Posts filed under ‘Hiking’
Today was a lovely spring day and with more winter-like temperatures in the forecast for Monday, I decided to take my 20-month old son out for a quick hike this afternoon. I aimed to take him to Leesylvania State Park, but while we were on Neabsco Road, I spied a tell-tale trailhead sign, so I turned around to investigate. It looked like a humble little park, the Julie J. Metz Wetland Bank, but boy, it was just a wonderful hidden gem.
This trail system was absolutely perfect for a toddler! The trails were flat and at the same time, they had numerous bridges and wooden walkways to intrigue your child (and keep you elevated out of the wetlands). We had some rain earlier in the day, so we had a bonus perk– muddy puddles! My son loved splashing in them, stomping in them, and then he leaned down and put his hands in. At that point, he didn’t love muddle puddles so much (he despises dirty hands).
Honestly, I wasn’t paying that much attention to the trees. I did spy some flowering catkins and the tiniest of baby leaves making their first spring appearance. There was plenty of evidence of Sweet Gum, from the ample collection of spikey balls on the ground to the distinctive “alligator-wood” of the branches. I also noted American Sycamore. I don’t recall seeing any Red Maples.
Pawpaw Alert! I did see a sign that indicated there are pawpaws in the park. Translation: This might be a good park to visit in September. : )
Like Huntley Meadows Park in Fairfax, Virginia this little park gives you a lot of bang for your buck when it comes to wildlife. So many birds were singing and so loudly that it almost seemed as if we had a radio on. As you can expect, waterfowl were plentiful. As dusk neared, we had a wonderful serenade of spring peepers. It was reminiscent of the Spring Peeper Serenade from my 35th Birthday, though not quite as loud. During our hike we also saw lots of souvenirs left behind by beavers (in the form of gnawed tree stumps) and deer (in the form of many, many, many footprints in the mud).
Julie J. Metz Wetland Bank was an accidental find, but I highly recommend it, particular to families with small children. I don’t think we could have had a more enjoyable afternoon.
|Julie J. Metz Wetland Bank
Elevation Gain: FLAT!
Directions from Occoquan, Virginia
Take Route 1 South
Turn left on Neabsco Road
Trailhead will be on your left in a couple of miles
This past June, Sagan went on his first outing with a hiking buddy his own age. He was invited by young Adela (roughly six months his junior) to check out Fairfax County’s Huntley Meadows Park. Huntley Meadows encompasses 1425 acres, including some impressive freshwater wetlands. The trails are short, completely flat and well maintained. You aren’t going to get your heartrate up in Huntley Meadows, but if you are in the market for some wildlife, this is the place to go to.
We started at the Visitors Center and took the Cedar Trail to the observation tower to take in the wetlands. Afterwards, we took the boardwalk for a more intimate encounter with the wetlands. Finally, the Heron Trail took us on the last leg of the journey back. Overall, I think we walked between 1 and 1.5 miles.
On the tree front, I saw a variety of oaks, red maples, black gum and hickory. The wetlands sported swamp rose and some amazingly fragrant white flowers and lots and lots of grasses.
The real highlight of the trip was all the animals that were commonplace in the park. Almost immediately, our companion found a small frog in the parking lot. From there, we would see and hear many more frogs. Turtles were everywhere as where geese and herons. We saw a red-winged blackbird. Although we didn’t get the see the beavers, their handiwork was readily visible.
Thanks to the beautiful landscape and all the animal-sightings, our outing was a memorable one. But there was an additional characteristic to the trip that we could appreciate as new parents — it was short and fast! When we finished our loop, we still had plenty of time to tackle all the tasks that waited for us back home.
Thank you to Adela and her father for inviting us along!
More pictures of our outing to Huntley Meadows Park are available on my Flickr site.
|Huntley Meadows Park
3701 Lockheed Blvd
Length: Varies 1.5 – 2 miles
Elevation Gain: Neglible
Directions from Occoquan, Virginia
Take Route 1 North towards Ft. Belvoir/Mt Vernon for 11.4 miles
Turn left on Lockheed Blvd
Turn left on Harrison Lane
There is no Koala Kare on mountains. At least, the mountains worth hiking. : ) So last weekend when Sagan needed some “diapie attention” on Bull Run Mountain, it was a pleasant surprise to spy a very conveniently shaped boulder right in our vicinity. It was even convex to deter rolling. : )
Thanks for the help, Nature!
This past weekend, our little family went out to Broad Run, Virginia for a day of hiking at Bull Run Mountain. This wasn’t 13-month-old Sagan’s first hike. It also wasn’t his longest hike. But it will go down as the hike where he fell in love with the CamelBak.
It started on the Quarry Trail. I stopped my husband, Ryan, for some water. Once I finished up, Ryan decided to give little Sagan a try.
Sagan was smitten almost instantly, though admittedly he needed help getting water out. As we climbed up the hill on Ridge Loop Trail, Sagan took another sip.
He also learned to share with his Daddy.
