Locust Lake State Park

Memorial Day weekend seems to be the traditional starting point for all things summer in these parts – outdoor swimming pools open, people crank up their barbecues, people start wearing less clothing, sunglasses are donned – and this Memorial weekend was a scorcher, a welcome dose of sunshine and heat after such a dreich (dreary) Spring.  We Picts decided this was the perfect opportunity to go an explore another of Pennsylvania’s state park so we headed towards the mountains and to Locust Lake State Park.

The area had been deforested in the 19th Century because of mining and lumber operations in the area.  It was reclaimed in the 20th Century as an area for fishing and I assume has particularly recovered since it became a state park in the 1960s.  Now there are trails through woodland, camp sites, and a decent sized central lake where people can boat and swim in designated areas.  It was this latter activity that the boys were especially looking forward to – especially after a long drive in a warm car.

Our first stop off was at a play area in the woods.  After being stuck in the car for quite some time, the boys had energy to burn off so the climbing frame was perfect.  The youngest two practiced their simian skills on the monkey bars and then they copied their ten year old brother in trying to find a route climbing over the frame rather than using it how it should be used.  There were points where they freaked themselves out a bit by getting stuck but they persevered and found a way up, over, and down on their own.  Good confidence building stuff.

DSC_0004

DSC_0023

A hop, skip and a jump through a wooded glade brought us out onto a stretch of the lake shore that had a beach.  This was not a sandy beach, however.  It was more like coarse grit.  It was not entirely pleasant underfoot but then again I am not the best judge since I generally loathe sand of any kind.  The Pictlings certainly did not mind the gritty sand at all and were soon paddling in the water and enjoying how cool it was.  The area roped off and designated for swimming is pretty shallow so the water had actually been nicely warmed by the sun.  That way it was cool but not chilly.  Perfect swimming temperature actually.  Now that all four of my boys are good swimmers, it is a much more pleasant experience to take them somewhere like this.  Mr Pict and I can just sit back and relax while watching them swim and splash and play rather than feeling like we are in a constant state of high alert, reading to spring into Baywatch mode at any instant.  The kids had a wonderful time swimming back and forth in the water.

DSC_0045

DSC_0053

DSC_0065

DSC_0094

Once they had finally had enough of the water, we decided to take the (very) easy trail around the circumference of the lake so they could dry out and we could all stretch our legs before getting back in the car and heading home.  They did their usual thing of complaining and moaning about how boring the walk would be and then absolutely loving it and not wanting to leave.  My kids are pretty feral – you might have noticed – so within reason we let them go bare foot and get off the beaten track.  They, therefore, turned what might have been a brief stroll into a miniature adventure assault course.  There were some outdoor exercise equipment staging posts that they incorporated into their wanderings but mainly it was about balancing along fallen trunks and wading through burns and shallow creeks.  We didn’t encounter any wildlife beyond that which we find in our own garden (squirrels, chipmunks, and birds) but they did find some freshly hatched gloriously blue robin eggs to study.

DSC_0123

DSC_0129

DSC_0134

DSC_0138

We had a really lovely day out.  We have not had much time for whole family activities in recent months as there have been so many commitments and schedule clashes and such like to contend with.  We, therefore, really welcomed some uninterrupted time as a family of six, especially since there was no phone reception.  Locust Lake was a charming spot and we will definitely need to return some time, maybe in late summer.

Advertisements

Evansburg State Park

In addition to returning to old favourites and nearby haunts, we have been very gradually exploring more of the state parks in our surrounding areas.  Our most recent trip was to Evansburg State Park, near Collegeville.

This was an area first settled by the Mennonite community.  Mr Pict and the Pictlings are descended from Swiss Mennonites who emigrated to and first settled in Pennsylvania (though not in this area) before migrating north.  That then was an added bit of interest for me, as a family history nerd.  Our trek started off next to a building that I assume dates from that era of the area’s history.  The main feature of the woodland landscape is the Skippack Creek which carves the landscape up into steep ridges and leads the pathways to curve and wind and double back on themselves.

