Sunday, October 7, 2018

Rock Bridge State Park (Devil's Icebox and Sinkhole Trails)

Finally, fall! I savored every day of summer, believe me, I did. This summer was one for the books for sure. But now that we've been teased with some days of fall weather, followed by days that feel like summer again, I am ready for full on fall. Fall temperatures, fall food, fall scents, and fall HIKING! And a couple of weekends ago, I got my fix. On the first weekend of fall, the weather settled nicely into the 70's with beautiful blue skies and a breeze. Absolutely perfect for a weekend outdoors.

It has been years since we hiked to the Devil's Icebox at Rock Bridge State Park. We've hiked probably every other trail around the area, but we've steered clear of that one simply because there are always

so. many. people. 

And we just don't like hiking in really crowded places. For one thing, our boys are loud. Just naturally loud. So every conversation we had on the trail was in earshot of a dozen other people. Also, on narrow paths, you always have to decide "Do I pass?" "Do I let them pass?" "Should I speed up or just get off the trail for a minute?" Whatever. We went anyway.

On this particular day, on the first cool weekend of fall, this trail system actually wasn't too bad. Shocker. Don't get me wrong. There were lots of people. But it wasn't miserable.

 There's a creek right at the trail head, which means we weren't walking for even a minute before we were taking a detour to explore the rocks and wildlife below.

 And then we were off.

Most (if not all) of the Devil's Icebox Trail is boardwalk. And most of it is on an incline/decline meaning upstairs/downstairs, depending on your direction. To start, it's up and up and up.

A little flat area.

Looking back down after completing this steep climb - Whew!

After that, the incline is gradual.

The whole point of this trail is the Devil's Icebox cave at the end of the trail. We went here when the boys were younger, but didn't go too far in, because we didn't bring a flashlight. You can explore one end of the trail (enter cave, turn left), but not the other side. There are bats in this cave that are victim to White Nose Syndrome, caused by a fungus. The park limits access to the cave to help protect the bats.

The boys looking down into the crevice below before me made our climb down.

And then down the stairs we went.

 Time to explore.

At this point, there was still light entering from outside the cave, so we walked a little further. But the second it started getting dark, I bailed. I have an irrational fear of depths. Depths of caves, and depths of water. I won't ever go deep sea diving, and I will probably never go deep into a cave.

But the boys were up for the adventure, so they trekked on without me (mocking my fear on their way), taking their flashlights and exploring a little further.

I waited for them at the top of the cave entrance, waiting to get this picture of them from above.

We discovered this little guy on my water pack.

And then we were off. So glad we have Jeremy to carry all of our important gear for us. What would we do without him?

We found a connecting trail for the Sinkhole Trail, checked the map, and decided it was the perfect distance to round out our hike. Blazed in green.

 We got off the trail for a little while and explored around under the famous rock bridge. It is an incredible geological feature. We are so lucky to live in this area and can explore places like this.

Once again, there were places to climb, and we were glad that we had flash lights to get up higher on the rocks inside the rock bridge.

 The boys walked across the ledge on the other side of the bridge, before we hiked back to the sinkhole trail.

 Back on the trail, away from all the tourist attractions, there were far fewer people and a wide open trail. That's more like it. The natural terrain, rather than the boardwalk, are much more our preference when it comes to trails.

Eli is almost always, always our hiking leader. He sets a good pace, and has a good eye for wildlife that he can point out to the rest of us before they scurry away. But every once in a while, he lets someone else be the leader so he can walk with daddy.

Lex got to be the leader for a little while, and when I told him to turn around so I could take his picture, this is what he gave me.

We came across this huge concrete silo that we had to stop and investigate.

And then hit the trail.  We ended up taking the white connector trail to cut a little distance off of our total hike, which turned out to be the perfect amount.

The first hike of the season was a perfect family outing. Perfect day. Perfect everything. Here's to a season of many more more hikes! 

Until next time.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

How to Beat the Heat AND Get Your Nature Fix Over Summer

There is nothing I love more than being outdoors. I love trails and trees and fields and open skies and well, you get the point. It's our family thing. We hike.


