Sunday, July 26, 2015

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Fork Ridge Trail

Today was the last day of my furlough. Tomorrow I head back to work. I've had a really good time with Sierra and Noelle, but I'm ready to get back into the swing of things, especially with school starting really soon. I took advantage of my last day off with a hike in the Smokies. Today's hike took place on the Fork Ridge Trail off of the Clingman's Dome Road. In doing some research about the trail, I could find little information on the internet. The best blog post I read regarding the hike (on Smokies Stories and Glories) described the trail as little-used, overgrown, and with lots of blown down trees to negotiate. I was prepared for the worst.

I arrived at the trailhead parking area just before 8 am.
I hit the trail and found trail conditions to be as described on the web. However, after hiking down the trail a bit, I discovered the trail to be in much better shape than I had anticipated.
The trail follows its namesake Fork Ridge, however, there aren't really any views to be had due to thick vegetation and summertime foliage. What the trail did offer was some nice wildflowers in bloom. Of course, there were the usual summer blossoms like rhododendron
and Turk's Cap Lily.
There were also bee-balm,
and one of my new favorites yellow fringed orchis,
along with a few others.

I didn't see any wildlife, other than a few birds and several millipedes.
I slowly made my way further and further down the mountain.
Eventually I began to hear the sound of rushing water. It was likely the Left Fork of Deep Creek that I was hearing.  Eventually I descended all the way down to a stream, the iconic Deep Creek.
For all the hiking I've done in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this was my first view of Deep Creek. I'm sure it won't be my last. There was an illegal campsite on the west bank of the creek with a pair of sunglasses perched on a tree trunk there.
I crossed the creek on slippery stepping stones and quickly found myself at the junction with the Deep Creek Trail
and Campsite 53. I ate a snack along the banks of Deep Creek and then started the ascent back up the way I had come.

The hike back up to the car went pretty quickly. Although it is a nearly 3,000 foot ascent, the trail ascends pretty gradually for the most part. Once back at the car I drove through the thick traffic on Newfound Gap Road and then the nightmare that is Gatlinburg. About an hour and a half later I was home with Noelle and Sierra.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Blue Ridge Parkway: Abbott Lake Trail

Today was the last day of our summer road trip. We stayed in a motel last night in Staunton, Virginia and, after breakfast, headed south. We got off of I-81 and headed over to the Blue Ridge Parkway for one more hike, a short stroll along the shores of Abbott Lake. We had seen the Abbott Lake Trail when we hiked up Sharp Top and I thought hiking this one mile long loop trail would be a good way to break up our drive.

We started the hike with a walk along a short boardwalk.
We threw some dogwood berries into the lake and the fish rushed towards them like they were food. We continued the hike along the lake
with great views up to Sharp Top.
Eventually the trail entered the woods where Sierra insisted on hiking by herself.
We found a few pieces of stone on the trail and Sierra threw them into the lake.
Then we headed over to the Polly Woods Ordinary to check it out.
It is a simple cabin where past travelers could get the "ordinary" things that they needed in their travels.

Soon we crossed a small stream on an interesting footbridge.
Sierra noticed a fish in the water just below the bridge. After observing Sierra's fish for a bit, we headed towards the Peaks of Otter Lodge. Along the way we found a black snake hiding in the vegetation just off to the side of the trail.
We used the restroom inside the lodge and then returned to the car for the final leg of our journey home.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Washington, DC: The National Mall

We made it to the Nation's Capital: Washington, DC today. We stayed in College Park, Maryland last night. This morning we took the Metro into the District of Columbia. It was hot and crowded with lots of tourists, but we walked the National Mall and had an enjoyable time. Our first stop was the White House.
White House
Sierra was excited to see the White House because when we told her that Obama lived there, she joked and said O-Baa Baa lived there. We took a photo of Mommy, Sierra and O-Baa Baa outside the fence that surrounds the Executive Mansion.
Our next stop was the World War II Memorial.
There is a computer kiosk there where Noelle looked up her grandfather who served in the Navy during the war. He was lucky enough to visit the memorial twice before he passed, once on an Honor Flight.

From the World War II Memorial we walked along the Reflecting Pool, which was loaded with ducks and ducklings,
and headed over to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. We then visited the nearby Lincoln Memorial. There were lots of people at the Lincoln Memorial, so we did not spend too much time there. We did take a break inside the air conditioned museum there before moving on to the Korean War Veterans Memorial. The Korean War Veterans Memorial is one of my favorites on the Mall. The soldier statues look so realistic.

From the Korean War Memorial we headed over to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
The memorial here looks a bit different than it did during my last visit two years ago.
MLK Memorial 2
An inscription carved into the stone has since been removed. It was a paraphrased portion of a King speech which read  "I Was a Drum Major for Justice, Peace, and Righteousness". From the King Memorial we headed over to the nearby Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial where we ate a quick snack in the shade just outside the memorial.
The FDR Memorial is my favorite on the mall. It is not as crowded as most of the other memorials and is mostly shady. The sculptures and water features are all very interesting.

