First, a little bit of history. Some 25,000 years ago, the area was entirely covered by the Laurentide Ice Sheet. Long Island, Marta's Vineyard, Nantucket and Cape Cod are largely comprised of sand deposits left behind as the ice sheet melted. Plymouth, lying just north of the Cape also sits on sandy glacial moraine. The park's many bodies of water, including Curlew Pond, are "kettle ponds," places where huge blocks of ice melted and left a depression in the land. Like the Cape, Plymouth's soil is sandy. This makes it ideal for supporting a pine barrens ecosystem, an extensive forest of Pitch Pine and Scrub Oak. (You can also find large pine barrens just west of Albany, NY, and throughout south-central New Jersey.) Myles Standish State Forest is located in the heart of the pine barrens here.
Plymouth also figures heavily in another era of history: it is the location of the Plymouth Colony of "Pilgrims" and The Mayflower fame. There are, of course many pilgrim-related attractions in the area, including The Mayflower II, Plimoth Plantation, and settlers' homes, such as the Jabez Howland House. And, of course Plymouth Rock, the place the Puritans alledgedly landed when they arrived in 1620. It is a quaint town with a proud maritime history and lots to do.
I also have a personal history in the area. I grew up in Duxbury, just north of Plymouth. This town is also steeped in Pilgrim lore, having been the home of John & Priscilla Alden and Captain Myles Standish. His grave is located in the family cemetery close to my boyhood home and nearby is also a small state reservation with a monument tower dedicated to Myles. In addition, until recently, my Uncle had a beach house in the Manomet section of Plymouth that we have frequently visited. Our familiarity with the area was the major reason for choosing this campground.
We left home on Monday at 12:15 PM and arrived at the park by 5:00 PM. Somehow, we always seem to be camping when my wife's birthday comes around. After a quick setup of the tent and screenhut, we took a drive to Plymouth Harbor to celebrate on the patio at East Bay Grille. It started to sprinkle a bit. The park was remarkably crowded for a Monday night; usually a campground clears out on Sunday if it's not a long weekend. There were a fair number of people staying for the week.
Tuesday started out rainy so we opted for ceral and blueberries instead of cooking. We decided to head over to Benny's and then up to Hingham to check out Barnes & Noble and REI. This was followed by a late lunch at British Beer Company and a food run at the local Stop & Shop (aka. Giant). By the time we got back to the campsite, we were able to enjoy some late afternoon sun followed by a clear, star-filled night sky.
At most state campgrounds, quiet hours run from 10:00 PM to 7:00 AM. While I like to sit by the fire until midnight, the rest of my crew likes to turn in at ten. However, this campground is very noisy. The campground is pretty full and there are a lot of kids running amok playing tag in the dark. Eventually most of the hubbub dies down around 10:30 and aside from the occasional car alarm, by 11:30 it's starting to get quiet (for the most part). Unfortunately, this is a pattern that would repeat until our last night here.
Wednesday is a "bellringer!" There's not a cloud in the deep blue sky, it's dry and warm—but not hot. We headed to our favorite Plymouth diner Persy's Place, but it was closed for rennovations, so we headed across the street to Kiskadee Coffee Company for baked goods and the Internet. (This made the boys very happy.) In the afternoon, our friend Greg and his incredible wonderdog Piper, came down from Portland, Maine in a VW camper. The campground is so full that he was only able to book one night at Site #61. At dinnertime, we feasted on mojito-lime and barbeque chicken, grilled squashes and fresh corn.
On Thursday, we awoke to more of the same weather, which is to say delightful. In the morning, the east-facing beach is a little too bright for swimming. Instead, we walked around Downtown Plymouth in the hot sun! We looked at the usual selection of swag, sweatshirts and shot glasses and bought some salt-water taffy. Back at the site we got a mid-afternoon swim in bathwater-warm Curlew Pond with Greg & Piper. We finished the day with Johnny's Chicken & Rice and salad.
The pond is great but I have never stayed at a campground that is so noisy! The problem is partly due to the sheer size of the park: it's 12,029 acres, or about 19 square miles. Contained within are miles of roads, a dozen lakes and half-a-dozen campgrounds. Unlike parks that have campers located in a single area, everything here is spread out. Consequently, we are rarely seeing patrols by park staff. (personally, I only saw them patrol in the daytime.) By not making rounds at the start of quiet hours, campers are pretty much left to fend for their own. Maybe it's a lack of staffing (or funding). Maybe it's just part of the culture of this park—and the reason it's so crowded mid-week—but it's not what we are used to.
