water before attempting to filter it.  I would also try the trails to the south to reach the road and use one of the bus stops there instead of the more obvious Bear Mountain Inn stop.  You could bring all kinds of fresh breads, cured meats, cheeses, and wine (without the bottles) and make it a wilderness gourmet event with spooky trail hikes for added amusement.  The best time would be an unusually warm and sunny weekend in spring or fall.  Contact me if that sounds interesting and/or if you know of any other particularly interesting areas like that within those parks, I’m sure there are many!

this frog thinks it looks like a dead leaf

good map to have