Thursday, May 29, 2014

Checking Out Chesapeake Bay Light Houses

If you're a landlubber like me, a day out on the water is a treat. And how better to start the Memorial Day weekend than by spending a day checking out Chesapeake Bay light houses.

The boat tour left out of the Knapps Narrows Marina at 10ish; Knapps Narrows separates Tilghman Island from the mainland of Maryland's Eastern Shore. Captain Mike, who runs the tours, is laid back and emphasized to everyone that this was a relaxing day; if we had to wait a few minutes for someone to show up, that would be fine -- we'd still see everything we wanted to see (and more, as it turned out). As it was, we only waited a couple minutes for the last couple to show up, but no one minded: the day was beautiful with a light breeze and 70 degree weather. We were on the M/V Sharps Island, enjoying the sights from the marina (there was a seagull dining on a crab that was amusing to watch).

On our way out to our first stop, we encountered sail boats participating in the Annapolis to Miles River Annual Sail Boat Race. The boats were catching the wind blowing right behind them, filling their sails. It was a beautiful sight and an amateur photographer's dream!

The first light house we headed to was Bloody Point Light House, located of the southern tip of Kent Island and marking the entrance to Eastern Bay. Though the lighthouse stands in about seven feet of water and warns mariners of shoals near Poplar Island, it is also close to one of the Bay’s deepest shipping channels. According to legend, the nearby point has been the scene of a number of violent events throughout history. In colonial days, English colonists lured a group of Native Americans to the area, and then butchered them. It is also rumored that a villainous French pirate was hanged at Bloody Point.

The light house was commissioned in October 1882. Almost from day one, the action of the tides caused the caisson to start leaning. Work was done in 1883 and 1885 to straighten and stabilize the light, and the light house was manned until a fire destroyed it in 1960; in 1961 the interior was cleaned out and the light automated. The fire and subsequent corrosion has caused widespread cracking of the plates. In addition, water has seeped between the steel cylinder and its concrete filling. Freezing of this seepage during the winter has caused some damage to the caisson. Only the cantilevered lantern deck, composed of cast iron triangle plates, remains in relatively good condition. Solar panels power the modern lens, which is still an active aid to navigation. The light house is privately owned.

Our next destination was Baltimore Harbor Light, which guards the entrance to Baltimore Harbor. Almost at the same time we arrived at the light, we saw in the distance the SS John W Brown, one of the Liberty ships, making a cruise. What's so cool about seeing this ship is that the owners run the cruises only twice a year: on Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends.

For more than 100 years, Baltimore Harbor Light has guided northbound vessels to the Port of Baltimore, and southbound vessels on their way to the Atlantic Ocean. That it was built at all is a testimony to the importance of Baltimore as a commercial port.

The cylindrical caisson foundation was built in 1904 at the mouth of the Magothy River. It was the last lighthouse built on the Chesapeake Bay. This is an unusual light house because of the unique experiment that took place there. In May 1964, the light was converted to run off power supplied by a small atomic fuel cell, making it the first atomic-powered lighthouse in the world. This experiment only lasted a year and the concept was not pursued further. Today, the lighthouse is privately owned.

Next we circled the Sandy Point Light House located at the southern mouth of the Magothy River and clearly visible from the Bay Bridge. I know this one -- it's a familiar sight from the shore of Sandy Point State Park. It is a caisson light with an octagonal brick dwelling and tower. Originally it was supposed to be a screw-pile light. But problems with winter ice and the screwpiles had developed so additional funds were requested for a caisson. No more money was available so they compromised. They built a caisson foundation, sunk it, and then built a smaller less expensive brick tower on it. It was first lit on October of 1883.

Sadly, this light house's visibility may be its undoing. After automation in 1963, the light became subject to vandalism due to its prominence and its accessibility. The original lens was destroyed in 1979, apparently smashed with a baseball bat. Vandalism has continued over the years. In 2006 it was sold at auction to a private bidder, after an unsuccessful attempt to find a non-profit group to take responsibility for the light. The U.S. Coast Guard continues to maintain the navigation aids. The structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places as Sandy Point Shoal Light Station on December 2, 2002.

From there we went to the most photographed and probably the best recognized light house in Maryland: Thomas Point Shoal Light, owned by the City of Annapolis. It is also the best maintained. Located just north of the mouth of the South River, south of Annapolis. It is the only screw-pile type light on the Bay in it's original position.

Commissioned in November 1875, ice was a perpetual threat to screw-pile lights on the Chesapeake, and just two years after its commission, the original lens was destroyed when it toppled by shaking from ice floes. This lens was replaced, and the additional piles and riprap -- those piles of boulders and rocks on either side of the light house -- were placed around the foundation to protect it. The lighthouse was manned until 1986 and then it became the first lighthouse on the Bay to be fully automated.

