Sunday, April 30, 2017

Lake Life

The kids were very excited to get on the water any way they could, even if that meant getting IN the water.  While they've all taken swim lessons, the thought of going into water that was 14 feet deep made some of them a little nervous.  Solution?  Life jackets.              
Uncle Ray and Bill also took them tubing.  My neck/back have been giving me trouble, so I sat (or laid) this one out.  J was also not well, so he slept during this adventure.  Three on the tube at a time was apparently not their thing, they much preferred the two at a time gig.                  
While the younger kids got on the tube, G was kickin' it in the boat.  He also found out that he's old enough to get his license to drive a boat, so now he's into that.  Bill looked into it, and apparently the laws are different for alll the different states.  Uncle Ray was saying he thinks the Coast Guard course is recognized nationally, so if he were to take a course, that would be the one.                
Uncle Ray and Aunt Monica took us to the area where the carp congregate.  Because tons of people feed them stale popcorn.  So we did what was expected and fed those carp their old popcorn.  I've never seen carp before.  They're HUGE.  And they look like living vacuum cleaners when they're eating.  It was pretty cool to see.            
There were a ton of floating devices to choose from to get out there on the lake and just hang.  NB and NS got on the tube with paddles, so K decided to take a ride with them.  That didn't last long.                    
Let me tell you, that water is COLD.  Ray said it was about 66, which is a heck of a lot warmer than when the kids went swimming in EC Manning up in Canada, but I froze my butt off.  I got all the way in, head and all, lest you think me a total weenie.  But after I dove under, I got out.  I floated for a bit, but I think dock life is more for me.                  
We got one more boat ride in before our visit was over.  We need a different group shot.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Smith Mountain Lake

We started our Virginia experience this time around in southern VA.  My aunt and uncle own waterfront property on Smith Mountain Lake.  This is our first opportunity to visit them here, even though they've been here for years. In our defense, we moved to CO before they moved to VA.  At any rate, we're very excited they agreed to host our chaos for a few nights!  This is their dock on the lake, as taken from their boat.  They took us out for a boat ride our first full day here, and we're off to a good start!                                
NB took on a true nautical look as he peered through the binoculars as we boated around.  The kids were all thrilled to be out on a boat, all except G.  G wasn't feeling well, so he stayed back at the house while we hit the lake.                    
Uncle Ray let all the kids take a turn "driving" the boat.  They all did a great job.  I think this made their day, possibly their life.  They have been wanting to rent a boat on every lake we've stayed, so it was an amazing opportunity for them.  We ended up on the water for several hours, leaving some of us redder than we intended.  Oh well.  It also led to a bit of exhaustion.                                  
There's an osprey nest on a pole out on the lake.  They've got a camera looking into the nest, but this snarky osprey is sitting on the camera instead of in the nest.  But if you look closely enough, you'll notice there's another bird INSIDE the nest.  Even though we've seen several of these beautiful birds on this trip, I get a kick out of seeing them every single time.                
After lunch the kids all decided they wanted to fish.  We spent quite a while before any fish were caught.  NB was using a net, the others were using poles.  NB caught one first with the net, which shocked me.  All in all, the kids are enjoying their time at Smith Mountain Lake!

Life is a Beach

The weather for two of our full days in the OBX area were cloudy and a bit windy, so we didn't spend the full days at the beach.  Always made it down there, though.  So we made sure we did some other fun things in the area.  We made it back to the Wright Brothers Memorial, where K and Bill finished up their Jr. Ranger activity booklets.  Bill actually did this one because it's a Jr. Flight Ranger, which he was psyched about.  This boulder marks the exact spot  the first airplane lefted off for the very first time.  The ranger who gave the talk was very passionate about it, telling all of us there that this was the tombstone for the impossible.  The Wright Brothers accomplished the impossible, so we know that the impossible is just something that hasn't been done yet.        
We also checked out the Lost Colony at Ft. Raleigh.  We explored more of the Roanoke Colony mystery, and learned about the role of the area in the Civil War.  We've read quite a bit about the Roanoke Colony, so it was good to visit the location.                                      
Our final day at the beach.  We put on our raincoats and hit the surf anyway!  With the storms present, there were warnings galore about winds and rip currents.  We wanted to find seashells, though, so we toughed it out.  It was really neat to see the stronger waves.  Finding seashells we wanted to take home wasn't overly successful, though the kids managed to find quite a few.                
The kids were dying to get up in a lighthouse.  We only visited two of the lighthouses on the barrier islands, and we chose to go up the Bodie Lighthouse, even I went up!  Going up was good, coming down was bad.  The stairs have holes in them, and you can see the whole windy path down.  That's 230-ish stairs.  Of doom.  Death.  Mayhem.  Destruction.  But I made it just fine, thank you.  And days later, I can still feel the journey in my calves.  This trip has not been conducive to an exercise regime.  I know people do it and manage to stay fit while travelling, but I am not one of those people.  Someday, but not today.  And now we journey onward.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

