Monday, November 27, 2017

Palo Duro Canyon State Park

After two long days of driving across 1400 miles, we were ready for some adventure.  It may have been a tad out of the way, but we decided on an overnight stay in Palo Duro Canyon State Park (27 miles southeast of Amarillo, Texas).

The canyon is thought to be the 2nd largest canyon in the United States.  It is not nearly as deep as the Grand Canyon (only approx. 800 feet deep as opposed to 6,000 feet deep), but it is an impressive 120 miles long and as wide as 20 miles.  Driving towards the canyon it is completely flat and you can see for miles.  We never would have suspected that a canyon lies there and were astounded by the sudden beauty that unfolded.  

We arrived about a half hour before sunset and had no problems getting a campsite (however reservations are highly recommended during their busy season).  Note: You do have to pay the state park entrance fee in addition to the rate for the campsite.  Still, with 2 adults and 6 children, $34 for a night of camping in such majestic surroundings is worth it!

All of the campgrounds are down in the canyon, which is awesome because every direction you look you see the canyon walls.  We stayed in Sagebrush Camp Area which is approximately 2 miles from the front gate.  I'm not sure that we would have wanted to navigate the steep drive down to the campground in the dark, but it sure is beautiful.  The Sagebrush Camp Area offers 30/50 amp service, a picnic table, a fire ring, and is in close proximity to the Pioneer Amphitheater and Trading Post.  

A trail from the campground connects to the Nature Trail, but we found that the trails were poorly marked so we just did a little exploring on our own and then returned to camp to enjoy a warm campfire.  The temperature sure drop quickly once the sun goes down!

We awoke early the next morning to watch the sunrise.  Pictures do not capture how breathtakingly beautiful it is.  Once the sun was up it was time to hit the trails before getting on the road.

We pulled off our site and drove another few miles down the road and parked near Hackberry Camp Area.  

We decided on the Paseo Del Rio trail, an easy 2.06 miles (there and back) trail that follows the river. 

Approximately 1/8 mile into the hike you pass a Cowboy Dugout.  Peak inside for a look into how the cowboys lived in the 1880s.  

We saw a lot of wildlife along this trail, including turkeys and a roadrunner.

It was the perfect length for a quick morning hike before another day in the car.  We would love to return to Palo Duro Canyon State Park for a longer stay and hike some of the other trails, especially the Lighthouse Trail that leads to the iconic Lighthouse rock formation.  

Be sure to follow us on all of our adventures on Instagram @pocketful_of_treasures and check out the Travel tab on my blog.  

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Myakka River State Park

When we arrived in Florida, PopPop told the girls that if they saw an alligator he would give them $5.  We thought for sure we would see one at Johnathan Dickinson State Park, but when we did not I did what any mom would do and googled "best places to see alligators in Florida".  Myakka River State Park was at the top of the list and was en route to our next location.  It's located just a few miles outside of Sarasota and I-75, but it's natural beauty is enchanting!  Myakka River is not only one of the oldest and largest state parks, it is one of the most scenic areas in Florida.

It is only $6 per vehicle (exact change preferred) to enter, which in my opinion is a bargain for all you get to see here.   Shortly after you pass through the gate you will go over the Myakka River.  

There are some very small parking areas here where you can pull off and walk over the bridge for some great views of birds and alligators.

A little further down the road there is a small picnic area on the left that provided an even closer encounter with an alligator.  Here you can walk right up to the rivers edge and just on the other side was an alligator sunbathing.   Please use caution, especially with young children and pets.  I was surprised to learn that alligators can swim up to 20mph and sprint up to 11mph on land.  

If you continue down the road a little further you will come to the Nature Trail and Canopy Walk trailhead.  We did not see any alligators here, but this is a stop you do not want to miss!  There are tons of learning opportunities here and we honestly could have spent the entire day here with our nature journals if we had more time.  Some of the trees appear to have sustained some damage during a hurricane and are growing in all kinds of different directions. It feels like you are walking through a jungle.  The girls nicknamed the tree above the "Grandpa tree" and are posing like old ladies next to PopPop.  

Like most nature trails, there are signs along the way to tell you what you are looking at.  See the line on the palm trees where it changes from dark to light?  That is the high water line.  

