Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thanksgiving Traditions: Establishing New Ones on Trails

      Thanksgiving oozes family tradition - going to grandma's house, volunteering at a soup kitchen, making the passed-down family recipe, watching football or the parades in PJ's or taking a hike. After years of wrangling with traffic in the the northeast, my husband and I decided, no more, enough was enough of the exhausting eleven hour stop-and-go traffic and decided to stay put at home. Thus, it gave us the opportunity to establish our own traditions and invite others to join us.
     Whether it is cold, rainy or the most beautiful azure skies, we take a hike. We stuff the turkey to capacity, stick it in the oven, put on our hiking boots and venture close to one of the many trails the DC region has to offer. The trails are quiet and peaceful because so many have escaped the political hub to find rest and relaxation. Instead, we retreat to a trail to celebrate each other, our family unit, the bounty in our lives and the ability to adventure together in the great outdoors. Besides sitting down to gorge on a tasty meal and share our gratitude, hiking as a family on Thanksgiving allows us to relish each other and just be.
     What traditions are you thankful for on this Thanksgiving?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Celebrating our Outdoor Selves

   A theme that continually popped in my head when reading the last 100 pages of "Up: A Mother and Daughter's Peakbagging Experience" by Patricia Ellis Herr was her humble nature to praise her daughter Alex and not herself. Patricia leads her daughter on a journey to peak bag the forty-eight 4,000 foot White Mountains when Alex is age five and six. Yes, Alex is a unique child to one, want to do this but second, follow through to completion. I would like to praise her mom though. Patricia does not give herself a high five in the book for one, seeing and acknowledging Alex's desire to summit all 4,000 foot peaks in the Whites; second, learning the art of hiking in the Whites; third, leading her daughter safely up each peak; and fourth, acknowledging her own desire to summit all 48 and then completing this achievement. It struck me that throughout the book, she continually wrote, intentionally and inferentially, how much of this adventure was her daughter's and not her own. At the end of the book, she finally acknowledges her own accomplishment and admits that she selfishly invested in this adventure for herself and not just for Alex. Why at the end of the book? Why only one sentence about it?   Mothers are nurturers. We are giving: of ourselves, our time and our energy. Our giving is unconditional. Often receiving (and sometimes wanting) nothing in return; except for maybe love. This is the theme of another recent book I read, Brothers and Me by Donna Britt. She chronicles her life of giving: to her brothers, her husbands and her children. It isn't until the end of the book that she realizes giving is selfish - in a good way. Giving is purposeful, even if done subconsciously, because it allows the giver to feel good about herself. Donna acknowledges and gives her readers permission to feel okay for selfishly giving to others, whether to their family, friends or community. This was my own revelation about myself when reading Brothers and Me which allowed me to read Ellis's book with a new set of lenses.
   Patricia gave unconditionally to her daughter's peakbagging adventure. As she explains in her book, she wants to foster and not inhibit her daughters' passions and desires for exploration. Her story is an example of how mothers give consciously and subconsciously to help their children fulfill their dreams and aspirations.  Patricia deserves a high five for being a giver but also for  finally acknowledging her accomplishment, even if it was brief and at the end of the book. Most importantly, I celebrate her because she selfishly had a vision to climb all forty-eight, 4,000 foot peaks in the White Mountains with her daughter. She implemented her vision and accomplishment it. Yes, Alex did it and that is amazing. However, Alex couldn't have done it without her mom. In her story, Patricia exemplifies a mother with  a strong mind, body and spirit that made choices to adventure and accomplish. I celebrate her!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Turning First-Timers into Campers

Sunset from rocks at Bear's Den

        For more than five years, I've had amazing opportunities to lead high school students on camping or backpacking trips. With each adventure, students fall into two groups: experienced and first-time campers. The experienced students can't wait to go and the first-timers have a million questions and fears. I answer their questions and fears, arming them with knowledge, strategies and my optimism that they will have a great time. Not to boast my record but I am zero for I can't count the number of students I have led camping that have not  had a positive experience, leaving them wanting more.
Siena teachers love camping too!
     Last week's camping trip was no exception. Three teachers from the Siena School where I teach middle school Science took the freshman class of twelve students to camp at Bear's Den on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia. The goal of the trip was part academic and part team building and bonding. It provided students the opportunity: to learn new camping skills for first-times, to lead and model skills from the experienced, discuss and role play how human behavior impacts the environment, test their physical endurance while hiking the rocky and hilly AT, complete service to improve the environment, and most importantly free time to solidify and appreciate relationships with each other and nature. It was those moments of free time that I enjoyed observing the dynamics between peers and their usage of the environment as a playground. As the 36 hours of the trip passed, students became infinitely more comfortable and confident with their usage of the natural playground. This confidence gained in themselves and with each other is invaluable; subconscious lessons each will use and remember for a life time.
    One first-time camper gave me the ultimate compliment. Upon first siting me in the hall on Monday morning, she called, "Hey Ms. Chambers, guess what I did this weekend?" Without giving me enough time to respond, she blurted, "I camped in my backyard." Wow! This tickles deep to know that connections and relationship were built in one 36 hour camping trip! Image if we could give every child this opportunity.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Creating Community in Nature

