For my 39th Birthday Hike, we made a special family trip out to Shenandoah National Park. We decided to hike the Whiteoak Canyon Falls Trail. We learned about it from Bob Canton’s Northern Virginia Day Hike page. We noticed he ranked Whiteoak Canyon Falls a 5– the same rating he gave Old Rag. We knew Old Rag is spectacular, even when you are hiking in Vibrams, so that was instantly an excellent endorsement for Whiteoak Canyon!
Spring is a good time* to see waterfalls because there is usually a lot of ammunition. Whiteoak Canyon Falls Trail sports multiple waterfalls, including the second largest falls in Shenandoah National Park. From the parking lot next to Sky Land, the trail to the Upper Falls is pretty wide. You are hiking downhill, but it’s not especially steep. The trail does get rockier as you get closer to the falls, but my toddler saw that as a perk. :)
The trail to the Upper Falls skirts along the creek, so you get plenty of water views.
And the Upper Falls themselves are gorgeous. There is a well marked viewing area.
Once you pass the Upper Falls, the trail gets rockier and steeper. You are still heading downhill to get to the Lower Falls, but if you’re doing a round trip like we were doing, you’re gonna have to hike back up. As luck would have it, Sagan was pretty tired at that point, so he moved to the Ergo Baby where he stayed most of the rest of the hike.
We actually thought the Lower Falls were a little more scenic than the Upper Falls. We found a nice flat rock to sit and have some lunch. On the menu– Avocado, Cashews, Red Peppers and for little Dyson– pureed carrots.
Our favorite part of the hike was not either waterfall. On the trail between the Upper Falls and the Lower Falls, we passed a rock wall that was almost a waterfall in of itself. All the spring’s thaw above was raining down the rock. The afternoon sun was positioned perfectly to give us our own little personal rainbow… or as Sagan called it, a “Rainbow Dash” (We watch My Little Pony – Friendship is Magic at home).
*Spring is good time, but it is not the best time to see waterfalls. The best time would be the coldest, most frigid part of winter… when you can see Frozen Waterfalls. : )
If you are ever feeling small and helpless and need to see how even the little creatures of this Earth can have an impact, hike this trail and see the “accomplishments” of the tiny Woolly Adelgid. By just feeding themselves on the sap of the hemlock trees, they have dramatically changed the landscape. In short– they’re killing the hemlocks. In large numbers. Really large numbers.
Part of the trail to the upper falls winds through what was once a vibrant hemlock forest. Although I had seen ailing hemlocks here and there on my hikes, I had not witnessed so much tree carnage in one spot. And it’s amazing to me how different this section of the forest felt. The deciduous trees hadn’t yet woken up for the spring. I would have thought naked hemlock trees would just blend in with slumbering oaks and maples, but they didn’t. Their skeletal trunks and the snags of broken branches announced their presence. I was reminded of a passage from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.
Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds. And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like “Poo-tee-weet?”
But this section of forest was eerily silent. No birds to say what there is to say after a massacre. Even our two year old chatterbox, stopped talking and just stared from his Baby Ergo, as if something instinctual, something deep in his brain adopted from our tree-dwelling ancestors told him, “This forest is different.”
On a more lively subject, the trail was crossed by a small herd of deer on our way back to the car. It made for an excellent end to our journey.
Sappy Closing on Birthday Hikes
When I started celebrating my birthday with a hike nine years ago, I hiked alone. Well, with my dogs. I took selfies before I knew they were selfies. : ) I would have great days and I would cherish my annual birthday hike, but then in 2009, suddenly I had a boyfriend to hike with me and that was quite nice. Birthday Hike 2010, that boyfriend and I practiced our first wedding dance surrounded by Long-Leaf Pines. Birthday Hike 2011, I hiked with our first son squirming in my belly. Birthday Hike 2012, that son took his first assisted steps on the Appalachian Trail. Birthday Hike 2013, I was pregnant with my second son while I watched my first one run around the boardwalk in front of Maryland’s largest cascading falls (denying me a nice photo-op). And this year, that second son hiked with us.
I used to hike alone on my birthday. Now I hike with my family. Birthday hikes just keep getting better and better! : )
More photos of our Whiteoak Canyon Falls hike can be found on my Flickr site.
Whiteoak Canyon Falls (Round Trip to from Skyline Drive to Lower Falls)
Length: 7.3 miles
Elevation Gain:1100 Feet
Lake Ridge, Virginia has an epic playground. It’s aptly named “Fantasy Playground.” We’ve only been there a couple of times, but it turns out two of those visits were almost exactly a year apart. So I present, the Tire Tunnel Compare:
It’s been a while since I’ve done a Season Compare! Here’s one from our Bull Run Mountains Conservancy hikes. On the Chestnut Ridge Trail, between the Mountain Trail and the Quarry Trail, there is a dead tree. Here’s that dead tree in September of 2012 and then again November of 2013. Enjoy!
