Friday, August 31, 2012

Our First Kayaking Adventure! - Pawtuckaway State Park

Jill and I have been saying for a while that we wanted to try kayaking. We see kayaks on the roofs of cars all the time. It seems as though everyone has one nowadays. Also, I've read a lot of blogs with trip reports regarding kayaking and it looks like so much fun. So, we woke up today and decided to give it a shot.

We rented our kayaks at the Mountain Road Trading Post in Raymond, NH which is just a mile form the Pawtuckaway State Park's main entrance. The price for renting a kayak for a half day was $25 per kayak and that included paddles and life vests. The friendly people there even helped me load them. Once they were secured in the bed of my truck, we headed to the Pawtuckaway State Park canoe launch.

Getting into the kayak was a different experience. Right off, it didn't feel too stable. As I paddled, I felt like the kayak was going to flip on me. However, I think that was just initial uneasiness and not knowing what to expect. After paddling around for just 5 minutes or so, the feeling of instability went away completely. 

Jill, "threading the needle" between two islands

Near the canoe launch, a duck, standing on one leg, watched as we got acclimated to this new activity. We stuck by close to the canoe launch first and slowly ventured out. We circled around a couple small islands and caught a view of the main beach as well as Mount Pawtuckaway's South Peak. I thought I could see the fire tower on the top of the mountain, but really couldn't make it out by eye. I tried to zoom in with my camera, but still couldn't make it out in the view finder. However, after dumping the photos on my computer, it's clear it was in fact the fire tower.

Our spectator while trying to learn to kayak!

The main beach, pretty full!

 Mount Pawtuckaway's South Peak, with the fire tower just below the arrow

A zoomed in photo of the fire tower on the mountain in the previous photo

The afternoon seemed to go by quickly as we were having a blast paddling around. We decided to paddle down to one last cove before heading back. As we got closer, we were able to make out a very tall bird standing on a rock. It was a Great Blue Heron. These birds are a treat to get a view of. They look very prehistoric and seem to fly away whenever I get close to them in swamps or rivers. This time, I decided to head in very, very slowly and sort of drift over to him. I was able to get within 20 feet or so and got a very  nice shot of him. I figured 20 feet was close enough and didn't want to invade his space any further, so I turned at that point. As I put a small distance between us, he must have decided he had seen enough of me too. He let out a huge "crow like" sound and took off, sweeping close to the water. It certainly surprised me and made me jump. 

 The money shot of the day, a closeup photo of a Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Herons flying low to the lake (circled)

Back at the shore, Jill and I talked about how great of a time we had. After this wonderful outing, don't be surprised if there's a kayak purchase in our near future!


Monday, August 27, 2012

Great Island Common History: Camp Langdon and Wood Island!

I wanted to write a quick post regarding Great Island Common, which was the destination I wrote about us visiting in my last post. A reader of my blog brought up some wonderful points regarding the ground’s history in my comments section. Me, being a history buff and one that likes to incorporate these facts into my reports, felt that I had done an inadequate job providing this to all of you. So, I figured a follow up post would help redeem myself from my own critique.

I knew there were a lot of coastal military bases and camps in New England, especially during World War II as many feared the German U-Boats offshore. One that is pretty well known is Odiorne Point. However, I didn’t realize that Great Island Common, situated in Portsmouth Harbor off the coast of New Castle, NH, was one of them. Mike, the reader of my blog who brought this to my attention, pointed me to an incredibly insightful website dedicated to these coastal military bases called North American Forts, setup by multiple authors and historians. Specifically on this site is a section for Seacoast Forts of Portsmouth Harbor, setup by Pete Payette.

Map originally supplied by John Woolf. Visit the site to see a blown up version.

Apparently, Great Island Common is extremely rich in military history. It had military activity on the grounds from 1909 through 1964. During that time, the Army, Navy, Marine Corp and Army National Guard all occupied this small portion of land at one time or another. The land was initially deemed the New Reservation, but was later (1937) renamed the New Castle Military Reservation. Finally, in 1941, was given its more well-known identification of Camp Langdon, after Governor John Langdon, a Revolutionary War hero for our state, as well as a major contributor in persuading New Hampshire to ratify our great constitution.

 John Langdon, Image taken from New Hampshire Division of
Historical Resources site, compiled by Russell Bastedo.

From the beginning, this fort was used for a multitude of things. It had 3 inch antiaircraft guns on it in its early days as many of the coastal forts did. It had multiple military buildings including a hospital, warehouse, armory and various training buildings. A concrete jetty (which is still there) was also built. In the 1940’s to the 1960’s, the post was used to train the Army National Guard, and later handed over to the Department of the Navy as a rehabilitation center for Court’s Martial Soldiers being released. In its later years, it was used as a Marine Corp training center. Camp Langdon was finally turned over to the Town of New Castle in 1964 and is now Great Island Common.

