Adventures in Pine Grove Furnace State Park

pinegrove1My daughter cannot manage to walk up the hill from the bus stop without whining, taking a break, groaning loudly, or just altogether stopping and refusing to go farther.

However, place her in the woods on a hot and humid summer afternoon (after five miles of bike riding!) and make her a hike a rocky trail with a steep incline and a pack of mosquitos hot on her tail, she is good to go.

Children are confusing.

Number 19 on my quest to visit all Pennsylvania state parks was Pine Grove Furnace State Park, and the hike was only one of the highlights.

pinegrove2We biked: The bike trail connects the Furnace Stack Day Area to Laurel Lake. Unfortunately, it is pretty crowded with swimmers and picnickers in certain areas, and in other areas cars are allowed on the trail. It was a little stressful since we had novice riders with us; however, it was a good opportunity to teach the kids to be a bit more aware of their surroundings when riding.

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There were several places to stop along the trail and splash in the creek, which is always my kids’ favorite thing to do. We also took a short (.25 mile) hike along our way on the Swamp Trail  – mainly because I liked the name.

We swam: The beach was crowded, but the kids enjoyed playing in the sand. We often go to Gifford Pinchot State Park to swim, which does not have sand, so they were impressed. Of course, they didn’t want to leave, but I had other plans.

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We hiked: This was the highlight of the trip for me. We climbed .75 mile up the side of Piney Mountain on the Pole Steeple trail. The trail was STEEP and rocky. After five miles of biking earlier in the day, I was a little nervous that this was not the best decision, but the kids pulled through.

The children had two speeds up the mountain. Fast and stopped. They would run ahead – with me calling ridiculous motherly things from behind like “Don’t go too fast!” and “Watch your footing!” They, however, did not need my advice. My children are surefooted on hilly, rocky slopes. My daughter may trip and fall several times during soccer practice on the nice flat, grass-covered field; however, if you add some hazards (steep inclines! jagged rocks! slippery gravel!), she manages to say upright.

When they ran out of energy, they simply stopped. When my husband and I would catch up to them, they would be stretched out on a bed of moss or along a flat rock. As soon as we approached, they popped up and continued their quest to beat us to the summit.

The view from the top is amazing. Just when we had all pretty much run out of steam, we circled a large rock formation, climbed over a few rocks, exited the trees, and … WOW. Everything opened up, and it was just blue sky, trees, and mountains.

My children even managed to slow down, pause, and appreciate the view for a moment. This is noteworthy and the main reason I decided to record this adventure.

It was definitely a hike worth taking.

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What’s your favorite adventuring spot with your kids?

5 Things I Learned in the Everglades

everglades4Recently, my family and I traveled to Florida for ten days. We spent the majority of our time lounging on the beach but managed to squeeze in some adventuring, as well. One of the highlights of our trip was a fifteen mile tram ride through Everglades National Park in Shark Valley. On our ride, we saw a variety of birds, alligators, snakes, and turtles. And, a lot of mosquitoes!  Part of the journey included climbing up a 65-foot observation tower for a birds-eye view of the “River of Grass.” It was stunning.

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Toward the end of our vacation, we ventured back into the Everglades, but this time an airboat was our vehicle of choice. Although not as educational, the experience was memorable.  My kids loved the thrill of flying through the water and the sharp turns that inevitably sprayed them with water. I loved weaving in and out of mysterious groves of vines and plants and then popping out into open water and simply seeing the blue, blue sky reflected in the still waters.

everglades1These two experiences were not only fun, but they also gave us all an appreciation for the Everglades.  Along with my newfound appreciation, I also learned several things along the way:

There are so many mosquitoes. Okay, I knew this one ahead of time. That is why I spent $8.00 on bug spray at the gift shop before our tour. What I didn’t know was that if you happen to miss one tiny spot with bug spray, those buggers will find that spot. They will invite their friends. They will invite friends of friends. And, you – poor innocent northerner that you are – will end up with about 20 bug bites on that awkward back of your arm part that leads to your underarm. So. Very. Itchy.

