Monday, June 14, 2010

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

H/T and many, many thanks to TwoDC.  I read their blog post about the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and said to myself, "Self, that would be a cool place to go when your parents come to visit."

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens is a hidden gem in northeast DC.  I highly recommend reading TwoDC's post about it, because they are much more eloquent than me in their overview description of the park.

TwoDC recommended going in the morning because as the day gets hotter, the flowers close up.  I checked out the web page and saw they had tours scheduled for 9, 10, 11, and 12.  The first tour was too early in the morning for us, so I planned on us leaving our house around 9 a.m. in order to pick up some breakfast at Dunkin Donuts and make it to the KAG in time for the 10 a.m. tour.

Unfortunately, I didn't trust my instincts and drive the way I knew.  I followed the directions provided by our car's navigation system and ended up sitting in traffic for a while.

Thanks to the traffic though, we did enjoy the scenery of the architecture in the neighborhoods of the historic district of Washington, D.C.  We arrived at the KAG about 10:40 and found out there actually wasn't a 10 a.m. tour, so we didn't miss anything AND we were just in time for the 11 a.m. tour! :-)

KAG has been there a long time and is now run by the National Park Service. 

Comparing Notes
Before we drove down to DC, I printed out two copies of the Junior Park Ranger activity booklet and put them in binders for the boys.  They both really enjoyed earning their Junior Park Ranger badges.  During the car ride, they did the dot-to-dots and the maze and drew some pictures.  While we were there, they really got into the scavenger hunts.  The booklet actually provides two scavenger hunts for older and younger kids.  My eldest son did the scavenger hunt that lists a dozen or so items written out in text (a view of the Anacostia River, a beaver dam, a historic marsh, a reconstructed marsh, etc).  My youngest son did the scavenger hunt that consisted of six simple pictures on the page (picture of a lotus flower, picture of cat tails, picture of the national park service emblem, picture of poison ivy, etc).

For a while, YB rode on Grandpa's shoulders and
used Grandpa's head as his desk.  Here he is crossing
off the cat-tail picture from his scavenger hunt list.

The flowers... oh my gosh the flowers were absolutely gorgeous.  My wife and I both took tons of pictures, but I will try to pull out just a few to share with you here.

Common Orange Day-Lily

I forgot this one and can't find it in my book.

Fragrant Water Lily (and dragonfly)

Orange trumpet?

Carolina Rose


Pink water lily


I feel like I'm being watched.

We saw a few turtles and also had a Great Blue Heron swoop across the path right in front of us.  

Traditional Blunoz Self Portrait

Our Park Ranger tour guide was awesome, and I'm SO glad we went for the guided tour.  I have yet to be disappointed by a Park Ranger led tour at any National Park.  They are just walking encyclopedias of information and anecdotal stories about the history of the park.

YB drawing pictures in his book. 

The boys turned in their completed Junior Park Ranger books at the visitor center.  They had to say an oath of office to get sworn in as Junior Park Rangers, and then they were awarded their own hats, badges, and patches. 
This picture alone made it worth the 
frustrating drive through DC traffic.

If you are in the DC area, then I highly recommend visiting the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.  Regardless where you are, I highly recommend taking advantage of every opportunity to visit your closest National Park and go for a Park Ranger guided tour.

My two newly-minted Junior Park Rangers 
enthusiastically leading the way to lunch.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Paddle Log #15: Twilight on the Potomac

Last summer, the boys and I went and did the guided twilight tour with Jack's Boathouse.  A few weeks before my dad & stepmom came to visit, this awesome deal came up on Groupon, so we bought the Groupons and made reservations for the twilight tour while my folks were in town for a visit.

After the swing-and-a-miss with the Ocean Kayak Frenzy for my 9 year old eldest son (ES), we took it back to EMS.  The EMS guys are awesome and didn't give us any trouble about returning it.  Isaiah at the Dulles EMS store recommended we try the Perception Acadia Scout for ES.  I was a little concerned that due to it's small size (max load 110 pounds) I wouldn't be able to ride in it myself to check it out.  However, I checked out user reviews for the Acadia Scout on various websites like, and only found positive reviews.  EMS had one delivered from the Annapolis store and we picked it up this week, so Friday night when we went for the Jack's Boathouse Twilight Tour was his first time giving it a try.

I'm happy to report that the Acadia Scout is a keeper.  One of the two managers of Jack's Boathouse, Anna, saw it and commented on what a great kayak it is and that her son used one, too.

In order to make sure we got through traffic and were on time for the tour, we headed toward DC about 2 hours before the tour and picked up some pizza at CPK.  I knew they had picnic tables and adirondack chairs at Jack's for us to sit and eat our pizza.  What I didn't know was that they have several barbecue grills there for you to use.  So we could have taken a cooler with some burgers and dogs and cooked up our own dinner right there at Jack's if we had wanted to.  File that tidbit away for future reference.