For the second year in the row, Ryan and I participated in the Friends of the Occoquan River Cleanup. Last year, my mother watched young Sagan at home. Meanwhile, we launched our kayaks from the Lake Ridge Park Marina. Without children, we were hardcore productive and picked up tons and tons and tons of trash.
Of course, there was a challenge with last year’s cleanup. : )
If you want to remember that you are nearly 7 months pregnant, getting in and out of a kayak may sufficiently jog your memory. :). #fb
— Vicky Somma (@TGAW) April 14, 2013
This year, we didn’t take advantage of the free babysitting. We decided to clean up with the two boys. We stayed land-born, moseyed down to the Town of Occoquan Town Hall, signed in, and picked up a trash bag. Two year old Adela joined us with her Daddy. With two toddlers and an infant, we found ourselves slower… and a lot less productive than last year. Our little group of 2 Daddies, 2 Toddlers, 1 Mommy, and 1 Infant totaled 1 Bag of Trash. But hey, that’s one less bag of trash out there on the banks of the Occoquan. And, boy, it was super cute to watch the kids help. : )
How do you pick up trash with a sleeping infant in the MobyWrap? Squatting. Lots and lots of squatting! My thighs were pleasantly sore the next day. : )
My favorite shot of the day– an action shot. My husband throws trash uphill.
After we turned in our one bag of trash, our crew had a delightful lunch outdoors at the Blue Arbor Café. As much fun as 2013′s River Cleanup was, I do have to say, 2014 just might have been even better. : )
More pictures of the Friends of the Occoquan River Cleanup 2014 can be found on my Flickr site.
Living in Occoquan, our family is surrounded by parks– Occoquan Regional Park, Fountainhead Regional Park, Mason Neck State Park, Pohick Bay Regional Park, Occoquan Bay Wildlife Refuge, Veteran’s Park, Julie J. Metz Wetlands Area, Leesylvania State Park, all within striking distance of a family adventure. We even have Prince William Forest National Park just 10 miles south of us. But sometimes… sometimes I miss the mountains. As luck would have it, with a 42 minute drive, we can be at Bull Run Mountains Conservancy. It’s probably my favorite hike in the Northern Virginia area.
All our trips there have been accompanied by children. We’ve hit up the Quarry Trail and the Chestnut Ridge Loop Trail which are pretty in their own right.
But the cream of the crop is a loop made with the Ridge Loop Trail and the Chestnut Ridge Trail. The top— White Rocks Overlook/High Point, which is just stunning.
For the most part, the trail is well maintained and wide, so great for the little hikers.
You do climb roughly 800 feet to get to the overlook. If you want an easier grade, I would recommend going up the Chestnut Ridge Trail. The Ridge Loop Trail is steeper (but still do-able– we carried Sagan up that trail in 2012).
There are tons to see on all the trails – mosses, wildflowers, mushrooms.
One hike I got to see Chestnut Oaks demonstrating their “oak-i-ness” — making acorns!
Up near the top, an extra bonus. American Chestnut trees still exhibiting hope and trying to grow.
We’ve seen the usual squirrels and deer and variety of birds. One time, we got to visually confirm the reptiles are in the mix as well. : )
It may not be as close as some of our other hikes, but the Bull Run Mountains Conservancy hike is one of our favorites.
More photos of our Bull Run Mountain hikes can be found on Flickr here and here.
|White Rocks Overlook Via the Chestnut Ridge Trail
Bull Run Mountains Conservancy
Length: ~4.2 Round Trip
Elevation Gain: Roughly 800 feet
This past weekend, I had some colleagues coming to Baltimore for a conference. Baltimore is only an hour and fifteen minutes away, so my family and I went up to meet them for lunch. While we were in the area, we checked out Port Discovery– a children’s museum whose tagline is “Play with a Purpose.”
That place was AMAZING! It was pretty much a giant 3-story indoor playground. No, make that play arena! It was huge and had so many different themed play areas. Some of our favorites:
We spent a majority of the time at Tot Trails. The padded Tidal Pool area was great for 9 month old Dyson. He could practice standing and crawling without hurting himself. Bonus– loved how the pillows were in the shape of maple, paw paw, and gingko leaves.
I had thought Tot Trails would be of little interest to 2 year old Sagan, but he ended up loving it as well. He was particularly enamored with the wind tunnel that allowed him to catch “butterflies”, riding the turtle, and playing with the flag pole.
And whose childhood would not have been happier with a giant Lite-Brite wall? A giant Lite-Brite Wall!!!
