USS Constitution – The Oldest Commissioned Ship

The USS Constitution is not only the oldest commissioned ship in the United States Navy, its also the oldest commissioned ship still afloat in the world! Located in Boston, Massachusetts, the USS Constitution is part of the Freedom Trail and definitely a must see historical attraction!

The USS Constitution was commissioned by George Washington to protect America’s merchant ships. After three years of construction and three launch attempts the ship was finally launched in 1797.

The ship’s most noteworthy event was it’s involvement in the War of 1812. During the war the USS Constitution defeated five British warships and numerous merchant ships. During one of the battles in the War of 1812, British cannonballs that were fired at USS Constitution simply bounced off the sides of the ship and the crew said the ship must be made of iron. This is how it got the nickname of “Old Ironsides” It’s actually the triple layers of pine and oak used to construct the ship’s hull that gave it this iron strength.

Old Ironsides

The ship was retired in 1881 and was stationed at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine until 1907. At that point it was turned into a museum ship. In 1925, the first restoration of the USS Constitution began and then in 1931, it set sail for a 90 city tour of the United States. In 1934, the ship returned to it’s home port in Boston. In 1997 and 2012 it set sail to celebrate it’s bicentennial and the bicentennial of the War of 1812. It would undergo a few more restorations in the 1970s, 1990s and most recently in 2015-2017. It’s permenant home is the Charlestown Navy Yard and that’s where you can go see this historic ship.

Wheel of the USS Constitution

As a fully commissioned ship of the the US Navy to this day, the USS Constitution does still make a few sails out into the Boston Harbor each year to turn the ship around so that each side is equally exposed while docked to help prevent damage to this old ship. Seeing this ship turn around is quite the sight and it was the annual 4th of July turn around sail that led me to spend a day being a tourist in my hometown and visiting this ship for the first time since I was a young child.

The event starts at 10am in the Charlestown Navy Yard where the USS Constitution begins it’s sail into the Boston Harbor. It heads into the harbor where it eventually reaches Castle Island in the South Boston neighborhood of Boston around 11:30am. Being that I live just on the other side of South Boston, I walked over and started the day there. The ship is usually at Castle Island until noon and there is a huge crowd waiting to witness the turn around of this ship.

Prior the ship turning around and heading back to it’s home at the Charlestown Navy Yard, the ship does a 21 gun salute. Then the turn around begins and even though I’ve seen it many times before, it’s still pretty amazing to see. Check out my video below to see for yourself.

USS Constitution Turning Around at Castle Island

If you want to catch the turn around from the water, there are many boating companies that do have cruises that day to see the turn around.

The turn around is a short but pretty amazing sight. This year I decided to then head over to the Charlestown Navy Yard to go on the ship since I hadn’t been on it since I was very young. And we all know that your perception of something when you are a young child vs. when you are an adult are completely different. The ship was going to be available for tours from 3pm-6pm that afternoon, so after lunch at the popular Sullivan’s at Castle Island, I set out for the Charlestown Navy Yard.

USS Constitution at the Charlestown Navy Yard

The USS Constitution is located in the oldest neighborhood of Boston, Charlestown. It’s docked at the Charlestown Navy Yard which is one of the oldest shipbuilding facilities in the United States. Since the USS Constitution is a stop along the Freedom Trail, the best way to get there is to walk there from Downtown Boston while following the famous red line on the ground that signifies the Freedom Trail.

The Charlestown Navy Yard is operated by the US National Park Service. Admission onto the ship is free and you will need to show your drivers license or passport and go thru security screening prior to entering.

Seeing the ship up close is pretty impressive, but once you get onto the ship that’s where things are really amazing to see. They have done a great job with the restorations over the years so we can all enjoy this beautiful ship.

There are three levels that you can explore, the top level and the two indoor levels. You will need to walk down the stairs into the lower levels like you are walking down a ladder, so it might be challenging for some. The one thing that was surprising to me when I was exploring the lower levels was how low the ceilings were. I’m pretty short, just 5 ft 2 in. and I even I felt like I almost had to duck in certain spots. I couldn’t figure out how these sailors, who I would assume would be MUCH taller than me could get around the boat. Well as it turns out the average height was only 5 ft 6 in. back then. It’s always surprising to me how much taller people are now compared to 200 years ago.

It was interesting to see how they lived on the ship. From the sleeping conditions of the majority of the sailors on the ship to the private bedrooms for those higher up in rank.

The second level of the ship was lined with cannons on both sides. Great to see the impressive cannons that they used to defend the ship.

Cannons on the USS Constitution

There are sailors scattered thru the ship to answer any questions that you may have as you are exploring the ship.

After you are done exploring the USS Constitution, make sure to visit the other attractions at the Charlestown Navy Yard.

The USS Constitution Museum is a great place to check out either before or after visiting the ship. The museum is great for all age with lots of interactive activities that both kids and adults will enjoy. It’s a fun way to bring some more education about the history of the USS Constitution to your kids. The museum is free to enter but they do accept donations. There is a donation box when you walk in as well as a cashier if you would like to donate via debit or credit card. Donations help to keep the museum open.

USS Constitution Museum

Also located at the Navy Yard is the naval destroyer, USS Cassin Young. The USS Cassin Young was used in both World War II and the Korean War. It was named after Captain Cassin Young, a medal of honor recipient for his heroism at Pearl Harbor. It’s one of only four Fletcher class destroyers still afloat and is considered a National Historic Landmark.

USS Cassin Young

Finally make sure to check out the view of Boston from the Navy Yard. While it might not be as impressive as other views of Boston, it’s a different perspective and a good mix of new modern buildings with old historic buildings such as the Old North Church and the Custom House.

View of Boston from Charlestown Navy Yard

The USS Constitution should be on everyone’s must see list when visiting Boston and if you happen to be in the city for the 4th of July, make sure to check out this 200 year old ship setting sail in the Boston Harbor.

Yellowstone – More Than Just Geysers and Hot Springs

When people think of Yellowstone National Park, the first thing that comes to mind is the famous geyser, Old Faithful. But while the geysers, hot springs and other hydrothermal features are amazing and a must see there is so much more that Yellowstone has to offer.

