Our Western Adventure: Bryce Canyon National Park

Howdy all. Today I am following up on my series about our trip out west this summer. This time I am focusing in on our day at Bryce Canyon National Park, which was almost a 2 hour drive from where we stayed.

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It definitely deserves its own post, don’t you think? I’ve said this many a time over and over, but pictures really do it no justice. Bryce was absolutely stunning!

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One of the things that makes it so unique are the hoodoos, these crazy cool rock formations that are literally everywhere at Bryce.

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You can use your imagination as to what each looks like. The day we went, we were also gifted with a gorgeously blue, clear sky, which contrasted perfectly with the reddish orange color of the rocks.

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We began our travels at the Visitor Center, then drove over to Sunset Point. From there we hiked down Navajo Loop, which is a steep descent down into the canyon. I was SO glad we used that trail for going down, not up! It was basically a series of tight switchbacks that go on and on. From there we went across the bottom of the canyon, hiking the Queen’s Garden Trail. After going across a ways, we made our way up to Sunrise Point. One great thing about Bryce is that due to a much higher elevation, it is cooler in temperature than Zion. A bad thing is that unless you are used to the elevation, you can start to feel it when you hike. Thankfully we didn’t notice it as much until near the end of our longer hike, when heading back up the canyon.

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It is worth it though! Everywhere you turn is an amazing view! For several of my kids, along with my husband, Bryce was their favorite park.

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After our hike, we chose yet another amazing place to have a picnic lunch, then drove around to several of the viewpoints. Each one was spectacular!

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You can easily see at least the highlights of Bryce in a day trip, though I’m sure we would’ve discovered much more had we spent another day there. If you ever get a chance to visit, I’d highly recommend Bryce Canyon. It is truly a one-of-a-kind park that is unforgettable.

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Our Western Adventure: Zion National Park

Happy Monday! If you caught my last post on the Hoover Dam, you will know that we just came back from a trip out west. I am doing a little recap of the different destinations we visited, along with pictures and my take on each one. Today I am delving into Zion National Park, which we visited 3 different days.

First things first–Zion is stunningly beautiful. You may have read that via other sources or have heard people talk about it. It’s definitely not overrated, and though my pictures are okay, they do it no justice.

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On our first day in Zion, we got there later in the morning, so we had to park in town and shuttle in. We kind of got the lay of the land that day and didn’t go too crazy with hikes. That day we did the Lower Emerald Pools trail (the Middle & Upper were closed due to storm damage), the Grotto, and the Court of the Patriarchs. We had our picnic lunch at the Grotto trail. We pretty much had an incredible picnic spot for lunch every single day on our travels. It was fabulous!

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On our second day at Zion, we met up with some friends who were also out there and did a portion of The Narrows together.

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The Narrows is a hike literally through the Virgin River, which runs through a slot canyon for many miles. We met up early in the morning and shuttled out to the Riverside Walk trail, which goes down to the entry point for the river. You then enter and hike upriver basically as far as you want, then turn back around until you get back to the entry point. I’m not sure how far we went upriver, but it took several hours going up, then not quite as long coming downstream.

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Every turn of the river gives you a new view. You always want to keep going to see what’s around the next bend! I told my friend that it was like a little slice of Paradise down there. It was also a much more comfortable temperature there in the morning, as well as pretty shaded.

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In the picture above, you can see how you are sometimes pretty hemmed in by the canyon walls. Since we went in the  summer, we did not rent any special gear, just wore closed toe hiking sandals, and we were all fine. You do have to be careful and take your time picking around and over a lot of the rocks in the water, that’s for sure. Fortunately the water was not high when we went and there were more sandy areas than I expected.

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I would highly recommend the Narrows for anyone visiting Zion. It is a really neat experience and a great bucket list hike!

We did a bunch of other day trips to other places in between, but then came back to Zion on our last day in Utah. This time we did one morning hike to Hidden Canyon, the trail I was most looking forward to. I had really wanted to do Angel’s Landing, but it was also closed due to storm damage the entire time we were out there, so that was a no go. Hidden Canyon is maybe not as well known, but it could be challenging too.

