State Park #26: Edmund Babler State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

Dr. Edmund Babler State Park was an interesting visit, similar in some ways to Route 66 State Park. Babler State Park was established in the 1930s after 88 acres were donated to the State in honor of a respected doctor in the St. Louis area. 800 more acres were added in the following years. Dr. Babler was an early supporter of the State Park system, so his family’s support and the era they found themselves in help improve the infrastructure beyond what we see at a lot of other parks.

In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps was actively fighting against The Great Depression. The CCC ended up building shelters and other infrastructure at multiple state parks (pictured below), so there are some similarities here compared with other sites we’ve visited.

The Visitor Center was pretty neat, though very obviously geared toward school groups coming from all over the St. Louis region. There were some insects, snakes, and amphibians available for viewing, so we killed some time before going on a very brief hike. It’s a neat space, though, and we had a nice conversation with some of the park hosts behind the desk.

Babler has more going on than Castlewood State Park did, which we visited earlier that morning. Babler features the aforementioned Visitor Center, some hiking, camping, open spaces for throwing frisbees, and basketball and tennis courts. Unlike Castlewood, we could actually kill some time at a place like this!

As I mentioned earlier, in some ways, Babler proved to be as interesting as Route 66, but mostly that’s because this park, apparently, was heavily segregated. African Americans weren’t allowed in the park for many years, and camping wasn’t originally allowed, so the State of Missouri had to buy additional land that wasn’t originally donated by the family in order to allow people to stay within the park overnight. Interesting history!

The hike we went on was a 1.6 mile loop that only took 38 minutes. Given the amount of time we spent at Castlewood, the kids weren’t interested in doing much more. The weather had warmed up a bit, and there were no leaves on the trees yet, so it got a bit toasty for late March when we were there.

Still, hiking in late March or early April is pretty good because there aren’t any bugs and you don’t have to deal with overgrown plants along the trails. It could be worse!

After the hike, we drove around the park to find a place to picnic. We noticed quite a few walkers and bikers along the road, as it has some decent rolling hills, but nothing too strenuous. Compared to Castlewood, the hiking and biking here was a revelation: if we lived around there, we would absolutely pick Babler over Castlewood, and those to parks are only a few minutes apart from one another. Castlewood has longer trails if an extended hike is desired, but heck, I’d rather just do the same loop multiple times at Babler so I didn’t have to deal with the crowds…

We finished off our State Park Extravaganza throwing a frisbee after lunch, using an open space near the basketball courts. There was also a large tent set up for an Easter Sunrise Service that was scheduled for the next day.

Babler was a good visit! It was a nice one to end the trip with!

State Park #25: Castlewood State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

We stayed in Arnold between state park visits, so we were able to hit Castlewood State Park relatively early in the morning. I knew Castlewood was a pretty popular park given its proximity to St. Louis, but oh boy was it busy that day. We found a parking spot, but had to pass a series of cars parked on the side of the road on the way there from regular Saturday morning walking/running/hiking groups.

We started on the Riverscene Trail, but a lot of the trails at Castlewood intersect, so we think we shifted onto another trail at some point during the morning. The trails are generally nice and maintained, mostly because it receives such high traffic from the locals. This particular trail, as the name suggests, runs along the Meramec River for the first portion of it, but then it goes up the hill using wooden steps and a railing. Once you’re at the top, it shifts back to a light gravel.

There were some good rest spots along the way, especially those overlooking the river. It really was a beautiful morning and the temperatures were warming, but it was pretty comfortable at the time.

The biggest issue was all the people! A lot of young families with small kids and large dogs on lengthy leashes. Usually the mom would be trying to get her 3 kids, all of which under 5, to keep moving while the dad would have two labs or German shepherds or huskies on 6 ft leashes getting wrapped around trees. There were multiple sets of these people!

Look, we get that it’s good to get your kids outdoors and go for a family walk, but is a narrow trail with a whole lot of other people trying to hike the best place to go? Gotta be a better option…

Eventually, things thinned out a bit and we were able to escape all the young families. We ultimately ended up hiking 2.4 miles in a little over an hour. I think the kids weren’t all that happy to be hiking that far that early in the morning, but alas, they survived.