Yellowstone was established in 1872 as the first national park. The park covers over 2.2 million acres located mostly in Wyoming but also stretching into Montana and Idaho as well. There are five entrances into the park that lead you to 466 miles of roadway to explore this massive park. I spent three days in the park and feel like while I saw the major sites, that I didn’t even scratch the surface of things to see here.

So what is there to see other than the over 10,000 hydrothermal features.

Wildlife: The other thing that may come to mind other than Old Faithful when you think of Yellowstone is wildlife. Other than Alaska, Yellowstone has the most wildlife of anywhere in the US. There are 67 different types of mammals that live in the park including grizzly bears, wolves, bison, elk, pronghorn, coyote, linx and moose.

It’s not unusual to be driving the roads of Yellowstone and see wildlife alongside the road, crossing the road or just roaming in the road. When you see a bunch of cars parked on the side of the road that’s a sign there was a wildlife sighting. While exciting, remember to pull over slowly and find a safe place to park your car. It’s also important to remember that when in Yellowstone, we are visitors in the animals home and to respect that. For safety, it’s important to stay 100 yards away from bears and wolves and 25 yards from all other wildlife.

While you may spend your trip to Yellowstone searching for a grizzly bear or a wolf and leave without seeing one, the one animal you will definitely see alot of throughout the park is bison. There are over 4000 bison in Yellowstone and they have no fear being around people or cars. They seem to love just walking right down the middle of the road causing the infamous “Bison Jams” that can cause you to be stuck in traffic for hours. I speak from experience as the first day I was there I was in a 2 hour bison jam and the last day I was there it was an hour bison jam that caused me to miss a kayaking trip. Important Tip: Give yourself a couple of extra hours if you need to be somewhere in the park by a specific time.

But even though the bison causes lots of traffice and aggravation, they are still amazing to see. Nothing like them walking right next to your car down the road! Spring is a great time to see wildlife in the park. The animals are coming out of hibernation and this is also when the babies are born. Baby bison are called “Red Dogs” due to them being an orange-red color and they are just adorable. My dream of seeing a bear leading some adorable cubs across the street didn’t come true, but I know that must be quite a great sight!

The best place for wildlife viewing is the Lamar Valley. Often referred to as America’s Serengeti, this is where the largest population of wildlife is in the park. In this area of the park, you are sure to see lots of wildlife.

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone: This is definitely a can’t miss spot in Yellowstone. I could have spent an entire day exploring this area. The canyon is 1,000 feet deep, 20 feet long and reaches 1,500 to 4,000 feet wide in different areas of the canyon. It’s thought the canyon formed by the Yellowstone River eroding the rock that had been weakened by hydrothermal activity.

The canyon is quite the sight to see. There are two drives that you can take, the North Rim Drive and the South Rim Drive.

The North Rim Drive will take you to multiple lookout points to view both the Upper and Lower Falls of the Canyon. There are also hikes at the different lookout points. I hiked the trail to the Brink of Lower Falls. The trail is only 3/8th of a mile but it’s a steep 600 foot walk down. This is a very popular hike and I saw people of all ages and wearing all types of footwear, including flip flops (even as a huge flip flop fan, I must say it, do NOT hike in flip flops, you are just asking for an injury if you do!) The view once you reached the bottom of the falls was just beautiful.

Check out the video below to see just how close you get to the falls and the beautiful rainbow.

Considering the steep drop down to the falls in such a short distance, the hike up was a little challenging especially on a hot afternoon. Luckily there were spots to stop to the side and take a little break without being in other hiker’s way. I’ll admit I had to stop a couple of times. You also get a really great view of just how impressive the canyon is when you look at it from the lower falls. It was absolutely beautiful!

Along the South Rim Drive are other lookouts and hikes. One of the most popular stops along the South Rim Drive is Artist Point. Artist Point is definitely a must see view in Yellowstone. The view definitely lives up to the hype, it’s absolutely stunning, in fact it’s so beautiful that it almost doesn’t even look real! There is a large parking lot and the view is just a short 5 minute walk from the parking lot.

Artist Point

Waterfalls: The Upper and Lower Falls in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone aren’t the only waterfalls in Yellowstone National Park. As I was driving thru the park, I stopped a couple of other waterfalls. What’s a visit to a National Park, without a random stop at a waterfall?

Located between Madison Junction and Norris Geyser Basin is Gibbon Falls. The falls drop 84 feet into the Gibbon River. There is a trail along the river to see the falls from different viewpoints.

Heading south from Yellowstone Lake towards the South Entrance, you will pass the 30 foot tall Lewis Falls.

Yellowstone Lake: Yellowstone Lake is the largest high elevation lake in North America. It’s 7,733 feet above sea level and is 20 miles long and 14 miles wide. At the bottom of the lake are geysers, hot springs and deep canyons. A popular area on the lake to see is West Thumb where some of these underwater hydrothermal features are located.

A great way to enjoy the lake and get up close to West Thumb is to take a kayaking tour. During my visit, I was signed up for a 6 hour kayaking tour but as I mentioned earlier, one of those infamous “Bison Jams” caused me to miss it.

Fishing is another great way to enjoy the lake. Yellowstone Lake has the largest population of cutthroat trout in all of North America.

You might me thinking, swimming in the lake sounds like a great idea, but think again. Due to the high elevation of the lake, the water stays very cold even during hot days in the summer. The average water temperature is 41 degrees fahrenheit, so swimming is not recommended.

The views of the lake are absolutely stunning and there are plenty of lookout points to stop and take in the view. There is something about a lake with the snow capped mountains in the distance that just seems so beautiful. The lake reminded me a bit of one of my favorite places in the world, Lake Tahoe.

Yellowstone is definitely the most diverse park you will ever visit. There is definitely something for everyone and it’s a place that should be visited by all at least once.

