Recently we had been looking for a new shooting range, as we were getting itchy to try out some new firearms and keep our marksmanship in top form. We used to shoot at Manchester Firing Line, but lately it has gotten far too crowded with too many “yahoos” firing off hand cannons, and the staff isn’t exactly friendly. Therefore the search was on for a new location! A Google search revealed to us Pemigewasset Valley Fish & Game Club in far away Holderness, NH. Sure it was a hike up the state from Southern NH, but we hoped it would be worth it.
The membership price was pretty reasonable, and they allowed us to join by mail. After receiving our ID badges and rule book via USPS, we were off for some target practice. Since we went in the middle of winter (and after a fresh snowfall, so I’m sure many were out snowmobiling) the place was pretty deserted. The indoor range looked nice from the outside, but our pre-arranged “guide” didn’t show, so we couldn’t get in.
The 50 yard range was completely covered and was pretty decent. It is important to point out that you need to bring your own targets and stands as the range was nothing more than roof and a space. I saw a pile of half shot up stands in the corner, that seemed to be community property. However, it is easy enough to make your own out of some scrap 2X4 lumber. There were also a couple of brooms and barrels that encouraged you to sweep up your shells. The 200 yard range was uncovered and basically a field with a couple of benches at the end.
All in all, a good time was had by all, and we unloaded a few hundred rounds. This place is completely bare bones and no frills at all, but the price was right! Also, this type of club, far away from the knuckleheads in Massachusetts tends to keep the professionalism high (no idiots with AK-47s shooting all over the place). If you routinely head up to the lakes region, you might want to give Pemigewasset Valley Fish & Game Club a try.
The Indoor Range at Pemi Valley Fish and Game Club
This weekend we were off exploring New Hampshire and happened upon the Madison Boulder Natural Area. This is home to the largest known erratic in all of New England! This is geology-speak for a rock that got carried to another area by some force of nature (in this case a glacier). As you can imagine… it is a giant rock! It is 83 feet long, 23 feet tall (another 10 feet buried) and 37 feet wide. Very exciting! If you happen to be in NH and drive by the park, you might want to stop in. You can walk around the rock and take pictures.. that’s about it.
This summer we were off to Chincoteague Island in Virginia. For some reason it is pronounced “shee ka teeg”, and no one can tell me why. Basically, Chincoteague is your typical laid back island town. Not too touristy, and quiet enough for a relaxing vacation. There isn’t a heck of a lot to do on the island, so if you are looking for excitement… you should seek it elsewhere.
The main event seems to be the annual “Pony Penning”. The local Fire Department rounds up wild ponies from nearby Assateague Island and auctions them off to raise cash.
We also headed over to relatively nearby Tangier Island. It was a short car ride, and an hour ferry to this quaint little backwater. Tangier Island has been inhabited for hundreds of years and its economy is currently nearly 100% based on crab fishing. Being so isolated, Tangier Island residence have their own unique dialect of English (sounds like a Cornish accent) and have some symptoms of inbreeding (including their own unique genetic disorder called “Tangier Island Disease”). It is definitely a fun place to visit if you like unique places. Don’t bring the kids.. they will be bored to tears as the island boasts only a couple restaurants and a small museum. During this visit, I learned the island is slowly washing away, and much of it will be uninhabitable in the next 50-100 years due to rising sea levels. Swing by and see this dying culture before its too late.
This year I attended the National Buffalo Wing Festival at the Coca-Cola Field in lovely downtown Buffalo NY. If you like buffalo wings, you should definitely stop by! However, I will forewarn you….. there is very little else to pique your interest besides Buffalo Wings. Basically, the festival consists of dozens of kiosks pitching endless combinations of buffalo wings. Tickets can be purchased in central locations and these are traded in (in varying quantities) at all the various vendors. Prices seemed pretty reasonable (with of course an expected major mark-up on the beer).
There seemed to be a number of eating contests, and I just happened to catch the number three ranked competitive eater in the world.. Joey Chestnut. After watching a couple eating contests, and stuffing my face full of wings… I moved on.
