John H. Chaffee Nature Preserve

John H. Chafee Nature Preserve sign at the trailhead, as seen from the parking lot.

On our last full day in Rhode Island, we rented a car so that we could get around on our own schedule without having to rely on Uber. I used my AllTrails app and chose a trail on the way to Newport that would give us a view of the sea. This one turned out to include a long bit of beach, so that was great. The trailhead was easy to find and after a short drive (Rhode Island is America’s smallest state, after all), we pulled into the parking lot.

With beautiful skies and a wide, easy trail, the day started out as good as we could have hoped for.
One of my favourite things to find in New England forests are the old stone walls, property boundaries erected who knows how long ago, and now abandoned. Here, a small painted rock adorns one of the grey stones.
Here’s another.

In no time at all, we had made our way through the forest and were on the beach. We were not actually at the open sea, but rather at the enormous Narragansett Bay in the Atlantic Ocean.

A picnic table and an information sign are on the low rise above the beach.
The landscape is so flat that Jamestown Verrazano Bridge on Narragansett Bay stands out as the highest thing on the horizon. This is sort of amazing to me, coming from Oregon and the land of volcanoes.

We stood on the mainland, looking out at Conanicut Island, the second-largest island in Narragansett Bay. The Verrzano Bridge connects the island to the mainland. On the other side of Conanicut, the Claiborne Pell Bridge connects to Aquineck Island. The state of Rhode Island is mostly on the mainland, but does incorporate 36 islands. The average state elevation is about 200 feet (61 m) and the highest peak is 812 feet (247 m). In the eastern portion, where we were, the average elevation was much lower than 200 feet. It looked more like 20 feet!

Staring at the bridge, I spotted an interesting building in the water below it. I used my max camera zoom to confirm:

Yes! It’s a lighthouse.

With my poor eyesight at a great distance I had spotted a familiar lighthouse shape. Once I zoomed in with my camera I realized it is the Plum Beach Lighthouse. This lighthouse can be seen on some Rhode Island personalized car license plates.

The trail actually leads the other direction from the bridge and lighthouse, and follows the beach around a long, narrow peninsula, so we turned the other way and walked along the shore.

This peninsula is called Rome Point. The buildings you see on the horizon are on tiny Fox Island.

If you enlarge the photo above, you can dark, wooden platforms in the water on the right. These look exactly like an oyster farm to me, and I know fresh oysters are harvested locally. This area is called a shellfish management area on a map, but I do not know exactly what that means. I am curious about how shellfish are “managed” (which in my mind represents a wildlife protection), but also farmed. I recognize what a farm looks like because I lived so long in Humboldt County, CA, where they also farm oysters.

As we walked on the east side of the peninsula, I admired the colours of the trees, the water, the sky…and the multicoloured beach, which was not made of sand, or even of pebbles.
Look at this! The beach was made from trillions of shells.

It was chilly and windy there on the beach, but we had been cooped up indoors so long that we were having a marvelous time, and in no hurry to finish the short trail. We were thus meandering along, goofing around, and that is probably why we noticed the Christmas tree.

This weather-beaten tree had been chosen by others as the place to hold treasures.
It was a nautically-themed Christmas tree.

We scoured the ground and could not find a single suitable thing that we could hang on the tree. I noticed that the peninsula was very narrow at that place, with a little trail connecting east and west sides, so I suggested that we continue our walk and look for stuff along the way. Once we got back to this spot, we could cross from the west side, hang our ornaments on the tree, then cross back and complete the walk. Pedro agreed and off we went.

Looking back along the beach, the way we had come.

In no time, we reached the farthest point, which was only about 1.2 miles from the parking lot (1.5, considering all our wandering around). Confusingly, there is another John H. Chafee Nature Preserve, but this one is the Rome Point Preserve.

Pedro, the great Rhode Island explorer. There is a better view of Fox Island.
Standing at Rome Point, looking across “The Narrows” at Ed’s Beach.
Looking out across the water.
We spotted some New England-y looking homes at Ed’s Beach in North Kingstown.
This is as close as my Nikon will let me bring the homes to you.

We played around on the rocks there for some time, and both of us found sea things with holes in them, that we could add to the Christmas tree. Then we began spotting remnants of buildings and human occupation, which was unexpected for us on this tiny spit of land. We found crumbling foundations, a chimney standing alone, and half-buried concrete slabs and one big pile of trash. It was old trash, which made it very interesting. Anthropologists love very old piles of trash. We poked around in the heap, finding broken porcelain, rusted kettles, and discoloured glass bottles. We found an abandoned automobile. How on earth did it get out there?

An old car had been out here so long that the weight of time had begun to press it flat.
The car is completely covered in graffiti.

The ruins of things kept us interested, and we began on the trail once more in earnest. All the evidence of humans seemed to be near this beach rather than the one we had started on. I don’t have any more photos though. We thought the trail was prettier.

Heading back on the west beach.
We waved at fishermen heading out from Bissel Cove (above) through The Narrows, into Narragansett Bay.
A really narrow part of The Narrows. The fishing boat passed very close to us here. You can still see the ripples.
Looking across the Narrows of Bissel Cove.

We came to the short trail connecting the two sides and went over to place our ornaments on the Christmas tree.

Happy to have participated in something local.
Bissel Cove, off Narragansett Bay.
The trail had more wild-looking portions, but the path was always clear. We passed several people walking their dogs, breath puffing out in clouds from both people and pooches.

In the end we had walked three glorious miles and were ready to cross the bridges and complete our journey to Newport. It’s a very touristy town and we were hoping to play the tourist game on the eastern seashore. Unfortunately, Newport was quiet and not that compelling. It was very cold and it was a weekday. We did see some tourists about, but mostly they were all bundled up like we were, leaning over a railing to gaze across the sea and say, “Yes, alright then,” (in whatever language they used). And then they moved on.

At the very least it was a pretty day.
Out on a dock, looking back at the town.
We appreciated the old New England style architecture.
My guess is that these cute little streets are jammed with tourists when it’s warm.
Though some shops advertised that they were open, there were no people interested in shopping.
The historic Armory on Thames St. is eye-catching.

We walked about a mile down Thames Street and agreed that it was a cute East-Coast town and also that it was very cold, and most stores were closed, and the streets were mostly empty, and it was time to head back and find a meal. We had our hearts set on seafood.

After an appetizer of three different kinds of locally harvested oysters on ice, we then moved on to lobster as a main course. I chose spaghetti squash as a side dish, and Pedro chose asparagus.
After all that walking, we still had room for dessert after our meal. I had never tried cognac, so Pedro ordered one for us to share.

2 thoughts on “John H. Chaffee Nature Preserve

    1. I’m glad to share a peek! Rhode Island is quite interesting, I think, and worth a visit. I hope you get a chance to go there soon. Hey, my friend, there is a nod to you in the beginning of my New Year’s post. I like your focus on new things to keep life interesting, and I incorporated it into a wish for my friends to find something new in 2023. Thank you for the inspiration. ❤

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