Lamar Valley Hike at Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park may just be the most diverse park I have ever visited. While the Hydrothermal areas are fascinating to see, the wildlife is another huge draw for people visiting the park. While you can see plenty of wildlife throughout the park, the Lamar Valley has the largest population of wildlife of the whole park. Due to the large number of wildlife in the Lamar Valley, it’s often been referred to as America’s Serengeti. To name just a few of the animals you can see in the Lamar Valley are wolves, grizzly bears, bison, coyotes, pronghorn, elk and eagles.

Lamar Valley

Alot of people will just drive out to the valley and stop in one of the many pullouts to view the wildlife, but taking a hike is an even better way to see the wildlife. For safety from animal encounters, hiking is best done in groups in Yellowstone and you should avoid hiking alone or even with just two people. A great safe way to hike in the Lamar Valley is to go on a guided hike. When I visited Yellowstone, I booked my hike thru Yellowstone Hiking Guides.

Our guide met the 9 of us that were signed up for the hike at 8am at the Lamar Valley River Trailhead for a six hour hike that covered six miles along the Lamar River Trail. Since you must stay 100 yards away from bears and wolves and 25 yards away from all other wildlife, the guide provided us all with binoculars. We were also provided with hiking poles and a bag with lunch and plenty of snacks. The guide had bear spray on him and we were told to get into a tight circle behind him if we were to encounter a bear, which thankfully we did not, unfortunately we didn’t even get to see one from far away.

Bridge at the beginning of the trail

The hike started out by crossing a bridge and then we continued into the meadow. After taking so many hikes thru the woods, it was different to be hiking in a meadow. It definitely made for a warmer hike due to being fully exposed to the sun the entire hike. The great thing about having the guide was that he was able to tell us some information about the different wildlife and the area itself. In fact, everyone in the group was great about adding in their own knowledge about certain animals.

But probably the biggest highlight to having the guide and the others in the group was that everyone was on the lookout for wildlife and chances are someone would be looking in a different direction than you and could point out wildlife you might not see if you are in a smaller group.

While we didn’t get to see any bears or wolves, we got to see plenty of bison, even had some blocking our path that we had to wait for them to move before continuing on. We also saw quite a few pronghorn, an elk from quite the distance, osprey, a bald eagle and a golden eagle. I was quite amazed with the golden eagle and have now decided that I want to be an eagle in my next life. Who wouldn’t want to fly and then perch themselves up high above where they get a great view of everything!

This was definitely a time when I wish I had a fancy camera with a good zoom lense and wasn’t just using my good old phone as my camera. I’m very grateful for the binoculars though, the views I saw thru them will just have to live on in my memory instead of in a photo.

The hike is great for all abilities as we went slow and stopped often to view the wildlife. About halfway thru the hike, we stopped and sat by the river to have lunch. It was definitely a beautiful area to relax a bit in the middle of the hike. The lunch provided was pretty good, it was a sandwich, chips, apple, peanuts, fruit snacks and a granola bar. One of the things I would definitely recommend is to bring enough water. One of the people in our group just brought one 20 oz bottle, which was not enough. They suggested that everyone bring 2 liters of water with them.

Lunch views

I would definitely recommend this hike to anyone visiting Yellowstone, especially if you are traveling alone or with just one other person, safety in numbers in bear country is important! While we did not see any bears or wolves, the amount of bison and pronghorn we saw was quite amazing and I’ll never forget seeing that golden eagle.

Lamar Valley

Yellowstone National Park is huge! When I visited I stayed in West Yellowstone which ended up being a 2 hour 15 minute drive from the Lamar Valley, this is without the traffic caused by bison jams, which happens often! If you are not up for such a long drive (which includes the stress of a bison jam causing major traffic and making you late) so early in the morning, I would recommend staying on the northern side of the park the night before the hike in Gardiner, Montana.

I’ll end this post with a video of the hike after we waited for the bison to get far enough off the trail for us to go forward.

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Exploring the Hydrothermal Features in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park became the first national park in 1872 and to me it will always be the most unique national park. When I think of national parks, I think of places to hike, visit waterfalls and see wildlife. Yellowstone has all of this but also has many hydrothermal features from it’s volcanic geology which makes it truly unique from other national parks in the US. I will be the first to admit, the hydrothermal features made me stop and think of how strange this planet really is. It makes you think of all the natural things going on under the ground that we just don’t think about. The hydrothermal features in Yellowstone are both strange and fascinating at the same time!

There are 5 different types of hydrothermal features located in Yellowstone National Park.

  1. Hot Springs – The most common hydrothermal feature, these occur when rainwater and snowmelt seap into the ground and becomes hydrothermally heated and rise to the surface.
  2. Geysers – These are hot springs where the water is prevented from circulating which in turn causes them to periodically erupt for the heat to escape.
  3. Fumaroles – These steam vents occur when the water evaporates before coming to the surface.
  4. Mudpots – Acidic hot springs that dissolve the surrounding rock.
  5. Tavertine Terraces – Hot springs that rise thru limestone and create what looks like a cave turned inside out.

There are over 10,000 hydrothermal features located in Yellowstone National Park with over 500 active geysers, which make up half of the geysers in the entire world. This makes Yellowstone a great place to visit not just for Americans, but for citizens around the world.

There are multiple areas spread throughout the park that you can see the hydrothermal features. This post will discuss the top four areas you must visit Lower Geyser Basin, Midway Geyser Basin, Upper Geyser Basin and Mammoth Hot Springs.

Lower Geyser Basin: The Lower Geyser Basin is approximately 11 square miles, making it the largest geyser basin in Yellowstone. It includes multiple areas of thermal activity, the most popular of which is the Fountain Paint Pot Area.

Fountain Paint Pots Trail

This was the first spot that I stopped at in the park. I was amazed at the effect that the thermal activity and volcanic geology has on the area. It’s not just the hydrothermal features that are fascinating but also the effect on things like the trees and the surrounding ground. Looking around, I kind of felt like I was on another planet.

Fountain Paint Pots area included 4 of the 5 types of hydrothermal features, everything but the tavertine terraces. There was a trail that was approximately a half mile long. The trail was on a boardwalk. It’s important to stay on the boardwalk as the hot springs, geysers, mudpots and fumaroles are all extremely hot and would cause serious injury.

