Sunday, July 27, 2014

Ranger Bill and the Bear Song

I remember Ranger Bill Jones from our camping trip last summer at Big Meadows. His genuine kindness and patience for children shined through immediately during his Junior Ranger program. 

So, I was happy to see Ranger Bill the first Friday we stayed at Loft Mountain.

I think the expression on his face while showing my 8 year old a bear foot print communicates how much he likes what he is doing.

Plus, Ranger Bill sang the "I Met a Bear" song. Once we got back to the car, I realized we had this song on one of our cds and we listened to it many times with new enthusiasm as we drove Skyline Drive.....but I still like Ranger Bill's rendition of the song better:

Saturday, July 26, 2014

What Is This Footprint?

One of the guests at a ranger program showed a photo on her cell phone of a strange animal track on the Simmons Gap fire road in the southern district of Shenandoah National Park.

The girls and I walked the fire road the next day not really expecting to find the print since it was 24 hours old, but my 8 year old has keen eyes and she spotted the track on the right just past the metal bridge.

While I was getting the camera ready, my 8 year old took her index and middle finger and made fingerprints in the third and fourth toes of the track. I told her not to do that next time!

Note that this track has four big toe prints and no claw marks. Bears have five toes and leave claw marks. A cat, however, has four toe pads and no claw marks since cats retract their claws until they need them.

Bobcat tracks are like house cats so they could not have been this animal. 

Mountain lion? My 8 year old is wearing a girls' size 2 shoe in this photo. Note her double sideways fingermarks on toes 3 and 4.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Evil Tick Beasts

While spending two weeks camping at Loft Mountain in Shenandoah National Park, I checked the girls and myself daily for ticks. Nearly every day, I found at least one embedded tick and many more that I flicked off before they could bite.

I remember finding a teeny tiny tick on my 3 year old and showing another mother in the bathroom. She was shocked how tiny ticks can be and told me that she had not checked herself or her children even once for ticks during their four day visit.

Even embedded ticks are easy to remove if you catch them within the first couple of hours. I take my needle nose tweezers, grab the tick as close to my skin as I can, and gently pull for up to three minutes. I wait for the tick to get tired so it comes out whole. If you pull too hard too fast, the head of the tick breaks off and stays inside your body. Yuck. 

The tick below came off my 8 year old easily because we caught it early. It had only bitten into the outer layer of the skin on her scalp. The tick is very much alive after removal and still clutching a bit of human skin in its mouth.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Witch Hazel with wasp eggs

Ranger Zak Skelton led a hike at Blackrock Summit Loop in the southern section of Shenandoah National Park. 

He knew a lot about plants and pointed out how "witch hazel" got its name. Wasps lay eggs on the leaves and they look like little witch hats, hence the name, witch hazel.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Nature-Inspired Art

Nothing like spending time outdoors to get children drawing. These four were inspired by our time at the Loft Mountain section of Shenandoah National Park.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Great American Backyard Campout 2014

We attended the National Wildlife Federation's wonderfully organized Great American Backyard Campout at Sky Meadows State Park last weekend. 

This campout was very easy considering Ranger Christa Kermode (who I think should be cloned and dispatched to every state park in need of an energetic leader with good people skills) put together dinner and breakfast with the help of park volunteers. All I had to pack was the tent, our sleeping bags, and a change of clothes. The car was practically empty.

Adding to the ease of this campout was the fact that barely had to entertain the girls. The Blue Ridge Wildlife Center brought an opposum on a leash, a cuddly skunk, a snake, and a flightless screech owl. The girls did not fidget once during the entire presentation.

The Shenandoah Mountain Rescue Group showed a video called Lost But Found Safe and Sound  that tells young children what to do if they get lost in the woods. As a result of their talk, I am making waist (fanny) packs for both my girls with a space blanket, a loud whistle, and a small light source. I will remind them before every hike that in the unlikely event that they should get lost, they should stop and wait, not run around and get more lost.

The Great American Backyard Campout staff set up a table giving away binoculars to the children and crafts like creating a picture frame from sticks and pinecones and crayon rubbings of animals.

After the presentations and dinner, the rangers built a campfire and some musicians with a good sense of humor did their best to sight-read traditional campfire songs. What good sports they were to drag a bass and two banjos all the way across a field to a campfire.