If you are looking for something to do in southern New Hampshire, you might want to check out the American Independence Museum in Exeter. Basically, this is an old mansion that has been turned into a small museum. It centers around the American Revolutionary Period, but there is other historical-type stuff mixed in to fill out some of the more empty rooms. This is really a bare bones, old-school museum. You are not going to find interactive displays or any kind of technological amenities. On the plus side it is not touristy at all (only one small gift shop). The displays are mostly furniture, oil paintings, and a few small objects. The highlights of the museum seem to be the fact they have one of the “original” purple hearts, and an early copy of the Declaration of Independence that surfaced in NH many years later. Expect to do a lot of reading, and don’t bring small children… they will be bored out of their gourds. However, if you are interested in this time period and the American Revolution… this is a “must see”. Expect to spend about two hours if you read everything… otherwise, you can cruise through in about 30 minutes comfortably. The pictures below will give you some idea of what you will see.
This past month I was off to the tropical isle of St. Lucia for a much needed winter break! It would appear there are lots of more or less “self-contained” resorts on the island that offer pools, private beaches, and even all inclusive food and drinks. So, I opted to stay at one of these called “Smuggler’s Cove.” I really had no idea what to expect, so I just shopped on price.
Upon arriving at St. Lucia, I first noticed how tiny the airport is. I hope you enjoy stairs because this is one old school airport that makes you board and disembark via a giant staircase.
Immediately out the airport door, I was shuffled to the area to wait for the bus to take me to Smugglers Cove. Holy Crap! People told me to take Dramamine with me for the ride back from the airport, but I ignored them. Big Mistake! It takes like an hour and a half to cover the distance from the airport to the resort area in the north of the island. The cab drivers all drive quickly up and down the most winding mountain roads you can imagine. The entire island is only 27 miles long.. but you probably need to drive 100 miles to get from one end to the other when you budget for the twisty-turny roads. It definitely got me a little green around the gills. At least one person I rode with declared they would never come back simply because of this airport trip!
Eventually, I did arrive at Smuggler’s Cove. Despite the fact this isn’t the “best” resort on the island, overall the place is pretty good. I think they upgraded my room as the entry-level rooms (the one I purchased) were all full.
A couple notes about this resort:
They have a bunch of feral cats running around everywhere. I suspect they are there to keep the rat population down. Now, I never saw a rat the entire time I was there… but there were suspicious looking “rat holes” peppering the entire grounds.
There are four restaurants on the resort. Three you need to make reservations for dinner, and one is a buffet. BE WARNED: They do expect you to have a collared shirt and long pants (men) for dinner. If you don’t have the required dress, you need to eat at the buffet. Actually, the buffet is just as good or better than the restaurants… so I ate there most of the time.
The Piton Lounge is a passable open air bar/stage where on occasion you can see a show or listen to some local music. Overall, the quality is a bit more than your local Karaoke bar.. but okay to pass the time if you are not out and about. After 11pm they close this lounge and shuffle the drunks into an inside bar to keep the noise down. Even this bar will close at 2am.. they don’t care where you go… but you can’t stay there.
They have three pools at Smugglers Cove. One with a “swim up” bar. Obviously, this one is strictly for adults. The other two are for kids/families. Don’t expect any late night swims. They close all the pools at 6pm. On the plus side… they seemed very clean and well maintained.
Smuggler’s Cove does have free drinks. The beer is limited to the local brew (Called “Piton” after the famous St. Lucia twin mountains. The liquor is mostly no named brand stuff. They serve it in tiny glasses…. but you can get as much as you want. As you can imagine, the rum is the local distillery (Bounty Rum).
The very first day of my vacation I was off to Pigeon Island. This is within walking distance of Smuggler’s Cove and actually isn’t an Island anymore. They built a causeway back in the 70s, and put Sandals on it.. so you can easily walk there. On the island itself, there isn’t really a ton to see. There is a bunch of old ruins from the British/French dating back to the early 1800’s. There are a few signs explaining what each building was (barracks, kitchen, etc.) and some of them are in advanced states of decay and are being shored up in half-assed fashion with timbers.
