Friday, June 7, 2019

Western PA State Parks Road Trip Day FIVE (Final Day)

My adventure leaves off on Day 5, at Cook Forest State Park. In the tent. And the temperatures dropped down to below 40 overnight. We did not sleep well to say the least! My bag is rated for lower temps than that, but Zorro was cold. He does not like to sleep under a blanket, so he kept shaking the blanket off. And then being cold. And then getting covered again. You get the idea. I finally got up at 5am and packed the tent up, and loaded the shivering dogs into the car. 

I was tired, hungry and cranky but I decided to check out Seneca Point. A mile or so drive down a gravel road, beautiful vista all to ourselves. The morning was chilly and beautiful and I felt gratitude. I could complain on social media about my cold and sleepless night. But my discomfort drove me to wake up early and visit a beautiful spot in the cool still morning. And I had it all to myself. 

From there it was the drive West down I-80, with random State Park stops peppered in. The first order of business was breakfast, and it was not long until the first stop, Simon B Elliott State Park. This was a small day-use picnic area type park and it was a quick visit.

Very nearby was Parker Dam State Park and this was a much bigger park with lake and campground. I took a short walk with Zorro down the boardwalk to check out the water and let him have a potty break and then back on the road.

From there it was nearly an hour's super scenic drive to our next destination, Black Moshannon State Park. Another lake park. I took some time to do a short hike to a geocache so that the dogs could have some time out of their crates and enjoy some walking.

Back on the road for about half an hour until the next stop, Bald Eagle State Park. This was one of the parks on my travels back home that I felt a little sad that I did not have more time to properly visit. Gorgeous lake park, geocaches and some trails I would have liked to explore It would certainly be a fun place to return to for a camping trip!

In 2013 I visited Sand Bridge State Park and McCalls Dam State Park. Close to those parks was Ravensburg State Park, but juuuust a little further than I wanted to drive on that day trip. I was sure to stop there on my way home this time. This park was very small, day-use area type vibe, but it was the trail head for what looked like some cool hikes.

And the final stop was Milton State Park and it was so very much like a local community park, it was surprising to me that it was a state park! 

And that was it! From there it was the long 3 hour drive home on familiar roads, back in my "territory" of adventuring. This was my longest road trip yet and I made memories I will never forget on the road. 26 state parks total with my grand total being 101/121 parks visited. Getting real close!

Sunday, June 2, 2019

AKC Scent Work, Coursing and Tricks!

Intermission from road trip posts (there is one more to come on that subject!) to write about our great weekend of various AKC events and fun!

Molly and I had our first try at AKC Scent Work on Saturday. I entered her in Novice B Interiors, Containers and Buried. I also volunteered for the entire afternoon trial (volunteers were given priority entry and I thought that if I gave my time for an entire trial, I might be more likely to get in!)

Interiors was a small search space with a lot of clutter. Tough on the leash handling. Molly flirted with the judge and then wasted no time shoving a small cooler two feet across the search area. Alert! I am glad we did not get a fault for that.

Containers was next. We have done agility in this barn, quite a bit of open training and some trials. Molly always gets a little environmentally overaroused there. Today was no different. As we walked across the platform and made a right to the next search area she was squeaking and getting "buzzy". i don't know how else to phrase that. By the time we got to Containers I knew I was in for some trouble. I tried to do "zen hand" at the start line. It did not help. Molly did not even wait for my search command before blasting into the container search and flattening the first box she got to. I thought, "Well, was that an alert??" And now I was embarrassed she ruined a box, worried I was ignoring an alert... I asked her to continue searching. If it was the hot box, she would alert on it again. She godzilla'd down the boxes and then completely annihilated one, smashing and clawing it. I called alert on that one and apologized over and over. She was really on a roll! Ugh! We did the pass the search though. Whew!

Buried was last. Now I was super nervous Molly would tip the container of sand over. Buried is a whole new search element for us and we had only practiced it twice. With soil. There were 6 identical plastic totes full of play sand and in one box the hide was buried two inches deep. Molly searched every box but looked at me after each box she sniffed. That is new behavior for her, she wasn't entirely confident in the search. There was one box I noticed her lingering on more and I made a note of it. When I brought her around the second time she again lingered there and as soon as I saw a paw coming up I sort of body slammed her off the hide and called alert and fed her. I also fed her the whole way back to the car. Molly is confident enough to handle being pushed away like that, but no way was I going to let her topple a huge box of sand and ruin the search area and hold the trial up!