OBX, Baby!

Oh, what's that?  That's our setup hanging with the sunset at our campsite at the Oregon Inlet Campground at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.  It's been tooooo long since I've been to the Outer Banks.  I've spent several vacations in Nags Head, but never quite this far south.  Livin' the good life, y'all.                  
After setting down the trailer at the campsite, we headed north to Kill Devil Hills to learn more about the Wright Brothers and the birth of aviation.  We got there with only an hour before closing, but we picked up the Jr. Ranger booklet, so we'll be back to turn that in.  We did have a good time checking out the sand dune from which the Wright brothers launched their glider, and read how they lugged their glider up hill thousands of time.  Amazing the determination and perseverance, simply amazing.              
Our first night here, we hit the beach, just to say we did, but I had left my camera at the trailer.  Our first morning here, I went ahead and brought the camera.  Climbing the dunes is thrilling.  Until you step on a burr.  Or a bug bites you.  But I love visiting the beach.  Just so much fun to play in the waves, watch the birds, check out the shells, keep an eye out for it all!                                  
G and I hung back while the others raced into the water.  I did get my feet (all the way up to my knees, though that was unintentional) wet, and the water was quite chilly.  G had a good laugh at my chill-out, but he made his way into the water, too.  His shock was just as funny as mine.                  
NS kept doing push ups in the waves.  He was "trying" not to get wet, but ended up soaked.  What a shocker.                      
After the beach we had lunch, then headed out to check out other parts of the barrier islands.  Down at Cape Hatteras, there's the museum for the Graveyard of the Atlantic.  It's small, but it goes through some of the shipwrecks in the area.  The Monitor is the one that drew our attention, and is one that NOAA and ECU study the most.  After spending some time there, we headed out to the national seashore's visitors' center, where the Hatteras lighthouse is.  We didn't have much time to spend here before everything closed down, but it was enough time for K to finish the Jr. Ranger booklet.  This lighthouse is the tallest in the US.  It's also not in its orginal location--it was moved because the shifting sands of a barrier island were shifting enough to be a threat to the stability of the lighthouse.  There are several lighthouses up and down the coast of NC.  Our campground is actually across the street from another one, which we'll check out before we leave the area.                      
After leaving the lighthouse, we hit the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.  We actually drove through the refuge on our way from camp to the cape, but on our way home we stopped and did the wildlife walk.  We didn't see a lot of wildlife, but we did get to see a few of these guys.  All in all, it was a good day on the outer banks!

