Sunday, October 18, 2015

Dolly Sods Wilderness Area

This past weekend I met up with an old friend from high school, and we hiking at Dolly Sods Wilderness Area in West Virginia.  We were hoping to get a hike in with some fall color, but due to the elevation, the majority of the leaves had already turned and fallen, I guess by about 2-3 weeks.

We both got to the trailhead a bit after dark.  That made finding a campsite pretty difficult since it was pitch black.  Nevertheless, we put on our headlamps and walked away from the road for about 100 yards, and found a clump of trees to tie our hammocks to.  We had seen the weather forecast and knew that it was supposed to be cold - and the weatherman was NOT wrong!

After admiring the milky way, we both turned in.  We got up before the sun rose, and at first, it looked like we might catch a nice sunrise, since the stars were still out and only a few, high clouds were around.  That all changed quite quickly as a ton of clouds moved in with the wind (had I mentioned the cold wind?!?).

That didn't stop us, though.  We continued to pack up and headed back to the cars and in to Bear Rocks Preserve.  The sunrise was a bit 'meh, but that could be the cold and wind talking.

After admiring the sunrise, we went back to our cars, cooked a warm breakfast and repacked our backpacks.  We then headed into the Dolly Sods for a nice hike along the Bear Rocks trail and the Raven Ridge trail.  We found our campsite a bit after lunch, and set up our hammocks, ate a hot lunch, and collected firewood.  We then sat around the fire for the rest of the day and night.  Everyone that passed by loved the fire and were amazed at the hammocks.  It spit snow on and off for the whole day after we set up camp, so we thought we were prepared for a cold night.

We were not.

Okay, I'm being dramatic.  I went to bed with a bottle full of boiling water, which helped keep me warm.  My cold feet/toes woke me up about 1, but that was nothing that my still hot water bottle couldn't fix.

When we woke up, the skies were clear again, but we had frost on the ground, and ice covered all the non-moving bodies of water.  Did I mention it was cold?!?

We got an early start to our hike out.  We both agreed that the hike out led us through beautiful terrain, and was our favorite trail in the Dolly Sods.  Thankfully the wind was at our backs once we turned towards the trailhead, but it was strong enough to push us around with our backpacks.  After we packed our cars and hit the road, it was 11:30 and only 35F.  I don't know what it was with the windchill, but we spent a couple of really cold nights in the hammocks - but it was totally worth it!

Have a great day everybody!


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

my musical children

Ian and Leah both took up orchestra this year.  Ian chose trombone,

and Leah chose violin.

Let's hope they stick this out!



Monday, October 12, 2015

Mount Vernon

Yesterday we made the trip to Mount Vernon, George Washington's place.  We had a beautiful fall day, sunny skies and comfortable temps, with which to share it with 10,000 of our closest friends.  Sarcasm aside, I think Catherine and I enjoyed walking the grounds, but the kids were not terribly impressed.  Well behaved, but unimpressed.

We started off at the Washington's distillery and gristmill, which had very few people there.  Catherine and I guess that people go to the mansion first, and then just figure that the gristmill and distillery will be packed, too.  We were glad it wasn't packed, though.

From there we went to the mansion and toured the grounds and the house.  The tour was a bit of a let down, as they just have people posted in different rooms, saying the same spiel about every 30 seconds, with a constant stream of people moving through.  It was nice to see, but not high on my list for a repeat visit.  Have a great day everybody!


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Shenandoah National Park

So I learned a valuable lesson yesterday...never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line don't expect to camp at Shenandoah National Park without a reservation!  Every campground and every room in the lodges were completely booked.  The roads were pretty packed, too.  But that didn't stop Ian, Leah, and me from having a great time.

Catherine had a girl's day out planned for Saturday, so I was going to take the kids to Shenandoah National Park to go see the autumn colors and camp.  One out of two wasn't too bad.

Once we found out that the campgrounds were full, we hiked around the Big Meadows area, and then made our way to Old Stony Man to check out the views.

Leah found a little trail that took us to a different overlook that we practically had to ourselves for the whole time we were there.  The kids read their books while I prepared dinner.  Afterwards, the kids did some climbing on the rocks and we did a little exploring.

We were never too far from our gear, and once the light started to get interesting, we went back so I could take some photos.  The photo below has very little saturation boost, as any more starts to look unbelievable - but this is pretty close to how I remember the beautiful, late evening light right before the sun set.

Since the clouds went away at sunset, we stayed until it got dark so I could show the kids how to find the North Pole (they were soooooooo excited to be able to find and see the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia, as well as the North Star).  Once it got dark enough, the galactic core of the Milky Way (must be specific, Ian doesn't hesitate to tell me that all the stars we see are in the Milky Way) finally became visible.  Again, both kids were super excited to see the galactic core of the Milky Way, Ian even called for a fist bump!

This is a photo I took of Ian and the galactic core of the Milky Way.  While it doesn't look this way to the naked eye, after 20+ seconds of exposure, it really starts to stand out.  Ian is a bit blurry because of the long exposure - he was lit up with my headlamp for a couple of seconds, and remained in place for the remainder of the exposure.

Once I was finished photographing, we all turned on our headlamps, and hiked the mile or so down to the car.  I am so proud of both kids - we spent 4.5 hours up on Old Stony Man, the temperature dropped from mid/upper 50's to low 40's in the hour around sunset, but there was no complaining (it didn't hurt that I packed extra warm gear just for them).  And they both talked about how cool it was to see all those stars and the arc of the Milky Way across the night sky.  So while we didn't get to camp, we did get to see a fine autumn day and see new things in the night sky.  I'd call that a definite win!