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On The Road Again: Setting Out On An Uncharted Course

Many tubers can be seen floating down the Battenkill River near Norman Rockwell's Arlington, Vermont home. Photos by Beverly Kehe-Rowland

My husband, Fred Rowland, and I are on the road again. We are traveling for two reasons: to cure wanderlust and to feel some freedom after staying close to home for 17 months. We have always taken annual vacations, but started taking big trips after we retired, much farther and for a longer period of time. This one won’t be as far as the last several or we will be in the Atlantic Ocean and the length of time we will be away from home is undetermined?

Due to my dislike of hot weather and the fact that Canada isn’t open to tourists, there were few options, so we set New England as our goal. We have been doing what we do best, traveling off the beaten path and by impulse. We love to look in tunnels, under bridges, down trails and in areas that most people ignore and we find the most interesting stuff. We are comfortable having no itinerary. Our friends and family can’t understand how we can leave home with no return date in mind.

We have spent the first few days of this trip exploring four of New York’s Finger Lakes, looking for waterfalls and checking out locks on the Erie Canal.

We spent the third night in Saratoga Springs, NY. We took a drive to what we thought was the famous Saratoga Race Track, before driving away the following day, but we were actually at the harness track in front of the Saratoga Casino Hotel. We witnessed a horse pulling a driver in a sulky for a few practice runs around the track. After leaving that location, we came to the historical track we had been searching for, which was a short distance down the street.

We started encountering and thoroughly inspecting a few covered bridges. Grandma Moses Road came up on our GPS as we were approaching Eagle Bridge, New York. I vaguely remembered from the late 80s and 90s, when I was into primitive art and Grandma Moses paintings, that she lived in that town. I was surprised when I asked a local woman where the home was and she didn’t think it was in Eagle Bridge, but thought Grandma Moses had lived in a neighboring town. Within a few miles we happened upon an historic marker stating we were at Grandma Moses homestead.

This suspension bridge made for foot traffic crosses Roaring Branch in Vermont's Green Mountain National Forest.

Within an hour, we had arrived at a visitor center outside Bennington, Vermont. In the distance we saw a very tall tower and learned it was the Bennington Battle Monument, the tallest man-made structure in Vermont. The 306-foot obelisk was erected to commemorate the defeat of the British forces in a Revolutionary War battle by volunteers from Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The actual battle was fought five miles away in New York when the Americans intercepted the Redcoats on their way to a supply depot in Bennington.

My spouse wanted to visit a couple of museums before we left Bennington the next day, but due to Covid, they were closed. He had read that painter and illustrator Norman Rockwell had lived near Arlington, VT at one time, so we drove northwest to New Arlington. We always say if anyone was tracking us, they would shake their head and this was one of those times when trackers would have that reaction. We decided to take a dirt road on the other side of Arlington that ran along the Battenkill River. When we stopped to look at a wooden bridge that was no longer open to traffic, we noticed a couple doing yardwork on the opposite side of the road. As is common, my husband had a few questions, which he asked the couple. During a lengthy, friendly visit we learned some interesting things about the 81-year old man, including that he had worked at the 911 site in New Yok City and was writing a book about his life. We, also, learned Norman Rockwell’s former home was a short distance down River Road. Before our visit ended, a group of tubers floated down the river.

We continued on to the house and studio where Rockwell painted. He employed neighbors to model for some of the images for magazines, calendars and advertisements. His art appeared on 323 covers of the Saturday Evening Post. There was a short road cross from the home. We could see a white country church and a covered bridge just beyond it. It appeared that a church picnic was in progress from the group of people gathered in the yard. We learned from a woman and her mother, who were sitting in the church yard at the water’s edge, that the church allowed visitors to use their beautiful, peaceful property. From close-up, it appeared the group of people were in several small parties and had not arrived together.

As we continued on our journey, I caught sight of a wide stream filled with very large, orange rocks and boulders. I asked my travel companion to stop to make it possible for me to take a picture. While standing on the bridge that crossed Roaring Branch, I felt compelled to find a way to get an orange rock to add to the other souvenir rocks in my perennial garden. As no surprise to me, my husband found a way to make that happen by climbing a short way down a bank until he found a rock small enough to carry and to easily transport.

We had parked around the corner on Kelley Stand Road, which ran beside Roaring Branch. The fact that a yellow sign warned the class two road was not maintained between November 1 and June 1 and that it followed the river was enough to pique our curiosity. We have had great experiences on this sort of road and Kelley Stand did not disappoint. The boulders in the river got larger, some the size of a small room, and the scenery was beautiful in the Green Mountain National Forest. We stopped to examine a narrow, suspension, foot bridge that had no signage. We decided it led to private property after walking about halfway across. Soon after we started moving again, we passed a falling rock sign in a section bordered by a high rock wall. Along the way, we saw several little waterfalls and a lady who was fly fishing.

Where the elevation of the scenic road had risen to roughly 3,300 feet, my husband spotted a large rock that was about 20 feet from the road. Being the curious person that he is, he turned the Town and Country around and drove up the dirt driveway to examine the rock. The words on a brass plaque that was placed there in 1915, said the rock marked the spot where Daniel Webster spoke to about 15,000 people at Whig Convention July 7 and 8, 1840.

By now we had reached a paved section of the road. We stopped to read a sign that told about Apples for Wildlife. Apple orchards on properties that were once a farm or homestead provide food and nesting for birds, bear, deer and grouse. Apple varieties are found that are no longer commercially grown. The Green Mountain National Forest maintains these orchards with volunteer help and partnerships.

When we started seeing flags hanging from telephone poles, we knew civilization was nearby. It was impressive to see this continue for about three-quarters of a mile and then to come upon a bridge that was festooned in patriotic bunting as we were entering West Wardsboro.

When we found our next interesting find, the Townshend Hydroelectric Project, we drove in the driveway over the dam and to the recreation area behind. After snapping a few pictures, we headed out. By the time we arrived in Townshend we had decided it was time, maybe past time, to start looking for lodging. After having no luck, we moved on toward Brattleboro. As we were nearing Brattleboro, we came upon a very attractive and unique I-91 bridge. It was over 1,000 feet long and rose 90 feet above West River. The supporting pillars were made to look like natural stone in variegated shades of brown. Observation areas had been built on both ends underneath the structure. It was completed five years ago for a cost of 60 million dollars and has received several design awards.

There were no rooms available in Brattleboro due to graduation and because many hotels were participating in Covid housing. We drove nearly an hour back to the same hotel we had stayed in in Bennington the night before, after we found they had an available room. The next morning, we attended church and then got out of Bennington!

To be continued.

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