Posts filed under ‘Penn’

“Penn Compare”: Falls Ridge

One of my favorite hiking buddies is my friend’s son, Penn. He has been accompanying me on outings for six years now! Penn and his family now live about 11 hours from me, but we got to have a little hiking reunion this past weekend.

We chose to hike to the Nature Conservancy’s Falls Ridge Preserve near Blacksburg, Virginia. Penn had been there twice before. In fact, I had pictures documenting his previous visits. So it is with great pleasure I get share young Penn in front of the same waterfall on three seperate occassions— Age 2, Age 5 and now Age 8.


Two year old Penn at Falls – June 2004


Five year old Penn at Falls – May 2007

Falls Ridge - Penn at Age 8
Eight year old Penn at Falls – June 2010

The falls look pretty much the same, but Penn has definitely grown!

Falls Ridge Preserve

Length: You can make it as long or as short as you want

Elevation Gain: Flat, except for a hill to the top of the falls.

Driving and Parking: The final approach to the preserve is a flat gravel road. There is plenty of parking.

Directions from Blacksburg, VA
From Main Street, turn on Ellett Road.
Turn left on Jennelle Road and cross over railroad tracks
Turn right on Den Hill Road
Turn left on Northfork
Turn right on Falls Ridge Rd.
Turn left immediately after the railroad tracks and follow the gravel road to the preserve.

June 29, 2010 at 10:41 am 2 comments

Off the Beaten Paths: Hikes for T.A.C.O. Week

Christina recently challenged her blog readers to come up with a list of sites in their town that are off the beaten path.  Meanwhile, September 24th – September 30th is Take a Child Outside Week (HT Ryan Somma).  Being in beautiful southwest Virginia, there is no shortage of great places outside to take a child.  The Huckleberry Trail, the Caboose Park, Pandapas Pond and the Virginia Tech Duck Pond are all very popular.  BUT– I can also recommend some outings that are a little less crowded, a little closer to nature, and still child friendly.

So here are Five Off the Beaten Path Places to Take a Child Outside.  To help illustrate the outings, there are pictures of one of my favorite hiking partners, little Penn.

Falls Ridge Preserve
In 2005 when the Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club took a group hike over to Falls Ridge Preserve, some of members never even knew the preserve existed.  This is particularly surprising because this hike has a lot to offer.  There is a giant grassy field to run around in.  There is a waterfall!  There are the remains of an old furnace!  There are CAVES!  And…. you can see it all with almost no elevation gain (There is a hill to go up to the top of the falls, but you don’t have to do that if you don’t wanna).


Penn at Falls Ridge, 2 years of age

Falls Ridge Preserve

Length: You can make it as long or as short as you want

Elevation Gain: Flat, except for a hill to the top of the falls.

Driving and Parking: The final approach to the preserve is a flat gravel road.  There is plenty of parking.

Directions from Blacksburg, VA
From Main Street, turn on Ellett Road.
Turn left on Jennelle Road and cross over railroad tracks
Turn right on Den Hill Road
Turn left on Northfork
Turn right on Falls Ridge Rd.
Turn left immediately after the railroad tracks and follow the gravel road to the preserve.

Barney’s Wall
As for off the beaten path, a hiker from Blue Ridge Country described Barney’s Wall as “the region’s best-kept-secret stunning views“.  It is indeed stunning and very often secluded.  And here’s the kicker– it is a very easy hike! 


Penn at Barney’s Wall, 4 years of age

For an added treat, I suggest packing in milk and cookies

P.S. If you are your child are still thirsting for more scenery, keep driving down VA-714 to the Butt Mountain Overlook and the old fire tower.

Barney’s Wall

Length: ~1.5 miles round trip

Elevation Gain: Small downhill there, small uphill back.

Parent Stress Level: I did find this hike the most stressful of all my outings with Penn because of the sharp dropoff at the overlook.  Keep children under close supervision.

Driving and Parking: To get to the trailhead, you do have to travel on gravel/dirt VA-714.  The road’s maintenance level does vary.  I would recommend 4WD.

Directions from Blacksburg, VA
Take 460 West
Turn right on Doe Creek Road
Turn left on Paces Gap Road/Little Meadow which will become gravel
Travel roughly 5.5 miles and look for “Nature Conservancy Trail” on the left.

