Fort McHenry

Fort McHenry is conveniently located in Baltimore, Maryland and has two relatively large parking lots for visitors.  Despite its city location, Fort McHenry is not particularly accessible using public transportation, but it is an easy drive from D.C. to Baltimore.  Once you park in the parking lot, you can view the exhibits on display and get four different stamps for the National Parks passport.

Fort McHenry’s main claim to fame is that the defense of the fort inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star Spangled Banner.”  While the original flag is not visible at the fort (It’s in the Smithsonian American History Museum under very dim lights, making it a bit underwhelming.), a colonial flag flies over the fort now.  The original flag was 30 x 42 feet, and it actually inspired Francis Scott Key from a few miles away.

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Fort McHenry itself is shaped like a star, and it was built with the intention to protect Baltimore from both a land and sea attack.  Interestingly enough, the entrance to the fort was actually the most dangerous part at one point, although that problem was eventually fixed.  When we entered the fort, there were four different sets of barracks and quarters, and many of them had exhibits inside each area.  The exhibits explained the lives of the soldiers and different aspects of life at Fort McHenry.  It seems that the fort saw most of its action in the War of 1812.

This fort was much closer to the water than Fort Washington so the protection seemed to be increased as well.  This location was also very beautiful as a look-out point, and I would recommend walking the perimeter of the fort to lookout over the water.

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After visiting Fort Washington a few weeks ago, this fort was a much different experience.  First of all, this fort saw a lot more action in battle so it has been updated and changed over the years.  It is also significantly smaller than Fort Washington, and it is a much more curated experience.  Both forts have merits, although I found Fort Washington a bit more mysterious and much quieter.

Fort McHenry does charge a visitors fee of $10/person, but the visit was free for Cacia and me with my National Parks pass.  This brought my total pass value up to $242/$80.  I’ve used my parks pass for three times its original value, and I have only had it for six months!

That is all for this week!  While I have managed to post weekly since I started my blog, as the winter gets closer, it seems likely that I will not have as frequent of visits to the National Parks service.  I hope to have another parks adventure to write about soon.  Thanks for reading.

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Hampton

Most people spend the day after Thanksgiving recovering from eating too much or shopping until they drop.  Cacia and I spent Black Friday with the National Parks Service.  We decided to take a trip to Towson, Maryland to visit Hampton, a former plantation and mansion.

After stopping at the Visitor’s Center to get a stamp for Cacia’s passport, we headed over to the plantation area to look around the grounds.  The plantation is made up of a mule barn, cote, quarters, granary, dairy, and a lower house.  We could only access the workers’ quarters, but the lower house is sometimes open to visit too.  The quarters were fairly similar to what we had seen in Colonial Williamsburg so we made it through this area fairly quickly and then made our way back to the mansion for a noon tour.

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The plantation’s lower house.  While we could not go inside, we did peek inside through the windows.  The inside of this house is very simple.

The Hampton Mansion may be the coolest house we have visited yet in the National Parks service.  Tom, our tour guide throughout the visit, led a great hour-long tour packed full of information.  We were lucky enough to see 2/3 floors in this house, which felt like more than we usually get to see at these kinds of places.

What was really notable about this visit was how much of the antique furniture was original.  Tom pointed out the pieces that were not original, and it was actually amazing how well this mansion has been preserved.  He also showed us some of the photos used to re-create the mansion as it looked when it was in use, and it was really cool to see the house as it was meant to be seen.  There were also some really interesting stories about the inhabitants of the house, like the fact that the women would carve their initials into the master bedroom window.

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This was my favorite room in the house.  The window shades and furniture were really beautiful.  Not pictured, there were matching sofas as well, one with painted decoration.

After our mansion tour, Cacia and I visited the orangery, ice house, and cemetery on the grounds near the mansion.  The ice house was really interesting, and we actually climbed down the stairs and looked down into the pit (It was also a little terrifying.).  The cemetery is still in use, and it was interesting to stop by as well.  Between the plantation, mansion, and upper grounds, we spent about 3 hours visiting this site.

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A front view of the mansion from the outside.

Many people focus on visiting the National Parks that everyone has heard of, but both Cacia and I agree that the little gems like Hampton are sometimes the most fun to visit.  Hampton had the nicest staff and volunteers possibly of any park I have visited.  Our tour guide, Tom, was especially great, and he even made the time to get me additional information on the musical instruments displayed in the house.

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The music room featured the family’s antique harp and an early Steinway piano!  One of the upstairs rooms also had a fortepiano, although that was only an identical model, not the original.

