National Park Access Free

2014 National Park "Free Entry" Dates!! January 20th Martin Luther King Jr. Day; February 15-17th Presidents Day weekend; April 19-20th opening weekend of National Park Week; August 25th National Park Service Birthday; September 27th National Public Lands Day; November 11th Veterans Day

Sunday, July 27, 2014

#29 - United States National Arboretum

Whenever I go on a hike, I like to make sure there will be something interesting to see, or beautiful surroundings. Hiking is a stress reliever and to be able to enjoy the surroundings, while getting a good workout in, is a big part of the motivation for me. Saturday's six mile hike at the United States National Arboretum provided the perfect backdrop to a hike of rolling hills.
Hiking through a portion of the Azalea collection

The arboretum is 446 acres of research, beauty and recreational area, run by the US Department of Agriculture, and located within view of the US Capitol. It almost seems to be a secret, or a place people don't feel is worthwhile of a visit, but it's nine miles of roads and paths are perfect for biking, hiking, running - or even driving if that is what you prefer.

Pick a season to see various blooms throughout the year. From the Azalea collection to Perennials, Dogwoods to Asian gardens, and the National Grove of State Trees, there are paths and roads aplenty to see quite a diverse park.

Bonnie and I hiking by the Perennial collection
Beauty along the way

The National Grove of State Trees was an interesting area about 1.5 miles in. It provides a chance to see various State trees. My favorite, the White Oak of Maryland; and one I had not seen before, the Ohio Buckeye.

Two White Oaks side by side - These are offspring of the Wye Oak, which was the largest white oak in the U.S.
Ohio Buckeye
Ohio Buckeye with Fruit (nut)
From here you move on toward the Capitol Columns. Twenty-two Corinthian columns that were located at the East portico of the Capitol building prior to the Capitol's expansion. The columns were the backdrop for presidential inaugurations from Andrew Jackson to Dwight D. Eisenhower. Abraham Lincoln gave his famous second inaugural address in front of them.

What was most interesting was the sandstone from which these columns were made came from the quarry at Government Island, less than 1 mile where we live today, and where we frequently take local hikes.

Capitol Columns
Capitol Columns

Bonita at Capitol Columns

Government Island at Aquia Creek. Where the sandstone was quarried.
The route goes on and on. At this stage we were not half way through. From the meadow of where the the columns are located, we headed to a wooded area, where the shade provided a perfect break. From there, to Asian Gardens, the Dogwood Exhibit and onto the Conifer collection.

Varying landscape - woods to meadows to fields to hills
Still to bloom - though unidentified

As wide as it is tall! And a perfect shady area underneath!
The Conifer collection was quite remarkable. The trunk and root structures, the colors, the shapes and sizes. One man, William Gotelli, donated his 1500 conifer collection to the Arboretum so they could continue to be enjoyed. I added his marker here in appreciation of him.

Conifer Collection

Shades of Green
Conifer Collection
William Gotelli
 Six miles hiked; a lot of beauty seen, a perfect day to be outside. We picked the right route as things got better and better as we went along. At the end, we finished with the Arboretum's incredible bonsai collection, then the herb garden. The hike was over. These were cooldown activities.

The daddy of them all was the below bonsai dating to 1625. It survived the attack on Nagasaki and is nearly 400 years old.

If you need a good day to get out and do something a little different, a place to take a picnic lunch, ride a bike, or hike anywhere from 2-9 miles, the National Arboretum is a worthwhile destination. Pick a season to find your favorite trees, shrubs, and flowers in bloom!

Keep Hiking, Friends!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

#28 - Old Rag Mountain

For a day hike in Virginia, it just doesn't get much better than Old Rag Mountain (named for the Old Rag Granite formed roughly one billion years ago.) Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in Shenandoah National Park, this 9 mile circuit, part hike, part rock scramble, is a complete workout that leaves you feeling wonderful, exhausted, sore, and wondering if you should ever do it again! Ultimately, you can't help but love it, and the experience stays with you for days after your hike is over.

With all of my four kids home, a group of us headed out on Wednesday. A couple of storms had blown through earlier in the week leaving lower temps, lower humidity, and being mid-week; smaller crowds. The result was nothing short of fabulous!

One of 400-500 Black Bear in Shenandoah National Park
We had "bearly" got started, less than 1/4 mile in, when we came across a black bear who had peered out from the brush to give us a good look. We stopped to admire it for a moment or two, then moved along knowing we had a long adventure ahead of us.

With the summit at 3,291feet, there is only one way to go, so up we climbed, switchback after switchback up the side of the mountain.

Lower Half of Old Rag

Lower Half of Old Rag
After about 1.5 miles, the traditional switchbacks transition to a one mile rock scramble to the summit. Here, arms, legs, feet, butt, hands, knees and elbows are used to traverse the giant rocks leading to the summit.

Exhausted from scrambling, Tim cleared a path for us to get by!

It is an incredibly challenging hike, as you remove camelbacks to squeeze through crevices, attempt to find workarounds so as to not pull yourself up yet another large rock, turning a corner just to find another large climb looms ahead.

What?? We're not done??
The payoff is the beautiful views of Shenandoah National Park to one side, the valleys leading to farms and small towns on the other. With a need to hydrate, the rocks provide a perfect place to stop and take in the surroundings.

Alas, you make it to the summit! Spectacular views, beautiful sunshine, a slight breeze on the northwest side to keep you cool!


We split up from here. Half to scramble back down, half to finish the 9 mile circuit. Fun, beautiful, enjoyable regardless which you pick; though each muscle will remind you this was no regular day hike.

It's not often I get to hike with all four of my children - and friends to boot! It made for a hike I'll never forget!

National Geographic lists Old Rag Mountain as one of their top Day Hikes in America's National Parks.  Check out the article at:

Keep hiking, friends! And if you want a full day challenge, go visit Old Rag!


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

#27 - Schuylkill River Trail

A new area explored as we spent a long weekend in PA for a family reunion, celebrating both family and friends. With food and drink aplenty, a hike was in order, and I found the nearby 130 mile Schuylkill River Trail, stretching from Schuylkill County to Philadelphia.

With family activities planned, we accessed the trail at the nearest point to our location, Pottstown, PA, to get a 5 mile hike in. The trail was paved and well maintained and a brisk hike felt good in the morning heat and humidity.

Schuylkill River Trail

Nice scenery adorned as we headed upstream. Two things were apparent from the start; while you could hike this trail for miles and miles, this section was made for biking and running. These activities added to the speed of the flat, fast moving trail.

Schuylkill River Trail
The length and mile markers of the trail allowed for a long, focused workout. As we wound away from the river, through fields and to the outskirts of town, I couldn't help but feel that this section was best for biking the 20 or so miles to Reading, PA. Even so, we picked up the pace and moved briskly along.
Crossing the river to the outskirts of town
A hike with family, joined by my wife, daughter and brother, made for a good workout. Yes, today it was shorter and faster; but hey, we had 50 family members gathering upon our return. We had got our miles in, now it was time to share laughs, exchange hugs, and relive fond memories. Somehow, the hike had set the tone for a perfect day.

East meets West - My brother and I
Keep hiking! And may the path end at family and friends.