Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Cape May

I took the second of my summer adventures this week: to Cape May, NJ. My kids are all gone on their own summer adventures, so this was a quick getaway with a dear girl-friend.

Part of this adventure was to take the Cape May-Lewes Ferry across the Delaware Bay and this turned out to be one of my favorite parts. It made this fairly long trip such a pleasure. We drove for about 2 1/2 hours to the ferry terminal at Lewes, DE, rode the boat for about an hour and twenty minutes in a lovely breeze watching lighthouses on silent duty, dolphins seeming almost curious about us, and Coast Guard soldiers keeping us safe along the way. When the ferry docked, we were literally moments from our hotel. I highly recommend this as a way to get to the Jersey Shore from the Baltimore-Washington area. It is not cheap-our fare was 41.00 one-way, and it goes up with more passengers. Here are the advantages, though, at least for me:
  1. Once you're on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, the trip to Lewes is off the beaten path through pleasant towns on country roads-no traffic jams, no tolls except the Bay Bridge.
  2. There is less driving, even though the time from door to door is about the same or a bit longer.
  3. We went home the non-ferry way and paid about 20 dollars in tolls, plus we got caught in the Wilmington-Philly rush hour traffic-Eeeww.
  4. It was a simply lovely boat ride. Here is the view of Cape May as you come into the terminal:

We got to our lodgings, the lovely old Inn of Cape May around 4:30 on Monday evening. Our room was not terribly modern or luxurious, but it was quaint and quirky, which I liked. The only disadvantage was the air conditioning unit. It cooled the room, but was loud enough to wake me up in the night as it cycled on and off. There are tons of hotels/motels in Cape May plus all the wonderful Victorian homes-cum-B&B's all over town. There are also some amazing top-drawer rental homes. Nearby is the quieter community of Cape May Point comprised of cottages, rental homes and permanent residents, plus there is the party town of Wildwood just to the north.

After we settled in, we took a trolley tour around the town and it was okay. We learned a lot about the history of the town, but the narration was not really matched to the locations we were driving past. This is a great way to see all the beautiful Painted Lady Victorian homes though. After our trolley ride was some fun shopping and delicious frozen custard. It was really fun to be out on the square with everyone. It is a small town, so many, many people are on bicycles, which just enhances the beachy, slowed-down pace of this lovely coastal town.

On Tuesday, we woke up early, and while we missed the sun actually coming over the horizon, the cloud cover and morning mist yielded a spectacular extended sunrise show, plus the bonus of a huge rainbow in the sky as we walked across the street to the beach.
It was really a lovely morning. I like the beach best before 9 am and after 4 pm-no crowds, gentler sun and quiet. After our walk on the beach, we enjoyed a delicious full breakfast at, which was included with our room, at the hotel restaurant.

We got ready and got out the door at a leisurely pace appropriate for two off-duty moms with absolutely no obligations awaiting us at home. We had two goals for the day: touring the Emlen Physick Estate and exploring the Cape May Lighthouse. Both of these are maintained by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts, a community group that was formed to preserve the character and history of Cape May. They offered a discounted double ticket to the estate and the lighthouse for 16 dollars. It was a dollar savings. This organization has a wide variety of tours, including regular and themed, such as Haunted Tours and combo tours of the various attractions they manage. The house tour was on a schedule and lasted about 45 minutes. The lighthouse has no guided tours, just 199 steps that you can climb whenever you want. Both were worthwhile and offered a lot of history and information about the area. The estate would NOT be fun for kids of any age unless they are a history buff, plus there is a lot of self-control required to not touch anything, sit on anything or lean against the walls. It was an excellent, informative tour, and the house is spectacularly decorated and meticulously restored. It is a fine example of the Victorian Style.