After our visit to the FDR Memorial we headed over to the George Mason Memorial.
Then we headed over to the nearby Thomas Jefferson Memorial. When we arrived at the Jefferson Memorial, Sierra exclaimed that "we've already been here." She thought we were at the Lincoln Memorial again. We climbed the stairs to the rotunda and gazed out over the Tidal Basin to the Washington Monument. Again we took a break and rested on a stone bench inside the memorial
before heading down the steps to begin making our way back to the Metro Station. We made one last stop before the train station, the brand new White House visitor center. We spent quite a bit of time inside checking out the interesting exhibits and we even watched a really well done movie about living in the White House.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Family Vacation 2015: Ocean City, New Jersey

We weren't sure this trip to the Jersey Shore was even going to happen. Mom and Dad are in the process of buying a house in South Jersey and expected to be in it by now. Unfortunately, there were delays with getting their loan approved and with some issues that were discovered during their home inspection. We had planned on driving up to Scranton to check out Steamtown and Rickett's Glen State Park, but discovered that Dad had rented a home from Tuesday night through Friday and so we made the trip to the shore.

It rained Tuesday and parts of Wednesday, but Thursday and Friday were really nice. We walked the boardwalk and spent some time on the beach. Sierra really enjoyed the beach!
We dug in the sand,
built a sandcastle,
dipped our piggies in the ocean,
and relaxed.
It was an enjoyable time with family!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Ebright Azimuth: The Highpoint of Delaware

We were invited to a pool party at my brother's fiance's house in Aston, Pennsylvania today. A quick look at Google maps revealed that Aston is very close to the Delaware border and, more importantly, the highest point in Delaware: Ebright Azimuth. We decided to head down there before the party. It was a quick drive down I-95 into Delaware where we exited at the first exit and made the short drive to the intersection of Ebright Road and Ramblewood Drive. Just like that we had conquered the highest point in Delaware, right in the suburbs of Philadelphia.
After two photos of Noelle, Sierra and I standing near the sign indicating the highpoint, it was a quick, 11 minute drive to our pool party where Sierra swam like a fish.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Haines Shoe House

I love quirky, old tourist traps like this. Today, after leaving my good friend Dan's house, Noelle, Sierra and I headed east towards my parents house outside of Philadelphia. Some time back I noticed that there was a home shaped like a shoe just outside of York, PA and so I decided that today would be a great opportunity to visit the shoe house.

It was just as advertised: a house shaped like a shoe.
However, there were some nice little surprises like a shoe shaped dog house
(which Sierra really loved) and a shoe fence surrounding the place.
An added attraction for visiting was ice cream. I had a cone, while Noelle and Sierra ate theirs out of dishes.
It was a really nice visit to the type of place that they just don't build anymore!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Buchanan's Birthplace State Park

After our trip to Cedar Creek and Belle Grove NHP, we began heading further north. We stopped for lunch at Five Guys and then headed through parts of West Virginia and Maryland and into Pennsylvania. We got off of I-81 and headed west through Mercersburg to the small town of Cove Gap and Buchanan's Birthplace State Park. I have a thing for visiting the birth sites of terrible presidents. Two years ago we visited the supposed birth home of Andrew Johnson in Raleigh, North Carolina. This year it was the birth site of our 15th president. It is marked by a small pyramid.
There's not much else to the site, though there is a small, pretty creek that winds through. I can now say that I've been to the birth site of the 15th, 16th and 17th presidents!

Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park

Last night Noelle, Sierra and I stayed in the primitive campground at Guest/Shenandoah River State Park. It was an interesting experience as we had to use a cart to wheel our stuff to our campsite. We survived a short rainstorm on a muggy night in the tent. This morning we awoke and headed over to one of our newest National Park Service sites: Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park.

We drove into Middletown, Virginia and found the NPS visitor center in a strip mall. We learned that the site was the scene of a decisive, though seemingly improbable Union victory towards the end of the Civil War. We checked out the exhibits and grabbed a brochure for the self-guided driving tour. Then we set out. We skipped a portion of the driving tour as it wound through mostly-private property where we would have no opportunity to get out and see things.What we did see included the 128th New York Monument
and the very interesting grounds of Belle Grove Plantation.

There is a self-guided tour of the Belle Grove grounds that we took advantage of. Besides the plantation home itself (which was built in 1797),
there was a nice garden,
filled with lots of different flowers.
There were also lots of outbuildings to see, and a simple slave cemetery, its graves marked with crude stone.
Every time I visit slave cemeteries I wonder about the people buried there, who toiled their entire lives only to be buried in unmarked graves.

After visiting Belle Grove we continued our driving tour and then started to make our way north again.