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One may think that to get to a hidden canyon, you are down low, but not in this case. It is a hanging slot canyon, so you actually walk up about a mile or so (and gain close to 1,000 feet in elevation during that mile) to get somewhat near the entrance to Hidden Canyon. It is a bunch of long switchbacks that take you up, up, up, so it’s no joke. Even super fit looking people were huffing and puffing on their way up, so that made me feel better as we took several quick breaks on the way up. At the top there is kind of a landing area where you can rest and keep going or turn back. Just beyond that is the start of the chains, the part I most wanted to do. My daughter was having no part of the chains and Jeff doesn’t love heights, so the boys volunteered to do this next part with me.

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Several parts had a slightly larger ledge, but you’re mostly holding on and watching your step, because it is a loooong drop off to the side. If there are people coming back the opposite way, you have to get to a wider section and maneuver around one another. The boys did great! Below is a picture that my husband took of us coming back on the one section.

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I would have loved to explore the actual canyon, which you can see the mouth of in the above picture. However, we had two family members waiting on us, so we didn’t tarry too much. It looked really cool in there though.

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Overall, I really enjoyed this hike. As it was our last full day out there, we headed back to our rental and chilled before a long travel day.

A couple of things for people who may want to visit there…

Since we visited in early August, it was mega hot there every single day (as in 104-105 degrees F every afternoon). If you go in summer, take lots of water and make sure to drink it. There are water bottle filling stations at a lot of the stops, so top your water off whenever you have a chance. Plan hikes for the morning hours if possible. It is also extremely crowded that time of year and the main visitor lot fills up very quickly. We had to be there by @7:30 am if we wanted a spot, otherwise you end up parking in Springdale and shuttling in. If I ever go back (which I would LOVE to do) I would try to shoot for the fall when maybe it’s not so hot and crowded. Never the less, Zion is still gorgeous and I absolutely loved it. A beautiful piece of God’s creation, that’s for sure, and I’m so thankful to have experienced it.

 

 

 

Our Western Adventure: The Hoover Dam

Today I am embarking on a mini-series based on our recent trip out west, an adventure that has actually been in the works for a number of years. It was one of those trips that we’ve talked about and wanted to do before the kids all grew up on us, so this year we decided to just go for it! I’m so glad we did, because it was awesome and we had many amazing adventures together.

The first day involved a flight from Baltimore to the Las Vegas airport. This was the first time our youngest three have flown in an airplane, and they did remarkably well. We definitely had a “you’re not in Pennsylvania anymore” moment right away as we immediately encountered rows upon rows of slot machines, literally upon stepping off of the airplane. They were everywhere!! We flew to save ourselves many days of driving and so we could use our vacation days to really focus on the things we most wanted to see. After picking up our rental car, we decided to take a little jaunt to the Hoover Dam before driving on to our house in southern Utah.

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I obviously knew the Hoover Dam was huge, but it’s really nothing like seeing it in person. It is enormous. We took what was called the Power Plant tour, which lasted about an hour.

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Some of my boys are very into engineering, so I thought this was a neat opportunity for them to learn about how it was built, the turbines, water flow, etc. The tour itself was pretty interesting overall, and you go underground quite a ways for part of it, so a bonus was that most of the inside tour was nice and cool! I was amazed that it was only built in less than 5 years, a really remarkable feat given that it happened in the 1930’s.

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The inside museum part also has some neat interactive things for kids to do. I was really taken with this series of sculptural panels.

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Seeing this clock outside should have prepared me for the different time zones. In Nevada we were 3 hours behind our norm. In Utah it was 2. In Arizona it should be 2, but they don’t observe daylight savings, so it was 3 hours behind when we were out there. Are you confused? Because I surely was for the first day or so, especially as the clocks in our rental were set to several different times as well and we traveled between those three states.

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We honestly did not spend a ton of time outside and walking along the whole thing. For one thing, it was very crowded. Number two, it was literally 111 degrees there when we visited. Number three, we had just traveled many hours with several hours to go, and were ready to be on our way at that point.