My son is really and truly obsessed with snakes.  He spent the entire tour looking for snakes. Sure the dozens of alligators we spotted were of interest, but it wasn’t until he saw a long, brown snake slither its way across the path that the tour was deemed a success. However, he was a bit disappointed that he did not spot a python. I, on the other hand, was okay with that.

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I never want to be that close to an alligator again. In the last several feet of our tram journey through the Everglades, a very large alligator rested in the grass on the side of the path. We passed it, snapped pictures, and then the tram parked at the station. From there, most passengers doubled back to stand dangerously close to the alligator to pose for pictures. I know that alligators are not that fast or agile on land, but still…

My family and I lingered in the back of the pack. I was not about to get any closer to the alligator but was contemplating waiting around until some of the people cleared out to get a better photo of it. Suddenly, the alligator turned, waddled, and splashed its way back into the water.  It didn’t look that slow to me!

everglades2Despite the heat, mosquitoes, and other dangerous animals, the Everglades is a beautiful place. At one point on our tram ride, the guide stopped the tram and told us to just listen. We couldn’t hear a thing. (Well, except a few mosquitoes buzzing by my ear!) She told us to look around. All we saw was miles of grasses and water and sky.

This moment really highlighted the size and isolation of the land. (Everglades National Park is the third largest National Park in the lower 48 states.) It is wonderful that parks like this exist for this very reason.

Although at home when I look out my back window I see nothing but trees, I can still hear the distant roar of a lawn mower or the squeals of children swimming in a pool down the hill. When I take hikes with my kids in local state parks, we might not see a person for some time, but inevitably, we pass another hiker or biker or can still hear distant noises of cars on nearby roads. There are few places that I visit regularly that I can only see and hear nature and nothing else.

I want to go to more places like this.

I will keep taking my kids on family adventures. I love that we can travel and explore together as a family. I love how we have a shared bank of stories and experiences to draw from that are not just part of our ordinary lives.

Yes, I greatly enjoyed the week of beach sitting and margarita drinking sandwiched in-between our two Everglades adventures; however, I think it is the exposure to new places and the exploration of nature that we will remember most. I’m happy that my children will grow up learning to appreciate nature. Hopefully, they will understand the importance of having national parks like this and always have their eyes open to the wonders of the natural world.

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Thanks for reading! What national parks have you visited? What’s your favorite? We are headed to Acadia National Park next.

 

Bike Trail Adventures with Kids

biking.coverSuddenly, we are a family of bicyclists. At the end of April, my children learned to ride bikes without training wheels, which prompted me to purchase a bike to keep up with them. My husband quickly followed, and within one week of our new bike purchases we visited three bike trails with the kids. We may be addicted …

Stony Creek Rail Trail (Dauphin County, PA)

This was our first experience riding on a bike trail all together. In fact, we literally purchased my bike on the way to the trail. I have not owned a bike in years, and I’m pretty sure that this was the first NEW bike I’ve ever had. (Thanks for all of your hand-me-downs, sis!)

The ride started off rather ominously. As soon as we entered the trail, a woman warned us that another couple had seen a rattlesnake on the trail. Great! Wobbly children on bikes and venomous snakes slithering close by. What could go wrong?! I was paranoid the entire ride, but I am happy to report we did NOT encounter any snakes. (Of course, my son was disappointed by this.)

stonycreek.jpgThe trail runs through the woods and is beautiful and quiet – far from roads and traffic noises – and Stony Creek was visible through the trees during most of our ride. We passed the occasional bicyclist and a few fisherman, but it was not crowded at all.

We road for about 3 miles, and I was amazed at the kids’ stamina. The only negative aspect of our ride was a slight case of poison ivy my daughter picked up from her off-trail adventures.

Heritage Rail Trail – Northern Extension (York County, PA)

railtrailWe started the trail at John C. Rudy County Park – the very beginning of the Northern Extension of the Heritage Rail Trail. The first part of the trail runs along the road, which made me nervous. There was a high curb separating the trail and the road, but I kept envisioning my daughter somehow careening overtop of it and out into traffic. Thankfully, she did not.