Keffer Oak
Keffer Oak is one of the largest blazed trees on the 2175 mile Appalachian Trail and it isn’t that far from Blacksburg.  You know the tree is impressive when it makes it in a book called Remarkable Trees of Virginia.  Estimated at over 300 years old, the Keffer Oak is 18 feet in circumference.  To a small child, it seems even bigger!  From the VA-630 trailhead, it is only 0.6 miles to tree.  There is a hill, but an easy one.  If the tree is not enough, next to the tree is a stile, which Penn loved to climb.  It was like a mini jungle gym in the middle of the woods!


Penn at Keffer Oak, 4 years of age

On the drive to the tree, be sure to take a detour on VA-601 to see the historic covered bridge!

Appalachian Trail – Keffer Oak

Length: 1.2 miles round trip

Elevation Gain: There is a brief hill near the beginning of the trail, but nothing too scary.

Driving and Parking: The roads are all paved and there is a small gravel parking lot at the VA-630 trailhead.

Directions from Blacksburg, VA
Take 460 West
Turn right on VA-42
Bear right to stay on VA-42
Turn right on VA-629
Turn right on VA-630
The trailhead will be on your left shortly after passing over a bridge

Wind Rocks
Wind Rocks is another contender for your child’s first Appalachian Trail hike!  From the parking lot, there is not even a half mile walk to the overlook.  Of course you have to drive to the trailhead, but along the way, you can stop at Mountain Lake to explore the dry lake bed or marvel at the life size chess and checkers set.  Your child will also get exposed to Civil War history, when you pass by “Mini-Ball Hill” where soldiers, weary from climbing the steep mountains, abandoned their ammunition to lighten their load.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tgaw/2440238745/
Penn and Uncle Ted at Wind Rocks, 1 Year of age

Appalachian Trail – Wind Rocks

Length: ~1 mile round trip

Elevation Gain: There is a uphill there, but not too bad.

Driving and Parking: The trailhead is off of gravel VA-613.  For the most part the road is flat and well maintained.  There are some sections with some water damage.  However, 4WD may not be a requirement.  I once saw a Mini Cooper make the trip!

Directions from Blacksburg, VA
Take 460 West
Turn right on VA-700 and drive 7 miles to Mountain Lake
Once at the resort, turn left on VA-613.
Pass by the turn off the to Biological Station
Pass by the trailhead for the War Spur Trail
Pass the Mini-Ball Hill sign on your left.
The AT Trailhead will eventually be on your right and a large dirt parking area will be on the left.

Gatewood Lake
In this area, you hear a lot about Smith Mountain Lake and you hear a lot about Claytor Lake.  But have you ever heard of Gatewood Lake in Pulaski?  Unlike the other two lakes, Gatewood Lake does not permit gas motors.  The result?  A very peaceful and quiet lake experience where you can really concentrate on nature.  There are number of easy hiking trails that run along the lake and if you yearn to be even closer to the water, they rent kid-friendly paddle boats! 


Penn at Gatewood Lake, 5 years of age.

Gatewood Resevoir

Length: Can be as long or as short as you like.

Elevation Gain:  Flat!

Driving and Parking: All roads and lots are paved

Directions from Blacksburg, VA
Take 460 East to I-81 South
Get off Exit 94
Take VA-99 into downtown Pulaski
Follow signs to “Gatewood Resevoir”

September 29, 2008 at 1:20 am 5 comments

Is Wind Rocks the Hike for You?

Wednesday, I squeezed in another quick after-work outing. I took Sean and the dogs up past Mountain Lake and Miniball Hill to the Appalachian Trail’s Wind Rocks. I think Wind Rocks is a great return on investment hike. You get a very nice view just 0.30 miles from the parking lot. Because the stroll is so short, I think it is a good hike for children. In fact, when Penn was tiny, tiny, tiny, this was one of his first outings.


TINY Penn on the shoulders of his Uncle Ted at Wind Rocks

In the interest of full disclosure, I do have to admit that Sean was not impressed. Unlike the the valleys we drove up from, on Salt Pond Mountain the leaves were not opening yet. “Everywhere I look, it’s brown,” Sean said. What Wind Rocks lacked in leaves it made up for in flying insects, which all seemed to take a liking to… Sean.

Between the brown and the insects, Sean concluded that this hike “ruined all that is good about a spring day.”

But…uh… I still liked it. So I guess, like a movie, take the varied reviews into account and make the best decision for you. And you should also peruse previews:


[Brown] View from Wind Rocks


Sean’s silhouette at WInd Rock


Dark Ridges from Wind Rock

More pictures of this [brown and buggy] Wind Rocks hike can by found up on my Flickr site.

April 25, 2008 at 9:43 am 2 comments

Penn’s Last Trek in Virginia?

