Wild Horses and Light Bulbs

We spent a weekend in April at Assateague Island National Seashore!

I couldn’t resist a free entry weekend to our National Parks. I also couldn’t resist a chance to get to the beach. Winter has been far too long and the first nice weekend was put to good use.

I knew little about Assateague Island other than it is an island, has a beach, is a National park, and is within reasonable driving distance for us.

We left on Friday evening after picking up and surprising Grandma with an RV trip. We arrived in Dover, DE and spent the night in an overflow Lot for Dover Downs International Speedway. (with permission of course)

Up bright and early, we had an hour drive down into Maryland and embarked on the Visitor Center in Assateague by 10am.

An educational movie enlightened us about the wild horses living on the island and how they came to be there. Fascinated, the girls sat and intently watched and learned before getting wet in the touch tank where they explored the horseshoe crab, welks and clams.

This park was perfect for us combining nature with history and playing at the beach.

We ventured on a nature walk with a ranger from bay to beach and saw wild horses as well as a frog and countless birds.

After our walk we spent some time playing in the sand and collecting shells. This was the first National Park we had been to where they encouraged taking home nature, no more than a gallon bucket of treasures from the beach.

We got crafty by making and learning about the endangered piper plover chick.

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We took some family portraits and finished our junior ranger booklets before getting our badges and heading off for dinner.

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A short ride to a state park in DE and we set up camp for the night; grilling steak, chicken, vegetables and sweet potato fries… mmm. We had s’mores and the girls were able to use their fishing rods for a few minutes as the sun set on a perfect day.

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Sunday was a day to get back because grandma had work on monday; we headed north.

The free entry fees were burning a hole in my passport. I couldn’t help but sneak another adventure into this weekend.

I’d been aching to bring the girls to Thomas Edison’s Laboratory for a long time. I begged Darryl to make the stop but he urged we needed to make it back for his mom’s sake.

A few miles up the road and he was rubbing his eyes, straining to keep them open. He asked if I could take over driving for a while so he could rest.

Ah ha! He rested. I drove. Before I knew it, we were parked in West Orange and staring at the Laboratory of one of the greatest inventors in history. (sneaky, I know)

Three o’clock and the Historic site closes at four. We had little time to waste thus ventured on a self-guided tour of the Laboratory including a musical talk from a ranger and with just moments to spare, we received more badges and were back on the road by four.

Darryl thanked me and said he really enjoyed it! Thomas Edison National Historic Site is right down the road from us and full of information, history and a plethora of learning opportunities. My only regret was that we didn’t have more time to see his house or spend more time exploring the exhibits. We will be back. (when it’s free)

We did leave donations with the parks we visited but Thomas Edison has a per person fee of $7. Reasonable for a small group but we are a group of seven. Most of our Nation’s parks have an entry fee per vehicle, the most expensive fee we ever encountered was $20 at Yellowstone, which did include Grand Teton.

For more information on our National Parks visit their website and be sure to check their free entry dates.
*** I am deeply sorry for the quality of the photos in this post. Not that my previous amateur pictures are anything to write home about but my usual trusty camera gives clear shots and has a nice zoom lens, however, it stayed home and I only had my point-and-shoot; one that has been battered and beaten by little fingers.***

 

 

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NPS FREE ENTRY WEEKEND

 

We are hitting the road again!

Just for the weekend and not too far from home but the sunshine is calling our names.

Urgency to get out there arises from our National Park System’s Free Admission Days; April 18 and 19 is opening weekend for our nation’s most treasured places, and entry fees, although regularly minimal, are waived!

“If it’s FREE, it’s for me!”

I urge you to get up and get out there to visit and support our parks because if we don’t, future generations are at risk of losing these historic and beautiful gems.

The park system relies heavily on visitor contributions and support so we’ll be donating in spite of our waived fees.

If not for the parks, our big trip last summer would not have been as enriching as it was. My patriotic duty is to spread the love I feel for those memories with my readers (if I have any).

When you hear National Park, you may think Grand Canyon or Mount Rushmore but you’ll be surprised to find many right in your own back yard.

Here is the list of participating parks who waive their entrance fees.

Be sure to browse around the nps.gov website for information, trip ideas and web-based ranger programs.

Also, follow along for posts from the road and don’t miss anything by subscribing!

Family on the Road: Portraits

This gallery contains 24 photos.

Family Portrait Photo Album 2014 Thanks to our tripod, a few strangers and my long arm we collected a family portrait from all our favorite places along our 8,000 mile trip. Enjoy!

