Thursday, October 1, 2009

Custer State Park

In June, we camped at Custer State Park in South Dakota. It was a great, inexpensive, place to stay while visiting Mount Rushmore.

I am in love with Custer State Park. It's like a national park that just is run by a state. It was made a State Forest in 1912 and much of the buildings, including the following (the visitor's center) were built by the CCC.

For those who don't know, the CCC was one of the social programs of the Great Depression. The Civilian Conservation Corps put young men to work during the depression. They built bridges and roads, and frequently built picnic areas and buildings within state parks and national parks across the country (my favorite Texas State Park, Garner State Park, is full of CCC architecture). They built in an Arts and Crafts style. And their designs, very rustic and close to nature, often using locally found materials, is often referred to as "National Park Rustic." Anyway, I enjoy CCC architecture and was delighted to see it in the park.

There are a lot of bison in the park and can be easily seen. This picture is not zoomed in at all. I took it out my window as we drove past.

They like to hold up traffic, too:

As do the burros. Many, many years ago (I believe in the 1920s?) you could hire a burro to take you to Harney Peak. When that service was discontinued, the burros were just set free. Now a "wild" herd of burros live in the park and beg drivers for food. When we passed these, another group of people were beginning to approach the burros with pieces of bread. The park allows it, since they're somewhat domesticated (or at least are the descendants of domesticated animals), though they tell you to "use your judgement." (Unlike the bison--everywhere you go and on every brochure/map/etc. it states "Buffalo are dangerous. Do not approach.")

We saw a lot of other animals in the park, too. In addition to the animals I mentioned in the last post, I also saw pronghorn, mule deer, a beaver (I think), and a bat. Also in the park, though we didn't see any, are big-horn sheep, mountain goats, rattlesnakes, and mountain lions.
A very hard to see mule deer:

And, a hiding pronghorn:
We really enjoyed Custer State Park. It was a great place to camp, and there's a lot we didn't get to do. We just might go back sometime, notwithstanding the 6 hour drive. :)

Mount Vernon

We visited Mt. Vernon in late June. It was hot and sticky, though not as hot as Virginia can get later in the summer. I rather missed the cool-ish, arid air of Colorado. We cooled off from our walk from the parking lot inside the visitor's center for awhile and watched a movie about George Washington.

After the movie, we walked toward the house, to get in line for a tour. We spent about an hour in line, during which the 3 boys had fun playing with leaves and being silly:

The tour was a bit rushed, but interesting. (Rather than your standard tour, there was just a line of people going through the house and a "tour guide" in each room talking about the room you were in). I found it rather interesting that the key to the Bastille is displayed here, having been sent to George Washington by the Marquis de Lafayette (a close friend to Washington, practically his adopted son).

I also found it interesting that, since he wanted his wooden home to look like stone, sand was thrown onto the wet paint to make the texture of the home look like stone. On one of the dependencies, I saw this chipped corner that shows how the "stone" is really wood. Also, I'd always heard about how the Mormon Pioneers had painted the pine used in early buildings, like the Salt Lake Tabernacle, to look like nicer woods. George Washington did this too; his pine paneling in the house was painted to look like mahogany.
What I really liked, though was his "backyard." With a superb view of the Potomac, and a cool porch to sit on, it was my favorite part of the estate.

Besides, there were magnolia trees! I haven't seen my second-favorite tree (the first being really big Live Oaks) in years. I love the big, white flowers that smell so nice! I gave James and Thomas each a boost to smell this one.
We stayed until past closing time (they stop letting people in at 5, but you can stay on the grounds until 5:30 and in the visitor center until 6). And, we of course visited the gift shop and added to my bookshelf. :) I'm glad I got a chance to see Mt. Vernon!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fort McHenry

When we lived in Maryland, I'd wanted to visit Fort McHenry, but we'd never had a chance to do so. So, while we were back east in June/July, we stopped by for a visit. Being the history buff that I am, I didn't want to miss Ft. McHenry. It was an integral part of creating the affinity for the American flag that we now have. The war of 1812 cemented America's Independence. When you think of it in its historical context, our national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, is really a moving song.

They are building a new flag pole, so instead of seeing the giant flag wave, we got to hold it while a ranger spoke about the Battle of Fort McHenry and its significance, as well as the significance of the American Flag.

