Saturday, April 10, 2021

Three Budget-friendly Day Trips in Dover DE Sure to Please the Kids

An Airplane Petting Zoo Is Incredible Fun for Kids of All Ages!

Even if you're not an aviation geek, you'll likely enjoy the Air Mobility Command Museum. This is a great place for kids and families to explore aviation history. The different shapes of the planes are impressive -- a couple of them are bigger than most houses -- and seem more like ships than airplanes; it's a wonder they can take off at all.

Kids of all ages will enjoy climbing up into the planes and exploring them. In fact, this is a particularly kid-friendly daytrip destination. Best of all? It's free. (Although, please consider offering a donation.)

Start your visit with the control tower -- the original for the Dover Airforce Base. From there, you get a bird's eye view of the outside airplanes, plus you can see the current landing strips on Dover AFB. After you eyeball the planes and figure out which ones you really, really want to see, then head down to the planes to start touring.

You can admire the opulence of the VC-9C, more famously known as Airforce 2, the airplane that between 1975 and 2011 flew the likes of Vice Presidents Al Gore, Dick Cheney, and Joe Biden, as well as first ladies Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Hillary R. Clinton, Laura Bush, and Michelle Obama.

My personal favorite is the behemoth C-5A Galaxy plane. It is ginormous, and is bigger than my house. There's also the Air Force’s largest and only strategic airlifter, the C-5 Galaxy, which can carry more cargo farther distances than any other aircraft and the C-133 Cargomaster, which transported America’s large missiles. It's styling reflects its design in the 1950s.

Every third Saturday of the month through October are Open Cockpit Days, which provide full access to many of the museum’s aircraft 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. (if weather permits and tour guides are available) -- and that's when you want to go. Tour guides stationed in the open aircraft will describe the history of the planes and their missions; what's really cool is that the tour guides -- all volunteers, by the way -- are often retired crew members of these airplanes, so their descriptions are from personal experience and bring the aircraft to life for visitors.

After you see the outside planes, head inside to the historic hanger and the welcome air conditioning. There's still more to see! You'll want to allow yourself at least an hour, but you could easily spend 3 hours at the museum.

Good to know ahead of time: If you go up and into the airplanes, wear sneakers or appropriate footwear -- flip flops or open healed shoes, I learned by real-life experience, are dangerous when climbing into the cockpits of some of the planes. Other than beneath the wings of the planes, there is no shade where the planes are parked, so wear hats and put on sun block.


The John Dickinson Plantation Offers Lessons about Freedom

Still got time? I recommend you also stop by the John Dickinson Plantation, just 10 minutes away from the Air Mobility Command Museum, to learn about a white man who -- unusual for his time in the late 1700s -- believed that freedom applied to all people, even those enslaved on his own plantation. John Dickinson also was a central contributor to the start of our nation.

He inherited his family's plantation and enslaved community. But, unusually enough for his time, this white man thought freedom applied not just to white people but also to black people. In 1776, he conditionally freed some of his enslaved community -- men and women older than 21 were freed (it is unknown why he imposed this condition). By 1787, he fully freed all remaining slaves. For his time, he was progressive. Without slaves, he was unable to work his plantation, which he then rented out, so unfortunately, slavery continued on the plantation grounds.

As you tour the house, you'll learn more about Dickinson and the house itself.  The Colonial-era home built in 1745 and reconstructed outbuildings showcase the daily life of a plantation, including the lives and activities of the enslaved and free African Americans. The house tours lead you through the basement, first and second floors of the house, which have been restored to reflect the period when John Dickinson lived there.


First State Heritage State Park

The First State Heritage Park at Dover is Delaware's first urban "park without boundaries," linking historic and cultural sites in the historic city that has been the seat of state government since 1777.
First State Heritage Park includes the Biggs Museum, the John Bell House, the Johnson Victrola Museum, Legislative Hall, the Old State House, and the Woodburn and Hall House. You could easily spend a full day exploring these old buildings and museums.

Located on the historic Green in Dover, the Old State House has served as a focal point in the state's civic life for over 200 years. In addition to a tour of the historic building, exhibits discuss the plight of enslaved individuals in Delaware as well, including one that describes how, on October 14, 1797, James Summers walked into the Recorder of Deeds office seeking to purchase the freedom of his two enslaved children: Thomas, aged five, and Ruth, aged 7. A copy of the original Manumission Transcript is on display.

