Mammoth Fun

It’s time for our annual family summer break. Before the major summer activities for our church begin, we’re going to sneak out in June for a two-week vacation. As customary, we’ll travel back to Michigan and Illinois to visit family and friends. However this year, with the girls a bit older, we are going to use the second of the two weeks to explore two national parks on the return trip back to New Jersey.

Western Michigan

As always, great times with family!

The girls are enjoying their new cousin, Tyler.

One of our favorite activities when in Western Michigan is to go to Lake Michigan. Often we are permitted to hang out and swim off the personal beach of the Bradfords, good friends of Julie’s father. Lake Michigan, especially in the Grand Haven area, is beautiful. Nice sand, scenic views and fresh water! In the picture on the right, though difficult to see, are the girls and I on the top of a sand dune called the “Sugar Bowl,” a climbing favorite among the locals.

Here are some pictures of Julie and I at the Bradford’s cottage on Lake Michigan. Since the beach between their home and the water is privately owned, you pretty much have the whole place to yourself, especially at nighttime. On this occasion they also let us spend the night enjoying their wonderful cottage all to ourselves. Since Michigan is on the eastern side of Lake Michigan, every night is an opportunity for a great sunset.

Downers Grove, IL

Downers Grove, Illinois is where I spend most of my life growing up. My dad was transferred to Chicago and I lived in this suburb of the Windy City. The house on the left was our home from 1976 until my mom sold it in 1993. It was fun to drive thorough the old neighborhood and relive many fond memories. On the right you can see my mother with her three prized granddaughters. With the oxygen talk visible you can observe that her health has been failing in recent years. We had a nice day. The park we walked around is where I worked for two summers in the mid-eighties overseeing the men’s park district softball leagues.

After we left Illinois we headed south and traveled through the length of the state. When we arrived in Kentucky, our destination was Mammoth Cave National Park. As I mentioned in the introduction, this was a new one for us, tagging on another family camping adventure to our annual trip to the Midwest.

Mammoth Cave National Park

As their website says, “Mammoth Cave National Park preserves the cave system and a part of the Green River valley and hilly country of south central Kentucky. This is the world’s longest known cave system, with more than 400 miles explored. Early guide Stephen Bishop called the cave a “grand, gloomy and peculiar place,” but its vast chambers and complex labyrinths have earned its name – Mammoth.”

We did a tour of the cave and spend some time walking around the park on various hiking trails. On one of them Julie took and nasty fall and did a number on her knee. She was limping for a few days. Pictured below was our campsite. I remember the night we arrived how much I was enjoying the peaceful location, wooded lot and deep darkness. It was everything unlike New Jersey, that is until a mother and her son pulled in next to us and turned on a lantern that lit up the whole campground. I patiently waited as I sat in my folding camping chair for things to change. To my dismay, long after they made camp they neglected to turn off their lantern. They weren’t rude, just clueless on camping ethics. When I could take it no longer I politely asked them to shut things down. They looked at me like I was strange, but graciously complied.

You can also see Julie with the Bible in her hand in the picture below. Each day we’d start things off with some family time in the word.

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The girls loved these rock shops!

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Beyond the cave, there was a small amusement park down the road. Nothing fancy, but an alternative activity for families with young children that are spending a few days at the park and aren’t overly impressed with caving. As you can see in the slideshow below, we had a lot of fun riding the chair lift to the top of the mountain, sledding down on the alpine slide, jumping on the trampoline, playing bumper boat and participating in the girls absolute favorite, horse riding.

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When we left Kentucky we were passing through Western Virginia. Upon arriving at George Washington National Forest it came time to look for a campground to spend the night. We located a campground in the park and it was quite an experience. It was one of those places where there is no attendant on site and you simply deposit 7 dollars in the steel box by the front gate for your campsite. The bathrooms were, as the girls call them, “holes in the ground.” It was us and a bunch of unsupervised, rowdy and intoxicated hillbillies. I slept close to my camping ax, not that it really would have really made much of a difference. Thankfully they left us alone.

In the morning we were driving around the area and noticed two young ladies with wet hair wearing bathing suits. We asked them where they were swimming and they informed us of the nearby creek (or as they said it, “crick”). It wasn’t deep and I supposed it was safe if locals have repeatedly used it. We jumped in. We had a blast and it’s going to be a memory we’ll never forget!

I love this picture. Check out the faces – especially Natalie! We came across this cave based on the recommendation of others that knew the area. Sure, the girls didn’t like the spiderwebs, but it was nevertheless a neat experience. Also at this location we started talking to a man visiting the same area. Turns out he was Julie’s mom’s postman from Muskegon, Michigan! That was weird!

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Some pictures of sights to be seen on the way to Shenandoah.

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A few more memorable experiences of the beauty of central and northern Virginia.

 Shenandoah National Park

The second national park on our vacation was Shenandoah. The main drive though the park is basically located on a scenic drive across the tops of the Blue Ridge Mountains, running parallel to the Appalachian Trial. The park is long and narrow with the broad Shenandoah River and Valley on the west side, and the rolling hills of the Virginia Piedmont on the east.  As far as activities go, your main choice is definitely hiking. And apart from that and the few pull-overs to view the valley, there wasn’t much to do at this park.

The Appalachian Trial passed just beyond our campsite – like 20 yards away. One evening we went for a very short hike on the world-famous trail (just to say we did it) and came back to discover that in the brief amount of time we were gone that our hot dog buns that we accidentally left on the picnic table were taken. What do you think? A bear? We’d like to think it was a deer!

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This was one of my all-time favorite campsites!

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As I previous mentioned, there’s not a lot to do in Shenandoah other than hiking. And since you are starting on top of the mountain, most of your trails start off descending into the valley. We did a few very long and grueling tails, one in particular. The highlights on each of these trails was the cascading waterfalls that we would always jump into for a dip.

Splurged on a hotel the final night.

“Natalie, put you face in the water!”

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Jamestown Settlement and Colonial Williamsburg

Jamestown Settlement is a living-history museum. It is located near the site of Jamestown, the first successful English settlement on the mainland of North America, founded on May 14, 1607. We spent a good portion of the day in Jamestown enjoying many of the buildings and live demonstrations. What I mainly recall is how hot it was the the day were were there. Just below there is a picture of Kayla by a ship in the heart of the day. At this point, it was a chore for me to get anyone willing to even go that far out into the sun to just pose for the picture!

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Colonial Williamsburg is also a living-history museum representing the historic district of Williamsburg, Virginia. The area includes buildings dating from 1699 to 1780. The historic area is an interpretation through recreating a colonial American city. We arrived at this location later in the evening. On the good side we didn’t pay to enter, but on the bad side many of the buildings were closed and the actors had gone home.

The photographs in the slideshow below are from both Jamestown and Williamsburg.

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Very few things could have quenched our taste better than these shaved ices mixed with the flavor of your choice!

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And on that we drove the 5 hours or so back to New Jersey!

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