The only type of palm trees here is the cabbage palm (Sabal palm).  Seedlings are fan shaped like palmettos.  You can tell the difference between a young palm tree and a palmetto by looking at the stems. 

The nature trail continues on, but we cut over to the Canopy Walk, which includes a suspension bridge and tower.  It is one of only approximately 20 canopy walkways worldwide!  

Because plant sugars are produced high up by the treetops, many insects, birds, and other organisms that depend upon those plant sugars also live far above the ground.  

The walkway is suspended 25 feet above the ground and extends 100 feet to give you opportunities to view life that you may not be able to see from the ground, like the Resurrection Ferns in the photo above, Butterfly Orchid, Ballmoss, and Cardinal Airplant.  There are 16 species of arboreal ants that have been identified.  

At the end of the suspended walkway, a tower takes you 74 feet into the air.  It would have been a good idea to bring binoculars!  

Afraid of heights?  Traveling with pets?  Or just need a place to hang and wait for those that are slower than you?  No problem!  There are several benches at the base of the tower to enjoy the serene surroundings.  

Those who decide to climb will be rewarded with beautiful views of the treetops and wetlands.  

A few of our kids are slightly afraid of heights, but nothing a little Stress Away and encouragement could not take care of.  We all made it!!!  

The sun was quickly making its descent so we had to hurry back to the RV, but this State Park has definitely made our list of places to come back and explore.  With a river, 2 lakes, and nearly 40 miles of trails, there is plenty to see and do here!  

Be sure to follow us on all of our adeventures on Instagram @pocketful_of_treasures and check out the Travel tab on my blog.  

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Clearwater Marine Aquarium - A Dolphin Tales Experience

For months my mom and dad had been planning a very special trip to take the children to Clearwater Marine Aquarium to see Hope and Winter from Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2.  She bought them the movies this past summer and they have watched them a few dozen times times.  Then we found the book Dolphin Tale 2 at a thrift store right before we left on our trip to Florida.  What a great find!  Plus, it has fit perfectly into our homeschool study of Swimming Creatures (Apologia).

My mom purchased the tickets before we found out military families receive free admittance, so you may want to read through their discounts carefully before purchasing.  Of course, buying tickets and donating to their mission to rescue and rehabilitate marine animals is not a bad thing.  

We visited on one of their busiest days of the year - Black Friday.  It was a little crazy and took some extra patience, but still very worth it!  We did get to experience Winter Wonderland and get pictures taken with Winter Claus.  There was also a Kids Zone on the third floor with Holiday crafts and activities.  

We were there for approximately 3.5 hours. Without the crowds you could probably see everything in an hour.  If you want to hit every presentation, read about all of the animals they have rescued, or book any animal interactions or tours then you can easily spend the entire day here.  We did go to several of the presentations including Dolphin Anatomy Game (very interactive and the kids got to participate), Resident Dolphin Talk, and Tail Talk.  We could definitely have spent more time viewing the ICU Hallway and Animal Hospital, but it was super packed when we walked through.  

Most of the presentations were on the Stranding Deck at Nicholas' pool.  Nicholas puts on a great show!

Nicholas had followed his sick mom onto shore when he was just a few months old.  He was rescued on Christmas Eve and suffered 3rd degree skin burns across 36% of this body.  Within 9 months the burns healed and he was nursed back to health, but because he was orphaned and did not have his mom to teach him how to hunt, echolocate, escape predators, and other skills necessary for survival, he has become a resident dolphin at Clearwater Marine Aquarium.  Nicholas is energitic so if you do not want to get splashed, do not sit in the first few rows on the bleachers!

Hope and Winter are the other two resident dolphins presently at Clearwater Marine Aquarium.  Winter became famous in the movie Dolphin Tale, but we were surprised to learn that there are many differences between the movie and true story.  

Winter was found stranded and entangled in a crab trap line, but she was only two months old and was found on the East coast of Florida in Mosquitto Lagoon near Cape Canaveral.  Hubbs-Seaworld Research Institute were the first responders because they were the closest, and she was then transported to Clearwater Marine Aquarium.  She did have extensive injuries which caused necrosis of her tail, but it naturally sloughed off and was not amputated.  She adapted and taught herself to swim.  She uses the prosthetic tail as part of her therapy.  She never minded the prosthetic as the movie portrays because the trainers desensitized her by slowly introducing it to her environment over several weeks and used positive reinforcement.  