I enjoyed standing on the ramparts and feeling the sea breeze coming off the Patapsco River and Baltimore Harbor. It was a nice view, too. I've been having fun with my new-found panoramic feature on my camera, can you tell? :)

The boys' favorite part was seeing all the cannons. Thomas and James were dismayed to find that this stack of cannonballs were all attached to each other, so they couldn't try and pick them up.

In the barracks, the boys got to try out holding this gun; it's longer than they are tall!
It was really an interesting place to visit. I enjoyed it a lot and the kids had fun. And, I have to admit, when they played the National Anthem and we stood to honor the American flag, in the very spot where the flag that song was written about was flown, I got teary-eyed. God bless America!

Rocky Mountain National Park

I've wanted to visit Rocky Mountain National Park since we moved to Colorado. I mean, I LOVE national parks, and this is one of the big ones! And it's not far away at all.

But, there was always some reason why we couldn't. Summers are always busy. And this is really a park to visit in the summer. We decided on the spur of the moment to take a weekend trip into the mountains to visit RMNP on one of the last weekends of August.

We drove up after the kids got out of school on Friday. We spent the evening exploring Estes Park and then went to bed. We got up early-ish the next day to head into the park.

There was a car show that we happened upon. I had to take a picture of this DeLorean. Really, would anyone remember DeLoreans if not for Back to the Future?

I am in love with the Stanley hotel. Isn't it beautiful? I LOVE historic hotels. Someday I want to stay here (though I think I'll not watch The Shining or take the ghost tour first). Anyway, I was curious, so I explored a little. The lobby is gorgeous. Someday Matt and I will come stay here. Someday...

We spent all day Saturday at RMNP. We hiked Bear Lake. The kids seemed to enjoy that until it started to rain and thunder. We saw a lot of chipmunks (one almost climbed into my lap), and the kids liked that. Henry would point at them and say "ch-mmmmnk!" The lake was so clear and pretty.
As we waited for the storm to clear out, we ate lunch and checked out Morraine Park. We saw this coyote as we drove through the campground. There were a lot of Elk. A herd was wandering through the campground, and another was in a meadow near the visitor's center.

We spent the afternoon driving Trail Ridge Road. It's the highest continually paved road in the U.S. I believe its highest point is 12, 183 feet above sea level. Here we are at one of the overlooks:

The view from one of the lower-elevation overlooks (click for the best effect):

At the Forest Canyon overlook. What makes this place neat is that you can drive to see the Tundra. At other national parks, that requires long hikes. Not here! (And yes, note the warm clothes--this part of the park is never above 50 degrees. Not even in the hottest part of the summer. At least we were here at the end of the summer--hardly any snow. It had all summer to melt. )

Just behind us is a gorgeous view of Forest Canyon. Looking down into the canyon, you can see thousands of green trees. It makes you feel like you're standing on the top of the world.

Speaking of the top of the world, while this is a fantastically beautiful drive, it's not necessarily for the faint of heart. Those with fear of heights might not do so well with the fact that in many places there is no guard rail, 6 inches of "shoulder" and then a 1000+ foot drop into oblivion. Ever hyperventilate at 11,000 feet? I wouldn't recommend it. :) Okay, I didn't really hyperventilate. But, the quicker breathing of nervousness makes for being rather light-headed at 11,000 feet.

But, it sure is beautiful up there.

I didn't get any pictures of the road as we drove, as I was a little too preoccupied. :) But, here's a video of some of the road that I found on youtube. At :39, you can see the part of the road that was both my favorite and least favorite. :) It's right near the highest point on the road. It has the best views, and the furthest drop. :) The video was taken just a couple weeks before we visited. At other times, there's more snow along the road.

We also checked out a couple visitors centers and dropped by the Sheep Lakes. We didn't see any sheep, though. And, the info booth at Sheep Lakes was closed for the season (that season being Fall--Fall comes early to the Rocky Mountains. The aspen were starting to turn. Only another month, I think, until they close Trail Ridge Road and the storms start.)

On the way out of the park, we stopped at the Beaver Meadows visitor center. As I walked out of the bathrooms, I stopped to read a sign about the architecture of the visitor center (designed by an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright). As I read, I heard a noise in the brush. I looked up and was surprised to realize that I was standing right next to a mule deer. Here he is:

We headed home after this, getting home around 10pm. It was a nice little weekend trip. We plan on visiting much more often!

