Posted in: Exploring Ohio, Hiking, Museums & Tours, School

Fort Ancient

Will is a huge history fan, so we decided to take a trip out to see Fort Ancient.

The price is pretty reasonable at $7/adults, and $6/students. Admission is paid at the museum/visitor center (not the unmanned booth in front) and covers the grounds and the museum.

The museum had some interesting information (a lot of reading), a few mannequin types of displays, and a gift shop. (Restrooms are also located in the Museum building.) There are a set of round mounds right near the visitor center/museum.

There are a few hiking trails available on the grounds. We went along three short trails. Our first trail, Mound Trail, was not maintained that well and was not very well marked. We did not get lost, but there were a few spots along the trails that seemed like another path joined in or it wasn’t well defined. I would recommend bug spray and long socks or pants, as we came across a lot of poison ivy.

The mounds were hard to see in the woods, as nothing is cleared around them and nature has taken over (trees, grass, weeds, etc. growing out of them). The Mound Trail supposedly had 5 mounds; we did some numbered posts, but it wasn’t clear if those were the mounds. If it was, we did not see them for the forest.

We did see a fawn in the woods and they had a decent sized picnic area available. It was a decent short excursion, but if you are looking for well-defined/visible mounds, you may be disappointed. There are several long ones along the park road, but again, the forest is reclaiming them. I want to take him out to Serpent Mound, which is much more visible as a mound (trees/grass/weeds trimmed around mound).

Posted in: Exploring Illiniois, Food, Hiking, Museums & Tours, Sightseeing

Exploring Chicago: Day 2

(NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.)

We got up at 6:45 AM to beat the crowd at Wildberry Pancakes & Cafe. We rolled out of the hotel around 7:30. A fog hung in the air still, which gave the cityscape a different look from the day before. On the walk to breakfast, Nick suggested we stop at the Bean and get pictures. Yesterday Millenium park was crazy with a festival, but this morning it was empty. In fact, the whole city was nearly empty at this hour on a Sunday morning. It made for easy pictures.

We got immediate seating at Wildberry which was a great surprise since many reviews called out wait times over 2 hours on a Sunday. Nick got the Oreo S’more pancakes. I got the egg white veggie omelet with a side pancake (Key Lime pie). Everything was delicious. I couldn’t even finish my whole omelet.

Nick wanted to do the Architectural boat tour, so I put him to work booking us tickets. We took a short 1.25 mile walk to the boat. The end cost for a 90-minute tour was $121 ($116+$5tip).

The boat was the Ft. Dearborn, named after the fort that started Chicago. Marshal was our docent (tour guide) on the boat tour. Captain Carol drove the boat. We explored all 3 branches of the Chicago River. It was very educational and neat to learn the difference between “Modern” architecture (Modern architecture has a flat roof and no ornamentation) vs. the other styles. We did learn an interesting fact about the Chicago flag as well.

Chicago borders Lake Michigan on the East. Chicago’s name comes from the smelly wild onion plants that used to blossom on the shores. In the Native American language, it sounds somewhat like Chicago. Willis Tower was constructed with a tube construction (9 towers bundled together to fight the wind). They dubbed the area around the rivers as “From warehouse to our house.” (Conversion of river warehouses to upscale apartments and condos).

Next, since we were close, we walked to Navy Pier. It was pretty lame. But on our way out we shared our first Chicago dog from Relish ($6). It comes with jalapeño, pickle, celery salt, mustard, relish, tomato, cucumber, and of course the all-beef hotdog. We both liked it a lot. Which was strange for me because I don’t normally like mustard, relish, jalapeños, or pickles. Who knew I would like it when you shove them all together?

On our way to the Magnificent Mile, we detoured to see a beach at Lake Michigan. People had donned wet suits and were swimming in the lake. It was 60F and windy. These are some tough people.

We wandered the Magnificent Mile. We stopped at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery, which was an insane 5-story Starbucks that we had to wait in line to get into. We didn’t buy anything because it was nuts inside, but they did have a tempting flight of Starbucks-themed martinis and a silk-lined blazer made from coffee bean bags for just $525. Unfortunately, they didn’t have my size.

We souvenir shopped our way back to the hotel area, picking up a Cubs hat for me and postcards.

We stopped at the Buckingham Fountain for the quintessential Chicago picture. Nick noted that the horses look like they are vomiting and are surprised about it. Strangely I agree.

