Not all day trips should be within a day's drive of your couch
Texas Falls cascades down solid rock-stair steps washed clean and smooth by centuries of runoff from high in the Green Mountains. Can't guess the location of this natural wonder? It's in west central Vermont, surrounded by the tree-covered slopes of the Green Mountain National Forest. Not all day trips should be within a day's drive of your couch. Sometimes you need to explore farther afield to compare and contrast the broader world to your own.
Of the New England states, Vermont might be the most gorgeous and unspoiled. About the size of what we call East Texas, the Green Mountain State is named for a ridge of mountains that runs north and south through the center of the state.
Beth LeClaire at the national forest ranger station in Rochester says, "It's been called Texas Falls as long as anybody can remember. It's not very big, but maybe it's as beautiful as Texas. It is a real pretty area."
Texas Falls is just a small day-use area of the much larger Texas Falls recreation area about 7 miles west of the town of Hancock in the center of the state. Down a dirt road past the falls is a primitive camping area called Texas Meadows near the top of Gillespie Peak. LeClaire says that it is a beautiful place with scenic views surrounded by tall pines, spruce, and oaks.
The Green Mountain National Forest and much of the state is popular with photographers for its fall foliage, with summer hikers for its cool temperatures, and with winter skiers for its abundant snowfall. LeClaire says that 10 feet of snow during the year is considered heavy and 3 to 4 feet is considered light. Spring is called "mud season" because of the defrosting of the soaked ground, but it is a special time for natives because the smell of maple syrup cooking fills the air.
Established in 1932, the two large tracts of national forest in Vermont covering more than 382,000 acres make up one of the few federal forests that were purchased from private owners rather than built from existing federal property. When the government purchased the rugged land, the mountains had been ravaged by uncontrolled logging and forest fires that caused severe flooding. President Franklin Roosevelt sent companies of the Civilian Conservation Corps, the same federal relief project that built many of Texas' state parks, to replant the barren landscape.
One of the best reminders of the army of civilian workers during the Depression is Camp Meade Cottage Court, a popular motel built around an old CCC camp at Middlesex. Open from late May to early October, the nice but small cottages rent for $73 a night, which includes breakfast and admission to the private museum, which takes visitors on a trip through the Great Depression and World War II. Family owned and operated, the museum's displays were done by stone carvers looking for work during the winter months.
About 6 miles east of Camp Meade, Montpelier is the smallest state capital in the U.S. It is also the only state capital without a McDonald's restaurant within its city limits. None of the five Wal-Marts in the state, which were kept out until 1996, are in the capital.
In many ways Montpelier resembles the Austin of 30 years ago. On the banks of the Winooski River, the capitol building dominates the skyline. Locally owned businesses line the downtown streets with more bookstores than movie theatres.
Burlington, on the northwestern border, holds the title of largest city in the state with a population of nearly 200,000. A bustling college town on the banks of Lake Champlain, it offers a wide range of activities from sports to fine dining.
The only other state besides Texas to join the Union after being a republic, Vermonters have an independent attitude and a unique landscape much like Texans. One astounding difference between the two states is that Vermont seems to hold on to its scenic small towns better than Texas. Country stores owned by the grandmother behind the counter still outnumber the chain convenience stores, and local industries continue to provide jobs. In any season, the Green Mountains of Vermont offer an exciting vacation opportunity that is both scenic and fun.
685th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.