    For 10 years families in my neighborhood have gathered to camp every fall. We live in a community that has a "it takes a village" mentality. We carry that philosophy when we recreate outdoors. Our bonds are strong but made even stronger by sharing time and space in nature.
    Some families have remained while others have come and gone and new families have gathered. Some are experienced campers and for others, it is their first time. The first timers borrow gear and use the presence of the experienced as comfort to venture into a new family endeavor. Whether new or old at camping, we all take comfort having each others' backs and those of our kids.    Ten years ago, our children were preschoolers or younger. Camping with youngsters is more work but made easier in a community of friends who share time as the watchful eye. Now our children are older. The ever-present watchful eye is sporadic as the adults hang together around the campfire while our kids roam the woods creating adventures. Just like the adults, the kids have grown up watching out for each other and seek fun together as a pack. As parents, we take our unconscious turns at reminding our children to make good choices when it seems they need a reminder. On Sunday we pack up our sites and drive away each year with huge smiles and exclamations of "I can't wait to do it again next year."

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Trail Discovery for Kids: Lake Artemesia

View Larger Map
August 2012 Highlighted Hike
Berwyn Heights, MD

Trail Description
ü  This 1.4 mile circuit hike on a hard surface trail is just across the railroad tracks from the University of Maryland in College Park.
ü  The trail circles the 38 acre Lake Artemesia with no elevation gain or loss.
ü  To find Lake Artemesia, use Interstate 495 and take Kenilworth Avenue south to Greenbelt Rd/Rt. 193. Turn right and drive three quarters of a mile. Turn right onto Branchville Rd. which goes under the railroad tracks and turns left and becomes Ballew Ave. Make a left into the parking lot just after the stop sign with Berwyn Rd. Follow the trail along Ballew Ave. to the gate of Lake Artemesia.
ü  The trail is stroller and bike friendly.
ü  See the trail map image to the right.

Age Appropriateness
This hike is appropriate for children of all ages but especially great for toddlers and preschoolers.

What is fun for kids?
ü  The park has two floating docks for fishing. Children younger than 16 do not have to possess a license.
ü  The park has seven gazebos, one raised above the lake, to seek shade, rest and watch wildlife. Many benches sit along the trail and throughout the park.
ü  Wildlife seen includes: Eastern Painted turtles, Snapping Turtles, Bullfrogs, Green Frogs, Great Blue Heron, Egret, Wood Ducks, and Mallards. The lake is a migratory ground for many birds.
ü  Watch the metro and trains travel by the western side of the lake.
ü  Beautiful water lilies that bloom in July. A few blooms were still alive in August.
ü  There are a few large open green spaces for a picnic or a game of tag.
ü  The Lake Artemesia Trail is part of the Anacostia Tributary Trail System providing miles of trails in Prince Georges and Montgomery counties. From the park, the Paint Branch, Indian Creek and Northeast Branch trails can be accessed.
ü  Lake Artemesia is metro accessible from the College Park station on the green line.

ü  Swimming, boating and ice skating are not allowed on the lake.
ü  A majority of the trail is exposed to the sun and lacks shade.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

What I Learned About My Kids (and Myself)

