Saturday, August 28, 2010

Ipswich, Essex and a Crane Beach Sunrise

A morning on the North Shore of Massachusetts. A Crane Beach sunrise. Ipswich marshes. Essex village. It's all within an hour of my Boston home. At this time of year, I can leave the house at 4:30 and get there in time for pre-sunrise color.

Sunrise light on sand ripples at Crane Beach

Crane Beach dawn
Sunrise sky


As well as Crane Beach, Ipswich has some of the most beautiful marshland around. It's actually part of the Great Marsh, which stretches from Gloucester, MA to Hampton, NH. Much of the marsh is natural; some is farmed for salt hay. It includes native cordgrass and invasive phragmites, as well as many other species. This huge wetland provides a home for many birds and animals as well as a welcomed respite for migrators.

Colorful marsh sedges waving in the wind

Cord grass in the Great Marsh
Maplewood farm preserve in Ipswich


The nearby town of Essex is a center for antiquing, and hosts the Essex Shipbilding Museum. If you want to explore the Essex River, kayak rentals are available. It's also the home of Woodman's, the inventor of the fried clam.

Essex Shipbuilding Museum, Essex
White Elephant antiques, Essex
Essex Shipbuilding Museum

Friday, August 27, 2010

Newburyport, MA

Newburyport and the Merrimack River in autumn

Firehouse Center for the Arts
Newburyport, on the northern coast of Massachusetts, seems to have it all. With easy access to Boston and major highways, a vital and interesting downtown, and a myriad of preserved natural areas, it's a great town to visit or to live in.

Recreational opportunities include shopping, local festivals, hiking, birdwatching, and deep-sea fishing from the port on the Merrimack River. The Audubon center on Joppa Flats runs lectures and tours as well as an eagle festival in mid-winter.

Newburyport sponsors several major events such as Yankee Homecoming Days and the Riverfront Music Festival. The Firehouse Center for the Arts hosts performing and visual art events and classes. It seems that there's always something happening in this coastal city with a small-town feel.

Downtown, you will find eateries and drinkeries galore ...
Fowles Drugstore
and grog

... and plenty of shopping opportunities in beautiful surroundings.
Hanging plants brighten a foggy day
Bright colors downtown
Chic shops

Outside the center are several natural areas including Maudslay State Park on the banks of Merrimack River and the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island, one of the top ten birding spots in the U.S.
Little River Nature Trail
Parker River NWR, Plum Island
The Great Marsh, Newbury

Rhododendrons bloom in Maudslay State Park, Newburyport

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Portsmouth, NH

I love Portsmouth. If I ever move from Boston, this is at the top of the list of places I'd like to live. It has the perfect combination of urban cool, preserved history, maritime charm, coastal scenes, and easy access to some of the most beautiful areas of New England. It's just a really nice place to be.

For now, Portsmouth is an easy day-trip. Or a stop-over on the way to the White Mountains. I can get there easily for sunrise, wander through waterfront architecture or colonial homes for an hour, do some grocery shopping, and be home by noon! Or I can explore the surrounding area. Great Bay, just east of the city, is a huge saltwater bay which attracts waterfowl. Odiorne Point State Park and Newcastle Island are southeast, and offer opportunities to explore the natural and cultural landscape of coastal New Hampshire. Beaches and marshes stretch along the state's 17-mile shore, and historic villages dot the countryside.

Back to the city - Portsmouth has the perfect balance of cool and comfy. The cafes surrounding Market Square provide java and a meeting place for the locals. The shops on Market Street do not include the usual chain stores. On Bow Street, waterfront restaurants offer trendy food with a view. House museums offer a glimpse into the past. The waterfront offers harbor cruises and trips to the Isles of Shoals, a perfect way to spend a hot summer day. And Prescott Park hosts concerts, art festivals, and the most beautiful pocket garden in the universe.

I recommend Portsmouth to everyone - it's a really fun place to visit!

