09-18 and 09-19-2022 Cranberry Acres, Plymouth, and Cape Cod MA

For faithful readers who know that we are now back home after our summer, early fall journey, here are a few statistics. We left Sunset House on August 21 and returned on October 11, for a total of 52 days on the road.  We stayed at private campgrounds for 25 nights, at state parks for 9 nights, with friends and  or family for 9 nights, and at Military Family Camps for 4 nights.  We stayed at a city park once and at a state fair park once.  We boondocked/dry camped 3 nights, including a night at a Love’s Truck Stop, our first night beside the road in the Warner Mountains, and in a Casino parking lot in Bonners Ferry Idaho.

We traveled 8,147 miles in the MoHo, and some additional miles in the Tracker for day trips.  Our total fuel cost was $3634.58, considerably less than we budgeted when assuming gasoline was going to cost over $4. per gallon and possibly more than $5. per gallon.  Until we got back to the West Coast, our fuel cost ranged from 3.29 to 3.99 per gallon for regular.  Most of our campground reservations were pre-paid and we spent an additional $321.66 on camping.  I made most of the reservations between six months and a year ago, and we only had to cancel one (with no refund) and juggle a couple of others to fill in the blanks.  We made up the difference between the fuel savings by spending more than usual on some really special dining experiences. I won’t make that number public!

Now for the “we did this, we did that” part.

We left Portland, Maine on a gorgeous, sunny morning knowing that our route to Cranberry Acres Jellystone Park in Carver, Massachusetts was only a short 150 miles or so. For my western US friends who may not have traveled much on the East Coast, this map gives a pretty good idea of what navigating these spaghetti roads feels like.  Especially when everything is in what we now know as the “green tunnel”, it can be hard to keep track of exactly where you might be at any given moment.  I planned to take the long way around Boston but somehow ended up on the “inner” long way around Boston.    We were lucky.  It was early on a Sunday morning and the route was reasonably quiet and traffic-free.  I think we even managed to get through the proper lanes on the one short section of the tollway that we traveled.

I was a bit apprehensive about Cranberry Acres, but when making plans to camp somewhere in Massachusetts that was reasonably close to Cape Cod for a day of exploration, this is the one that was the best location for what we wanted to do.  Jellystone Parks are mainly big summer resorts for kids and families.  The summertime amenities are all about the kids.  I wasn’t sure that was exactly what we wanted, but for two nights we figured we could handle anything.

It was a surprise when we entered the park to see that it was less than one-quarter full.  The young woman at the desk was helpful and gave me numbers, a map, and brochures about the area.  With a caveat, “Oh, by the way, your site is under construction, might be a bit unlevel, and currently has no sewer connection.”  Ummm…remind me why I was paying top-notch prices for this?

We drove up to the site in the car and said, “No Way”.  It was a mess, as were all the other sites nearby where heavy construction was underway and everything seemed to be scattered willy-nilly.  Back to the office I went and said we need another site.  After some negotiation, she said we could camp out in the middle of the park where there was almost completely empty space and several sites available with full hookups.  No extra charge, of course.  We were already paying 72 bucks a night for the luxury of this space and weren’t happy about paying anymore but most certainly wanted to be somewhere that we could actually park the MoHo and have the hookups that we had paid for several months ago.

We settled in, and began planning our next day of exploring when I received an email from Cranberry Acres saying thank you, please re-register your space and that will be an additional $30.  please.  Ummm…nope.  I decided to completely ignore the email and figured I would wait it out.  That was a good decision since no one ever bothered us to pay that extra charge. I think it must have been some kind of automatically generated computer thing when the park host changed our site number.  We never paid any extra fees for a reasonably decent site in this crazy expensive park.

In fairness, the park was actually a good place to be at this time of year.  I wouldn’t have enjoyed it during the summer when it was completely full of large families and a LOT of kids.  There was a small dog park with grass for Mattie, the laundry was reasonable, and the bathrooms were clean with plenty of hot water.  The sewer dump was in a good place and at a perfect angle to facilitate a good dump with only one hose.  Ah, the little things that matter when you have been on the road for a few weeks! 