The most impressive thermal feature in this area to me was the Silex Spring. The color of it was beautiful, a good preview of the much more colorful hot springs that I would see later in the park. The Clepsydra Geyser was erupting and could be seen as i was driving up to the area. Even walking on the boardwalk, you ended up walking thru the steam from this geyser.

Seeing the thermal features in action was a very interesting experience. It truly is amazing the things that occur on this planet! Check out this video of the Fountain Paint Pots:

Midway Geyser Basin: The Midway Geyser Basin has the least amount of thermal features, but also the most beautiful thing to see in the entire Yellowstone National Park in my opinion.

Excelsior Geyser was once the largest geyser in the world back in the 1880s. At present it is still a fairly large crater spouting lots of water and steam.

There are two hot springs, Opal Pool and Turquoise Pool which are beautiful to see.

When you compare these two pools to the star of the show in Midway Geyser Basin, Grand Prismatic, they sadly look unimpressive. Grand Prismatic is the largest hot spring in Yellowstone stretching 300 feet across, it is also the most colorful. The colors pop the most when the sun is straight overhead during the midday. Early in the morning there is usually too much steam obscuring the view. This is unfortunate as the parking lot at Midway Geyser Basin is pretty small and finding a spot mid day is quite difficult. I visited it around 6pm and even then had a hard time trying to get a parking spot. But Grand Prismatic was still very impressive to see even with the steam obscuring some of the color.

If I had time I would have headed back to this area the following day and took the short hike to the overlook for a much better view. One mile down the road from Midway Geyser Basin is the Fairy Falls parking lot, which is a bit bigger than the parking lot at Midway Geyser Basin. From there you can take a .6 mile hike 105 feet up to the overlook and you can see Grand Prismatic in all it’s glory like the photo below, courtesy of wikipedia. I do regret not having time for this, just a reason to visit Yellowstone again sometime in the future I guess.

Grand Prismatic Spring

Upper Geyser Basin: The largest concentration of geysers in the world as well as some of the largest geysers in size in the world are located within one square mile at the Upper Geyser Basin.

Shortly before arriving at the main area where the famous Old Faithful Geyser is located is Biscuit Basin. This is a beautiful area to check out some of the hot springs with less of a crowd. There is a short half mile boardwalk trail to take here.

The Old Faithful area is the busiest part of the park. Even people not into National Parks have dreams of seeing Old Faithful erupt in person. It’s a beautiful area but also a very touristy area. There is a visitor center, an inn and lodge, restaurants, gift shop, general store and gas station. But you just cannot come to Yellowstone and not see Old Faithful, even if it means standing in a huge crowd of people waiting for it to erupt.

Old Faithful erupts more frequently than other large geysers in the park and it’s fairly easy to predict when it will erupt plus or minus 10 minutes, which is how it got it’s name. On average it erupts every 90 minutes but can be anywhere from 50 minutes to two hours in between eruptions. They are able to predict the timing of the eruption based on the last eruption and how long it lasted. The shorter duration of the eruption, the shorter amount of time in between that eruption and the next. The rangers post the predicted timing of the next eruption. I will say, I saw it erupt twice while I was there and it erupted within 5 minutes of their predicted time.

Check out the video below on the Old Faithful Geyser eruption:

Old Faithful is definitely not the only thing to see in Upper Geyser Basin. If you have the time take the Upper Geyser Basin Loop trail. This trail is mostly on boardwalk with some pavement and I clocked it at about 3 miles long. There are numerous hydrothermal features to see on the loop trail. It was interesting at 10:30am see some of the other geysers with predicted eruptions at 4 or 6pm and lots of empty seating in front of these geysers. You’d really have to be in the right place at the right time to see these erupt or sit for a while.

There were many impressive hot springs and geysers along this trail but by far the most beautiful was Morning Glory Pool. The colors of this hot spring were so beautiful and it was such an impressive thing to see. Made up for not seeing Grand Prismatic without the steam. This alone makes taking the long trail worth it in my opinion.

Mammoth Hot Springs: The final major area of hydrothermal features is Mammoth Hot Springs located near the Northern Entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Like the Old Faithful area, this area can seem rather touristy, with visitors center, lodging, restaurants, gift shops and a gas station.

But this is the area of the park that features the fifth type of hydrothermal features, tavertine terraces, so it’s definitely worth checking out. These terraces will make you feel like you are looking at something from another planet. There are a couple of ways to view the terraces, you can park by the lower terraces and walk the boardwalk all the way to the top. This is a great way to see all of the terraces. Or for the upper terraces, there is also a parking lot by them. I walked all the way from the lower to the upper terraces after being up since 4am and hiking for 6 miles, probably would have been better to park near each and save my already sore legs a bit.

Seeing all these hydrothermal features at Yellowstone National Park was quite fascinating, kind of a surreal experience. Very different from the wildlife and nature also seen in the park. This alone makes Yellowstone a great destination for people all around the world to visit some day.

Running West Virginia at the Canaan Valley Half Marathon

Last month I ran my first in person race of the year. In my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, I headed to West Virginia to run the Canaan Valley Half Marathon.

I had never been to West Virginia before and had no idea what to expect or where to even run a half marathon. I came across the Canaan Valley Half Marathon and the area looked like a great place to visit and the end of April would the ideal running weather.

Well I thought heading south from Boston at the end of April would give me ideal weather, but I forgot I was heading to the Mountain State, so two days after it was in the 70s in Boston, I was driving into the Canaan Valley Resort with snow coming down. Not what someone who really, really, really hates snow wants to see. Luckily though the snow was short lived and didn’t even stick to the ground. And by race day the weather was perfect for running!

Canaan Valley Resort

The race was held at the Canaan Valley Resort. It’s very convenient for a race to be held right at the hotel you are staying at. I checked in on Thursday evening and spent Friday exploring the local area, which was so beautiful, if you’d like to learn more about the area, check out my post on Canaan Valley West Virginia.