The lighthouse could be enjoyed by anyone capable of self-locomotion up the steps. I wouldn't want to coax or carry a toddler up, but older kids would be rewarded with a wonderful view and a lot of fun facts about lighthouses.
After resting our legs a bit and enjoying the summer afternoon, we headed home. Actual driving time was probably about 3 hours, lengthened to around 4 1/2 by a stop at a farm stand, a stop for dinner and that blasted traffic jam. The highlights of the drive home were the crossing of the Delaware River on the spectacular twin spans of the Delaware Memorial Bridge, crossing the Susquehanna with the sun getting low, and watching a gorgeous sunset over the Baltimore skyline just before we dipped into the Ft. McHenry tunnel. For geography geeks, I thought it was cool to make the trip there across the actual Chesapeake and Delaware Bays, then to come home over the rivers which form those very bays.

So, there you have it. A summer adventure for grown-ups. Why should the kids have all the fun?

Monday, July 28, 2008

New Iberia City Park: Summer Adventure #1

We are finally starting our Summer Adventure Challenge (although it feels like our whole summer so far has been one long adventure challenge!). Since we are late in starting we are going to be visiting local spots (not to mention I just don't have the energy to pack a suitcase for quite awhile). Most of the places on our list are places I visited as a child but have not been back to since becoming a parent. I am looking forward to seeing what has changed and if my kids enjoy these places as much as I did as a kid. And since I haven't lived in Louisiana in over ten years this is also a good way for me to get re-aquainted with the Acadiana area.So this morning we headed over to the New Iberia City Park to feed the ducks. It may not sound like a grand adventure, but it was perfect for us this morning and if you ever happen to be visiting New Iberia, Louisiana it is a nice park to visit for all ages (I think all tourist info...books, sites, should include information about the local parks...when traveling with the children it is so crucial to know where the nearest playground or duck pond is, isn't it?). We were able to be outside despite extreme heat and humidity because of the huge oak and cypress trees surrounding the duck pond. Loaded down with a huge bag of bread crusts ( left over from the "crustless" cucumber sandwiches at the wonderful tea party in honor of my grandmother's birthday). I was surprised by how many different kinds of ducks live together in this pond. The kids were thrilled to be surrounded by so many feathered friends and few furry ones, too (hungry, but friendly squirrels). After handing out all of the bread we meandered around the pond slowly stopping to look at minnows, duck feathers, and good rocks for tossing in the pond. We also checked out the funny cypress "knees" (one looked like an alligator's head peeking out of the water). And even discovered a rat under the bridge. We all left the park sweaty, happy, and hungry for lunch...isn't that how all summer morning adventures should end?

Details: In addition to the duck pond, there is: a nice shaded playground area, a skatepark, walking paths, boat launch into the bayou, rec center, and a pool with a splash park (but as we discovered today it is only open from 2:30pm-4:30pm). Cost: The park is free. The pool costs $1 per person. What to bring: Bread for the ducks, snacks and water for the humans, sunscreen and possibly bug spray since there is a fair amount of shade.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Zoo Boise - Adventure #2

We checked out Zoo Boise this last week, #2 on our list of adventures this summer.  I don't have pictures because my kids were too squirrelly, but check out the link for more info.

I hadn't been there since I was very small, so it was practically new to me.  They had some really fun exhibits.  Among our favorites were the penguins, which they have in an enclosure with glass on one side, so you can watch the penguins swim.  Everyone loved that.  It's also "The Year of the Frog" at Zoo Boise, so they had frogs and toads in small terrariums all over the zoo and the boys really liked that, too.  There is a rain forest section with more exotic animals, including a meerkat who was very cute.

They also had a few zoo keepers out with animals to let people pet.  Calvin liked the snake.  They have some playground equipment interspersed among the animals, too, like a slide the size and shape of a giraffe and concrete tunnels the kids could walk through and pop up in the prairie dog enclosure.  I thought it was really nice to break things up. 

It was a really nice zoo, considering the size.  They are currently working on an African section which is supposed to include a lion.  I wouldn't make a special trip to visit if I weren't already in the Boise area, but if you're here and have little kids, it's worth a visit.

The basic info, should you want to go:
Open 10-5 year round
Thursdays discounted

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

At the end of our summer vacation, we met my parents in Montrose, Colorado to see the Black Canyon together. The main thing we did at the park was a boat tour of the canyon (The tour was technically located in Curecanti National Recreation Area. Part of the Canyon is in the national park and the rest is a national recreation area). We hiked down to the Gunnison river and followed the river to the boat dock. We ate lunch at a nice picnic shelter near the dock:

The park rangers made sure we all got life-jackets. Henry was not super thrilled with his.