The oldest wooden structure on The Green is the John Bell House, now serving as the interpretive center for the First State Heritage Park, where visitors can learn about the history of Dover and take thematic walking tours around Dover’s historic Green. The building -- most likely a work room rather than a home -- was standing in 1787 when statesmen ratified the Constitution at the Golden Fleece Tavern, located just across The Green. The building was owned by several generations of the John Bell family and through the years, saw several owners and uses.

The Johnson Victrola Museum highlights the life and achievements of this businessman, innovator, philanthropist and progressive employer; exhibits include phonographs, recordings, memorabilia, trademarks, objects, and paintings that highlight Mr. Johnson's successful business enterprises and chronicle the development of the sound-recording industry.

Woodburn and Hall House, the home of Delaware's governors since 1965, was built around 1798. Next door is the Victorian-era Hall House, which serves as the Governor's guest house.

The best time to go? On the First Saturday of each month, the park offers a series of thematic programs and events, and several of the historical buildings are only open on first Saturdays.


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Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Southern Carroll County Barn Quilt Driving Tour

This four patch quilt block on a bank barn in Westminster was popular in the early 1900s.
This block was chosen by the farm owners to represent the soybeans and corn grown on their
80 acre farm. Four generations of the Nelson family have farmed this land since the farm was established in 1868. 

If you love barns, you're in for a treat! Carroll County's Barn Quilt Trail will draw you back to the county’s agrarian roots by bringing you to historic barns and old-timey quilt block patterns. Although not all the quilt blocks are of classic patterns -- some are original designs by the farm owners that tell a story about their family or the farming operation where the barn quilt block is installed.

The maple leaf quilt block is installed on a rebuilt bank barn in Westminster. This property was purchased by the
Bollingers in 1945 when they were forced to leave their neighboring farm after it was taken by eminent
domain and flooded to create the Liberty Reservoir. Poplar timber from their previous farm was used to build this barn.

I started really exploring driving tours during the height of the pandemic, because I wanted to develop new content for MidAtlanticDayTrips but still maintain social distancing and minimize contact with others not in my immediate family. I also found myself, suddenly, with a lot of time on my hands! That's why so many of these articles are appearing months after I actually went on the daytrip.

Although the website below doesn't provide a recommended order, we've developed a suggested, 45-mile route that will bring you to 11 of the barns in the southern portion of the county. We went one evening after dinner. As a result, we had to contend with the setting sun, often darkening the photos. On the other hand, the late evening sun also lent a magical feel to the fields, as I'd hoped!

If you go to all 11 barns listed below, you can plan to be out and about between 90 minutes to 2 hours (which allows time for finding a good place to pull over to photograph the barns). In between barns, keep your eyes open -- you're likely to see many more barns along the way! We had no concerns with GPS along this particular tour, although a following visit to the barns in the northern part of the county, we struggled to maintain consistent connectivity.

This block (somewhate faded), installed on a late 1800s bank barn, is an adaptation of a traditional pieced
block called “Sister’s Fancy.” The owner altered the block pattern to include a Black-Eyed Susan in the center
block and further honored the State of Maryland by using the state fl ag colors of red, black, gold and white.

Keep in mind that most, if not all, of these barns are on working farms. Don't pull in or obstruct the drives leading to the farms. And don't trespass. All of these are visible from the road! Which leads to our next tip -- carefully consider where you pull over, as some of the roads don't have wide shoulders and inevitably, there always seems to be a vehicle right behind you when you arrive at one of the barns!

This sculpture, located at the Farm Museum in Westminster, was created by
Charlie Maiorana, a local multi-media artist, who was inspired by the barn quilt blocks throughout the county.

Although the area is loaded with farms, suburbia is creeping in. The upside is, if you want to stop for a bite to eat, you will pass plenty of places to do so.

1. 801 Hoods Mill Road, Woodbine, MD (Marked as Barn 13 on the barn quilt tour.)

2. 201 Liberty Road, Sykesville, MD (Marked as Barn 15 on the barn quilt tour.)

3. 2526 Bollinger Mill Road, Finksburg, MD (Marked as Barn 16 on the barn quilt tour.)

4. 1901 Old Washington Road, Westminster, MD (Marked as Barn 25 on the barn quilt tour.)

5. 1835 Nelson Road, Westminster, MD (Marked as Barn 17 on the barn quilt tour.)

