Thursday, July 28, 2016

Family, near death experience, campfires, and bears!

View of the Blue Ridge mountains from one of the overlooks. Taken with my iPhone 6 in panoramic mode.

This time last week we were packing up the truck and headed to Virginia for a family reunion. We were all camping at Big Meadows campground, and it was a blast!
Ive never been to Shenandoah National Park, but its on my bucket list to visit every National Park! So I was pretty excited. Camping is one of my favorite things to do and Shenandoah is a beautiful place! So heres a full run down of my weekend:

Thursday morning we left for a 5 hour drive down to Virginia. It was long and boring, but the closer we got, the more beautiful the view! My excitement grew by the minute. We brought the doggos with us, so we made a few pit stops to allow for bathroom breaks and snacks/drinks. My dogs arent the best behaved in the car, so we took them for a walk in the 90-something degree weather to tucker them out, hoping theyd sleep through most of the ride there. (They did!) We finally reached Skyline Drive and I was so anxious I could barely sit still. My motion sickness meds were wearing off and the road was hilly and curvy. Plus the beauty all around was unbelievable. I could not wait to get out of the car! We stopped at a few overlooks before making our way to the campground. Setting up after a long drive is always a stressful time, so among all of the commotion I had a little break down/anxiety attack and wished I had just stayed home by myself. By the end of the weekend I was so glad I didnt! So Thursday evening was basically just us setting up, eating campfire food, and relaxing. Nothing relaxes you quite like hanging around the campfire on a cool summers evening. My happy place.
The dogs all packed up and ready to hit the road to Shenandoah!

Friday was the main day for all of the reunion festivities. We were planning on having food and laughter all day. We did not disappoint. In the morning my family had our usually camp breakfast of eggs and potatoes that always seem to taste better when youre camping.. Then we went out for a little ride around the park to see some sights and get some photos. I was so breath-taken by how unbelievably beautiful the views were up there on that mountain. I mean, I knew it would be beautiful..but it was so beyond anything Id imagined. Im the kind of person who really seeks the beauty in the world, and I dont take things like this for granted. This world always surprises me.. I have such a love and appreciation for mother nature. I could have sat there and stared into her creation for hours. But, it was time to head back to the campground and get the food started. So me and my mom heated up our 300-ish meatballs we had prepared and froze before we left and took them down to the reunion site. Everyone else (mostly) was already down there and hanging out. My mom has 8 brothers and sister, all but 2 were able to show. I have family all around the world, so its s soo great (and rare) to have them all in one place at one time. My uncle from Italy, aunt from Oregon, and uncle from California had all made it. As well as most of the local crew and Marylanders. We were just missing Uncle Larry from Singapore! A few of my moms aunts uncles and cousins made their way out too, which was super cool! I hung around for a bit, had something to eat and chatted with some family before my anxiety couldnt handle anymore and I had to head back up to our site to see what the pups were up to. (In the park you cant leave your food out due to bears, so either me or my dad was always at our site with the dogs, who arent great in large groups, and the coolers. So now it was my turn to babysit) Me and my cousin had a cute t-shirt craft planned for the kids..and any adults who were interested. So later in the evening everyone fled up the hill to our campsite to participate in the cute hand print campfire craft I had prepared. They all turned out so cute, and I couldnt have been happier! My sister and her boyfriend couldnt come until after work on Friday, so they didnt make it until around 9:45 that night, but we hung out and had a great time regardless. There were so many stars, I spent quite some time just laying their looking up. I even got to try out Astrophotography for the first time! I loved it and cant wait to do some more!
Left: "Stanton Clan" campfire hand print t shirt craft I did with the kids! Photo taken with my moms Samsung Galaxy S6 Active.
Right: Photo of the stars that night. Taken with my Canon T1i.
Saturday we kind of planned on everyone doing their own thing, hikes, sightseeing, etc. So we thought me, my sister, and her boyfriend would go off on a falls trail while my parents stayed back with the dogs, then wed switch. The hike we chose said it was moderate, ending at an 81 foot waterfall. I was so excited, because waterfalls are one of my favorite things to photograph! And one of my favorite sights ever! The hike down wasnt too bad, I actually really enjoy getting out into nature and hiking. It helps me relax, clears my head, and reminds me of where I belong. We finally could hear the water, and knew it was close! We finally reached the falls and disappointed. I guess we were at the top of the fall? It must have been a little dry to, because there wasnt much water flowing. And we all felt defeated knowing wed have to hike back up the mountain and all for a waterfall the was totally not worth it. :( Still, I wanted to sit there and relax a bit. I still wanted to try and get some photos and we had to try out my dads new life straw. So I got out there and found some decent views to photograph, my sisters boyfriend got his adrenaline rush by holding himself out over the edge like an idiot, and my sister sat there grumpily because she doesnt like nature as much as she thought..hiking isnt her thing..and shes terrified of heights. (on top of a mountain is not the best place to be when youre afraid of heights, is it?) So we hung out there for a half an hour or so then packed up and headed back up the mountain. We did not expect what came next. The hike back up was so much worse than we had anticipated. The elevation made it more difficult to breathe, it seemed much more steep on the way up, it was hot, and the added weight of my camera bag did not help at all. We had planned on taking our time on the way back, but even then it took us much longer than we thought it would. I had to take a LOT of breaks. Drank a lot of water (I didnt bring nearly enough though :/) And I still felt exhausted and over exerted. Finally, after an hour and a half, we could see the car! We were almost there..until.. I felt an uncontrollable need to puke. I had held it back a few times on the way up, but this time I just couldnt.. So I sat down on a rock 50 feet from the parking lot and let it go. My sister and her boyfriend had made it all the way up, so they brought me back some water and a cold pack to put on my neck. Once I let my body rest, and..release..I could finally walk the last few feet to the car and we were on our way back to the site. Where I layed in the hammock and didnt plan to move for the rest of the day! By the end of it I hated that hike..but I am still proud of myself for completing it. And I still enjoyed being out in nature, so it wasnt all bad after all. That evening everyone gathered around again for some more laughs and good times. My mom hung out with her family while the rest of us stayed back at our site, cooked a delicious dutch oven dinner, and had a good time of our own. I wasnt leaving that hammock for much..but that food was worth it. ;)
Results of a strenuous hike. burned a crazy amount of calories and had a ridiculous number of active minutes. Worth it!