Then we started the tour. It's a very pretty canyon.

Henry's favorite part seemed to be the roof of the boat.
After the boat tour, we drove over to the visitor's center for Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

In the visitor's center, we watched a movie on the history of the canyon, both its natural history and the "taming" of the canyon and the harnessing of the water of the Gunnison River. And, of course, I bought books from the NPS bookstore. James and Thomas did the Junior Ranger program again at this park. They picked up the junior ranger booklets for Curecanti NRA too, but we didn't have time for them to finish both.
This is the visitor's center as seen from the overlook we walked to:
Dad had checked out the overlook while the boys were doing their junior ranger stuff, so he watched Henry while the rest of us hiked down to the overlook.
The way that the late afternoon sunshine filtered through the canyon was so pretty. It's so hard to capture on film the panoramic views of a canyon in the way you see them in person. Especially not with a point and shoot camera! So, this picture is a poor representation of how gorgeous Black Canyon is, but it's the best I've got.

The overlook, as seen from the porch of the visitor's center:

Flaming Gorge

While on our summer vacation to the Vernal area, we drove up to see Flaming Gorge. It was a scenic drive. The road from Vernal to Flaming Gorge is educational, too. As you drive past rock formations, signs tell you which geologic era the formation is from and what fossils are likely found in it.
We checked out the dam and the visitor's center. We didn't spend too long. We could have taken the dam tour, but didn't have time.
For some reason I didn't take very many pictures. Here's one of the two I took:

Dinosaur National Monument: Day 2 and 3

We started out the day with a hike. We'd seen a few on our auto tour that we wanted to do, but had run out of time for hiking (well, that and the fact that while we were doing the tour it was mid-day and hotter than hades).
So, the first hike we did was to Swelter Shelter. It wasn't a very long hike (you could see the rock shelter from the road), but it was an interesting Fremont Rock Shelter with petroglyphs and pictographs in it. I can totally see why the archaeologists who excavated it named it Swelter Shelter. It was only 9am but the sun was already baking the shelter.
Also baking in the sun, all over the park, were lots and lots of lizards.
Here's Ms. Archaeologist with an archaeological site. I bored my children mightily throughout the trip with talks of petroglyphs, basketry, pottery, bifaces, and atlatls. Someday they might actually be interested.
James, however, was interested in this little cave near the site.

Next, we hiked a bit around the Bassett homestead. There were two trails. Both went to box canyons. The first one was rather sunny and hot and the boys got tired of it quickly, so we never got to the end. We stopped at a picnic table under some trees that Josie Bassett planted to have lunch, after which we did the other hike. It was much shorter and completely shady. Much more pleasant with three little boys.
Henry even fell asleep while we hiked.
We sat in the shade to eat the trail mix I'd made that the boys had been begging for and took some pictures. James took this one.

All the hiking made for tuckered out boys, all of whom slept on the drive back to the visitor's center.

When we got there, James and Thomas perked up and went to a Children's Ranger Talk so they could pass off that part of their Junior Ranger program. They finished their booklet, took the Junior Ranger pledge, and got their badges. They thought that was pretty fun.

The next evening, we drove out to Dinosaur National Monument for the last time. We waited until the sun was quite low in the sky to do the Fossil Discovery Trail. I was impressed with James and Thomas for hiking as far as they did. We hiked about a mile and a half. We got up pretty high, too.
You can't tell here, but, Thomas is standing on a little ledge carved into the side of the rock so he could get high enough to touch this dinosaur bone.
This one was closer to the trail. There were a lot of dinosaur bones in this wall of rock.

The big thing at this park is the fossil wall that the visitor's center is built around, but since it's condemned, we didn't get to see that wall. But, this one was still pretty cool. Here's the visitor's center as seen from our hiking trail:

Before we left the Monument for the last time, I took a picture of the boys in their dinosaur t-shirts that we bought them (at Target!) for the trip.

Goodbye Dinosaur National Monument!