St. Lucia changed hands between the French and British about 14 times over the years. You can see that each conqueror built on top of or otherwise modified the structures of the vanquished. The French used stone in construction, the British used brick.. so it is somewhat easy to see who was building what. If you are feeling really energetic you can hike up the tall hill to see Fort Rodney. On a clear day, you can easily see Martinique from this vantage point. There are a couple of cannons lying around, some stone walls and that’s about it.
Basically, this concluded my tour of Pigeon Island. All in all pretty interesting and well worth a half day romp.
The next day.. I signed up for the “Land and Sea Tour.” This tour is recommended if you want to see a ton of sites on the island in one day. Your head is going to literally spin with all the stuff you do! But to be honest most of the sites can be seen or done quickly. First thing in the morning.. a small group from my hotel boarded our “bus” which is basically a bunch of seats mounted in the bed of a pick-up truck. The roll cage is covered with pipe insulation you buy at Home Depot…. gotta love the “do it yourself” island mentality. If you are over 5 foot 5… expect a cramped ride. We spent the next hour or so.. just going around to multiple area resorts and picking up one or two more passengers.
First stop was a drive by the Governor’s Mansion. We didn’t even get out of the truck.. just stopped for pictures. Surprisingly, the Governor was not interested in see us… although I did inquire if he would.
The driver then proceeded to take us to sample some local fruit. We stopped in a little dumpy town and were directed towards a card table where for two US dollars we could sample all different kinds of local fruit (and also a plethora of Chinese-made souvenirs). The guys running the fruit stand were probably cousins of our tour guide… but I guess I can’t blame them for trying to make a buck off the tourists. The fruit was tasty and I did not have any unpleasant gastroenterological effects!
We again boarded the bus and headed into another small town for a free mango punch and a quick tour of the local church. Nothing remarkable here except for a big mural, a very cool homemade cactus garden, and a few feral chickens.
Eventually, we hopped on the bus again (I was getting good of climbing in and out of that thing by now) and continued on our journey. Soon, I got my first glimpse of the famous “Pitons.” These are the two big mountains the beer is named after and can be found on every T-shirt, wood carving, and trinket at the souvenir stands. You can hike to the top if you want. Since I was on a relaxing vacation…. I opted just to take a picture.
We next stopped at Toraille Falls.. which is one of the two touristy waterfalls St. Lucia sports.
There is a little changing booth were you can don your bathing suit and wade into the falls. How often do you get to stand under a waterfall? Next up was “Diamond Falls Botantical Gardens.” Here we took a little hike to look at all the plants and flowers… and also see Diamond Waterfall. Apparently they filmed this waterfall in “Romancing the Stone.” The mineral deposits made it look a little creepy… and apparently there was no wading allowed here.
We continued our fast paced trip with a visit to the famous Soufriere volcano and hot springs. In my opinion, this place has been completely over-hyped. I have seen some websites describing it as a “drive-through volcano.” To me it look just like steam coming out of a hole in the ground…. I didn’t see any lava or magma. At any rate, when we pulled in the tour guide gave us the choice of either taking a walking tour of the “volcano” or taking a mud bath. I opted for the mud bath. But it isn’t what you think! Our tour guide took a five gallon bucket and scooped some mud out of the hot springs. At this point, you were expected to stand in the little trickle of a river, slather yourself in this grey goo (complete with sharp gravel) and then let it dry. Next, you sat in a mineral bath complete with floating band-aids, toenails, and all the sunburned skin soaked off of the previous 5,000 bathers. Everything stunk like sulfur and my bathing suit turned brown. Also, I had to keep my eye on my wallet the whole time as there were no lockers. All in all, there is no point to going to St. Lucia and NOT doing this…so yeah… it was an experience. On the other hand, don’t expect a relaxing spa treatment either.
After the mud bath, we stopped for lunch and literally a 10 minute tour of the Fond Doux Resort and Plantation. We briefly toured the drying cocoa beans and witnessed the “cocoa dance”. I really couldn’t understand the purpose of the cocoa dance.. but it has something to do with preparing the fermented beans. Nothing I enjoy more than seeing a sweating guy putting his feet all over something I will eventually be eating…. delicious!
We finally arrived at the last leg of our tour. A catamaran took us to a small, secluded cove for 45 minutes of snorkeling and then music and free rum punch, all the way back to where we started. It was surprising how much faster the boat ride was as opposed to taking the bus on the circuitous roads!