Hiking is really all Castlewood has to offer, to be honest. There’s some fishing and picnic options, but no camping available. It’s nice to have it there, so close to St. Louis for people to enjoy the outdoors, but it’s pretty busy on a Saturday morning!

….there was a nice view, though. 🙂

State Park #24: Don Robinson State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

We were knocking off 5 parks the weekend we visited Don Robinson State Park, and it was the third park that day that we hit, so suffice to say, the kids weren’t in the mood to do anything strenuous at this one. Still, we needed to check it off the list, so a stop was necessary!

Don Robinson State Park, like many State Parks in Missouri, stems from donated land collected by an individual (i.e. Don Robinson…..) that has been made available to the public for use. It’s close to St. Louis, so it generally attracts its citizens to the area for its hiking trails and camping. It’s actually one of the newest State Parks in Missouri, being established in 2017 after Robinson passed away in 2012. He began collecting more than 800 acres in Jefferson County, and he began living there in 1978.

There are two main trails in the park: the Sandstone Canyon Trail (3.9 mi), and the LaBarque Hills Trail (2.4 mi). I’ll let you get which one we did……

The park follows along the LaBarque Creek watershed, so it provides fishing opportunities with pretty clean water before it dumps into the Meramec River (which is decidedly muddier). The trails are likely very pretty during the Summer and Fall, but at this time of year, with trees only beginning to bud within the last month, there wasn’t much vegetation to help identify species or get a sense of the diversity of the plant landscape.

On the other hand, no bugs or spider webs, so ideal for going on a hike! The kids were not enthusiastic about it, but they handled the 2.4 miles pretty well. We were pretty to head to our hotel and grab dinner by the time we wrapped up, though.

It’s good to have a few longer trails like this available, though. A lot of State Parks we visit don’t have anything approaching 4 miles, so having some choices for longer hikes is good, especially in proximity to the greater St. Louis region. We didn’t really check out the camping options, as water was still shut off until the beginning of April, so it’s hard to get a sense of what camping is like there.

Don Robinson State Park is limited to picnicing, hiking, and camping, largely because it’s a pretty new park, so there hasn’t been much development. Still, as I said earlier, it’s good to have options near St. Louis, and this one seems pretty good!

State Park #23: Route 66 State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

The list of State Parks we hit on our last round of visits included some where we knew what the expectation was, but Route 66 State Park was kind of a wild card: Was it an old timey diner? Was it some preserved roadway from the original Route 66? Was there even a playground at this thing, or camping? On its face, it just seemed radically different from the other State Parks we’ve been visiting.

In many ways, it was pretty different, though we were pretty surprised at how interesting it ended up being! The State Park does commemorate the beginning of the Route 66 path through Missouri, from St. Louis down toward Springfield, however it’s located at this site in particular because it’s actually the site of Times Beach, MO.

In short, back in the early 20th Century, the Meramec River was a popular weekend destination for the air conditioning-less citizens of metro St. Louis, so a lot of little “resort towns” started springing up along its banks. Times Beach was one such resort town, one where a local newspaper advertised $67.50 lots of land upon which little houses could be placed. Neat, right?

Well, some dude decided to coat the gravel roads with oil to knock down the dust back in 1971, but he took the cheap route and acquired the oil from a local pharmaceutical company that made Agent Orange, and sprayed it on the roads of Times Beach. The waste oil ended up containing dioxin, a well-known carcinogen, among other things. It was so bad that the EPA and CDC got involved and declared it a “Superfund” site, so the entire town was razed to the ground and incinerated. As in, the houses, and the roads, had to be incinerated and then buried in mounds that are still on the site. Crazy!

What’s left of the town is there, and some leftover paths that look like they used to be roads, but it’s been paved over as a nice walking and biking space along the river. There wasn’t any camping, but they had fishing, boating, horseback riding, a few picnic areas, and a playground.