By the time we reached the views at the top of the mountain, Sagan could manage the CamelBak tubing on his own.
The CamelBak’s appeal probably stems from its similarity in texture with the pacifier or bottle. But let’s suspend disbelief momentarily. Let’s just pretend that Sagan was destined to love CamelBak from the very day he was born… when his Mommy sipped from a CamelBak Nalgene bottle during labor. : )
My most steadfast hiking buddy passed away this morning. His name was Jimmie (after the band Jimmie’s Chicken Shack). He spent 15 years and 4.5 months on this beautiful earth.
I have written before how adopting this small puppy from the Montgomery County Humane Society in 1997 impacted my life (See Happy 10th Birthday, Jimmie Dog). Jimmie’s adoption led to an active lifestyle. Finding adventures for my dog introduced me to my love of hiking and the mountains. His mere presence meant I was never really “alone” on any endeavor so he gave me the confidence (placebo?) to head into the woods alone and find my independence. He is a dog I will remember with gratitude.
The trails Jimmie has hiked over the years can be measured in “hundreds of miles”. Along the way, he has seen some amazing views. The slideshow below is an excerpt of some of the scenery we shared together. (You don’t have to have the attention span for all the slides, but do please note at how many slides there are. Epic!)
Last night, Ryan, Sagan and I took Jimmie across the river to Occoquan Regional Park. Jimmie was too weak to walk, so we drove to the park and we carried him to the shoreline. We sat under a sycamore tree. We watched ducks commute and ospreys tend to their young. We listened to the summer buzz of cicadas and people splashing on the west shore of the river. The sun set and together Jimmie and I took in one final view.
One Last View (Photo by Ryan Somma)
I love you, Jimmie Dog. I wish you happy trails.
More pictures of Jimmie’s Last Outing can be found on my Flickr site.
In February, we snuck in a family hike to Mason Neck State Park. It’s an 1800 acre park surrounded by the Pohick and Belmont Bays. My mother likes us to try to tire out her dog, so her dog “Willy” joined us. On our drive there, we passed by other parks and trails I had no idea existed. I grew up in this area, but there is still so much left for me to explore!
There are a little more than 8 miles of trail in the park– all flat and easy! Three of the trails (Beach, Dogue and High Point) are handicap accessible. This sets the park up to be very conducive to family hikes. We did have to pay a small vehicle fee of $4, still a great deal for an entire afternoon of fun.
We started at the Wilson Spring Trail, went along the Bay View Trail. Next we took the Beach Trail to Kent’s Creek Trail back to our parking lot. We did a quick loop on the Dogue Trail before heading back home. The only trail we missed was the Eagle Spur Trail.
Off the Bay View Trail we saw a nice patch of Mountain Laurel that will be worth a revisit come blooming time. I found sycamores along the shoreline to be as captivating as usual.
We saw snail shells in the marsh water on the Bay View Trail and plenty of water fowl throughout. One of the more interesting “fauna spottings” was a replica of a Bald Eagle Nest off the Beach Trail. Although this particular nest was built by boy scouts, I was still taken aback. I had no idea bald eagle nests would be so large.
We very much enjoyed our trip to the park and look forward to the return trips we will most definitely will be taking in the future.
|Mason Neck State Park
Entrance Fee $3 Weekday, $4 Weekend
Length: Varies – 8 miles of trail in the park
Elevation Gain: Neglible
Directions from Occoquan, Virginia
Take I-95 North
Get off Exit 161 U.S. 1 N toward Fort Belvoir/Mt Vernon
Turn right onto VA-242 East
Turn right onto Harley Rd.
Turn right into the park
Ryan Somma and I had a bit of our own version of “March Madness” this year. Our work had three big upgrades/migrations all in the same month which has kept us incredibly busy and required our continued attention over the weekends. Our first non-workday in March fell on the 17th when we went out for my birthday hike. Our next day off was on the 22nd when we accompanied AmiExpat’s Christina and her two sons to Luray Caverns.
Located just outside of Shenadoah National Park, Luray Caverns was discovered in 1878. The one hour tour takes you along 1.25 easy miles through the caverns. Strollers are permitted in the caverns. However, there are two sets of stairs. We found our usual Moby Wrap to be a wonderful compliment to the tour.
Family Portrait in Cave (Photo by Christina)
Although the caverns are considered an “active cave”, the formations only grow a cubic inch every 120 years. That means young Sagan’s eyes were seeing beauty that for all intensive purposes is identical to the beauty I saw when I last visited in high school.
I found how slowly the formations grow to be the most thought-provoking aspect of the tour. Some of the formations, like the drapery of Saracen’s Tent, were thin and delicate. Some, like the Double Column or the Giant Redwood, towered formidably over us. Some were yellow, some were orange, some were alabaster white. But all the formations shared a commonality–they were formed slowly, drip by drip, over the course of millions of years. We were witnesses to the power of small, almost invisible, change and what amazing and intricate things can be accomplished with time. I was looking upon stone but I left with a much greater appreciation of the organisms above ground.
