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.
Fork Ridge Trailhead
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.
Fork Ridge Trail
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.
Turks Cap Lily
There were also bee-balm,
bee Balm
and one of my new favorites yellow fringed orchis,
Yellow fringed orchis
along with a few others.
yellow flower

I didn't see any wildlife, other than a few birds and several millipedes.
millipede on log

I slowly made my way further and further down the mountain.
Eric on Trail
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.
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.
sunglasses on tree
I crossed the creek on slippery stepping stones and quickly found myself at the junction with the Deep Creek Trail
Trail Junction
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.
walking 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
walking around Abbott Lake
with great views up to Sharp Top.
Sharp Top and Pond
Eventually the trail entered the woods where Sierra insisted on hiking by herself.
Sierra strolls in woods
We found a few pieces of stone on the trail and Sierra threw them into the lake.
throwing rocks
Then we headed over to the Polly Woods Ordinary to check it out.
Polly Woods Ordinary
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.
cool bridge
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.
snake head
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.
O Baa Baa's House
Our next stop was the World War II Memorial.
WWII day
WWII Emblem
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.
Price of Freedom
Washington Monument from WWII
ducks at WWII

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.
Korean War Memorial

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.
snacking at FDR
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.
Water at the FDR Memorial

After our visit to the FDR Memorial we headed over to the George Mason Memorial.
Eric at Mason
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
in Jefferson 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,
Sierra the Digger
built a sandcastle,
Sierra's sand castle
dipped our piggies in the ocean,
with Katie
and relaxed.
Dad at beach
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.
Ebright Azimuth
Eric and Sierra at Delaware's Highpoint
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.
Haines Shoe House
However, there were some nice little surprises like a shoe shaped dog house
shoe doghouse
(which Sierra really loved) and a shoe fence surrounding the place.
shoe fence
An added attraction for visiting was ice cream. I had a cone, while Noelle and Sierra ate theirs out of dishes.
ice cream at shoe
It was a really nice visit to the type of place that they just don't build anymore!