The next morning we left early to be sure we had enough time to see Cape Cod.  I initially wanted to travel the Cape all the way north to Provincetown, famous for its arts and culture.  Reviewing the maps, we could see that driving all the way to the far end of the cape would entail more than 150 miles roundtrip driving in the Tracker.  We dumped that agenda and worked on other plans.  I knew that I wanted to see the beaches of Cape Cod, and if not the actual National Seashore, I wanted to get as close to it as we could without having to spend the entire day in the car.  I was also attached to having fish and chips, with Cape Cod cod, and previously decided that the best-reviewed cod on the Cape was not very far away in the town of Chatham.

I read a bit more about the city of Plymouth, MA, the storied landing spot of the Pilgrims.  But they didn’t land at Plymouth Rock as the myth alleges.  They first anchored in Provincetown Harbor. They were actually heading for the Colony of Virginia but ran into trouble trying to get around the dangerous shoals around Cape Cod.

Yes, here is the obligatory photo of the fake rock inside that magnificent edifice of columns in the photo below.

The colony at Plymouth, MA was settled in 1620 and the colony at Jamestown, Virginia was settled much earlier in 1607.  As I discovered when reviewing my family tree when we visited Ellis Island, my ancestors were in North America before those Pilgrims came over on the Mayflower. Is there any kind of “Virginia Colony” group that compares to all those folks to are descended from the original 102 settlers aboard the Mayflower? 

With maps and websites and brochures, we picked a route for the day.  Despite the reviews saying that visiting Plymouth was a bore and the rock was fake, we decided that being this close to the famous town required a visit.  I mapped our route to Plymouth, then a short 58-mile meander would take us to the southernmost part of the Cape where we could at least visit a beach. 

This was the first time in our travels that we encountered the “thickly settled” road signs

Plymouth was a delightful surprise.  We parked easily near the giant monument that houses the infamous rock.  So often throughout this trip, I have been grateful for the blue handicapped hang tag that can get us a parking place in very convenient locations.  We parked right at the park where the replica of the Mayflower is located.  I did want to tour the Mayflower, but we both decided to wait until after we had explored the town. (A side note: after we did the town, neither of us felt like going through the replica ship for $24 each)

What a lovely place.  The original houses built in Plymouth Colony were all destroyed, and many of the 300-year-old houses had signs indicating that they stood in the spot of the so-and-so original house belonging to so-and-so. All Mo and I could think about when looking at these very old foundations was all the work that must be involved in trying to maintain a house that is more than 300 years old

Some houses are still standing that were in the original colony, including the Richard Sparrow House (1640), Harlow Old Fort House (1677), Samuel Lucius-Thomas Howland House (1640), and Jabez Howland House (1667)

We especially loved the town commons, where as was the tradition in most New England settlements, there was a church, a meeting house, usually a jail, and a “burying ground” or cemetery.  We walked the steep hill up to the commons and just beyond the church, the dark and moody light of Burial Hill caught my eye.  Despite the steep steps, I knew I wanted to explore this old cemetery established in 1622.

Many of the oldest wooden grave markers are now gone, but the list of stone markers remaining from the mid 1600s is impressive.  The hike up the stairs was worth it, with gorgeous views of Plymouth Harbor stretching beyond the city below us.  Such a moody, beautiful, and historic cemetery!

We descended toward the main street of Plymouth, and found a sweet little coffee place where I had a yummy cappuccino and a lemon bar.  Mo is happy with plain coffee, so she declined the expensive indulgence.

We then meandered back down to Mayflower Park and I rested my weary legs on a bench while Mo took Mattie for a nice walk.  She had been patiently waiting in the car as we explored Plymouth on foot.  It was a good thing that it was a chilly, cloudy day with no reason to worry about letting her wait in the car.

After we visited the town, we took the slower back route toward Chatham.  Once again, the views were completely obstructed by trees.  Close to Plymouth, the homes along our route were palatial.  Huge old mansions with extensive grounds line the winding road.  We wondered who would live in those old houses.  Mayflower descendants?  Internet wunderkinds who work from home? 

This photo of the Sagamore Bridge over the Cape Cod Canal was a copyrighted image taken by Matt H Wade, with use by permission if he was credited. I had a difficult time trying to get photos of much of anything on our route from the moving car. 

