High Rock

Where: Pen Mar High Rock Rd., Cascade, MD (For GPS purposes, try plugging in 14600 Pen Mar High Rock Rd. This is Pen Mar Park and High Rock is NOT in Pen Mar Park, but this gets you on the right road and you simply continue up past Pen Mar Park until you come to High Rock)
When: Well, it’s rocks so it’s there whenever.

I need to begin this post by telling you that High Rock is incredible but I demand to know who was in charge of naming it. Could you really do no better? It is a rock outcropping, and it’s quite high, but surely there was some other quality, some spirit of imagination that could have been looped in to the name instead of just… High Rock?

Look at this high rock.
Yeah, wow. What should we call it? Devil’s Peak? Widow’s Nest? God’s Pillow? Stairway to Heaven?
Let’s call it High Rock.
Ok!

I have, strangely enough, the Vans Warped Tour to thank for introducing me to High Rock. In the strange way that Instagram algorithms work, a picture of some members of some band on the Vans Warped Tour doing community service on High Rock got propagated into my feed. What I noticed first was the great graffiti covering the rock they were standing on. Then I read the caption which said something like, “Vans Warped Tour doing community service cleaning graffiti off High Rock today” and I thought WHAT NO, YOU CAN’T CLEAN OFF THE GRAFFITI, THE GRAFFITI IS GREAT! It’s not often that graffiti enhances a natural landscape but from time to time, something just clicks and I have to say, in the case of High Rock, the graffiti somehow just makes the whole thing better. Don’t hate me, nature purists, I’m kind of a magpie and colorful things appeal to me.

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High Rock lies on South Mountain in Northern Maryland (hee!) right along the Mason Dixon Line. It’s situated on the Appalachian Trail and is a popular lookout spot and hang gliding platform. People also somewhat frequently fall off and tumble to their death. Not trying to scare you or anything, just think you ought to be warned! This really is a rock you want to be respectful of. There’s no fencing or railing surrounding the rock, and the dropoff isn’t one of those fake-out ones where it looks like a sharp drop with dirt 2 feet below. It’s, you know, A DROP. So if you take kids, just keep a close eye on them. Especially with the wet weather we had, the combined effect of rain on spray paint is a quite slippery walking surface. Be safe, my dudes.

Despite the hard work of the Vans Warped Tour, High Rock, I’m pleased to say, is still covered in all manner of graffiti. We got up early on a Saturday morning and headed out since it was a good 60 mile drive from our house, and when we got there I was happy to see that the Vans Warped Tour had not eradicated all the graffiti I had been hoping to see. Rainshowers were moving in and out of the area quickly, and shortly after we arrived, a cloud moved over us and obstructed the view of everything beyond High Rock, lending it a surreal quality wherein you could not quite tell where the end of the rock was and the dropoff began or just how high up you were (1800 feet up, FYI). We were all alone up there and it felt like we really just perched up in the clouds.

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The rain did begin driving a bit more steadily so we retreated to the car and waited a bit and eventually when the rain dissipated we made our way back up to the rock and were rewarded with a brief but stunning view of what lies beyond High Rock when it isn’t obscured by clouds:

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As the sun broke weakly through the clouds, a few more cars pulled up and several of us stood and watched the valley below us open up for just long enough to get a view before the clouds started rolling back in.

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Even this little friend enjoyed the rock (and is a good reminder to please leash any pets you bring along):

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High Rock is accessible via hiking on the Appalachian Trail, but it’s also ridiculously easy to access by car. As in, you just drive up Pen Mar High Rock Rd until you see the small pull-out lot on your right with the rocks right next to it. Definitely wear workout gear and good shoes so that everyone who sees pictures thinks you hiked up a really tall mountain to get there, but your secret is safe with me. I found a hiking log of the trek up to High Rock and it mentions lots of switchbacks and a steep climb so just say that and nobody will ever know.