That evening a went to bib pickup up which was right in the hotel and then went to the hotel restaurant for dinner. There was a pretty long wait for dinner, so I ended up having dinner with three other girls who were also running that I met while waiting. I was literally at the two weeks after my vaccine that day and after a year of not being indoors with anyone else unmasked this was quite the risky move for me, but I’m so glad I did it, it was great to actually have a meal with new people that I just met and talk about other races we had all run. Meeting people is one of the biggest things I have missed this past year when there haven’t been many in person races.

So many hils

To accomodate social distancing, the race was held on both Saturday and Sunday morning. I ran on Saturday morning and the weather was perfect, it was sunny and cool, great for running. Sunday morning featured alot of fog, so I’m so glad I had chosen Saturday, I wouldn’t have had much motivation to run on a foggy morning.

I usually am pretty bad about looking at the elevation chart of a race beforehand, but this time I did and was prepared but still not all that happy about the amount of hills in the race. Hills are definitely my nemesis and I avoid them at all costs.

The race course was very beautiful, the majority of it taking place on the golf course at the resort.

The race started with a big downhill and you know how they say, “what goes up must come down”, well the reverse is also true, “what goes down must come back up”. So of course the very end of the 13.1 mile race was up a ridiculously steep hill, talk about earning your medal in that last tenth of a mile! A picture can’t even represent how steep this hill was!

The last hill!

Other than hating the hills, this was a really great race. A beautiful course, convenient start and finish right at the resort and extremely well run race. They also had a 5K and 10K race in addition to the half marathon. If you wanted to do the 5K on Saturday and Half Marathon on Sunday, you could complete the Conquer the Valley Challenge and earn yourself three medals.

I highly recommend this race if you are running all 50 states and looking for a well run race in a beautiful area to visit.

Lilacs at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston

After the long Boston winters, there is nothing like getting outside during spring. While my absolute favorite place to visit in the spring is the Boston Public Garden, Arnold Arboretum is a very close second. And the highlight during spring at the Arboretum is definitely the lilacs!

History of Arnold Arboretum

The Arnold Arboretum

The Arnold Arboretum has been around for over 100 years. Back in 1872, the trustees to the will of the owner of the land, whaling merchant James Arnold, transferred a portion of it to Harvard University to be used as an arboretum. Ten years later in 1882, Harvard University granted the land the arboretum is on to the City of Boston to be included in the 7 mile long public parks system known as the Emerald Necklace which was designed by famous landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. This agreement is to last 2,000 years, so the Arnold Arboretum is hear to stay for well past our lifetime!

The Arnold Arboretum is located in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston which is also home to the brewery of the most famous beer brewed in Boston, Sam Adams. The arboretum covers 281 acres and includes a living collection of 15,500 plants, a herbarium of 1.3 million specimens and a library with over 40,000 volumes. The arboretum is used by Harvard University to study plant biology, evolution, ecology and horticulture.

The Lilacs of Arnold Arboretum

There are many different flowers and plants to see and a lot of different walks to take, but the lilacs are the star of the show in the spring. There are over 400 lilac plants in the arborteum representing 179 different kinds of lilac. They can be viewed from late April thru mid to late May each year.

The lilac collection at Arnold Arboretum is one of the oldest and largest in North America and is thought to date back to as early as 1806 before the Arboretum was even established. The oldest lilacs in North America are located just an hour north in Portsmouth, NH and it’s said they were planted in 1750. Lilacs are so popular in the New England states as they are best grown in colder climates. While lilacs have a history in North America, the vast majority of lilacs originated in Asia and the most common type of lilac, Syringa vulgaris originated in eastern Europe.

When most people think of lilacs, they think of the color purple, but lilacs come in a whole rainbow of colors. My favorites are the purple, pink and white variety and when you see them all together the colors contract each other well.

While walking thru the lilac collection, take note of the signs. There are stories behind many of these lilac plants. Whether it’s a lilac cultivated, donated or named in honor of someone, each story is great to read and makes walking thru the garden more interesting. A self guided tour is available to learn more about the lilacs.

Lilac Sunday

The lilacs at the Arnold Arboretum are so popular that in 1908, Lilac Sunday was born. This annual event was originally held when the lilacs were at peak bloom, but it has since moved to the second Sunday of May, Mother’s Day. The event features guided tours of the lilacs and is the one day of the year that picnics are allowed in the arboretum. In 1997, a new lilac was cultivated at the Arboretum and was named Lilac Sunday after this popular annual event.

More than lilacs

There are many other flowers and plants to see in the Arboretum and spring is a great time to see them. There are many paths throughout the arboretum to take. There are many self guided tours you can take both virtually online or while in the park on the Expeditions app to learn more about the different plants as you walk thru the park.

The Arboretum is a beautiful place to spend a spring day and it’s large enough that you could easily spend an entire afternoon there. They also have a visitors center which is interesting to check out as well. The visitors center has been closed for the past year.

Visiting Arnold Arboretum

The Arboretum is open daily from sunrise to sunset and admission is free. It’s accessible by public transportation and there is free on street parking outside the Arboretum.

Who wants to head to Lilac Sunday next year?

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Things to Do in Canaan Valley West Virginia

The Canaan Valley is located in the northeast corner of the Mountain State of West Virginia within close proximity of the states of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Due to it’s location along the Blackwater River and the Allegheny Mountains, it’s an outdoor lovers paradise no matter the season with so many things to see and do!

Blackwater Falls State Park – Named after the 57 foot tall waterfall flowing from the 34 mile long Blackwater River, Blackwater Falls State Park is the top things to do in Canaan Valley. You can view the falls from the east and west. On the west side of the falls there is a boardwalk with 200 steps that will take you to a couple of different viewing platforms that are fairly close to the falls. The current boardwalk was finished in December of 2004 and is the third such boardwalk built, the first of which was built in 1961. Prior to the boardwalk being built, people would have to climb over trees and boulders down the natural path to the falls. Depending on the time of year, the boardwalk could be almost as treacherous as the natural path down to the falls was. I visited in late April and there was a snow storm earlier that week, leading to a very icy, slushy walk down the boardwalk. But the view of the Blackwater Falls was definitely worth it!

On the east side of the falls, the Gentle Trail is a .02 mile out and back trail that is wheelchair accessible. This trail provides a view of the falls from a distance.

