Friday, October 30, 2015

Photos on Friday: Trees at Oatlands

Last month we visited the beautiful Oatlands Plantation. We walked around the grounds and gardens for a bit before taking the house tour and noticed all of the beautiful trees located on the property. 

I already knew there were some unique and interesting trees there, but usually have gone during the spring or summer when the gardens are in full bloom which previously captured my attention. This trip we looked a lot more at the trees. 

[ Want to learn more about Oatlands Plantation? Check out my detailed post, which includes lots of photos ]

Today's Photos on Friday post highlights a few of the trees we saw:

I remember this Japanese Maple tree from previous visits, it is located behind the historic greenhouse located on the property. While the outside is very pretty, what's neat is looking underneath....

This is what visitors will find if they peek underneath the above tree

Historic tree on the property. The sign you see asks visitors not to climb on it

I found these roots intriguing

Monday, October 26, 2015

10 fun facts about Skyline Drive (Virginia)

Skyline Drive is a part of Shenandoah National Park and is a long stretch of beautiful road located in Virginia's mountains. My first trip into the park was in 2012 and I was immediately hooked and, the more I travel the park, the more I'm finding there is to love.

A glimpse of the Shenandoah River and some surrounding towns. This photo was taken from one of the northern overlook points

If you want more than just a glimpse of Skyline Drive, you're going to want to set aside several hours. The road stretches for 105 beautiful miles and is the only public road inside of the park. 

A couple of years ago, finally had a year where we spotted several bears. This was taken near Big Meadows, mile marker 51.

In addition to the lovely overlooks, there are numerous trails located throughout Shenandoah National Park as well (to date, I've only gotten off the road on a few trips, we've done both ranger-led hikes and self-ones. We've seen wildlife, fauna, waterfalls and other forms of nature's beautiful handiwork along some trails. I even ran across a cemetery one day).

Views on Oct. 24, 2015
Want to learn more about this beautiful place? Here are some fun facts to know.

10 fun facts about Skyline Drive:

1. Skyline Drive starts in Northern Virginia in Front Royal (near Route 66 and 340), it is one of four entrance/exit points to Shenandoah National Park. The Front Royal entrance is mile marker 0.

Fall foliage along Skyline Drive (2015)

2. The other three points are at Route 211 (exit for Luray) at Thornton Gap, Route 33 at Swift Run Gap and Route 64/Route 250 at Rockfish Gap. This is the end of Skyline Drive at marker 105 and is located in the Waynesboro-Charlottesville area.

3. The speed limit is 35 mph throughout the park (some curvy spots of the road are reduced).

4. There are 75 overlooks where you can enjoy the spectacular views of different areas. Be prepared because temperatures can vary from overlook to overlook as can the wind conditions. Each mountain has its own weather. In the fall we wear layers and also throw some winter coats in the trunk - just in case. One year we did actually use them.

A Shenandoah sunrise

5. There is a rock tunnel located around mile marker 33. This tunnel, built in 1932, is known as Marys Rock Tunnel and is just south of the Route 211 exit. The tunnel is 12' 8" for vehicle clearance. Beautiful photo op and the engineering is incredible. It really integrates well with nature.

Marys Rock Tunnel

6. 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail runs through Shenandoah National Park.

7. Big Meadows, located at mile marker 51, is the largest developed area in the park. In addition to some interesting views outside (who expects to see a huge meadow in a mountain range?), there are also exhibits located here in the visitor's center.  I did not expect to come across a museum the first time we traveled the full 105 miles and, being I dig that stuff, it was a nice surprise.

[ Related reading: Reviews: Big Meadows Lodge ]

Big Meadows - taken Oct. 2014

8.  The elevation various along Skyline Drive, you can be in the 2,000 range and a few minutes later rise to the 3,000-foot range. The highest point is Hawksbill Mountain at 4,050 feet. The second highest is Stony Man Mountain, which is 4,010 feet.

9. It takes approximately 3 hours to drive the full 105 mile road. You can drive any or all of Skyline Drive. If you like to stop and take photos and want to see the full route, plan for the day. 