The best part of the trip to High Rock for me was when I posted pictures of it to Facebook and my dad posted a picture of himself there… in 1982. The rock was pure and free of graffiti and my dad was in stonewashed jeans, a crop top, and had bangs and a mullet. Time moves on, my dad definitely does not wear crop tops now, and the youth have covered the rock in paint, but through a fun wormhole in time known as the Internet, my dad at 19 and I at 31 were in the same place.

 

High Rock made me happy. My kids loved it, my husband loved it, the view were stunning, and even in the rain it was well worth the trip. I can only imagine it’s even better in the fall with all the foliage down below, so we’ll be making a return trek back then. Add this one to your hiking list for sure, definitely at least before the next Vans Warped Tour comes through and tries to de-graffiti it.

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Junior Ranger Program at Wolf Trap

Where: 1551 Trap Rd., Vienna, VA
When: Open daily from 7 am-dusk, admission is free

As the parent of an early-elementary kid (she’s a rising first grader), somewhere in between pool trips and ice cream cones and hanging out with friends, it occasionally occurs to me that we should do something to prevent summer slide. During summer, she is required to keep a journal and for every 7 journal entries, she earns a small prize. This is great, but now that she’s nearly 7, I have been casting around for other ways to keep her reading and writing skills up during summer break. I decided we would dip a toe into the waters of the National Park Service’s Junior Ranger program, which is a wonderful program designed to help kids enjoy National Parks, dig a bit deeper into the history and background of parks they visit, and make education fun and rewarding. We already have a National Parks passport which we get stamped at each park visit, but the Junior Ranger program is another way to enjoy parks with kids.

For our first Junior Ranger outing we settled on Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna. Locally known and loved as a venue for amazing concerts and Children’s Theatre in the Woods program, Wolf Trap is also a National Park, the only one in the country devoted to the performing arts. Although most people probably associate Wolf Trap with the Filene Center, the park is full of walking trails – the Wolf Trap trail, which is a 2.5 mile hike around the perimeter of the park, and the kid-friendly Wolf Trap TRACK trail, which is a 1.5 mile loop paired with a variety of activity booklets created by the Kids in Parks initiative, which works to get kids and parents outdoors and enjoying state and national parks together. By creating an account for your kids at Kids in Parks, you can track various hikes and activities using an online “journal” and access different activity pamphlets for a variety of parks.

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Once you’ve parked and entered Wolf Trap, a short walk down to the Ranger Stand will get you all squared away. Simply find the park ranger, ask for an activity book, and get started! The Junior Ranger program is designed to appeal to kids roughly between the ages of 5 and 12, and the booklet we got was double-sided, with easier activities for the early-elementary set and harder ones for the late-elementary set. For my kids, the early-elementary side of the booklet was perfect, with short questions that could be answered by reading park information plaques (“Are there still wolves at Wolf Trap?”) and a scavenger hunt which encouraged a long walk through the woods in the hopes that they would find everything on the list (18 out out of 25, not too shabby).

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Once we’d finished our activity booklet we returned to the ranger station where the park ranger checked to make sure everything had been completed, then signed saying the girls were “honorary park rangers.” Each park has its own Junior Ranger badge, but at Wolf Trap, kids who complete the Junior Ranger booklet have the option of choosing between the standard badge and a patch. My oldest daughter, who is also a Girl Scout Daisy, chose the patch to go along with all the other patches she’s earned that are in a Ziploc baggie because I haven’t managed to attach them to her Daisy smock yet, whoops.

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Currently, over 200 National Parks around the country have a Junior Ranger program. For many of the parks, the booklets are available online and can be completed and mailed in for a badge or picked up and turned in at that park’s ranger station. The Kids in Parks program runs in both National Parks and several state parks, but the Junior Ranger program itself is only available in National Parks. Fueled by the satisfaction of success, my kids are now eager and excited to do more Junior Ranger booklets, so we’ll be squeezing in quite a few more during the last month of summer (we are lucky to be within driving distance of many Virginia, Maryland, DC, and even Pennsylvania parks). For kids around age 5, the booklet should be doable with some help from mom or dad, and older kids will be able to complete most or all of the activities on their own. I would say many kids who are rising kindergartners would be capable of doing the activities in the booklet with help, and the challenge is well worth the fun and reward that comes with completing a booklet and earning the badge.

