Sunday, July 7, 2013

July Fourth Travels - You Never Know What You'll Find!

Athens? California? Newport? Think Again . . .

Itching to get out and explore somewhere different, we took the opportunity of a day off to take a little road trip on the Fourth of July.  Heading north on I-95 along the shoreline, it wasn't long before we hit major holiday traffic slow-downs. So we jumped off onto Route 1 and while the trip was longer, we had a nice ride through such scenic towns as Guilford, Madison, Old Saybrook, Old Lyme (to name a few).  In a nutshell, quintessential New England charm.

We passed a few state park entrances along the way (Hammonasset Beach, Rocky Neck), but no stopping there. No room at the inn on this Independence Day (parking lots were full).  But these were not our destinations anyhow - we had somewhere else in mind.

Late last October, we had stopped at another park on our way home from the Mystic/Stonington area (which is a whole blog post on it's own). It was near dusk, and the park was closing, but we were able to take a quick drive in and I got a few beautiful photos with the sun setting behind some silhouetted trees. I knew I would return one day - and this was that day.

Harkness Memorial State Park. There - the secret's out. This park is what the word "magnificent" was invented for. Located in Waterford, CT near the Eugene O'Neill Theatre, it is a little ways off the beaten path (not as many signs to this park as to the others; the parking lot was thankfully not full either).  A little bit Newport RI (think mansions), spectacular gardens (ala Frederick Law Olmsted, but instead by acclaimed garden architect Beatrix Farrand), with lawns that stretch forever down to a pristine shoreline, beaches, conservation areas (plovers nesting); we were practically speechless. All this for six bucks (the resident price after 4:00pm). Out of staters pay a bit more, but I am telling you - it is worth it.

Parking Camping Fees - CT State Parks

 The photos I took represent just a sampling of the sites you'll see. To top it off, the State of Connecticut is refurbishing the beautiful greenhouse on the property (the work looks to be nearing completion and it too should be amazing). Now that's taxpayer spending I can approve of. The recent budget cuts to the state parks are however sadly evident here too - parts of the gardens surrounding the Harkness mansion are quite overgrown with weeds / vines (it was all I could do to keep myself from jumping in and yanking them out)! But even that didn't diminish the sheer wonder at what we saw.

In total we spent about three hours rambling through the park with our jaws dropping. We vowed to return again this summer - but this time with blankets, coolers and some good friends to share the magnificent day.