Today, Perri got her day and we spent it doing CAT and Fast CAT! We started the day with her third CA leg and earned her Coursing Ability title. And then Perri returned to Fast CAT, this time with my friend releasing her. No scary people in the catch pen! She ran 24mph for the first run and 23mph for the second run. Perri's personal best is 25.65MPH so, no beating that today but I was very pleased that she followed the lure all the way down. No bailing! I believe that brings us to 93/150 points for Perri's BCAT title.

While my friend and I were finishing lunch and waiting for the afternoon FCAT to begin, I saw the huntmaster from the CAT out of the ring and with a handler and her rottweiler puppy. She was doing a trick dog test! When she was done I asked her if she would be willing to do a Novice Trick Dog test for Zorro and she said absolutely! Zorro did: Jump through hoop, go through tunnel, sit with hand signal, kennel up, nose touch, spin in a circle, go into a box, climb on top of a box, two paws up, jump into my arms from the ground. It was super fun and a nice little unexpected "cherry on top" of a very fun weekend!

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Western PA State Parks Road Trip Day FOUR

Day four gave me fits when I was planning my trip and it was to be the most inefficient day travel-wise. When planning, I was stuck between leaving certain "out of the way" parks for a later trip or, visiting them while on this trip. I chose the latter, since I can't say forever, but it was unlikely that I would be coming back to this area of PA unless it was to visit a state park.

Oil Creek State Park was first and it was an hour southeast of Erie and 100% out of my line of travel. This park was interesting, too! It was the site of the world's first commercial oil well. The section that we visited had a little board walk with historical information stops and I did make the time to go on the little history tour. After a while I had to laugh at how many signs noted that such-and-such building used to stand here...but it burned down. Lots of buildings burning down!

Next stop was and hour drive to Chapman State Park. I found a geocache here, but most of the dam, lake and park was under major construction. We did not stay long.

Another hour's drive to Kinzua Bridge State Park, and this park was the one I was most excited about. Actually, my travel for the day might have been more efficient if I had left Kinzua (and Chapman) for another trip but I have been so excited to visit this park for years. I absolutely could not resist visiting on this trip!

The Kinzua Bridge  was at one time an intact railroad bridge, over 300 feet high and the tallest of its kind. In 2003 a tornado damaged the center of the bridge and it has now been renovated into a sky walk for visitors. It is still impressive, for sure! I have to admit walking out onto the skywalk, I was a little intimidated! It was so windy and I wished that I had left anything that could have blown off of me in my car. (My headband, sunglasses, the pen in my pocket.) Zorro handled it all in stride, Perri was a little nervous but she was a brave girl. She did not care for the glass floor in the center of the skywalk platform, Zorro posed on it for a picture. 

I finally got my hands on a PA State Parks passport book at the Kinzua Bridge gift store. Every park has a unique stamp that they will stamp in your book for you. These books did not exist when I started! I mostly wanted one for my own records, I am going to go back and record which date and year I visited each park. I will get stamps for any that I can but it is not a priority. Any parks local to me I will be happy to get stamped. The lady at the visitor center told me that if I call each phone number of parks I have already visited, they will mail me a piece of paper stamped with that park's stamp but I think that will be far more work than I am interested in. In any case, I love my passport book and it was the last one!

From there was only forty minutes south-ish to Elk State Park which was....a weird park. It was at the East Branch Dam, seemed to be a trail head for the Elk State Forest and was managed by the US Army Corp of Engineers and not DCNR. Whatevah!

Next was a very small park, Bendigo State Park. My cell service totally zero'd out here as well, so I was not able to even find the geocache that I wanted to. What a bummer! Usually I at least have enough for my phone to operate GPS services. Pool, ball fields, picnic areas.

