Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.
– Albert Einstein
One of the goals of this blog is to thoughtfully share the experiences and adventures my family embarks upon that I truly believe bring us closer to one another in the hopes that I inspire other families to go outside and play. We have completely, utterly, and wholeheartedly fallen head over heels in love with Virginia State Parks, and I feel certain that our adventures on their sandy shores and picture perfect trails have contributed to the health and happiness of my family. Here’s our love story.
It started way back in the spring of 2015. I left my full-time corporate IT job to stay home with my boys, Michael and Nathan. It very quickly occurred to me that part of my responsibilities as a SAHM, and what I’ve found to be “insurance” for my mental health, was to get the boys away from the television and out in the sunshine. A good friend introduced me to Geocaching, a GPS-based treasure hunt that sets you out on wonderful adventures and ultimately makes you a master navigator. If you’ve missed an introduction to Geocaching, have no fear as I intend on delving into what has become my family’s favorite pastime.
Geocaching set my family on a path – one that we feel deep gratitude for. When you Geocache, and if you like it the way we do, you start what I see as a natural progression. First you find every cache near your own home, then you start branching out. What started as a hobby to get my boys out of the house quickly turned into the three of us walking into the woods at parks we’d never seen or even heard of. Once my husband got involved, we started making day-long trips farther out of our familiar territory and into the great big world. Eventually, in the summer of 2015, we decided to visit Westmoreland State Park to walk the trails and find some caches, and were left desperate to see what else our state had to offer. I’m not kidding when I say that visit to WSP inspired us to take a tremendous leap out of our comfort zone… we immediately started researching and finally purchased a pop-up camper so we could take our adventures on the road, farther from home and for longer stretches.
We’ve now visited and/or camped at 36 of the 40 Virginia State Parks. Westmoreland remains our favorite for many reasons, but for me it’s something spiritual. There have been moments walking on a trail where tears have formed in my eyes because I have felt more deeply connected to my family and nature than I can even begin to explain. My children seem to feel the same way; they request trips to WSP regularly and we’re happy to oblige.
My youngest son turned 10 this past weekend and he wanted two things; a new bike and a campout at WSP. Off we went!
What To Do At Westmoreland State Park
Westmoreland State Park is located in Montross, Virginia, on the Potomac River’s Northern Neck. It is stuffed with family activities from swimming in the river or Olympic-sized pool (with a slide!), hanging at the snack bar, browsing the camp stores, enjoying the beautiful visitor center atop Horse Head Cliffs, playground, learning center (say hello to their corn snake), fishing from the pier, renting boats, hiking all 6 miles of their trails, and of course camping. You can rent a cabin or pack a tent or camper and stay at one of their gorgeous campgrounds. There’s plenty of room for individual families and large groups. The Potomac River Retreat is an overnight center for special events like large group gatherings and family reunions. Murphy Hall, built in honor of Helen and Tayloe Murphy, is the perfect location for receptions, retreats, and reunions and can hold around 130 guests. I could write an entire blog post on the different State Park facilities – they are always so clean. You can’t find a bad view of the Potomac River from any vantage point on the park grounds and, in fact, you’re likely to see ospreys, great blue herons, gulls, kingfishers, and American bald eagles soaring on the breeze or fishing for dinner.
Hiking Big Meadow Trail, Turkey Neck Trail and Visiting Fossil Beach
We’ve visited WSP more times than I can remember, and even if we’ve gone with the intent of visiting other areas of the park, we’ve always made time to hike the .69 mile Big Meadow Trail to Fossil Beach. In the last few years, they have opened a new section of that Trail, making it far easier for families with wheelchairs, strollers, and beach wagons to access Fossil Beach. We’ve been blessed to see every kind of wild creature you could imagine on this trail at one point or another, from pileated woodpeckers to orb weavers, lizards to king snakes.
That’s not even the best part (although I admit I got REALLY excited about the king snake). The crowning glory of this spectacular park is Fossil Beach, a cliffy area that was once covered by the Atlantic Ocean and was home to a vast array of Miocene sea creatures, like Tiger and Sand sharks, as well as Megalodon!
I’m convinced the boys will think back on their respective childhood and flash happily to countless hours spent rolling in the surf, sifting through rocks and sand in search of treasure, and enjoying the view of the Potomac River and Maryland on the far shore. I know I will think back on these years, the greatest of my life without compare, and these sandy shores will be where I find my dearest memories were formed. This view right here… that’s my happy place because it’s pretty much where the sun has touched their sweet, smiling faces the most. I love this piece of perfection with all my heart. I hope they bring their children to this place and feel the same way.