We walked over 9 miles before stopping back at the hotel to rest before dinner. When I told Nick we were over 20,000 steps, he said, “No wonder my feet hurt.”

~Ben

Posted in: Exploring Illiniois, Exploring Ohio, Food, Hiking, Hotel, Museums & Tours, Sightseeing

Exploring Chicago

(Note: Click on an image to view full screen.)

I have always wanted to try traveling by train. Something about it sets your imagination wild. Nick and I decided to take a trip to Chicago on Amtrak this summer. We had been to Indianapolis multiple time, but Nick had never been to Chicago and it was the next closest stop. The Saturday train was scheduled to depart at 1:41 AM. Sarah and Will dropped us off and we got to Union Terminal in Cincinnati, Ohio at 12:30AM. We checked in and Nick’s state ID came in handy. (An alternative could have been a school ID). The train’s arrival was delayed until 2:01AM, and then again to 2:16AM.

We finally boarded and were underway by 2:30AM. Our conductor assigned us our seats, which were towards the front of the train. It was a relief to be assigned rather than having to scramble and fight for a seat together. They were big seats (2x the size of an airplane) with many comfort adjustments (foot rest, leg extension and reclining). There seemed to be plenty of overhead room for carry-on items. The restrooms were in the back of each car.

Expert tip: Remember to bring your phone charger and longer cords. Each pair of seats has two 110V outlets. This is super convenient and way better than coach seats on planes.

Indianapolis was the only stop longer than 1 minute during our trip. We didn’t get off, but some smokers did to get their fix and stretch their legs.

The train started much slower than I expected (9-10 mph through city area) and gently rocked like a boat. As we got further out from the train station, the speed picked up to around 30 mph. The snoring of other sleeping passengers lingered in the air. If you really want to sleep well, ear plugs, eye masks and a pillow are mandatory equipment. It was fun to try to identify the various chemical plants as we passed by them in the city. I never realized how many existed in the Cincinnati area along the train line.

By 3:30 am Nick had calmed down and fallen asleep. He didn’t look comfortable, but even uncomfortable sleep was probably good for him.

We crossed a river near Hamilton, Ohio. It was fun to see the river from a different perspective. I can see why writers wrote on trains. It is a ‘romantic’ way to travel and the perspective change gives different insights. Something about going a little slower, the changing scenery and interacting with so many different people creates a spark of creativity.

Nick and I both managed to sleep a couple hours before it got light again around Indianapolis. The seat was rough on my knee somehow and left me feeling stiff, but rested well enough.

The track seemed bumpier after passing through Indianapolis. We moved at a quicker speed (up to 60 mph), so that likely played into it.

At 6:30AM we rope-dropped the Cafe car for breakfast. It was a reheated, unremarkable, bordering on gross breakfast sandwich that I ate completely. Despite the food, the cafe car was a different and nicer venue than our seats and we got to sit in a booth. The coffee was fine. Nick liked his bagel and hot chocolate. It was $13+$1 tip. I also grabbed a can of Diet Coke for an exorbitant $2.50. Expert tip: Bring your own food.

The bathrooms on Amtrak are kind of gross. They meet the minimum, but would get old over days of traveling. They use a vacuum assist flush and Nick said they seemed like RV toilets. I think he means that they are smaller seats. We were reminded by the conductor to make sure that we locked the door when we used it because he said, “there is always one that doesn’t on every trip.”

I am glad we chose a short trip to test things out on Amtrak. The price was certainly right since we got a Valentine’s Day BOGO, making the whole thing $84 for both of us. The fare was by far the cheapest part of the trip. With gas prices over $5/gallon, other than biking or walking, it seemed the cheapest way to go. Maybe the Megabus is competitive? I will have to check it out.

The train was 75%+ full in the coach sections. It was quite the eclectic mix of people with a large mix of all races, ages, ethnicities, and wealth.

The sleeper car people are at the back of the train and are really separated from the masses. They get the VIP treatment starting with the boarding processes, where they are taken out a separate way to the train. I would like to see what a sleeper room or roomette would feel like. Maybe next time.