Finally, we went to the Bay's answer to Italy's Leaning Tower of Pisa, to a light house that marks the location of an island -- Sharps Island -- that quietly disappeared years ago. It also is one of the most distinctive light houses -- as it "lists significantly starboard," as the A/V Sharps Island first mate noted ironically. The structure is picturesque, but in poor condition, and although still a functioning light, it also serves as a rather roomy bird house for a pair of ospreys, like several other of the light houses we saw.

In the early 1800s, Sharps Island was a farming and fishing community and the island had schools, a post office and a popular resort hotel, where vacationers from Baltimore and other locations would arrive by boat to while away the lazy summer days far away from the city heat. Between 1850 and 1900, the island lost 80 percent of its land mass, and by 1960 it had been reduced to a shoal. Today it is entirely underwater. Rising ocean water levels and unrelenting erosion caused this once thriving community to disappear completely -- a fate that could await other islands in the Chesapeake Bay. For more information on the Chesapeake Bay's vanishing islands (Sharps Island was not the first, nor will it be the last), check out this National Geographic Society article.

Located off the entrance to the Choptank River, approximately 4 miles from the the southern most tip of Tilghman Island, the light house was first lit in February 1882. The previous light on this spot was a screw pile light completed in 1865. It lasted until February 10, 1881 when, during a winter thaw, the wind-driven ice swept the building from the screw pile and it floated 5 miles down the bay, with the keeper inside. It ran aground and the keeper escaped, extremely thankful to have survived his ordeal. The current tower includes an integral dwelling and was manned until 1938 when the U.S. Coast Guard automated the light. In the winter of 1976-1977, severe ice flows tilted the tower 15 degrees.

Even if light houses aren't your obsession, it's a great day out on the Bay, and you might learn a little Maryland history. Mostly, you enjoy the Bay's scenery, and the wind and the sun and the water. The boat ride can be exhilarating!

Getting there: Follow Route 33 from Saint Michael's to Tilghman Island. The turn off into the parking lot to Knapps Narrows Marina is on the right, just before the draw bridge over to Tilghman Island. When I GPS'd the address, my GPS tried to take me to Laurel, MD -- several hours away from where I actually wanted to be.

Hours: Check out the tour schedule on Chesapeake Lights website. There are several different tour options, including a "sunset tour" that entices the photographer in me.

Dogs: Nah.

Eats: Bring your own snacks and water. And a hat, sunscreen, etc.


Check out the blog's FB page for updates on places we've visited and blogged about:!

Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger! 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Fun Times at Wine Festivals: Wine in the Woods

It's more than wine. Wine in the Woods is all about the crowds, the music, the colors, the socializing... and yes, the wine, which is the excuse for some 30 thousand people to gather in one spot to listen to some good music (and some not) and to enjoy the outdoors and of course, to drink some wine.

Featuring more than 30 wineries, Wine in the Woods is Maryland's largest and the region's second largest wine festival, and it happens every year on the weekend after Mother's Day. This festival began in the early 1990s; each year the festival has grown larger, and now attendance is expected to be 30 thousand or greater. It is also fairly typical of wine festivals, bringing together local wineries, food vendors, live music, and local artisans. The festivals and events bring the region’s finest wines to you in one location, and is a great way to decide in advance if a winery is worth visiting.

I go almost every year. This year I volunteered for a winery I'm a big fan of -- Red Heifer Winery. I really like this winery -- I like their energy as well as their wines, and owners Yvonne and Kevin are just nice people that you hope will succeed. So this time I was on the other side of the wine pourer table, living out my fantasy of working at a winery. I will not be quitting my day job anytime soon.

It was a lot of fun, although some folks stepping up to the sample bar are there just to get drunk, and that's not amusing or fun to be around. I feel for the wineries -- a lot of them do most of their sales via these wine festivals and at their wineries, and they don't want to alienate any potential customers, but some of the potential customers can be rude. It was clear some folks were just there to drink and get drunk, one tiny wine sample at a time. But most folks are nice. Not that many actually want to hear about the wines, which is one of the things I most like about going to wineries, but in the press of the crowd, there's really not that much time to spend with individuals. Some people expressed their insecurities: "I don't know much about wine." I always assured them, "You know what you like -- that's good enough."

After our shift -- most wineries will only ask their volunteers to work 2 or 3 hours -- we got to walk around and sample and enjoy the rest of the day. The nice thing about volunteering is you don't have to pay the entrance fee and you get a Wine in the Woods souvenir glass and can sample as much as you want (not while you're volunteering, though). Some wineries will offer their volunteers free t-shirts or a free bottle of wine or at least a reduction in the cost of wine purchases. Check with your favorite winery regarding whether they want any volunteers and what they offer their volunteers. I was happy just to save on the $40 entrance fee (I turned that savings around into wine purchases).

Wine in the Woods offers a number of bands, playing at two stages. There are also a variety of juried arts and crafts booths. Interestingly, the festival also sponsors wine education seminars as well, such as Wine Tasting 101, Maryland White Wines, Red Wines, and Sweet and Dessert Wines. We attended the Red Wines seminar last year and found it very interesting -- we were walked through tastings of several red wines, with a discussion of how to taste -- how to move the wine through your mouth -- how to sniff, and so forth. I came out of that seminar not feeling so quite as dumb as I swirled and swished and spit.

