Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Going on a Bear Hunt: Camping in Shenandoah

So the weekend before the Fourth of July we finally made it out to camp in Shenandoah National Park. We have never been able to get reservations before, but decided to just wing it and try a first come first serve site.  Apparently they actually have a lot of these sites that are not reservable.  The night we arrived the area had a thunderstorm and flash flood warning in effect, so the campground was pretty open.  We realize we're a little crazy for that.  But I felt like we'd have some good luck weather wise.

We headed to the nearest campground from the North, which is the Mathews Arm Campground located about 20 miles inside the park.  Needing a close bathroom for the pregnant lady and almost potty trained two year old, we picked a spot in the C loop immediately opposite the bathroom.  And the water spigot.  Apparently, Theo's favorite thing to do when camping is filling any water needs at the spigot.  

And even though we knew to expect rain, the weather was some of the best June weather we could ask for.  We planned to tour an underground cave and do inside activities on the rainy day and enjoy perfect hiking weather of about 65° on the sunny beautiful day.  Some of our favorite parts of our trip were:

Campfire:  Theodore was in charge of the s'more making, while Elijah kept up a cheering section for Brian as he tried to make fires with damp wood.  

Cavern:  There are several options for caverns around the Shenandoah area. We stumbled across a group-on just a couple days before our trip, so we definitely went with that one. We only paid for one ticket for all four of us.  The Shenandoah Caverns were the first time either boys had been to an underground cavern. The one hour tour was just about perfect for them, though I was terrified they would touch some of the structures which is against the law.  They are famous for their "bacon-like" features that were pictured in National Geographic years ago, and have popcorn walls as well.  Elijah pretended to eat most of the cave.  The location also had some other random exhibits including old animated store windows and a huge barn filled with parade floats.  It was odd, but the boys liked just about everything they saw.  Their soda fountain restaurant was also surprisingly cheap and good for a tourist place, though it was pretty packed with minimal staff.

Chip Factory:  While I normally have to stay away from potato chips because I have absolutely no self-control in regards to them, being pregnant is a pretty good excuse to have a few chances to snack on some.  We kept seeing signs for the Route 11 Chip factory and had to stop by since it was right beside the caverns.  They weren't frying during our visit, but if they had been you can view it all from the retail shop windows.  As it was, it was neat seeing all the machines used.  We sampled just about every variety they have and each left with a (small) bag in hand.

Ice Cream:  We don't consider ourselves on vacation if we don't have ice cream.  We found a good place on Lurray's charming Main Street called Stephan's Sugar Shack and each enjoyed a cone of their Hershey ice cream (except Eli, who still doesn't realize he missed ice cream while napping).

Hiking:  While I was pretty nervous to set out on a big hike with me being 32 weeks along, and Elijah still being accustomed to being carried occasionally or having a stroller to jump in and out of, I had faith we could accomplish one last big hike before the baby comes.  Since it was right off our campground, and should be beautiful after two nights of rain, we chose to hike to the tallest waterfall in Shenandoah, Overlook Falls.  We found the trailhead for Mathews Arm Trail at the back of the group camping sites, and took off.  It indicated we were 2.0 miles to the falls.  Eventually, we turned onto the Tuscarora/Overall Run Trail and continued downward to the falls.  The boys had a great time re-enacting "We're Going on a Bear Hunt" (that book never gets old in our house) as we sludged through mud (just a little), climbed over logs (none really covered the path), and carefully danced across rocks over a brook (that actually did cover the trail at one point).  We found just about every color of mushroom possible as Theo is very interested in them.  Elijah was excited for all the "eggs" he found (Brian called them gulls) while Theodore made sure to tell everyone about a bear sighting one of the other hikers mentioned to us at the beginning of the trail.  We, however, did not see one this day.

Eventually we came upon a pretty large waterfall, but not a 93 footer, so we kept going.  The last 0.5 miles of the trail were the steepest but led to a huge payoff as the view at the top was gorgeous.  And then you turn and see a beautiful waterfall!  The dog and I were fairly nervous one of the boys would fall off the cliffs surrounding this area, but luckily we got in a few photos and just enjoyed the cooling rushing winds as we rested all in one piece.  We made it from the trailhead to Overlook Falls in about two hours.  Despite stopping to snack on our way back UP the trail (and Brian carrying both boys at the steepest parts) we actually made it back to the campground quicker. Overall, we spent about four hours out there.

