Posted in: Hiking, Museums & Tours, National Park, National Parks, School, Sightseeing

Visiting Yorktown, Virginia (National Park Service)

We did it. We completed the triangle!

We went to Yorktown with our friends who were visiting for the weekend, the Piatt’s. I can honestly say that I don’t think any of us had high expectations (except for Will). However, we were pleasantly surprised. The Visitor Center was partially open for the bookstore/gift shop. The store had the passport stamps, but did not have any pieces of paper to use if you forgot your passport (or use in your journal like we do). You could buy a sticker sheet for $0.95 (+tax) to stamp though. All the kids got a Junior Ranger Program booklet to work on. A lot of the museums and houses were closed due to COVID, but there is a free audio app that you can download. The app has some information on different sites in town, as well as the two driving tours.

Monument, Visitor Center

We walked into the town from the Visitor Center using a nice paved path. It wasn’t a long walk; I think they said 456 yards. We saw the Statue of Liberty, not to be confused with the one in New York. It was a super cute little town with some shops and a coffee shop, and the Historical plaques that Will had missed seeing in Williamsburg.

We stopped at the artists shop at York Hall and found a few nice pieces. Ben found a colorful quilt. It was History Day, so there were a few demonstrations in the front of the Hall, including some children’s games.

We walked down to the waterfront and saw the beach area. There were a few sections of beach and a fishing pier. It was pretty crowded, so we didn’t get near the water.

There are two driving tours you can take in Yorktown: the red (Battlefield, 7 miles) and the yellow (Allied Encampment, 9 miles). After circling back to the Visitor Center, we got into our cars and took the red driving tour. I had downloaded the audio app, so we were able to go to each stop, park in the lot, and listen to the tour. There are parking spots, so you can also get out to look at things and read the historical informational signs.

Yorktown was a neat area with a mix of history, beach fun, and shopping. It ended up being one of my favorite places to visit while in Williamsburg. (In fact, we went to the town twice!)

DETAILS:*

  • TICKETS: $15/adults, $0/child (ages 0-15), Free with Interagency or Annual Pass. COVID Restrictions: masks required, some buildings closed
  • HOURS: Bookstore/Gift Shop Tuesday-Sunday 10:00am-4:00pm
  • PARKING: Some parking near town and at Visitor Center
  • BATHROOM: Yes
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 1-3 hours
  • *Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.
Posted in: Animal Sightings, Frequently Asked Questions, Hiking, Museums & Tours, National Park, National Parks, Sightseeing

What Is Your Favorite National Park?

We’ve been to quite a few of the National Parks this year. The America The Beautiful annual pass is really quite the deal at $80.

There are so many to choose from, and I think we all have our own favorites.

The Parks, Monuments, Preserves, and Historical Sites we have been to so far are:

  • Mount Rushmore National Monument
  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Grand Tetons National Park
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park
  • Zion National Park
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Grand Canyon National Park
  • Arches National Park
  • Canyonlands National Park
  • Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Cabrillo National Monument
  • Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (BLM)
  • Saguaro National Park
  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park
  • Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve (Barataria and Chalmette)
  • Everglades National Park
  • Biscayne National Park
  • Fort Pulaski National Monument
  • Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park
  • Charles Pinckney National Historic Site
  • Colonial National Historic Park (Jamestown, Yorktown)

Sarah: My favorite is Yellowstone. There is so much to see and the landscape changes. One minute it is a flat field, then rivers and bison herds, then thermals (hot springs, geysers). There is something for everyone.

Yellowstone National Park: hot springs and geysers, creeking, elk, bald eagle, bison by river

Ben: My favorite is Bryce. The landscape was very different; but beautiful with the hoodoos and different colors. I had a sense of accomplishment when we were done, as during part of it I didn’t know if we would finish the hike.

Bryce Canyon

Will: My favorite is Colonial National Historic Park because of all the history.

Colonial: Jamestown and Yorktown

Nick: My favorite is Zion. I liked hiking the Narrows.