You can count on having a number of food vendors there as well. Some delicious food was being offered -- from crab melts to chicken gyros to grilled sausages. Yum! But the food can be quite expensive, so save a few bucks (and spend it on the wine instead) by packing a picnic, easy to do since coolers and packages are allowed into the venue (although this is not true of all wine festivals). Be sure to purchase a bottle of wine from your favorite winery to enjoy with lunch!

As much as I enjoy this event -- and I'll probably be back next year if Red Heifer Winery will take me back as a volunteer -- I have to say that, after a year of checking out Maryland's (and now several of Pennsylvania's) local wineries, I much prefer the quieter atmosphere of sampling wines in the wineries themselves. I appreciate the interaction with the servers, who are often the owners, and the discussion about the wines and the winery itself. However, at Wine in the Woods, I took advantage of having my favorite wineries all in one location to make a few purchases of wines I particularly enjoyed over the past year.

Tip #1: Bring fold-up chairs and blankets, even your own picnic, to spread out under the trees to listen to music. Plan to stay the whole day. Although well shaded, you can still get a sunburn -- make sure you use sun block!

Tip #2: If you have a designated driver (and you should), buy a bottle of wine for him or her to enjoy at a later time. They deserve it!

Tip #3: Bring cash. Many of the food vendors only accepted cash. Most, if not all, of the wineries accepted credit cards.

Other wine festivals this year:

Great Grapes! Wine, Arts & Food Festival 
May 31- June 1

Great Grapes! is Baltimore’s premier casual wine tasting with great Maryland wines available for tasting. Take your souvenir tasting glass as you enter the festival and stroll from tent to tent and table to table tasting and sampling the rich Heritage of Maryland vines. Oregon Ridge Park 

Annapolis Arts, Crafts & Wine Festival
June 6-7
Fine, juried arts and handmade crafts and winetastings from more than 25 Maryland wineries, smooth jazz all day long, delectable cuisine, and activities for the whole family.
Navy-Marine Corps Stadium, Annapolis

Southern Maryland Sun & Music Festival June 7-8Come out and help us celebrate 2 days of great fun while supporting Southern Maryland’s Local charities, Wineries, Artists and Musicians. Activities include Maryland Wine Tasting, Craft Beers, BBQ, Arts and Crafts, a Kid’s Zone, Hot Air Balloon Rides and much more.Calvert County Fairgrounds Prince Frederick 

Taneytown Wine and Jazz Festival 
June 21
Local wine vendors, artisans, forgotten artists, food and music, children's activities. 

Taneytown, Carroll County 

Grape Blossom Wine FestivalJune 22
Sample wines from Eastern Shore wineries.  Enjoy entertainment all day, plus tours of the winery, craft vendors, souvenir glass, and more!

Layton's Chance Winery (4225 New Bridge Road in Vienna, MD)

Cecil County Food & Wine Festival 
July 19
Enjoy a day of Cecil County and Maryland wines, wine tastings, local foods, crafters, artists and live music.
North East Community Park, North East, Cecil County 

Uncorked Wine and Music Festival 
August 23
Enjoy the best wines from across the state, cooking demonstrations and two stages of musical entertainment at Uncorked!
36 Maryland Ave., Rockville, Montgomery County

Deep Creek Lake Art & Wine Festival 
September 5 - 7, 2014 
The festival includes wine, regional artists, children's area, silent auction, live music and lots more!
Garrett County Fairgrounds, Deep Creek Lake, Garrett County 

Maryland Wine Festival 
September 20-21, 2014 
Take pleasure in Maryland wine with tastings from 30+ wineries, live music, foods from local restaurants, arts and crafts and wine education seminars. 
Carroll County Farm Museum, Westminister, Carroll County 

Wine on the Beach 
September 26-27, 2014 
Wineries from across the mid-Atlantic region, arts and crafts,
continuous entertainment, food, and more.

Ocean City, Worcester County 

Autumn Wine Festival 
October 18-19, 2014 
One of seven Maryland Wineries Association-sanctioned festivals. Tastings from 20 Maryland Wineries. 
Salisbury, Wicomico County

Wildcat Ridge Music & Wine Festival 
June  7
Relax and listen to live music while you sample some of Pennsylvania's finest wines. Purchase a variety of delicious foods from vendors. Artisans will be selling their crafts, some centered around a wine festival theme.
Gratz Fairgrounds, Gratz, PA

Brandywine Valley Wine Trail Food and Wine Festival 
June 14
Taste your way through the offerings of the Brandywine Valley and enjoy live music all day! 

September 26-28
Twelve wineries, twenty bands... Part wine festival, part music festival, part arts and crafts festival -- and a whole lot of fun! 
Northeast, PA

Hops, Vines & Wines Festival
July 19
Central PA's fines beer and wine festival.
Downtown Selinsgrove, PA

Horse & Hound Wine Festival 
July 12
Come join us on the gracious grounds of Johnson's
Orchards, located in scenic accessible Bedford, VA.

