Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Progressing Through PA

Such a rare moment.  NB came running into the trailer as we were getting our stuff put away for travelling.  He HAD to take this picture with the rays of sun coming through the trees.  I think he captured it rather wonderfully.  This was a glorious moment of sunshine in a rather overcast and drizzly stay.                  
After our reservations at Codorus State Park were done, we decided to move on over to French Creek, just to get us closer to Philly.  Liberty Bell, first know the drill.  Did NOT like French Creek, did not stay, did not collect $200.  So we took the whole setup into Philly.  What did I just say?  50 feet of vehicular mess going through Philadelphia?  Not a fun time.  Not.At.All.  And the most I got to do was jump out of the car and take a pic of the bell behind glass, inside a building that was closed for the evening.  But I was there, and I'm counting it amongst my journeys.  And no one died, no cars were injured in our adventures, and no one got a ticket for anything.  But, alas, not staying at French Creek messed us up.  And no Wal Mart really wanted us in their lot overnight.  So around midnight we rolled into a casino parking lot.  That's too late for us.  Blech.  But, on the positive side, we've decided to camp near my aunt.  Ah, to haunt relatives!  That's really been such an awesome part of this trip--getting to see friends and relatives that we don't often get to see.                    
G asked if we could make our way to Valley Forge, many months ago.  And so while we decided to camp in northern PA, we took the time to explore Valley Forge before leaving the Philly area and heading up there.  We spent several hours there, dodged some school groups (seriously, when do those field trips end for this school year????), and learned some good stuff.  And the older gentlemen/history lovers approved of our learning at the park.  NB was my buddy for checking out all the areas of the park that no one else was interested in seeing, so he and I had some good conversations about strategy and defenses.                              
NB also pointed out that the tulip trees had their flowers in them still.  Even after seeing all the flowers on the ground in so many different campgrounds, this was really my first time seeing them in the trees.  I love that the kids notice little things and point them out to me.  They notice big things, too, but they take the time and notice things that others might simply walk past.  Just to slow down and notice something that isn't big and flashy, it's definitely something we've been working on while we journey forth.              
We noticed that the bunks in the huts were a bit unequal. The lower bunk soldiers had to be skinny minis, whereas the guys in the middle had a bunch of space.  Not shown here is the top bunk, which has space somewhere in between the amounts shown here.  Another hut on the path had the bunks with equal spacing.  All I could think was that someone in this hut hated his roomies.                
Ah, and the house that served as George Washington's headquarters.  Notice that the sun is out.  After all these days of temperatures struggling to be in the 60s, with rain and clouds galore, this day overwhelmed us with the brightness and the warmth.  Too much too soon!!!  Never fear, the hail and rain returned in time for dinner.  I do so hope we see more of the sun in days to come.


I grow weary.  The trip is taking its toll in many aspects.  And while it's not surprising to anyone, weather plays a huge role in everything we're doing.  I'm sick of the rain.  And the bonus of camping in the rain?  Wet leaves.  All over the place.  We did a major washout of the van and trailer at Deep Creek and finished just as it started raining again.  The last campsite with no rain?  Medoc Mountain in NC.  Just after Easter, by my accounts.  That's not to say that we haven't had days here and there with no rain, but rain has been the majority.  

We spoke with another family with a Sprinter.  They have six kiddos, they've taken their kids on summer trips across the nation, nothing crazy like what we're doing.  She asked if we were tired yet.  Oh yeah.  Tired doesn't come close.  This is a great experience, I'm happy that we're taking this truly amazing opportunity.  Once in a lifetime.  Spectacular learning experience.  Phenomenal cosmic power, itty bitty living space.  So while we're enjoying everything we get to do, it's wearing.  If only the stupid spring weather that brings such glorious beauty would clear the $%&@ up.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Family and Touring