We set off on one of the multi-purpose trails.  It was a lovely, peaceful spot and I enjoyed spotting some definitive signs of Spring asserting themselves in the woodland.  Farewell, Winter.  The boys loved climbing trees and scampering down embankments to watch the water, or throwing small branches into the creek to play Pooh Sticks.  The younger trio then spent some time engaged in imaginative play, orcs and hobbits I think.

2016-02-27 17.09.14

DSC_0273

DSC_0277

DSC_0281

DSC_0295

DSC_0299

All four boys like to do this running, leaping, bounding, climbing, dangling escapade in the great outdoors that I can only really describe as “woodland parkour”.  That was when things got messy.  The entire walk was incredibly muddy under foot.  The pathways were essentially “quick mud” and we walked the trail by navigating a route that followed yet did not involve actually stepping on any of the trail paths.  Of course, as soon as the kids started racing at speed through the woods, more focused on leaping and jumping, they started sploshing in the mud, sinking into it, making loud sucking squelches as they withdrew each foot.  My youngest made literal the metaphor “feet of clay”.  My oldest lost his footing on one leap and ended up ankle deep in a stream.  The sticky, clay mud was so unremitting and tenacious that we were all entirely plastered as we trudged back to the car park and, apart from Mr Pict who was driving, we all journeyed home bare foot.  It took me two hours of scrubbing to clean our shoes.

2016-02-27 16.50.13 HDR

2016-02-27 17.03.05

2016-02-27 17.06.42

It was a lovely spot to explore, however, and we will definitely return in a dryer season.

*PS It seems my recent run of bad luck with appliances and electronics has not yet concluded.  During this particular walk, my Nikon DSLR decided to shuffle off its mortal coil.  I am not a very capable phone photographer and, therefore, the quality of photography in this post drops off somewhat at the end.  Anticipate my photos being duff for a while until I can either repair or replace my DSLR.*

Ridley Creek State Park

Happy New Year!

My first post of 2016 is about our final Pict family outing of 2015 when we went for an exploration of Ridley Creek State Park.  Located near Media, the park comprises over 2000 acres of land but we confined this first visit to one particular trail.  We had visited the adjacent Tyler Arboretum in April and I must admit that I was bracing myself for similar levels of moodiness from the four boys.  However, the opportunity to roam free, climb trees, battle with sticks, and generally be their feral little selves meant they were stunningly well behaved and agreeable throughout the trek.

We parked up by the Jefford Mansion, a beautiful stone built building from the early twentieth century which now serves as the park offices, and the kids immediately scurried off into what was a cross between an artificial grove and a portico of trees surrounding a formal fish pond.  They soon had it turned into an imaginative playground where heroes were doing battle with mythological monsters, twigs brandished, roaring, and racing around.

DSC_0033

DSC_0047

DSC_0052

From there, we ventured into the woods.  The ground was still sodden and boggy from the previous night’s deluge of rain but we all squelched along quite happily.  There were lots of good climbing trees which the boys were soon scaling and even better were lots of felled trunks that they could shimmy along.  It soon became a competition to see who could complete an obstacle course of tree trunk running in the quickest time.  The smallest Pict is nimble, fleet of foot, and quite frankly impulsive and reckless so he easily won each and every time.

DSC_0059

DSC_0069

DSC_0075

It was because of the 6 year old’s intrepid ways that we stumbled across the highlight of the trip.  We were veering off the demarcated path anyway in order to run along logs but the wee one plunged off into the woods even further and, in doing so, chanced upon the skeletal remains of an adult white tail deer. Well, you would think my boys had just discovered pirate treasure!  They have inherited my macabre fascination for decay and mortality so the fault / credit is almost entirely my own but it seems my children are rarely happier on an outdoor adventure than when they stumble across a corpse.  The body parts were spread across the clearing so they had fun trying to find all the different parts, like a slightly gross jigsaw puzzle.  The skull was the easiest fine after the spine and rib cage but the two middle boys literally jumped up and down with glee when they found the two parts of the mandible.  Each hoof was located and identified at which point my youngest son declared that the deer must be a lady because it had high heels.

