PRAIRIE GARDENER: Bus tour of Vermont includes sights of fall splendor and devastation

KILLINGTON, Vt. -- What better place to kick off a visit to see the fall color than the quaint villages and rugged mountains that make up the Green Mountain state of Vermont. Vermont, along with neighboring New Hampshire and Massachusetts have ha...

Darrel Koehler
Darrel Koehler

KILLINGTON, Vt. -- What better place to kick off a visit to see the fall color than the quaint villages and rugged mountains that make up the Green Mountain state of Vermont. Vermont, along with neighboring New Hampshire and Massachusetts have had the welcome mat out each autumn for decades.

But that region has an earlier visitor, Irene. No, Irene wasn't your typical tourist, she was first a hurricane that swept up the East Coast and was later down-graded to a tropical storm before delivering the worst deluge in 500 years to New England.


More than a foot of rain fell in the mountains. The rain then washed down the streams, carrying everything in its path including houses, railroads and businesses. Highways and roads were washed out and streams and rivers were scoured of all silt, leaving only rocks and boulders.

When a group of 40 Minnesotans and Dakotans, including the Prairie Gardener, took a 12-day bus trip, sponsored by Judy's Leisure Tours, Fargo, they weren't prepared for the devastation they would soon witness. The bright, autumn colors, just starting to color the steep mountains gave way to the viewing the worst flood damage than many ever had seen.


The trip was made worst by the large number of detours as the bus was forced to stay on the main roads and interstate highways, adding considerable time to any stop. Some sights on the schedule were replaced by others that were more accessible.

Fall color just was starting when we made the trip (Sept. 23- Oct. 4) while peak color would be experienced in Wisconsin on our return trip back. Warm weather held back peak color in New England until later.


The trip started with a stop at Niagara Falls, N.Y., with a step-on-guide for a city tour. We visited Prospect Point Park, where we walked along the falls and watch the falls approach the brink. The river was high due to lots of rain earlier. We only toured the American side of the falls. We spent several nights at the Greenbrier Inn, a quaint bed and breakfast near Killington. Situated in the Berkshire Mountains, Norman Rockwell spent the last 25 years in this region where he painted.

We visited the Billings Farm & Museum in Woodstock, Vt., where we had a chance to see a gentleman's farm, which is still operates with a Jersey milking herd. The operation was once owned by Frederick Billings, a native son who went west to help in the construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad between Lake Superior and the Puget Sound. He also served as president of the railroad. Billings, Mont., was named in his honor.

Other sights

Another visit was to the Coolidge Historical Site. This birthplace and boyhood home of Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States is virtually unchanged since the 1920s. Rounding out the day was a visit to the Vermont Country Store, stocked to the rafters with hard-to-find products and brands from your past.

Imagine a giant hole that is nearly 600 feet deep. That's the Rock of Ages granite quarry. We also saw master craftsmen creating grave makers and other products. Maple syrup is found at every tourist stop including the Morse Maple Sugar Farm, the oldest family-run maple sugar operation in the state. We were told how maple syrup and sugar is made, including a taste test of the different grades. Vermont produces about 500,000 gallons of syrup, or 50 percent of the nation's total.


Von Trapp visit

The Von Trapp family of "Sound of Music" moved to Vermont during World War II after fleeing Nazi-occupied Austria. There they built the Trapp Family Lodge, on their home, into a gracious alpine resort continuously operated by the family for 55 years. We met a granddaughter of Maria Von Trapp who told us about the family. We saw the on-site family cemetery where most, including Maria, are buried.

Rounding out the day was a visit to Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Factory where we ended up with a tour and a free ice-cream cone. We also stopped at Quechee Gorge, acclaimed as Vermont's little Grand Canyon. Next we explored New Hampshire's White Mountains, which included a ride on a ski gondola to the top, a first for many on the trip

A rock formation, known as Old Man of the Mountain was once located near Franconia Notch. It became the trademark for the state. In 2003, the formation slipped from its perch, leaving only the forehead intact. There are plans to create a memorial; New Hampshire will continue to use it as a trademark.

After a visit to the Castle in the Clouds we traveled down to Lake Winnipesaukee where we took a boat ride across the huge body of water. Later, we boarded a dinner train on the Winnipesaukee scenic Railroad and enjoyed a turkey dinner while slowly meandering along the lake shore. It would be our second turkey dinner -- the first served by a group in a church basement. It was like being back in the Midwest.

More states

A visit to Maine brought us to Kennebunkport where we saw the summer home of former President George H.W. Bush and wife, Barbara. The home is out in the Atlantic on a peninsula known as Walker's Point. The Atlantic was beautiful with its huge breakers.

Salem, Mass., is famous for its 17th century witch trials and we experienced first-hand the reign of terror and hysteria here in the 1690's as we visited the Salem Witch Museum. Rounding out the visit to Salem was a stop at the House of Seven Gables, which was built in 1668 and site for Nathaniel Hawthorne's famed book by the same title,


After a visit to Boston with its many sites including Quincy Market, Old North Church and the Concord-Lexington battle fields, it was time to head on a three-day bus trip back home.

Koehler is the Herald garden columnist. Send garden questions to him in care of the Grand Forks Herald, Box 6008, Grand Forks ND 58206-6008.

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