Tours are just a part of the reason we wanted to visit here.  Ok, it's why we came here.  But while we're here, we may as well visit family.  The last time we were in Colorado, we set up a yurt for my mom.  My mom then got my aunts to come on up and visit.  Famly reunion--yeah!!!!  
We started Monday with a trip to Herr's.  I love their Salt & Vinegar chips, absolutely love them.  Which is good, because it took us almost two hours to get there.  We had to head into Maryland to get back to the right part of Pennsylvania for this tour.  And the roads are not kind to me.  What a sickening set of roads to get there.  And I think Google maps was just playing a joke on us.  I think there must be some sort of major highway we could have taken.  But we made it to our reservation on time, and what a great way to start our day!  After getting to see their production and learn more about the variety of products, we got to sample and purchase.  And just as we were leaving, the school buses were rolling in.  I love going on field trips with so few kiddos.  And who's doing a field trip at the end of the school year?  We managed a full day of touring (Herr's, George's Furniture, Hershey's) before picking up my mom.  And for dinner, we met up with my aunt and uncle, who also made it in that day.  For my other aunt we had to wait for the following morning.  But she did show up, and the gang of us began our whirlwind tour of the area.                            
We revisited Perrydell and checked out the cows being milked, the calves being fed, and the ice cream being scooped.  Perhaps our first day wasn't nearly as whirlwind as imagined.  But it was tasty.  We also did a couple different potato chip tours on their visit.  But the best tour was the pretzel tour.                  
We visited Revonah in Hanover.  Watching them twist the pretzels so quickly was pretty cool.  And I learned that the pretzels I bought from Sturgis (the only hand twisted ones they sell), are actually made by Revonah.  Sigh.  So I didn't buy any hard pretzels, since the pretzels I already bought were actually from their factory, but I did buy soft pretzels.  They were TASTY!!!!  A few of the people who work at the factory have been connected to the factory for a very long time, so that was pretty cool.                                
The tours were fun, but I had the most fun hanging at camp, playing games, sitting by the fire and talking.  Uncle Ray brought his corn hole game, which none of us except Uncle Ray were any good at playing, but we all had a blast trying.  Uncle Ray kept trying to show us how to throw his fancy way, but I don't think any of us are all the fancy, so it just wasn't working!                                  
We got to visit Painted Spring Alpacas.  We enjoyed our trip in Oregon last summer better, but it's always fun to see how people have set up their farms and what they hope to achieve with it.                    
Right before Mom, Aunt Monica, and Uncle Ray headed out of town, we got one more batch of family.  Yvonne and her family came up and spent a couple hours with us.  While we didn't get to spend a lot of time, it was nice to see them all again.  It's been several years since I've seen my cousin and her family, and many more since my family got to see hers.  Along our trip we've gotten to see many family gatherings at campgrounds, and I've been wanting one of our own, so this trip was a little dream come true.


Pennsylvania is a HUGE dairy state.  I love dairy.  Love it.  So off to a dairy farm we went!
On the day we went, we ended up missing all the fun.  You can check out the cows being milked, the calves being bottle fed, or you can just walk around and then buy some dairy.  So we chose door number 3.  It was neat to learn about the farm (Perrydell), to see the cows, and to learn that this one farm supports four families on just 120 cows, but the ice cream and chocolate milk were the highlights of this visit.  We need more dairies in our life!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Factory Tours

After Coopers Rock, we headed to the Hanover/York, PA area.  Factory tours galore!  When we were in Scranton last December, I went a little crazy buying Herr's salt & vinegar chips.  They're my favorite chips in the whole world and you can only get them in certain areas of the country.  K noticed that you can take a factory tour, and that's when this part of the trip began taking shape.  When I looked into camping in or around Hanover (which is NOT where Herr's is located, but I had it in my mind it was), I learned that there are a bunch of tours in the area to take.  Yippee!!!!  Since I have family on the east coast, and even some in PA, I asked around to see if anyone wanted to join us.  Since my mom decided to come out, a couple of her sisters decided to also come out, so we've got a mini family reunion going on!  
We arrived several days before the others were due in, so we took some of the further out tours or tours that people weren't interested in checking out.  In Lititz there's Julius Sturgis pretzels.  The tour was VERY popular, with a tour bus arriving just as we got there.  We bought tickets for later, thinking that the tour group would have moved on by then, but we still ended up in a too-large group.  The guide was only so-so, but the sample of little ones at the end was SO good.  Very light and airy pretzels, I've not had hard pretzels quite like them.  Yummy!              

We also went to a Dutch market to check out their jams and jellies.  Turned out to be the rhubarb festival weekend!  It was a very commercial enterprise that's meant to lure in the tourists, but we had a good time anyway.  Walked away with apple butter, strawberry/balsamic jam, hot pickles, and a strawberry rhubarb pie.  We also enjoyed the art gallery they had there, and the gentleman working there was kind enough to explain in a lot of detail to the kids what made some of the art really different.  
Our final stop of the day was at a miniature horse farm.  It's an Amish family's farm, but they have a little store and encourage people to stop by and check out their miniature horses.  It was pretty cool, but there happened to be a tour bus at this stop, too, so it was only cool for a few minutes, then we were overrun by groups of people pushing their way to the horses.  First tour day, fun and done!