A Scout should always BE PREPARED, and a visit to Fossil Beach is no exception. We made our own Fossil Sifters (here’s a great tutorial), which have been a great help in finding even the tiniest teeth. There are some drawbacks to the sifters we made, like the staples coming out and/or rusting, the wood being heavy and difficult to dry, and taking up a lot of space since they aren’t stackable. I’d be lying if I said the kids have the most fun with the sifters; truth is, my husband and I discuss how to improve the them and maximize our tooth-finding potential on every hike back to the car. We’re investing in these cool Stackable Sifting Pans with 1/4 Mesh Screens and a Shark Tooth Snappy Buddy container and leash for our next trip, and I’ll update the post with a review.
The return hike back to camp is almost always a giggle-fest. “Did you see that wave?” “The Potomac punched me in the face!” “My pockets have, like, twelve pounds of sand in them.” We tend to peek under logs looking for snakes and take big, deep breaths at that one spot where the air is sweet like honeysuckle. Sometimes we give piggy backs and other times we race. We are always tired and always so very happy.
Camping and Adventuring
WSP offers up site-specific reservations for tent campers, RV campers, and folks who prefer a cabin. Campers have access to clean facilities, free swimming and boat launching, the camp store, and laundry facilities. They’re also super pet-friendly and Adventure Dog Bentley approves! Each campsite is outfitted with a fire ring and easy access to the restrooms and bath houses.
The park offers fun programs throughout the year, like special presentations about pollinators, sharks tooth crafts, beach clean-ups, Music on the Cliffs, scavenger hunts, birding adventures, and more.
You can set-out from several trail heads throughout the park and enjoy 6 miles of clean trails. Sections of the trail include exercise stations, which the kids love to attempt. In the summer months, the Olympic-sized pool with its water slide is the perfect place to beat the heat! Take the kids and your four-legged family members on a walk along the beach where everyone can take a dip in the river.
Geocaching – Catching Smileys
At the time of this blog post, there were 26 Geocaches located throughout the park, including several issued by the Virginia State Parks, and 18 more nearby at Stratford Hall, the historic home and plantation that housed four generations of the Lee family of Virginia.
The Virginia State Parks offer up a Geocaching Adventure Program, and almost every park publishes one new cache per year. The 2019 series, People of the Parks, highlights the park history through collector cards highlighting the Civilian Conservation Corps and other people who helped make the parks what they are. Adventurers who set out to find these special caches can log their hikes and finds on the Virginia State Parks Adventures Page and earn fun prizes for completing 5, 10, 20, and finally all of the parks in the system.
Here’s a tip for families who visit these parks regularly; each year the State Parks host the Get Outdoors! Challenge from mid-May (National Kids to Parks Day) through the end of June (National Get Outdoors Month). Folks that visit five different State Parks in that time period can log those visits on the Adventures Page and earn a free annual Park Passport which covers your parking fees at every Park for an entire year.
Relaxing and Catching Up With A Good Book
I am an avid reader, picking up 10 or more books from my local library each summer. I consume them! There are a few moments at the end of a day at the park where everyone’s full and settling down with a game of Monopoly or Crazy Eights, and I like to retire to my bunk to just listen in on the chit chat and catch up on my book. I am especially delighted by Alan Bradley’s Flavia De Luce series and have been happily eating up “A Red Herring Without Mustard.” If you’re looking for a great story with a young spitfire protagonist, you absolutely have to put this series on your library list. Follow my Book Club Pinterest Board for other great ideas!
A Mother’s Musings
It’s true, you can fill a day or weekend or week with sunshine and adventure all in one stunning location. You will leave will pockets full of sand, a soul full of priceless memories, and a heart full of gratitude. I stood there on Fossil Beach, with my eyes closed and my feet in the Potomac, near the end of our trip and I just soaked it all in. The sound of the lapping waves and the laughing children, the warmth of the sun on my face and the water on my legs, the simplicity of the day and the complexity of the emotions. I couldn’t help but think that summer is almost over and that it passed as quickly as all these years have, and that, in the great scheme of things, it wouldn’t be too terribly long before it was just my husband and me going on these grand adventures together. I am an emotional person, obviously, but I truly do feel that these trips to this park are ultimately leaving an impression on all of us that we’ll pull from as we all grow older and embark on our own new paths, and I treasure them. I hope you LOOK WIDER STILL and set out to find your happy place!
How little note is taken of the deeds of Nature! What paper publishes her reports? Who publishes the sheet-music of the winds, or the written music of water written in river-lines? Who reports and works and ways of the clouds, those wondrous creations coming into being every day like freshly upheaved mountains? And what record is kept of Nature’s colors – – the clothes she wears – of her birds, her beasts – her live-stock?
– John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938) p. 220.
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