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.

Cami, Adventures 3, 4, 5, and sort of 6.

Ok, so since school has started, I suppose I should finish up with my Summer Adventures Challenge posts. I'm trying to remember what I've said so far--just the Living Sea Aquarium and Museum of Ancient Life. SO, on to the next ones:

#3: Thanksgiving Point Gardens and Children's Garden

We went to the Thanksgiving Point Gardens many a time. Actually, just twice to the actual gardens, during which I forgot my camera. I'll hunt down some pictures from my sisters. It is quite expansive, and we just chose a few of our favorite gardens to show the kids. They each had a map and had a great time finding their way to the next garden. The Secret Garden was a hit, since you come in through a door hidden in a tunnel, and there was a fountain. But the kids loved it all and were great sports with the long walk. They always do love the big waterfall.

I found some pictures. Here they are:

But the Children's Garden we pretty much did instead of a pool this year because of the great Noah's Ark splash pad. Very fun. But every time we went it seemed we found more to this little garden. There is the hedge maze, and the bear cave, and the pond with fish you can feed, and a lighthouse you can climb up into, and we found on Tuesdays and Thursdays there are even little craft classes my kids loved. They must do little shows on the "bug stage," but never when we're around, so the kids just go up on the stage and have fun.

Those are the obvious parts of the garden. But turns out, there is a whole action area type place that is more of a nature path with lots of fun things. We wound around the whole path with all the cousins and played some natural wood xylophones, built with natural blocks, climbed up and around woodsy areas, and looked at the big gardens from lookout points. It was very fun. Now if only they'd just open the gates between the big gardens and the children's ones, it would be perfect.

So much for the gardens.

#4: Thanksgiving Point Farm Country

NEXT, the other day Jake and I took the kids to the Thanksgiving Point Farm Country. Our mistake was going on a Tuesday night, when it's $2 to get in. Since we have a pass, that didn't matter, but all in all, the farm is never that busy. It was like a little petting zoo, with some other exhibits about milk and farms and shipping produce that the kids loved. It was small enough to not get overwhelmed, but big enough that we felt like it was really worth coming. The kids really liked all the animals, and we even watched a pony try to eat a girl's skirt! (The sign told everyone the pony was a biter!) Everyone also gets a ticket to go on a pony ride, which was when we wished we'd come another day, since we waited a good 25 minutes for our ride. But CRAZY to behold, my scaredy cat Jeffy got on the biggest horse and did a great job riding without supervision. Ethan was ok if I was next to him the whole time, and was even alright when I stepped back to take some pictures. Hoorah! Janey, however, HATED it. She cried the whole time, poor girl. I don't know why Jake didn't just take her off the pony, but there you go.

#5: Seven Peaks Water Park

We've been meaning to go all summer, but the kids aren't SO great at water, and we wanted to go with other people, and no one ever really wanted to. So, today was my bro-in-law's birthday, and I thought I'd call them to see if they had any plans. They didn't so we did a spontaneous trip to the water park in Provo. Jake and I have been a million times since we used to have a pass when we lived in Provo, but the kids have never been. It was only $6 after 6 p.m., and since we were only going to stay a couple hours anyway, it was the right way to go.

Well. It was certainly an adventure. Jefferson really had good intentions of going down some slides. Jake finally got him to go down a biggerish kids slide and he hated it. He doesn't love being splashed. But the really little kids slides he was so wimpy on, we finally gave up on slides with him. I put Janey down a couple, and I'm not sure she loved it either. Ethan refuses to step into water that is not beach entry, so we finally left all the fun kids areas behind and took up residence at the wave pool.

Little did we know they turned off the waves just after we left the first time, so they never DID see any. Lame. However, it may have been better, because Jane is not an easy girl to control in the water. Without the waves, it was just a giant beach-entry pool. We only went to the pool a few times this year because Jane plunges in and screams if you hold her, and it's just too hard to do. But this was PERFECT. I was able to keep pretty good track of both boys and Janey, and even just sat down in the water while I watched Janey go back and forth in the water, jumping up to save her from drowning each time she slipped. She was in total heaven.

Jake did a few slides with Lili and Jeff (big Jeff, not Jeffy), but after a while, it was pretty cold outside (it was past 7), and we were enjoying the warm water. As people leave, they often give you their tubes (that you have to pay for, so we didn't), and someone gave us one and the kids had a BLAST with everything you can do with a tube without actually FLOATING in it. They just pushed it around, got in the holes and pretended it was a boat, etc. Jane and I got in and let the boys push us back and forth for a while too, and that was fun.

And the rest of the time we spent watching the big kids (Jake, Lili, and Jeff) go off the rope swing, and convincing Jefferson to put his head under water at the risk of losing his DS if he didn't. (That was the deal from the beginning of getting his DS for going under water 10 times.) He always forgets that it's pretty easy to do, and I'm wishing we gave him more opportunities to practice this summer.

SO, it was worth it for $6 each. Until the kids are bigger, I wouldn't pay more. But it was a really fun end-of-summer fun pool time. The pizza and brownies (that everyone else had) afterward looked way fun too.

BONUS: American Fork Canyon.

This is sad. We were supposed to go up many times. The kids have been begging. And perhaps there are still hikes and campouts in the future this Fall. However, since a kid was taken from his tent and eaten by a bear last year, people have been more cautious, and we'd all like to be in trailers and whatnot. Also, many a sister is pregnant or just had a child, so maybe that's an adventure for next year.

BUT, we did go. We went to visit my parents on a Sunday, and they told us to just load up and follow them up the canyon. They had parked their T@B up there for the week, and just went up and down the canyon as they pleased and slept up there. So we packed up and went.

I didn't realize how far up their parking spot was--it was probably a 40 minute drive up the windy roads (and Ethan does NOT do well with windy roads), but it was SUCH a lovely drive, and my kids had never actually been in a real live canyon before. This canyon is as much home to me as any other place in the world, and it was really great to see the kids be so excited about all the trees, the cliffs, the river, the lake we passed, and everything great about the mountains of Utah.

When we got to the campground, the kids roasted marshmallows and made s'more-ish type treats with brownies. THAT was a big hit, even though it was pretty tough keeping Janey out of the fire. Mind you, we didn't know we were coming, so Jane and I were in Sunday dresses, and hers got completely filthy. Good times.

Then we took a walk around the hilly roads of the campground and the kids explored their guts out in the woods around the campground. It was a big hit. The kids were mad when we had to go home. I wish we'd spent more time, and I'm sure we'll go up there plenty when the leaves change, but it still counts that we went up there in the summer, so hooray!!

I stole these pics from Matt:

And THAT my friends, is the end of my Summer Adventures. This year was easy, because everything we did was new. Next year we'll actually have to hunt down some new stuff! What will we find?

Also, we are planning to go to Moab sometime soon. Even if it's not summer, perhaps I'll post a link. :)

(I've been working on this post for DAYS and it took me about 1.5 hours to get the pictures for this post. Seriously. Insane.)