I decided Tuesday afternoon that I wanted to take the kids to the mountains on Wednesday. It seemed like a perfect time to go because:1. Jackson doesn't have school on Wednesdays and I like to take the kids on a fun adventure.
2. After weeks of rain, the sun was shining and absolutely gorgeous, with temperatures in the 70's.
3. According to the fall foliage report, the leaves were expected to be at or near peak for higher elevations (4500+ ft)
4. Jesse had to cover a football game Wednesday evening and wouldn't be home until after 8 pm, so the kids and I were on our own for 12+ hours anyway.
With the new interstate a few minutes from our house, it didn't even take two hours to drive to Boone!
My goal was to leave early, ideally before 8 am. Time escaped me, and it was almost 10 o'clock before we were on the road. I always underestimate the amount of time it takes to pack clothes and food for the day. I was hoping the trio would fall asleep on the ride, but they looked through books and played with one another the entire drive. Jackson, however, fell asleep within fifteen minutes and didn't wake up until we were in Boone.
Our first stop was the Watauga County library. The library might seem like an odd choice for a mountain getaway, but I like it for several reasons:
1. They have a large single stall bathroom that I can fit the wagon or stroller inside. After driving two hours, I don't want to stress over finding a place to use bathroom and change diapers.
2. This particular library has a great train table and puppet area that the kids adore.
3. The biggest advantage to parking at the library is we can easily walk down King Street without struggling to find a parking spot or pay to park.
One of Jackson's only requests was to go to the "candy store", aka Mast General Store. Jackson was allowed to pick four things and the toddlers could each pick one thing. They literally picked something from every single barrel and I went behind them and put almost everything back. It could have been a chaotic situation, but they were surprisingly orderly.
Next up was a picnic lunch at Valle Crucis Park. A Valle Crucis native and college friend introduced us to this park a few years ago; I've been taking the kids any time we visit ever since.
There's an entire miniature town where the kids can play. Here they are exploring one of the houses.
Another unique feature to this park is being able to go rock hopping, fly fishing, etc in the Watauga River. The water was so cold!. I let each of the kids feel the water, though Jackson was obviously granted more freedom than the trio.
The leaves were just beginning to change at this elevation. Not a bad back drop for a playground, eh?
The trio received a large amount of cash from family and friends for their second birthday in July. I've been strategic about spending that money on experiences for the kids (i.e admission for train museum, plantation, apple picking, aquarium). Since I had the money, I decided to splurge and take the kids to Grandfather Mountain. Because of the cost ($20 for ages 5 and up), Jesse and I rarely went to Grandfather Mountain while we were in college.
The drive up is so steep with the sharpest curves! James and Amelia fell asleep and Maddie was quietly looking out her window. Jackson and I rolled our windows down. He kept saying, "Are we supposed to be driving up here? This is a big mountain!" When we finally drove to the tallest peak, Jackson and I ran out and started yelling with excitement. This is my absolute favorite picture from the day.
Grandfather Mountain's biggest attraction is the "mile high swinging bridge". It's pretty incredible to walk across a swaying suspension bridge a mile above sea level. The trio were tired and apathetic at this point in the day, which was for the best. I'm not sure I would have been as confident taking them on the bridge if they were antsy and wanting to run around.
The double stroller fit just fine. We received many, many comments from visitors. It was so exhilarating to share in Jackson's genuine elation. All we did was drive up, take an elevator, and walk across a bridge, yet I felt such pride and confidence in this moment. My mother would have never taken us to the mountains by herself.
The ride down was less anxiety inducing, but still nerve wracking. I didn't even notice on the way up the famous curve that Tom Hanks ran during the filming of Forrest Gump.
I don't advocate taking pictures while driving, but I practically had to stop around each curve anyway. It was like making dozens of U-turns!
In addition to the swinging bridge, we also visited the bear habitat. Jackson did his best bear impersonation. Of course, Clifford was with him.
We just so happened to arrive at 4 pm at the scheduled bear feeding. The only other times I've been to the bear habitat, the bears were off in the distance and could hardly be seen. This time we were able to watch the bears stand on their hind legs and growl for food, as well as playfully wrestle one another.
The kids were so animated and it was one of the highlights from the trip. Amelia and Maddie kept turning around saying, "See? See? Doggy eat!" (Note to self: Review the word "bear".)
There were numerous other animal habitats, walking trails, and museum exhibits that we completely ignored. We could have easily spent another hour or two at Grandfather Mountain (or as Jackson kept calling it, Grandpa's Mountain). The few trails we went on were so steep that I was leaning over 90 degrees just to push the stroller. Amelia, who stubbornly insisted on walking, ended up crawling part of the way because she kept falling over. Jackson sat in the stroller while Amelia laughed and rolled on the ground.
|Photo taken from http://www.about.com/travel/topic/fall-foliage|
I encouraged the kids to walk the whole time so they could release some pent up energy from being stuck in the van so much. We cautiously walked to the lake shore, put sticks in the mud, quacked at the ducks, and poked the lily pads. James may or may not have tried to go swimming. He was so playful and energized!
The triplets found the greatest entertainment from throwing leaves at one another. (Chrissy, this shot reminded me of your wedding picture.)
T-mobile has terrible signal in the mountains! I convinced the kids to sit on a bench so I could take a picture of them. I asked them to "blow kisses to Daddy" with the intention of sending the picture to Jesse. The text just kept failing; then my phone died.
There were so many missed photo opportunities and videos. The kids had every reason to be cranky (no nap, too much time in the car, past dinner time, abandoned schedule) yet the evening was filled with giggling, exuberant children kicking leaves and chasing one another.
I had packed plenty of snacks and lunch, but planned to stop somewhere for dinner. Jackson adamantly requested McDonald's. Instead of letting the kids eat inside, I went through the drive-thru and drove to an elementary school outside of town. I knew this particular school was surrounded by mountains, had picnic tables and a playground, should be vacant, and was on the way home. We ate and played until sunset, which was less than 30 minutes time.
It was 7 pm before we began our descent down the mountain. I drove another 30 minutes before stopping in a fast food place to use the bathroom and change all the kids into pajamas.
The kids slept soundly the remaining hour and a half drive. Jesse, who was already in bed, helped me carry the kids to bed.
It was one of those days where I'll look back on years from now and recall with such fondness. As much as I resisted the idea of being a stay at home mom, I can't think of anything I'd rather do or anyone I'd rather be with than spending a random Wednesday in the mountains with my kids. I'm going to miss days like this so much when I return to work. Mothering young children is so challenging but so very rewarding!