While Blackwater Falls are the star of the show at the park, there is also another waterfall, Elakala Falls and beautiful overlooks and viewpoints to see.

Activities in the park in include hiking 20 different trails, swimming, fishing and boating. In the winter, Blackwater Falls State Park is home to the longest sled run on the east coast of the United States.

The park has both cabins and campsites and is a great place to stay in the Canaan Valley.

Canaan Valley Resort State Park – When I visited Canaan Valley, I stayed at the Canaan Valley Resort which is actually located inside one of West Virginia’s largest state parks, Canaan Valley Resort State Park.

Canaan Valley Resort has a lodge, cabins and campsites for guest to stay in. And the great part is you are staying right in the middle of a state park. So right outside the lodge, are 18 miles of hiking trails to explore. The resort even offers guided hikes.

Also available at the resort is a golf course, swimming pool, bike rentals, tennis court, mini golf, horseshoe pits and a scenic chairlift. During the winter there is 47 skiing and snowboarding trails for everyone from beginners to the advanced skier. There is also an outdoor ice skating rink, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails and a snow tubing park.

It’s the perfect all season resort to stay at or visit for the day.

Towns of Davis and Thomas – If you are looking for small town charm, check out the nearby towns of Davis and Thomas. With populations of 600 +/- people in each town, Davis and Thomas are the quintessential small town America. You won’t find the big chain restaurants, coffee shops or stores here, which makes them so great to explore.

While I was in the area and was looking for somewhere for lunch, I came across Picnic in Thomas. This takeout taco spot had amazing reviews, and by amazing I mean people were saying they had the best tacos they have ever eaten anywhere! I knew I had to check it out and I must agree, the tacos were to die for! They are only open Fridays thru Sundays and are takout only. If the weather is nice, there is a beautiful lawn where you can sit and enjoy your tacos. I cannot recommend this place enough!

Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge – These 16,000 acres are a great place for wildlife watching, hunting, horseback riding and 20 different hiking trails of all abilities.

Dolly Sods Wilderness – Another great area for hiking is Dolly Sods Wilderness. There are 47 miles of hiking trails. It’s also a great area for camping, hunting and fishing.

Seneca Rocks – Located less than an hour from Canaan Valley is Seneca Rocks. Take a 3 mile round trip hike to an overlook with beautiful views. And if you are feeling more adventurous, this is also a popular rock climbing spot, but make sure to be trained in rock climbing as there have been a number of deaths that have unfortunately occured here. Even if you aren’t up for rock climbing or the hike, the rocks are a beautiful sight to see from down below.

Seneca Rocks

Seneca Caverns – Not far from Seneca Rocks is Seneca Caverns. These caverns are said to be 4.5 million years old and this area is home to some of the most caves in the entire United States. They have been open to the public for cave tours since 1928. Guided tours last an hour thru the caverns that are 165 feet below ground. The tour is a combination of history and information on the cave with some light humor added in, like naming some of the formations found in the cave based on what they look like. It’s definitely a fun tour to take. They also offer gemstone mining, a gift shop, restaurant and picnic area.

How to get to Canaan Valley – Canaan Valley West Virginia can is located about a 3 hour drive from both Washington DC and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Canaan Valley isn’t a very well known tourist area, but it’s definitely worthy of a visit with so many great things to do. I’m very glad I discovered this hidden gem of West Virginia. If you are looking to visit the state of West Virginia, I highly recommend visiting Canaan Valley.

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A Historic Visit at Harpers Ferry

When I was traveling to West Virginia during my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, I knew the top thing that I had to visit in the Mountain State of West Virginia was definitely Harpers Ferry. If you are looking for an old town full of history, Harpers Ferry is the place to visit.

Where is Harpers Ferry?

Harpers Ferry is located in the northeastern corner of West Virginia near the Maryland border. The Potomac and Shenandoah rivers meet in Harpers Ferry. These two rivers are part of how Harpers Ferry got it’s name. In the mid 1700s, Robert Harper was passing thru the area and saw the two rivers as a way to generate industry. He purchased the land and started a ferry across the Potomac River. The town was eventually named Harpers Ferry.

The Point where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers Meet

History of Harpers Ferry

Harpers Ferry is full of history dating back to the 1700s. In 1796, the first President of the United States, George Washington purchased land in Harpers Ferry as a site of a US armory and arsenal. This was one of only two facilities of it’s type in the United States and in the 60 years the armory was in operation it produced more than 600,000 muskets, rifles and pistols.

Probably the most well known event in history that Harpers Ferry is known for is John Brown’s raid that essentially led to the Civil War. John Brown was an abolitionist known for his aggressive action towards slave owners. In October of 1859, with the help of fellow abolitionist, Harriet Tubman, John Brown planned a raid on the armory in Harpers Ferry. On October 16th, John Brown and 22 freed slaves raided the armory at Harpers Ferry.

After taking over the armory, locals from Harpers Ferry fought back, resulting in casualties on both sides. John Brown and his remaining men, barricaded themselves in the armory’s engine house, which became known as John Brown’s Fort. On October 18th, Robert E. Lee tried to get Brown to surrender and when Brown refused they stormed the fort and arrested John Brown. Less than two months later on December 2, 1859 was hanged after being found guilty of treason.

John Brown’s raid may not have ended slavery, but it definitely started a more aggressive approach to trying to end slavery. This more aggressive approach led to the Civil War which eventually ended slavery in 1865.

Harpers Ferry was a very strategic location during the Civil War and played a key role in many battles, most notably the Battle of Harpers Ferry in 1862. During the battle, Confederate General Robert E. Lee invaded the town and with the help of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson forced the war’s largest surrender. Even though the Confederates took control of the town after this battle, the town went from confederate and union control a total of 8 times during the war.

Visiting Harpers Ferry

The town of Harpers Ferry is part of the National Park Service and is known as the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. The museums and visitor centers are open daily (except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years) from 9am to 5pm.