It takes about 5 hours to drive from Cincinnati, OH to Chicago, IL. Flying is just 1.5 hours (+1 hour of airport security and chaos). We took from 12:30 AM to 10:00 AM terminal to terminal (9.5 hours) via train. All that to say, train travel via Amtrak is not fast. For Cincinnati users, the departure time is very inconvenient at 1:41AM.

After arriving via the Amtrak in Chicago, Nick and I had 3 hours to kill before going to the Skydeck in Willis Tower. We walked by Millennium Park (the Bean), Maggie Daly Park with an amazing “Play Garden,”and rode Centennial wheel at Navy Pier ($40).

After 2 hours of walking we were beat and Ubered back to Willis Tower from Navy Pier to catch our 1:00PM appointment.

Willis Tower (formerly Sears tower) was wonderful. My friend Bill sent us on a wild goose chase for Chicago dogs that he said were in the Willis Tower food court lobby. Not finding them and running out of time before our ticket time, Nick and I settled for a trail-mix that we had brought for emergencies. It had been awhile since breakfast, so we counted it as an emergency.

After our snack, we went to the Skydeck ($80). There was a nice Chicago fact museum and Instagram selfie studio prior to going in, where we grabbed several pictures. I got pictures with Michael Jordan and Oprah. Nick got pictures with the Obamas and Chicago food.

After capturing enough selfies, we ventured up 103 floors to the glass ledge where we “dangled” out past the building. It is a great hook and super fun. Nick, who doesn’t like heights, did great. We grabbed some pictures and some great footsies.

Having conquered the Himalayas of Chicago, we were ravenous and decided to go to Giordano’s. The restaurant was a block away, so we didn’t have far to go. We got the appetizer sampler, a Cobb salad, and a small stuffed deep dish Meat & More Meat pizza (each slice is 1,000 calories). The pizza was amazing!

Naomi was a great server and even helped us get pictures and video of our experience.

We left Giordano’s right at 3PM, which was the  first available time we could check in to the hotel, and headed to the hotel. The Central Loop Hotel was close to all the things we wanted to see and it was reasonably priced for a bedroom with two twin beds. We had no issues checking in and found ourselves exhausted in our room at 3:30 PM. We showered, changed, and promptly fell asleep with an alarm set for 7:30 PM and no specific plans for what we would do when it went off.

~Ben

Posted in: Animal Sightings, Exploring Ohio, Hiking, Sightseeing

Deep Lock Quarry Trail

We found this trail on AllTrails app. The Deep Lock Quarry Metro Park was next to the National Park, so we only had to drive a couple of minutes to get to this trail.

The trail was about 1.4 miles, although we added a little bit on with a side trail. It had a few informational signs about things along the trail. There were remains of Quaker Oat millstones, the remains of sandstone blocks from a loading dock, bases of old derricks used to load boats/trains.

Quarry Trail Signs
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There was the old quarry as well. You could see the layers of cut out rocks.

We took a side trail to see Lock 28, which was the deepest lock of the Ohio Erie Canal and was nicknamed Deep Lock. The lock was a little overgrown, but still easily seen. It was really neat to see the remains of the canal system.

Lock 28 Signs
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Posted in: Exploring New Hampshire, Hiking, Museums & Tours, National Park, National Parks, Sightseeing

Saint-Gaudens National Historical Site

Will and I explored the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site. This park was located across the river in New Hampshire, but was only about a half hour drive from our campground in Vermont.

Saint-Gaudens was a sculptor and the grounds contained information about his pieces and life. The house was closed, but the other buildings were open. I would not recommend this one for younger kids, as it was a lot of reading and not really interactive. There were some trails, including the Ravine Trail (which the Ranger told us was really more of a moderate path). However, since there was a heat advisory out (92℉), we did not do that trail.

The park also had a phone audio tour available, which was a nice feature to learn a little more about the pieces shown. Will completed the Junior Ranger program there, and they had a neat looking badge.

DETAILS:*

  • TICKETS: $10/adults, children 15 and under free. Can use America The Beautiful Pass. COVID Restrictions: masks required, House closed
  • HOURS: May 29-October 31 (9am-4pm)
  • 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: Exploring Massachusetts, Museums & Tours, National Park, National Parks, School, Sightseeing

Exploring New Bedford, Massachusetts

We ended our stay in Massachusetts by going to New Bedford to see the Whaling Museum. (Questions we got: What about Nantucket and Boston? My sister lived in Boston for awhile and we had visited her and explored the city. The main goal of the trip was to see new things. Ben really wanted Nantucket, but the ferry itself was $300, plus whatever we would spend in town.)

