St. Honore’, 480 million year old rock, and a Farmer’s Vacation

Looking out over Lake Champlain

What does it take to get a farmer away for a weekend? For me it was my friend Elena blocking off the weekend on my calender, and not telling me a thing about where or what we were doing. My only hints: we are driving; bring warm clothes; bring a change of clothes that I didn’t mind being seen publicly in. Hmmm…

Nearby Rainbow Sweets in Marshfield was the first stop. The very delicious St. Honore’  was, as always, very eatable.  What a fantastic way to start a trip. So my mind was working. We are headed south…Boston maybe? We then turn east over Lincoln Gap, and passed a “Road Closed” sign. Camping? With no gear? Hope not. Middlebury maybe? Nope.

The next stop was Bristol, VT.  Our original destination, the  Bobcat Cafe, was closed, but the Bristol Bakery and Cafe was the perfect substitution for a light lunch and good coffee. Now we are northbound. Burlington? Driving in circles? Ah, Shelburne Museum!

Sadly, we missed it by one day and now it is closed for the season! A chilly visit to the Shelburne Airport just across the road from museum, was the obvious next stop. This is a small grass field squeezed in under the bigger footprint of Burlington International Airport. It has the throwback feeling of a 1950’s, with old airplanes, vintage trucks, and sagging hangers. For years  Ray Magee has driven up to greet a person in his golf cart. We were not disappointed. After a quick walking tour of the airport (some members of our party were not dressed for airfield operations…ahem. Right Elena?), we were northbound again…driving through Burlington. To Canada perhaps? I hope not. No passport or even an “enhanced drivers license”.

Barn in Alburg

Ah…the Lake Champlain Islands. Located in the north west corner of Vermont, it almost feels “another world away”. There are no Green Mountains jutting up comfortably around you. It is flat and wide open with water all around. The trees seem shorter, scrubbier, and leaves you feeling a little bit exposed. Shore Acres Inn and Restaurant, on the east shore of North Hero Island, was chilly and empty, but welcoming. As Nathan at Snow Farm Vineyard describes it (of course we were wine tasting), two thirds of the Island residents leave for other locales during the winter. The up side (is there a down side?) is that there are no traffic lines, no crowds, and a fantastic 50% off sale at the Junk and Disorderly antique store…. perfect! We came away with an antique coffee grinder, tin maple sugar molds, “In The Mood” 78 rpm record by Glen Miller (this is a perfect tune for my wind-up phonograph in the Catamount Airfield Operations Shack), and free Halloween candy.

Bird houses in North Hero

Hero’s Welcome General Store, usually jam-packed with folks, was our perfect supply station. We stocked up on the essentials: Coffee and pastries from the counter, candles, a Vermont mystery from the book room, wine,  sandwiches from the fine deli, and a WWII Poster Puzzle from the game room. We were ready for  exploring on the following day. Back at the Inn, the mystery book seemed to be a dud. We turned to the biography of Benedict Arnold instead, reading aloud of the Naval battle of Valcour Island during the  Revolutionary War, while following the descriptions of Lake Champlain and the Islands  with the VT Gazateer. What a history this place has!

Choral reef


After a lovely dinner and charming breakfast at the Inn we were off exploring. St. Anne’s Shrine, on the northern end of Isle La Motte, is an open Victorian chapel. It rests on the site of Fort St. Anne, the first French settlement in Vermont in 1666. Worth a return trip back  when it is warmer (or be dressed for winter), and when the visitors center is open. Chazian Coral Reef was a little harder to find. Located on the east side of  Isle La Motte, the Goodsell Ridge Preserve is an abandoned dairy farm that happens to be  home to the worlds oldest coral reef – 480 million years old! Again, the visitors center was closed, but walking along the trails and fields, looking at fossils on the exposed coral was awesome! Wonder what it was like trying to plow and plant crops on this farm. Not much for topsoil.

A chilly farmer at Northern Lights Airport

Almost as awesome was our next stop, Northern Lights Airport in Alburg. On an overcast, windy day there was not a lot going on, but you could tell that was not always the case. The long row of open hangers was full of small aircraft and piles of floats for water operations during the summer. Scooter Prescott who operates the airfield and maintenance shop (so the story goes) has a set of dollies that he uses to allow float equipped aircraft to takeoff from the grass airfield (these floats have no wheels on them). The float plane sits on top of the dolly, which has wheels. As the plane departs, it lifts off the dolly which then zooms down the runway until the brakes on the dolly activate which brings the whole thing to a stop. Love to see that sometime! [Note: many folks with float planes put wheels or skis on in the winter when the lake freezes, then reattach the floats again in summer] We did not have time to see the Royal Lipizzan Stallions of Austria in North Hero, or the Hyde Log Cabin State Historical Site, or do any hiking in places with names like Alburg Tongue, South Hero Marsh WLA, or visit the Quarry. But it was the perfect farmer’s vacation: historically stimulating, visually satisfying  and comparatively relaxing. The weekend did feel like a world away, but without the travel hassles. In fact, having a mystery vacation might be the next big thing.


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