The centerpiece of the museum is a three story tall treehouse, complete with slides and rope bridges. Amazing! On their website, Port Discovery said it was recommended for children five and up, but Ryan and Sagan were able to enjoy the exhibit together.
There was an exhibit call Nano that focused on Nanoscience. On paper, it didn’t sound like it would be that interesting to an infant and a toddler, but they both loved it. Their favorite part– playing with carbon atoms in the hands-on carbon chain exhibit. We actually had to drag Sagan away from it.
Wonders of Water
The big finale of our visit was the Wonders of Water exhibit. It was perfect for Sagan who loves to “splish-splash.” It was also educational for Mommy and Daddy who got to learn about the Archimedes’ Screw. I think Sagan’s favorite part was shooting the musical instruments with a hose to make lots and lots of
We had a fabulous trip to Port Discovery and found it well worth the $13.95 admission fee. It was particularly helpful that we were able to leave for lunch and return for more playing. My only regret is we did not discover this before the polar vortex. It would have been a perfect destination on some of those frigid days where you don’t want to play outside.
More pictures of our Port Discovery outing are on my Flickr page.
Phew, with a toddler and a baby, I find I have to be patient…when it comes to my extracurricular activities. I definitely don’t complete projects nearly as fast as I used to. I have to be satisfied with short bursts of progress, baby steps if you will.
This weekend, I managed to get just a tad bit closer with a couple of projects:
3D Printed Breastfeeding Pendant
It took me a couple of months to eke in Blender tutorials and make time to fix non-manifold edges and the like to make my Origami Owl Breastfeeding Charm. Earlier in March, I ordered a pendant version. I LOVE it. A week ago I took pictures…and this past weekend I finally got everything up on Shapeways. If you covet a breastfeeding pendant, shebam! You can order one now! :)
Pallet Vertical Garden
I also aspire to make a vertical garden out of an old pallet I procured in December, following Life on Balcony’s “How to Turn a Pallet into a Garden” post. December through March the pallet just sat next to the driveway, a visible reminder of my inaction. : ) Two weeks ago, I bought potting soil and landscaping fabric. Last week, I bought the plants. This week I had hoped to plant everything….but I had to settle for just stapling all the landscaping fabric on the pallet while my children played beside me. I didn’t even trim the excess fabric off. So this project is now about 14 weeks in the making. : )
A family friend has this amazing wall in his house dedicated to his favorite photos. I have been wanting to do something similar since December. Six weeks ago, my husband purchased picture frames for me which have sat in our foyer ever since. They too are an effective souvenir of my inaction. A guest entered our house last week and announced, “Vicky, these picture frames are still here!” Luckily, I was able to report forward progress. Two weeks ago I picked out 29 “finalists” and ordered 5×7 prints. One week ago, I figured out who to lay out the frames. What was my accomplishment this week? Brace yourself!
I. Picked. Up. The. Printed. Pictures.
A remarkable feat, I know. :)
My Mom’s Taxes
This one is almost done…really. Last week, I got the bulk of everything gathered and entered. Just a couple more items and I can scratch this one off my list.
This one was a bit easier this week. The weather warmed up, so it’s easier to merge “time with my sons” with “exercise.” Long live that jogging stroller! I got a 5K run in with Dyson during the week, tons and tons of walking with the boys, and I actually made it to the gym for some weight lifting over the weekend. I’m far cry from a super-athlete, but I am pleased my husband and I have managed to weasel exercise into our schedules.
Write My Friend Meg
I have a friend battling cancer for the second time. A bunch of people have been sending her letters and cards. She’s been thrilled to be getting real mail every day when she checks her mailbox. Anyway, I have a goal to write her once a week. I am falling short on that. I’ve only sent her three letters in the past five weeks. D’oh!
P.S. Meg’s been particularly touched/surprised when she hears from strangers, so if you are interested in mailing her something, let me know!
Uh… yeah. Definitely room for improvement on this one. I have plenty of content ideas. Northern Virginia, family-friendly hikes alone is easily a dozen-plus posts. I just don’t seem to ever get to it. But I got this post in, so maybe one day. : )
Trees on Mars Stories
Finally, I’ve continued work on a collection of short stories about the people involved in the “tree phase” of terraforming Mars (one of which was published at Luna Station Quarterly). I have about 35,000 words edited and pretty finalized…but I have another 30,000 still needing attention. This one, progress is probably the slowest. It is the hardest hobby to do with my children awake, but I’m sneaking in a half hour here and there right before I fall asleep.
Slowly, but Surely. Slowly, but Surely. Slowly, but Surely. When you have a baby, I’ve found they aren’t the only ones making baby steps. : )