39th Annual Virginia Wine Festival
September 13-14
Showcases more than 50 Virginia wineries
Great Meadow Equestrian Center, The Plains, VA

Carytown Food & Wine Festival
October 5
On the streets of Carytown, you can try the finer things of life. The festival spotlights not only the great wines of the region, but the incredible food prepared by area restaurants. 

Check out the blog's FB page for updates on places we've visited and blogged about:!

Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger! 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Brandywine Valley Wine Trail: Three Very Different Wineries

Just over an hour north of Baltimore and maybe 45 minutes from Philadelphia lies the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail, a string of six wineries along the trail that ranges some 50 miles. The last weekend of April found us veering out of Maryland to check out three of the wineries that were closest to the Mason Dixon Line in Pennyslvania.

We traveled first to Kreutz Creek Vineyards. We were cheerfully greeted by two servers, who helped us settle in. We'd forgotten a knife (we brought our own bread and cheese and crackers), and they offered us one -- the winery encourages folks to bring picnics to enjoy at the winery. The winery is also very dog friendly, in fact, Riley (see the photo to the right) greeted us and demanded a few pets.

Kreutz Creek offers nine samples. A stand out for us was their pinot grigio, their only wine made from grapes not from their vineyard. The pinot grigio offered light citric flavors with peach overtones. Of the dry reds, I enjoyed the winery's Chambourcin, which suggested cherries and blueberries as I tasted it, ending with a typical Chambourcin snappy finish. I still love sweet wines, though -- so the Niagara got my attention. It's a very sweet, almost juice-like wine that I've enjoyed sipping these past few spring evenings. My friend Barb left with a bottle of the pinot grigio.

Jim Kirkpatrick is the winemaker for Kreutz Creek Vineyards. He started making wine from a kit that his wife, Carole, gave him for his birthday in 1989.
"This adventure started when I bought my husband a wine making kit for his birthday. That was in 1989 when we lived in York, PA," Carole said. (Carole truly believes that’s how the “monster” was created.) Since everyone liked the wines from the kits, Jim and Carole thought they would try their hands at growing grapes, bought three acres, and planted about 100 vines. Their home was located 100 yards from Kreutz Creek — hence, the vineyard was named. Soon, Jim's wines began winning in amateur competitions, and they got the itch.

In 1998, they've moved to their current location, but kept the name. The current property is 20 acres, 8 planted in grapes. "Last year we celebrated our 10th anniversary and to celebrate, we opened our doors for tastings," she said.

Kreutz Creek's wine-tasting room is in the basement of Jim and Carole's home. Huge vats line one of the walls of the wine tasting room, adding to the ambiance. Several barrels covered in signatures are in the room -- a souvenir of the barrel-tasting event the winery participates in every March. "We love to see happy people. We love to see people enjoy life and that's what they can do here," Carole said. "I think it's our love of life and people that puts us on the map."

Our next stop was Paradocx Vineyard. Hmmm, is the name a pun? Why yes, yes it is. Paradocx Vineyard is owned and operated by the Hoffman and Harris families, and they point out on the website that the name of the winery is a play on words, as the four owners are practicing physicians, i.e., two pairs of docs.

Paradocx is very different from Kreutz Creek. It is larger, more commercial, more polished without being too slick, yet still very pleasant and inviting. The wine tasting room is spacious and airy; there are a number of tables set up on a pleasant patio. It is a place to hang out.

The winery is playful and fun. If you locate the cork in the hanging (see the photo to the right) that ISN'T from Paradocx, you receive a free glass. The samples are served on "flights," four samples served on a tray. It's less personable than some of the other wineries I've been to, in that the explanations for the samples are delivered via printed explanations, but you can choose from several flights, some offering drier wines, some sweeter. The samples are generous. As you work through the samples, you can chat with your companions, but the pacing was off for me; I really enjoy interacting with the servers. When my friend and I were finished, though, we got to chatting with them, and then out came another three samples.

The wines were pleasant and enjoyable. I enjoyed the Pail Pink (a rose blush with a soft floral aroma and hints of red berries created from a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay), but I also was entranced by the unusual T Wine, a sweet white wine blend with subtle natural tea flavors that would make a perfect summer drink.

Oh, by the way -- the wine samples, some of them, were poured from paint cans.

You read that correctly. That's what makes this winery so much fun. Yeah, I get that the paint can is a play on the usually disdained box wine, but still. And yes, I did purchase a paint can of wine, and I brought it home and left it on the counter, with the paint stick souvenir. My husband glanced at it without actually looking at it, and wondered whether I was ready to start painting the bathroom (ummmm..... no!). A small joke, we both laughed.

In fact, several of their wines play on the paint can theme, and are named appropriately, such as Whitewash, a medium-bodied wine with flavors of stone fruits and citrus with hints of spices from a blend of white grape varieties; Barn Red, a medium-bodied wine with aromas of red berries and plums with pleasant notes of oak, from a blend of red grapes; and Pail Pink.