This beautiful mansion is free to visit so there is no excuse not to visit!  Additionally, while they cannot go inside the mansion or buildings, dogs are welcome on the grounds of Hampton.  We saw quite a few dogs on the grounds during our visit.

Thanks for continuing to read my National Parks blog!  After visiting Hampton, we decided to stop at Fort McHenry in Baltimore on our way back to D.C..  Check out next week’s blog to learn about our visit to the fort.

Oxon Cove Park and Oxon Hill Farm

Similar to my visit to Fort Washington, the unexpected surprise of Oxon Hill Farm absolutely delighted me.  This free farm just outside of D.C. features plenty of farm animals who were very active in mid-October.  Fort Washington and Oxon Hill Farm are very close to each other so if you visit one, you should visit both.

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A view from the center of the farm

After completing my undergraduate degree in between a cow pasture and a cornfield, I have really avoided doing farm type things.  However, while feeling rural, this farm is close enough to the city that it is still definitely a curated experience.  The paths are clear and while we saw an escaped rooster on the run, it is mostly an experience for observation.

The coolest part of this farm for me was the number of animals we could see.  The pigs sat and talked to me for a few minutes, and we watched one dive into the water bucket to cool off.  Their cute curly tails and oinks entertained me thoroughly!  There were also horses, cows, a donkey, chickens, some escaped chickens, and more.  I think this experience was made extra great by the October weather, which was still in the low 80s and humid this week but not like summer.

 

If you are not into farm animals, then maybe you are into farm equipment.  While I think animals are the main attraction, there are also various pieces of farm equipment that you can look at.  There is nothing you can ride on or sit on, but there are lots of pieces of equipment to observe!

While this site is fairly small and can be done in just over an hour, I really think it is fun to have this little farm just outside of D.C.!  The park is free to visit, and if you book in advance there were some small activities occasionally on the park calendar.

I hope you enjoyed this blog.  Feel free to post any questions, comments, or thoughts below.  Work has been insane and the weather has become cold so I really haven’t had the chance to visit any other National Parks lately.  I don’t know when exactly my next post will be, but I am ready for another adventure soon!

Fort Washington

Fort Washington may be one of the most unexpected things I have found to date within the DMV area.  Thanks to not doing any research in advance, I expected this to be ruins of a fort, but there is actually a full fort here!  If you were a fan of the classic Disney movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks, this fort really reminded me of that movie.  (It’s also just a great movie.)

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Can’t you envision Angela Lansbury flying over the fort commanding her suits of armor?

As we walked up from a lower path, Cacia and I were quickly surprised to see a giant fort directly in front of us.  It is so cool to be able to explore the various areas of the fort, and the inside is huge.  It’s mostly a big grassy field inside, but you can go down into the tunnels and then up by the walls.  The views from the perimeter of the fort out over the water were really beautiful and interesting.

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A view from the front perimeter area of the fort.

Looking out in front of the fort, one can look over the Potomac River and see a small lighthouse as well.  The edges of D.C. are visible, yet this feels like an escape from the city.  There are also remnants of another structure near the fort, and you can enter and explore many of the remnants throughout this park.  We enjoyed sitting down by the lighthouse on the water, and there were people eating picnics and fishing down there.

The other cool aspect of the fort are the various tunnels and underground areas.  Both Cacia and I were trying to imagine what it would be like to be stationed here.  There were formal quarters for some people, but some of the underground areas also had beds for people watching the waters presumably.  Unlike the battlefields within the National Park Service, Fort Washington had a very small number of weapons on display.

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A view of the center of the fort

While the fort is very cool to see, there are also picnic grounds, a playground, and some large fields to enjoy if you are coming to see the park for a day.  This park is also dog-friendly, and I could envision the little Hudson dog running around on his retractable leash.  The leaves were changing during our visit, and the parking lot was full of beautiful trees.  The gift shop here also had around 10 stamps for the National Parks Passport, including a cool Lighthouse Society stamp that I forced Cacia to get.

We spent a lot more time visiting this park than we expected to, and I would highly recommend making a visit!  This park does have a $10/car fee to enter, but it was free to us with the National Parks pass.  This brought my total pass value up to $222/$80.  I’m only $18 away from using the pass three times its value.

After visiting Fort Washington, Cacia and I drove through Fort Foote Park (There wasn’t really anything to do there) and past Harmony Hall (It’s closed permanently).  We then made our way to Oxon Cove Park and Oxon Hill Farm, which will be the topic of next week’s blog!  Thanks for reading this week, and feel free to post any questions or comments below.