I completed the day completely exhausted. However, I was happy that I was able to cram so much into a single day, and the price was very reasonable.
The next day was a big more relaxing. I just took a trip to Castries (the capitol city) to do some shopping and poke around. If you are after tourist trinkets… you are going to get the best prices here at the “craft market”.
There is a wide selection of T-shirts, skirts, wood carvings, magnets.. and all the rest of the crap you would expect. There are little stands selling this stuff everywhere, but I suspect alot of the folks buy it here and then mark it up. Also, be warned about buying the homemade local rum. If it doesn’t have a label indicating % alcohol content, customs will confiscate it if they catch you! I also ate lunch at a local stand. It was very old school and complete with unmatching dishes and glassware.
Also, you should know that throughout the island if you order a chicken dish… they just chop up the chicken bones and all and serve it to you. I guess St. Lucia don’t mind picking chicken bones and gristle out of every bite. However, my lunch was cheap, tasty and I didn’t get diarrhea.. so I was happy with it. In addition to crafts.. you can visit about 500 different fruit stands. Why St. Lucian’s need so many fruit stands is beyond me. If you can, try a local green coconut. They will chop a hole in it with a machete and give you a straw to drink the fresh coconut water for about a buck. If you are really industrious you can try to scoop out the “jelly” too. I gave up before I got that far.
While shopping, I was carefully reminded where I should not spit and piss by some friendly St. Lucia signs. In fact, check out my full gallery of weird St. Lucian signs!
The following day, I was off to try an underwater adventure to check out some of St. Lucia’s beautiful coral reefs. During my investigation of my options, I learned that there are actually two different types of underwater adventure you can try. The first is “Snuba,” which is basically just a snorkeling with an air hose that leads back to the surface. The second is “Sea Trek.” Sea Trek is essentially a big helmet you wear (which reminds me of the old school diving helmets made of brass) with air pumped down to you. I opted for Snuba because the enclosed helmet involved with Sea Trek scared me (what if that thing filled with water???). I took a quick bus ride back to Pigeon Island (yes, this is where they Snuba), got a safety briefing, donned my fins and mask and headed into the water.
So, the way it works is that there is an air tank floating in a raft with 20 foot hoses leading down to you with a regular scuba-type regulator. Four people share a raft. This is a little inconvenient, because all four of you have to swim together and it is somewhat difficult not to get tangled. Also, someone in our group more or less panicked and couldn’t do it… so she kept going to the surface and hanging onto the raft. I did get about 40 minutes underwater to check out some coral reefs. They weren’t quite as vibrant and colorful as I expected, but it was fun to try something new. I also bought a disposable underwater camera (at the jacked up price of $20 USD), to take some pictures… only a few came out… but it is worth a try.
Thursday was ziplining day! Once again, I boarded a bus in the early morning and we made the rounds to the other hotels before reaching the ziplining area high in the rainforest. There are a few different options regarding the ziplines through the rainforest. You can hike up the top of the mountain and zipline all the way down. You can take a cable car (they call it an “aerial tram”) up to the top, zipline part of the way down, and then take a cable car down, and there are a couple other variations on these themes as there are multiple zipline courses. I opted for the cable car route. So, when I arrived, I was given a locker (for a few dollars), a stupid surgical cap (they say it is to keep your hair out of the pulleys and to keep the helmets clean), and a helmet. Next, they suit you up with the harness and pulleys. I definitely put on some bug spray and sunscreen before I started all this. When everyone was suited up we were herded onto the aerial tram for a 30 minute ride to the top!
Along the way, our guide told us how they built this cable car system and showed us some tropical rainforest plants. I really enjoyed the “tree ferns”, which are basically 50 foot versions of the backyard ferns you can find in New Hampshire.
After the tram ride, we got on the first zipline. Everything seemed pretty standard… until I realized I actually landed on a treetop about 150 feet in the air. I was on a little platform made with typical St. Lucia robust construction (i.e. recycled packing crate lumber and rusty nails) swaying in the breeze! This ziplining adventure is not for those afraid of heights!