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With all that said, I really was glad we made this a stop. It was worth seeing, and I felt like the tour was worth doing as well. Below is a very large sculpture of one of the workers who helped build the dam.

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My next post will be on our experience at Zion, including our hike of The Narrows!

Goodbye 2017, Hello 2018

Happy New Year everyone!

I pray that you have experienced a joy-filled holiday season and are eagerly looking forward to a brand new year. I’m sure I’m not alone in that this time of year makes me pause and reflect on happenings within the past year, plus look forward to some new things as well.

Here are some highlights from our year as a family:

*Our oldest two boys were able to go to Sea Base, a high adventure base in the FL Keys. They had a wonderful experience there, including paddling across the ocean in a canoe, snorkeling, deep-sea fishing, and kayaking. They loved it. Oh yeah, it was the first time they’ve ever flown as well. My highlight was watching a video someone took of my boys’ faces that first time the plane really took off. I was dying!!

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*My husband left his job of many years and began afresh in a completely new career. This time last year we had no idea what the future held in this regard. God is SO good and brought about a new place of work that has been a refreshing change for him, and for us as a family. (Plus now he brings home really cool wood and makes things out of it.)

*My oldest turned 16! And got his learner’s permit! Want to feel completely powerless? Be a passenger in a vehicle where your oldest child is driving YOU for the first time. We’ve been cursed at, almost rear ended, had a line of traffic behind us multiple times, and passed in dangerous ways about every time we venture out. Fun times.

*We are experiencing our very last year in elementary school. We have loved it there, but I’m certain my littler guys are ready to move on. Me too.

*My daughter and I took a day trip to New York City. It was the first time her and I did something like that. Though it rained a good part of the day, we still had fun and got to see many neat things.

*We had a couple day excursion to the Jim Thorpe area. It was a good way to wrap up the summer all together.

Some things we are looking forward to:

*A vacation out west. Yup, this is my main one. This has been on our family bucket list for years and we decided that this is the year to just do it! The plan is to fly (instead of driving many days cross country), rent a vehicle, and spend most of our time near Zion National Park. We also plan to visit the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon National Parks, plus maybe a couple of other things. I’m super excited!!

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*Turning 40. This happens in May. Pray for me. My 20’s were terrific, my 30’s have been great, what will the 40’s bring? Who knows?? I don’t really feel “almost 40″…time flies.

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*Having another driver in the house. It terrifies me a little, yet I am ready for someone else to be able to take on chauffer duties a bit. Even if the oldest just drives himself to work and his own activities, that will help.

*Having kids all on the same bus/school schedule. I’ve had approximately one school year where everyone was in the same building, and that year the twins were in half-day kindergarten, so I still had 3 different bus times to worry about. Since then it’s been 4 different bus times. When they hit middle school this fall, everyone will have the same bus time. I may feel like I’ve gained another hour each day! Woo-hoo!

Well, those are the main things, but really, it’s a lot of little everyday things sometimes, isn’t it? I pray that you will have a blessed 2018, full of lots of those moments that bring joy. May you look forward to what the Lord has in store for you this coming year.

 

 

 

Our Jim Thorpe Getaway

Several weeks ago our family squeezed in a mini vacation. We were looking for something that was just a couple of days, very low key, and not far away. Jim Thorpe was an area we’ve been meaning to explore, so we decided to head there this year. Here are a number of pictures taken while we were there:

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Our first stop was to Hickory Run State Park. One attraction there is this huge boulder field. It’s a great workout to work your way any distance across this jumble of boulders, though I did wonder how many broken ankles and twisted knees it has claimed. Don’t worry, we came through unscathed!

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Our next stop was a hike to Hawk Falls.

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The last thing we did at Hickory Run was a trail called “Shades of Death.” It was my favorite!

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Despite the name, this trail had lots of beautiful sights to behold. It was slightly challenging, but well worth it.

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It was the perfect way to end our adventures at Hickory Run.

After a fast food supper, we stayed overnight at a Holiday Inn Suite. Actually, we stayed both nights there and had a great experience. The free breakfast was probably one of the best I’ve ever had at a hotel. Lots of hot foods and even a pancake machine, which my gang was kind of fascinated with. For this big family, it was well worth it. The free hot breakfast, along with a packed lunch and snacks meant we just had to buy dinner out.