Zion: The Narrows, a lizard, Canyon Overlook Trail

Honorable Mentions: Carlsbad Caverns (it is quite the experience, it’s a little other worldly) and Everglades (so much wildlife)

Posted in: Animal Sightings, Hiking, Museums & Tours, National Park, National Parks, School, Sightseeing

Historic Jamestowne, Virginia (National Park)

Hey guys! Here’s another blog post with your favorite friend…Will! Today I am here to talk about another significant site from history, the Jamestown Settlement. This is the first settlement that successfully settled in America. It was led by Captain John Smith, who as most of you know befriended Pocahontas. She convinced her father to help the settlers, which allowed the first successful colonization in the New World.

Jamestown started out as a place to get rich quick. Half of the first people to come Jamestown were gentlemen, men who fought in battles and were rich enough to be able to buy their own armor and weapons and lead men. These men were used to fighting and tactics, but not hard labor which led many of them to dislike their new life in the Americas. It probably would have been a downhill spiral as the two groups of people, gentlemen and commoners, fought over who would do what work in Jamestown if Smith hadn’t stepped in and said if ‘you don’t work you don’t eat’.

Jamestown also suffered many problems when it was starting up such as the fact that they had settled in native territory and slaughtered the natives there which were a part of a confederacy of natives at the time. That soured relations quite a bit and soon the settlers and the natives were at each other’s throats. The problem was that most of the men were not used to hard labor and most were unskilled and did not know how to make anything or work. They only had two trained fishermen so their food was in short supply. The drinking water was also unhealthy and some of it was even tainted with arsenic. They were, under the guidance of John Smith, able to finally build the fort which was 1 acre in all, and with the help of John Smith, soon began to trade with the natives and with Pocahontas.

The next big issue that Jamestown faced was the Starving Time. This event was caused because the settlers got on bad terms with the natives again and trade soon came to a halt. With only 2 fishermen and winter coming things were getting dire. They were soon eating their dogs, their horses, and even their own people. The first person to be cannibalized in America was Jane, a young woman. Eventually two ships who had originally come with a large fleet of ships arrived right when the settlers were abandoning Jamestown to try and find food. Horrified by the skeletal people, the new people shared their food with them and they all sailed back to recolonize Jamestown. The first big issue was that, because most of the buildings were made of wood, they were quickly deteriorating. They soon rebuilt the wooden post-in-ground houses and rebuilt with stone bases so that termites and ants could not enter the wood and so the wood was not at ground level.

Soon things were looking brighter for Jamestown. They were soon turned into the capitol of Virginia because of a huge crop that was making its way to Europe as quickly as it could be produced. A cash crop that changed Jamestown from a desolate fort that was struggling for survival into a huge port city and the capitol of Virginia. Tobacco! The people in England couldn’t get enough of the stuff. It was soon being shipped out of Jamestown and making the whole town very rich. Soon the state of Virginia made it legal to only bring tobacco out of Jamestown so that Jamestown became even more rich. This caused Jamestown to grow huge in size and led to more indentured servants and then, sadly, slaves.

The downfall of Jamestown was when the capitol of Virginia moved to Richmond and the laws that tobacco could only go through Jamestown were abolished. Soon many were leaving Jamestown as the city was losing money, and without money, no people would come. Jamestown soon fell into disrepair and the only thing left standing over the years was the old church tower that had been built out of bricks. In the 1900’s conservation efforts were made. A seawall was built to make sure that the coast would not erode more, and restoration of the stone towers was attempted. At the time it was assumed that the erosion of the shoreline had made it so that the original fort had been lost to the sea. Excavation began and soon that was proven false as they found the original ditch for the fort, several wells and post in ground holes were discovered. They also found tools that belonged to a smithy and old waste and trash that was covered up in wells or in basements. This included a helmet, a halberd, and a dagger.

After several excavations the National Parks bought the land and Jamestown fort and took over construction of the fort. They added a museum and most of the things you can now see here today. That is the long and complicated story of Jamestown. Thank you for reading and make sure to look at our other channels like YouTube, and Facebook. Goodbye for now.