Also, unlike portrayed in the movie, Hope and Winter were best friends from the start.  Hope was rescued when she was only 2-3 months old.  She loves playing with Winter.  You can watch them swim from above on the second level of the aquarium or from below at Shipwreck Alley.

On the first level of the aquarium you also have a great view of other underwater viewing tanks.  At Mavis's Rescue Hideaway you'll find several resident sea turtles.  Far more sea turtles than dolphins are rescued each year due to their susceptibility to boat strikes and fishing line entanglement. 

The fish and sea turtles seemed to come right over to say "hi".

I loved watching their faces and the look of wonder and discovery.  They probably could have spent the afternoon here sitting and watching.  

Mavis's Rescue Hideaway is also home to red fish, hogfish, and tarpon.

Around the corner is Stingray Beach.  Touching the stingrays was definitely a highlight!  Be sure to roll up the sleeves of your little ones before approaching 😉. There is another touch tank on the lower level where they were able to touch hermit crabs and view puffer fish.  

There are a few other exhibits and presentations, like Otter Oasis, Shark Pass, and Rufus Beach.  This small aquarium certainly abounds with learning opportunities and is an inspiration to many.  We bought the movie Winter which highlights her real Rescue and story of survival, as well as how she has become a life-changing role model.  

Gammy and Pop Pop also bought the girls best friends necklaces.  They are best buds just like Winter and Hope 💕 #CMAinspires

Be sure to follow us on all of our adeventures on Instagram @pocketful_of_treasures
Instagram @pocketful_of_treasures

Friday, November 17, 2017

Exploring Redstone Arsenal RV Park

Whether you are traveling to Huntsville, AL for work or pleasure, the RV Park on Redstone Arsenal is a great place to stay.  It is just one exit away from the US Space and Rocket Center, a must see attraction!  You do have to have access to Redstone Arsenal to stay at the RV Park, which is open to Active Military, National Guard/Reservists, Retired Military, DoD Civiliand, 100% DAV, and NASA employees.  Most of the sites are large pull-thru sites with a fairly level concrete pad and full hook-ups.  Many of the RVers are there long term or retired, but they are required to move sites on a regular basis.  Two of the sites are designated for overnight campers only.  With six kids we were definitely the loudest bunch in the campground!  The RV campground features a dog run/park, event pavilion, newer bathhouses, and a laundromat with 4 washers and dryers ($).  A small book exchange is located in the laundromat, where our kiddos scored the perfect book to read this week before Thanksgiving!

The RV Park is within walking distance of the PX, Commissary, and other base amenities.  The Camp Host was friendly and MWR appears to work hard to put on Community Events for the campers (we were departing before the event but were invited to a pot lunch).  Our campers were pretty happy with our stay there!

A Jogging Trail passes by the RV Park (just a short ways down Nike St).  The first two days we headed out to the left on the Jogging Trail.  

We were slightly past peak fall colors, but it was still very beautiful.  It is labeled as a multi-use trail for joggers and bikers, but we did not see any bikers.  

The trail takes you past the MWR Disc Golf Course, so you may want to bring some frisbees with you.  

If you cross over Phoenix DR and continue on the jogging trail, you will soon see a cut through to a field on the left hand side.  Cross this field and you'll find a playground!  SCORE!  These are always a treasure to find on our walks.  There are also some nice picnic tables in this area and it looks like an outdoor pool may be open here in the summer as well.

The last day we decided to head out to the right on the jogging trail and discovered that there is a much closer playground. 

The only difficulty we had was finding the RV park.  Traffic patterns have changed since our
GPS had last updated.  You need to U-Turn at the first flashing light to get onto Goss Road.  We missed that but ended up finding rocket boosters and engines.  Yay for adventures that turn into bigger adventures 🤗

Do be sure to check out the US Space and Rocket Center and Monte Sano State Park if you are in the area!  

We are off to our next big adventure!  Be sure to follow us on Instagram (@pocketul_of_treasures).