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The next day brought us to the actual town of Jim Thorpe. We first stopped at the Jim Thorpe Memorial, which is where I took this cool statue pic.

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Next we went to town, which is pretty and has plenty of neat architectural building details. There were a bunch of cute little shops and such, but traveling with a pack of boys was not conducive to my checking out “cute” shops. So…we were in the town for maybe 55 minutes and they were itching to leave. Nice, huh? (This Real Family Vacation moment brought to you by the Craig family! You’re welcome.)

Oh well, our next stop was enjoyed by all.

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Our next destination was the No. 9 Coal Mine.

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I was able to get about zero good pictures within the mine, but I can tell you that we all learned a lot and enjoyed our time there. Our tour guide, Larry, was hilarious and made it even better. My take-away was that I would never, ever want to work in a coal mine.

This next picture was from the museum portion of the tour.

I think the sign says a lot, don’t you?

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After the mine we stopped at Lehigh Gorge State Park, which boasts a gorgeous waterfall trail called Onoko Glen Falls. This sign is what we first saw once approaching the trail. A little disconcerting, especially while hiking with kids, but we pressed on.

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Onoko Glen was SO beautiful, though And we didn’t die. Or fall. Or anything like that.

This is a shot looking down some of the falls.

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My photos do absolutely no justice to this place. In person I found it breathtaking.

We wrapped up our day by stopping at a Butterfly Sanctuary and eating at a fabulous Italian restaurant. The third day we were planning to drive to Ricketts Glen State Park and do some hiking and exploring, then head home in the late afternoon/evening. However, a very ugly forecast (which included extreme thunderstorms/hail/etc.) for the whole area convinced us to pack it in and head home early.

Well, that’s it for this trip. Next year we seriously hope to travel out west, specifically looking at Zion National Park and a few others in that vicinity. I am super excited for this to possibly finally happen!

Our Maine Adventure

This summer I fell in love.

Not with a person, but with a place.

Our family was finally able to visit Maine, and specifically Acadia National Park. It was something that had been on our bucket list for some time, but we decided to just go for it this year. I’m so glad we did!

Here are some of my photos taken while there:

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First up is the little property we rented. I have had tremendous luck with the VRBO website and found an absolute beauty of a cottage for us. We walked in, looked around, and declared it perfect for our family.  This is the pond in back of the cottage, where we could sit and read or just relax. I have to say that the location of this place was wonderful—well away from Bar Harbor and crowds, on the very quiet side of the island.

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Our first full day there we set out to see the Bass Harbor Lighthouse. To get a great view of it, you need to climb down some steps and make your way over on giant boulders that sit along the shore everywhere.

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This is a view looking out the other direction. This trip was my first experience with this type of coastline, and I loved it.

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Our favorite place to visit was a place called Wonderland. There is an easy trail that leads out to this coastal area that has lots of tide pools. We ended up visiting there a couple of times during our week at Maine.

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Lots of cool little discoveries at this place and we spent hours there. Truly it was a “Wonderland” for my kids.

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The next day we did a tour of the main part of Acadia. We drove the Park Loop road, which I highly recommend. There are many places to pull over and park along the way. We parked at the Otter Point area and hiked the Ocean Path a couple miles up to Thunder Hole.

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Along the way were the Otter Cliffs, as well as many other scenic views. At many points you could go out to the edge, whether it be high up or down along the water.

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We also drove up Cadillac Mountain, where you could see out far in all directions.

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That evening we attended a lumberjack show, which was both educational and entertaining!

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Our family usually enjoys the lesser-known spots and trails. Fortunately for us, we were on the side of the island away from the main crowded areas. It was still full of beautiful things to see and do! Above is a picture from serene Pretty Marsh Harbor.

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I regret that I have no decent pictures from our whale watching excursion.(Those whales are just too darn fast for me!) This was an incredible experience! We saw many different whales and were VERY fortunate to see them in various stages of feeding. Lots of tail flukes, some full rolls, and one that did about a full breach for its rapt audience! Upon pulling back into the harbor, our guide was wowed and said that was the best trip they had all summer! An unforgettable experience for all.