The visitor center was pretty good, including exhibits regarding Times Beach, but most of it was Route 66-centric. The bad part is that the visitor center is on the other side of the river from Times Beach, and the only way to actually get across is to take I-44…but the exits aren’t set up correctly, so if you start at the visitor center, you need to take westbound I-44, get off at the next exit, then hop back on eastbound I-44 and get off at a different exit, go under I-44, and then you’re at Times Beach. Frustrating.

There’s an old bridge that they’re hoping to have reach by 2026. The funding to fix it dried up, so all that’s left are the metal girders, waiting to be covered by a walking path or other roadway. Once that’s done, it’ll be quite a bit better!

We enjoyed this one more than we thought we would! Honestly, we spent most of our time at the visitor center, and then just drove around Times Beach. Calvin got out and ran around a bit, but other than that, we didn’t really get out of the car. A neat place to visit, but we probably got as much out of it as we wanted to!

State Park #22: Robertsville State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

In our effort to try and visit all the State Parks before the kids graduate, we’ve had to try and block off some times where we could hit multiple parks in the same trip. Luckily, this Spring presented an opportunity around Easter where we could head over toward St. Louis to visit 5 parks around the Meramec River. Obviously, we weren’t going to be able to visit every aspect of each of these parks, and camping wasn’t a good option as running water wasn’t turned on yet in the parks, but with some hiking and visitor center stops, we figured we would get the high points of each one.

Robertsville State Park was the first on the list. The park gets its name from Edward James Roberts, a landowner from the mid-1800s from whom the property originated. In the early 1900s, multiple “resort towns” popped up along the Meramec River to attract the St. Louis to the region, and this area was among them.

Today, the park has hiking trails, fishing, a boat ramp into the Meramec, and camping. We picked up lunch on the way in that morning and ate alongside the river. Personally, I think the river was a bit more muddy than I’d want anything to do with. It may be fine for fishing, but the boat ramp was coated in mud. Based on pictures from the early-1900s, it sure seems like the river has looked like that for generations, but I suspect agricultural run-off hasn’t done it any favors.

Point being, I’m not sure how much swimming I’d want to do in it….

Hiking, on the other hand, was pretty good. It turns out this time of year is perfect for hiking, as there aren’t any bugs yet and there isn’t (much) poison ivy to worry about! We did a 0.9 mile loop on the Spice Bush Trail, which wasn’t particularly challenging, but at least gave us a taste of the terrain. The Lost Hill Trail is about 2.6 miles, so we went with the shorter one for this visit so we could hit a longer one later in the day, elsewhere.

Calvin still felt the need to rest on this Boy Scout’s Eagle Scout project, though.

We didn’t hang around all that long, aside from a brief hike and eating lunch. The area was nice, though: not very crowded, beautiful weather, and a good opportunity to explore a bit.

A brief aside, though: on the way in, we stopped by the McBaine Great Burr Oak, a 400-year-old tree that’s right along the Katy Trail. It isn’t part of a State Park, but it’s something the rest of the family hadn’t seen before (I biked past it last year), so it seemed like a good opportunity to visit while we were on our adventure!

Garden Update: 03.16.24

We’ve been pretty lucky with the weather these past few weeks, with warm, dry day…though there hasn’t really been much rain, leading to concerns of brush fires getting out of control. Luckily, we got some rain last week and it wasn’t all that windy yesterday, so we ventured outside to get some yard work done in preparation for the 2024 garden.

We picked up a Milwaukee Brush Cutter attachment for the weed trimmer so that I can hopefully keep the plants behind the swing set under control, though some of the trees sprouting were more than 1″ in diameter, meaning we needed to cut those manually. There were a few trees back there whose stumps were never dug up, so every few years, we need to go through and clear them out again to make room for the flowers. Occasionally, Brooke has burned that patch, too, but we should have done that last Fall, or earlier than now so it wasn’t so green. Still, it looks a lot better back there and Calvin got in on the fun.