Flag at Great Island Common

Another interesting bit of history that Mike brought up was the abandoned house out on an island, which I had mentioned I had no idea what it was in my post. Apparently, the island is Wood Island and the building on it is an old Life Saving Station. Many community members are in the process of trying to save and restore this historical site. In the late 1800’s, a military hospital was constructed on Wood Island and was used as a place to quarantine military prisoners from spreading disease. Soon after, in the early 1900’s, the Life Saving Station was erected. This station is noted for saving multiple lives and the governmental department that ran it became what is known as the Coast Guard today.

Life Saving Station on Wood Island

Post card showing the Life Saving Station when it was in commission. Image
courtesy of the Save Wood Island site.

If you’d like to learn more about Camp Langdon and the military history of Great Island Common, please visit http://www.northamericanforts.com/East/New_Hampshire/Portsmouth/harbor.html. The contact to this site, Pete Payette, also has his information listed here.

If you’d like to learn more about the history of Wood Island and the Life Saving Station, or want to get actively involved in helping preserve this piece of history, please visit http://www.savewoodisland.com/. Again, there is contact information listed on the site.

Finally, if you’d like to learn more about John Langdon and his accomplishments during the Revolutionary War and his contribution to New Hampshire as a state, please visit http://www.nh.gov/nhdhr/publications/glikeness/langjohn.html or http://seacoastnh.com/framers/jlangdon.html.


Monday, August 13, 2012

A Family Trip to Great Island Common

The weather has been pretty nice lately, so the other day, Jill got me to do something that she has never been successful in doing before. She got me to go to the beach with her! I’m not a beach goer by any means. In fact, I would go as far as to say that I dislike the beach. I’m not a big swimmer and for that reason, the ocean scares me. I feel it is similar to the weather in the Whites. If you don’t respect it, it can kill you very easily. Also, I’m a rather fair skinned fellow. I never felt like there was a whole lot to do at the beach other than sit in the sun, which is not my favorite thing to do. So how did she get me to go you ask…she said Lylah loved the beach and we should go as a family! How can you argue with that?

Great Island Common's Sign

Old Glory flying on the grounds

Jill found this great little, secluded beach up in New Castle, New Hampshire called Great Island Common. I was pleasantly surprised when we pulled in to see that it wasn’t strictly just a beach. There was a very large common and picnic area, a huge playground for the kids and a small beach area which contained by rocky and sandy terrains. It also had changing and bathroom facilities available. Best of all, it wasn’t crowded. Lylah’s eyes definitely lit up when we headed out to setup our spot.

View from the parking area over to the shore line

 View of the beach area...notice we are all by ourselves :)

When we first got there, I looked around and saw a couple lighthouses, very visible from the shoreline. Also, there seemed to be an island not too far out with a steepled structure on it of some sort. I was also surprised to see a couple dozen Canadian geese swimming along the shore. I was surprised because I thought geese only enjoyed fresh water swimming, not salt water. That certainly wasn’t the case for these guys on this day.

 The Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse, off to the left of the beach area

Whaleback Light (Lighthouse), seen out in the distance, to the right of the beach area

We headed down to the water to dip our feet in. It only took Lylah a couple quick dunks into the water to get over her initial timidity before she was running around in the waves by herself. She had a blast collecting rocks and see shells and piling them up in the sand. I also enjoyed looking for seashells and finding hermit crabs running along the shallow water.

Old house, secluded out on a peninsula

The Canadian geese, swimming in the salt water!

Old posts sticking up from the ground, I believe for an old dock or something like that

After playing in the water, we headed back up to our blanket and had a snack. I used Lylah’s toys to make her a seahorse and dolphin out of wet sand, but she was more interested in stomping them out than admiring them.

Lylah, heading down to the water

Lylah's stash of rocks and shells. Notice the rock on the right. I believe this was an old
brick that wore down into a rock shape over the years...pretty cool!

Lylah's little footprints

The morning got away from us quickly and before we knew it, it was almost lunch time. We went down to the water one last time to wash most of the sand off from us and packed up our things. We changed into dry clothes and played with Lylah on the playground for a bit before taking off. On the way home, we swung by The Icehouse Restaurant for some ice cream. It was delicious as usual.

Lylah and me waiving to Jill in the water

The playground on the grounds

Lylah, living the dream!

I must say, I was skeptical and fairly unexcited to hit the beach. But after getting there, I was pretty happy that I went. It’s certainly someplace I would visit again, as this was not your typical beach (the ones I like to stay away from), where the sand is crowded, there isn’t much to do, etc. There was great scenery and some awesome sea creatures. Definitely a great compromise for the typical beach goer (Jill) and the nature lover (me)!

Some information on and history on Great Island Common here.