Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Smyrna Municipal Park

Never underestimate the value of a town park.

That is the lesson from today's blog post. This one may not be the most informative, or have the prettiest pictures (I forgot the SD card for my camera!) but it is still an important message to keep in mind.
There are times when we don't have hours to spend walking on trails and being super adventurous, but I still want to have some outside time. Generally, this is when I take the boys to a local playground. Sometimes it's on the way home from daycare, other times it is when I only have half an hour to kill, or even when I don't feel like driving far and packing half our life in the car so we are prepared for anything and everything. In reality you could spend several hours at the park and your kids won't be bored. You know why? Because free play. That's why.
Giving your kids the chance to decide what THEY want to do is so crucial to developing creativity and self confidence. I often have to reign myself in from getting bored and saying things like: "Don't you want to go down the slide?" or  "Aren't you tired of the swings, why don't we do something else?" As parents, sometimes we need to just stand back and let them do their own thing, within reason of course. If there are other kids at the playground, it adds a bonus social component that they may not have during our regular adventures in nature. I've noticed that D is most creative when coming up with imaginary scenarios with other children. Places like Smyrna Municipal Park are the perfect place to practice free play because the combination of man made structures and nature gives the kids more options and experiences in one location.

I can't believe I never noticed this before, but the park actually backs up to Duck Creek and in the Winter, you can see the water through the leafless trees. If you remember some of my earlier blog posts, I mentioned that we always try to adventure in places with water because "where there is water, there is life," as proven later in this post.

Potential walking routes

Although there aren't trails at the park, you can still enjoy nature by walking along the tree line perimeter and making a loop back to the center. It's a nice easy workout as well, especially if you are pushing a stroller over the grass and you can choose the distance that suits you best.
See that speck? It's an eagle!
When we visited, we were the only people in the entire park so it was quiet and peaceful. To top it off, a bald eagle flew over us as we were about to leave! Of course I didn't have my DSLR camera when this happened, but if you zoom in really close, you can see it's white head and tail feathers. No matter where we go, somehow we always manage to see something really special on each adventure. Even in the middle of town!

Heavily cropped, awful cell phone picture of the bald eagle

Friday, November 18, 2016

Elk Neck State Park

At the boys' Grammy's request, we returned back to Elk Neck State Park, in Maryland for this adventure. When we visited Turkey Point lighthouse, we spent all our time there and didn't have time to hike any of the other trails. The hilly terrain is pretty unique for this area.
The beaver marsh
There are some positives and some negatives with this trip. One of the first negatives is that the area was somewhat confusing to navigate and with only one main road, you would think it would be a piece of cake.