6. 500 S Center Street, Westminster, MD (Marked as Barn 1 on the barn quilt tour.)

This quilt block, a pattern known as Eight Points Allover, is installed on a bank barn
rebuilt on the original stone foundation after a fire consumed the upper portion.

7. 718 Chapel Road, Westminster, MD (Marked as Barn 3 on the barn quilt tour.)

8. 1300 Old Westminster Road, Westminster, MD (Marked as Barn 25 on the barn quilt tour.)

9. 2425 Marston Road, New Windsor, MD (Marked as Barn 24 on the barn quilt tour.)

10. 3835 Baker Road, Winfield, MD (Marked as Barn 32 on the barn quilt tour.)

A beautiful horse wanted to be in all my photos of the Char-Lene Farm
in Mount Airy. He did whatever he could to get in the way!

11. 2504 Gillis Road, Mount Airy, MD (Marked as Barn 14 on the barn quilt tour.)\

This traditional pieced four-square block on the barn behind this horse's butt is one of the original 12 blocks

on the Barn Quilt Trail. This block got its name from the rail fences formerly used to define fields -- you can
still see this type of fence in residential landscaping as well as around the fields at the nearby Gettysburg Battlefield.

Know before you go: if you go during the day, chances are you'll have to contend with farm vehicles, including big trucks delivering or picking up from the farms. Be careful and considerate. There are often animals in the fields in front of the barns -- don't go reaching out and touching the cute farm animals -- or if you do, and they bite, well, you've been warned. Don't do that.


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Saturday, April 3, 2021

7 Amazing, Must-See Views in West Virginia

"I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush 
of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. 
I thought, 'This is what it is to be happy.' " 
        -- Sylvia Plath

Seeing the beauty of nature is good for the soul -- and West Virginia has more than its fair share of beautiful forests and scenic views. After a decade or more of visiting the state, here are suggestions for seven must-see scenic vistas that capture the essences of wild, wonderful, West Virginia.

Not all the views are readily available by your vehicle -- for some, you'll have to hike and in one case, take a scenic train ride. But each view is worth the effort you put into getting there!

Spruce Knob 

At 4,863 feet above sea level, Spruce Knob is West Virginia's highest point, and the highest peak in the Allegheny Mountains, and for this reason, is worth checking out. You'll enjoy a winding (but paved) drive to get up to Spruce Knob.

The summit is accessible both via trails and a paved Forest Service road, and is crowned with a stone lookout tower amid a mixture of boulder fields, meadows and trees.

Getting there: Paved access is from U.S. Route 33/West Virginia Route 28 about 2 miles south of Riverton. Briery Gap Road (County Route 33/4), Forest Roads 112 and 104 have been paved to provide a hard-surfaced road to the summit. Please note: Forest Roads 104 and 112 are not maintained in the winter. Impassable conditions can be expected any time from mid-October to mid-April.

Table Rock

The hike out to Table Rock, through the backcountry of Canaan Mountain, is short -- just 2.4 miles there and back -- but beautiful, through a hardwood forest of beech, black cherry, maple and yellow birch and then through thick rhododendron thickets before emerging onto the rock outcrop itself.

The drive to get there will take as long as the hike itself -- but that's okay, it's a beautiful 9.5 mile drive through the Monongahela National Forest and is worthy of the drive itself.

The rock outcrop looks over the Dry Fork and Cheat River valleys, and on a clear day, it feels as if you can see forever.

For more details about this hike, click here.

Getting there: From Davis, WV, travel south on WV Route 32 for just over 3 miles to Canaan Loop Road. Turn right onto Canaan Loop Road. Within a few feet, the road becomes gravel and narrows even further once past the few houses. Travel about 9.5 miles along Canaan Loop Road to the trail head on the left, which is marked.

Olsen Tower

Olsen Tower is perched at the top of Backbone Mountain, just 20 minutes outside of Davis and Thomas (and Canaan Valley) and provides 360 degree views of both Blackwater Canyon and the Cheat River valley  If you're not up to climbing the 300 plus steps up Olsen Tower, then you can see almost the same view at the Fred Long Centennial park, an overlook along Rt 219 along the way to the turn off for Olsen Tower.

A roadside park, Centennial Park offers dramatic views from the summit across the Cheat River valley. The mountain has also been mapped as "North Ridge" and "The Devil's Backbone." There's also a shaded picnic bench.