Five Miler

NS still had to do his hiking/backpacking snack for his cooking merit badge.  We've had the ingredients for a while, but finally got around to it.  He's closing in on getting his merit badge finished up, so it's just like, get it done!  I checked the trail map.  I chose the path to take.  I told everyone what we were doing, and that it was a five miler.  No one listened. Most were somewhat unprepared for the length of the hike.  Oh well.  No one died, so it was a success anyway.  
As we started the hike, this is the flower that caught my eye.  Pink lady slippers are common in the forest around our campground, but I only saw a cluster as we started the trail.  Quite beautiful, and I'm glad I got to see it since there weren't a lot of them hanging out.                                      
Here the creek is quite large, or alternatively, this is one small river.  There were places where the water was quite slow moving, but in other places, there were mini rapids.  We hiked most of the time following this creek.  The day was noticeably cooler when we were near the creek.  I chose to NOT follow the creek at the end, and it was a hot part of the trail.  Oh well.                
Along the trail we found a graveyard.  The graves were from the late 1800s~early 1900s.  A good many of the people died young (2-25), and the oldest was 84.  There wasn't a sign telling us anything about this family, but their last name was Vinson.                  
J and NB drew my attention to the toad and the slug.  This is inside a hollowed out stump.  A good find!                      
It was just such a pretty hike.  Nice and relaxing, despite the heat and the lack of preparation.  We all enjoyed the snack that NS prepared for us, though we decided that we all enjoyed carrying our own snacks instead of having one person in charge of a snack.  I did have G carry his own.  He tends to have blood sugar issues, and I'd rather him eat whenever and however much we wants.  Such a nice day!

Medoc Mountain

When we decided to bail on Pettigrew, we were in a bit of a bind as to where to stay.  It's infrequent that I have a list of places that are possibilities, I usually just find a place and that's where we head.  After spending time at the fish hatchery and Pettigrew, we decided to hit a Wal Mart for the night so we could figure out where to head next without worrying about rolling in in the middle of the night.  I have never seen another Wal Mart like this one.  Most Wal Marts, if they let you park overnight, just have an area for you to stay, keeping out of the way of other customers.  Oh, my.  As soon as we parked, security was all over us to escort us to the next place in line.  Bill counted 27 other RV/trailers out there.  The biggest operation we'd seen prior was maybe 15.  Holy cow.  At any rate, a lot of Wal Marts are in towns that are large enough to have decent cell signal.  We were lacking that at Merchants Millpond, so internet was key to our search.  Bill found Medoc Mountain State Park, and so we headed out there the next morning.  
What a great find!  The campground has 34 sites, 12 of which have electric.  Since we were there Tuesday through Thursday nights, it was never crowded.  The sites were set apart from each other, and the woods that surrounded each site helped along that idea that others were far away.  Internet was again scarce, which added to the solitude.  But man, it was beautiful.  K, NB, Bill and I hit a short trail while the other boys just hung out at camp.  We found this bird at the bathhouse before we truly set out on the hike.              
There's a creek running through the park, with tons of these little foot bridges.  We enjoy looking at the water to see what lives there.  At one point, NB went down a bank to get a picture of a ledge.  Something large splashed through the water, so he boogied out of there quickly.  The park is home to otters and beavers (though not many--they tend to get kicked out for building dams and such), so perhaps it was one of those guys.                
He did go back and get the picture, though, as he thought it was really pretty neat.                      
It rained while we were at the park, so we took one day and headed into Rocky Mount for their children's museum and then into Raleigh for Costco and Trader Joe's.  This tornado machine is one of our favorites.  They have one at NCAR in Boulder, and it always draws us in.                                      
Putt Putt for the Fun of It!  So this museum was really geared towards much younger children, but we had a good time because of the unique interactions they have.  This putt putt course shows some of the obstacles towards growing things.  There was also a game where they had to choose the right fertilizer to grow super huge pumpkins (competitive, of course, to make sure you are into it), a plant vs insect game that showed the characteristics of each and pitted them against each other, and a pit  you play in to show the changing pathways of water.  The other side of the museum is an art gallery that also lets the kids play with art.  Pretty cool.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