Both wineries recommended we head over to West Grove for lunch -- and both recommended what turned out to be a delightful little cafe, Twelves Grill and Cafe. Twelves' menu offers a diverse selection of unique American cuisine featuring fresh and local ingredients. The BYOB restaurant serves lunch and dinner -- perhaps why the restaurant is well favored by the wineries, who were quite eager to send us over with a bottle of their wine.

Twelves' lunch entrees are quite reasonably priced, ranging between $9 for Granny Smith's Chicken Salad Wrap (grilled chicken, red grapes, mandarin oranges, walnuts, granny smith apples) accompanied by house cut kettle chips, for example, to $15 for a more hearty Steak and Fries (Black Angus beef loin) accompanied by house cut bistro fries and black pepper jus. I enjoyed the Granny Smith's Chicken Wrap, which arrived artfully arranged on the plate and was perfectly complimented by the obviously homemade potato chips. Barb enjoyed the Blackened Tilapia Wrap ($12), which offered avocado, tomato, mixed greens, and black pepper aioli, and also was accompanied by the kettle chips.

If you go to Twelves, be sure to peek into the old bank vault. In fact, it's worth noting that the cafe is located in the old Sovereign Bank building. It was originally built in 1883 by local businessmen Joseph Pyle and Samuel Kent to house the National Bank of West Grove. The bank and local post office shared the first floor with other original occupants Tyson Photographic Studio and Temperance Lodge on the third floor, and West Grove Library on the second. The owners'  personal story, which is a confluence of 12s, has given the restaurant its unique name. They went on their first date on November 12, Tim's birthday is January 12, and Kristin's is February 12; Their wedding anniversary is, of course, November 12. It seemed only fitting to name the restaurant after something that has meant so much to them – hence, Twelves.

After lunch we headed over to Borderland Vineyard, a relatively new winery. This winery is very casual. Its wines favor those who prefer dry wines. Interestingly, the sampling offered two different vintages of their Merlot, and it was fun to experience the difference a year makes. Both Barb and I preferred the 2011 Merlot (I believe Barb even went home with a bottle of it). The tasting took place beneath a tent, on the lawn of an old farmhouse that the family is currently planning on restoring and making into a wine-tasting room. We learned later that the farmhouse was the home the owners grew up in.

After the tasting, Karen Kalb Anderson, one of the owners, offered us a tour around the winery. We started first at the ruins of the old barn, which stone foundations support a newer shelter for sheep. Karen explained that they are getting babydoll sheep to "mow" the winery and keep the weeds at bay, due to arrive the week after we were there, a shame we missed them. While we were standing on the old barn ramp (now separated from the barn by an alarming gap), Karen described her vision of the winery, with a replica of the old barn rebuilt for a wine-making facility and wine-tasting room, with a deck overlooking the gentle slope to the woods in the distance.

Most wineries are on lovely rolling farms -- the nature of viticulture lends itself to picturesque landscapes. But Borderland Vineyard was on the prettiest acreage I think I've ever seen. We met Karen's mother, who, with her husband, purchased the farm almost 70 years ago, in 1946. Now 92 years old, Janet Kalb described her reaction when she first saw the farm, noting that the moment she saw it, she decided she wanted to live there the rest of her life.

Karen talked about how the vineyard started, and mistakes they made along the way (planting some vines too low along the hills and hollows) and how one year they lost most of their new plantings. Starting a vineyard is not for the faint of heart.

I love learning about how wineries got their names -- there's often a quirky story behind it, usually reflecting the owners' personalities, and Borderland is no different.

Karen's brother Kurt suggested the name Borderland because of the farm's proximity (about a mile and a half) to Pennsylvania's borders with Delaware and Maryland. "What convinced me that it was an appropriate name, though, was his telling me that the examples in the dictionary were 'the borderland between sanity and insanity' and 'the borderland between fantasy and reality'," she said. "We both knew that starting up this enterprise at our ages and with our resources put us somewhere in all those borderlands."

The winery draws its inspiration from Kurt, who has been a student of wine for quite some time and can appreciate the nuances of grape variety, even vine clone, style, terroir, -- all the elements that contribute to the great aroma and taste as well as the complexity and subtlety of quality wines, Karen pointed out.

Photo courtesy
Borderlands Vineyard
Karen and her brothers are trying to save the family land by starting the winery, hoping to create a lasting productive business that will ensure that the farm will continue in the family for future generations. They turned to wine-making in part because of Kurt's interest in wines. She admitted that her palate isn't as fine-tuned as her brother's. "Like many people, I explain my wine preferences by saying that the wines I like smell and taste terrific, and in the end that's all that matters," she said, noting with what I'm learning is her typical sense of humor that "the other good news is that the best way to tune your palate is to drink more wine!"