Speaking of which, awhile back we picked up a hand-held reciprocating saw to complement our other varieties. This one is a bit easier to handle, so Calvin was able to use it. He did a pretty good job, though I don’t think he’s quite big enough for the full-size version, let alone a chainsaw…

After the burning was done, I borrowed our neighbor’s tiller to turn over the garden plots. This is probably the easiest experience with tilling that I’ve had, and I’m not sure why. There weren’t many grasses in there, so the tiller didn’t get clogged up, and the ground was relatively soft after having some rain, so maybe that was it? Brooke noted that the burning didn’t take all that long, either, when sometimes she’s out there all day trying to coax it along. Maybe we had just enough wind to fan the flames, but I think she had all three plots burned within 2 hours of starting. That soil is still looking great!

Brooke also moved some strawberries around. She planted a few new starts, but mostly spent time moving them from outside our brick boundary to back inside, as they tend to like to spread anywhere they can. We also picked up some manure bags to spread around. We’ll probably do that with the tomatoes, too, but it’s a bit early to be putting them in…

Last, but not least, we added a new member to the garden plot party. We bought these bricks rather than making them, mostly because this section is up next to the garage, so it doesn’t have to match what’s going on in the garden completely. Here, Brooke planted some flowers mostly so she could cut them and bring them inside. Some of them worked last year, but we never added the brick border, so it ended up doing mostly nothing. This time, it should be a bit easier for me to know where the flowers are so I don’t mow over anything, and it’ll look a bit nicer, too.

Yesterday’s high was around 67 F and today barely hit 45 F, with a gnarly wind chill, too. We’re still swinging wildly between “warm and beautiful” and “cold and yucky,” though this next week looks to have plenty of sunshine, albeit with cooler temperatures. It was good to have a nice weather day fall on a Saturday where we could take advantage of it and enjoy it! Looking forward to more beautiful days to come!

Thawing out

Clearly it’s been a minute since I updated anything on here, and as usual, it takes some outdoor work to get me to post anything. It is what it is!

January got really cold. We actually had snow on the ground for over a week because the temperatures didn’t go above freezing for at least that long. It was kind of nice having some cold days, after November and December were unseasonably warm, but timing could have been better. The kids and I were all off our school routines for a few weeks to the point where Meg and Calvin haven’t had school on a Monday yet in 2024. Some of that was for planned reasons (MLK, teacher PD day…), but others were treacherous weather conditions. Last week, I finally got 5 full days of class in and it was rather exhausting, though I’m happy to get things more back to normal.

To that end, it’s sap collecting season! Again, the weather has been a bit hit-or-miss for sap, as it hasn’t been cold at night and warm during the day: instead, it’s either just cold, or just warm, and we haven’t really gotten the “swings” we need to for most efficient sap flow. Brooke tapped the trees over a week ago and we had maybe 15 gallons collected. The weather was pretty nice (high 56 F) yesterday, so it was the ideal time to get outside after the extended freezing period and keep a fire going for most of the day. Given all the precipitation we’ve had in January, we weren’t entirely sure how the firewood at our neighbor’s house would do, as it’s been left uncovered, but we got it going.

Brooke also got into the bees, as we’ve noticed them being active in the warmer weather. As we have come to expect each Spring, unfortunately, our bees from last Summer didn’t make it. There was a lot of honey in there, so we know they didn’t starve: we think their numbers just weren’t high enough to survive the extreme cold we had. Brooke treated them and fed them back in November, so this is the most effort she’s put into helping them through the Winter, yet it wasn’t meant to be. I think she’ll order packages from a different vendor this year and put the honey back in that she collected from the hives yesterday, hopefully helping out the new tenants when they move in around April or May.

In other relatively big news, we’re down a few fruit trees. We planted them in September 2016 and, in some ways, they were successful. We had a few good years of peaches, though last year, they never seemed to ripen (which is a shame because the Japanese beetle issue was lessened last year, so we may have had a lot of peaches….but alas…). The dwarf pear trees, however, never really did much. Sure, they “grew pears,” but they would rot on the branches and never fall. We would collect a few, but they didn’t have much flavor and we’d just add them to cider.