Now here was where the day started to feel like endless driving, and I started to feel the insanity of my plan. Another hour back west! to Clear Creek State Park. I actually had to pull over in a gamelands and let the dogs run and stretch my legs for a little bit. I was starting to become so weary of driving. We arrived at Clear Creek and I let the dogs out for a drink from the...well, the clear creek! Perri had also gotten dirty on our gamelands walk so I wanted her fur to rinse off in some clean water so that she didn't make the tent messy. Clear Creek was another picnic area/recreation area park, very small and quick to visit.

And at last, Cook Forest State Park. This was a park I was very excited to visit because you could hike in the old growth Forest Cathedral among the ancient pines and hemlocks. I absolutely love hiking through pines, especially a beautiful old growth forest. When I planned my day, I tentatively wanted to end my travelling here. Camp. Hike the Cathedral in the morning. We made excellent travel time and arrived here around 4pm with plenty of time for a nice long hike after a day of driving.

I was feeling grouchy from the road. Restless. Unsure if I wanted to camp after my hike, or go south to I-80 and find a hotel room. I was unsure of where to park to best enjoy the Cathedral hiking. I finally made a decision and found a sign that said "Reflect. Relax. Enjoy this precious resource." It was like somebody wrote that just for me. I needed to see it. I walked into those ancient pines and felt the stress slowly unwind. There was nobody else in the forest at that time, and that was perfect too. Just what I needed. There was now no question that I would camp at Cook Forest for my last night of the trip.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Western PA State Parks Road Trip Day THREE

That was the view from my campsite on Sunday morning at Pymatuning State Park. What a great way to start the day!

 The dogs and I were up early for the one hour drive into Erie, PA. Because what is a road trip without agility?? We arrived at the trial site with plenty of time. Perri was entered in P3 Jumpers, her first time in P3! And also the obligatory P2 Standard. The trial entry was light so we were not even there past 11am. Perri was stressed at the trial site, there were plain white walls which she always finds worrying as well as a lot of off leash fetch inside of the building and near the ring, and dogs that otherwise scared her.

Jumpers she started off slow and then got sassy and zoomy, which is typical of Perri when she is stressed but not entirely overwhelmed. In Standard she ran under the tire and I chose to just move on through the course anyway. Perri DID weave but very dependent on my motion and encouragement. The tire has become an issue again for Perri. I am trying to decide how much I actually care about this issue, since Perri is very much on a “whenever we feel like it” plan as far as agility goes and does not respond well to actual training goals. Anyway! The point was: “Just happy to be here, played some agility while on the road trip. CHECK!”

 Our next stop was two of the most popular geocaches in our state! A virtual cache named “Auto Art” was first, with nearly 700 favorite points. Very fun! Next was the oldest geocache in PA, “State Gamelands 109”. The dogs were thrilled with a chance to run off leash after following the leash laws in all of the state parks we had been visiting! I of course could not find the “trail” that led to the cache so I hiked straight through the swamp and got my hiking boots soaking wet. But, I found it!! Now it was time to shift gears back to state park visiting. It was very sunny and hot so I took some time to hang my tent up and dry it out in the parking lot before moving on. We were to stay at a hotel that night so I didn’t want the tent to stay wet in the car.

"Auto Art"

State Gamelands 109

And then it was off to Erie Bluffs State Park (with a stop at a local winery en route, I came away with their Cabernet blend.) The park was smallish with a lovely half mile trial out to an unmarked vista on the Bluffs, overlooking Eerie lake. The water was different shades of blue and really pretty.

After that hike back in the car for our last stop: Presque Isle State Park and I planned to spend the rest of our day there. There were many geocaches, but my goal was to explore, let the dogs swim and with geocache priority on the virtual cache near the end of our loop drive around the isle. Presque Isle was VERY peopley, it is a gorgeous well maintained park and truly as good as going to the beach! The driveway in was two lane and reminded me very much of rush hour traffic!

Regardless, I enjoyed my time there. I pulled over to check things out if I wanted to and most importantly, I found a spot on the beach for the dogs to swim and play fetch. Perri and Zorro are like fire and a match when it comes to fetch together though, since they both love to play keep away and chase. They are not good at containing themselves to the game! (Unlike Molly who is laser focused on fetch and only fetch) Still, they had a blast. My only regret was my camera wasn’t set up to autofocus as quickly as it is capable of, my fault, so I missed a lot of great shots due to them being out of focus. Bummer.)