Fresh Water Play in Northern VA

Somehow it’s July 12th and I haven’t written a post about anything we’ve done this summer yet. Whoopsie doops! My apologies.

My family recently spent a week at Carolina Beach, North Carolina for family vacation and the proximity to water only awakened in us some latent desire to be near water as much as possible. Given our landlocked position here in Northern Virginia, the beach isn’t a daily possibility but luckily, we’ve got plenty of opportunities for fresh water play nearby and for whatever reason, that is mostly what my kids and I have been most interesting in doing lately. I decided to compile a post about some of our favorite local stops to get back to the water.

Goose Creek/Kephart Bridge Landing
42942 Riverpoint Dr., Leesburg, VA

Goose Creek snakes lazily through many parts of Loudoun County and for all the times I’ve driven by it or over it, it only just this summer occurred to me that we could actually find a place to get down in it. Our favorite access point is Kepheart Bridge Landing in the Lansdowne neighborhood which has a nice parking lot and a walking path that leads right down to a small creek-beach. Kayakers and canoers frequently launch from that spot and on any given trip out to the creek you can watch them out in the water, sometimes navigating the (very small) rapids that lie just upstream from the landing.

Revealing how easy it is sometimes to entertain kids when you just let them entertain themselves, my kids’ favorite thing to do at the creek is throw rocks in the water. That’s it. For as long as I’ll let them, they just select rocks and throw them, then maybe remark to one another how big the splash was. It’s the essence of simple summertime fun.

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The water in this section of Goose Creek is shallow and placid and perfect for wading and swimming if you’re interested in getting in the water. Just for reference, I am 5’1 and would say the water in the middle of the creek at its deepest is about hip height on me. Just wear water shoes!

As a fun bonus, there’s a bunny tree near Kephart Bridge Landing:

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Watermelon Park, Berryville
3322 Lockes Mill Rd., Berryville, VA

A bit further west in Clarke County lies Watermelon Park, a former watermelon farm turned campground and tubing spot. It sits just along the bank of the Shenandoah River and is a perfect spot for packing a picnic lunch and spending a few hours playing and exploring. Admission to the grounds is $10 per adult but kids 6 and under are free. We picnicked, threw rocks in the water, played on the on-site playground, and enjoyed a summer afternoon in the Shenandoah.

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River Farm, Alexandria
7931 E. Boulevard Dr., Alexandria, VA

We spent a lovely morning at River Farm, the headquarters of the American Horticultural Society and formerly George Washington’s northernmost of his five farms. It lies along the banks of the Potomac and the manor house on the grounds provide stunning views of the river:

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Just up the road from River Farm is Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve which has trails that wind three-quarters of a mile through marsh and tidal wetland. We spent so much time at River Farm that we did not have time to do Dyke Marsh the same day so have saved it for another trip out to Alexandria.

Lake Anne, Reston, VA

We love Lake Anne, a planned community surrounding a lake in Reston. Walking paths around the lake provide different views and there’s several waterside restaurants and fountains and a used book shop. We love to come look around and find tadpoles in the canals:

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A stop on the Van Gogh Bridge is always a must:

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And finally, although it isn’t in Northern Virginia, it’s only a short distance away- Cunningham Falls State Park in Thurmont, Maryand. We went here one Sunday morning and hiked out to the waterfall and got IN the waterfall! This was very fun and confidence-building for my kids who had to trust their own sure-footedness on the slippery rocks. The novelty of standing in the pool of  waterfall was very fun for them and it was a trip we really enjoyed as a family. My oldest even crossed a fallen log across the water with my husband!

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Venture forth! Commune with the water! Also if you’re playing PokemonGo I have a feeling these areas are probably full of really great Pokemon (LOL).