Sunday, August 24, 2014

Missouri Department of Conservation

So during our recent trip to the state fair, we ran into the building for the Missouri Department of Conservation, and for Jeremy and me, it was the highlight of our day. We are so proud to support such an amazing organization that cares for and monitors Missouri's agriculture, lakes, rivers, streams, forests, and wildlife. They also provide free education about Missouri's wildlife and offer endless programs on hunting and fishing. If you are an outdoor family like us, you are likely benefiting from the work of your state's Department of Conservation maybe without even realizing it. Seriously, look for the web page for your state's department and I bet you'll be surprised to see how many free things you can get and do.

Now, back to our experience at the fair. We were so excited when we saw this sign. We had kept our eyes out for their building all day, but hadn't really sought it out. We happened upon it when we took a detour from the carnival to see some animals.

There were 2 buildings as well as an outdoor gallery of live animals. This aquarium was in the larger of the 2 buildings. The building was full of free handouts, hunting and fishing information and nice, informative people. We had a great conversation with a man who told me about resources for my classroom that I didn't know about. I've already put in an order for free posters.

The smaller building was all hands on centers. This was a cool sandbox with lots of different animal print stamps. Kids and adults all seemed to have fun with it. 

Lex is sporting his stickers they were handing out. We also picked up some for Eli.

Here is Peanut the Turtle. At first, we just thought it was a cool looking turtle, then we read her story. When she was little, she swam through a plastic six pack ring that somebody had improperly disposed of. As she grew, her shell grew around the ring. When she was found at around 9 years old, she still had the ring around her shell. She is now a spokesturtle for No MOre Trash.

So a few weeks ago, I wrote about our hike to Three Creeks, where we happened upon a Northern Watersnake.  A few days after our trip, we stopped by Runge Nature Center with the kids to look for a tree identification guide. While there, we saw an aquarium that was home to a Northern Watersnake, but the snake wasn't there. It said the snake had gone to the state fair. So one of our missions was to find the Northern Watersnake.

I promise you, I took a picture of the watersnake, but when I got home, this was all I had on my camera. I don't know what happened to the snake picture, but I will say that the snake they had was about 1/4 of the size of the one we saw. It was small in comparison.

A venomous copperhead. There would be no mistaking this snake if I came across it in the wild. Those colors are so distinct!

Here is the FREE magazine that both of our boys get from the Department of Conservation every 2 months. It's full of fun articles and games for kids, as well as scavenger hunts and recipes. Lex especially, loves to get a piece of mail with his own name on it. I've also ordered a classroom set, completely free.

When we saw the snake on our hike recently, we came home and used the Department of Conservation website to identify it. Here's the paper version of the resource we used. Now we have something to carry in our hiking backpack.

Same thing for the turtles.

We talked for a long time to one of the volunteers. Lex told him all about a lot of the animals we had seen recently and the man helped identify some resources that we didn't know about. He gave this magazine/pamphlet to Lex and encouraged us to do a night hike so we could look for some nocturnal animals. I love hiking as much as the next person, but even that sounds a little bit scary to me. We will see. 

So there's my plug for our Department of Conservation. I hope you take advantage of yours! 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Missouri State Fair

 For the second year in a row, we drove about an hour and a half to the Missouri State Fair. Jeremy and I both grew up in an Ohio county where the county fair was a pretty big deal. Last year, we discovered that the Missouri State Fair offered everything half price, including admission and rides, on the last day. In addition, the crowds aren't bad and there are no lines for pretty much anything. This year, we left Eli with some friends in Jefferson City and took Lex for some individual mommy and daddy time.

It was a pretty overcast day and never got above 80 degrees. Hello, perfect weather for a day at the fair.

To get to the carnival, you have to walk past all the food stands. Last year, I was pretty disappointed with the food I ate, so I wanted to have plenty of time to look and see what I wanted.

 Pizza? no. Nachos? no. Fresh salads? Are you kidding me?

I'm not a big fan of funnel cakes, but I did want to try some lemonade. The one I tried last year was made with a powder mix and I couldn't even finish it. I don't know when I became such a lemonade snob, but I really wanted some good lemonade before the end of the trip.

Jeremy loves a good fair sausage, so this was high on his list.

But first, to the carnival.

Last year, Lex wasn't tall enough to ride all the rides he wanted to, and we didn't know how many he would want to ride. As it turned out, he loved everything he rode, even a roller coaster that scared me a little bit. So this year, there was no question about forking over the money for a wristband so he could ride as many as he wanted.

Beginning with the train, where Lex insisted on being the "conductor." Fortunately, he was the first one in line so he got to choose first.

Jeremy did the roller coaster with him this year, because as I mentioned, I wasn't a fan.

And also this ride, because I wasn't sure if it would make me sick. I know! I am such a carnival wuss.

My fearless boys!

After the first few rides, we headed to the swine barn which happened to be close by. We weren't sure if there would be many animals around since it was the last day. The horses packed up early last year and we didn't get to see many. Fortunately for us, the hogs were still there. We looked around for a while, then headed back to the rides.

Next was my turn. The slide looked exciting to me last year, but Lex wasn't tall enough to ride. I was so happy that he agreed to go this time.

Ready. Set. Go! So fun.

And then to the bumper boats, which Lex loved, even though it seemed to me that the steering wheel didn't really do anything. All the kids just seemed to go in circles and then bounce off each others' boats.