The day we were there, they were busy planting new vines that won't produce wine-making grapes for three years. Visiting Borderland, I learned that wineries demand a vision, and it seems that the Kalb siblings have a pretty clear vision for their farm and winery. Perhaps by the time those new vines produce wine, the wine-tasting barn will be built. In any case, I'll certainly be back to visit to watch this winery's vision evolve.

Tip: If you avoid purchasing wine and pack your own picnic, this is a budget-friendly day trip!

Hours: Kreutz Creek Vineyards Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Paradocx Vineyard    ; Twelves Grill and Cafe Tuesday - Saturday, lunch 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.; dinner 5 to 9 p.m.; Borderland Vineyard definitely call ahead, the farther in advance the better. When the winery puts up its "feather flag" at the end of the lane, they will serve all comers.

Dogs: Friendly well socialized dogs are welcomed at Kreutz Creek Vineyards. However, unless you're going to a winery and just hanging out there all day, dogs are probably better left at home.

Getting there: 
Kreutz Creek Vineyards, 553 S. Guernsey Road, West Grove, PA 19390;
Paradocx Vineyard, 1833 Flint Hill Road, Landenberg, PA 19350;
Twelves Grill and Cafe, 10 Exchange Place, West Grove, PA 19390;
Borderland Vineyard, 332 Indiantown Road, Landenberg, PA 19350.

Websites: Kreutz Creek Vineyards; Paradocx Vineyard; Twelves Grill and Cafe; Borderland Vineyard

Photo courtesy Borderlands Vineyard
Check out the blog's FB page for updates on places we've visited and blogged about:!

Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger! 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Brookside Gardens: Oasis in Suburbia

I decided to write this blog as a Mother's Day special -- for all those looking for a lovely place to bring their mums! An overcast Saturday afternoon found us heading over to check out Brookside Gardens, in Wheaton, MD; I had my new macro lens in hand and was eager to experiment. Thunder bumper downpours threatened to ruin the afternoon but I was optimistic the rain would hold off for another hour or two (I was almost right). Just 30 minutes from my home in Ellicott City (and 45 minutes from Baltimore), I wondered to myself why I don't go there more often.

An oasis in the midst of cluttered suburbia, pretty much anytime in spring or summer, the gardens are lovely. Today, the day before Mother's Day, the profusion of early spring blooms -- the tulips and bulb flowers, the cherry trees, magnolias, and dogwoods -- were well over. But the azaleas (some 300 varieties) were peaking, the hostas leafed out, adding their subdued blues, dark greens and chartreuse to the lush green landscape (I love hostas), and the wisteria was in full bloom. I particularly enjoyed the water features -- a series of striking fountains in the formal gardens.

Families with children were there -- even on an afternoon that threatened huge downpours -- as well as couples, old and young, enjoying the serenity. The place is popular for proposals and weddings.

Brookside Gardens is Montgomery County's award-winning 50-acre public display garden
situated within Wheaton Regional Park. Included in the gardens are several distinct areas: Aquatic Garden, Azalea Garden, Butterfly Garden, Rose Garden (sadly, no where near in bloom when we visited), Japanese Style Garden, Trial Garden, Rain Garden, and the Woodland Walk. The Formal Gardens areas include a Perennial Garden, Yew Garden, the Maple Terrace, and Fragrance Garden. Brookside Gardens also features two conservatories for year-round displays; one of my favorite areas is the charming children’s garden with changing displays designed to encourage children to learn about plants and gardening.

Brookside Gardens, unlike some of the other gardens attractions, didn't start out as the estate grounds to some millionaire. Instead, it was a project of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, opening on 13 July, 1969. The site formerly had been the location of Stadler Nursery. These gardens were always meant to be open to the public for everyone's enjoyment.

While you're there, keep your eyes peeled for the black squirrels that are typical of the area. I'm used to their lighter grey brethren, in fact, a fat family of their light grey kin feed happily from my bird feeders. I find the black squirrels striking and unusual, but in fact, they used to be quite common, having been predominant throughout North America prior to the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century, since their dark color helped them hide in old growth forests which tended to be very dense and shaded. As time passed, hunting and deforestation led to biological advantages for their light grey cousins. The grey squirrels apparently thrive in suburbia, so it's nice to see the black squirrels having a population base at Wheaton Regional Park.

This year, the gardens are under construction, with a number of improvements planned. This means that the visitors center will be closed until close to the end of June. But even when it opens, the visitors center parking lot will be closed until November. There is plenty of other parking; check Brookside Gardens' website for where to park. And don't let this dissuade you from visiting this year -- the construction is confined to one or two areas and most, if not all, of the formal gardens are unaffected by the construction. Did I mention that admission is free? It's a low-risk venture with high rewards for a summer afternoon!

The first phase of the construction is the renewal of the Gardens’ main entrance to reinforce the visitors center as the heart of the gardens, thus creating a welcoming arrival with site-specific artwork and solving current safety issues. The second phase includes parking lot expansion and improved storm water management. Phase three will stabilize the banks of the two streams that act as boundaries for the Gardens, and allow for new ornamental plantings to take advantage of the charming stretches of water that affirm the name “Brookside Gardens.”