Views:  Being up on a skyline ridge, the whole 100+ miles of Shenandoah National Park offer wonderful views of the surrounding area.  Except when it's foggy and rainy and you can't see much.  But during the sunny parts of our visit we enjoyed pulling off and wondering around some of the different scenic overlooks.  At one point in the drive, we actually saw our first black bear as one crossed the road right in front of us.  We were much happier to see it while in the car than if we had been on foot.

More Ice Cream:  We ended our visit with a stop at the Apple House in Front Royal for some soft serve ice cream and a taste of their apple cider donuts.  Elijah slept through the stop again, even with a train passing right by us as we waited on the ice cream.  It was a good ending to a slightly exhausting, but great trip together with our two boys.  

Day Trip: Frederick, MD

Despite a rainy day, we recently met up with one of my best friend's since middle school who was traveling through the charming town of Frederick, Maryland.  Just a couple counties away, we took the back way and enjoyed a beautiful drive passing beautiful properties, antique stores, roadside stands, and several strawberry patches on the way up to meet them.  I've only stopped in Frederick once before several years ago (BK:  before kids) so everything was new for us.  We picked a few places to explore that were definitely worth mentioning:

Fractured Prune:  This donuts place was a pregnant girls dream.  Hot, fresh donuts designed however you'd like.  I went with most of their specialty donuts, before designing a cherry glaze with peanut topping.  The owner said he'd never made that one before, which was surprising to me because it was the perfect combination. 

Monocacy National Battlefield: Theo has been on a Civil War kick lately, so this was a great stop for him.  You can read more about it in an upcoming post about all things Civil War.

North Market Pop Shop:  While normally I try and visit breweries or wineries while visiting new places, being pregnant changes my game a little.  This place sounded fun, so we stopped in and left with several bottles of pop as well as having an ice cream treat as well. 

I also got pretty excited to see Volt--- I think I actually lost my breath for a moment.  We have talked about going up there to eat forever (I'm a big Top Chef fan of Bryan Voltaggio), but have never made the investment.  One day we might, but just seeing the building was pretty cool for me.

One other place that looked visit-worthy was the Roads and Rails Museum, which was unfortunately closed the day we visited.  The boys would have loved it though.  Maybe next time we're driving through...

Civil War Buff

Recently, Theodore has accidentally become very interested in the Civil War.  Really, all wars, but due to our location the Civil War has become the one he is learning the most about.

It started when we stopped by Manassas (Bull Run) National Battlefield while my mother was visiting in late May.  We had never been, and they had a neat little visitor center as well as interpreted trails of the actual battlefields.  Theo braved the movie "Manassas:  End of Innocence" in the visitor center, and learned all about the two battles that were there (Elijah slept through it).  The canons outside and the Henry Hill Loop Trail (pet friendly) we walked led to many, many follow-up questions from him about the battles and war in general.  Adults pay an admission fee of $3 here.

A few weeks later while in Frederick, we stopped by Monocacy National Battlefield on a rainy day.  The interactive relief map that described the battle there really captured Theodore's attention, and their visitor center was actually quite a bit larger and more interactive than Bull Run's.  It was interesting to compare this battlefield in the North to Bull Run which is in the South.  We walked along the railroad trail there, though there are several other options for trails at the along the other auto tour stops.  No fee for admission here.

Another stop at President Lincoln's Cottage at the Old Soldier Home in DC while Brian's brother's family were visiting brought up more information for our little Civil War buff.  He's starting to learn all about Lincoln and the idea of slavery.  We had read "Henry's Freedom Box" earlier in the summer, and Theodore is starting to get a grasp of these things.  After shielding him from the horrors of humanity on the nightly news every night, it's hard for me to start letting in these parts of history.  But, he's so interested in them that I feel like I have to indulge it a bit, just being sure to keep it at a level he can grasp (if not completely understand).  Adults pay $15 for a tour, school-age children pay $5.  Younger are free.

Theo really wanted to visit the Virginia Museum of the Civil War while we were at Shenandoah last weekend, but we ran low on time.  Frederick also has The National Museum of Civil War Medicine that I skipped (I think I would need to preview that before taking young kids).  And there are several other battlefields nearby, including: Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania, Antietam National Battlefield, Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park, and of course Gettysburg which we visited a couple years ago

If Theo's interest keeps up, we may end up at one of those before the summer is over. 

Rockets, rockets, and more rockets (and Elijah's Rocket Reading List)

So June came and went quickly (as did the Fourth of July)!  I haven't gotten anything blogged lately, even though I've started several posts.  We'll see how many I can get done in the next couple of days.