Our Last Leg

It has taken me months to finish posting about our trip from last summer. I’ve been inundated with life. My apologies. Without further adieu, here it is, Our Last Leg!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014 Day 51

After first learning about Mt. Rushmore and the four most influential presidents of our country, Juniper took a strong interest in Abraham Lincoln. It was crucial to learn more.

We were ecstatic to find out Abe’s boyhood home and birthplace was on our way and part of our National Park System. Most americans don’t know he was born in Kentucky, with Illinois being nicknamed “The Land of Lincoln.” We spent today learning about his family, their struggles on the frontier, and how he acquired some of his many nicknames. We visited the farm he was born at with his actual cabin on display. We learned about his life and death and with all our new knowledge and another badge, we continued through Kentucky.

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We made it to the place where Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia meet and tried to acquire some geocaches. While Darryl fed the girls dinner, I went on a mighty hunt but did not succeed until my fourth attempt.

Feeling some time was waisted, we moved on as far as we could with the PA air so close Darryl kept it moving and stopped just before our home state line.

Thursday, October 2 Day 52

This trip has been more amazing than I dreamed it would be. I would do it again in a heartbeat but home is calling our names.

The last leg is bittersweet as Darryl and I are anxious to get home, Ash expresses her want to “see more places.”

“I don’t want to go home,” she pleads.

Ironically she was the first to mention going home way back on day 20, now after this grand adventure she didn’t want it to end. Who could blame her?

That one statement from my three-year-old made these 8,000 miles, 52 days, 22 states, all the trouble, hassle, heartache, pleasure, fun, sweat, tears, laughter, learning, vomit, diarrhea, vet bills, junior ranger badges, pictures, souvenirs, and MEMORIES all worth it, in those sweet three-year-old words.

“I don’t want to go home; I want to see more places.”

Well, the beautiful thing is we will see more places. After we recharge our batteries, fix all the kinks with our rig, and get through the holidays; we will get that eminent itch and we will go on the road again.

Rest area round of duck-duck-goose:

We made it home in record time with little stops and breaking our travel guidelines; Darryl drove over 500 miles today!

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We were home in our beds by 8:00pm and it never felt so good to stand in my shower ( I think I was in there for over 45 minutes) and flop into my bed and stretch out; it was heaven!

Life Lessons from the Road

Simple living means more memories.

Family bonds grow stronger when you can’t escape each other.

More space means more clutter.

Experiencing life first hand is nourishing to the soul, more so than reading about it in a book or watching it on TV. Without the space, clutter and TV, our lives were spent exploring, singing, talking, DOing.

Time saved from cleaning a smaller space was spent on more enjoyable adventures.

Go with the flow.

Think positive. If you encounter stormy weather, keep moving. Tomorrow is a new day.

Mammoth Heeey Boo-Boo

September 29 Day 49

We woke up 14 miles from the Kentucky line and made our way into Mammoth Cave National Park just before lunch. We checked out the Visitor’s Center and bought our 3:30 cave tour tickets then ate lunch and while Papa Bear and our younger three daughters took rest, I brought Juniper and Lemon to the exhibits in the museum. We learned about the different rocks and how this cave system was formed by an underground river.

 

Upon waking we had about an hour to have a snack, use the restroom and finish our Ranger booklets before descending into the cave.

It was chilly walking down the 62 steps and once inside, our guide showed us into a big “room” where early settlers extracted minerals and used them to process and make gunpowder.

It was cool to see the 200-year-old equipment preserved in here like it was just used yesterday.

Our tour was more of a talk and less of a tour, we barely entered the Mammoth Cave system and then it was time to turn around and come back out.

We were left wanting more cave and less guide.

He did tell us about early cave explorers that died in the cave and because of the cave’s steadfast temperature and humidity, their bodies and artifacts did not decay they would mummify.

 

After our cave talk, we were walking back to the visitor center when one of our many fans…I mean a stranger approaches; comments how beautiful all our girls are, proceeds to count them, comment on my looks and hand each of our daughters a $2 dollar bill. Yep, another random encounter… a day in the life…

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Juniper and Lemon received their 10th Junior Ranger Badges. Then, we went to the gift shop for a postcard and souvenirs. While there, a friendly lady approached and we began talking. Before we knew it, it was 9pm and we were neighbors at a nearby campground exchanging phone numbers.

Some times things just click and this was no exception. Our commonalities linked us inexplicably. It’s eerie and weird that I felt like soul mates with this wonderful couple but fun and comforting to know them and their beautiful family.

It is funny how things work out because we didn’t much enjoy the cave but hope a long-lasting friendship arises from the ashes of the Mammoth Cave and the end of our trip.

Tuesday Sept. 30 Day 50 (holy cannoli… 50 days!)