Tomorrow night, my friend Ann and her two children move to their new home in Ohio.  Late last night was when the departure finally hit me.  Sure, I’ll talk to Ann on the phone regularly, but I’m going to lose one of my more reliable outing partners– six year old Penn. 

This morning I silently lamented that we wouldn’t share one last hike together.  I just didn’t think there was time.  Then this afternoon, I received a text message from Ann:

Penn just said, i wish vicky could take me on a hike 🙂

Well, how could I resist that?  Suddenly, I made time. 

With just a little of daylight left, we explored the Ellett Valley Nature Trail in Blacksburg just off of Jennell Road.  The trail is a one-mile loop and it doesn’t have any fancy schamcy stuff like waterfalls or overlooks.  But it goes by a spring and an amazing variety of trees.  Along the trail a number of signs are placed to educate visitors on ferns, bugs, invasive species, the power of ice and, oh yeah, how snakes are NOT the devil.

When our short journey was done, neither Penn and I felt short-changed.  Our last outing together was fulfilling and fun.


We passed by numerous trees with crevaces containing water


Another water-containing hole


Penn enjoying his last hike before his move

More pictures from Ellett Valley Nature Trail can be found on my Flickr site.

March 12, 2008 at 11:42 pm 2 comments

Do’s and Don’ts with Babies

I read an amusing post today that featured a number of pictures from Safe Baby Handling Tips by David and Kelly Soop.  For the most part, their advice is hilarious and well grounded.  But their “Containing Baby” item confuses me.



I don’t see what’s so bad.  In 2005, I put Penn in Henry’s crate.  He never figured out how to get out.  So, what’s the problem?


Penn is safely contained in a dog crate

January 28, 2008 at 1:10 am 19 comments

Penn on Gravity

Last weekend, I babysat Penn and Gwyn for a morning. We partook in the typical adventures– riding the hammock, jumping on the BOSU Balance ball and visiting the playground. I also put them to work and had them help me collect all the sticks in the yard for the monthly brush collection. Once the yard was stick-free, Penn and I took an old ball from the garage and played soccer (Hey, I DO do something with balls other than throw them).

My front yard is a significant hill. Most non-SUV cars can’t get in my driveway without bottoming out. Of course, that doesn’t stop Larry who plows in and out anyway! His car has a fancy schmacy system that lets him know if he is about to back into something. The angle of my driveway always puts that system into a frenzy. So Larry’s visits are concluded with frantic (and futile) beeping followed by the awful sound of metal scraping on concrete.

The damage inflicted by my driveway is not necessarily confined to undercarriages. If you are parked in the level garage, you can’t see what’s behind/below you. That’s how one spring evening in 2001, my Isuzu Rodeo’s spare tire put a beautiful, circular imprint in Ryan Schutt’s hood. 🙂

Obviously the slope of my front yard poses a problem for parking. It adds challenges to soccer as well. So Penn and I joined forces, played as a team and took on a formidable opponent – gravity. Team Penn would kick the ball uphill, using the front porch as gravity’s goal. Meanwhile, we defended the brand new pile of sticks at the bottom of the yard as our goal.

Through good teamwork (and some suspicious counting on Penn’s part– with each goal we mysteriously gained three to five points), we beat gravity 16-5.

We got exercise and apparently the event was educational as well. At the end of our game, Penn rested his hands on his knees and worked to catch his breath.

“There is one thing I know about gravity,” he said between deep breaths, “It never gives up.”

January 20, 2008 at 7:27 pm 2 comments

Penn and Vicky’s Bear

The last weekend in September was “Take a Child Outside Week” (and actually, I’m sorry to admit I did not know that week existed until one Ryan Somma alerted me).  Of course, I was traveling most of that week, but on the very last day, I took five-year Penn out for a quick hike in celebration.  I choose Poverty Creek as our destination and as we drove there, we saw a black bear running along Forest Service Road.

I was, of course, thrilled for Penn.  But I was also a little miffed.  It was my first LIVE bear that I have seen in the area and I have hiked tons and tons and tons of miles (I saw a dead one once on Potts Mountain).  Penn’s done a lot of hiking for his age, but no where near as much as me and he already gets to see a bear?!?!  No fair.  🙂

Anyway, now our bear sighting is included in the Roanoke.com’s interactive “Black bears in the Roanoke and New River valleys” map:


Penn and Vicky’s Bear on the Roanoke.com Map

We may only be the third most famous hikers in the world… but we’re slowly working on increasing our exposure.  🙂

December 11, 2007 at 12:00 pm 4 comments

Most Famous Hikers in the World

On our way back to the car after our Barney’s Wall hike, young Penn declared us to be the most famous hikers in the world.  He quickly made a correction to his claim.