Sincerely,

Will

Ben and Sarah Notes: Don’t picture seeing a historic town like you would in Williamsburg. While it does have several buildings, Historic Jamestowne only contains a few original structures: the original church tower (since restored and the church recreated). a house ruin, and some foundations. The rest of the buildings are recreations. There was a lot of reading, including the more in-depth Junior Ranger Program booklet. The houses and archeology pits were closed, although the Visitor Center and museum were open. The boardwalk was nice way to walk into the town area. It passes over a marshy area where we saw lots of turtles in the water. There were a few turtles upside down, which we thought was bad. Nick asked the Ranger, and he replied that some turtles can turn themselves over and they may be sunning and trying to get more warmth through the thinner belly shell. Or, they didn’t make it through the winter. Ben and I did learn one new thing I don’t remember learning in school: there was a Starving Time (where food was scarce and the town resorted to cannibalism).

VIDEO: Turtles and Muskrat we saw at Jamestown

DETAILS:*

  • TICKETS: WITH Annual NPS Pass $10/adults, children 0-15 free. WITHOUT Annual Pass: $15/adult. COVID Restrictions: masks required, houses were closed to tours. (The extra fee, even with the NPS America The Beautiful Annual Pass, goes to Preservation Virginia.)
  • HOURS: 8:30 am to 4:30 pm
  • PARKING: Yes
  • BATHROOM: Yes
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 1-3 hours
  • *Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.
Posted in: Animal Sightings, Museums & Tours, National Park, National Parks, Sightseeing

Charles Pinckney Historical Site

The Charles Pinckney Historical Site was located pretty close to our campground. Although the house was closed (COVID), the grounds were open. We still wanted to go see it and get a nice walk. There was a Ranger vehicle parked there, but we didn’t see a anyone, so Nick didn’t get to do the Junior Ranger Program at this site.

There were a few walking paths around the property. One was really well laid out with a mulch base. I’m not sure how they did it, but the mulch all stuck together and felt a little bouncy. It was nice and even and made for a nice walk. The others were more nature trails and were dirt (or mud) through trees and brush. There were several signs warning of poison ivy and snakes (copperheads are apparently common down here). We took both trails and read the informational signs along the way. Pinckney was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

I did almost step on a snake, a tiny brown snake that was very quick and blended in with the dirt very well. I think it was maybe a rough earth snake, but I was so startled that I didn’t get a picture. It certainly got my heart pumping, as I had thought that I had been paying attention pretty well to the ground in front of me. We do make sure to always wear boots or closed toed shoes when we are going on any type of walk.

The site was ok. I’m sure if the house was open it would be interesting, but otherwise it was a little boring. If you are in the area, I would check it out, but I wouldn’t go out of your way to see it. We were there there for about a half hour.

DETAILS:*

  • TICKETS: Free. COVID Restrictions: masks required
  • HOURS: Closed Monday and Tuesday. Open Wednesday to Sunday, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
  • PARKING: Yes
  • BATHROOM: Yes
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 30 minutes to 1 hour
  • *Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.
Posted in: Museums & Tours, National Park, National Parks, Sightseeing

Fort Moultrie: Charleston, South Carolina

We were actually driving around trying to find a post office with a package drop box when we realized we were close to Fort Moultrie and decided to stop and check it out.

The fort we saw was actually the 3rd one on the site. The first was constructed of palmetto trees and sand and was used during the Revolutionary War.

This is not how I pictured Peter Parker (aka Spider-Man)!

The fort was later rebuilt and was ultimately destroyed by a hurricane. The third fort was constructed and end up being used during the Civil War. This fort seemed to have a lot of it built into the ground. The Union forces stationed at Moultrie left to go to Sumter, as it had better defenses. Moultrie was defended against sea attacks, but not very well defended for a land attack. Of course, then the Confederates used Moultrie to attack Sumter and force the Union troops out. There was a battery to the left of the fort that was added later, but it was closed while we were there. There were a couple of the interior hall paths that went underground, although a couple were closed or very muddy when we were there.