Jellystone Campground is cute with Yogi Bear and all his friends. This particular place has a humongous trampoline-like-pillow that we all had an absolute blast bouncing around letting off steam. I did some laundry, the kids played at the playground and Darryl caught up on some work.

This slide show is a bit long but the joy is immeasurable!

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This break from the road is just what we all need to replenish our spirits enough for the final push(800+miles).

We’ll stay here and rest one more night and our last leg from Cave City, KY to our home in Pennsylvania will begin tomorrow.

 

 

M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I and Music City

Sunday Sept. 28 Day 48

Ash, since learning the state song, has asked to go to Mississippi, I guess because it’s just so fun to say, it must be the most fun place in the world! It’s not on our itinerary but we’ll be passing through Memphis, a border city just miles from the MS line we obliged our 3-year-old explorer and another dream come true.(even if only for 10 minutes)

We made a geocaching trip out of it which led us to a target parking lot. (whisper: it was in the light post) When we lifted the cover to expose the cache, bugs fell out. Not just any bugs. THE. BIGGEST. BUGS. I. HAVE. EVER. SEEN. ever. Because this one was hers, Ash was excited to grab the container until we saw the bugs. She cried, I ran and Papa Bear was left to fend for himself against these big bugs. Did I mention they were dead?

We scooted around Memphis and entered Nashville to walk the streets of Music City and enjoy burgers at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. As we wandered dusk in the most musical of places in our country we heard rock, country, blues and folk. The music poured from bars, restaurants and mainly from the musicians on the streets.

It was amazing. (Darryl and I will be returning here for sure!) As we waited for our table we danced on the sidewalk and enjoyed the southern sunset.

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Sitting in the restaurant, live music ringing in our ears, the surprising tunes of our favorite playlist including our wedding song which we rarely ever hear without having requested it, we couldn’t help but stand up and dance right there in the middle of the crowded tables.

Nashville is the kind of place I wish we’d planned on spending more time in, we’re anxious to how close we are to home though so off we go!

Health Foodies Fishing

I’ve done some serious soul-searching… in it all I’ve begun overhauling everything in my world to create a happy, healthy stress-free existence. I’d love to be able to share it all with you but I respect you, reader, enough not to leave you floating at the balloon museum…so I’m not giving up. I’ll take you home with us. Then, when I’ve worked all the “other stuff” out, you can try it with me and see if you, too can get happy, healthy and stress-free. If you want.

Wednesday September 24 Day 44

On our way out of the park we went for a walk for a geocache. We met fellow northeasterners and chit-chatted about RV’ing. The heat of the day hit us fast, so we were back on the road in no time.

Another long day of driving and we entered TX and strived for Amarillo. Darryl was craving steak dinner and without Costco or healthy edible options in the grocery store we had dwindled our supplies of snacks and easy meals so we were all craving something other than carrots, macaroni or cheese sandwiches.

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We spent the night in Amarillo and made a point to get grocery shopping as soon as possible.

Thursday, September 25 Day 45

These days of straight driving are long but go by quick. They’re also running together in my mind making it difficult to recount for journalling’s sake.

Into Oklahoma and it’s a “drag-our-feet” kind of day the girls alternated playing with their dolls, singing songs, coloring-workbooks and snacks…lots of snacks. Days like today i pump ’em full of snacks hoping they won’t notice we’ve been riding more than not, lately.

A visitor’s center packed with pamphlets, maps and books proved our suspicions 100’s of miles of nothing; well that’s not entirely true and if you are a Oklahoman, I’m deeply sorry to offend.

Even the friendly volunteer had little to offer besides obvious water parks in Oklahoma City. (not our cup of tea)

We like to go off the beaten path so we picked up the outdoor guide and found a state park close to the interstate with our must-haves, water and electric hook ups, a playground and a minimal camping fee. This park also offered a lake for fishing (something Lemon has asked to do).

It was perfect! Only it was on the other side of the state.

Friday September 26 Day 46

Our mission was to find a grocery store, of which we found…one.

We bought orange juice.

Everything in the store was sprayed with, made with or just chemicals in a box.

Not in line with how we eat and we were sad.

We thought maybe there is no demand for organic non-GMO gluten-free food in a small town grocery so we swallowed hard and ventured the nearby Walmart.

As we’re walking in we see about a dozen locals meandering either in or out and we had an observation: all but one of them was severely overweight.

Darryl and I discuss the cause for this and its a topic for another post, another day but i feel like shaking these sheep and yelling “Wake up! You’re dying a slow miserable death.”

Is it the water? Culture? T.V.? Technology? Education? Lack of options? Just plain stupidity?

EGH!