Eventually I finished all nine ziplines with getting stuck, injured or dying. I was exhausted, but excited for my second to last day in St. Lucia! For my last adventure, I chose a tour of Roseau Valley Distillery, makers of the local “Bounty Rum” and other liquors.
In the morning a van picked us up (a real van.. not a truck!) and whisked us away from the hotel. However, before we hit the distillery, there was a bonus. We stopped at a small “museum” called “Lushan Country Life.” Basically, this is something that someone built in their backyard to rake in some tourist loot. It was a hodge-podge collection of ancient St. Lucia re-creations (huts, tools, ovens, and food) from the pre-colonial era, different botanical exhibits (including plants, flowers, and how to shell a coconut), tropical fruit tasting exhibit, bird feeders to attract colorful jungle birds, a single boa constrictor in a cage, and small wedding chapel (if you can believe it!).
Despite the amateurish nature of many of the exhibits… it was actually pretty interesting.Our guide was relatively knowledgeable and energetic… and he wouldn’t let me leave without telling me to post my adventures on Trip Advisor (of course I would never give away free material to another website). All in all, Lushan Country Life is worth a look.
After Lushan Country Life (and I got guilted into handing over a ten dollar tip because everyone else in our group cheap-ed out and stiffed the guides) we were back on the road to the distillery. For some strange reason they had mannequins all over the place along the guided tour…..
First stop, was a lovely tour of the loading dock.
Next we saw the giant (900 ton) molasses tank.
St. Lucia no longer grows sugar (bananas have displaced the sugar cane) and all this must be imported from South America. We were then shuffled into a room with a TV hanging from ropes (too look nautical?) where we were forced to watch a ten minute commercial for “The spirit of St. Lucia… Bounty Rum” (the jingle is still in my head!).
After that, we toured a bunch of open air tanks where the molasses is distilled (I wonder how many dead flies and other debris wind up in there?) and then saw all the magnificent piping and copper pots full of the maturing rum.
Last but not least… we stopped by the rum tasting area and of course the gift shop where we were encouraged to buy as much rum as possible.
When I inquired as to why “Bounty Rum” is not readily available in the U.S., I got a big speech about how Bacardi was using the FDA to ban Bounty Rum due to some ridiculous reason. Who knew that “Big Rum” was lobbying to squeeze out the little guy? And thus concluded my tour of the distillery. But the day was not over. That evening I took a cab over to Gros Islet for a “street festival.” Oh boy.. now we are talking touristy. This particular street party.. was basically the whole neighborhood setting up a table in front of their house to sell anything to anybody… while ear splitting Caribbean music blared at 200 decibels in the background.
I did find a cool Rastafarian guy selling wood carvings, and he talked me into buying one. This is definitely my favorite purchase while in the island.
The next morning, I went for a final swim in the warm tropical waters and mad the horrific cab ride back to the airport.. which was jam packed beyond belief (thank god there wasn’t a fire… we all would have died), I also had the opportunity to stop for a “Rituals” coffee.. which looks and tastes surprisingly like Starbucks (must be a coincidence???)
In summary, I had a great time in St. Lucia. I wasn’t expecting a hell of alot of refinement on this small island, so I wasn’t disappointed. If you are looking for a tropical island that is pretty easy going, relatively easy to navigate, takes US dollars, is more or less family oriented, and has a good deal of activities.. this is the place to go. If you are looking for more gambling (only one small casino on St. Lucia), or partying, or fewer children Aruba might be your speed instead. However, you might want to give St. Lucia a try! I will leave you with a gallery of random photos I couldn’t figure out how to work into this post…..
This past weekend I went up to North Conway, New Hampshire for a snowtubing adventure. Despite the fact that winter still seems to be clinging on…. soon the snow will be melted. So this adventure was probably my last chance to get some tubing in. I ended up going to Cranmore Mountain Resort. This was my first ever visit to this resort. A 2 hour and 15 minute pass cost 28 bucks after you sign the giant waiver form in tiny print. I imagine the “extra” 15 minutes is supposed to give you time to pick out your snowtube (included) and take the conveyor up to the top of the hill.