North Church in Market Square


Fishing boats and Memorial Bridge
The historic South End waterfront
The Moran fleet of tugboats
Tugboat Alley
Market Street shops
North Church
Prescott Park fountain
Prescott Park Garden gate
Prescott Park being watered

Friday, August 13, 2010

Lake Champlain - Travel Planning

There's a lot more in Northwestern Vermont than Burlington. When I traveled to Lake Champlain in August, I planned a three-day trip that would give me some variety.

On day 1, I drove to central Vermont, hit Montpelier for lunch, and spent the afternoon doing a loop around Mount Mansfield. Waterbury, Stowe, and Smugglers Notch. I had planned on driving the auto road up Mt Mansfield but got there too late. So I drove to the area west of the mountain to catch Lamoille Valley farms at sunset.

On day 2, I stayed around Burlington. The plan was to do the city and then Shelburne Museum and Shelburne Farm. Burlington was more interesting than expected, so I stayed there all day.

On day 3, I traveled down Lake Champlain on the way home. Sunrise at Sandbar State Park, a tour of the apple orchards in South Hero, then Shelburne, Vergennes and Addison on the way home. Next time, I'll try to see the Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area in Addison - in late October the snow geese migrate through in great numbers.

This is my favorite way to plan a trip. Two nights in a motel in an interesting area. The middle day in that area. Different routes coming and going. This gives me flexibility, variety, and time to rest. Within the three days, my subjects are determined, in large part, by the weather. Mountain scenes and water look best with blue sky and sunshine. Forests, wildflowers, and architectural details look best with haze or cloudy skies. If it's raining, I try to find waterfalls or running water. I have a spreadsheet with hundreds of locations to shoot. If you add the general categories of beautiful farmland, pretty harbors and gorgeous woods, the number is infinity.

A 3-day trip is a bit tight. It's important to schedule some time for relaxation and fun. So when you improve on my planning method, make sure you actually add some time for yourself. Take the hike, sit on the beach, shop in the general stores. Enjoy your trips - stop and smell the fresh-ground-artisan-roasted coffee!

The Champlain/Mansfield area is a beautiful location with plenty of variety. It's got real diversity - from a vital lakeside city to mountain wilderness to scenic villages and farms. In autumn, the Champlain Valley sees color much later than the mountains, so if you're not sure of your dates, you can choose to travel uphill for early foliage or down to the lake for late color. But it's a great place to go year-round.

Top: Shaw's General Store in Stowe
1) VT State House, Montpelier
2) Stowe village
3) Antique car in Stowe
4) Trapp Family Lodge
5) Smugglers' Notch
6) Cambridge, VT
7) Lamoille Valley farm
8) Mt Mansfield and Underhill State Park
9) Boyden Valley Winery
10) Sunrise in Sand Bar State Park
11) Apple orchard in South Hero
12) Farmland on the Champlain Islands
13) Shelburne Museum

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Day in Burlington VT

I traveled to Northwestern Vermont last weekend, to update my inventory of Burlington, the Lake Champlain Islands, and the Stowe area.

Burlington is a young, vital city on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain. Being from the East Coast, I'm accustomed to beautiful sunrises. Lake Champlain is so big that it's like being on the West coast - it's the sunset that's spectacular here! The waterfront area is alive, bustling with the activity of a living waterfront with the addition of the ECHO Aquarium and Science Center, the Burlington Bikeway, and a maritime festival.

I walked a few blocks to the Church Street Marketplace and found a herd of brightly painted cow sculptures among the storefronts and eateries. As the day passed, the bovines were joined by crowds of tourists and shoppers enjoying trendy shops and alfresco fare.

A block west of Church Street are the Artists and Farmers Markets. I found beautiful vegetables, textile art, photography, street buskers and musicians under a canopy of trees behind city hall. There was even a dude supporting himself by charging for pictures of his cat riding his bike (I passed). It was a cooling rest from the August sun with people-watching opportunities for entertainment.

This part of historic downtown Burlington has many restaurants and preserved homes. It was a pleasant stroll back to the waterfront where vintage boats were on display at the Lake Champlain Antique and Classic Boat Show. After a lakeside lunch it was time to drive to the Red Mill in nearby Jericho. I crashed for a while in my hotel and went back to the waterfront for a beautiful sunset, complete with colorful sailboats and glowing clouds.