More of North Carolina

After leaving Merchants Millpond, we were without reservations for about four days.  We bought a portable solar panel a while back and had it delivered to a Home Depot up in Chesapeake, VA to help us out with energy while at Merchants, but with the shade of the trees and a bad sun day here and there, hookups were looking good.  I had originally planned on staying at Pettigrew State Park, which the kids were digging because we just read the Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs chapter in The Prisoner of Azkaban.  But alas, no hookups.  And worse, no dump.  Merchants had no dump station, either, so the need to dump was real.  We try to use the bathhouses as much as possible, but a week without a dump station and you've got seven people....I'm just gonna put it out there, state parks need dump stations!  At any rate, I still wanted to see Pettigrew, and there's a fish hatchery between Merchants and Pettigrew, so we set off.  
Our first stop at Edenton National Fish Hatchery was the aquarium, where we got to see these alligators hanging out under the heat lamp.  There were a few tanks with some pretty cool fish to check out before we headed to the hatching shed.                
We got to check out the eggs.  They do a daily egg collection, which take about five days to hatch.  So they've also got a huge tank filled with itty bitty little fish.  Their outdoor ponds were mostly empty, preparing for the summer season.
The hatchery also has a nice little boardwalk.  After talking to the biologist about the shad and which rivers get stocked with what (and checking out the dead fish floating in one of the tanks), we headed out.                    
Next stop was Pettigrew State Park.  It's a nice park, small, just 13 campsites.  But with no electric and no dump station (the latter really being the limiting factor for us), we leaned heavily towards not camping.  The deer flies sealed the deal.  Deer flies love me, and I hate them.  But this tree was right out front at the picnic tables.  The kids loved climbing through it.  G even went inside it to get a picture looking up the tree.                                  
There's also a hike out to an historical farm/plantation.  It's got the slave quarters, a formal garden, less formal garden, a couple of goats are there, and a visitors' center (that was closed every Monday--the day we were there!). The kids enjoyed walking around and reading the signs.  We looked in all the windows we could at the main house. Impressive!  And the kids loved that there were enough seats at the dining table to fit all of us and more comfortably!  If you find yourself on the east coast of North Carolina, look into this park.  It was a nifty little stop!


While living in houses, we always went to sunrise service on Easter.  Beat the crowds, start the day with the Lord, begin celebrating early.  Just our tradition.  Staying in campgrounds that are somewhat isolated can make getting to church a challenge, but we've been fairly good about it all.  If we're not travelling on a Sunday (and I try not to), we head out to mass.  

We've been going on for a while now without reservations anywhere.  This is hard when it's the busy time of the year, but right now, for the most part, it's been fairly easy.  Except that we're hitting spring breaks.  Oish.  We got to Merchants Millpond without a reservation, and they were tight.  We could get a spot for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights in a row, but Easter weekend was pretty full.  We signed on for those nights, but I was stressing out about Easter Triduum.  I wanted to BE somewhere, so I didn't have to worry about moving about and finding a church and all that hullabaloo.  Turned out, if we moved Friday morning, there was a spot perfect for us for the whole weekend.  Whew!  So we got to stay all Holy Week in one campground, no fuss.  Unfortunately, the church I found had no sunrise service, but the 10:15 was nice, and far more doable since the church was about 40 minutes away.  
Since mass was later than our normal Easter mass, we got in our egg hunt BEFORE church.  Limited space and such meant getting creative.  I usually do a bunch of eggs for each kid.  Money and candy.  This year, the money eggs were all that I hid, and I combined them more than I would have in a house.  So they each got two eggs to find.  I signed their notes with an EB, which confused NB. "Why is it signed Eb?"  NS came up with Ebeneezer Bunchabuns for those initials, and so now that's who the Easter bunny is.  Thanks, N-men!              
K also worked hard throughout the week on a play they put on for us at dinner time.  K wrote and directed it, and it was great.  They spent a lot of time rehearsing it during the week, which was great to see.  All in all, it was a great Easter for us!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Merchants Millpond