We showed up at Olsen Tower, with the plan to climb those steps and see the 360 view -- but a rain squall rolled in and then the steps were wet and slippery. So we bailed. My son and his girlfriend climbed up two days later and confirmed, the view is magnificent!

Getting there: GPS it! I was doubtful, but followed the directions and got there easily -- both to the tower and to the overlook park. The forest road is well maintained and easily passable by all vehicles. 

Bald Knob 

Nestled in the mountains of West Virginia, Cass Scenic Railroad State Park offers scenic train rides to the top of Bald Knob. It also transports passengers back in time to relive an era when steam-driven locomotives played an essential role in local industry.

For the full 4 ½ hour trip (there and back) to Bald Knob, you will leave Whittaker Station and proceed to Oats Run for the engines to take on additional water at a spring. The train then climbs up the mountain, finally reaching Bald Knob, the third highest point in West Virginia. The overlook at Bald Knob provides a spectacular view at an altitude of 4,700 feet.

Getting there: 242 Main Street, Cass, WV 24927

Lindy Point

Located in Blackwater Falls State Park, Lindy Point provides awesome views of the Blackwater River gorge. If you look for it, you can see Olsens Tower on the hillside opposite. Only a short walk -- you can't even call it a hike -- you'll appreciate the views and the rock outcropping.

Lindy Point is also a good place, if you've a mind to sit awhile, to bird watch. Several years ago, we saw a beautiful golden eagle soaring over the canyon.

Try going to the observation deck for a sunrise! Otherwise, this is an excellent short hike anytime of the year, but particularly in mid-summer when the rhododendron are in bloom, or during fall to catch the incredible autumn leaf colors!

Getting there: From Davis, head north on WV Rt 32, and turn left onto Blackwater Falls Road. At 1.2 miles, turn left onto Blackwater Lodge Road. Continue on Blackwater Lodge Road for about a mile, passing Blackwater Lodge, and continuing until the road becomes a gravel road / Canaan Loop Road. Just over 1.5 miles after the road becomes a gravel road, you'll see the trail head and parking for about 4 cars for the Lindy Point trailhead.

Bear Rocks

Catching the sunrise from Bear Rocks, in the Dolly Sods National Wilderness Area, is a family tradition, and each vacation in Canaan Valley will catch us getting up at 3:30 a.m. and starting the hour-plus drive down Laneville Road (with its multiple hairpin curves) and up FR 19 and FR 75 to reach Bear Rocks.

Bear Rocks, on the eastern edge of the plateau that includes the Dolly Sods Wilderness, is a remarkably scenic, windswept summit atop one of West Virginia's highest mountains. It is perched on a ridge of sandstone cliffs and is a rock outcropping with a 2,000 to 3,000-foot drop below. A distinctive feature of the area are stunted red spruce trees with flag-formed limbs pointing to the east – a result of the almost constant and often high-velocity winds.

If you go on a weekend, prepare to be joined by a multitude of like-minded folks, but if you go on a weekday, you're unlikely to encounter more than one or two others. One morning we got there VERY early, and heard bears growling and yawning as they foraged for their breakfasts, reminding us of how Bear Rocks got its name.

Getting there: Set your GPS for 2nd Ave in Davis, WV. Then, fill your tank with gas and head south on WV Rt 32/Appalachian Highway. After Canaan Valley State Park and Resort on your right, you'll head up a hill and then start down it again. On the left is Laneville Road. Take that left, and follow Laneville as it twists and winds through the mountainside. This is not driving for the faint of heart -- Laneville Road is narrow and has some hairpin curves as it curves along the contour of the mountainside and the locals  -- and other vacationers -- drive fast. As you look over the side, the flimsy guardrail is not reassuring. No worries -- if your vehicle tumbles over, chances are a couple of trees will stop it before it goes all the way down.

Laneville Road will deposit you at the base of Dolly Sods at Forest Road 19. Follow FR 19 up the mountain. About 3/4 of the way up on the right, opposite the Rohrbaugh Plains trail head, there's a picnic area and portapotties. This is the last opportunity to use the facilities with any semblance of dignity, so don't hesitate.

At the top of the mountain you have a choice: turn left onto FR 75 or head back down the other side of the mountain. Turn left! That'll take you along a relatively straight road along the ridge. You'll pass some trail heads on either side. To the right fairly early on, there's a lovely overlook (short walk out to the rocks). Definitely worth seeing -- and as the sign indicates, take your camera!