Looking at Mt. Lafayette and Lincoln at Lonesome Lake

Greenleaf Hut
Engaging in the outdoors and testing my kid's physical (and mental) limits has allowed me to view deep into their personalities and how they experience life. In the last couple of years, I have taken them (ages 7 and 11) backpacking, hut hiking, kayaking, bike camping, rock scrambling and camping for long periods of time far away from home. Each time I push the difficulty level on the adventure meter.
     Before last week, they have hiked 8 miles in one day, carried a backpack on short distance backpacking trips and hiked over 1,000 feet in elevation on a short trail. I combined it altogether to hike two AMC huts in the White Mountains. I was confident they would rise to the challenge. The challenge for me was keeping my sometimes impatient nature in check and being the most positive, patient mommy when the going got tough (more on that later). Huge insights learned:
  • My son is internally motivated. He didn't need me, his sister or anyone else to get him up the mountain. He enjoyed the physically challenge. Often he said, "mom, this is fun." He had his moments on the second day when his little feet developed hot spots. I was grateful he communicated with me. We patched his feet a few different times and he was good to go never developing blisters. That would have definitely slowed him down. Often he was the lead encouraging us with his bouncy steps to maintain a presence behind him.
  • My daughter is externally motivated. However, garnering that motivation from her mother is not the key. Instead, I received the whines of, "I'm tired or I don't want to do this anymore." Her brother can sometimes provide that motivation through competition. However, her peers and friends are the best motivators. Stalling up the mountain and complaining was the name of the game on the first day. By coincidence, we ran into neighbors at the Lonesome Lake hut. The three girls, older than her, helped motivate her to hike the difficult trail to Greenleaf hut. Upon reaching the hut, she would normally have been done for the day but she decided to summit Mt. Lafayette with the girls. The reward was the beautiful view. The reward for me was her telling me with a smile that the view was beautiful. This meant it was well worth the physical effort.

      Did the going-get-tough? Yes, from each child. I realized I had more patience for my son. Was I being fair? No, I concluded. Why was I being less patient with my daughter than my son? Upon reflection, I realized I want her to be TOUGH; be strong. Unlike her mama at her age. I have learned since then to be tough. I continue to learn everyday. There is a little voice of doubt in my head that creates fear and anxiety to remind me that maybe I can't do it. But I love proving it wrong!
      Each of these challenges in the outdoors allows me to work on my patience with my kids, in particular my daughter. I want them to learn about and explore their physical limits. I want to model for them that going beyond reaps rewards of greater self-confidence.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Finding Strength as an Environmental Hero: A Review of Teen Fiction

    Who doesn't like to root for an underdog? As I read Totem Magic, Going Mad, I cheered for Enrique and Connie to win against the evil witch doctor who kidnaps Connie's father, the leader of Green Force. Furthermore, I rooted for Enrique to discover the strength and courage within himself to fight against bullies; those in school and in the secretive Magic User community.
   John Griffith, a California environmental educator, wrote an engaging and creative book for teens. Connie and Enrique, otherwise known as Vulchy, are best friends in sixth grade whose families are part of the Magic User community. Each member of the community is a totem mage born with the gift to protect an animal threatened by extinction. Going MAD in the Magic Users community is a rite of passage. The community and the world's existence are threatened when Connie's dad is kidnapped by Kaktor, the evil witch doctor. Will Connie and Enrique save Connie's dad and the planet? The story has a surprising twist to keep the reader engaged to the end.
    The author had the best time creating and writing about the funny, unusual and sometimes grotesque cast of characters that Connie and Enrique run into along their quest. Both teens are forced to problem solve in unique ways to conquer physical and mental obstacles; each given a magical tool, sunglasses and flip flops, by the people's witch to aid them.
    Connie, a black girl, is a strong character who doesn't take crap from people, witches or monsters. Her strength throughout the journey helps Enrique to notice his own in spite of his fear. So when Vulchy vomited green puke on the vampire to escape death, I cheered with pride. In the end, its Vulchy becoming his totem mage that lifts his wings in ultimate self-confidence. Totem Magic, Going Mad is an engaging read for teens and adults that mirrors the complex themes of bullying and environmental degradation present in todays world.

Note: This book was published by Wheatmark and is available on Amazon. All proceeds from the book are donated to four environmental organizations.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Trail Discovery for Kids: Michaux State Forest, PA

Taking a rest next to the reservoir
July 2012 Highlighted Hike
Beaver Trail
Michaux State Forest, PA

Trail Description
ü  This 2.5 mile out-and-back hike is in Michaux State Forest north of Route 30 and 10 miles east of Chambersburg, PA.
ü  This natural surface trail hugs the reservoir with only one 75 foot climb away from the reservoir and then a gentle slope descending back.
ü  To find the Beaver trailhead, turn left onto Milesburn Road (dirt road) from Rt. 233. At the end of the reservoir, turn right onto Birch Run Road (dirt road). Follow it for less than a mile. Park along the road after the second bridge. Walk back over the bridge to stairs on the left of the road which descend the embankment where the Beaver trailhead sign is located.
ü  The hike is not jogging stroller friendly.
ü  Trail map. To help orient, look for Caledonia State Park in pink. The reservoir is north of it. The Beaver Trail is on the north side of the reservoir adjacent to Birch Run Road.