Gettysburg and Eisenhower Farm

As I mentioned in my first blog, I had a traumatic experience visiting Gettysburg as a child.  In June or July of a junior high school year of my life, my father dragged us to Gettysburg.  I was at an age where playing Pokemon Blue on my Gameboy Color (I had the lime one) was far more interesting than any old battlefield.  Plus, Pennsylvania is humid in the summer.  But Cacia has a cancellation stamp addiction so in a moment of great friendship, I agreed to give the battlefield another chance.

We really wanted to visit the Eisenhower Farm first so we began to drive to the site.  We came to the address, but we were frustrated to find that we could not find a way into the farm.  I finally pulled out my phone to discover that you need to go to the Gettysburg Visitors Center and take a shuttle to the farm.  We managed to just get on the 3:00 PM shuttle to the farm, which was basically empty on the first Sunday of October.

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The Eisenhower farm.  The property also featured a house, stable, and lots of land overlooking the battlefield.

As you exit the shuttle, a volunteer talks for about 30 minutes about the farm, and then you enter the house to get an introduction with a park ranger.  The house is very interesting, and while it had some luxuries of the time, is fairly normal looking.  Their TV still sits in the sun room, and there are lots of descriptions about the Eisenhower’s favorite and least favorite rooms.  The map has very helpful descriptions as well.

After viewing the house, we wandered the property and walked up to the stables.  President Eisenhower won many ribbons in competition from his farm animals, and they were proudly displayed throughout.

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There were two display cases as we walked into the stable

The property also still has the Secret Service office intact, and there are many pictures from various diplomats visiting throughout the property.  Old farm equipment is stored in the stables and barn, and a garden continues to bloom on the property.  The stable to the barn is probably about .6 miles, making for a lovely walk.

After Cacia stamped her passport, we rushed onto the 4:30 shuttle back to the Gettysburg Visitors Center.  We decided to do the driving tour from here.  At many parks we have visited this was a great way to see the park, but Gettysburg lacks signage so we really could have used the CD.  Despite this, we drove around to see Little Round Top, the Eternal Light Peace Memorial, and more.

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Gettysburg had more cannons on display than any other park we have visited to date

Gettysburg, while lacking signage, has the most props to help one envision the battle compared to all of the battlefield we have seen.  There were fences, memorial, cannons, and rock barriers all around.

Gettysburg, like Antietam, also has some really great lookout posts.  While Antietam’s were very physically attractive, Gettysburg has much higher towers.  Getting up them is a bit of a workout, but the views are worth it.  We went up three different towers to look out over the battlefield.

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I know the question on your fingers, “Did you like Gettysburg this time?”  It was tolerable.  This time, we had beautiful weather.  But the bugs were still terrible, and the desk people were rude.  The National Parks website states that the admission fee to Eisenhower Farm is $9/person so when I tried to use my National Parks pass, the desk woman rudely told me that Gettysburg isn’t a part of the national park service, it’s run by a foundation.  For this reason, the battlefield is free.  Now- I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but if Gettysburg was not part of the National Park service, it would not be featured on the National Parks website.  (Yorktown definitely tread this line far better, as they were also supported by a foundation.)  She told me that it is actually a shuttle fee.  Since we wanted to see the farm, we paid, but I would chalk this up to two traumatic trips here.  If anyone else wants to visit this park, call my dad.  He will be happy to go with you.

If you are looking for a delicious meal after a day in Gettysburg, we had a great dinner at Food 101.  It’s a small restaurant so you may have to wait a little, but the food was very delicious and priced well.

This wraps up our eastern Pennsylvania road trip!  Visiting Steamtown, Delaware Water Gap, Gettysburg, and the Eisenhower Farm in one weekend was a good way to pass an early fall weekend.  My next blog post will be about Fort Washington, MD.

Thanks for reading!

Delaware Water Gap

After a great visit to Steamtown, Cacia and I decided to head over to the Delaware Water Gap.  On a day with some rain and temperatures in the low 50s, we enjoyed an in-the-car picnic and hiking through the woods.  In the final days of September, leaves were starting to change colors, and the park was very quiet.

After a little research, I chose the Tumbling Waters hike for us to complete.  If you park at the Education Center, there is a small parking lot with 20-25 spots, and the trail head is just across the street (Emery Street).  The path is a loop.  This 3.3 mile trail had 593 feet of elevation gain, and with the rolling hills, there were some nice ups and downs to keep the path interesting.