Summer hiking is just not our thing. For many reasons. First, many (not all) trails become really overgrown in the summer. Also, because the trees have their full foliage, many of the beautiful views we love are blocked. Not that that's a reason to not hike. But you know what is a reason? Summer bugs. And also the heat. What I don't like is walking in the heat of the sun, through knee high weeds, surrounded by bugs. 


I couldn't possibly go all summer without a nature fix. I crave the outdoors, so fortunately we have figured out some outdoor things to do in the heat of the summer.

1.) Go where the water is.

Hello there creeks, ponds, rivers, and backyard sprinkler. We love going to the creek and have spent a few afternoons there swimming, skipping rocks, and looking for wildlife. The best tip I can offer about going to the creek is to bring water shoes or shoes that you can wear in the creek. It just makes it easier to get around. We usually don't stay in one spot - we will walk up and down the creek bed looking for places to explore.

2.) Sunsrise, Sunset

Obviously it's going to be cooler if you're up early or out later when the sun isn't right overhead. One of our family's favorite things to do in the summer is to go to the river and watch the sunset. It's just the perfect way to end a summer evening. After we hang out and watch the sun set, we head home with the windows down, playing our favorite music, and enjoying a nice, cool, country drive home in the moonlight.


3.) Night Sky

I'm a sucker for all celestial things. Two of my favorite apps on my phone are Daff Moon, which is simply a moon phase tracker, and Sky Map, which acts as a hand held planetarium. One of our favorite things to do in the summer (or anytime, really) is to wait until the boys are in their pajamas all ready for bed, and then surprise them with a night excursion to the country to look at the stars, the moon, the sky. We have a couple of favorite spots, away from any light pollution, where we can just park the car and sky gaze. Recently, there was a meteor shower on a night when the skies were supposed to be really clear. We waited until dark, surprised the boys with a nighttime adventure, and headed to the country. We laid a mattress and blankets on top of the van, laid back, and saw one shooting star after another. It was one of the best nights of the whole summer.

4.) Find Nature Indoors!

We are fortunate to be so close to an amazing nature center.  We visit there often. We've gone early in the morning to walk the trails before the sun is blazing, and we've gone in the heat of the day to do some indoor bird watching and learn about conservation in Missouri all in the comfort of air conditioning.

On one of our visits, it must have been just before feeding time, because the snakes were all incredibly active. I've never seen them so restless! Eeeek.

5.) Watch for perfect hiking weather and be ready to roll. 

Even the hottest summer months usually offer at least a little reprieve from the heat. We are constantly watching the weather for that break from hot weather so we can hit the trails at just the right time. When we do hike in the summer, we look for wide trails that we know are well maintained through summer months. Either that, or we look for trails that go straight to the creek.

We have a hiking backpack ready to go at all times. If the weather dips unexpectedly, we are ready to grab our gear and go. Must haves for summer hikes include bug spray and sunscreen. And of course, lots and lots of water.

The point is, there is no excuse to go all summer without appreciating what nature has to offer, even when it's hot, humid, and miserable. Go in the morning, go at night, go indoors, go outdoors - just go.

Here's to looking forward to cooler weather and more comfortable hikes! 

Sunday, August 26, 2018

What I've Been Doing This Summer (Besides not updating the Blog)

Sometimes when I haven't updated the blog very often, I start my new blog post by saying, "Sorry it's been slow around here," or something to that effect. But then recently I read a meme that went something like this: "Dear blogger, you don't have to start a post with 'sorry I haven't written in a while.' Nobody explitive cares!" Awesome. Because while I was wasting away summer, and not writing blog posts, I was wondering to myself whether anyone was wondering about my blog. And apparently they are not. So yes, I haven't updated very frequently this summer, but hopefully no one cares and we'll just pick up where we left off back when I was on a roll with writing posts all the time.

So here we are, skidding into September. We have attended open houses at both boys' schools, met their teachers, dropped off supplies, and picked out awesome lunch stuff for the first week of school. And now, we just relax away our last weekend and reminisce about summers past.

I told you in my last post about how lazy a summer it's been, so you get the point.  I'm going to use this post to seek a little redemption by sharing what things I (we) DID accomplish this summer.