Age Appropriateness
This hike is appropriate for children five years or older.

What is fun for kids?
ü  Hiking along the reservoir. There are six different locations to access it and play; the largest being a mile down the trail.
ü  Blueberry bushes are abundant along both sides of the trail throughout the hike.
ü  In June, the Rhododendron bushes display huge flowers.
ü  Bring a kayak or canoe and enjoy the lake. The boat ramp is located on the south side of it off of Milesburn Road.
ü  Bushwhack, rock scramble and play in Knob Run. This is the stream that runs under the second bridge on Birch Run Road. Rocky Knob Trail runs along this stream.
ü  Camp along Hosack Run at the small campground at Caledonia State Park.

ü  There is no bathroom or trash cans; therefore, pack out your garbage. The closest bathroom is at Caledonia State Park.
Beware of the posted restrictions in the state forest.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Top 5 Family Adventures in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

Snow ball fight on Rendezvous Mountain
Hike on Bunsen Peak
         Discovering our national parks with my children is a dream that I am making a reality one summer at a time. Two summers ago, we started with Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. Last year, we went to Acadia National Park for four days ofadventure in the rain and sun. This summer, we ventured to Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain National Parks. The following are the best family adventures in both Grand Teton and Yellowstone.

  1. Ride the tram in Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and hike the Rock Springs Trail into Cody Bowl - Although this is just outside of the Park, it was the most fun our family had while there. We rode the 100 passenger tram from the base of Jackson Hole to the top of Rendezvous mountain, a four thousand foot climb. We packed a picnic lunch for our day's adventures at the top of the world. We descended along the ridge line on the Rock Springs Trail into Cody Bowl. We spent our afternoon having snow ball fights, sliding down the glacial snow and rock scrambling. Afterwards, we treated ourselves to homemade waffles at Corbett Cabin. Yum!
  2. Kayak (or canoe) Colter andHalf Moon Bays -  We rented two two-person kayaks from the Colter Bay Marina for half a day of paddling and wildlife viewing in Colter and Half Moon Bays.
  3. Hike around String and Jenny Lakes to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point - We hiked 7.8 miles along the north and west sides of both String and Jenny Lakes. This route is gentle with minimal elevation change. The best part of this hike is taking in the mountain peaks and the lake vistas.
  4. Raft the class I and II rapidsof the Snake River - This activity was my son's choice. Grand Teton LodgeCompany was our guide down the Snake River in the Park. This float is gentle enough for a six year old. Daniel, our guide, was experienced at navigating the river and very knowledgeable about the natural history of the Park. We were fortunate to spot two moose, a beaver and an eagle.
  5. Camping - Camping is the best way to truly experience everything a national park has to offer from scenery to education. Grand Teton offers five first-come-first-serve campgrounds. They do not take reservations; however, visitors are able to easily get a site in one of the campgrounds. At the entrance stations and visitor centers, there are campground boards providing information on the availability of sites and at what time the campground became full.


1.    Circuit hike along the south rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone to Lily and Clear Lakes - The best way to see the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is to take a hike along the South Rim Trail, in addition to Lily Lake and Uncle Tom's Trail. The Lily Lake trailhead is at the far end of Artist Point. The trail follows the steep ledges of the Canyon before it enters a pine forest and by two small lakes and thermals. Uncle Tom's Trail gives all visitors a cardo workout climbing down and up 328 steps. At the bottom, you stand at the base of the lower falls to feel mist on your face.
2.    Take a picnic dinner to an overlook in Lamar Valley to watch animals - If there is one national park known for wildlife; it is Yellowstone. We grabbed fixings for a picnic dinner and drove into Lamar Valley. This valley is stunning. My children learned a valuable lesson from animal spectators fitted with their large scopes about why preserving this valley's habitat is vital for the balance of the ecosystem. In the valley, we watched hundreds of buffalo and looked for bear and wolves.
3.    Hike to Bunsen Peak - Have you ever want to bag a peak with your kids? Bunsen Peak is a good one to do. The hike is a moderate 2.1 mile trek to the peak on switchbacks. The views at the top are well worth it. The climb was a good challenge for my kids but they loved skipping down the mountain.
4.    Walk the Fountain Paint Pots boardwalk - This was the touristiest adventure of our time in Yellowstone because everyone wants to see the geological thermals. They are well worth the crowds. This was my son's favorite part of Yellowstone.
5.    Camping - Yellowstone offers both reservation only and first-come-first-serve campgrounds. The reservation only campgrounds usually fill well ahead of time. The first-come-first-serves are in beautiful locations in the park but have limited, such as vaulted toilets.