It's fun to park and wander a bit further along trails found alongside Skyline Drive

Wildflowers spotted in October 2015 at one of the overlook points

10. When you pay your park entrance fee (or present your NPS pass), park rangers will offer to give you a map highlighting points and mile markers on Skyline Drive; I find this is a great resource, keep it handy when you are on your trip. You'll also receive a pamphlet with park information and schedule of daily events (i.e. ranger talks, presentations, hikes, etc.)

A starry morning, just before sunrise in fall 2017
Every year my family makes an effort to try and see at least a part of Skyline during October to get up close and personal with the magnificent fall foliage that can be seen in these mountains. We've done the entire 105-mile stretch several times.

Fall foliage along Skyline Drive (Oct. 2015)

Whether you do it all, or just in part, it truly is a great experience and one I highly recommend (aiming to do it in the spring one of these days too). For more fun facts and information about the park and accommodations, visit the Skyline Drive blog.

Update: We finally made this drive in the summer. What a fabulous day! If you're looking for a summer day or weekend trip from the District or Northern Virginia, we found it to be a fantastic late July outing. Spring is on next year's agenda!

Literally hundreds and hundreds of butterflies are to be seen in July on Skyline Drive
Taken July 29, 2016

Friday, October 23, 2015

Photos on Friday: Building The National Museum of African American History and Culture

Over the last year or two, I've taken a number of photos of the construction for the soon-to-be-opened National Museum of African American History and Culture. The newest of Smithsonian Museums, it is scheduled to open sometime in 2016.

Today's Photos on Friday post shares photos taken in 2015 during  Jan., May and Sept., highlighting different stages of the construction. (I could have sworn I had taken a few last year, but unfortunately can't seem to locate these right now, if I find them, I'll update).

Except for the first photo, these images are posted in the order they were taken during 2015.

(Update Jan. 17, 2016: I was just reading this morning the museum is scheduled to open in the fall)
Arial shot of The National Museum of African American History and Culture. This was taken when I on a Washington Monument tour from the top of the monument in Sept. 2015

Sign and walls visible in Jan. 2015
Jan. 2015

January 2015

This one was taken through a plexi-glass view which is why it looks a little blurry. This window was set up so passerby could view the construction. Taken May 2015
Getting close to finish! Taken Sept. 2015

Another view taken in Sept. 2015

Monday, October 19, 2015

Sugarloaf Craft Festival comes to the Dulles Expo Center

Kids' show in 2009
Every year the Sugarloaf Craft Festival comes to the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, Va. 

Whether you're looking to do some holiday shopping, are interested in the arts and craftsmanship, want to do some holiday shopping or looking to do something fun with the family, the Sugarloaf Craft Festival might be just what you're hoping to find. 

This show seems to grow every year. Last I went there were 250 artists, but for 2015 it is advertised there will be more than 300 artists from all over the United States, many of which are very well-known local artists. The expertise visitors will get the opportunity to see firsthand includes ceramics, metal spinning, wood turning, culinary arts and more.

Many artists who will be showcasing their work have exhibited in galleries and museum shows. This artists' marketplace has lots of great things happening throughout the weekend on their schedule. For instance, visitors can enjoy a variety of family entertainment and learning which include demos, live musical performances, and children's activities. There's even a puppet show put on by Middle Earth Studios.

This year's Sugarloaf Craft Festival takes place on Dec. 11, Dec. 12 and Dec. 13. Friday and Saturday hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday is from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For pricing and coupons please see this festival page.

The Dulles Expo Center is conveniently located off Route 28 (not too far from I-66 - a couple of miles) and the address is 4320 Chantilly Shopping Center, Chantilly, Va. 20151.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

A visit to Leesburg Animal Park's "Pumpkin Village" fall festival

Leesburg Animal Park is a great day trip any time of the year, but during the fall season, the park launches its annual Pumpkin Village Fall Fest. At this time, the park is all decked out pumpkin-style. 

We took a ride out to Leesburg to check it out last weekend. It had been a few years since we last went (it was still called “Pumpkinville” at that time). Many of the fun things to do were still there, but it looked like had been somewhat rearranged with new things added since our last autumn visit. There was a mini-size hay maze for the kids, giant slides, several bounce houses, games, face painting and hay rides, to name a few. We did the obstacle course a couple of times too. 