We picked up what little of “our” food we could find and chugged along across the state landing in Eufala Lake State Park just about lunch time. The girls played while Darryl and I got our fishing gear ready- Off he went with our little cherubs and I blogged while the 3 youngest of our brood slept. We cleaned up , they played, we ate dinner and after a game of bingo we all went to bed.

Awesome side note about Lake Eufala Park: The nature center was educational, fun and just really cool! With an amphibian house we entered a sweltering jungle-like atmosphere to see frogs all over. on the floor the ceiling the windows, we could literally reach out and touch them. The turtles were cute too swimming in the water feature. The main building had its moments as well, the touch table was the highlight but the girls wandered exploring and learning like crazy.

Some fun from today:

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Saturday September 27   Day 47

More fishing, cleaning house and bodies then into Arkansas we go. Rest time ended at a welcome center at the state line and another geocache found.

We walked around and stretched our legs before eating dinner at our favorite pastime, Panera Bread in Fort Smith.

Miles and miles and hours and hours to make it into Forest City, AR where we crashed. Not literally, figuratively we were exhausted!

This part of the trip is just as boring and miserable as I had agonized over it in Las Vegas.

We have the best kids in the world though, occupying themselves with card games, pretend play, Nintendo DS, watching movies quizzing each other in Math problems, reading stories, telling jokes and simply being sweet and silly.

I know riding down the road may sound miserable but we all had fun while looking forward to getting home.

Full of hot air

Tuesday September 23…. Day 43

New Mexico is warm at 7am. Lazily I went into the convenience store for coffee, juice and fruit. We ate breakfast and shuffled into the trading post just after they opened their doors.

The two-story gift shop was littered with wooden beams and indian artifacts mostly pottery and jewelry but the girls found these handmade dolls that are just darling and I fell in love with a turquoise ring with onyx inlay! As we wait for our purchases to be wrapped up, the sound of pounding metal is in the background. Oak and I follow the noise to see a lady pounding silver strips with a mallet. She’s preparing them for the craftsman to fashion them into earrings, necklaces or whatever their destiny.

It makes us feel good to support the locals and make it a constant decision not to purchase anything that isn’t home(USA) made.

The girls even know why we don’t, or hardly ever step foot in a Wal-Mart “China-crap”

We kept heading East on I-40 and into Albuquerque for a visit to the balloon museum.

This trip is filling up with fulfilling dreams. The trip in itself is my long time dream come true only my original version (quite askew) involved only me and a Volkswagen. Years later, more dreams piled up; like seeing the Redwoods and driving through a tree or walking along the Grand Canyon; riding a “duck” down the Wisconsin River or visiting Mount Rushmore.

If you’ve known me personally or been to my house you’ll see balloons- paintings, calendars, puzzles, sun catchers, garden wind spinny thingy. Hot Air Balloons Everywhere!

When Darryl and I officially got engaged, his proposal was accompanied by a gift certificate for a Hot Air Balloon Ride. In fact he expressed we would have been in a Hot Air Balloon for the proposal if life hadn’t gotten in the way, as it too often does.

See, at the time, Darryl was about to receive a corneal transplant and the altitude and pressure would put him in danger. So, we waited- then a year later we were married and a few short weeks after expecting Ash’s arrival.

needless to say we’ve been busy working, having babies, and just living our life.

Well, this day I didn’t ride in one but I learned a lot and we got to play with simulators, try ballooning experiments and see a ton of memorabilia. It was a very special place and the very next best thing to an actual Balloon ride. It’s the kind of day and place I will never forget!

After lunch, we worked our way almost clear across the state and into Santa Rosa.

I feel bad coming into towns like this-more empty lots, dim lights and boarded windows. A motel, gas station, bank and grocery store.

A grocery store with not more than five aisles. A grocery store with dusty cans and brown meat-meat that’s been frozen -thawed and relabeled because they just can’t throw out another piece of it. They’re about to go under holding onto a thread of beer sales and the ever popular rice and beans meal of the locals.

This town sits on historic Rt. 66. A town that’s flailing in this terrible economy and corporatacracy of Wal-Marts and interstates. I’m again reminded of Radiator Springs.

Towns once filled with life and lights are now dead and dim. Crippled.

So, what brought us here, you ask?

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While looking for a place to spend the night, we found a campground here in Santa Rosa Lake State Park. The fee is minimal and we managed full hookup with a great lake view.

It was quiet and peaceful with a playground where Darryl took the girls for a while so I blogged before we all showered and hit the hay.

Petrified and Painted

We continue our tour of the nation’s parks, something we hadn’t planned on but after Mount Rushmore have made it our mission to visit as many as possible along the way. We’re loading our sashes with badges and patches galore!