Many of these adventures enabled us to leave behind the crowds and explore each park to discover the beauty, peace and solitude. The more we trekked down the trail the more we drew back the curtains on the amazing scenery all around us. I loved sharing each of the above adventures with my kids and watching their faces light up with huge grins. We hope you enjoy them too. 

Reading about thermal cones

Lower falls in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Looking for wolves in Lamar Valley

Kayaking in Colter Bay

Friday, July 13, 2012

Mother Nature's Adventures: Check Your Attitude

   Have you ever ask yourself, "why do I camp?" I have. Even though I love to camp, there have been a few times when I thought, "camping is a pain in the butt." One those times was recent when camping in the National Arapahoe Recreation Area outside of Rocky Mountain National Park.
   Mother nature can really throw a curve ball sometimes. It did the three days we spent camping and hiking in the Rocky Mountains with mine and my brothers kids. Each morning we woke to a beautiful blue sunny sky but by early afternoon the storm clouds rolled in during two separate hikes in the mountains. Both storms produced thunder and lightning: one with rain and the other with hail. All eight kids have never hiked so fast. Even though it was scary, it provided a great teachable moment for them.
   By late afternoon when we returned to our campsite from hiking, those same storms rolled into the basin of the mountains. Our campsite was beautiful; a 360 degree view of the mountains and Lake Granby. Best view ever! The downside was there were no trees. The pine bark beetle killed all the trees in the campground. Therefore, when the storms hit each evening; winds gusted up to 60 mph. Sometimes rain and lightning came with it. We could see the storms approaching from the west, providing us some time to prepare for cover.
   Of course, the storms hit us during dinner preparation on all three evenings. On the first evening, we used the backend of our car as a wind shield when cooking the beef for burritos. We were interrupted by rain. We shoved the pot under the car and ran to the tents. On the second night, the storm hit just before dinner prep. After a late start, we thankfully had a beautiful and relaxing dinner of which we didn't have to worry about flying food, napkins and spilled drinks.
   The third night's storm was the worst with the highest winds - dirt swirled around us and the tents poles bent against the wind begging to snap. My sister-in-law and I thought the dark clouds to the west were far enough away that we could prep dinner and eat. The chili was made and we were reading the directions to the rice when the strong gusts began.  The winds threw the garbage, utensils, paper towels, stove windscreen, and the entire one pound box of rice off the table. We scrambled to pick up everything, move the stove and chili into the fire ring, salvage some of the rice on the gravel, place the remaining items into the cars, prevent the tents from flying away, and instruct the kids into the tents.  My sister-in-law and I got into our tent to anchor it down. My husband braved the high winds to cook the rice in the fire pit with the wind screen. The kids laughed and created their own adventures in spite of the storm.
  After thirty minutes of holding up the tent, it was time to eat. We were losing day light and were hungry. We devised and executed a plan to move the cars to create a wind shield. We gathered the food and utensils and called the kids. All twelve of us, sat on the asphalt, in a circle, sheltered by the wind, to eat chili and rice. It was the best dinner.
   After three frustrating afternoons and evenings of dealing with Mother Nature, we laughed at the ridiculousness of our situation and ways of coping to maintain a smile on our faces for our children. Mother Nature can through us curve balls when we camp but it is the attitude for which we choose that creates the experience.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Wildlife Wonders in Yellowstone and Grand Teton

Grizzly Bears
Bison laying next to a thermal at Mud Volcano
Yellow-bellied Marmot
Red Fox
Female Sage Grouse
Mountain Bluebird
Male Moose
     For two weeks at the end of June, my family embarked on an amazing outdoor adventure to Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Rocky Mountain National Parks. After a few days in Grand Teton, my husband, kids and I started reflecting on the animals that we had seen thus far and were amazed at the list we had generated. Everyday afterwards, we added to that list.

Elk – male and female
Yellow bellied marmot - many along Jenny Lake
White pelican - on the Yellowstone River at Fishing Bridge
Moose - one at Willow Flats and one female and
male on our raft trip
Bison and bison calves - hundreds everywhere
but the most spectacular was in Lamar Valley
Snowshoe Hare
Coyote - surprised one while hiking the Howard
Eaton Trail along the Yellowstone River
Black bear - multiple times in Yellowstone
Wood duck
Grizzly bear - two adult and one cub off the road 
near Canyon Village
Red fox
Wandering Garter Snake
Wolf - in distance at 8:45 pm near Pleasure Valley 
in Yellowstone
Ground squirrel - these burrowing animals are everywhere
Sage grouse - on our hike up Bunsen Peak near Mammoth Springs
Mountain Bluebird - on our hike down Bunsen Peak near Mammoth Springs
Cinnamon black bear - side of the road at 9:30 pm on the pass south of Roosevelt Lodge
Bald eagle - on our raft trip down the Snake River in Grand Teton
Beaver - on our raft trip
Loon - kayaking Half Moon Bay on Jackson Lake
Bighorn Sheep (ewe) - Colorado River Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park

    I am so grateful to have been able to share this wildlife experience with my children, for them to understand that we are visitors in these animal's homes and that we must do everything in our power to respect and protect them and their habitats.