2009 Adventures, revised

Yeah, I didn't do most of the things on my 2009 Summer Adventure List. I got too ambitious. Here's the original list:

1. Westlands Park
2. Mt. Rushmore
3. Roxborough State Park
4. Cheyenne, WY (Technically, I've been here, but just driving through. Living so close, I'd like to check it out a little closer)
5. The Colorado State Fair in Pueblo, CO

The only one I actually did (unless you count driving through Cheyenne again, thrice) was Mt. Rushmore. But, I did have a lot of adventures this summer. New ones, even. So, I'm just going to revise my original list. :)

Here's the list I actually did:
1. Mt. Rushmore
2. Rocky Mountain National Park
3. Fort McHenry
4. Mount Vernon
5. Custer State Park

Reviews to come soon. :)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cherry Hill

New Summer Adventure #5

Since I last went to Cherry Hill (many MANY years ago), it really has changed. The first thing I loved was the abundance of grassy shady areas with chairs for families and their bags to park. This green space is the center "island" for a pretty big lazy river, that passes under old time bridges and in front of fake western store fronts, etc. My kids were content with that scene for at least a couple of hours, and Peter and I took shifts with Sean on the green space. I immediately regretted that I brought NOTHING to read, and no fake old time bookshop in sight. It was a shame.

You don't have to pay for a tube, you just have to keep your eye out for someone to be done with theirs. It never felt like we had to wait too long. :o)

Ben decided to snuggle in the towel on my lap for a minute. He is silly about pictures! Always hard to get a good one, but still they capture the moment.

Sometimes I'm mean and take pictures of my kids when they are in the middle of a cry. This is Ben when he still wanted to be in the river. But then I busted out the strawberry milks and all was forgiven.

Zach was not a fan of the canyon ride, the whole water in the face thing. So since he went on it with Peter the first time, I could NOT talk him into going again with me. I tried all the tricks in my book, still I ended up riding that alone while the boys were patient snacking and waiting for me.

I had shown the boys the 360 degree pictures on the Cherry Hill website, and they were stoked about the pirate ship near the toddler-deep splash pad area. But guess what? No climbing on the pirate ship. Lame!

We swapped out our wet towels with some dry ones in the car and headed over to these slides:

They were a hit with the kiddos. Peter and I each got to go down at least a few times with each child. Good times. The turns were pretty zippy, and try as I may I almost always goofed up on my leaning and nearly tipped over at the end every time!

Zach's impressions of the blue slides. (Not a lot of water in the face here, see?)

Cherry Hill is great for a lot of things, especially so for families with kids just a little bit older than my own. I love that there is an RV park and campground right there, so it makes for a good family reunion set up. For the price, if you live nearby and think you would come often, I think it would actually be worth paying for the season pass. I had coupons such that one of us was free and the others were at a discount, and it was still a $35 day.

As we were leaving, and here is the lamest part of the whole thing... I finally decided to ask someone to snap our picture at the mini golf and blue slide exit near where we parked. Soggy towels and swimsuits and all. So the nice lady took two pictures, and said, "do you want to check them?" Me: "no, I'm sure they're great!" Then two seconds later in the midst of loading the kids, I check and NO pictures of our family group. Bah! I just wanted one because we likely won't be making Cherry Hill an every year event. What do you do? Unload everyone? And find another poor bystander to help us out? Ah, well. We were pretty beat and happily headed home to the tunes of the kids telling us they were STARVING. Poor things.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Reflections on my Summer Adventure Challege 2009

In reflecting on my Summer Adventure Challenge, I feel very satisfied. I had 20 items on my list, including places in four different states. I sucessfully completed 14 of the challenges, and substitued another destination challege that I had not listed, ETSU's Model Railroad Museum. We have one more yet to complete delayed due to a raindate. We had a wonderful time, exploring a variety of types of places, with our five children (ages 5, 8. 12, 15 & 17). I appreciate the Summer Adventure Challege because it helped me to stretch my thinking to seek out new places that we had not gone before, and the meeting of our goals was satisfying. I can't wait for a new list for next year. Hope to see ya then.