Cranny Crow Overlook

Just the name of Lost River State Park invites exploration, but a beautiful hike up the mountain will reveal this incredible view to you. Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy in the shelter at the overlook!

It's a popular hike for the park, with its commanding views of the surrounding countryside from 3,200 feet, and although Alltrails claims it's "moderately trafficked," we only encountered one other couple, on their way down as we were beginning our climb up the 954 elevation gain, which means that not only did it feel as if we were the only two people and a dog on the mountain -- we probably were!

Getting there: 321 Park Dr, Mathias, WV 26812-8088

What are your suggestions? I'm sure there are other must-see vistas in West Virginia -- I just haven't gotten to them yet!

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Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Eight Great Hikes, Kayaking, Ruins, Forgotten Cemeteries and even Ghost Hunting in Patapsco Valley State Park

Maryland's first -- and largest -- state park (not to be confused with much larger state forests) is strung out like glittering glass beads on a necklace along the Patapsco River south and west of Baltimore. 

Established in 1912, the Patapsco Valley State Park (PVSP) was Maryland's first state park. It's also Maryland's most visited park, serving as an urban oasis for the the crowded suburbs surrounding Baltimore.

PVSP was born out of the Patapsco State Forest Reserve, which was created in 1907 to protect the valley's forest and water resources, including the (then) newly built Bloede Dam (which has been, only recently, demolished). 

Today, numerous historical structures can be found in the park, from the ruins of stone houses and old mills to the Thomas Viaduct, still proudly carrying trains over the Patapsco River.

This is a park I've returned to over and over again. I've hiked it in the spring, summer, fall and winter. 

The park consists of several "areas": McKeldin, Daniels, Avalon, Glen Artney, Orange Grove, Pickall, Hollofield, and Hilton, each offering hiking, mountain biking, pavilions, camping or other recreation.

McKeldin Area: The park's most western section features multi-use trails for horseback riding, mountain biking and hiking, a disc golf course, fishing at the confluence of the North and South branches of the Patapsco River, and the Rapids area on the South Branch. Check out the McKeldin Rapids Hike to discover some lovely hiking along the Patapsco River.

Daniels Area: Now a ghost town, Daniels was formerly a busy little mill town, although only ruins and scattered cars and debris from Hurricane Agnes, which swept through the valley in the 1970s, remain. 

The Daniels Dam, which powered the mills back in the day, now only backs up the Patapsco River, making this area popular for canoeing and kayaking, fishing and swimming.

I've explored and written about the Daniels area multiple times, check out the links below to learn more about 

There are numerous ruins from the former inhabitants, including two churches...

...forgotten cemeteries and ...

....several homes, part of the former mill towns of Daniels (on the Howard County side of the river) and Guilford (on the Baltimore County side of the river).

Interestingly, America's first rail trail is in this area as well. Much of the Old Main Line Trail west of Daniels on the Howard County site follows the original alignment of the B&O Railroad as it was laid out in 1831. Part of this line was bypassed by a short realignment in 1838, and then completely bypassed in 1907. Bridge abutments and piers from the 1838 realignment are visible near Daniels Dam and about a half-mile upstream.

Hollofield Area: The park's center section features a 73-site campground, hiking trails, and shelters built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, plus a scenic overlook of the entire river valley.

Pickall Area: Picnic shelters and playgrounds.

Hilton Area: Located near Catonsville, the area has a small campground with mini-cabins, a nature center for children, tire playground, and access to the Saw Mill Branch Trail and other trails. 

The Buzzard Rock - Sawmill Trail Loop, a lovely hike accessed from Hilltop Road, takes you through the Hilton Area into the Avalon-Orange Grove Area and back again.

Avalon/Glen Artney/Orange Grove Area: The area features many historic sites including the Thomas Viaduct...

...the Old Gun Road Stone Arch Bridge...

...Orange Grove Flour Mill and the Swinging Bridge.

The focus of the Avalon Area is the Grist Mill Trail, a paved path which follows an old railroad grade that runs 2.5 miles along the Patapsco River. 

One of the most popular trails in the Orange Grove Area is the Cascade Falls Trail, which runs you along a stream to a lovely fall; this trail is accessible either via Landing Road in Ellicott City or from within the park boundaries itself.

Find your favorite trail and definitely devote some time to exploring this popular park! Let me know what your favorite trails are!

Hours: Dawn through dusk.


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