Note: These photos were taken with respect to the wildlife using a high power zoom lens.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Be Grizzly Bear Aware

This sign is on all bear boxes in Grand Teton and Yellowstone.
    Many people have written blog posts about camping in bear country. I am going to add another. I have spent many years camping and backpacking on the east coast. This summer, my family and I experienced camping in the west for the first time, in Grand Teton National Park. This is BEAR country. Being a Master Educator and MD State Advocate for Leave No Trace, I have learned and taught others about respecting wildlife when hiking and camping. Respecting wildlife includes recreating in bear habitat.
   There isn't a difference between how to camp and hike in bear country on the east as opposed to the west. However, there is a huge difference in the attitude and proactive education that is done by the National Park and people who live in grizzly country. Campers on the east receive minimal education on how to camp among wildlife. Most state and all National parks on the east post the Leave No Trace principals on trail head signs and in campgrounds. Some may extend beyond: to remind you to put food in a car or hang it when not in use, dispose of trash properly and stay a safe distance away from bears.
   I am sure many of you have heard the horror stories of people being attacked by bears, whether they suddenly come upon a mother and cubs or the bear enters a campsite wanting food. These scenes are unfortunately true but not prevalent. One reason is because many of the western National Parks are doing a fantastic job educating hikers and campers about being safe in bear country.
    "Be Bear Aware" is Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks bear safety educational campaign.
  Be Bear Aware educational displays include: a trailer at Willow Flats, display boards in all the visitor centers and campground offices, a pamphlet distributed at the entrance stations, an article in the Grand Teton Guide, posters in all park bathrooms, billboards in populated areas and placards on all park picnic tables. The message saturates the Park.
This sign is on all picnic tables in
Grand Teton and Yellowstone.
  At all campsites, picnic locations and strategically placed spots (where people tend to picnic along lakes and in scenic locations), large steel bear boxes are located for people to place their food.
  Bear proof trash and recycling cans are located in all populated locations.
  Rangers educate visitors at all presentations and activities.
  Rangers check campsites each evening, either receiving individual education or a warning notice when violating the bear safety rules. The warnings can include a paper notice of your violation, confiscation of your gear and/or a fine. On our first night in the Park, we received a warning notice because we left our site with the water bottles still on the picnic table.
  Each backpacker receives a bear canister when obtaining a backcountry camping permit with full instructions on how to use it.
Be Bear Aware includes:
  Never allow a bear to get food. If in the presence of a bear, store your food and move away to a safe distance.
  Place all food and scented items in a bear box or hard-sided car. These include: food, cooking dishes and utensils, coolers, water bottles and dispensers, drink cans and bottles, wash bins and soap, stoves and grills, toiletries and pet food. Never leave these items in your tent or out if not present.
  Never leave your backpack or dry bag, if on the water, unattended. Bears can swim!
  Dispose of all trash, even micro-trash, and recyclables in receptacles.
  Rat-out your fellow campers who are not following the bear safety rules. I did. At Jenny Lake, fellow campers left a grocery bag of garbage hanging in a tree. Yikes!
  When hiking, talk, sing or clap often to make your presence known (this is more effective than bear bells). Bears will move away when they hear people. Don't use head phones or ear buds when hiking. Hike in groups and during the day. Bears are most active at dawn, dusk and at night.
  Carrying and using bear spray is a proven strategy if charged by a bear. Carry it on your waistline for immediate use.
  If a bear approaches or charges you: first, DO NOT RUN; second, stand still. When bears charge, they will often veer off into the woods before attacking. If so, slowly back away once the bear is in the woods. Bears charge because hikers surprise them when they are protecting a food source or their young. If attacked, lie on your stomach with your legs slightly separated and your hands held together over the back of your head. Be silent and don't move. When the bear stops attacking and leaves, lie still for a few more minutes.
   Source - "Grand Teton Guide," Summer 2012
   The campgrounds, picnic areas, high use trails and scenic areas in Grand Teton were very clean; much more than ones on the east coast. Often campsites in state and national parks in the east have micro-trash scattered around, in the campfire pits and around picnic tables. Micro-trash is often also visible on high use trails. Contrary to many national parks in the west, trash, including micro-trash, is hard to find. I attribute this to the presence of bears, grizzly and black, and the educational campaign that saturates the minds of most visitors.
   It is important that people are proactive in their recreating practices to minimize the habitation of bears in our parks. A habituated bear is a dangerous one that must be killed. Bears are essential predators in their ecosystem's food web, in addition to being natural wonders. Before this trip, I considered myself knowledgable about recreating with bears. However, camping and hiking in the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone has allowed me to experience recreating in grizzly country and increased my awareness and knowledge to "Be Bear Aware."  

