On The Trail

Homeschool Hiking

3 National Parks, 1 House of John James Audubon and 1 Chocolate World in 3 days!

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Our beginning of vacation plan was to take Maddie to Valley Forge. What actually happened was a 3 day whirlwind camping trip where we took in Valley Forge plus 2 other National Parks, the home of John James Audubon then came home via Hershey, PA! We had a lot of fun, got “turned around” numerous times and came home with lots of Junior Ranger experience, pins and other things!

We decided to stop at Morristown National Historic Park on our way to our campsite at French Creek State Park in PA to break up the trip. This turned out to be a HUGE National Park and one we will need to visit again soon. Maddie was able to complete the Junior Ranger program at the site despite our short time there. We were really impressed with the way she paid attention to the signage at this park as she worked on the packet. This park is actually a couple of places that string out in Morristown so once you stop at one place you need to get in your car and drive over regular highways to get to the next place. The Revolutionary Army camped here during the winter on more than one occasion. There was a lot about Washington, his officers and the regular army soldiers.

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We made camp at French Creek State Park which was a wonderful spot. It was quiet, pretty and clean. Maddie discovered a trail off the back of our campsite obviously made by other kids and probably adults since it ended in a small clearing with a fire pit not made by rangers. Maddie loved that spot. It was a perfect place for playing Narnia or King Arthur which she did with abandon while we set up the tent and worked on dinner. Here are some of her photos with her new big hand me down camera from Poppa Bill of the campsite.
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The next morning we were up and on our way to Valley Forge! Sort of….the directions were a bit muddled and combined with bad road signs (as in no road signs!) it took a bit of work to get us there but we did indeed make it!
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Baldwin was along for the ride so he could report back to the rangers at the Saratoga National Park! We had some fun in the visitors center first and visited the gift shop to get an audio CD tour of the encampment and, of course, some junior ranger pins! There was a Junior Ranger program here as well. Maddie and I sat down in some benches to check what she would need to complete when we overheard a man next to us. He was in wonder that the revolution started before 1776. Maddie looked at me with big round eyes and said “What??” meaning she couldn’t believe an adult wouldn’t know that fact. Later, when we were out of earshot, Brian and I explained that we felt it was a failure of his education (meaning both parents and school) and that we are glad the National Parks are there to help him fill in the missing information. He was reading and paying attention so there isn’t much more we could ask of him! She agreed but was still amazed that someone who appeared to be not much older than her own parents was missing some vital historical facts. After the visitor center we set out on the tour road. The first stop was at the re-created soldier huts. There was an interpretive ranger working there dressed as a soldier. We talked to him about the huts and soldier’s life then asked about his job since I overheard the him tell the people ahead of us that he had been a ranger for 25 years! He talked to Maddie a bit about the job and how it would be hard but not impossible to get a position. He finished up by telling her he hoped she would make it because they need her!

Momma’s photos:

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This photo is about 2 steps in from the one up top with Maddie taking her first photo of the day. Notice who is now carrying the bag and tripod! Lucky girl to have an attentive Daddy to help her out!

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Maddie’s photos:
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Then we went to the Washington Memorial Arch. Such good shots here!

Momma’s photos
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Maddie’s photos
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Washington’s Headquarters’s was the next stop. This was the house where he lived with Martha while planning strategy with his officers. Hamilton and Lafayette were here as well. We went into the train station first which gave some background about the house and the huts out back. Washington’s bodyguard, an elite force, stayed in these huts.
Momma’s photos
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Maddie’s photos
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We had a little bird watching there too! Can you find the goldfinches?
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We also made a stop at the artillery park before moving on to the Washington Memorial Chapel.
Maddie’s photos
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The chapel is beautiful. The stained glass is gorgeous and symbolism is everywhere. Maddie was enthralled with the entire thing! She was having some trouble focusing on her photography skills while trying to take it all in. The chapel is still an active church. I looked down the aisle and told Brian it was hard enough to walk down the aisle at our own church to get married…I can’t imagine walking down that one! Maddie thinks she could do it in a heartbeat…Brian and I told her to win the lottery if she wants that to happen!

Momma’s photos
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Maddie’s photos
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Looking out from the courtyard next to the chapel with the Washington Monument and flag in the distance

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After that stop we went back to the visitor center to turn in Maddie’s Junior Ranger packet and get her badge. We learned a valuable lesson here as well! Usually they just check the packet, tell Maddie she did a great job and hand the badge over. This time a volunteer checked Maddie’s packet (an adorable grandmotherly type woman) and she asked one of the rangers to swear Maddie in as a Junior Ranger. Did Momma have her camera? No. Was Daddy with us? No, he was parked in front of the visitor center wondering what was taking us so long. So from now on, no matter how far away the darn parking lot is or how little time we think we have, we are parking the car and bringing the camera! Major fail on the parentals there… But Maddie loved it and I am thinking it will happen again at another spot. I hope!

We then went around the block and up the road (Pennsylvania has odd traffic patterns I have to say!) to the John James Audubon Home. On the way we passed Freedom’s Foundation and stopped for some pictures of the giant flag and flagpole and statues.
Maddie’s photos
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Unfortunately the home of Audubon itself was not open on mondays but we were able to walk the grounds. It was very neat because we suddenly remembered we were in the same place he used to walk and enjoy the outdoors! Bird houses and feeders were everywhere. We heard many but only saw a few plus a woodchuck/groundhog and some deer. There were large black statues of birds as we entered too!

Momma’s photos
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Maddie’s photos
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The next day we made our way around the corner (really!) to the Hopewell Furnace National Historic Park. We meant to simply check it out and mark it off for later. The rangers talked us into walking through the village and allowing Maddie to complete the simpler of the 2 Junior Ranger booklets they had available. So we ended up being there for 1 1/2 hours. That is actually record time for our family in any type of National Park, Historical Monument or museum! We would love to go back there another time. It was very interesting! The furnace made iron which was then molded into cannon for the revolutionary war and stayed in operation making many items including the Hopewell Furnance line until the 1900s. Maddie got another badge and we were on our way to Hershey, PA!
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We had a fun time in Hershey! Street lamps with hershey kiss tops, candy everywhere…who couldn’t have fun right? We spent some time in the gift shop area then we made our own desserts! This was a lot of fun. Maddie and I chose a cookie while Brian chose a cupcake then we headed over to the toppings bar to load up on frosting and candy to put on top of it. While we waited for the baked goods to arrive we got to play with edible paint. Yum!
All photos in Hershey by Momma!
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We also took the Chocolate Factory Tour which is not actually in the chocolate factory but a simulation. While it would’ve been interesting…there were singing cows. Loud singing cows. They drowned out the more interesting information we were trying to glean from the overview we were getting in our little car taking us through the exhibit so that was a bit disappointing. What was not disappointing however was the trolley tour through Hershey. We had excellent seats right in the front and an even better tour guide who truly loved Milton Hershey’s story and made it come alive. Did you know that Milton Hershey and his wife started a school for orphans and poor children? At the end of his life Milton signed over all his holdings in the Hershey company to the school and it is still active today! Any time you purchase a Hershey product part of the proceeds go to supporting the school and the children living there. A wonderful legacy to leave behind!

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After leaving Hershey we headed back home….very late! We were tired but happy!! And we still have more vacation left! Yay!!!

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