Being back in North America for fall and winter is (and will be) an adjustment but also, a delight. The cooler temps and shorter days inspire a sort of nesting instinct, that even career wanderers such as ourselves find enticing. We have readily unearthed our crock pot and traded in summer grilling for stews and soups. However, while our palates have switched gears, our appetite for exploration has not diminished. Here follow a few of our favorite activities enjoyed during a season that we missed greatly while living south of the border: fall.
1. HUNTING A HAUNT
Ever drawn to the magnetic collusion of history and mystery, we have been known to spend days on end prowling around old houses, abandoned towns or the odd cemetery (especially if it pre-dates 1900). Part urban-exploration, part photo safari, we are never disappointed with what we find. Using sites like ghosttowns.com and pearltrees, where we can trade tips and information with other ghost town and urban exploration junkies, we doubt we will ever be at a loss for new old places to explore. All it takes? A free day, GPS and a list of intriguing places.
Some of our favorite ghost towns include Granite and Sunrise (Montana), Death Valley Junction (California) and Shaniko (Oregon). The best ones do not appear on maps of any kind and can usually be found by reading the cryptic internet posts of other ghost town hunters or by asking the locals. Our proven mantra?: the harder it is to find, the cooler it will be.
2. BLUE HIGHWAY-ING
This activity is often done in tandem with ghost town hunting or urban exploration but deserves its own paragraph because Blue Highway-ing can be thoroughly enjoyed sans destination. Simply take your leave in any direction, turn off the GPS and stick to secondary highways as much as possible. Dirt roads, gravel roads, unmarked roads, roads where locals look at you funny simply because you are there … you get the picture. The best part about Blue Highway-ing is that not having a destination opens up the possibility for your drive to go from routinely okay to surprisingly awesome, with little to no effort. Here are some great destinations that we randomly stumbled across on “destination-less” Blue Highway drives:
Eaton Rapids, Michigan, an old mill town which we are now looking forward to returning to in late October to enjoy Urban Air, a fête celebrating caravan travel, during which 50 Air Stream trailers will be parked downtown and opened for visits from gleeful, curious camping nerds.
Highline Drive, British Columbia, a weird, not really safe mountainside utility road in Garibaldi Provincial Park. While gassing up, we met a chatty First Nation local who casually rattled off directions to a hidden scenic drive that afforded the pluckier traveler mind-blowing views. “But wait—” he said. “What are you driving?” A Subaru Outback, we replied. He gave a grunt of approval. “Oh yeah. You’ll be fine. As long as you don’t get hung up on the monster railroad tracks.”
Oysterville, Washington is a lost-in-time town full of early 1900’s Victorian houses mired like elegant cakes in the misty, marsh-covered pinky finger of Washington’s southernmost coast. Emanating an otherworldly Ann of Green Gables meets Coraline vibe, it’s the sort of singular place that you need to see for yourself. If you ever do find yourself there, be sure and stop in at the Oysterville Sea Farm’s café. If you enjoy shamelessly scarfing fresh oysters and shrimp by the handful, you need look no further.
3. TIME TRAVEL
In our opinion, history is as addictive as it is overwhelming. Are you a museum, interpretive center or edifice marked by a sign that says “Historic Site”? If so, please stand by to be invaded. We recently took a foray into history at Hyde Hall in upstate New York, the 1800’s “country home” of über-wealthy land baron, George Clarke. Home to five generations of the Clarke dynasty in Cooperstown, the house overlooks stunning Lake Otsego and Glimmerglass State Park. For $10 we embarked on a fascinating tour that gave us a new appreciation for neoclassical architecture and oddly—gigantic stew ovens. Not to be missed: the excellent exhibit on the Clarke family’s own Titanic story housed in the estate’s welcome center. It is an amazing, bittersweet and moving tale.
4. BLUSTERY BEACH DAYS
We learned this while living in Seattle and find that it’s still true: brisk, blustery beach days have their own, special allure. There is something great about being snug in a hooded sweatshirt, feet rooted in the cool, slippery coziness of the sand while enjoying a front row view of one of nature’s most mesmerizing performances—the angry, angry sea. While we were lucky enough to have sunny days while recently work-camping in Orchard Beach, Maine, the snap in the air finally propelled us indoors, where we were forced to warm our chilly gullets with bowls of piping hot, New England clam chowder. Oh, the torture.
5. HANGING OUT IN ONE-HORSE TOWNS
While we have zigzagged our way across America upwards of a dozen times, none of those marathons included nearly enough small town stops. Thus, it shall be our new quest. And no season is better for such random visitations as autumn, when the trees are fluttering in fire-themed kimonos. (Grab a camera and you are immediately on color safari!) By “one-horse towns” we are referring to towns with three-digit populations or less. Also considered in this category could be hamlets, villages or (affectionately) “ambiguous specks on the map”. The beauty of tiny towns? While seemingly humdrum on first glance, each one is strikingly different, with a palpable flavor all its own and most likely, a pretty interesting history.
A few of our favorites:
Spray, Oregon. Population 158. If you yawn, you will miss it. The local Riverbend Bar and Grill is ancient and appropriately worn after decades of loving use. The good-natured owner is full of tales, the coffee is strong and it is conveniently located next door to the knotty pine and black bear-themed Riverbend Motel, making it the perfect place to grab breakfast before an awe-inspiring hike through the nearby Painted Hills of the John Day Fossil Beds.
Cross Village, Michigan. Population 294. Once a booming fishing and lumber town, it is situated on Lake Michigan and is home to the cooler-than-thou Legs Inn. It is also the northern gateway to the Tunnel of Trees, an ethereal lakeshore drive that if you are ever given the opportunity to take you must not miss (unless you wish to be shaken and called insane). Especially in the fall.
Phillipsburg, Montana. Population 818. Ridiculously great. Both the historic Broadway and Kaiser Hotels do it right (and in an admirably economic fashion) and Doe Brothers old-timey restaurant is the place for scrumptious local fare served up in original 1800’s digs. It is also the perfect spot for a person to base themselves should they wish to embark upon the relentless trail of switchbacks up to the killer mountain ghost town of Granite…
We now sign off, having blathered sufficiently about fun things to do in the fall (or anytime, really). We wish you well on all your adventures and we will continue to share ours here. You can also visit richeleshoots.com for full photo galleries of our recent and past adventures, as well as many of the places mentioned in this post.
More Fall photos ...