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Trail Discovery for Kids: Blue Mash Trail, Montgomery Co.

Bio-retention pond

June 2012 Highlighted Hike
Blue Mash Trail
Laytonsville, MD

Trail Description
ü  This 2 mile circuit hike in northern Montgomery County surrounds the long-closed Oaks Landfill and its reservoir system.
ü  The trail is a mowed-field path with no elevation gain or loss.
ü  Surrounding the trail is a meadow ecosystem with succession of immature deciduous trees, such as river birch, sycamore, red oaks and red maples, and conifer trees, mostly cedar, supported by a an understory of witch hazel and viburnum.
ü  The parking lot is on the west side of Zion Rd. in Laytonsville. It is marked by a small, brown sign labeled Blue Mash Trail.
ü  In the parking lot, use the trailhead at the end of the parking lot and hike the circuit counterclockwise. When reaching the reservoir, hike to the right counterclockwise one-third around it and then the trail will enter a tunnel of cedar and deciduous trees. Shortly after exiting this treed tunnel, make the second right at the trail intersection. At the second intersection, turn left with the landfill being on the right side. At the third intersection, turn right with the landfill continuing to be on the right. The trail will dead end and turn to the left on a gravel road. This will lead you back to the parking lot.
ü  To hike a shorter 1.25 mile circuit, turn left at the first trail intersection and continue straight at the third intersection essentially cutting of two sides of a triangle.
Tunnel of trees
ü  The hike is jogging stroller friendly.
ü  Trail map.

Age Appropriateness
This hike is appropriate for all ages due to a flat, wide trail that has no obstacles for feet or jogging strollers.

What is fun for kids?
ü  Kids and parents can fill their tummies with as many raspberries and blackberries as their heart’s desire. The trail is full of berry plants. The best time to go is the end of June into July.
ü  In May, the meadows are full of raspberry and blackberry flowers, buttercups, crown vetch, milkweed and sprouting Joe Pye weed which blooms at the end of the summer.
ü  The meadow invites a lot of butterflies, such as many varieties of swallowtail, monarchs, and skippers, and 32 different species of birds have been identified along the trail making it a great birding destination.
ü  Look for and listen to frogs and turtles along the reservoir.

ü  Because it is a sunny meadow with few shady spots, it is best to visit this trail on a day with lower temperatures or at the beginning or end of the day.
ü  Bring bug spray and wear long pants to help protect against ticks and gnats. 
ü  There is no bathroom or trash cans; therefore, pack out your garbage.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Mama Ah Hah Moment!

    I am a competitive person. It is in my Chambers' genes and has been passed down for hundreds of generations that I am sure.   If I am not competing against another person than I am competing against myself - seeking the next best PR or one upping the last adventure. Until this weekend.
   This Memorial Day weekend, my son, six years old, and I biked and camped the C&O Canal in Western Maryland. We parked at Little Orleans and assembled our gear in a trailer graciously lent to me by a good friend. At noon, we mounted our bikes and headed five miles north to Devils Alley campsite. After pitching the tent and eating lunch, my intended goal was to bike ten more miles north to the Paw Paw Tunnel where I could share with him this unique engineering feat and the micro ecosystem that lays at its mouth. The competitive mama was in denial that my son was not going to be able to bike ten miles north and then back. I expressed my goal aloud and maintained my cheerleading stance throughout the ride to the campsite and then on our quest to the tunnel. We enjoyed the beautiful scenery, particularly the hundreds of butterflies, and I relished in the quality time I was spending with him. 
    Five miles into my goal to reach the tunnel, he stopped for the tenth time and announced, "I'm tired. Can we turn around?" Two voices went off in my head at the same time. 
   The competitive mama's voice said, "Oh, but we haven't reached our goal yet." 
   While the compassionate mama's voice said, "Okay, meet him where he's at for the positive experience and turn around." 
   Which voice made it out of my mouth? The competitive voice wrestled with the compassionate. "Are you sure you want to turn around?" 
   "Yes." he stated. 
   "Okay, we will visit the tunnel some other time, " the compassionate voice said. As we headed back to the campsite, he asked how many miles he had biked. Fifteen. "Hey, that is my personal best," he exclaimed with pride.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Dirty Knees