Bill's parents came up for a quick visit since we were in West Virginia.  The kids showed them around the overlook at Coopers Rock.  Such pretty scenery.  We got an ice cream, played a bit of Boggle, showed off the trailer, and then headed out for dinner.  We love it when we get a chance to visit with friends and family while we're travelling, so this was a treat for us!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Coopers Rock

I've never camped in West Virginia before, so we got to add this to our states stickers on our trailer.  There's an overlook trail that we went to on thr drizzly/rainy day.  It was pretty, and more of a walk than a trail.  Such beautiful views.  And we love the style of the boardwalk and overlooks.  There's an underlook trail, too, which takes you through the enormous rocks.  We took that trail on the way to rock city, another trail in the middle of the park.                                
The kids enjoy getting to walk over and around the rocks. K was a bit disappointed, she rather preferred the Bearfence Mtn trail in the Shenandoahs.  But this was a good, shorter version.                                      
There was a lot to explore, highs and lows.  The kids crossed onto this "island," and I encouraged them to explore down below.  I sat on part of rock up top, and had the kids yelling at me from down below because there were holes in the rock you could see from underneath.  They assured me I was going to fall to my death at any moment, so I moved along.  I think I was fine, though.                                  
Coopers Rock is super close to Morgantown, where Bill went to college.  One of his fellow Eagle scouts (they Eagled at the same time) still lives in Morgantown, so we got the chance to spend an afternoon with them.  Nick & Renee were such wonderful hosts, we had a great time meeting their kids and socializing.                  
We went to the Morgantown Botanic Gardens, where we found this little gem.  Bill immortalized in a tree.  Had to have this picture.  The gardens had nice trails, but not a lot of gardens that we saw.  It was a rainy day (again), so we didn't explore all it had to offer.

Deep Creek

After the Shenandoahs, we wanted to hit MD, so we headed to Deep Creek.  We saw this little guy on our way in.  The campground was virtually empty.  The two camp hosts arrived the day before, there was us, and another RV pulled in a little after us.  There were three different prices we found for the site, so we decided to stay one night, and settle up with the actual office in the morning.  Didn't seem to faze the lady in the office that their sign in the park differed from the park's website, which differed from the reservation system.  I hate disorganization.  And I hate that people don't see the problem with their lack of consistency or professionalism.  Blech.  That's the main reason we left after one night.  I don't want to support that way of doing business.  But with more rain in the forecast, we needed to hit an electric site.  So in the morning we packed up and headed for Coopers Rock in West Virginia.      
On our way out, though, we did stop at the aviary they have in the park.  It was drizzling, so it's a good thing it was a small aviary.  They take in rescued/injured birds that can't be released into the wild again.  That's how the screech owl ended up at Shenandoah.  We think that's a fantastic program, so we were excited to see the birds here.                
It was hard taking pictures of the birds, beccause they've got fencing around them.  This guy was at the aviary because he was hit by an airplane.  A lot of their birds have wing amputations and such.  An amazing opportunity to see these birds up close, but it makes me sad they have these injuries.                                    
I have heard Great Horned Owls at different campgrounds, but I don't think I've seen one out in the wild.  Most of the birds at the aviary have been rescued after being hit by a car.                                        
We have seen a ton of turkey vultures in the sky, but this is the first one I've seen so up close.  We have truly been blessed to experience so much this year!

More Hikes and Still Searching....

The kids really wanted to rock scramble.  REALLY.  The trails here have a lot of rocks all over them, but for actual rock scrambling, Bearfence Mtn trail cannot be beat.  We had a great time on this trail, but the kids grumbled at the beginning because it takes a bit of hiking to get to the real scrambling part.                  
What in the world is this?  It's probably a weed, looking at its leaves, but I don't know it.  I think it's really pretty, though, especially close up.  I love to stop and pay attention to little things along the trail.  God has put so much detail into this world, it's stunning.                  
When Cici & Ruwan came up with their kiddos, their oldest was spooked by the heights and such.  This is not the trail for him.  Or maybe it is, in a forced therapy sorta way.  There are a lot of ledges and fall-off-the-edge-of-the-world areas.  But it's so much fun hiking this trail.  There are places that you can get a 360 view of the forest and park.  A seriously awesome trail.                
We tried to pack as many trails in as possible on the sunny days, since we had several rainy days.  We found this gargoyle tree on the Story of the Forest trail.  It's an easy trail, so we did this one right before heading to Harrisonburg to get our tires replaced.  NB wants gargoyles in his room when we are in a house again, and I think this tree growth makes a super gargoyle, so it's my model for what to get him.  

 We spent several hours in Harrisonburg getting the tires replaced.  Since the Sprinter is so huge, they need several people to work on it.  They had some difficulties with it, but we now have new tires.  We've been hard on our car, but it's doing a great job!        
After returning from Costco, we wanted to hit one more falls trail.  In the morning, some of the kiddos and I went to the amphitheater to look out for bears.  No luck, but we found the trail marker for the falls, and it was only 1.2 miles from the amphitheater.  That sounded like a short enough trail for an afternoon hike, so that's what I wanted to do.  Holy stink.  Check out how rocky that trail is.  This was a rough trail.  When we returned, the ranger in the campground said he usually tells people it's an 8.  Ugh.  It kicked my butt.  But, oh my, the falls are gorgeous.                                