Getting there: 1800 Glenallan Avenue, Wheaton, MD 20902

Hours: Gardens: sunrise - sunset, visitors Center: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.; conservatories: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.; free admission.

Dogs: Pets are not allowed in Brookside Gardens. Service animals are welcome.


Updated May 2018.

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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Scenic Vistas Along the Indian Head Trail

We would see amazing things if we could learn to be travelers in our own neighborhoods, Henry David Thoreau once said. Since beginning this blog last June, I have discovered some hidden delights in the mid-Atlantic region: Susquehanna State Park's Rock Run Historic Area and Hampton Mansion both come to mind. And once again, this week's blog focuses on a nice surprise!

Relatively close to D.C. and a mere hour away from Baltimore, the Indian Head Rail Trail is a gem! Although a great bike ride -- it also makes a nice hike if you plan well and start at the right end.

I knew nothing about this rail trail until I happened to chat with some fellow cyclists one spring Sunday morning on the B&A Trail. I am a fan of rails to trails, there's no denying it, and I was excited to hear about Indian Head Trail, in Charles County, MD. The couple I spoke to promised it was both lovely and uncrowded, and paved (a bonus, although not necessary). That was all I needed. When I returned home after that ride, I headed straight for my computer and the internet to look up the trail and find out how to get there.

Having read that there's a "slight incline," I decided to start the bike ride at the end of the trail that would allow us to do the up-hill direction first, so that we could pretty much coast downhill on the way back (although it didn't quite work out that way, it was still a good plan). Thus it was that we started in Indian Head, near the naval base. The first two miles are the most lovely -- with sweeping views of the Matawoman Creek, enhanced by the redbud which were just bursting into bloom the weekend we rode it -- going downhill for those first two miles, which means you end the ride working hard going up hill when you're really, really tired. Starting at this end of the trail -- which pretty much crosses Charles County -- allows for a super gorgeous start and end to an otherwise beautiful and scenic trail throughout.

If you're planning on hiking the Indian Head Rail Trail but can't see yourself doing all 13 miles (and another 13 back), then start at the trail head at Mattingly Avenue in Indian Head, and plan on walking just two or three miles before turning back (you can access other sections of the trail from other parking areas), just so you can enjoy those lovely views of the water. Although we didn't spot one close up, sightings of bald eagles are common along the trail. On the day we were there, we were treated to views of a hawk building her nest, carrying twigs and branches.

Part of the original railroad leading from the
rail trail at Mattingly Avenue to the Navy base.
The Indian Head White Plains Railroad, which became the current rail trail, developed with the local naval proving ground it connected to which manufactured explosives and smokeless powder. As the United States entered World War II, Indian Head was one of just two military installations equipped to produce explosives, and it and the railroad that served it proved indispensable to the mobilization effort. The railroad served Indian Head Naval Base through the Korean Conflict, falling into disuse only when the roads improved and shipping by truck became more economical. By the 1960s, the railroad was no longer an asset to the Navy.

The rail road languished for decades, ignored. Through the Department of the Interior's Federal Lands-to-Parks Program, the rail corridor was donated to Charles County "for the public's perpetual recreation use and enjoyment." In 2008, construction of the trail began and just 18 months later, the rail trail opened in 2009.

The trail passes through woodlands, wetlands, and some farmland. Most of the roads that the trail crosses are quiet thoroughfares, only one of the roads posed a challenge for crossing. Informational signs are placed along the trail, directing
your attention to the wildlife that inhabits the area, from monarch butterflies (we saw one) to kingfishers and bald eagles. The Sunday we rode the trail, we encountered two gobbling wild turkeys -- beautiful and majestic creatures, picking their way through the woods.

This is one of the most accommodating trails I've been on. It's easy to find places to refill water bottles or rest: There are several water fountains, including a lower one providing water for Fido, along the trail. There also are benches and several shelters in the event of sudden summer storms, with picnic tables regularly spaced along the trail.

We wondered if the bird sitting on top
of this tree might be a bald eagle.

An informational sign along the trail wonders, "Who would ever have imagined that a railroad track, once built with a focus on war, would one day be the source of such peace?" If you have an afternoon free, I recommend that you enjoy the peace that is to be found along this rail trail.

Tip #1: Parking on the Indian Head, MD, side is best found at the nearby Village Green Park & Pavilion, at 100 Walter Thomas Road. If you're starting from the other side of the trail, there's ample parking in the lot just across the street at 10390 Theodore Green Blvd, White Plains, MD.

Getting there: 100 Walter Thomas Road, Indian Head, MD or 10390 Theodore Green Blvd, White Plains, MD, if you want to start at one of the ends. There are several other parking accesses available along the trail.

Dogs: Great trail for dog walking!

Hours: Dawn to dusk.


