On The Trail

Homeschool Hiking

Thomas, George, Grant & Lee plus the Blue Ridge Parkway

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Last week we headed off to visit Virginia. Last summer Maddie asked if we could visit Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson. Brian did a lot of research and found a cabin for us at Bear Creek Lake State Park in Virginia. It was located in a central spot so we could also visit Appomattox Court House and the Blue Ridge Parkway as well as being a beautiful spot itself. The cabin had a great room, 2 bedrooms, a bathroom and a lovely wrap around porch.

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This was the view from the porch the first morning we were there. Isn’t it beautiful? The birds were making quite a racket! The night before we had taken a small walk down the path to the lake. We saw a pileated woodpecker, song sparrows and a Great Blue Heron catching a fish for his dinner!

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Monday morning we took a small hike around the lake. We were trying to identify trees and had fun checking out the other plants. We also saw a butterfly and several other insects.

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We used our field guides to identify the butterfly as a red spotted purple. It was really cool…..more on those later! Maddie was very busy with her camera throughout the week. We will put her photos in a post of her own!

In the afternoon we headed to Appomattox Court House National Historic Park. Here we learned, contrary to every class any of us ever took regarding the Civil War (including the history major!) that the surrender didn’t take place in a courthouse but in a private home. Court House in this case is 2 words and means the county seat not a building. We were struck here by the obvious respect Grant accorded Lee. He was given the larger desk and more comfortable chair. Maddie worked very hard on the Junior Ranger booklet. This was easily one of the hardest ones we’ve ever done but she did get it done! Her reward was a special junior ranger badge for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, some cards with photos of the buildings on the site and a printing made on the old printing press that is a copy of the parole the Southern soldiers received.

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On Tuesday we spent the day at Monticello. We had a special behind the scenes tour. The tour lasted 2 hours and was very enjoyable. The guide was knowledgeable, cheerful and loved Maddie’s story of her first memory of Thomas Jefferson. We told her about it on the way to the kitchen. It was a book called Thomas Jefferson’s Feast and explained how much he enjoyed cooking and that he introduced macaroni and cheese to America. Of course, the more she learned about him the better she liked him until he became her favorite founding father. Our tour took us through the house everyone gets to see plus the upper floors where most people do not get to go. We couldn’t take photos in the house but we were able to take photos on the grounds. Maddie loved every minute of that and was very busy trying to get photos of the house without people around and got her macros lens out when we went around the garden. It was very hot that day…almost 90! We really enjoyed the house and grounds despite the heat. While we didn’t learn anything astounding and new, we did learn little bits that made Jefferson seem a little more real.

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On Wednesday we headed to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We spent time on a short section ending at Peaks of Otter Visitor Center. It was another beautiful day with temperatures in the 70s. We had great visibility at the overlooks and saw more butterflies than we could keep track of! Most of them were red spotted purples and tiger swallowtails. Maddie had her aquascope to check out some of the creeks. Maddie completed the Junior Ranger sheet for the James River visitor center earning a badge for the Blue Ridge Parkway and had a great conversation with the supervisor of rangers at the Peaks of Otter Visitor center. He told Maddie that he became a ranger because he couldn’t sit still in school and this let him be outside all the time. Maddie responded with “I know exactly what you mean!”. Maddie also told Brian and I later on how much she appreciates it when the rangers really check her work on the junior ranger book.

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Thursday we checked out of our cabin. When I made the last walk through I noticed a piece of paper on the desk in Maddie’s room and had to take a picture. I hope whoever checked our cabin and took the laundry enjoyed their note!

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After checking out we headed to Mount Vernon.  The house was really neat and the farm had a unique 16 sided barn of George Washington’s own design. We also enjoyed the museum. They did not live up to Monticello however! The staff was not as cheerful and it was so much more crowded it was hard to think!

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We had a great time! Planning may be starting for next year’s trip, once again centered around a national park.On the way home we saw this group headed to Washington DC. Maddie and I particularly enjoyed seeing the one lady in riding her motorcycle in the middle of the men! Happy Memorial Day!

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