“Actually, we’re the third most famous hikers in the world!” he said.

“Who are the other two?” I asked.

“Man vs. Wild and Survivorman.”


World’s Most Famous Hikers – Bear Grylls, Les Stroud… Vicky & Penn?!? 

Although it is flattering to be put in the same category as Bear Grylls and Les Stroud, I think Penn greatly overestimates the popularity of this blog.  🙂

Oh and in case you are wondering who edges who out on the fame scale, I did ask Penn, “Who’s more famous, you or me?”

“Uh…I think me,” he said.

November 18, 2007 at 11:43 pm 8 comments

Milk and Cookies at Barney’s Wall

Today was a day with simple pleasures!  I took five-year old Penn out for a brief hike.  We drove 5.5 miles on the bouncy, muddy VA-714 to get to the Nature Conservancy Trailhead.  From there, we had an easy gradual downhill hike to the Barney’s Wall overlook. 

Penn was quickly enamoured with the view.  “Out of all our adventures, this is the bestest one ever!” he declared.  And so all the surrounding wildlife would know as well, Penn screamed “This is the best one!” to the valley.


Penn at the bestest view

Penn specifically requested to carry the backpack, so *he* packed in 2 plastic cups, a bottle of milk and 12 Double Stuf Oreo cookies.  When we arrived at the view, we sat down on the rocks and enjoyed some milk and cookies.  I poured the milk and as we both grabbed our first cookies, Penn suggested we do a toast.

“Okay,” I said.

Penn held up his cookie, “To our bestest adventure!”

Here here.  We tapped our cookies and the dunking began.


Milk and Cookies at an Overlook


Penn and a Double Stuf Oreo

Wonderful weather.  The great outdoors.  A splendid view.  Milk and cookies.

Life doesn’t get much better.

November 18, 2007 at 11:15 pm 6 comments

Oktoberfest at Mountain Lake

My friend Mandy had some Oktoberfest tickets she couldn’t use, so last night Ann and I took Penn to the festivities at Mountain Lake.  The event featured a biergarten, traditional German food and the Sauerkraut Band.

When we first stood in line for the buffet, it dawned on me that this was a disaster waiting to happen.  Penn’s a picky eater, a very picky eater.  And although the entrees sounded delicious to me, I could easily see how the likes of beets, sauerkraut, purple cabbage and smoked salmon would be less than appealing to Penn.  He was particularly disturbed by the roasted pig.  The devoured meat exposed the pig’s spine, meanwhile the pig’s head was still in tact.  Penn stared and had a lot of concern about the pig’s eyeballs.


This pig did not help Penn’s appetite

Luckily, Penn found one of the German sausages edible.  Though when he had eaten about half and suddenly asked, “Where does sausage come from?” I was very nervous to tell him “pigs”.  That knowledge didn’t make a difference to Penn, he continued to ingest his dinner.

A local bakery in Christiansburg has a sign that says, “Life is Uncertain, Eat Dessert First”.  I didn’t adopt the sentiment verbatim, but when I passed by the pastry bar and saw the inventory dwindling, I made sure to snag a piece of cake right away.  I balanced it on my two plates of food and carried it back.


Evidence of foresight– Cake!

Later Ann asked Penn to get a dessert from the bar.  He came back carrying a plate of crumbs (literally).  That was all that was left.  I was so very proud of my foresight and was eager to share my bounty and be the hero of the group.  Alas, Mountain Lake did eventually replenish the dessert table.  At least I can still snicker at those who had to wait ten extra minutes for their cake.  Suckers! 

Even though the meal started out shaky for Penn, he ended up having a fabulous time.  The Sauerkraut Band was a big hit.  He enjoyed clapping along, toasting his Sprite when the adults toasted and he seemed particularly enamoured with watching a little girl dance.  Later, the event took on another level of excitement when Penn discovered a number of children playing billiards upstairs.


Penn claps along to the Sauerkraut Band


Little Penn toasts his Sprite


The Sauerkraut Band

In the buffet line, I fully expected the evening would end with Penn driving our departure time.  In the end, it was Ann and I, the old fogies, who had to drag Penn home!

More pictures from Mountain Lake’s Oktoberfest can be found on my Flickr site.

October 14, 2007 at 4:37 pm 4 comments

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