June seemed to be full of rockets for us.  Elijah has become enamored with them lately.  He can't get enough of them.  So, I went on some idea hunts and came up with a bunch of activities to start our summer with rocket play.  I wanted to share our collection, and an official reading list since it's been a while since I've done one.
  • Build a rocket out of cardboard boxes.  Big brother enjoyed adding lots of details to all the control panels inside.  Hours of dramatic play have been had with this box.

  • Blast off a real rocket outside.  We got this one for Theo's birthday and finally got it out to try.  Alternatively, you could try this design from NASA.
  • Chant rocket to the moon!  Miss K at the library does this rhyme every week, and it has always been Elijah's favorite thing during book club.  
Zoom Zoom Zoom
We're going to the moon
Zoom Zoom Zoom
We're going to the moon
We'll climb aboard a rocket ship
And go upon a little trip
Zoom Zoom Zoom
Were going to the moon
5. .4. .3. .2. .1. . Blast off.
*Then, we have another verse where we are going back home because we don't want to be stuck on the moon.*
  • Put yourself in a rocket!  Theo made this at school, and Elijah really wanted one of his own.  So, we created one and Elijah spent the most time I have ever seen coloring his rocket with markers.  He was so excited to have his own rocket.   

  • Go to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museums.  The annex located in Northern Virginia has the Discovery Space Shuttle, as well as bunches of rocket models to be impressed by.  The original museum in DC has several full size rockets as well, and plenty of exhibits on space travel.

  • Even our church got in on the action, as they are planning a space themed VBS.  The boys were so excited to see this spaceship adorning the side door.

  • Use pattern blocks to free build rockets, or fill in rocket puzzles are great spatial recognition activities.  There are many different ways to use pattern blocks:
1.  Let kids build their own rockets!!!  When using manipulatives, it's normally best to let the kids have 3-5 minutes to explore on their own before asking them to do a specific tasks.  Gets some of their curiosity flowing and helps focus them on the specific tasks you want them to complete.
2.  Full size puzzle sheets, with some or all of the shapes outlined.

3.  Full size puzzle sheets, with only the perimeter outlined.  There are often multiple solutions for these kinds of puzzles.
4.  Smaller scaled sheets showing all the pieces used, the last page of this packet has two rocket versions.
5.  Similarly, you could create your own rocket, take photos, and have students recreate them from here.
Here is Theo's:

Here is mine (Elijah added the purple piece because it needed a door).

Here is Brian's:

6.  To have your pre-schooler practice counting when finished with a specific rocket, you can use the Pattern block recording page here.

  • Finally, read lots of rocket books.  Elijah has gotten really good at finding them at the library, and I requested just about all of the pre-school age books our library system has.  Some of our favorites include: 

1.  This Rocket:  by Paul Collicutt.  This quick book has one line on each page, with most pages containing opposite statements (ex:  This rocket travels by day.  This rocket travels by night.)  On the end pages there are plenty of detailed information about rockets for older kids too.
2.  I Want to be an Astronaut:  by Byron Barton.  I like this one for it's simplicity, as the illustrations and text are very simple and can be memorized fairly quickly by an interested two year old.
3.  Space Boy and His Dog:  by Dian Curtis Regan. This one has the most "story" out of these books, about a boy looking for a missing cat, with or without his sister.
4.  Zoom, Rocket, Zoom!  by Margaret Mayo.  The teacher in me really likes the vocabulary in this book.  Multiple nouns and verbs are used in the sentences describing what rockets do.  Satellites, orbiting, astronauts, command module, lunar module, space station, weightless, and rovers are some of the vocabulary Elijah has heard or picked up during this rocket obsession.
5.  If You Decide to Go to the Moon:  by Faith McNulty.  Fans of illustrator Steven Kellogg will be drawn to this book about what it would be like to go to the moon.  And return to Earth, which we should be thankful for.  There seems to be a bit of an earth conservation theme at the end of the book.
6.  On the Launch Pad:  A Counting Book About Rockets:  by Michael Dahl.  This beautiful counting book starts at twelve stars in the sky, and counts down until the rocket blasts off.  A great book for those learning to count.
7.  Roaring Rockets:  by Tony Mitton.  Another cute book about astronauts going out into space, though these illustrations are animal astronauts rather than human ones.  There is a nice glossary of rocket parts on the last page. 
8.  DK Readers Level 1:  Rockets and Spaceships:  by Karen Wallace.   This little non-fiction book is a good addition to a rocket collection, and introduces young readers to features of informational books that will be important as they start reading more of them.  (This one missed the photo, it is probably hiding under a bed.)

Hope you can enjoy some of these ideas if you ever have a rocket-obsessed guy (or girl) in your house!