Our only view opened up as we crossed the Sagamore Bridge over the Cape Cod Canal.  We had heard that traffic could get severely backed up on this route along Highway 6 and were happy for our quiet, somewhat chilly morning and very little traffic. As often happens when I am navigating and trying to keep track of where we are, I got no photos of that historic bridge crossing the historic canal. 

Once we crossed from the Massachusetts mainland to the Cape, the views were opened up only slightly as we saw many ponds dotting the landscape in between the thick pitch pines that have colonized most of the cape since deforestation in the 1700’s decimated the huge oak forests that once thrived there.

Chatham was a sweet little town, full of weathered shingle “cape cod” style homes.  Many people were walking and shopping the main streets enjoying the charming and probably expensive shops.  It looked typical for a seaside tourist town, reminding me a lot of Cannon Beach in Oregon.  We drove on through.  We had a great destination in mind.  Chatham Fish and Chips were very highly rated on the Cape. 

An unassuming place, with outdoor dining where Mattie could join us, and plenty of parking hid the treasure that awaited.  We had the very best cod fish and chips I have tasted anywhere.  Perfectly cooked, perfectly moist, and tender, with a flavor I will never forget. Chatham Fish and Chips were every bit as good, or even better, than touted in the reviews.

I doubt I will ever again eat cod from Cape Cod, with most of our delicious west coast cod coming from Alaska.  I never thought about why Cape Cod was named after a fish until I ate that cod in that amazing little restaurant.

After our fabulous lunch, we drove to the closest beach we could find, where the Chatham Light shines out over the quiet beach.  Once again, this little beach became a highlight of our entire trip.  Mattie was allowed on the beach any time between September 11 and Memorial Day.  The sand was soft and a bit coarser than we are used to, but Mattie loved it.  Mo walked her on the leash, and when a big black dog approached, also on a leash, we went through the usual firm, hold Mattie tight, introductions.  Even after 7 years, Mattie is still all terrier bark and jumps at new dogs when everyone is leashed.  It is her only flaw. 

This time, however, the owners of the big black dog understood completely and said our dog is fine, we can let them both off-leash if you would like.  Yes, we would like that!  And so did Mattie.  She jumped on the big girl for a minute or so, and soon they were best buds.  The big girl loved to swim, and Mattie as usual didn’t like getting wet.

A few minutes later another couple came by with their sweet dog, one they insisted didn’t like the water and wouldn’t go in it.  They took their boy off leash and suddenly it was a perfect dog park on the beach, with everyone running and playing and chasing balls as the best of friends.  With the big black girl chasing balls in the water, Mattie actually went in deep enough to swim a bit before she realized all she had to do was wait for the big girl to bring the ball back.  Then another guy came along and took his young pup off-leash to join the party.  Suddenly the dog who hated water whose owner said he never went in, was swimming out to chase the ball in the water.  It was so much fun for all of us to watch out “kids” interacting and having fun on the beach. 

Dog parks can be an iffy thing, especially with a little dog like Mattie who has no fear of the big guys ever since her young pup days playing with a friendly young bloodhound.  It was a highlight for us to let her play on the beach, watch her get into the water on her own, and have a great time with doggie friends. 

Somehow, with all the dogs running and playing so quickly, I never got a photo of all of them together.  The young pup was a light-colored doodle of some kind, very sweet and very very fast.

On the way back toward camp, we decided it was time for ice cream.  A perfect little ice cream shop along the highway showed up on a google search and we headed in that direction.  The ice cream was all home-made and a delicious way to end our long day exploring.  Once again we met friendly people who asked us a few questions and proceeded to share a great conversation about visiting the Cape, staying at a family house in Chatham, and having ice cream.  Mo and I were delighted once again to discover how friendly New England people can be at the right moment.

It was a perfect day, although I still would have loved to have had the time to continue to the end of the Cape, see the National Cape Cod Seashore, and explore Provincetown.  However, as has been the case on this trip, we were trying to see as much of New England as we possibly could in the short time we had to travel before returning home.  Winter was coming, with snow in Montana lending a bit of apprehension to our plans to return west.

I was glad we had a day to explore as much as we did.  And no, we did not see any sharks.