New Bedford is a fishing town. They were big in the whaling industry and now do a lot of commerce in scallops.

We managed to find parking on the street (it looks like it is all resident pass or pay parking) near the New Bedford Whaling National Historic Park. The Visitor Center was closed and only had a table open to get a map and Junior Ranger material. (The boys did not get their badges yet because the Visitor Center closed by the time we were done walking around. The ranger told us we could mail the booklets in to get the badges.) The National Park Service museum had a lot of outdoor signs around the town. The map had a nice outline of where the park’s boundaries were.

Click to enlarge

We stopped at the other New Bedford Whaling Museum. This one was not part of the National Park Service and had paid admission. However, when we went to check it out, they told us the lobby was free to look around. The lobby had skeletons of different whales and some really neat information. The one skeleton has a piece of tubing attached to the skull and it leads to a beaker. It has been collection oil for 10 years!

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Next, we headed down to the Fishing Heritage Center. It was also free the day we were there. It ended up being surprisingly good! It was very interactive with a movie, multiple buttons to push to hear different sounds and fishing stories. There was even a fishing bucket the kids could pull up. It gave a nice detailed history of fishing, especially in the New Bedford region. It was really well done and everyone enjoyed it.

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The town was pretty cute. However, I would stay near the museums. The farther out of the touristy area we got, it got to be a rougher part of town.

Posted in: Animal Sightings, Exploring New York, Hiking, Sightseeing

New York’s Central Park

We spent a couple of hours walking around Central Park. It is so much bigger than I thought it would be. It is 843 acres! There are several bridges, a playground, a zoo, a fountain, a lake, and a castle. We didn’t even see all of it. If we had more time, we would have taken the Blue Line bus tour around the park to hear all of the different tidbits about it.

We didn’t really have a plan in mind, just wandered through the park enjoying the beautiful weather.

There was a large open field in the park where we saw people throwing the Frisbee, picnicking, reading, and sunbathing. We saw a lot of Speedos.

Ben brought us to Belvedere Castle and Turtle Pond. Nick enjoyed seeing all the turtles; they were swimming and lounging on the rocks. Belvedere Castle was open, but there was really only one room open. The stairs to go up were closed off.

It was an amazing park in the middle of a huge city.

LINK: MAP OF CENTRAL PARK

Posted in: Animal Sightings, Exploring Pennsylvania, Hiking, National Park, National Parks, Sightseeing

Delaware Water Gap & The Appalachian Trail

We’ve moved to Pennsylvania and although pretty, there were not many activities close to the campground except hiking.

For Mother’s Day, we headed to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area to go on a hike. The Delaware Water Gap is an elongated park, and we were hiking to Mount Minsi, which was towards the bottom of the park. The park had several hiking trails and a beach area.

I used our trail app and found the Mount Minsi via Appalachian Trail hike. It was supposed to be 5 miles, listed as moderate, and followed part of the Appalachian Trail. Ben has wanted to hike part of the Appalachian Trail for a while, so we wanted to take advantage of the fact that it was pretty close by (about a 30 minute drive). I looked at the pictures and thought it didn’t look too bad and it had great reviews. (Spoiler: I was wrong.)

The trail was a lot more crowded in on the way up than we expected. There was a small parking lot by the trailhead that was almost completely full. There was also a smaller lot a little up the hill, which was also full. I thought that on Mother’s Day, that it wouldn’t be that busy, but I was wrong. It still wasn’t super packed, but still had about 30 people pass us.

Now, I know I already gave the spoiler that I was wrong about the trail difficulty. Our hike ended up being 5.6 miles (Ben’s tracker said 5.8 miles and I did accidentally pause the recorder at one point on mine, so somewhere in that range) with an elevation gain of 1086 feet. My theory was that people were too busy trying not to trip and fall that they didn’t take pictures of the hard parts for their reviews. 😉 The trail was mostly a loop, which we always like in a hike. It started as an out and back, then splits to the right and left. We ended up taking the right side of the path, which probably is the only reason we finished the hike. The left side was a lot more narrow, rockier and had more climbing (at least for my shorter legs) over rocks. Either way, you are climbing uphill and coming downhill on the way back.