In general, the campers here also seem a bit inexperienced (or maybe they are just merely apathetic). In addition to the noise, I witnessed people building ten-foot high bonfires, despite the warnings of an exterme drought conditions. Despite the bear warnings at the camp office, everybody seems to leave food out all the time. I don't know about bears, but the park is known to have Fishers (large members of the weasel family, and I personally saw a large raccoon walking through our site. There's a strict no-alcohol policy that is roundly ignored. But mostly it's the noise. One idiot with a basso profundo voice even turned on his radio at 11 PM to listen to a baseball game, which I could follow clearly as I lay in the tent 200 yards away!
Of course on Friday, young kids at the next site were up at 6 AM! At least the weather was perfect again. After toasted bagels and hot chocolate, we headed into town to wash our clothes. On a long trip, we pack four or five days of clothes and wash mid week. Between loads, we grabbed an ice coffee at "Dunks" while the kids walked up to Kiskadee to play Pokémon Go.
After a lovely picnic lunch on Coles Hill overlooking the harbor, we headed over to the Town Pier to catch a 2 PM whale watching trip at Captain John Boats. Riding the Tails of the Sea, we took a four-hour journey out to the Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, about 20 miles from Plymouth and a couple of miles north of Cape Cod. We've done this trip twice before and we've seen a few Finbacks and Minke whales—even a basking shark. Nothing, however, prepared us for today's trip. The boat was completely surrounded by pods of Humpback whales, including three mom & calf pairs. We enjoyed a good hour or more of tail flipping, flipper shaking and full-body breaches by the majestic animals!
One thing I appreciate about Captain John Boats is that they always have a marine biologist on board to identify and catalog the whale sightings. In most cases, she was able to name the whales by their distinctive fluke patterns. The ship's captain was careful to slow to a crawl whenever whales neared the boat to ensure thier safety. Tails of the Sea has two decks, so pretty much everyone could get to a side railing to see the action on either side of the boat. At $45 per person (after AAA discount) the tickets aren't cheap, but on this day we totally got our money's worth! Just fantastic!
On Saturday, the weather turned noticeably more humid. We lazed about the campsite and spent the afternoon visiting family friends in Natick. Despite the heat. humidity and constant threat of rain, it never did.
Saturday nights are usually the loudest nights in a campground and tonight was no exception. There was a loud party at site #36 with a woman who had a barking, raspy voice clearly enhanced by years of chain smoking. If there was a prize for the camper whose voice voice could carry over the greatest distance, she would win multiple gold medals. The loser with the big voice from site #45 was visiting site #56 in our loop. At 11 PM, I finally asked him to tone it down a little. Apparently, he took umbrage with my flashlight shining at him; he told me (without a shred of irony) that someone had already asked him to be quiet and if he didn't quiet down for him, he certainly wasn't going to do it for me. After a time, he moved to—you guessed it—site #36 (400 yards away) where he complained loudly about a "guy who had a lot of nerve, shining a flashlight at him and asking him to shut up." Apparently, his son was at site #36, because I distinctly heard him yelling "hey dad... hey dad..." trying to get the old fool's attention. I felt bad for the people in the many nearby sites who had to endure these jerks, so after midnight, I finally called the park office and asked them to send a ranger down to site #36. At 12:30 AM, it suddenly (and finally) got quiet. It's pathetic that it only takes one ass (or in this case a family of asses) to ruin things for everyone; sometimes a camper has to speak up.
On Sunday, we toasted Asiago bagels and went to find our daily ration of ice to fill the coolers (typically 15–20 lbs). We checked out Fall River's Battleship Cove, the state's memorial to naval veterans. It was pretty great! The centerpiece of the collection is the 680-foot, 35,000-ton, USS Massachusetts (BB-59) a South Dakota-class, World War II-era capital ship. This ship fought important battles including those in Casablanca, Morroco, and Leyte Gulf in the Pacific Ocean. It was almost instantly obsolete, however: After the war, ships would never go head-to-head in battle; instead, the aircraft carrier and naval warplanes became the pricipal means of destroying an enemy's ships. "Big Mamie" was mothballed in Norfolk, Virginia between 1946 and 1964. Eventually, private funds were raised to tow the ship to the Bay State, where it opened as a museum in 1965. There's also three other boats that you can wander through and view the various decks and crew areas: a destroyer, the USS Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., a submarine, the USS Lionfish and an East German missile corvette from the Cold War, the Hiddensee. I'll tell you one thing, a submarine is the place for you if you suffer from claustrophobia!
On the way back to camp we detoured to Horseneck Beach State Reservation to check out the sites there. There are 100 sites on a barrier beach located a stone's throw (lierally) from the ocean. The sites are small and lack shade or privacy—picture a beach parking lot with alternating tents and RVs and you get the idea. Still, for a salt-water enthusiast or a sun-worshiper, it would be hard to beat. It's not our style of camping, though.
Back at the campsite, we enjoyed a great meal of angus burgers and grilled veggies. Mr. Big Mouth and crew had packed up and left—with any luck, still steaming over that guy who "had a lot of nerve." It was, by far, the quietest night of our visit.