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One morning we visited the Oceanarium, which boasts a lobster hatchery and museum, among other things. At first glance it appears a little run down and ramshackle, but we had a good experience there and learned so much. The guides really took a lot of time to explain things to the kids.

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Another morning we took the gang and hiked up a mountain. Parkman Mountain was one of the neatest hikes I’ve ever done. Though it’s not as well known as Precipice or the Beehive, it was really cool and worth the climb. (And yes, now I can say that I’ve done one with rungs built into the rocks to actually help climb up…it was just in one spot, but whatever. Bragging rights, y’all.) My husband was taken with all of the old cairns that marked some of the original trails. We saw cairns just about everywhere.

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It was a great experience to conquer a mountain as a family. We had a picnic lunch at the summit to celebrate.

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On our very last full day in Maine we hiked around Jordan Pond (which to me was more like a lake…). Part of it was on little boardwalks, as seen above.

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The water that day was a gorgeous blue–my pictures do it no justice.

Some other places we visited were Echo Lake Beach, and my oldest and his Dad hiked Beech Mountain and the Beech Cliffs and said they were awesome.

Honestly, I think we could have stayed a couple of weeks there and still not have been able to do everything we wanted. That just means we have to go back one day…

Seriously, I very much fell in love with Maine and Acadia. It suited us so well and was one of our best vacations ever. If I didn’t love our little piece of Lancaster County so much, I would be very tempted to move!!

Hope you enjoyed my photos.

 

Little Cabin in the Woods

Today I am sharing some pictures of our recent getaway in the far western woods of Pennsylvania.

For the third year in a row, we have rented a cabin at a Pennsylvania State Park, choosing a different park each summer. The cabins are all built pretty much alike and serve as a very simple and extremely economical vacation spot for families. I highly, highly recommend them!

This year’s destination was Raccoon Creek State Park, a beautiful location for a week away from the normal hustle and bustle of our everyday lives.

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There were many hiking trails were within this park, which we took advantage of. This is at an old mineral springs location.

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Andrew had bought a hammock with his own money before we left. We strung it in the woods behind our cabin and all had turns reading and resting in it. (Confession: One afternoon I took my phone and watched something on Netflix while I was tucked down there. Shhhh…don’t tell my kids!)

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Plenty of time for playing games–this was en evening where my gang played one of their favorites (and mine), Dutch Blitz!

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We discovered some coloring books that are geared for any age at an Ollie’s over the line in Ohio. (Actually, we took a little drive, hitting West Virginia, then Ohio in a short time from where we were.) Apparently “adult” coloring books are now a thing? Anyway, Heidi got herself a book of paisley designs and a pack of markers, so I got to spend some time coloring! I have to admit, it was pretty relaxing, and you know I love design and colors.

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At the same Ollie’s we also happened upon a cheap Bocce ball set. Our small group had introduced us to this fun game just this summer, so we couldn’t resist getting a set for our family as we had a perfect commons area in the middle of our cabin loop. Warning to all: These two pictured above are little and cute, but they are KILLER Bocce Ball players!! I’m not too shabby myself either;)

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Whittling lessons with Dad.

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Found this neat rock perch on one of our hikes.

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My five guys, taking a break along a trail.

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Lots of beauty to be spotted, but I am so thankful to capture this image especially. SO glad the bee was still for me for at least a second or two!

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Our only real outing was to a place nearby called Old Economy Village, a historically preserved old community from the 1800’s, located along the Ohio River in the town of Ambridge. This was an image from their wine cellar.

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The old shoe shop.

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Checking out the General Store. Our tour guide was an absolute gem and literally spent over 3 1/2 hours taking our family, plus one other older couple, around to each area. She had the kids do a number of activities along the way to get the whole experience. I think we could have adopted “Miss Cora” and taken her home with us!

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Our kids even got to experience school in an old classroom.

Overall, it was just a nice restful week with nowhere we had to be, no one else really around, and no to-do list for the day.