DSC_0078

DSC_0084

DSC_0088

Animal autopsy over, we kept on with the looping track.  We found interesting fungi, including a lump of gelatinous brown slime, like a tree hugging sea anemone, but we did not spot any more wildlife, either live or dead.  Wandering through the woods with four loud children never presents the best opportunity for spotting critters but perhaps there was not much to encounter at this time of year anyway.  I will just tell myself that.  It is a lovely park so we will have to return in the Spring when the flora and fauna are bursting with new life once more and perhaps we can explore another trail.

DSC_0067

Father’s Day Weekend

The Pict family had a very busy Father’s Day weekend, so much so that we decided that Mr Pict should open his gifts and cards a day early because it was the only way to schedule it in.  In addition to various cards and treats made at school, the boys made up a hamper of fun foods for their Daddy and also gifted him a steel coffee flask plastered in their mugshots.

Image

Saturday afternoon was spent at a Scouting Regatta hosted at a nearby Swimming Club.  While Mr Pict and I have some reservations about our family being involved in the American version of the Boy Scouts movement, as of now we are very glad that at least one of our children (the seven year old) has committed to joining an extra-curricular activity of any kind.  The people in the local troop are nice and our son certainly gets a lot out of participating, both socially and in terms of experiences.  It is one of those examples of treacherous waters we have to wade through as parents, setting aside our own beliefs and politics in order for our child to benefit.  But I digress … The event was about bringing the families together at the end of the Scouting season, awarding the boys with the badges they had earned and having some friendly competition with racing boats in some guttering.  Meanwhile, the seven year old’s brothers got to benefit from his extra-curricular commitment since they were free to come along and devour barbecued munchies and play in the pool.

Image

Image

Image

Image

Yesterday, Father’s Day proper, we got up bright and early (perhaps too early for our very tired children who were none too bright about it) to drive up to the Poconos for a day of hiking in the sunshine.  Mr Pict and I had been to the Poconos back in April for a child-free break so had scouted out the places we thought would appeal to our kids most.  We had considered going for an overnight camping trip as a way to extend our adventures.  Sadly (not really – I was nothing but relieved) the busy nature of our weekends meant we could only undertake a day trip.  We, therefore, decided to contain our exploration to Hickory Run State Park.

We started with the Boulder Field as we knew that was a unique landscape and that our mountain goat children would enjoy scurrying and leaping all over the rocks.  Their smaller feet, of course, are better suited to finding foot holds on all shapes and sizes of rocks plus they are pretty much fearless (our five year old is emerging as an adrenalin junkie) so the kids were soon on the horizon line of the boulder field while I was still slowly, very slowly, working my way from rock to rock.  As well as enjoying bounding all over large boulders, the kids also enjoyed finding various spiders basking in the sunshine.  Two of my kids have arachnophobia but they are still fascinated by spiders so long as they are not taken by surprise or have to make physical contact with them. My 8 year old also saw the tail of a lizard whip off between some rocks – so the tail was presumably still attached to an unseen lizard.

Image

Image

Image

 

We then took the kids on the Shades of Death trail, which was much more verdant and even more picturesque than when we had visited in April now that Spring has passed into Summer.  The boys loved scampering over all of the tree roots and leaping over streams and bounding over rocks.  The whole walk reminded them of ‘Lord of the Rings’.  What they especially loved about the walk, however, was all of the water since the trail follows the course of a fast-flowing stream and skirts past a weir with a roaring waterfall and then concludes with a large pond.  We didn’t see much in the way of wildlife on our trek.  Some birds, insects and some high-speed chipmunks were all we saw on the trail and we saw deer when we were driving.  My youngest sons were disappointed as they were totally up for a bear encounter.  As I have shared before, however, that is not an American experience I am keen on having so I am glad the bears gave us a wide berth.  What the boys did enjoy finding, however, were tadpoles teeming along the water’s edge, including some godzilla-esque tadpoles that must have been bullfrog babies.  The American word for a tadpole is polliwog.  I like it.