Monday, September 22 Day 42

We woke up surprised at the base of a mountain and continued East on I-40. Something made me get off the interstate in Winslow. It might have been a crying hungry baby or ants-in-the-pants of my two-year-old but Darryl had an epiphany in the Winslow Visitor’s Center.

He was standing on a corner in Winslow, AZ. Just like the Eagles song Take it Easy.

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We learned after the popular song topped the charts, an artist commissioned a statue that now stands at a historic landmark corner. In fact the corner is classified as a park complete with a mural and permanently parked flatbed Ford!

Among the shops and tourists, we took our turn taking pictures and standing by the “man.”

As we were leaving Darryl said he never knew that just down the street from his regular truck stop he frequented was a very cool thing.

It’s a great day. We blessed a hungry man in need with food and water and went on our way.

Expecting an actual forest, Darryl was disappointed in the park. We entered and made our way to the museum. He asks, “this is it? where are the trees?”

Petrified trees are not trees at all. Not anymore. They also can be found anywhere in the world.

This place, The Petrified Forest National Park, though holds the world’s largest natural collection in one location.

These are ancient trees that grew some 200 ft. tall thousands of years ago in a rainforest that used to be Arizona. Dinasaur-like creatures climbed on their limbs and over time, eras passed. There was a great flood. The trees were ripped from the earth and carried away. They were water-logged with clay, sand, silt and sediment. All the while the earth’s plates shifting as crystal formed and inhabited the wood.

Darryl laughs at my analogy but it reminds me of zombies. The rock comes up to the tree and says, “now you will become like me, I’ll take you over.”

The transformation takes decades but eventually this masterpiece is formed and it is beautiful.

Unfortunately, preservationists weren’t the first to discover this treasure chest of history. No. It was explorers, settlers and entrepreneurs looking for riches and fortune out west.

They stumbled upon the wood and saw quartz. Saw $$$.

They used dynamite to split the rocks and extract anything that could fetch a price so we are now left with small chunks of trees with holes in them.

Sad, but true and fascinating to learn about their awesome journey and this place. I’m proud to say it’s protected by our National Park Service, for now. Every U.S. Citizen needs to do their part.

By visiting the parks, purchasing or just donating we can ensure they will continue to provide our children’s children with the awe-inspiring beauty we’ve witnessed here today.

After the Petrified Forest the drive back to the interstate is gorgeous as it is littered with more geologic history in the Painted Desert. Wood, rocks, hills and valleys. the view from the road is one the best throughout our trip. It really looks like someone took a paint brush and chose all these earthy tones to paint this place.

Back on I-40 East and out of Arizona, we tried to find indian reservations without straying from our path and it proved difficult so we settled for trading posts and gift shops to learn about the local tribes. In Gallup, our final stop for the night was a trading post that had closed for the day so we camped in their lot.

A Canyon is Anything but

What’s in the Grand Canyon?

Nothing.

Or is there?

This place is filled with many things one of the most beautiful places in the world (my world) is filled with magic. Beauty. The awe-inspiring look on first time visitors (mine included) reflects out of this trench in the earth. A trench dug out of the earth that stretches for hundreds of miles. Standing on the rim it goes as far as the eyes can see.

It’s full of fearless visitors climbing out to the edge of the cliff for that all important selfie and status update to share on instagram. it’s full of pounding hearts, trembling hands and sweaty foreheads of the many climbers, hikers and the like.

Day 41 Sunday, September 21

We packed up and checked out of the campground to make the 65 mile journey to the canyon in our RV.

Travelling much lighter with only one stroller a nursing cover, diapers and some water we went to the Yavapai Geology Museum for the Geo-Glimpse Ranger talk. Darryl especially enjoyed learning about the canyon’s history and origin. I was particularly freaked out with how cavalier the ranger was leaning on the guard rail at the edge of the south rim’s cliff.

After our 30 minute “schooling” we trekked along the Rim’s trail following a timeline of rocks and gazing out over the edge high above the Colorado River.

I’m in awe of the kids and how they don’t take it for granted but also don’t seem the least bit phased by the majesty either.

They’re just here with us walking along rubbing the ancient bedrock chunks displayed along the trail.

The trail, a little over 1.5 miles brought us to the Vercamp’s Visitor Center where we finished our booklets and toured the gift shop.

We wandered around to find a ranger for our badges but wasn’t resolved until a shuttle bus ride back to the RV and drive to the Canyon Village Visitor’s Center in the nick of time-they locked the doors for the day just as we entered.

Badges in hand and the sun setting we ate dinner and started out of the park.

Next stop the Petrified Forest!