There was some interesting information and we also got to drive by Sullivan’s Island Lighthouse, but I would not recommend this one unless you are nearby or really into Civil War history and/or forts. It was a little boring compared to the others.

The Junior Ranger Program booklets were available at the entrance, as well as a park map. Nick was excited he got to complete another badge.

DETAILS:*

  • TICKETS: $10/ages 16+, free ages 0-15, or included in America The Beautiful Pass. COVID Restrictions: masks required. Due to COVID, no cash is accepted at the Fort and the Visitor Center is closed. Tickets must be purchased online.
  • HOURS: Fort is open Friday to Sunday 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Grounds and parking open 9:00 am to 5:00 daily.
  • PARKING: Yes, has its own parking
  • BATHROOM: Yes
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 1hour
  • *Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.
Posted in: Museums & Tours, National Park, National Parks, School, Sightseeing

Fort Sumter, Charleston, South Carolina

Although Fort Sumter is part of the National Park Service, there was not an admission fee. However, the only way to get to the fort is by boat, and the ferry ride does cost money.

The boat ride was similar to other boat tours we had taken. They pointed out other sites and talked about the history of Fort Sumter. There was a Park volunteer on the ride to and from that handed out maps and the Junior Ranger programs and badges.

We had a windy, cold, drizzly kind of day, so the water was a little rougher. Once we were docked, there was a ranger led talk that lasted about 15 minutes and went over the history of why Fort Sumter was built and its role in the Civil War. Even after the Civil War, they upgraded the Battery to keep it as a coastal defense. After the talk, we were free to read all the signs and explore around the fort. However, we only had an hour once we docked before the ship left again. It definitely felt rushed. We definitely could have spent a little more time reading and learning, at least another 1/2 hour to an hour would have been nice.

DETAILS:*

  • TICKETS: Fort Sumter, $0. Boat rides were $30/adults, $18 ages 4-11. (Our total for 4 adults was $127.20, as there was an additional $7.20 fee on the online booking receipt.) COVID Restrictions: masks required
  • HOURS: Visitor Center 9:00am-5:00pm (in Charleston). Boat rides vary per season and per location When we went boats departed Liberty Square (Charleston, SC) at 9:30am, 12:15pm, 3:00pm, and Patriots Point (Mount Pleasant, SC) at 10:45 am and 1:45 pm.
  • PARKING: Pay parking on street or nearby lots. It was $5 for the day at Patriot’s Point, which was where we departed from.
  • BATHROOM: Yes
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 1-2 hours
  • *Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.

Posted in: Hiking, National Park, National Parks, Sightseeing

Fort Pulaski National Monument, Georgia

Fort Pulaski is outside of Savannah, Georgia (on the way to Tybee Island), and about an hour from our campground. It is part of the National Park Service, so we were able to use our annual America The Beautiful pass.

It was similar to Fort Zachary in Key West, but had a few unique features to it including a moat and a drawbridge!

The Visitor Center was closed, although the bathrooms across from the Visitor Center were open. The Visitor Center had maps outside and there was someone there to hand out Junior Ranger program booklets and badges. There are also few hiking trails; however, only two were open when we were there. The ranger did not think the Lighthouse trail would be opening anytime soon. It seemed like nature was reclaiming the trail.

Visitor Center, informational signs, looking towards Fort Pulaski from Visitor Center

There was a moat around the fort, which was pretty cool. During the Civil War, the Fort was originally Confederate, but Union soldiers gained control. There was a small cemetery out front from when the Fort also acted as a prison for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. Parts of the outside paths and trails were closed for construction. We entered the Fort on a boardwalk over the water and through the drawbridge.

One of my favorite features was the drawbridge and the amazing doors of the Fort.

The Drawbridge

The fort had lots of rooms and cannon exhibits open on the main floor. It also had stone spiral staircases leading up to the top floor. Most of this area was closed for repairs/construction and there was also no guardrail along the edge. It definitely gave you a different perspective of the fort and the surrounding area.