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

 

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

We left Hickory Run State Park and detoured via the General Store called Country Junction that claims to be the world’s largest general store.  Mr Pict and I thought it would be a brilliant experience for the boys and sure enough they were spellbound as soon as they walked through the door, saw the yellow brick road, ‘The Wizard of Oz’ playing on a loop and the buckets of brightly coloured, bizarrely flavoured popcorn.  They loved the place!  Getting them to leave without a puppy or a pet ray might have proved a challenge but unfortunately no sooner had we arrived then a voice on the tannoy announced that the shop was closing so we had to abandon the yellow brick road, pay for our watermelon (!) popcorn and shoofly pie and return to the car – via the adjacent petting zoo that is also part of the general store.  My kids are already demanding to go back to Country Junction to see the rest of the store and have an adequate amount of time to poke around its incredibly eclectic wares so I think another jaunt to the Poconos will be in order this Summer.

Slasher Movies at French Creek State Park

Saturday was a wonderful weather day here.  After weeks of snow, chill winds, gloomy skies and general dreariness, Saturday was a proper Spring day full of blue skies, sunshine and warmth.  It was, therefore, the perfect day for a family outing.  We used to spend a lot of our time in Scotland wandering in woodland or circuiting lochs or travelling through glens and now we are eager to explore the great outdoors in Pennsylvania.

We decided to go to French Creek State Park, which is near Elverson.  We stopped for breakfast at a Cracker Barrel – because my boys have still not tired of American breakfast experiences – and while there my kids bought one of those toy knives where the blade disappears into the hilt on contact.  This gave them the idea to film a slasher movie on Mr Pict’s iphone.  They spent the rest of the car journey storyboarding it and discussing special effects and casting character parts.

I should state, categorically and for the record, that my kids have never seen a slasher movie.  They have, however, picked up some elements of the genre from parodies in cartoons that they watch and from looking at the images on DVD boxes.  The fact they were able to piece together a narrative based on that paucity of information and experience testifies to how cliched such movies are.  Still fun though.

Hopewell Lake, near the centre of the Park and where we parked the car, was still partially frozen so the boys had fun poking sticks at the ice and watching bubbles move beneath the surface.

Image

Image

Image

We decided to trek the Boone Trail, a six mile meandering walk through the woodland.  It was slow going as the kids kept stopping to film scenes for their movie – much to the bemusement of passers by on the trail – but it was a glorious day for a wander so we did not mind.  They did three takes maximum per scene which is not bad going for guerilla film-making.

Image

 

One area they loved playing in was a leaf strewn gulch over which a large tree trunk had fallen.  They, therefore, scrambled back and forth across the log, at first on hands and knees and eventually scampering across on two feet.  It was a bright but shady spot for a stop and a glug from our water bottles too.

Image

Image

Image

Just a few paces further along the trail we came across some cabins.  Cabins in the woods.  This was a little film maker’s dream location!  The boys had a whale of a time filming creepy thriller scenes in one cabin while I wandered around trying to look for local fauna.  At one point we did see a chipmunk and we saw a fair few birds but the sounds of kids making a thriller don’t exactly induce critters to malinger in the area.

Image

Image

 

Image

Once they had exhausted that location’s possibilities, we trekked onwards through the woods.  It soon became apparent that we were moving at far too slow a pace – what with all the filming fun and games – to complete the entire circuit of the Boone Trail so we decided to walk as far as the Fire Tower and then head back down towards “base camp” once more.

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

We were wandering in the woods for over five hours and barely covered any ground in the Park.  It was a great place for a family trek as there was plenty to see and do along the trail to break up the monotony of walking in woods for the kids.  We will definitely return to French Creek State Park time and time again to explore the Boone Trail further and have a wander along other pathways too, especially as the seasons change and the trees fill in.

My kids continued their movie making when they got home and now have lofty ambitions of editing the whole movie together complete with post-production digital effects, a soundtrack, sound effects and a 1970s style set of opening credits.  They have appointed me chief editor.  Good grief.  I better start looking up tutorials on YouTube.