Perfect for the year we’ve had and a quiet respite before Jeff is released back to work and back-to-school time begins.

A Virginia Vacation

We normally don’t go on two vacations in one summer, but this year was different. A couple of weeks ago we went to Raystown Lake for a few days with my parents, which you can read about here. Then, this past week, my husband, kids, and I went to the Luray area of Virginia for a few more days away. We had a good time and it was so pretty that I took tons of pictures. I won’t share them all, but here’s a brief recap of all we did.

On the way down, we stopped at Belle Grove Plantation. Unfortunately it was like a million degrees outside, we were all roasting, and we were ready to get to our cabin– therefore we didn’t stay too long.
The plantation house at Belle Grove.
On our first full day there we explored Luray Caverns. I would highly recommend visiting the caverns. It was absolutely spectacular. I didn’t get many great pictures down there due to the lighting.
So many amazing formations!
Outside of Luray Caverns there is a museum and outdoor historical site.
I especially liked seeing the one room schoolhouse and how it was set up. One thing I didn’t get a picture of was the old Mennonite meeting house/church. That was interesting as well, especially since I also attend a Mennonite church.
My kids’ favorite activity was panning for gemstones. I think they could have done this all day!

Our cabin was just about a stone’s throw from the Shenandoah River. The kids spent several afternoons wading and playing in it.

Yours truly enjoyed spending time at the river as well.
Our kids had their first hot tub experience at the cabin. Is soaking in a hot tub with 5 kids relaxing? Not so much.
Two of my babes after a long hike at Lake Arrowhead State Park.
On the way home we traveled through Skyline Drive. Such amazing scenery!!
Josh checking out the view with his brother’s binoculars.

Family Fun at Raystown Lake

I’ve been a little MIA this week and have done nothing really creative or even domestic. Actually, I didn’t even touch a single computer or phone the entire time–and it felt quite good!

We took a mini family vacation for 4 days out to Raystown Lake, which is about 3 hours from where we live. If you’ve never heard of it, the lake is one of the largest man-made lakes in the eastern United States. In fact, at 8,300 surface acres, it’s pretty huge. Surrounded by even more acres of woodland scenery, it’s a beautiful destination for anyone looking to kick back and relax for a few days. Even though we’ve lived in PA our whole lives, not one of us had actually been there to visit. Here’s some pics that I took from our stay:

A majority of our meals were eaten outside at this picnic table, which sat near the cottage my parents rented. We also had a campsite rented nearby where my husband, myself, and a couple of our kids slept.
Our first day there was Father’s Day and also my son Daniel’s 11th birthday. His big birthday wish was to get a pair of binoculars. They got lots of use during the week and rarely left his neck!
That is, except when his double trouble little brothers “borrowed” them to look for chipmunks.
We did take a boat ride around part of the Lake.
Me snuggling up with one of my little guys on the boat deck. He promptly fell asleep on me 10 minutes into the trip and slept the entire ride.
One of the highlights for our family was visiting nearby Trough Creek State Park. It is an absolutely gorgeous place to sightsee and hike.
We crossed this very cool suspension bridge. You feel as if you’re still swaying for awhile once you get on solid land.
The beautiful Rainbow Falls.
At the top of our hike at Trough Creek was this Balanced Rock, a huge boulder that sits on the edge of a cliff. It looks as if it could be pushed off, so my gang tried to push it with all their might…
After his siblings abandoned the effort, Andrew pushed and pushed…
Then my husband got in on the action…
Nope. No luck. This rock will just have to sit there for the next ?? years.
This is one of my favorite pics from our trip! My crew after a hike to the top of another set of cliffs, looking out over the lake.
The fire ring outside of our cottage got lots of use!
This mama duck and her babies were too sweet.
My 9 year old budding scientist insisted on taking a picture of these mushrooms. In his words, there was lots of “interesting fungus” around there. Hey, fungus can be beautiful too, right?
My little Miss, watching something from the deck of the cottage. What is she looking at…?
Oh, that’s what she’s looking at. My husband and older boys carrying the tent down the road to a sunnier spot to dry out before packing. That’s a very manly solution for you!