1.) New recipes. I have practically memorized the cookbook section of our local library. Not that I have checked out every book or anything, but I probably opened every single book and either checked it out, or deliberately not checked it out for one reason or another. As a result, I have found some great books and some great recipes.

One of our absolute favorites was this blueberry cream pie. We made it four times this summer and will continue making it forever. It is seriously one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten.

Another favorite were these cheeseburger pretzel bombs where the recipe wasn't nearly as mind -blowing as the fact that I learned how to pretzelize anything... and now I will. And they were really yummy. A great comfort snack and one that would pack nicely in school lunches.

Another new recipe that I didn't photograph because we ate them up too quickly was lemon glazed cookies, courtesy of Martha Stewart (via Pinterest). If you like lemon, and seriously who doesn't, then you will loooooove these. There's grated lemon peel, fresh lemon juice, and a yummy lemon glaze. I made a quadruple batch and Jeremy and I both took some to work, gave a few to a neighbor, and devoured the rest. Definitely making this one again.

We are definitely ready for some fall soups and flavors if the weather would just cool down a bit!

2.) Netflix binge watching. This is something I just can't do during the school year. I love it during the summer when I can just get through entire series of shows that I've been wanting to watch. My top three series of the summer by far are as follows:

The Crown - I could not stop watching this drama. It chronicles the life of Queen Elizabeth starting with the death of King George and Queen Elizabeth's subsequent coronation. I couldn't stop googling which plot lines were fact and which were fiction. And do you know what? Almost all are based on true stories (with creative liberties taken of course). Also, I couldn't stop speaking in a British accent by the time I got to the end of the series (I was watching 3-4 episodes a day, and may as well have been living at Buckingham Palace with how into it I was). I'm a little nervous that the entire cast is being replaced for season 3, but I'm just hoping that Netflix gets it right and it continues to be awesome.

Orange is the New Black - Season 6. I look forward to the release of the new season every summer (although it came a little late this summer, didn't it?). I loved season 6. My rankings of the seasons so far, best to worst are as follows: 1, 2, 6, 5, 4, 3. My prediction is that next season is the last.

Kim's Convenience - I just started this one a few weeks ago, then finished it a few days ago. This one is a Canadian sitcom about a Korean family running a convenience store. I love every single one of the main characters. The episodes are short, and the whole family can watch it.

Aside from these series, I've also rewatched some of The Office and Parenthood, and some documentaries. So see? Totally productive in the Netflix department.

3.) Yoga with Adriene - You guys. How have I not heard of this before this summer? It was actually last spring when it was recommended to me and I started trying out videos here and there. Adriene is an incredible yoga instructor with a mission to make yoga accessible to everyone by posting free yoga videos on Youtube. She is funny, easy to follow, and there are loads of videos to choose from. I completed the 30 day Yoga Camp series, as well as other videos and have recently started on the 30 Days of Yoga series. By the third video, I didn't even have to watch her because she does such a great job of explaining each move and encouraging you to just "find what feels good."  Just look her up on Youtube. I promise you won't be disappointed. Summer exercise... check. 

4.) Pool - Ah, the pool. This has been our number one favorite summer activity this summer. We have never really been a pool family. It's just not my thing, probably because I didn't grow up going to the pool. I grew up with a pond in my backyard where we went swimming whenever we wanted. We spent summers jumping off the boat at the lake in Kentucky. Occasionally we would go to the city pool (usually because we were invited to go with someone else). So I caught myself by surprise this summer when I found myself LOVING lounging by the pool while the boys played for hours in the water. When it's 100 degrees out, or even 90 or 85, I can't think of a better way to spend the afternoon than to be in cool water. We did not get passes this year, but probably will next year. And honestly, I'm going to have a hard time choosing which pool to buy passes from because we found more than one that we loved. Both boys chose to go to a water park for their birthdays, and the entire family loved it (I'm purposefully leaving out the part of the story where I almost got knocked out on one of the most mild water slides in the park - whatevs.) So now we are a pool family and I totally did not see that one coming.

So see. We've done some things this summer! I don't regret our lazy summer full of cooking, Netflix, yoga, and pools for one second. Goodbye, summer. Hello fall!