Good friends of ours came and visited us while we were in the Shenandoahs.  The morning that they came up, there was a talk on birds of prey at the amphitheater, so we told them to meet us there.  We got to see the Eastern Screech Owl at the talk.  Our friends showed up right after they put the bird away.  So sad.  But after the talk, we took them to the trailer and showed them around a bit.  After lunch, we hit the trails!                                  
We started out on the Appalachian Trail.  We all have this overwhelming desire to say we've walked part of the AT.  The part of the trail that goes by the campground is pretty easy stuff, so it's nice for all the kids.  We decided to hike to the south, since Georgia is warmer than Maine. Since NB and I really liked the spring, we decided to make that our destination.                
NS thought some of his siblings might like a dunk in the spring, so Bill thought he should be the first in.  Somehow we underestimated the kids and thought it would be over with NS.  HA HA!  ALL the kids, including the two visiting, decided to get their hair wet.  Weirdos.  It was a cold morning....I can't imagine this felt good.                                    
Cici wanted to take a falls hike, but the one she had picked out from home the ranger said was no good for our group.  He re-directed us to the Rose River fire road.  Also said we might spot bears because they like to hang around the fire road.  No such luck, but that's probably better for a group with a ton of kids and a dog.  The walk was beautiful, and Cici also took pics of things in nature, which I loved seeing.  Her kids would ask why we were taking pictures of kids have seen it too often to bother any more.  But it does help the kids slow down and look around.  I often have my kiddos point something out to me to check out.  Love it!            
I was a little down the path and went for the group photo.  I don't see so well, so I totally missed that BOTH TIMES I took the pic, Ruwan was obscured.  Sorry about that!  The rest of the crew is looking good, though!  We had a great time. It's so awesome for us when people make time in their schedule to come out and see us and spend time with us along our journey.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Shenanddoah National Park

Here's J the first time on the AT.  We literally parked the trailer and headed out onto the trail, just to say we'd been on it.  I would ask the kids if they wanted to go to Maine or Georgia, then we'd head north or south depending on their answer.  Our first time we headed towards Maine.  Later that same day, NB and I headed to Georgia.                  
On our way to Georgia, we came across a spring.  How do we know it's a spring?  It's labeled.  And just so I don't mislead you, this is maybe a quarter mile from the campground.  Thru hikers are way more impressive than we are, but we've now been on the AT in North Carolina (or were we in the TN part of the Great Smokies?) and Virginia.  We'll hit it again in Maine.                                  
Our first real hike in the park was Dark Hollows, down to the falls.  It's a steep descent, which means a steep ascent on your way out.  It was a good hike, but it tested G's breathing.  He's thinking he might actually start treating his asthma.  This is just one of many falls trails, but we wanted to make sure we hit at least one.  Which, it turned out, it was good we did this our first day since it rained pretty hard the next two days.                
Since it was raining on Thursday, we hit the Skyline Drive, headed north.  It was also COLD, and we had left our really cold weather gear in CO.  Brrrr.....  We spent the time checking out the cool views and looking for bears.  Everyone else was spotting them, but not us.  Sigh.                                      
Searching in vain for a bear.  The ranger at the Dickey Visitors Center told us that a lot of folks had seen bears in the Pass Mtn area, so we took the short hike over there.  A beautiful walk, so I'm glad we did it, but the bears did not join us.                  
Friday we had to change spots off the AT since the premium spot was reserved starting that day for a week.  When we got up and started getting ready, Bill called my attention to the clouds moving through the mountains.  This is one of my memories from staying in Shenandoah 20 some odd years ago.  Love it!                                  
We took advantage of the need to change sites to go ahead and dump before setting our trailer back up.  Across from the dump station, this pileated woodpecker was going to town on this log.  It was really cool to see.  He was quite cooperative and let me get a ton of pictures, even a little video!                
The rain was still falling, so we drove about some more.  On sunny days, water does not just pour off the tunnel, but it did this day!  It was cool to see all the waterfalls that come out when the rain comes down.  But we needed to get out and do something.                  
Saturday we hit the town of Staunton.  K had picked up a paper on Sunspots Studios, where you can check out glassblowing seven days a week.  No reservations, no fees, just check them out doing their art.  Pretty cool.  There's a storefront as well, with some incredibly beautiful items.  Oh my.  It was fun exploring parts of Virginia I'd never really seen before.