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Thursday, May 1, 2014

"Mystery Trip" Ends Up in Monticello, Jefferson's Masterpiece Mountaintop Retreat

Gail writes about a recent day trip she took with her retirement community:

The day was one of those rare ones this past March that was warm and pleasant for our day at Monticello, in Charlottesville, VA. We were on a retirement community trip - a "Mystery Trip that we'’d signed on for not knowing where we would be going! Once we headed down Rt 15 south we were guessing either Fredericksburg or Monticello and once we passed Rt. 17 into Fredericksburg, we knew where we were headed although we did pass Montpelier (another very interesting day!).

Our first stop was Mitchie Tavern, ca 1784, for lunch, although we were later than we'd expected -- and very hungry -- by a complete stop of traffic on the way down from Frederick to clear an accident shortly after Rt 17. But our good spirits returned as we went through the buffet at the Ordinary at the Tavern, a lovely selection of good food. We were offered chicken, pulled pork, biscuits and corn bread, cole slaw, stewed tomatoes, beets, green beans, a delicious vegetable soup, and much more. Everything was very good and the waitresses helped us as needed with our trays as there were a few steps up to the dining room and we were an elderly bunch, so gladly accepted the help! The staff was very professional, helpful, and friendly.

While eating, the girls came by asking if we wanted more of anything. Our drinks were refilled and then dessert was offered but most of us had had our fill. The cost of the buffet was almost $18 each plus beverage. The venue was rustic and the service was on pewter-like metal to add an air of authenticity. Our group, without a reservation, was seated at a long table all together, but other diners were seated at smaller tables, and there was another room with groups. It was a pleasant meal finished with a trip to one of several gift shops available, the smaller one in the building, and another a short walk away. A toy shop was also an attraction.
Our mini bus then brought us up to Monticello, Jefferson's mountaintop plantation about a mile away, which was designed, built, and redone by him from 1769 to 1808, and was a working plantation. Monticello was home not only to the Jefferson family, but to workers, black and white, enslaved and free.

Jefferson kept copious records of weather, crops, and even had a machine that wrote a copy of any correspondence as he wrote (polygraph copying machine.) So records of life at that time are abundant and since the contents of the property were sold off after Jefferson’s death to pay taxes and debts, everything was dispersed until Monticello was bought back for preservation in 1923 by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. Now about 60% of furnishings may be authentic.

Monticello went through some interesting times after Jefferson's death. Because he died more than $107,000 in debt, his daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph and her son and financial manager, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, found it necessary first to sell nearly all of the contents of Monticello and then to sell the plantation itself. In 1827, the furniture, animals, farm equipment, and slaves were offered at an executor's sale. In 1831, James T. Barclay, a local apothecary, purchased the home and 552 acres for $4,500, less the value of his own home. Unsuccessful in his attempts to cultivate silk worms there, he offered Monticello for sale just two years later. In 1834, Uriah P. Levy, a naval officer who admired Jefferson's views on religious tolerance, purchased the house. Levy died in 1862 and bequeathed Monticello to the government if certain conditions were met. 

During the Civil War, the Confederacy seized and sold the property. After the war, the government declined the terms of Levy's request, and Levy's heirs contested the ownership. Not until years of litigation had passed did Jefferson Monroe Levy, Uriah P. Levy's nephew, take possession in 1879. Both uncle and nephew strove to preserve Monticello as a memorial to Jefferson. In 1923, Jefferson Monroe Levy sold Monticello to the newly created Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which owns Monticello today.

The house tour, led by knowledgeable guides, toured a variety of rooms and pointed out many of Jefferson'’s inventions. He was a man of many talents and loved architecture and inventions to make life easier. Although his first library was donated to and began the Library of Congress, he learned he couldn'’t live without books and embarked on collecting another library, gathering 1600 volumes before his death, which added greatly to his debt. Survivors at that time by law had to pay off those debts and it took several generations to settle those of Jefferson, even after the sale of the house and property….

Tip #1: If you want to see more than the main floor of Monticello then splurge and purchase the "behind the scenes" tour pass, which takes you behind the scenes: through the first floor of Monticello; to bedrooms once occupied by members of the Jefferson family on the second floor; to the iconic Dome Room on the third floor; and to the new, interactive "Crossroads" exhibition under the house. You'll see unique interior architectural features, learn about ongoing historic restoration efforts, and gain insight into life at Monticello.

Tip #2: For those who want to make a weekend in that area, a stop at Orange, VA and a visit at Montpelier would provide activity for a second day. In Orange there is a Holiday Inn that is quite nice for those not interested in B&B’s (offered at Mitchie Tavern). Appomattox Courthouse is not too much further south. Driving along Rt 15 is quite pleasant and worthwhile and is listed as "a Journey Through Hallowed Ground Byway”," (Civil War sites) from Frederick, MD, well into Virginia.

Getting there: GPS it! 931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway, Charlottesville, VA 22902

Hours: Monticello is open every day of the year, including Sundays, except Christmas. To see the hours for a particular day, visit the website.

Dogs: No. But from the Baltimore/Frederick/Washington DC area, it's a long day for pooch to be at home alone, so make sure there's someone to walk him in case you get home late!

Website: Montecello:; Mitchie Tavern:

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Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger!