Archive for April, 2014

Family Hike – Meadowlark Botanic Gardens

The National Park Service deemed the peak blooms for the District of Columbia’s cherry blossoms was Thursday April 10, 2014. The following weekend seemed to be a good time to go out and see them. Alas, we were quite busy and suddenly our groggy children were waking up from naps on Sunday afternoon. We really didn’t have the time to metro it out to the National Mall, so we decided to go a quick hike instead. I did some googling and found a Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority park in Vienna, Virginia that boasted more than twenty varieties of cherry trees. It was called Meadowlark Botanic Gardens.

Remember a few years ago visiting Washington State, when I sounded like an idiot speculating which mountain was Mount Rainier? Well guess what, I’m perfectly capable of sounding like an idiot back here at home as well. I had never heard of Meadowlark Botanic Gardens. You know what I thought? I thought Ryan and I were going to check out an undiscovered gem. “Oh I never heard of this, so no one has.”

If you go by the crowds at the Botanic Gardens that day, we were apparently one of the few people who had NOT heard of that park. It was packed! When we paid our entrance fee (kids under six are free!), the cashier even mentioned he had not had a chance to sit down all afternoon.

Park Overview
The gardens are 95 acres strong and have a series of paved paths and more rustic hiking trails through the property. We were able to walk most of the available mileage that day. All the flowering trees were gorgeous as you would expect. Sagan had fun playing at the Children’s Tea Garden. Sagan and Dyson both really enjoyed the Korean Bell Garden, particularly the nearby fountain. My favorite parts were the Young Forest Nature Trail and the Fred Packard Grove. Both of those trails were more like hiking trails… and we didn’t see a single other person on either one.

Near the end of our journey, we did spy a “Historic Tree Trail.”

My husband knows me well. Knowing how immersed I could get photographing and reading about historic trees and that it was dreadfully close to the park closing time, he asked, “Sweetie, do you mind if we come back and see the Historic Trees a different day?” : )

Meadlowlark Botanic Gardens is a popular destination for portrait photographers. We saw maybe a half dozen professional photographers congregated by scenic bridges, fountains, and blooming trees dangling diffusers and taking photographs of families and engaged couples. It’s easy to see why they picked this destination. It’s beautiful.

Meadowlark Botanic Gardens - Sagan Cheers Tea with Stranger
Sagan Shares Tea with a Stranger

Meadowlark Botanic Gardens - Fountain and Cherry Blooms
Fountain and Trees – Don’t Be Fooled By the Lack of People in this Shot. I Got Lucky!

Meadowlark Botanic Gardens - New Carrier in Action on Nature Trail
The Young Forest Nature Trail – More Our Style

Flora
I’ll focus this section on the flowering trees. They were definitely lovely and worthy of the crowds.

Meadowlark Botanic Gardens - Cherry Blossoms and Shadows

Meadowlark Botanic Gardens - Magnolia Blooms By Visitor Center

Meadowlark Botanic Gardens - Cherry Blossoms From Shoreline

Fauna
Like Huntley Meadows, there is a lot of fauna to see. Nesting geese (some more aggressive than others) were prominent. We saw turtles, including two turtles fighting which Ryan and I never saw in all our years living in the swamps of North Carolina. For some reason I chose to take a shot of Sagan and Ryan watching the turtles fight. Once I got that shot done, the turtles had already resolved their differences. Lake Caroline also featured some large koi.

Meadowlark Botanic Gardens - Canadian Goose Nest
Nesting Goose

Meadowlark Botanic Gardens - Ryan and Sagan Watch Turtles
Sagan and Ryan Watch Turtles Fight

Meadowlark Botanic Gardens - Turtle
The Victor Turtle, The Loser Retreated

Meadowlark Botanic Gardens - Koi
Koi

Although it wasn’t a hike-hike, we definitely enjoyed our visit to Meadowlark Botanic Gardens. I expect we’ll do return trips in the future, particularly to read up on some historic trees.

More pictures of our Meadowlark Botanic Gardens Outing can be found on my Flickr site.

Meadowlark Botanic Gardens
9750 Meadowlark Gardens Court
Vienna, VA 22182

Park Map

Length: Varies

Elevation Gain: Negligible

Entrance Fee: $5 for adults, $2.50 for children 7-17

April 29, 2014 at 3:00 pm Leave a comment

Family Hike: Whiteoak Canyon Falls at Shenandoah National Park

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!

Trail Overview
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. 🙂

Shenandoah National Park - Whiteoak Canyon Trail - Ryan and Sagan Hike Through Mountain Laurel
A Glimpse of the Wide Trail

Shenandoah National Park - Whiteoak Canyon Trail - Ryan Helps Sagan Climb
Sagan Enjoys the Rocks

The trail to the Upper Falls skirts along the creek, so you get plenty of water views.

Shenandoah National Park - Whiteoak Canyon Trail - Creek Above Upper Falls From Bridge
Creek Near the Upper Falls

And the Upper Falls themselves are gorgeous. There is a well marked viewing area.

Shenandoah National Park - Whiteoak Canyon Trail - Upper Falls
The Upper Falls

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.

Shenandoah National Park - Whiteoak Canyon Trail - Stairs Up From Lower Falls with Sagan and Ryan
A Sampling of the More Rockier Trail

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.

Shenandoah National Park - Whiteoak Canyon Trail - Lower Falls (Landscape) (By Ryan Somma)
Lower Falls (Photo by Ryan Somma)

Shenandoah National Park - Whiteoak Canyon Trail - Snack Break! Cashews, Red Peppers, Avocados, Pureed Carrots 3 (By Ryan Somma)
Lunch Break! (Photo by Ryan Somma)

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).

Shenandoah National Park - Whiteoak Canyon Trail - Waterfall from Rocks (By Ryan Somma)
Rainbow!

*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. : )

Flora
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.”

Shenandoah National Park - Whiteoak Canyon Trail - Sagan and Ryan Walk Through Hemlock Graveyard
Sagan and Ryan Walk Through a Hemlock Graveyard

Fauna
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.

Shenandoah National Park - Whiteoak Canyon Trail - Ryan and Sagan Watch Deer Cross Trail
Deer Crossing

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.

Birthday Hike Evolution
Evolution of Birthday Hikes

I used to hike alone on my birthday. Now I hike with my family. Birthday hikes just keep getting better and better! : )

Shenandoah National Park - Whiteoak Canyon Trail - Vicky, Dyson, Sagan All Smiling
Me and My Little Boys. Best Birthday Hike Yet! (Photo by Ryan Somma)

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)
Skyline Drive Mile Marker 42.6

Length: 7.3 miles

Elevation Gain:1100 Feet

Trail Map

April 21, 2014 at 3:00 pm 2 comments

Tire Tunnel Compare – 2013 and 2014

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:

Tire Tunnel (from a quick stop at Lake Ridge, VA's Fantasy Playground)
Sagan in Tire Tunnel – March 3, 2013

Tire Tunnel 2014  (I got the same shot a year and 2 weeks earlier)
Sagan in Tire Tunnel – March 4, 2014

April 18, 2014 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

Season Compare: Dead Tree on Chestnut Ridge Trail

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!

Bull Run Mountain - Trail (Portrait) (By Ryan Somma)
Chestnut Ridge Trail – September 9, 2012

Bull Run Mountain - Dead Tree Season Compare 2
Chestnut Ridge Trail – November 2, 2013

April 16, 2014 at 2:00 pm Leave a comment

Family Outing – Friends of the Occoquan River Cleanup 2014

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.

Occoquan River Cleanup 2013
Flashback to 2013 – Our Collected Trash at Just *One* of Our Stops

Occoquan River Cleanup 2013
Flashback to 2013 – Ryan With a Big Ole Bag Of Trash

Of course, there was a challenge with last year’s cleanup. : )

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. : )

Friends of the Occoquan River Cleanup - Sagan and Adela Look Off Wall
Adela and Sagan Looking for Trash

Friends of the Occoquan River Cleanup - Adela Throws Away Trash
Adela and Her Daddy Throw Away a Bottle

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. : )

Friends of the Occoquan River Cleanup - Picking Up Trash With a Sleeping Baby (By Ryan Somma)
Squatting!

My favorite shot of the day– an action shot. My husband throws trash uphill.

Friends of the Occoquan River Cleanup - Ryan Throws Trash Uphill
Ryan Hurls Trash

After we turned in our one bag of trash, our crew had a delightful lunch outdoors at the Blue Arbor CafĂ©. As much fun as 2013’s River Cleanup was, I do have to say, 2014 just might have been even better. : )

Friends of the Occoquan River Cleanup - Sagan and Ryan At Lunch II
Sagan and Ryan at Blue Arbor Café

More pictures of the Friends of the Occoquan River Cleanup 2014 can be found on my Flickr site.

April 15, 2014 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

Family Hike: White Rocks Overlook at Bull Run Mountain

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.

Bull Run Mountain - Creek Off Quarry Trail
Creek Off the Quarry Trail

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.

Bull Run Mountain - Happy Family at Top
White Rocks Overlook/High Point – September 2012

Bull Run Mountain - Rocks and View at High Point Overlook
White Rocks Overlook/High Point – November 2013

Bull Run Mountain - Evergreen at High Point Overlook
Changing Leaves

Bull Run Mountain - Ryan and Sagan and View
Ryan and Sagan Take in View of Mountains!

For the most part, the trail is well maintained and wide, so great for the little hikers.

Bull Run Mountain - Sagan Runs After Carl
Sagan Hikes

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).

Flora
There are tons to see on all the trails – mosses, wildflowers, mushrooms.

Bull Run Mountain - Leaves, Rock and Moss (By Ryan Somma)
Moss on the Chestnut Ridge Trail (By Ryan Somma)

Bull Run Mountain - Yellow Wildflower (By Ryan Somma)
Yellow Wildflower

Bull Run Mountain - Mushrooms (By Ryan Somma)
Mushrooms (By Ryan Somma)

One hike I got to see Chestnut Oaks demonstrating their “oak-i-ness” — making acorns!

Bull Run Mountain - Acorns on a Chestnut Oak
Chestnut Oaks Doing What Oaks Do – Making Acorns!

Up near the top, an extra bonus. American Chestnut trees still exhibiting hope and trying to grow.

Bull Run Mountain - American Chestnut - Blighted Bark and New Shoot
The Blighted Bark of a Dead Chestnut and Its New Shoot

Fauna
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. : )

Bull Run Mountain - Lizard on Tree Bark (By Ryan Somma)
Lizard on Tree Bark (By Ryan Somma)

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

Trail Map

Bull Run Mountains Conservancy
17405 Beverley Mill Dr
Broad Run, VA 20137

Length: ~4.2 Round Trip

Elevation Gain: Roughly 800 feet

April 14, 2014 at 2:00 pm 3 comments

Baltimore’s Port Discovery

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:

Tot Trails
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.

Port Discovery - Toddler Trails - Dyson Smiles in Trilobite Shirt
Dyson Enjoyed Pulling Up and Standing

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.

Port Discovery - Toddler Trails - Butterfly Hunting
Sagan Loved the Butterflies

Port Discovery - Toddler Trails - Sagan Rides Turtle
Sagan Rides a Turtle

Port Discovery - Toddler Trails - Sagan Hoists a Flag
Sagan Raises a Flag

And whose childhood would not have been happier with a giant Lite-Brite wall? A giant Lite-Brite Wall!!!

Port Discovery - Toddler Trails - Giant LiteBrite
Giant Lite-Bright!

KidWorks
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.

Port Discovery - KidWorks - Overview
KidWorks

Nano
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.

Port Discovery - NanoTechnology - Dyson Smiles with Carbon Chain
Dyson with Carbon Chain

Port Discovery - NanoTechnology - Sagan Builds Carbon Chain
Sagan with Carbon Chain

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 noise…er.. music!

Port Discovery - Wonder of Water - Sagan Shoots Symbol
Sagan Making Music With a Hose

Port Discovery - Wonder of Water - Achimedes Screw
Archimedes’ Screw!

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.

April 9, 2014 at 1:00 am 3 comments

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