Sunday was time to leave, so we didnt really do anything but pack up and hit the road. I was a little disappointed that we were the only ones all weekend who hadnt seen a bear..that was until the road out! I saw my first ever bear in the wild. It looked young. I didnt get any pictures of it since it ran back into the woods as soon as it saw us/heard the dogs bark. but I saw it, so that was enough for me! My trip was complete! That weekend the ducks turned 18 weeks old, so we were hoping to see our first eggs when we got home! Unfortunately, there were none. But they had been cooped up for 4 days, so I let them out and by the night I had completely forgotten to put them back in..but I was surprised to see OUR FIRST EGG the next morning when I woke up. She must have been saving it for me to come home ;) She layed it right outside her pool. I was so proud of my big girl! All grown up and laying eggs like a pro. Her first few were tiny little things. But they have strong shells and and growing in size every day. She'll be a great layer, and I cant wait to try my first duck egg!
Savannahs first egg, laid July 25.
I think my favorite thing about Shenandoah was how beautiful the nature all around was. There were deer walking right through the campground, through people sites. There were honey bees pollinating the wildflowers. An unpolluted night sky with endless amounts of stars. And breathtakingly beautiful views everywhere you turn. I cant wait for my next trip there.
Here are a few more of my favorite photos from the weekend:
 One of the few photos I got from our hike to the Waterfall. Taken with my Canon T1i.
 A baby deer that was grazing by our campsite with its mother. Taken with my Canon T1i.
 Breathtaking view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Taken with my Canon T1i.
 View from an overlook on our way out. Taken with my iPhone 6.
 Honeybee pollinating some wildflowers on our campsite.
 Darla keeping guard, taking in all of her surroundings. My beautiful girl. Taken with my Canon T1i.
 Dutch oven dinner staying warm over the fire. Taken with my Canon T1i.
Two baby deer grazing on the site across from ours. Taken with my Canon T1i.

Have you been to Shenandoah? What was your favorite thing about it? Id love to hear about your experiences there. Im so excited for my next camping trip and cant wait to get back out into nature! Have a beautiful week wherever your are in the world. And remember to stop and take in the beauty that is all around us in nature.
Stay Humble & Kind. <3

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