Dirty knees and sticky fingers!
    Dirty knees! These words conjure up a lot of images, particularly in the minds of moms who do a majority of the laundry. In my house that would be my husband; therefore, I wonder what images come to the forefront of his mind when he sees our kid's dirty knees.
    This weekend, my family and three others went camping in my favorite DC spot - Patuxent River Park, Jug Bay (read my May 2011 review of Jug Bay). Shortly after arriving on Friday evening, all eight kid's knees were dusty from running up and down the trail, kneeling on the dirty dock and sitting by the campfire to roast marshmallows. Saturday morning's bright sunshine brought aquatic adventures. The kids couldn't wait to get the rented canoes and kayaks to explore the abundant wildlife along the shore and show off their paddling skills to one another. They all negotiated who was going to kayak back to the dock by themselves and who was paddling a canoe; yes, with an adult. Upon reaching the campsite dock, negotiations continued.
    Most of us forgot that the Patuxent River is a tidal river and the tide was vacating the shore. Results, muck! Thick, dark grey muck - the kind that suctions everything that accidently falls on top of it. Including three girls. Well that was last year when two of them tried to walk along, what they thought was, the dry shore. Nope, they quickly sunk to their knees. The third tried to be the savior. That failed also. As parents, we watched the scenario unfolded, including problem solving to unsuction their limbs from the thick, dark quicksand. The clean-up job with no bathrooms was fun. Not! So this year when the tide was out by lunch time, the kids were hungry and wanted to dock. The life line was deployed and water skiing on mud took place.
     For me, kid's dirty knees mean they are engaging in imaginative adventures outdoors, laughing, smiling and being carefree and independent. The best part of the weekend was watching my kids and their friends be excited to create fun for themselves however they decided - following the inlet paths among the reeds on a kayak, using sticks as weapons to conquer an opponent or territory, sleeping in a tent without a parent, sharing a hammock or a seat on the dock to chat and learning to paddle a canoe to be the captain of your own ship. Dirty knees = outdoor happiness!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Trail Discovery for Kids: Hazel Mountain Trail, SNP

Waterfall and swimming hole

May 2012 Highlighted Hike
Hazel Mountain Trail

Trail Description
ü This 5 mile out and back hike gently descends the ridge top with its final destination being a cave and waterfall off the White Rocks Trail.
ü The trail head is just after the 33 mile marker on Skyline Drive.
ü The total elevation loss and gain is 800 feet.
ü At the trail head, turn right onto the Hazel Mountain Trail and descend the ridge line 600 feet for 1.6 miles until you reach the trail intersection with the White Rocks Trail. Turn left on to this trail. Follow it as it stays level with the ridge for three-quarters of a mile. The White Rocks Trail then descends 200 feet the last quarter of a mile before you reach a small sign on the right that point to the waterfall and cave.
ü To access the cave and waterfall, follow a steep and long set of stairs down the ridge (150 feet in .2 miles). Both the waterfall and cave are to the right at the bottom of the stairs. Once there, allocate an hour to discover the natural wonders.
ü You can reach the waterfall and cave from the other direction on the White Rocks and Hazel River Trails from the base of SNP on Rt. 600.  Read August 2010 Discovery for Kids.

Age Appropriateness
This hike is best for active children over the age of 6 due to the length, elevation gain and the steepness of the stairs to the waterfall and cave.

What is fun for kids?
ü  Finding and entering the mouth of the cave. The Appalachian Mountains are littered with limestone caves.
ü  Cooling off under the waterfall and in the swimming hole.
ü  Rock scrambling along the Hazel River at the waterfall.
ü  During spring, observe the wildflowers, such as Dutchman's Breeches and Lady Slippers in April and Mountain Laurel in May.
ü  A few unofficial camping sites are across the trail from the cave and waterfall trail head.

ü  Don't venture too far into the cave. It is best to explore caves with a guide (someone who knows the routes within the cave), a guide line, helmet, head lamp and emergency supplies.
ü  There are no bathrooms at the trail head. The closest ones are 3 miles away at the Thorton Gap entrance station.
ü  There are no trash cans; therefore, trash must be packed out.