Views from the top of the Fort

Fort Pulaski still had some of the metal rails in the floor that guided the cannons. It was neat to see those, as Fort Zachary in Key West had similar markings on the floor of where (I assume) these metal pieces used to be. It was nice to see the “whole picture” of the cannon set up at Fort Pulaski. Pulaski also allowed us to see a couple new cannon accessories that we had not seen before; the casement gin and sling carts that were used to move the heavy equipment.

There was another really neat feature that we got to see at Fort Pulaski, the foundation and built in cisterns. The Fort is surrounded by salt water, so there were 10 built-in cisterns to collect rainwater.

During the Civil War the Fort also acted as a Prison for Confederate soldiers.

Some information when it was acting as a Civil War prison

DETAILS:*

  • TICKETS: Included in America the Beautiful (Interagency) Pass. If you don’t the America The Beautiful Pass, it is $10/person for a week pass (ages 15 and under free), or $35 for a Fort Pulaski annual pass. Cash was not being accepted at the gate, credit/debit cards only. COVID Restrictions: masks required, Visitor Center closed.
  • HOURS: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
  • PARKING: Parking lot at Visitor Center/Fort.
  • BATHROOM: Yes, by the Visitor Center
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 1-3 hours
  • *Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.
Posted in: Animal Sightings, National Park, National Parks, School, Sightseeing

Turtles, Mosquitos and Alligators…OH MY!

Although we have seen plenty of turtles and been bitten by many mosquitoes, this post is mostly about my favorite, alligators. My kids may be getting sick of me pointing out an alligator every time I see one, especially since we see them all over the place in the South (Florida, Georgia and South Carolina). I’m not sure why, but I get a huge kick out of seeing these guys in the wild. We saw some decent sized alligators (as well as some crocodiles) in the Everglades National Park, Florida. We even got to see one with it’s mouth open!

At our campground in South Carolina, we saw several smaller ones on the nearby walking trail in the ponds. One looked very young, only 2-3 feet long. The campground’s alligators were not even close to being the same size as the ones in the Everglades, so I felt pretty safe walking around the walking path as long as we all stayed aware.

The boys certainly enjoyed the first several ones we saw and it was a great teaching opportunity to slide in some alligator facts. I have some of these facts below!

Fun alligator facts:

Alligators have about 80 teeth and as the old ones get worn down, new ones come in.

Alligators can hear underwater.

Alligators vs Crocodiles: We saw both in the Everglades. It was a great teaching moment.

Alligators have a rounded snout and are dark grey/black in color. Alligators also do not normally show bottom teeth with their mouth closed.

Crocodiles have a pointed snout and are a grey/brown/green color. Crocodiles bottom and top teeth are visible with their mouth closed. Crocodiles tend to be more aggressive.

An alligator can live up to 50 years. They continue to grow throughout their life.

The power in an alligator’s jaw comes in closing, they do not have a lot of jaw opening strength.

To estimate an alligators size from a distance, calculate the length from the tip of their nose to the eye ridge. One inch of distance here is equal to one foot of total length.

Alligators dig burrows (holes, tunnels) and once they move out, other animals move in. These holes are very important, as they can be deep and hold water, even when other areas have dried up.

Alligators can climb, short fences and even ladders, although we did not see any on stilts or ladders during our encounters.

To get away from an alligator, just run in a straight line 20-30 ft, no zig-zag required. To be safe, I would keep running.

They can leap out of the water using their tail, up to 5 feet!

They will balance sticks on their snout to attract birds…to eat.

They do not hibernate, but they do have times where they are dormant when the weather is too cold (below 55℉).

Mating season is May to June. Eggs hatch in Mid-August to September.

The babies gender is determined by the temperature in the nest. The mom will stay with her eggs and protect them for a year to two after they hatch.

If you have any great Alligator or Crocodile stories, we would love to hear them. Post them in the comments.

LINKS:

US Fish & Wildlife Service

Smithsonian

Britannica

Kissimmee

Posted in: Animal Sightings, Campground Review, National Park, National Parks, Sightseeing

Miami Everglades RV Resort Thousand Trails: Campground Review

For our stay in Miami, we stayed at the Miami Everglades Thousand Trails. This was not part of our Thousand Trails membership, so we had to pay extra for the site. We were only there a few days, so we did not get a chance to do a video or take part in many of the campground’s amenities.

