Wednesday, September 29, 2010
More Islands: Rhode, Block, Long and Shelter
On that route along the coast we visited Narragansett, at one time a major competitor with Newport for the spendy crowd. The renowned architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White designed a grand casino for Narragansett in 1886 but alas a fire in 1900 burned most of the wooden casino, leaving only the granite section that spanned the road along the coast. We stopped by as we walked back to our B&B from supper and learned the history from two women who were chaperones for the local high school's senior class, which was having a dance in the grand ballroom upstairs. And while we were taking the shot of the building and shore the next morning, a local fisherman provided a little interest to our right, though his catch turned out to be too small and was tossed back a few moments later.
We had a good location on the island, half a mile from town and overlooking two small freshwater ponds perched on a shelf just above the ocean. We took a path down to the ponds and had a thirty-minute paddle in a kayak, time enough for two circuits of both ponds and a few pictures! That's the Spring House Hotel just above us, a nice late-19th century seaside hotel that is doing well in the 21st century. There was a time when it and many other large hotels on Block Island sat empty in the '70s through the 1990s, but they're "in" again and all seem to be holding their own, even given the fairly short season when tourists in any numbers show up on Block Island.
Once again we were charmed by stone walls along quiet country roads, all the more enjoyable without the heavy panniers on our bike. We wore small backpacks to carry our walking shoes and locked up the bike near the North Light, seen here across Sachem Pond, and took the Clayhead Trail for some more dramatic cliff views where Block Island is slowly sliding back into the Atlantic. One trail took us to the shore where we added our own rock tower to others we found there, and admired the surf hitting a small glacial erratic sitting on the beach.
The trail took us two miles down the coast, then we walked back along yet another stone-wall-lined road, with two more side-trails showing us the other side of the island and this lonely beach house sitting at the edge of the dunes.
As noted above, we really enjoyed Block Island, and would return here before Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard, even given how interesting those two islands are. We enjoyed the slower pace and the relative lack of monied pretentiousness. Oh, it's not cheap on the Block -- everything has to be shipped in, and it's a small captive market -- but it still had more of that getaway charm we found a little elusive on the first two islands.
Long Island is indeed long, about 118 miles, only 23 across at the widest. With a population of 7.4 million (2 of its 4 counties are Brooklyn and Queens, parts of New York City), it has more people than many much larger islands, such as Ireland or Hokkaido. It has a sort of fish shape with two tails at the eastern end, each actually the terminal moraine of one of the glacial advances 10-40,000 years ago. The more southerly tail is Montauk, and the lighthouse there dates to 1796, the oldest in NY and the fourth-oldest active lighthouse in the country. Jeff's brother used to drive the 100 miles here from his home in Queens to go birdwatching, since it does stick far out into the Atlantic and attracts birds that typically stay well out to sea. But neither of us had been here before, so it was exciting to see it at last. We then rode west 25 miles through a remarkably uncrowded, almost desolate area of sand dunes and salt marshes, into East Hampton. That town did indeed live up to the reputation of The Hamptons. We did not actually see too many fancy houses, not because they're not there, but rather because they have such immense grounds, thick hedges, large fences and walls or all of the above, that we could only catch momentary glimpses of a few of these Gatsbyesque getaways, and imagine how much bigger the remaining hidden ones were.
Our next night after Montauk was on Shelter Island, another place that Jeff had heard much about but never seen, as it was where his folks spent a brief honeymoon in 1942. They certainly didn't spend it where we stayed. It was one of the more disappointing B&Bs we've stayed at, aggravated considerably by having the least comfortable bed we've encountered out of the 60+ we've slept in so far this trip. The owner did not fuss when we cancelled the planned second night, apparently aware that the bed in our room left too much to be desired. We loaded up the bike and saw a few places we had planned to see with an unloaded bike, the most interesting of which was this beach where we watched a sailboat regatta in Gardiner's Bay, the water between those two fishtails of Long Island, Montauk Point (visible in the distance on the right) and Orient Point.
We'll close with a few shots of New London, starting with the entry to the harbor with the big I-95 bridge at the head of the harbor spanning the Thames River, and the cruise ship Crown Princess just leaving port after a morning's port call for passengers to visit nearby Mystic Seaport. Ah, that brought back memories of those dozens of port calls we made in 2008 and 2009, described in older posts you may have read back then.
Then our ferry pulled into its slip next to downtown New London, a town with a remarkable number of interesting old buildings, including these four called "Whaleoil Row" that were built by whaling ship captains in the 1840s.
The next morning we rode a bike trail over the Thames on the interstate bridge to Groton CT, home of the USS Nautilus. This was of course the world's first nuclear-powered sub -- in fact the first large-scale use of controlled nuclear power ever -- built nearby in 1954. It was in active service until 1980, and since 1986 has been on display here. Its most famous mission was in 1958 when it reached a spot logged as "90 degrees north latitude, longitude indeterminate" -- the North Pole.
It's open for self-guided walking, or should we say crawling and crunching, through the central part of the boat. Here are views of the mess and of a bunkroom that slept 12. The sweaters on our closet shelves have more room than these guys had! And for storage, what you see is what you got. Claustrophobes need not apply!