All of the things to do in Pumpkin Village are included in admission, but the camel and pony rides cost an additional charge. 

In addition to the fall-related fun, the animal park is open as usual and visitors are allowed to pet and feed (animal food sold at the park) most of the animals, except the ones on special diets. 

We spent several hours during our visit and had a great time.  The Pumpkin Village festival at Leesburg Animal Park is ongoing seasonally and usually runs through the first weekend in November.  

Here are some photos from our recent visit:

Friday, October 16, 2015

Fall events at grand Northern Virginia historic homes

Entrance to Gunston Hall last year

As Halloween approaches and fall continues to be in full swing, many festivals are happening in Northern Virginia. 

Today I wanted to skip my usual "photos on Friday" theme and focus on events happening at some historic (and grand!) homes since these are coming up quickly.


This weekend is Oatlands' annual Harvest Festival on Sunday (Oct. 18) from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Family fun activities include live music, theatre, hayrides, crafts and games, to name a few. Music will be provided by the Shenandoah Travelers and theatre by Palooza. Food and drink also available for purchase. 

Admission price is $10 per person or $20 per family. This admission includes tours of the mansion and grounds.

Mount Vernon

Every year Mount Vernon [see my post on visiting this historic site] hosts its Fall Harvest Family Days. For 2015 this event takes place from Oct. 24-25 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. This event is included in regular admission prices to see the house and grounds. Visitors are welcomed to enjoy the 18th century dancing, a straw bale maze, apple roasting and corn husk doll making, to name a few events. Usually, boat rides are also available. If memory serves, river tours were discounted last year when we went. It was a great time out, we met some friends over there and had a blast. 

Gunston Hall

I've toured Gunston Hall many times and in 2014, I picked up a calendar while I was there and noticed there was a Halloween event and made a point to go check it out. We had a great time. There were story tellers, pumpkin and face painting, treats and some other fun and spooky surprises. There were also burying ground tours by lantern. 

This year's event takes place on Sat., Oct. 31 from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Priced at $25 per family which also includes tours of the home and grounds. [Here are some photos from last year.]

As I find more information, I'll be posting. Hope you've been enjoying the beautiful weather we've been having here in Northern Virginia. It's supposed to take a bit of a dip this weekend. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Fall family fun at Corn Maze in The Plains

If you’re looking for a day out to enjoy some fall family fun, Corn Maze in The Plains is a great option. I’ve been to this farm a number of times, but it had been a few years. Made it out that way over the weekend and, as in previous years, was a lot of fun. 

Entering the market/play area

The farm was set up much like it had been the last time I visited. You pay your admission in the shop and then head out to the play area where it’s a kid’s paradise with slides, swings, climbing fun and obstacle course, to name a few activities. 

Can she make it across and up the rope bridge?

There is even a mini hay maze for the tots who may be overwhelmed by the main attraction. And, of course, a hayride up the hill where you get a beautiful view of the landscape looking down.

Visitors can learn about farming, wildlife, and organics through the many exhibits spaced throughout the play area. The kids can visit with some of the animals too.

Bee trivia

The big event, of course, is the corn maze. Every year a new corn maze theme is introduced, and it is fun to see what theme the farm has come up with each year. This year’s theme is “Maze Attack”. I don’t want to spoil what it means, but it wasn’t what I thought it would be.  

We had a good time. We found 5 of the 6 stations and clues (missed #4, but the family was ready to move on from #5) and it took us about 45 minutes to weave our way through the maze.

Into the corn maze we go!
Under the victory bridge - not out yet!

Corn Maze in The Plains is conveniently located off I-66. After you’re done playing for the day, you can buy your seasonal pumpkins and other decorations. If you need a lunch break, there is a tent and picnic area, along with a vendor selling food. There is also a great farmer's market next door on Sundays.

This fall festival opens late September and runs through early November - see the official site for hours and directions (the older kids might enjoy visiting the corn maze at night - this is something we haven't tried yet, but are considering it for a future visit).