Our first night at Merchants Millpond State Park.  We took a hike from the campground up to the visitors' center.  This is the view behind the center, at the dock.  Absolutely beautiful.  We got to see a lot of turtles around here.  The park rents canoes out, so we took advantage of this beautiful park.    
We took out three canoes.  Unfortunately, I'm not great at canoeing.  Even more unfortunately, there are a TON of snakes in these waters.  Snakes like cottonmouths.  Scary as all get out for me.  The scenery was beautiful, and it would have been very relaxing being on the water and cruising their trails, had I been able to work the canoe well.  K and I did not do well together, and we both spent more time frustrated than relaxed.  In addition to the cottonmouths, there are a bunch of turtles and a few alligators.  We didn't see the alligators, but so very many turtles.              
It was so much fun to see all the turtles.  The whole area of North Carolina we were visiting has turtles all over the place.  On the way to church we would just point out all the turtles on the side of the road.  So much swampy area, the turtles were just a constant presence.                  
While I loved seeing all the turles, I did NOT love seeing all the snakes.  This dude is a cottonmouth.  He's huge.  HUGE.  Did I mention he's H-U-G-E?????  And we got entirely too close for my comfort.  K and I got within maybe 15 feet of him, but apparently Bill and his canoe of kids got within five-ish feet.  I saw a bunch of other snakes swimming in the water.  I didn't panic too much while we were out there, but learning that this guy was such a deadly beastie, it truly gave me pause about being out in that water.  So I didn't go out another time.  Bill did take the kids out again, but I stayed back.  I would have liked to go out there again, but I think I'll take another time out on a canoe on a different body of water.          
Back on land, in our campsite, I caught a glimpse of these.  There were only these two, and I was so enchanted with them, I took out the camera and snapped away.  Bill spoke with the ranger about them when he came around, and he didn't know what they were.  His best guess was that they're anamolies, galls.  Basically the tree is afflicted with them.  I still think they're absolutely gorgeous.                                  
These guys and I took another hike, this time away from the visitors' center.  This spot has a bench so we could just sit and relax, looking at the swamp.  While I love this area, there were only very few turtles there, so it's not my favorite.                  
We hit the visitors' center before we left.  I took one more walk down to the dock to say goodbye to all the turtles, and this guy was waiting on the path for us.  He wasn't super-psyched that we were on the path with him, but he did stick out his head while were right by him.  It was just very cool to see all these fabulous animals.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Great Dismal Swamp

We visited the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in southern Virginia.  I love the name.  I had wanted to go back in the fall when we were first in VA, but Hurricane Matthew threw off all our plans.  So now we're camping in Merchants Millpond, just like I wanted, and we hit the Dismal Swamp in the morning of an errand-running day.  Here, G is learning about the Underground Railroad and the people who ran to the swamp, but didn't leave it to go north.  It was fascinating to think about HOW they managed in the swamp, and the bargains they struck with other people in the area to get what they needed in return for work.            
We stopped to look at the turtles.  This is on their wildlife drive, which are kinda hit or miss for spotting wildlife.  The first time we stopped, I got out of the car to take a picture, and the turtles all slid into the water as quickly as they possibly could.  This time, I got the picture, and on my way back to the car, I noticed something in the water that made me take pause.  Note the snake to the left.  It was just laying there, not moving.  Bill asked the ranger about it when we returned to the visitors' center, and was assured that it was a snake who's just kinda lethargic.  Good to know.            
There were several boardwalks along the drive.  Our van is a bit of a beast, so parking it was very challenging in a lot of areas.  But when we did do the boardwalks, it was beautiful.  So much green around, simply amazing.  And we got to hear an incredible assortment of birds, frogs, insects....totally cool.                                  
Driving along, we saw this dude in the water from quite a distance.  Bill stopped the car, we stared for a while, took our picture, and kept cruising.  He's a cottonmouth.  Pretty dangerous snake.  I'm glad we were in our van.  When Bill talked to the ranger about him, he said the fact that the snake's head was up like this was a sign that he was not happy we were there.  But I contend that his unhappiness was NOT due to us, because we saw him with his head up like this for a while on our drive.  Nevertheless, an agressive posture.              
At the end of the drive is the lake with this beautiful dock and boat launch.  We didn't see anyone on the water, though it was certainly a beautiful day for it.                      
We saw tons of turtles right by the lake, on the way back to the car.  K and I were mesmerized, and the boys were quite frustrated with us taking our sweet time getting back to the car.  On the drive back, though, I made Bill stop the car because I saw green moving through the water very quickly.  For whatever reason, I thought it was an otter.  Nope!  We got to see a beaver bringing stuff back to his lodge.  Pretty sweet deal!                
We had errands to run in the Chesapeake/Norfolk area, so I got in touch with some old buddies from our NOVA days, and they met up with us at Costco.  This trip has really been great for catching up with old pals.  What a great way to end the day!