Parts of the trail

There are bears in the area, so we did bring our bear spray. We did not see any though. We heard birds, but the only wildlife we saw were several millipedes along the trail. We looked them up when we got home and discovered they were the ironworm/American Giant Millipede.

The top of the trail has two lookouts, and I would recommend seeing both since you are already there. The first overlooks a neat rocky hillside and has a nice space to sit and take a break. The second lookout also has a few nice large rocks to overlook the Delaware River.

Views along the trail

I’m glad we did it, although we (especially the adults) were exhausted at the end. Ben and I were sore even the next day. Hikes like this one make me miss having a tub to soak our feet in!

DETAILS:*

  • TICKETS: Free, except for beach or river access. COVID Restrictions: Visitor Centers closed, masks required
  • HOURS: Most is open 24 hours, per website
  • PARKING: Yes, but some lots are small
  • BATHROOM: Not at trailhead. Visitor Centers are closed, although we did see a bathroom that was open on the other side of the Bushkill Meeting Center.
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 1-4 hours
  • *Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.
Posted in: Animal Sightings, Exploring Virginia, Hiking

Magothy Bay Natural Area Preserve

Our second hiking trail we took was at the Magothy Bay Natural Area Preserve.

This preserve is tucked back in among farms and private residences. hiking, saw a few farms/peacocks/sheep, nice view of the bay and lighthouse. We heard a few birds, but didn’t see that many. We did see a skull of some kind along the path and a few white tail deer rain in front of us.

DETAILS:*

  • TICKETS: Free. COVID Restrictions: masks required/social distancing
  • HOURS: Dawn to Dusk
  • PARKING: Small lot (only about 5 spots)
  • BATHROOM: NO
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 1 hour
  • *Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.
Posted in: Animal Sightings, Exploring Virginia, Hiking, National Park, National Parks, Sightseeing

Assateague Island National Seashore

We went to check out Assateague Island based on the recommendations from the Pearl Market. The park spans the border of Maryland and Virginia. We decided to go to the Virginia side, as it was closer. The Virginia part of the park is also the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.

We stopped first to see the beach (Atlantic Ocean) and the Visitors Center. The Center was closed, but they did have maps, passport stamps, and a Ranger there to ask questions. The park has hiking trails, the beach for swimming (does not always have a lifeguard), and allows fishing/crabbing.

Virginia fences the horses to keep them away from roads, which is good but also means that the horses are farther away. At times, it seemed like you were just looking at a farm/ranch’s fenced in horses. Maryland does not fence the horses, so they do wander into the road, etc.

We did a couple of hiking trails (the Woodlands and Lighthouse). Both trails were either nicely paved, a boardwalk, or pretty even dirt paths. The Woodlands trail wandered through the woods and had a few areas to view the horses if they were nearby. The Lighthouse trail had a vault toilet and a parking lot, and (surprisingly) led to the lighthouse. The lighthouse was closed, although you could walk around it. The one thing I wished they did was put the trail lengths on the maps. There was a map at each trail head sign, plus the ranger gave us a trail map at the Visitor Center; however, neither of the maps, nor the app, had the trail lengths listed. When I looked later, I did find the trail lengths on a separate website. We had a nice time walking around.

We did not get to the Wildlife Loop, as it is pretty long and we would have had to wait for a couple more hours to drive it. It is open only for walking or bicycles until 3:00 pm. After 3:00 pm, you can drive the Loop.

We had a pretty mild day, but in the summer I would bring lots of water, sunscreen, and bug spray. The Ranger told us the mosquitoes are horrible when it gets warmer.

DETAILS:*

  • TICKETS: Included with Interagency Pass (America The Beautiful annual), or $10/1 day, $25/7days. There is also a refuge annual pass option and a beach parking pass option. COVID Restrictions: masks required/social distancing. Visitor Centers closed, lighthouse closed.
  • HOURS: Park hours vary based on season. January-March 15th 6:00 am-6:00 pm, March 15th-April 6:00 am-8:00 pm. May-September 15th 5:00 am-10:00 pm, September 15-October 6:00 am to 8:00 pm, November-December 6:00 am to 8:00 pm. The Visitor Center also has different hours of operation.
  • PARKING: Yes
  • BATHROOM: Yes
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 1-3 hours
  • *Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.
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Quarry Trail Signs
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Lock 28 Signs
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