At lunch (we settled on gyros, which were awesome!), I got this lemonade, which did taste fresh, but was not as good as my recipe from earlier this year.

Then look what we ran into! Our buddies over at the Conservation Department. They aren't really our buddies, but we have spent a lot of time learning from them this year through hikes, nature centers, online research, etc. I'm going to save the pictures from this part of the fair for another blog post, because I have a lot to say about them.

After lunch and the Conservation Building, we had 2 more things to do. Go through a fun house and ride the Ferris wheel. I went through the fun house twice with Lex, and then he wanted to keep going and going and going. Since there wasn't a line, he ended up going through it about 5 times. He's already talking about how he's going to teach Eli how to do it next year.

And then we were off to the Ferris wheel.  Now let me be honest. I'm a little bit scared of heights. Well, not so much heights as falling from heights. Lex had been looking at this all day and wanted to go, and Jeremy really wanted us all to go. So I went. I didn't want Lex to see my fear, so I put on a brave face (or so I thought as you will see in a few pictures.)

Here we are at the part where people are still loading, so they stop you every so often and the gondola just sits there and sways back and forth every time it stops.

What do you have to do to get these parking spots? We had to walk about a mile to our car.

At this point, Lex had decided to keep trying to stand up so he could see over the top. It scared me like crazy!

 There's Jeremy all chill and relaxed.

Here's what my face looked like when I took a "fun" selfie with Lex at the top.

 And here's what my face looked like when Jeremy got me looking "natural." Yep. Scared... to... death... Can this stupid ride please, please stop now? 

Yes it eventually did. I didn't plummet to the ground or get caught on a never ending cycle of torture. The ride ended and I survived. I will probably go again next year. 

We had a great day at the fair with our highlights being the roller coaster, slide, fun house and conservation building. The weather was perfect and the sun even peeked out a little bit.  Gotta love ending the summer with a trip to the state fair!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Three Creeks - Round Three

 Back to Three Creeks

For the third time this summer, we returned to Three Creeks Conservation Area for another hike. We did change it up a little bit this time. Normally, we go on the south trails which are closer to house, but we had recently been scouting out some trails on the northern side of the conservation area. We showed up to this trail a few days before our hike and walked in about 1/2 a mile just to check it out. We returned a few days later with all of our gear for this actual hike. The views were so beautiful on this side of the creeks and even the wildlife was different from the southern trails.

There's always at least a little bit of discussion about who will be the "line leader." When Eli is the line leader, he likes to sing "a hiking we will go, a hiking we will go..." It's cute.

The forest isn't very dense at this part so we got a good view of the squirrels stocking away their winter food.

Anybody know what kind of tree this is? They were everywhere and so beautiful.

 Look at those views! We are still on the upper part of the trail. You have to hike pretty far downhill to get to the creek. This picture is the view to the other side of the creek which is the side we usually hike on.

This was Lex's last day being 4. Looking so big!

 Eli just a trekkin along.

 More of the views - These rolling hill views are one of my favorite things about Mid - Missouri.

 This part was really cool. Right in the middle of the woods, there was this part of the trail that was almost prairie like. It had really tall grasses and wildflowers.

 Here's a better shot. You can also see how nicely maintained the trails are, even if it is a little bit narrow in this spot.

 And another. It totally seemed out of the ordinary and made us wonder what kind of creatures might slither out at us.

 Can you see where the deer have made a bed? We didn't see any deer while we were there but here was the proof they had been there!

 Getting a little closer to the creek.

 Lex did much of the trail with his hands up like this so they wouldn't get scratched by the plants.


 And here they are on the last leg of the trail to the creek.

 Once we were in the creek bed, we saw tons and tons of frogs and toads! They were every where and every size. We even saw tiny little tadpoles. We found this guide on Missouri Department of Conservation's site that helped us identify this as a Pickerel Frog. It's common for our area so no frog finding award for us - if there is such a thing.

 The creek had been dammed up by a fallen tree creating this pool of water much deeper than the water on in the creek on our side. Someone told us about a spot down here where you can jump off a cliff into this water. We didn't bring swim clothes and in a few pictures you're about to see why I'm glad we didn't get in the water.

 We can never go to the creek without the boys throwing about a hundred rocks in the water.

 Eeeeeeeek! The first snake we've seen all summer and it was about 15 feet away from us. Fortunately, Jeremy had been saying all along to keep our eyes peeled for snakes because everything just seemed really damp and snake friendly. He spotted this one first going from the bank to the water. Can you see that he's just eaten? He's bulging in the middle. We also saw a smaller one that looked just like this one, but he stayed in the water and I couldn't get a picture. Jeremy stays pretty up to speed on poisonous snakes in our area and we were almost certain this wasn't one, but nonetheless, we kept our distance and soon headed back up the trail. We looked him up when we got home and learned we were right. This Northern Water Snake is not poisonous although he will bite to defend himself.
 Here we are heading back up the trail. Our boys are at the stage where we can't take a picture without a request for a "funny picture" too.

Hands up! 

And there you have it! Even on a beautiful evening on a much more public trail, we still didn't run into any other people here. Because of the views, we can't wait to go back in the fall or winter when you can see for a further distance and also have less risk of running into Mr. Northern Water Snake.

Happy Hiking!