Our Summer Bucket List

So Evelyn and I decided we wanted to make a summer bucket list.  Ok, maybe I was a little more excited about the list than she was.  Since I decided to apply for a teaching position at work (and I got the job), I am going to be off for the summer and I am more than a little excited about it.  I have struggled with the work/stay at home debate ever since Evelyn was born.  I have done both and neither option felt 100% comfortable for me.  So now, I get to work while Evelyn is at school and be off when she is off.  It’s the perfect balance and I actually really love my job.

Aaaannyway, I could probably come up with a crazy-long list, but I decided to keep it sort of short, so that I don’t kick myself later if we don’t get it all accomplished. Evelyn did contribute a few ideas, but I had a hard time getting her to understand the concept of a bucket list.  When I asked her, “What do you really want to do this summer?” her response was, “Have a movie day!” So then I had to explain that we should put things on the list that we couldn’t do any other time of year.  We could have a movie day any time.  So then she came at me with…

Eat lunch at Odd FellasWell, we really can eat there any day, except for Sunday when they are closed, but she rationalized it with, “Well, we can’t eat lunch there any day because we have to eat lunch at school.” Ok, makes sense to me.  Lunch at Odd Fellas for the win.

Go camping: I already have 2 camping trips booked for this summer so, easy peasy.

Make a fairy garden: We spent quite a bit of time pinning ideas for this during the winter when we were home sick or on snow days.

Outdoor movie: I just got a flyer from Evelyn’s school about some free movies in the park this summer.  Now I just have to add the dates to my calendar so we don’t forget!

Paint Rocks: I really want to paint some story rocks to use in my classroom next year, and I think this will be fun for Evelyn too.

Go berry picking: We do this every year, so this one shouldn’t be a problem.

Have a paint day: Michael got me an easel and paints and brushes for Christmas, so I have been painting every now and then.  Evelyn likes to paint with me, so this will be a perfect rainy day activity.

Make popsicles: Because summer.

Swing painting: Saw this video circulating around Facebook.  We’ll have to drag our supplies to the park, but that won’t stop us!


I could probably come up with more, but I think I better quit while I am ahead.  Evelyn is doing a headstand on the couch, so I think she’s finished contributing to the list.

Cherry Springs State Park

About 2 years ago, I got Michael a telescope for Christmas.  Shortly after, I found out about Cherry Springs State Park and have been wanting to take him there.  It is supposedly the darkest place, East of the Mississippi, for viewing stars.  Unfortunately, light pollution prevents us from seeing most of the stars in the sky from our cities and towns, so if you want to see what’s really up there, you have to find a very dark location. Lucky for me, it’s only a little over an hour away from home. So, I reserved 2 nights in the campground and prayed for clear skies.  I had a really hard time finding out about the logistics of this place.  I like to be prepared when I am going to be away from home, but the park website just doesn’t have a lot of detailed info. I scoured the internet for info and read a lot of reviews on Trip Advisor to help me prepare. I thought I would share what I learned from our trip.

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I found a cool site called Clear Dark Sky, which gave me a detailed forecast of the expected viewing conditions.  We had decided that if conditions looked bleak, we would just skip the trip. Fortunately, it looked like we might have good viewing conditions. So, we packed up and headed out.

My first piece of advice is to look at a map before going and plot out a few different routes.  The roads that go into the park are long and winding and your GPS will not help you.  We had planned to take route 44 the entire way, only to find out that a section of it was closed for road work.  We were lucky that they allowed us to pass through with an escort, but it was a dusty, bumpy 5 miles, and set us back about 1/2 hour. We plotted a different way home.

The park at Cherry Springs has 2 observation fields.  One is for serious astronomers only (not sure on the criteria for that) and there is a fee to enter.  You can set up a tent or camper and stay the night, but it is gated and once they shut the gate, you are in for the night.  They don’t allow people to walk into the field after dark and there is no light (except for red light) allowed on the field.  They have some observation domes that can be rented for the night, but again, they are for “serious” astronomers only.  If you fall into this category, I probably can’t offer you much more advice for your trip.

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Gated Observation Field

If you have kids and just want to marvel at God’s creation (or if you have a cheap, amateur telescope like we do), keep reading.  On the other side of Route 44 (just across the street) there is a public viewing area, where you can park and view the stars in the field. Bring a folding chair or a blanket, whatever makes you comfy.  It will probably be chilly, so bring a sweatshirt.  There is no rule against white light in this area, but I would highly recommend bringing a flashlight with a red filter or just put some red cellophane over your flashlight and secure it with a rubber band.  People get cranky when you shine white light in their eyes and it really does mess with the experience. There are port-a-potties, for your convenience.

We headed into the field around 8:30 or so, to wait for the sun to go down.  I really thought Evelyn was going to be bored, but Michael gave her an iPad and we used an app called Sky Watch to find where planets and constellations would appear in the sky.  She was literally giddy each time a star emerged in the sky. When we arrived there were several people already set up with some pretty serious telescopes.  We were very fortunate to meet a couple who had traveled from Maryland and they allowed us to look through their telescope and helped Michael to figure out how to use his.  We were able to see Jupiter and 4 of its moons, Saturn, and Mars. We even got to see the International Space Station fly by. I realized later that we never actually made it into the viewing field.  We ended up viewing the stars from the parking lot.  Ha ha, amateurs.