This was our first experience with hills and both kids proved their grit. We rode about 1.5 miles before we looped around some baseball fields, and then turned around under a road overpass.  The kids thought it was pretty amazing to be under the road.

Overall, it was a nice trail, just a little busy and nerve-wracking at the beginning with all of the cars speeding by. I plan to pick up the trail where we left off, though.

Swatara State Park, Bear Hole Trail (Lebanon and Schuylkill Counties, PA)

This was our most ambitious ride yet. We ended up going over 5 miles! This also marks the first time I ever heard my son say he was tired while riding a bike.

There were more hills than expected, but lovely scenery. The trail follows a stream, and I imagine we will return here to ride AND splash in warmer weather. Unfortunately, it was chilly, and then it rained our entire 2.5 miles back to the parking lot. The only real drawback was constant noise from the highway, which was not far off for most of the ride. (I think we were just spoiled by starting our riding adventures at Stony Creek, which is so isolated.)

swataraAlong the trail is a fossil pit, which was one of our main draws to the location. The pit was only .5 mile from the parking lot. With a hammer and chisel, my kids were content to dig and chip at the rocks. We found a couple of little fossils of shells, but nothing too amazing. It seems the fossil pit has been pretty much cleaned up; however, childhood imagination proved strong and the kids enjoyed the experience.

We rode out to Bordner Cabin, an old log cabin situated in front of a waterfall. The cabin is noted for its craftsmanship. In the 1930s, teacher Armar Bordner, with the help of some of his students, built the cabin using only material found near the site. When Swatara State Park was formed in 1987, Bordner was allowed to stay in his cabin until he passed away in 1994.

The kids loved running around the cabin and pretending they lived there. My husband and I enjoyed relaxing at the picnic table and enjoying the waterfall view. The small waterfall runs only feet away from the cabin. It is a beautiful spot.

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I was dreading the ride back due to the fact that my daughter was already complaining when we reached the cabin. The hills were a bit much for her, and on the way to the cabin she panicked going down a hill and ended up crashing. The result:  a scraped knee and a new fear of hills. Fortunately, she didn’t let her fears get in the way for long.  The 2.5 miles back to the car went rather quickly, and we even stopped to dig for more fossils in the rain.

We were all exhausted on the way home, but my daughter summed it up best: ” I love going on family adventures!” Me, too, girl. Me, too.

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I love that my kids are getting old enough that we can all enjoy doing some of the same activities togethere. What is your favorite family activity?

Locust Lake State Park and Pioneer Tunnel

Exploring Pennsylvania with Kids

Since we have been traveling to more and more Pennsylvania state parks and other attractions with our kids, I’m going to start documenting our experiences.  I don’t necessarily want to review each park or attraction, but just give a little glimpse into our experience. I hope others might find it useful in planning their trips or just getting a feel for the place. 

(I also really want to be able to remember this time with my kids because we are having SO much fun exploring new places and enjoying nature. I hope this love of adventure and appreciation of nature lasts a lifetime.)Read More »

The Lone Lily of the Valley

lily of the valley

Last year, I unexpectedly discovered a lone lily of the valley growing in my yard. Years before, I had planted numerous bulbs, but none had ever bloomed.

I recently had a piece published on Mothers Always Write about the experience of discovering the bloom and the memories of my mother it unleashed. Click this link if you would like to read it: Forgotten Flowers.

Update: I found two more this spring!

Do certain flowers remind you of people you know or once knew?

 

Lessons In Bike Riding

togetherriding

Unexpectedly, both of my children, ages 6 and 5, learned to ride their bikes without training wheels over the weekend. I was not looking forward to this endeavor, envisioning skinned knees and whines of “I can’t do it!”  However, I was determined to dedicate four days to teaching them how to ride a bike. If it didn’t work, we would go back to training wheels.Read More »