We ended our time at Presque Isle by visiting the Perry Monument, because I love virtual caches. And I am finding I am more interested in history as the years go by. The monument was in honor of Commodore Perry's actions during the Battle of Lake Erie. The monument area was beautiful and a storm was rolling in so it was windy but still lovely. Not ready to storm just yet. There were many people around but they were all relaxing people, enjoying and discussing the monument and asking questions about the dogs. Just Right. A perfect way to end our time in Erie.

We topped off the night by staying in a hotel room at my favorite Red Roof Inn instead of a tent. There were some storms and heavy rain overnight and that little room felt like a palace to me since I did not have to worry about the storms, or keeping the tent dry or packing it up in the morning. Ahhhh!

Friday, May 24, 2019

Western PA State Parks Road Trip : Day Two

Our story picks up at Raccoon Creek State Park, where of course it rained more overnight. I was up around 6am and balled the soaking wet tent up and threw it in the car. My hope was to dry it out at our next stop that evening. I was also starving because I could not find anywhere to stop for dinner the night before, but I wanted to find two geocaches near the ranger station and check out a hiking trail before I left.

We explored and visited the site of the Frankfort Mineral Springs. In the 1800s this was a health spa and people would come here to drink the water from the mineral spring for kidney health and stay at the hotel (which is now in ruins.) It was not a long trail but there was nobody else around and it was a beautiful spot.

Ruins of the Hotel
After that, I started northward towards the next stop, McConnell's Mill State Park. It was about an hour and it was pouring. I checked the weather and it looked like more of the same. Low chance of rain but it was 100% pouring. I was feeling a little bummed. Rainy day of hiking and park visiting, and how would I ever get my tent dried out?

The first stop at McConnell's Mill was at a scenic vista named Cleland Rock, randomly down a dirt driveway in the middle of a corn field. It was pretty, and there was a sasquatch geocache hidden there.

Cleland Rock Vista
A Sasquatch!

After that I headed to the main trail, and the hike I was most excited about for Saturday. And it stopped raining! Slippery Rock Creek Gorge, beautiful scenery and rocky trail next to a rushing creek. It did not disappoint! I had some trouble finding parking. There is limited parking near the Mill and no signage (that I saw.) directing to an overflow parking lot. I eventually figured it out and spent a good 2+ hours enjoying the gorge. I could have spent longer! The whole gorge trail is 6 miles one way.

McConnells Mill

We moved on to our next stop Moraine State Park. We did not stay too long here. It was a gorgeous enormous lake. I found a boat access area, took the dogs for a quick hike around and let Perri get a drink in the water and we moved on.

Moraine State Park
Jennings Environmental Education Center was next. Another quick stop, checked out the nature trail and took a few photos and we moved on.

Maurice K Goddard State Park was next, another lake park. We took a quick walk, found a geocache and moved along.

It was challenging for me, on this trip, to stop at some parks and not spend a lot of time there or not explore all that I could. It simply wasn't possible and I had to remind myself that my criteria is to "visit" each park.

Last stop of the day was our camp, Pymatuning State Park. Enormous reservoir lake and I even got a campsite right by the water. The rain had stopped, the sun was out and it was a beautiful day. I made great time with travelling and even picked up an air pump for the heckin' air mattress. I had ice cream for dinner.

\After drying out the tent and setting up my campsite, the dogs and I went to visit the "Spillway". The spillway was a really fascinating site and I enjoyed it, but it was very crowded with people of all ages with bags of bread who threw slide after piece after slice of bread into the spillway. It was hard to enjoy it. We crossed the Ohio/PA state line to get there which was kinda fun for me.

We also did an evening hike on a land bridge/jetty where many people were fishing. The sun was setting, the weather was perfect, people wanted to pet my dogs and talk, the peepers were singing. It was a really special moment and I enjoyed it so much. It made up for the hysterical crowds at the spillway.

Back to camp for some reading time and a shower and an excellent night sleep on the inflated air mattress! It did rain a little bit and made the outside of the tent wet but at least the inside was nice and dry.