The campground did have a propane refill station, an office (they met us outside, so we didn’t get to see it), and a laundry room. The washers were listed at $1.50 and $2/load, dryers $1.50/load. However, they ran on a card which you had to rent for $5 (refunded when you returned the card) and had to place a minimum of $5 on the card.

The park had a nice walking trail along the outside of it and we got to see several different types of lizards.

There were lots of fun things to do around the campground, including putt putt and shuffleboard. Part of the park was a large open field, which was used for group camping, as well as storage, but also would work for running off excess energy.

Dog area, tiki hut, shuffleboard, pool, basketball

It was in a decent location, although there was nothing close by, as it was surrounded by plant nurseries. It was about 30 minutes to Everglades National Park (depending on which Visitor Center you wanted to go to) and Biscayne National Park.

The huge negative for me, and the reason why I would not go back, are the interior roads. They are barely single lanes and are not marked as one ways, so when we pulled out, we had to guess which road to go down and hope no one was coming the other way. Because the roads are narrow, it also made pulling out of our site take an hour. Not packing up and pulling out, just pulling out. Our neighbor to the left had pulled really close to the road and the neighbors across parked their cars along the road, so we had to keep backing up and moving the RV so we could clear them all. The neighbors were nice and moved a car and tried to help with making sure I was clearing my blind spots. For smaller rigs, it would probably work out well, but it was incredibly hard to maneuver a large RV. NOTE: Someone told us that going over to the tiki hut side, driving past the tiki hut and by the propane would be easier and give you more room to maneuver (instead of trying to turn left onto the center road). It definitely helped.

If we had a smaller RV, I would stay here again, but it was just too hard to maneuver with ours.

Our site and the narrow rows
Black line is how we were directed to come into the site. Pink line is how we left our site, going across and around by the tiki hut instead of trying to turn left on center lane.

SUMMARY OF CAMPGROUND:

Our rating: 3 out of 5 hitches (The nice walking path and amenities got it to a 3)

Cell Phone Reception: AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile

Laundry: Yes

Bathrooms/Showers: Yes

RV Sites: Pull Through, Back-In, grass/dirt sites

Pop Up Tents/Gazebos/Outdoor Rugs On-Site: Tents were listed as a no, but we saw several around the campground. Screen rooms had to be approved.

Amenities: picnic table, concrete patio at site, community fire pit, cable, playground, dog area, pool, large tiki hut area with picnic tables, putt putt, basketball, shuffleboard, pickleball, horseshoes, sand volleyball court, walking trail

Cabins: Yes

Tent Camping: Yes

Full Hook-ups: Yes

            Amps: 30, 50

Pool: Yes

Food On-Site: No

Camp Store: unknown

WiFi: Pay

Accepts Mail: unknown

Fishing: No

Posted in: Animal Sightings, National Park, National Parks, Sightseeing

Biscayne National Park (Near Miami, Florida)

The Miami area has two National Parks: Everglades and Biscayne National Park. The Everglades were amazing, so we wanted to check out Biscayne as well. Biscayne National Park is 95% water, with only one trail at the Visitor Center. There was parking at the Visitor Center and you could schedule a boat to take you around the park.

Bottom right: red and black mangroves

The Visitor Center had a movie about the park, as well as a great learning area about the history of the area and it’s ecosystem. We all learned that the red mangroves are the ones you normally think of with their long roots reaching into the water. The black mangrove trees have roots that stick up through the ground like straws! The Visitor Center’s trail was only about a 1/4 mile. The path consists of a bridge and a dirt path, but we did get to see the different types of mangroves in person along the trail. Nick was able to complete the Junior Ranger program there as well, as this book was mostly reading and could be done without taking a boat into the Park.

Guided tours (via boat, snorkel, paddle boards, and kayak) are available, but do cost extra. It was neat to see, but not very much to do unless you take a boat out.