Here is what we did...
First, we went in on Campground Road. There is a small store and a little playground right at the entrance. We turned right on Stony Point Road to try to get to the parking and playground areas there, (the red line) however the road is only open for people camping there so we had to turn around and go back out to Turkey Point Rd. From there we turned right on to Rogues Harbor Rd. and parked in the boat ramp parking lot. (the green line) There is a fee to enter both of those areas and it's steep in my opinion, $5 a person for out of state. Not sure if they charge for kids, because there was no one manning the booth to ask at the time. We were able to grab a map at the campground booth, however there was no information on the trails regarding length and difficulty so we of course, picked the loop trail that goes around the beaver marsh.
That being said...
#1 ALWAYS do your best to research trails before you leave the house. There may not be maps available when you get there and/or the trails may not be well marked.
2# ALWAYS bring your adventure survival kit. If you have kids in diapers, make sure you pack a diaper and wipes just in case...
We didn't do either of those things. Therefore, this adventure didn't quite go as planned. About 2 minutes in to our hike, we realized a double stroller was NOT going to work on this trail. About 2 miles in to our hike, we began to wonder how far we had gone, where we were and how to take a shortcut back to the car. It wasn't quite panic mode, but more like "we are so done with this hike" mode. So, as you can see from the blue line on the map, we actually crossed over to the trail that was running parallel to ours and went back to the car that way. This in itself was no easy feat, as we had to go through a deep ditch and up a huge hill will the aforementioned double stroller, kids out of it of course.
After some intense googling after the fact, I found out on Wikipedia that the Beaver Marsh Trail is 4 miles long and is rated "difficult." Many times, I will say that if you have a good off-roading stroller with big, air filled tires, you would be able to handle just about anything but this is not one of those times. If you need to have a stroller, this is definitely a trail to avoid. It's narrow and there are numerous places where the trail is blocked by fallen trees. It's hilly, rocky and rooty. I would not label it "difficult" as it wouldn't be that strenuous of a workout without the stroller. If you babywear or have older kids, this would be a great adventure for you.
I had to get the negative parts about this adventure out of the way before I got to the positive things and there are a lot of them! The fall colors were still stunning at Elk Neck and there was such a great variety of trees dropping leaves on the forest floor. We found all sizes, shapes and colors and had fun collecting our favorites.
Despite being a long walk, the boys actually got out and walked a good bit, at times due to necessity because we had to lift the stroller over obstacles, or go up a steep slope. They see so much more when they walk anyway! They ate a snack on a log and in a giant tree stump, played with the roots of a fallen tree and climbed over other fallen trees. I'm noticing a theme here!
Along the way we spotted all kinds of beautiful, surprising and odd things. I had noticed a rock leaning up against a tree and over the years, the tree began to form around the rock. So cool right?? While we were looking at it, D noticed some cracked acorns on top of the rock and told me that a squirrel must have been eating nuts there and left behind the shells. Shocked, I said "YES! You're right!" To be honest, I never would have noticed them, but my 4 year old doesn't miss a thing and it was such a proud mom moment for me. We also found a log with a hole in the middle, a crowned slug moth caterpillar, some gorgeous green moss and a tree that had been an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet for a hungry woodpecker.
Even though this hike was a physical challenge, the positives still outweigh the negatives. I would recommend this, but under the conditions I outlined above: no strollers and bring plenty of snacks/drinks since it's a long one. Additionally, I would highly recommend a late spring visit as we passed through numerous mountain laurel groves that will be stunning when in full bloom at that time of year.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Tyler Arboretum

What better place to go to enjoy autumn splendor than an arboretum?? Never heard of the word? Simply defined, it is a collection of trees. Many public gardens also have a collection of trees, with a focus on other types of plant material such as annuals and perennials. An arboretum is basically the reverse of that; a public garden that displays annuals and perennials, but has a focus on trees and other woody plants.
Located just outside of Philly, which happens to be the garden capital of the world, Tyler Arboretum began in 1825 when over 1000 species of trees and shrubs were planted on the property.
I posted a link for a Groupon to Tyler on my Facebook page a few weeks back and although it was already on my list of places to go to, that bumped it up to the top because I can't pass up a good deal!
Tyler Arboretum is designed with littles in mind. Treehouses galore and numerous natural play areas keep them busy the entire time and even better, kept them intrigued. Each stop is completely different than the one before. They can play music in a giant guitar, be a bird in a nest, cook up a meal, look through a spyglass, find their way through a maze and much more. In the Summer months, you can even visit a butterfly house to get up close and personal with some fluttery friends.

Their favorite exhibit by far was the one pictured below, an "underground" tunnel which led to more tunnels made out of branches. They could have spent the entire time chasing each other through this display and pretending we were monsters on the outside trying to get them.

I especially loved the magical path. Full of fairies, gnomes and whimsy, this section of woodland trail was like a little treasure hunt for D. The "creatures" were tucked in to nooks and crannies and even hung at eye level. When I was a gardener at Mt. Cuba Center, we hid our own little fairies in the gardens for visitors to find so it was so fun to see other gardener's doing the same.

No adventure is truly complete without a little H2O so we made our way to the pond, and of course the boys tossed a few leaves in for good measure! I'm sure it is full of frogs and turtles during the warmer months, but for now it was full of leaves and duckweed. D noticed that some of the leaves were on the bottom of the pond and some were floating. It is amazing to me how a 4 year old notices things like that and is eager to learn the science behind those curiosities. Mother Nature is both a teacher and a classroom.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Turkey Point Light House

I think we were overdue for a little change in scenery when it comes to adventures. Every place we go is different than the one before, but this time we decided to mix it up a little more than usual. So we headed to...
... a lighthouse! Turkey Point Lighthouse to be exact. Located at the junction of Elk Neck River and the Chesapeake Bay, it is on the very end of a peninsula, giving you a great view of the water from all directions. It's also located about 100 feet above water, so you are surrounded by steep drop offs while on the aforementioned peninsula. It was hard to capture just how steep the cliffs were in a photo, but the picture below is a pretty good example. Make sure you keep the kiddos away from the edges and you will be fine though!
Before we went, I scanned the website to find out the trail details so I could prepare with the correct stroller and on there, it said that the parking lot is small and fills up quickly on the weekend. When we arrived, there was not another car or person in sight! Since we are early birds and also because we have to factor in travel time to our schedule, we arrived early, around 8:30 am. On the weekends, the lighthouse is open to the public to climb, but not until 10 am.

