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.

RB Winter State Park

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This was our first camping excursion of the year.  I have been coming to this park since I was a kid, so it has a special place in my heart.  I have never really done much camping here though.  We would mainly go to picnic and play on the beach and in the lake, since the park isn’t that far from where I grew up.  Since it’s still early in the season, I opted for a cottage instead of a tent and I am so glad I did.  It was COLD.  I always forget that it’s about 10-15 degrees cooler at the park than it is at home.  So, even thought the forecast was calling for temps in the high 60s, it was much cooler than that….and it rained.  Blah.

We arrived on Friday evening and we decided to eat dinner before heading to the park, since it was supposed to rain all night and cooking over a fire would have been difficult…and miserable.  Thank goodness the cottage had heat and a table with benches.  At least we could spend the evening playing games and munching on snacks…and Evelyn was super-excited that she got to sleep on the top bunk for the very first time.

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Saturday was slightly better.  It only rained for a little while in the morning, mainly while we were trying to boil water for coffee over a fire.  That didn’t turn out very well.  Two lukewarm and barely brewed cups of coffee later, I was kind of grumpy.  We took at nice walk around the lake, but it was too wet for Evelyn to play in the sand.

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We lounged around, made some lunch and then I couldn’t help myself…I suggested that we find the nearest coffee shop for a real cup of joe, a little bit of warmth, and for something to do.  So, we drove about 15 miles, took care of my caffeine craving, and also stopped at Walmart to buy a camp stove.  I’m not giving up on trying to cook over a fire, but it’s nice to know we have a back up now if we need it.   26901293765_7548839ec0_k
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So, it definitely wasn’t my favorite camping trip. It was cold and rather boring.  Michael and I agreed that if we hadn’t paid for the cabin, we probably would have packed it in and headed home. We made the best of it.  But, we have a few other trips planned for this summer and I am looking forward to them.  I’m really hoping that our next trip to this park, over the 4th of July weekend, will be more fun. We will be tenting for the first time with Evelyn and we are also taking our dog, which we have never done, so it should be an adventure. We will have several other family members camping at the same time, so that will make things at least more interesting.

Black Moshannon

 

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Back in February, when the winter still had a harsh grip on us, when I was still pregnant and sick, and when the whole family was in a deep funk, we decided that we needed to get the heck out of town for a few days.  Michael’s work schedule made it difficult to schedule anything very soon, so we reserved a cabin for a weekend in April.  Even though it was a few months away, we really just needed something to look forward to.

A few weeks ago, we finally had our getaway.  I have to admit, it was kind of weird at first, just the three of us with no electronic distractions. For a minute I was wondering what I had gotten myself into.

With the exception of an hour long scream fest when we made Evelyn take a nap one day, we had a calm, relaxing time. During the day, we hiked the trails, which were easy enough for Evelyn, and in the evenings we toasted marshmallows and played board games.

I don’t mind tent camping, but this time we decided on a modern cabin with heat and a bathroom, and I’m so glad we did.  It was still pretty cold at night, and I didn’t want to trek out into the night to a communal bathroom with a child who is just recently potty trained, especially with the clear warning about bears that was posted in our cabin.

Like many of Pennsylvania’s natural features, this watershed was named by Native Americans. According to local tradition, this area was called “Moss-Hanne,” meaning “moose stream.”  Appropriately, the “black” in the park name describes the tea-colored waters. The 250-acre Black Moshannon Lake is fed by clear springs and small streams which flow through the bogs that stretch in most directions from its shores. As the clear water flows through sphagnum moss and other wetland plants, it becomes colored by plant tannins. In a sense, the bog vegetation acts like a giant teabag to color the water (from the park website).

I’ll just let the pictures tell the rest of the story. 🙂

the best of summer 2013

I have a zillion photos saved on my laptop, phone, and on my camera’s SD card.  Yes, a zillion.  In this digital age, it’s possible to take a hundred photos and weed out only one that is frame-worthy.  Then there’s the question of what to do with all those other pictures.  Even if they aren’t the “best” photos, they might still be good.  As a first-time mom, it’s really hard to delete any picture of my kid.  But truly, I can’t save all of them and who (besides me) will want to look at them anyway?  I realized several months after Evelyn was born, and I had managed to accumulate 1,000 photos of her on my phone, that I needed an intervention of some kind.  Or I just needed to figure out what to do with all of them.  So, I’ve come up with my own little method for saving pictures.  For her first year, I reserved the right to take as many darn pictures as I want…and save as many as I want.  Since her first birthday, I’ve been trying to come up with a system that is manageable.  Here’s what’s been working so far.

Each time we have an outing, event or other photo opportunity, I take as many pictures as I please.  When I have some time to myself, I plug the SD card into my laptop and begin the pruning process.  I get rid of photos that are blurry, have bad composition, or duplicates (often created when I use the rapid-fire setting).

Once I’ve chosen the photos I want to keep, I save them into a folder on my computer.  At this point, I have folders labeled by the season and year (for example, Summer 2013).  After they are saved, I highlight all of the new pictures and then rename them based on the date or event.  Renaming them in a batch will give all the files the same name, but with a number after it (for example, Memorial Day (5)) so that they will all stay together within the folder.

Now, all the photos are saved on my computer, but what if it crashes and I lose everything?  For that, I use flickr.  For $25 a year, I can have unlimited storage of my photos.  I suppose if the fit hits the shan and the internet no longer exists, well, my pictures will be gone.  But if that happens, I’m thinking we’ll all have much bigger problems to worry about.  So, I save them in sets labeled by the event or season, depending on how many pictures I have.  I’m still working on dumping all the pictures from my phone onto flickr.  It’s a tedious process, but once I have it done, it should be pretty easy to just dump them on a weekly basis.

Call me old-fashioned, but I still like to have some of my pictures printed out so that I can physically hold them in my hand.  So, each year, I will be creating a family yearbook of sorts with the highlights and best pictures from the past 12 months.  Last year I created one that was basically Evelyn’s first year.  I used one of the more popular online scrap-booking sites, but was very disappointed to find that after spending literally HOURS working on the book, it disappeared after I ordered a copy of it.  So, if I ever wanted to order another copy, for whatever reason, I would not be able to do so…and that really ticks me off.  So, this year, I will be looking for a different program to use.  I have downloaded a few to try and will play around with them to see which one I like the best.

So, that brings me to the reason for this post in the first place, to feature some of the best from this summer.  I can’t believe how quickly this summer has passed by!  We just completed our final camping trip of the season and Fall is in the air.  Time to say goodbye to Summer 2013…

Memorial Day – She loves marching bands!

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Aww…there’s nothing quite so cute as daddies and daughters.

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Can’t take credit for this one.  My friend Lisa, of Charlie the Cavalier, took this one of a brief moment when our cherubs (along with Sarah of The Clerical Error‘s little girl)  were not crying or stealing food from one another.  Why is the song “Ebony and Ivory” running through my head?

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A trip to Knoebel’s

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Much to my chagrin, she LOVED this group of singers/performers at the park.  We watched the ENTIRE show.

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Strawberry picking…

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Evelyn and her great-grandma

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4th of July, baby!

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Evelyn loves to go for walks in our neighborhood, and she especially loves searching for gnomes in this neighbor’s landscaping.

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Fun on the lake…

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Before you start talking smack, just know that I do realize how pasty white I am.  I’m ok with it.  This is my year-round color.  And when I’m old and gray, I’ll be less wrinkly than all you sun-worshippers.  😉

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County Fair

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Camping with the family…

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Summer, we had a good run, but bring on the Fall!