In the end, the peach tree, especially, was more of a hassle than it was worth. It was big and hard to mow around, and peaches that would fall would ferment and attract bugs (and wouldn’t smell great). The pears also weren’t really producing, and if anything, the pears and peaches were encroaching on the cherry and apple trees, and we do get something off of those.

So yes, we killed some trees. The wood should be good for Oktoberfest in the Fall, so it’ll sit, drying, until we’re ready to use it. We haven’t decided if we’ll plant anything else out there just yet, but knowing Brooke, she always has ideas about yet another garden plot. I know she’s been eyeing fresh cut flowers, especially out near the bees, so maybe that’ll be next on the list.

It was good to get outside, though! We still have a few weeks of Winter left, but Punxutawney Phil has given us hope.

West Virginia Vacation – Part IV

The final leg of our Southeast-ish tour took us to Nashville, TN. The plan was to go to the Grand Ole Opry, but that was scheduled for Saturday night, when their regular radio broadcast is produced live a la Prairie Home Companion (RIP).

But first, we headed into Nashville, and oh boy, was it raining cats and dogs for most of that trip. In fact, most of the times I found myself driving, we went through a downpour of rain (that rarely actually hit Missouri, apparently…). So while we had grand plans to visit the Gilded Athena, among other sights, we ended up delayed due to weather and didn’t end up doing all that much.

It also took us…forever….to even get to our hotel, the Grand Hyatt Downtown. We were running multiple GPS systems in trying to figure this out, but long story short, Nashville decided to tear out a bridge that was directly in front of the hotel, and the hotel didn’t really warn us about how to handle this, so we ended up circling around quite a bit before we figured out where to unload, where to park, how to physically enter the hotel, and so on. It was a truly frustrating experience, compounded by the rain (not pictured above).

Ultimately, we figured out where we were going (it was a really nice hotel room, though, I’ll say that much…) and decided to venture downtown to see what was going on. We went to a restaurant that was pretty satisfying after so much frustration (note: Nashville is not in a dry county like Pigeon Forge is. Win.).

After that, we walked around and….um….there was a lot going on in Downtown Nashville that day. Seriously, it reminded us more of Bourbon Street in New Orleans with all the activity. I don’t know if the students were back in town partying at 2:00 pm on a Saturday, but there was a lot of “that” going on. It was a far cry from our experience the rest of the trip.

One thing Brooke looked up, that I was completely unaware of, was Goo Goo Clusters. Their store was set up such that you could buy the traditional Clusters (peanuts, caramel, nougat, chocolate), or you could design your own, or you could get different flavored bonbons (pictured above). It was a pretty neat, yet simple, experience, so both kids chose what they wanted in their personalized Cluster, then they could watch it being made in front of them. We also picked up a box of the original recipe version, as well as a bonbon mix. It was a good distraction!

We then hustled back to the hotel to clean up before the Opry performance. There were a lot of people there, but a neat thing is that they had a secondary stage outside (with some food trucks) with live music going on before the real thing began.

I didn’t have much of a connection to what, exactly, was going on with this, but Brooke was more aware of what Grand Ole Opry is. They’ve produced a radio show for years, and it’s now broadcast on Willy Nelson’s SiriusXM station live on Saturday nights. It’s mostly a traditional country music showcase featuring some regular musicians, as well as special guests that perform a 3 song set. It’s pretty steeped in tradition, as the original location was in an old church, the Ryman Auditorium, also in Nashville. The current Grand Ole Opry is a larger recreation of the Ryman, complete with church pews as the seating.

The concert was good! The music isn’t exactly my preference, but the kids haven’t been to all that many live performances like this, so it was a good experience for them. The girls having fun with their presumed bachelorette party behind us were also having a good time….much to our detriment…

The next morning, we took off for Marshall and made it home in good time! Overall, it was a good trip: perhaps not as memorable as what we did on the West Coast in 2022, but still, a nice time. We have decided to never take a vacation that close to school starting again, though, as that created more problems than we anticipated, and probably added to the stress we were trying to alleviate. Still, we’re glad we made the trip and knocked a few more National Parks off the list.