Parking in Harpers Ferry is minimal, therefore its best to park at the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park Visitor Center just a few miles outside of town. The cost to park here is $20 per car, annual passes are available for $35 per year and the America the Beautiful Annual National Park Pass is also accepted. There is a shuttle bus that runs regularly from the visitor center to town throughout the day.

What to do in Harpers Ferry

With all this history, what is there to do in Harpers Ferry? The answer is quite a lot, it’s a great place to spend the day. Here is a list of the top things to do in the Historic Lower Town of Harpers Ferry:

  • John Brown’s Fort and Monument – This is definitely the top thing to see in Harpers Ferry. The fort has moved quite a bit since John Brown and his men barricaded themselves there in October of 1859. In 1891, it was dismantled and transported to Chicago for a few years, then it was returned to Harpers Ferry and was located at a couple of different locations before it was ultimately purchased by the National Park Service and moved to it’s current location in 1968 which is 150 feet east of the original location. There is a monument that marks the original location of the fort.
  • U.S. Armory Site – Located next to the original site of John Brown’s Fort is the US Armory site. At this location, they have signs set up throughout the site with historical information on the Armory.
  • Arsenal Square – Located behind John Brown’s Fort is Arsenal Square. This is where the Arsenal which held the weapons made at the Armory was located. It once held about 100,000 weapons at this site.
  • Museums and Period Exhibits – There are multiple museums and exhibits to check out both at the visitors center and in lower town. Unfortunately at this time a lot of the museums are closed but some of the period exhibits are availabe to see. And just walking thru town seeing the outsides of the buildings makes you feel like you have stepped back in time. They have done a very good job of keeping the old facades of the buildings.
  • The Point – Just past John Brown’s Fort is The Point. This is where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers meet. When standing at the Point, you can see the three states of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.
  • St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church – Up a hill above Harpers Ferry is the only church that survived the Civil War without any destruction, St. Peter’s. The views from the church are stunning and definitely a must see.
  • Ruins of St. John’s Episcopal Church – Continuing up the hill past St. Peter’s you will come upon the ruins of St. John’s Episcopal Church. This church served as a hospital and was damaged during the Civil War. The ruins were very interesting to see.
  • Jefferson Rock – Continuing up the path past the ruins, you will eventually reach the top of the hill. This is where Jefferson Rock is located. This rock is named after the third President of the United States, Thomas Jeffereson. In the 1780s, Jeffereson wrote of the view from this point. It’s definitely quite the view to take in!
Jefferson Rock
  • Unofficial Midpoint of the Appalachian Trail – The path up to Jefferson Rock is part of the famous Appalachian Trail. The Appalachian Trail is a 2,200 mile trail that stretches from Georgia to Maine. Many people set out to hike the entire trail each year. Although it’s not exactly the midpoint of the trail, Harpers Ferry has been known as the mental midpoint and is also where the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters is located. The headquarters offers many hiker services as well as has exhibits and a gift shop. If you like to hike, why not take a shorter hike along the Appalachian Trail while in Harpers Ferry.
  • Self Guided Battlefield Driving Tour – Outside of Lower Town of Harpers Ferry, you can take a self guided driving tour of the Battlefields from the Civil War. Along the driving tour, there are signs giving information about the Civil War battles.

Harpers Ferry definitely has a lot to offer and is a great place to spend the day. It’s a wonderful trip for a family, so you can bring the history books alive for your kids.

Great Falls Park – The Must See Waterfall Near Washington DC

I recently flew into Washington DC to take a road trip from there to West Virginia. I happened to fly in on Earth Day and knew that I wanted to spend some time outside enjoying nature to celebrate Earth Day. Since it was also National Park week, I took a look at the National Park Service website to find somewhere new to explore along my drive. I ended up finding a great park that is part of the National Park Service and just a half hour drive from Washington DC.

Great Falls Park is the perfect spot if you are looking to get out into nature and check out a great waterfall near Washington DC. The main feature of the park, the Great Falls, consists of rapids and waterfalls along the Potomac River that fall into Mather Gorge. The falls sit in between the states of Virginia and Maryland and can be viewed from parks located in each state, both of which are part of the National Park Service. In Maryland, the falls can be viewed from the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park and in Virginia they can be viewed from Great Falls Park. This post will focus on Great Falls Park in Virginia.

Great Falls

Great Falls History: It’s been said that the falls formed 35,000 years ago during the last glacial period. Also located at the park are the remains of the Patowmack Canal which was a project by United States first president, George Washington. The construction of the canal began in 1785 and was completed by 1802. The canal was only in operation for 26 years. In 1930, the area was authorized to be preserved as a park. Over the years, there has been an amusement park on the site as well as a couple of carousels. In 1966, the park became part of the National Park Service.

Rapids at the bottom of Great Falls

Great Falls Floods: The falls include multiple 20 foot waterfalls and cascading rapids with a total drop of 76 feet. Prior to the falls, the Potomac River is 1000 feet wide, but once the water goes over the falls, the river narrows to between 60 and 100 feet as it flows thru Mather Gorge. This narrowing of the river coupled with alot of rainfall or a huge snowmelt has been the cause of many floods over the years. The floods get so bad that it causes the falls to essentially disappear underwater.

There have also been a number of floods where the water has risen over the cliffs into the park. Inside the park there is a marker for these major floods. It’s hard to imagine water getting this high! For reference, I’m 5 foot 2 and the top mark was definitely well above my head.

Below is a list from highest to lowest of the major floods and their causes

Flood Marker
  • March 18-19, 1936: Rapid snowmelt and torrential rains
  • October 15-17, 1942: 10-19 inches of rain falling in the area
  • June 21-24, 1972: Rains from Hurricane Agnes
  • April 26-27, 1937: Heavy rainfall
  • January 19-22, 1996: Rapid snowmelt and rains after the Blizzard of 96
  • November 4-7, 1985: Rains from Tropical Storm Juan
  • September 6-8, 1996: Rains from Tropical Storm Fran. This flood came up to the base of the marker.

It always amazes me how much water can pile up, I can’t even imagine it reaching these levels.

Things to do at Great Falls Park: Great Falls Park is an outdoor lovers paradise with so much to do. I was short on time, but could have easily spent a good portion of the day in the park.