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This path is partially shared with the Two Ponds trail, which is an education trail, so we opened our trip with a walk past the trash graveyard, showing how long it takes for various things to compost.  The trail splits off from this path fairly early, and it becomes very pretty and serene quickly.

This hike was rated as moderate on AllTrails (my hiking app of choice), but there were also many easy sections like the one pictured above that we enjoyed as well.  My main interest in this hike was that it makes a trip down to a waterfall, which is where the more moderate aspects came into play.  Stairs have been built into the side of the hill to reach the waterfall, but the trip back up was fairly steep and a nice workout.  However, the sight was totally worth it!

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In addition to this waterfall, there is another one a few hundred feet away, but you stand at the top of those falls and cannot really see down them.  These double falls were really gorgeous in person and looked especially pretty with the changing season.

Cacia and I both felt that this hike was really interesting because the views kept changing.  Every 1/2 mile or so it seemed like there was a slight change in the trees, or the type of path, or the wildlife we saw.  This kept the whole trip very interesting, and it would be a great hike on a sunny day too because of the solid tree coverage for most of the hike.  At one point, you even reach a clearing from the trees and can look out over the hills.

It took us 2 hours and 15 minutes to walk the trail, and this included a nice stop at the waterfalls.

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We had one traumatic part of this trip, and it was because Cacia almost did not get her passport stamp.  Many of the ranger stations are closed on the weekends in the Water Gap, and we were concerned about finding her stamp.  If you are looking to collect a cancellation stamp, the education center by the Tumbling Waters trail head carries the cancellation stamp.

We drove through quite a bit of the Delaware Water Gap, and you really need to get out of the car and take a trip down a trail to get the whole experience.  It’s a really beautiful place that seems to not see too much traffic.

After a great day, Cacia and I drove into Strasburg to spend a night at a hotel closer to Gettysburg (And so I could get a chocolate milkshake from Hershey’s Chocolate World).  Next week’s blog will talk about our time at Gettysburg.

Steamtown

After a childhood of going to visit steam trains for vacation trips, it should not be a surprise that I wanted to visit Steamtown in Scranton, PA.  Steamtown is a historic rail yard with a large museum and many engines to check out.  It’s approximately a four hour drive from Washington, D.C. (Add an hour if you leave on Friday at rush hour), and it is well worth a visit.  I did this trip with my D.C. Partner in Crime, Cacia.

Scranton, PA is a small sleepy town in northeast Pennsylvania.  While the beautiful historic buildings still stand from its glory days, the town is pretty much a ghost town.  Steamtown is one of the remaining reminders that this was once an industrial and coal-driven city.  Pulling into the parking lot of Steamtown is an exciting experience, as you are surrounded by steam trains from the past.

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The Reading Railroad (Pronounced “Redding”), possibly best known for being a Monopoly Square

As you walk towards the museum, a ranger station allows you to pay the fee and buy train tickets.  We visited on a fee free day, but normally it is $7/person to visit Steamtown, which would have been covered with my National Parks pass.  Train rides are $5/person.

The site is mainly broken into the museum, roundhouse, and train rides.  The museum had exhibits featuring the history of the railroads, and the space is industrial and cool.  The exhibits had some interactive features, including an area to test your knowledge of train whistles.  My favorite part, though, was the roundhouse.  It featured many restored steam engines and cars to look at up close and walk through.  We especially enjoyed walking through the different kinds of cars and standing on platforms right in front of the biggest steam engines.  Outside of the roundhouse, there is one steam train that you can enter and pull the bell.  That was very fun too!

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After getting our fill of these attractions, we took a $5 ride on the “Scranton Limited,” which was a very limited 3 mile train trip through the historic rail yards.  The 30 minute ride mostly consists of signals being thrown as you slowly ride through the yard.  If you are looking for a great train ride, I would make the trip to Strasburg Railroad instead.  It’s two hours away from Scranton and three times the price, but the train experience is much more exciting there.  Everything else at Steamtown was exceptional and cool, though!

We spent around three hours in Steamtown on a Saturday morning at the end of September, and it was in the low 50s (Much cooler than D.C.!).  Both Cacia and I had a lot of fun visiting this unique National Park stop.  We decided to pair this visit with a trip to the Delaware Water Gap in the afternoon, and it was a great way to spend the day.  You can check out next week’s blog to learn about our hike there.

See you next week!