Stalagmite (Photo by Ryan Somma)
Dream Lake (Photo by Ryan Somma)
Draperies (Photo by Ryan Somma)
Other Visitors in Luray Caverns (Photo by Ryan Somma)
After the caverns, we visited the Garden Maze. I thought I was being all sneaky by looking at an aerial shot in Google Maps the night before. When we arrived, all the brochures and signs featured a similiar view. It turns out knowing the layout doesn’t really help. You weren’t merely trying to find an exit, you had to first find four hidden stations along the way. Google Maps also didn’t help us avoid misleading signs.
Section of Garden Maze (Photo by Christina)
We Fell For It
We finished our day with a quick and yummy lunch at nearby Artisan’s Grill. We may have only had two days off in March, but with a filled day like this one, we sure did make up for lost time.
Tickets: $24 per adult, $12 per child (Ages 6 – 12)
Elevation Gain: Roughly two flights of stairs
Length: 1.25 miles for the caverns
The best part about my 37th Birthday Hike was including my eight month old son. We drove by the Appalachian Trail when he was 14 weeks old, but this was the first time Sagan actually got to be on the trail!
He rode most of the way in his Moby Wrap. He slept through most of the ascent and the old apple orchard when we hiked southbound. When he woke up, he got to do some [assisted] hiking of his own.
He joined us for our lunch on the trail and took a surprise liking to a kiwi. Sagan kept pulling the kiwi back to his mouth and sucked it like a vampire.
When we arrived at the Jim & Molly Denton Shelter, Sagan was ready for some more walking practice. And by the time we were climbing down the mountain, he was sound asleep in his Moby Wrap again.
Sagan has a lot of “firsts” to come and I’m sure they will weasle a way into my heart. But “First A.T. Hike”… that memory is already cemented.
Sagan Hikes Southbound
Sagan Hikes Northbound
This year for my annual birthday hike, Ryan Somma and I introduced eight-month old Sagan to the Appalachian Trail! After some research, I found there was an AT crossing just an hour away from our home! The trail crosses VA-55 and under I-66 in Linden, Virginia. We hiked from the VA-55 trailhead southbound in Manassas Gap to the Jim & Molly Denton Shelter and then turned around for a six mile round trip.
The trailhead at VA-55 is well marked with a nice prominent sign announcing it is the Appalachian Trail. You cross over Goose Creek on a bridge and then you have a nice wooden walkway to keep your feet dry during flooding season. Almost immediately you cross over some railroad tracks and then you begin a pleasant ascent. I say pleasant because I found the grade and the switchbacks to all be quite manageable, even carrying an eight month old. There are rocky portions, but nothing too severe or trecherous. The trail starts to flatten out and you enter a large field reminiscent of Grayson Highlands.
The trail reenters the woods, passes close to the homes of some individuals I now envy dearly and crosses over Fiery Run Road. There are some slight ups and downs and a couple of creek crossings before you hit upon the Jim & Molly Denton Shelter. This shelter is nicknamed “The Hiker’s Hilton” and with good cause. It is quite a fancy shelter, featuring large adirondack chairs… and a rain barrell shower!
I’m sorry to report that I didn’t pay that much attention to the dormant trees we were passing. I know from the Virginia Hiking, Manassas Gap South video that this section homes Sassafras and the field has remnants of an old Apple Orchard. We did document the first spring activity of a couple of trees and were surprised by one lone daffodil who made a home in the middle of the woods.
Although we saw a hawk on our drive to the trailhead, fauna sightings were pretty scarce this hike. Ryan did catch a shot of a frog at a creek crossing south of Firey Run Road. Finally, like my 35th Birthday Hike we were serenaded by spring peepers near the end of our journey.
When I lived in Blacksburg, Virginia, I had many nearby Appalachian Trailheads to choose from. My options are more limited here in Occoquan Virginia, but I have to say the trailhead closest to me is most satisfying. There is a whole lot to see in just three miles.
More pictures of our Appalachian Trail Hike from VA-55 to Denton Shelter can be found on my Flickr site.
|Appalachian Trail – VA-55 to Jim & Molly Denton Shelter
Length: 6 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: ~500 feet
Directions from I-66 West Bound
From I-66, take Exit 13
Turn left off the ramp
Turn left onto VA-55 East
In roughly 2.5 miles there is a parking lot to your right (at the intersection of VA-725)
On Christmas Day I met a retired park ranger and had a most delightful conversation with him. I knew we were going to get along when I asked him what his favorite type of tree was and he broke his answer down in categories (Flowering tree, general use tree, shade tree, etc).
He’s a wise man. I would have a similar issue trying to narrow down my favorite type of tree. I would even be challenged to pick my single favorite tree of 2011. But if I were to be asked, “What’s your favorite single tree in 2011 that resembled a punctuation mark?” well, then, that’s a question I could provide a definitive answer to!
So there you go! My Favorite Tree of 2011, Punctuation Category.