Basically, you absolutely need to take the conveyor up… it is really hard to walk along the side (although in theory it is possible as there are two narrow carpeted lanes). The conveyor is extra fun as it keeps starting and stopping, and all the kids end up smashing into you with their tubes or falling over into you. Although easier than a ski lift, it still isn’t for the faint of heart if it is a busy day on the snow tube hill.
When I did get to the top, I was greeted with some fairly long lines. There were about 6 “lanes” open, but even so… there was about a 10-15 minute wait for each ride. This basically meant….. I got about 7 rides in a two hour period. Perhaps you can squeeze in a few more rides if you go at an off-peak time.
The staff running the “lanes” was pretty good. Upon request, they will “put a spin” on your tube as you are going down… will let you race someone in the next lane.. do belly flops.. or pretty much anything within reason.
This was somewhat surprising for me, as with our typical nanny state mentality in the U.S. these days…. I was expecting to be issued a helmet and expected fasten a seatbelt on my tube… and only be allowed to go in a straight line. I was glad to see, I was still able to have fun. Sooner or later, someone will crash into a tree, and (despite the waiver you need to sign), the liberals will try to outlaw snow tubing. However, until then.. snowtubing at Cranmore is a pretty good way to spend the afternoon is skiing isn’t your thing.
This past weekend I was off to the Mt. Washington Valley Ski Touring and Snowshoe Foundation Annual Chocolate Festival (say that three times fast). This is the first year I have attended. What is the Chocalate Festival you ask? Well, you put on snowshoes and tromp through the trails (dodging angry cross country skiers and dog poop) to arrive at the various inns and hotels in the North Conway, NH area.
These “chocolate stops” along the way offer chocolate fare of varying quality. Some places.. you might receive a marshmallow with chocolate sauce in a dixie cup, while others offered free beer in addition to a sizable chocolate dessert. I can’t really figure out why an establishment would participate in this (do they make any money??). The mess of a million sweaty snowshoe-ers tromping on their carpets to collect free goodies.. must be stressful. I guess this is adult Halloween?
There is no way you could hit all 16 stops along the way, that is like an 8 mile hike through the snow in 5 hours, not including stopping anywhere. All in all, the chocolate festival was an “okay” adventure. Obviously, the experience is best if you enjoy snowshoeing. You also need to enjoy taking your snowshoes on and off a million times.. and alternating between freezing cold snowshoe trails and roasting hot, crowded hotels multiple times per day. At least there was decent scenery along the way.
While visiting Connecticut a strange old gravestone was pointed out to me.. indicating the date of this person’s death was “February 31, 1831”. This was very odd! Were leap years longer back in those days? Did February used to have 31 days back in 1831? After a bit of research, I discovered that February 31 was used when the actual date was unknown. Since February 31st is obviously not a real date….. it would be obvious to the viewer this was a placeholder date (sort of the “date” equivalent of “John Doe”). At any rate, the mystery is solved!
Recently I was up in the White Mountains on vacation and found myself wandering through the town of Warren, New Hampshire (pop. ~904). Well, as you can imagine, there is absolutely nothing to do in Warren with the exception of seeing NH’s only (and possibly the world’s only) Redstone Missile on display.
It would appear that a private citizen/veteran named Henry Asselin happened upon some surplus Redstone missiles and convinced the military to let him have one. He had it shipped to the town at his own expense. The purpose of this display was to foster interest in the space program among the locals/visitors and remind everyone that Alan Shepard (the first American in space) came from Derry, NH.
It is interesting to note the the Redstone missile is a direct descendant of the V-2 missile developed by the Nazi’s in World War II.
After the war, the U.S. scooped up all the Nazi missile experts (before the Russians could get them) and brought them over to start working on missiles for World War III. Under the direction of former Nazi, Dr. Wernher von Braun… the U.S. developed the Redstone missile. This missile was equally effective in launching nuclear missiles, satellites and astronauts. At any rate, Warren NH has it’s own little bit of Nazi and Cold War heritage for everyone to enjoy. If you are in the area.. I recommend you stop by. You can also go to the Warren Historical Society Museum to see some interesting artifacts such as antique homemade bricks, horse snowshoes and other town memorabilia.
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