Sunday, July 31, 2016

Great day trips from DC: Spotting wildlife along Skyline Drive

On Friday morning we decided we would spend the weekend as an "adventure" and just kind of see where the days would lead us. We left mid-morning on Friday and headed to Orange, Virginia to visit Montpelier, but then on a whim decided to continue along I-66 west (and decided we'd go to Montpelier on Saturday instead). What we ended up doing was stopping at Aldi in Front Royal to pick up some things for lunch and then drove to the entrance of Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park.

Couldn't have picked a better day! We started off at mile marker one, stopping at many overlooks and other spaces along the way. Before we even got to the entrance, we spotted a turtle around the bend. It was trying to cross the road, so we waited to warn other motorists until it made its way safely. 

This was one fast-moving turtle! It only took a couple of minutes to cross to safety

As soon as we entered the actual park we spotted many different birds, all of them, big and small, were too quick for me to catch a photo. I did spot one large bird that I managed to snag a pic, but I couldn't say what type it is (if anyone knows, please do let me know in the comments, thank you!)

Not the clearest photo as this bird was moving along quickly at a distance, but it was fascinating to watch

What amazed us was the number of butterflies fluttering about; we literally saw dozens in any given spot, even during the times we didn't stop the car. They, along with bees, beetles and other small flying critters, were sharing the abundant wildflower space throughout the ride along the mountain road. We stopped often to take photos of them.

Butterfly duo spotted 

Speaking of wildflowers, it seems July is a pretty stellar month for views. I've only made this trip during the fall, so now I'm intrigued to see what spring would have in store.

We saw purples, pinks, whites, orange, yellow and many other shades during our ride along the mountain road.
I even spotted a black bear! Unfortunately, I didn't get a pic. This is the spot where I saw him.

Where I saw the bear was off in the distance to the right. We were in a parking lot at the time. I opened my door so I could get the pic without the tree in the way, but the bear must of heard the click. He quickly took off.

When we reached Big Meadows (mile marker 51), we were happily surprised. We had been trying to spot a monarch butterfly all day with no luck, but we were rewarded at this stop. She was pretty elusive, but after about 15 minutes she stopped and sat on the pathway for a good five minutes. Our patience paid off. As a bonus, some other butterflies joined her.

I think the next time I write about things to do with the kids on hot summer days, I think I'm going to include some outdoor things too. While it was 87ish degrees at home, according to what my phone said, we enjoyed temperatures in the 73 to 75 degree range all day. We spent hours in the park and drove as far as Swift Run Gap (this around mile marker 62) and exited at Route 33 to take the highway home.

All in all, this was a fabulous day trip.  Fall foliage here is spectacular, but the summer is pretty stunning too.

[ Related Reading: 10 Fun Facts About Skyline Drive ]

Friday, July 22, 2016

Summer of Sunflowers coming soon to Burnside Farms

July has been a busy month for me for various reasons, including a week out of town. When I arrived home yesterday I realized the end of July was near, and that means it's usually time for the "Summer of Sunflowers" at Burnside Farms in Haymarket. 

summer sunflowers at Burnside Farms
This photo was taken at the old field before Burnside moved its summer display to a new and larger field

This morning I looked up their schedule to see when the sunflower festival would open and it looks like we still have some time. A message on the farm's website says:

**The 2016 sunflower season is running a few weeks behind schedule due to the rainy spring we had. We expect to open late July/early August this year.**

According to the farm's Facebook page, they will open once 20 percent of the fields are in bloom. Prices for the 2016 season have been set. Admission will be $6 per person (children under 2 are free). This includes access to the fields, picnic areas, a giant Jump Pad, corn hole games, photo ops, bubble stations and a kids' play area. There will also be a hayride offered this year. 

summer of sunflowers in Haymarket
Taken at the new field last year

Also, as customary, the farm will offer an annual pass. This year's cost will be $10 and is good for multiple visits. Burnside anticipates mid-August being the best time to visit if only coming once.

One of the highlights of the festival is the ability to pick your own flowers. Prices for this year have been set at sunflowers $1.50 a stem, gladiolus $1 a stem and cosmos at $.50 a stem. 

If you are looking for family photos, like to take photos of nature, this festival is a great opportunity for both. 
summer of sunflowers in Haymarket, Virginia
There are lots of different bees, butterflies and other lovely critters flittering and buzzing around the sunflowers

Burnside has a few different fields, the summer flowers are located at 2617 Logmill Rd, Haymarket, VA 20169.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Sully Historic Site hosts Civil War Encampment Weekend

Sully Historic Site offers many events throughout the year that brings the past to the present for visitors to learn more about specific eras in history. Every August Sully hosts its Civil War Encampment Weekend. The public is invited to come watch and interact with living history participants as they go through their day during these war-torn years of the 19th century.

Visitors who attend will see firsthand how people lived, worked and/or served in one of the armies during this era. Living history participants will "skirmish" and you'll see infantry, artillery and cavalry as it existed in the 1860s. 

You can also view and/or ask questions to learn more about this pivotal time in American history. See what encampments looked like and also experience live music and fashion of that era. 

The Civil War Weekend is one of a series of historic weekends and events the county-owned facility runs. These are all family-friendly events. 

As customary with any of Sully Historic Site's events, a house tour of the 1794 house is also included in the price of admission. For the Civil War Weekend event, prices are $9 for adults, $7 for seniors and children. Sully Historic Site's address is 3650 Historic Sully Way, Chantilly, Va.

Photos were taken in 2008 -we had a great day out.

Update: This event has been canceled for 2017.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Photos on Friday: Views from the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center's observation tower

The Smithsonian is a well-known institution that has grown to 19 museums. One of its newer additions is the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center which is a part of the National Air & Space Museum. Located about 25 miles west of Washington, D.C. in Chantilly, Virginia, this museum offers some things its counterpart downtown does not.

One of the cool attributes about the Udvar-Hazy Center is its observation tower. Located just south of Dulles International Airport, visitors to the museum can take the elevator up the tower and watch the planes coming in and out of Dulles. Additionally, there is a lower level where visitors can learn all about how airports work and listen to a feed from Newark Liberty International Airport.

The observation tower at the Udvar-Hazy Center. This was taken in July 2012 when Space Shuttle Discovery arrived - a lot of people at the museum for the ceremony. These were the early arrivals before the museum opened.

Looking to the east - in the forefront is a partial view of the museum's parking lot

Looking to the northwest, you can see Dulles Airport, about 4 miles away

It's fun to watch the planes take off and land from the observation tower
Newark Feed found on YouTube - this is what visitors can see.