Spoiler Alert: we already have reservations for a house near Moab, UT next June. Onward, 2024!

West Virginia Vacation – Part III

The day we left West Virginia, we spent a lot of time on the road, but ultimately made it to Pigeon Forge in time for dinner. Our hotel happened to be next to a mini-golf course that had two 18-hole courses available, so after we ate, we checked out mini-golf (always a popular activity!).

We drove in on a Wednesday, leaving us with Thursday or Friday to hit Dollywood and Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Weather was supposed to be a little more on the rainy side, so we opted to hit Dollywood on Thursday and save Smoky Mountain for Friday.

On the one hand, this ended up being a great decision! We didn’t realize it, but school was back in session for much of Tennessee and West Virginia. That, combined with some spotty showers that morning, meant that practically no one was at Dollywood. As I said at the time, had we paid for the “Lightning Lane” equivalent, I would have been asking for our money back, because we were able to walk up to any ride we wanted and, sometimes, be the only four people riding it.

We hit every roller coaster we could at least twice, if not more. Even some of the smaller ride, we hit multiple times. Mind you, I don’t have pictures of many of these rides because Dollywood had a locker system set up and wanted people to leave their phones, purses, etc. in those lockers. We ended up paying for a day pass that was actually pretty slick, as you could have a temporary “log in” system to the lockers at multiple locations. Once you registered at the new location, the previous one would “log out,” opening that locker up for someone else to use. Since it was raining, we had hats, rain jackets, etc. with us, so I usually just tossed my phone in there, leaving few options for pictures.

The rides were good, but in comparison to Disneyland, a bunch of these roller coasters were giving me a serious headache. Brooke and I felt more “jostled” by the rides at Dollywood, where some were smoother than others, but a few of them tossed my head back and forth to the point that it was uncomfortable. At Disney, at least there was a 30-40 minute lag between rides, but since no one was at Dollywood, it was closer to hopping off one ride and getting right back on it again with little break in between.

There were Silver Dollar City vibes in various places, such as candle making, metal working, etc. They even had a “Fire in the Hole” knock-off called Blazing Fury that was practically the identical ride, complete with someone saying “fire in the hole!” toward the end.

We avoided treats for the most of the day and saved it for an all-you-can-eat family-style meal at Aunt Granny’s Restaurant, which is considered to be one of the best theme park restaurants around. I can’t say the meal was cheap, but as Calvin’s face above suggests, there certainly was a lot of food. It was all very good, but we didn’t put away much of it.

We only ended up spending one day at Dollywood, and given our experience at Disney last year, one day sure didn’t sound like enough….however, since there was no one there, I think we were all satisfied with a day’s worth of a visit.

The next day was a Friday, so we hit up Smoky Mountain National Park. This day, unfortunately, was rather disappointing. There were simply too many people, meaning we were stuck in long lines of cars with few opportunities to pull over and do much. I had to hop out of the car to get a parking pass (that’s how they limit entry there, as opposed to how they do it at Yellowstone where there is a pass you have to purchase to get into the park in the first place.

It also ended up being somewhat rainy, which isn’t too surprising given the climate of the area. We had rain jackets with us, so it wasn’t a huge deal, but it limited how much outdoor time we actually wanted to spend in the park. We hiked a bit to see some old buildings that were still standing from before the National Park was there, and we saw some exhibits like a grain mill that was still semi-functional, but honestly, we kinda stuck to the car.

I think by the time we were hitting Friday, we were kinda done with seeing the sights. Brooke and I still like the park, but I don’t know that the kids really got much out of that day. There were simply too many cars (and people in them….) to feel like we could get out and do much. It’s saying something that the lines at Smoky Mountain were worse than the lines at Dollywood, but again, perhaps because we did it on a Friday, we invited the situation onto ourselves.