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By 9:30 or 10:00, Evelyn got really tired and wanted to go to bed.  I put her in the back seat of the car to lay down and sat with her until she fell asleep, but she wanted me to wake her up to see the Milky Way.  By the time she fell asleep and I left the car, the Milky Way was making it’s appearance. I did wake her up for a time so that she could see it, but she fell back to sleep pretty quickly.  I wish that I had taken this picture but sadly, I did not.  However, I wanted to find a picture that would closely represent what I saw…stars forever and a white swath across the sky. You really have to forget about your problems and realize how insignificant they are when you witness something like this.

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Photo Credit: Mink Mingle

There is also a campground that has 30 sites.  They are rustic, tent only, with vault toilets and no showers, and no dish-washing station, so in my opinion, this is not a great park for long-term stays. Aside from the star-gazing, there is not much to do here.  We reserved a camp site for 2 nights, but I think we could have been fine with just one night.  Most of the campers around us only stayed for one night.  It really seems like this park is designed for short-term stays. However, if you want to stay for a few days, I would highly recommend staking a claim on sites 1, 3, 5 or 8.  They are partly shaded so that you can escape the sun during the day.

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Site #5 in Campground

The other sites are more in a field location with a few trees that dot the landscape. I was glad for our shady spot that bordered the woods, but if you are only planning to stay one night, I think that any site would be fine. Sites were very inexpensive (under $20 per night) and we reserved online, but I think that as long as the campground is not full, you could probably get a site if you just show up.  If you want to go that route, stop at the little building on the way into the campground to pay for your site.  I would arrive early (3-5pm) because the sites fill up quickly.  That would give you plenty of time to set up camp, have a meal over a fire and head up to the observation field as the sun is setting.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Try to go when there is a new moon.  If the moon is bright in the sky, it will be hard for you to see anything else.  Consult a moon calendar.
  • Prepare to stay up late….at least 11:00 or so for the best viewing.
  • You don’t NEED a telescope.  The skies are gorgeous enough on their own.
  • Keep in mind that some of the pictures you see online might not be an accurate representation of what you will actually see.  Sometimes the camera can pick up colors and depth that the naked eye cannot see.  Also, so much depends on the weather conditions and the time of year that you go, and how late you are willing to stay up.
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A view across the campground from our site.

After our first night, we had a full day to spend and a 4-year-old to entertain, so we drove about 8 miles to Lyman Run State Park, where there was a lake and a beach. They have a concession stand and boat rentals and they also have showers there, if you are so inclined, but we decided to rough it and go natural for the whole trip. This was also a very nice park and I think that the star gazing would probably be awesome here too, but you would have less protection from white light sources and there is no specific place set up for stargazing.  If you wanted a longer, more kid-friendly trip, it might be better to stay here and then drive over to Cherry Springs to view the stars at night.

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Lyman Run State Park

 

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Lyman Run State Park

 

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After a long day of heat and too much togetherness, we decided to take a little drive over to a country store that was only about a mile down the road.  Keener’s Kountry Store offered ice cream, gas (in ancient pumps), and firewood for $6 a bundle.  Next time, we will definitely stop here for wood after we arrive, instead of dragging it in our car.

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Ice Cream at Keener’s Kountry Store

I have to say that my campfire cooking skills are improving.  We made foil packs and corn on the cob.  The foil packs had chicken breast, potatoes, onion, and carrots.  I seasoned everything with salt and pepper and a nice chunk of butter.  They turned out so good!

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While we had a nice time and enjoyed our stay, I think the guy in this orange tent had the right idea.  Arrive late in the day, pop up a tent, and sleep with the rain fly off so you can drift off under an amazing sky.

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Tent Camping at R.B. Winter State Park

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I have no idea why (probably my new mom nerves), but I was always afraid of camping in a tent when Evelyn was a baby.  I had done it myself many times, but just needed some extra security when she was younger.  Since her first summer, we have always done our camping in my parent’s pop up camper or a cabin.  But, now that she’s a bit older, I felt ready to try camping in a tent.  So, for our first tenting adventure, we reserved 2 nights over the 4th of July weekend at R.B. Winter State Park.  My dad, aunt, and cousins were also staying in the park and my brother and his girlfriend decided to join us on our site.  We also decided to take our dog (something that we have never done before).  I was praying that it would all work out.  Fortunately, I can report that everything went pretty smoothly, aside from a flat air mattress and a scraped knee.

We arrived in the afternoon on Saturday and set up camp.  The weather could not have been better.  We had two tents and a few hammocks with lots of camp chairs.  I always keep a few extras around for my pesky nephews, who like to steal a chair the second it’s empty.  We had site #56, which sits on the side of the hill, so it has a lower level for parking with some steps that lead up to the elevated tent pad and fire ring.  There was also a picnic table and lantern hook. My only complaint about this site was that it was a little too close to the neighboring site.  We were talking about trying to get both sites for next year, so that at least we will have family next door.  Fortunately, our neighbors for this trip were friendly enough.  I couldn’t help but giggle one morning as I watched the chipmunks fervently scramble to eat up all the food that had been left sitting out on their site, after we were so careful to put everything away in our car, so as not to attract bears.

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Our three days at camp were just relaxing and fun.  We went for walks, played in the sand on the beach by the lake, cooked over the fire, made s’mores, and picked on each other. I love that Evelyn can be entertained with barely anything “to do.”  She finds her own fun. She loved just going in and out of the tent and curling up inside the sleeping bags, staking a claim on her sleeping spot right away. The kids enjoyed playing in the creek, lounging in the hammock, and exploring the paths. I even got in on the fun. I think that our dog, Moxie, didn’t quite know what to make of all of it, but she was very well behaved and I would definitely take her again in the future.

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We had so much fun that we are planning to do it again sometime, and trying to talk even more of our family into joining us.  Meanwhile, we’re getting ready for this summer’s next camping adventure.