It was a gorgeous evening.  I couldn't have asked for better weather for our twilight paddle.  Air temperature was in the low 80's and so was the water temp.

Anna (in the white kayak) and Paul (in the safety boat) 
are the two managers of Jack's.

The guided trips offered by Jack's Boathouse are a great way for beginners to get out on the water and feel safe.  The water is flat and calm with barely any current.  Plus, there were three guides in kayaks with the group plus the manager, Paul, riding in the safety boat.

This paddling trip was notable for a couple of first-time-ever reasons.  In addition to it being ES's first time paddling the Acadia Scout, it was also the first time my wife went with us.  I had her sit in front of our tandem Ocean Kayak Malibu Two XL.

I gave 6 year old YB the choice of sitting in the middle or the back, and he chose the back.  Just like last time, I brought along the pad of waterproof paper for YB to doodle while we paddled.

Picture taken by Anna

Picture taken by Paul 

ES in his new Perception Acadia Scout
(Roosevelt Island in the background)

I think the parental units enjoyed it.

There are lots of pictures of my wife smiling, too.

We also tested the tow-line for ES and it worked great.  YB alternated between facing forward and facing backward in the back seat.  When we were towing ES, YB enjoyed facing backward and telling his brother knock-knock jokes - his favorite being the "banana", "banana", "banana", "orange you glad I didn't say banana" joke.

As we paddled around the Rosslyn-side of Roosevelt Island (west side), we saw a few families of ducks and a Great Blue Heron in a tree.  I forgot to put on bug repellent before we went out, but I was pleasantly surprised we didn't need any.  I didn't see a single mosquito the whole time we were out.  I did get a little pink on my neck and arms, but not too bad.

Sunset on the Potomac and the return of the no-paparazzi-hand placed precisely in the middle of the picture.

Stats for the paddle log:
  • Date: 11 June 2010
  • Time In: ~7 p.m.
  • Time Out: ~9 p.m.
  • Elapsed: ~2 hours
  • Moving Time (GPS):  don't know - forgot my 60CSx
    Stopped Time (GPS):  don't know - forgot my 60CSx
  • Mileage: 2.5 miles by GPS 
  • Avg Speed (GPS):   don't know - forgot my 60CSx
  • Max Speed by (GPS):   don't know - forgot my 60CSx 
  • Sea State: 0
  • Winds: 0
  • Air Temp: ~82F and the humidity was low, so it was a nice night out
  • Water Temp: 79-81F

    Like last time, I tried out two methods of measuring the water temperature.  This time, the readings were a lot closer than last time.  The conductive thermometer said it was 81.3F.  The infra-red thermometer I use for checking the temperature of my car engine said it was 79.8F.   
  • Current:   none
  • Gauge Height:  N/A
  • Rapids?  None. 
  • Hazards?  Periodic motor boats on the river, but we were fine on the edges of the river close to shore.  Plus, Paul in the safety boat ran interference for us.
  • Kit: ES first time in his Perception Acadia Scout.  Anna had a special short paddle for kids that she let ES use, too.  LW, YB, and me in our Ocean Kayak Malibu Two XL. Flop hat & sunglasses.  NRS paddling gloves.  Short sleeve shirt, swim trunks, Keen sandals.
  • Configuration: LW in the front, I sat in the middle, and YB sat in the back.  YB rotated a few times, alternating between facing forward and facing backward. 
  • Route:  From Jack's Boathouse under the Key Bridge, clockwise around Roosevelt Island and back.

The mileage on Garmin Connect isn't exactly right because I forgot to turn on my Garmin Forerunner until shortly after we had left, and I forgot to stop the Forerunner until we were in the car driving away from Jack's Boathouse.  That's why I normally like taking my Garmin 60CSx with me, because I can edit the data and isolate just the time we were paddling.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Shenandoah Nat'l Park Hike - Little Stony Man

The first time I went hiking in Shenandoah National Park, I went with my friend Bob to the Rose River Falls loop trail.  We drove the two hours down there, and upon entering the park received a schedule of the day's Park Ranger guided hikes.  It turned out, there was a Park Ranger leading a hike on the Rose River Falls loop trail the same day, but not until later in the afternoon.  I wish I had known that ahead of time, so I made a mental note to myself, "Self, next time, check the schedule in advance and plan your hike to be here for one of the Park Ranger guided hikes."

Fast forward six weeks.  My dad and stepmom are in town visiting from Oregon, so I took a few days of leave to spend time with them this week.  I checked out the schedule ahead of time, and on Thursday, my dad and I went down to SNP to join the Park Ranger guided hike to Little Stony Man.