For our last evening in Pigeon Forge, we ended up struggling to find a place to eat within walking distance of the hotel. There were a lot more people out and lines were long everywhere, but we eventually found a place. We hit the second 18-hole mini-golf course next door to our hotel to end the day, though, so I think that made up for an otherwise disappointing day!

West Virginia Vacation – Part II

One of the plans for this vacation was for everyone to learn to play poker. The house we rented had a poker table, where the top of it flips over to expose cup holders and a felt table top. I picked up a few rolls of coins so we’d have something to use, and Brooke printed and laminated a few “cheat sheets” with which hands beat what. We didn’t end up playing a ton, but we got a few hours of entertainment out of it. Meg ultimately won, though she didn’t really bet all that often, so that’s my excuse…

Since we explored a bit on Sunday, we reserved Monday to mostly just hang around the property. There was an old logging road that went for a few miles up onto the mountain that Brooke and I checked out, but the heat, humidity, bugs, and elevation change made it rather unappealing to go hiking. If we were there in the Spring or Fall, though, I think we’d be able to kill a ton of time just walking around and exploring the area. It really was a beautiful place!

We used the hot tub a few times, mostly in the evenings. The owners rigged up a neat pulley system to lift the lid on the hot tub (that had previously been used to butcher deer, we think). This way, Calvin could get the lid off by himself without our assistance. They also had fencing around the top of the tub so that no one could fall off the porch if they were sitting on the side of the tub.

We did take a hammock along, though Brooke only used it once. Again, we had intended to mostly just hang around the property for at least one day, just getting some relaxation in. We had Wifi at the house that worked surprisingly well (no regular cell service, though), but you had to be pretty close to the house for it to work. It was nice to just hang out for a day without having to travel anywhere!

For our last day in West Virginia, we visited Shenandoah National Park. This park was…..weird…compared to what we’re used to seeing. For one, it’s really a series of plots of “park” along a two-lane road, where you can pull over sometimes, but mostly, you’re just driving through a forested area. There were some overlooks, but nowhere near as picturesque as Colorado or Utah. As in, the overlooks we’re used to seeing to pull over, get out and take pictures….there existed, but there weren’t a ton of them, and they were overlooking a land mass that didn’t look that different than the Ozark Mountains, so it was a bit less impressive than we were expecting.

Also, a huge storm blew through the previous day. We were at the house when it happened, so it was cool to watch it come through, but apparently a lot of other communities lost power when our house didn’t (incidentally, the owners lost power and checked in on us to make sure ours still worked…and it did!). Well, the Visitor Center we went to in Shenandoah was still without power, though they had a generator to keep a few things working. However, they a). couldn’t process credit cards, and b). their exhibit was shut down, so we could really only go in to ask a few questions, but not really learn much about anything there.

We had found a 4 mile loop trail that was supposed to pass by a waterfall that was relatively close to the Visitor Center, so we found it and got started on the one longer hike we did on the whole vacation. It was, indeed, a loop, and there were a decent number of people out there on it. I wouldn’t say it felt crowded, thankfully, and we were able to get a parking spot relatively easily. The loop wasn’t too bad, nor was the terrain, though the temperature did start to rise a bit. The kids were a bit tired (as evidenced by the image above), but Brooke and I were fine.

I would have liked to do more hiking if we had more time, but it ended up taking an hour and a half to get from the house we were staying at to Shenandoah, and the actual drive through Shenandoah added another hour…which means we were now an hour north of where we started, and we had to drive that full distance south to actually get back home. Anyway, it ended up being a longer driving day than I think we were initially thinking, but we’re still glad we did it so we can check it off the proverbial list.

While we were there, we also made sure the kids got to walk along the Appalachian Trail….for all of 100 feet. At least they can say they’ve been on the AT before!

After all that, we were ready to chill in the A/C for a bit! We still played more poker that night and got in the hot tub, as it was our last night in West Virginia. The kids were happy to just lay down and rest a bit, though, and the house provided plenty of space to spread out. It ended up being a good place to stay, getting us rested up before the next few days in Tennessee!