Great Falls Overlooks: The must do activity in the park is to check out the falls. There are three overlooks to get a few different vantage points of the falls. The first overlook is the closest to the falls and includes a little rock climbing at some parts of the overlook. If you are with kids, you might want to bypass this overlook as it could be dangerous for kids.

The other two overlooks are completely accessible and great for the entire family. There are paved paths to each overlooks and views are just as beautiful.

Kayaking: The rapids below the falls are a very popular place for white water kayaking. With rapids that range from class II to class V, it’s definitely a place for the experienced kayaker. For those of you who are like me and not sure you could handle these class of rapids, it’s definitely a great place to watch those that are brave enough. I could have spent all day watching the two kayakers who were in the water on that chilly day I was visiting.

Check out my video I took below:

Hiking: Great Falls Park includes 15 miles of hiking trails. The trails range from easy to hard and some can also be used for biking and horseback riding. Since I was tight on time while visiting the park, I decided to hike a portion of one of the trails.

The River Trail is rated moderate to hard and follows the Potomac along the cliffs above for 1.5 miles. The trail can get quite difficult in spots as you are along the edge of the cliff 25-75 feet above Mather’s Gorge. I didn’t make it to that difficult spot, but the parts of the trail I did hike were just beautiful.

Along the trail they also had signs pointing out important features of the trail like these potholes in the rock pictured below. These holes were caused during erosion due to flooding during in the Ice Ages.

Potholes in the rock

Some of the other popular hikes include the following:

Patowmack Canal Trail: An easy 1.25 mile trail that follows the ruins of the canal and also goes by the three overlooks of the falls.

Old Carriage Road: This easy to moderate 1.6 mile trail is mostly flat and wooded making for a great hike on a hot summer day.

Difficult Run Trail: This short .7 mile trail is rated as moderate. It follows a stream down to the Potomac river and can be quite narrow and rocky in spots.

Picnic area at Great Falls Park

Picnic Area: Great Falls Park also makes for a great location for a picnic. There are many picnic tables available to enjoy. Some of which have a great view of the falls. If you don’t want to bring your own food in, on the weekends starting in mid-April there will be a food truck selling food. There is also vending machines available for snacks.

Visitor Center: The visitor center is currently closed, but when it is open it has a 10 minute video presentation on the park, exhibits, interactive children’s room and trail maps available.

Great Falls Park is located in McLean, VA about a half hour from Washington DC. If you are visiting on a weekend, make sure to get there early as the parking lot does tend to fill up on weekends and there is no street parking available.

The park is open every day but Christmas from 7am until a half hour after sunset. Entrance fees are $20 per car or if you are arriving on foot, bike or horse back it’s $10 per person. The fee is for 7 days of use. There is also an annual pass available for $35. As the park is part of the National Park Service, the America the Beautiful Passes are also accepted.

If you are visiting Washington DC and want to get out in nature somewhere close by, Great Falls Park is the perfect spot.

For The First Time In Forever Disneyland Reopens It’s Gates

It all started with a mouse named Mickey Mouse that animator Walt Disney created back in 1928. Years later he dreamed of a place that families could go where parents and children alike would enjoy themselves. On July 17, 1955, this dream became a reality when Disneyland opened in Anaheim, California. Since then Disneyland has grown not only to Disney World in Orlando but to Disney Parks around the world in Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai. And in California, a second theme park, Disney’s California Adventure opened in 2001.

Disney’s California Adventure

Since it’s opening in 1955, the park has only closed for a handful of days:

  • November 23, 1963 – The day after John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
  • January 17, 1994 – The day of the 6.7 Magnitude Northridge Earthquake
  • September 11, 2001 – The day of the terrorists attacks in the US.

But on March 14, 2020 Disneyland would close for it’s longest closure in the park’s history. While other Disney Parks around the world, some of which opened and then closed again, due to strict mandates in the state of California, Disneyland remained closed for 412 Days! But on Friday April 30, 2021 Disneyland and California Adventure will FINALLY open their gates once again!

Cars Land at California Adventure

It’s been a long time coming but the parks will finally be open again. Of course like everything else over the past year, there will be differences that you should be aware of if you have the chance to visit the parks when they open. Alot of these differences are similiar to the changes at the parks at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando:

  • All guests age 2 and up will be required to wear a face mask unless they are eating or drinking while stationary.
  • Social distancing markers in lines for rides, restaurants, stores, etc.
  • Park reservations will be required to be made in advance.
  • Mobile ordering services at quick service dining locations
  • Fast Pass and Disney’s Max Pass Service will not be available.
  • Character Meet & Greats will not be available.
  • Parades and Fireworks will not be available.
Matterhorn at Disneyland

Due to the state of California have much more strict rules than the state of Florida, there will be some additional differences at Disneyland and California Adventure:

  • Disneyland and California Adventure will be operating at 25% occupancy , Walt Disney World Parks are currently at 35% occupancy
  • Only California residents will be allowed in the parks and proof of residency may be asked for.
  • A maximum of 3 households can visit the park together as one group.
  • Park hopping will be allowed after 1pm, in Florida it’s allowed after 2pm.
  • Indoor lines for rides will be limited to limit the amount of time that people are inside around other people.
  • Indoor rides must be under a 15 minute time limit. This means that the popular Star Wars ride, Rise of the Resistance which normally is an 18 minute long ride will be altered to be under 15 minutes now.

California’s rules may seem a little strict compared to Florida, but I recently read that they have the lowest positivity rate in the country, so obviously their strict rules are working. Whatever it takes to get a little sense of normalcy while being safe!

Rise of the Resistance

Lots of changes and lots of things missing, but after 412 days, it’s sure to be a magical experience to be in the parks again. It’s all a matter of preference, but from my experience at Walt Disney World in Florida, the magic is still there just in a different way. From what I’ve seen from friends on social media who have attended cast previews the past couple of days, the magic is definitely still there and they all had a great time and were so happy to be back in their happy place.

Walt would be happy to see how much we have all missed his original park so much. Is anyone living in California planning on visiting Disneyland and California Adventure soon?

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