So, we made our way out on the .8 mile trail (which is actually a road as well for the people that work at the lighthouse) and as usual, it took us way longer than the average person since the boys are in and out of the stroller every 30 seconds. There were a few hilly spots on the gravel road that took both of us to push the boys up with the double stroller. The two of them are a combined 80 pounds, so even with a good stroller it was still a workout. After awhile, we just had them get out and walk when we got to a hill. We had all of Turkey Point to ourselves which was super cool. There are port a potties and a little gift shop. but it is pretty no frills once you get to the end of the trail. We just wandered around and the boys had a picnic snack while we waited for the light keeper to arrive and open up the lighthouse.
The sign on the door said that kids under 42" were not permitted to enter, so plan on taking turns to go to the top of the lighthouse if you have little littles with you. D was technically tall enough so I let him try to go in, but the stairs were steep and he was scared, so he went back out to wait with Grammy while I went up.

This light station  is the smallest one I've ever been in, as I am used to the ones in the Outer Banks, but it seems as though every light house is unique and that is what is so fun about them.  The view was beautiful from the top and well worth the short climb up the steps and then a little ladder. We were the first ones in it that morning, and D talked the light keeper's ear off asking her one question after the next. 
When we were wandering earlier, we found a smaller trail that loops back around to the main one, but it wasn't wide enough to fit a stroller on, so when it was time to go we headed back the same way we came. We passed tons of families with small kids that were out enjoying nature which made my heart happy! As it turns out, they weren't lying when they said the parking lot fills up on the weekends. By the time we left, it was almost full. If you go, make sure you plan for limited parking, and even try to beat the crowd like we did.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Wicked R Ranch

 We are certainly making the rounds to all the Fall festivities this season! I have no idea why we haven't been to Wicked R before! It is such a cool little place in the middle of nowhere. They are only open on Saturday's and Sunday's for their Fall Fest, so make sure you add it to your weekend schedule. One of the BEST things about them is that they don't charge for parents and the entry price of $8/child includes ALL activities. 

Pony rides
Bull train ride
Obstacle course
Bouncy house
Tricycle track
Carnival games
Tractor pulled wagon ride
Corn maze 
Petting zoo and more


Many other places have the ticket price which all adults have to pay, plus it costs extra for some of the "better" activities so the fun really adds up quickly and if anyone knows me, they know I'm super cheap so I love what a good deal this place is! And I can't even tell you how many times D would say he wanted to do something at other places, so we would buy tickets, stand in line and when it was finally his turn, he would refuse to get on the ride or do the activity so we'd end up giving his tickets to someone else. Wicked R is a very easy going, low pressure type of place.


D LOVED the duck race game where he had to pump water to push rubber duckies down the tube. He could have played with that the entire time we were there and we practically had to peel him off the pump to be able to see anything else!

We had a pretty big moment during our visit to the ranch with D. He has always had more sensory sensitivities than the average kid which leads to bigger fears and more apprehension than average as well. You know those barrel train rides that most kids love? He refused to ride one up until very recently and he's 4 1/2. Now, he's conquered that fear and we are hoping to conquer one right after the next from this point on. The pony ride at Wicked R was something I really wanted D to try. Usually, when he says he doesn't want to do something we just move on but I knew he could do it and I knew he would love it when he did so I begged and bribed until he agreed to try it. When he finally got on the pony, he had the hugest smile on his face and was SO proud of himself! Seeing him achieve this seemingly minute accomplishment made my heart explode and I am so thankful for Wicked R for providing the low pressure opportunity for him to try it on the most gentle, slow pony ever!

We had a ton of fun on this adventure and we hope you will try it too! While you are there, try this scavenger hunt to see how many of these animals you can find at Wicked R!

1. Bison
2. Bull
3. Horse
4. Pig
5. Llama
6. Dog
7. Goat