View from the Parking Lot
(picture doesn't do it justice)

It was an absolutely gorgeous day out.  I couldn't have asked for better weather for the hike.  The sun was out and the visibility across the Shenandoah Valley was extraordinarily good.  Temperature was in the high 70s and it was a bit breezy, but it was nice to keep us cool during our hike.

We met up with Park Ranger Sally, who has a PhD in geology, along with two other hike participants at a view point parking lot, and after some brief introductions we headed out on the Appalachian Trail.  Being a geologist, Sally had a lot to say about the different types of rocks we saw, but she also told us a lot about the plants and animals along the way, too.

Survival Skills Note to Self:  The brown lichens pictures above are called rock tripe.  They are edible and have a calorie content.  File that one away in the "survival skills" back of your noggin.  (No, I didn't try any.)

Self portrait on the AT

Trail Blazes:  Here's something else I learned today.  WHITE trail blazes are ONLY used for the Appalachian Trail in SNP.  BLUE blazes are for hiking trails (not the AT).  YELLOW blazes are horse trails.  RED blazes mean you're leaving the park, turn around!

Mountain Laurel

We saw a ton of Mountain Laurel everywhere we went on our hike, and it was beautiful. 

Purple-Flowering Raspberry

Wild Strawberry

Stony Man looking up to the sky

Park Ranger Sally had a lot of laminated information pages and annotated pictures in her backpack to help explain things to us along the way.

Talking with some thru-hikers

Thru-Hikers are people who are trying to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail in one season.  This is right about the time they pass through SNP, so we encountered several on the trail and stopped to talk with a few.  These guys left Georgia on April 3rd and had hiked 900 miles by the time we crossed paths with them on June 10th.

My dad and me on the AT

Evidence of Bears

Several hikers told us they had seen bears that day.  Along the way, the Park Ranger pointed out a couple of indications that a bear had been there recently.  In the photo above, she pointed out that it was fresh indication that a bear had been ripping up this dead tree to eat the bugs inside.  We also saw where a bear had recently removed a rock from alongside the path to eat some sort of a bug nest under the rock.

What's that in there?
Can you see it?

The Park Ranger told us that 60% of bears in SNP den up in trees, and pointed out this bear den in a tree.  The two black spots on the tree in the middle of the picture are gaping holes in the top of the tree where the bears climb in and out. 

In spite of all this, we never did see any bears.  We did see a ~3 foot snake that bolted into the brush before I could grab my camera.  We also saw a lot of tiger swallowtail butterflies, but they wouldn't stay still long enough for me to get a decent picture, either. 

Evidence of Civilian Conservation Corps

We saw evidence of the projects done by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, such as the retaining wall in the first picture above and the remnant of the old emergency telephone system that ran along Skyline Drive.  The post on the right is one of those things I would have just walked on past if I had been hiking this alone without a knowledgeable guide to teach us about what we saw along the way.

My dad and me under the Stony Man's nose

Self portrait under Stony Man's nose

Hike Stats

It certainly wasn't a very long hike, but that's okay.  It was a beautiful day and a nice hike, and I learned a lot from Park Ranger Sally.

After we finished the hike, we headed to the Skyland Lodge for lunch.  We scored an awesome table by the windows overlooking the Shenandoah Valley.  This was my second time eating here, and both times I have been very pleased with the quality of the food and the service, not to mention the stunning scenery.  

They use local produce here, to include local blackberry ice cream pie. :-9  I highly recommend it!  (Oh, and I recommend sharing - one slice is definitely big enough for two people.)

I'm very pleased with the two hikes I've done in SNP so far, and there are still several more hikes I would like to do.

In the Skyland gift shop, I picked up two new books: 

Wildflowers in Color: A Field Guide to More Than 250 Wildflowers of Eastern North America.  In case you haven't figured out by now, I really enjoy taking pictures of flowers on the trail.  I'm not very good at identifying them though.  I have searched a few book stores for a field guide to flowers I see, but haven't been happy with anything I found until now.  This book is compact and easy to use.  It has two big color photos of flowers on each page with a short text description of each.

I've also been on the lookout for a good reference for day hikes in SNP.  I ordered one off the internet and wasn't very happy with what I got.  It was compact but not very user friendly or informative.  While in the Skyland gift shop, I thumbed through the half-dozen different hiking guides they had on the shelf, and I thought this one was the best balance of compactness versus content.  It has very good maps and descriptions of the hikes, and it has a pretty long list of hikes to choose from.  This was one of those cases where I was glad to put "eyes on target" and choose which one I wanted instead of just ordering something that sounded good off the internet.