Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Park Quest #1: Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary

If I visit a museum or park on my own, I read every sign.  I take my time.  I read the brochures, plan my day and stick to that plan.

It took a couple of disastrous trips with the boys to realize I'd have to change my ways if we were ever to enjoy a day trip.  Planning is great.  I find the more I research and know about a destination, the more fun we're able to have.  But there can be no regimented agenda with kids.  You have to be able to change everything in a minute.  And most importantly, you have to know when to throw in the towel.

We went to bed Saturday night psyched for our first Park Quest.  We'd laid out a map beside my laptop on the living room floor and decided where to go.  The boys picked Sandy Point for our first quest.  I wasn't so sure given the Memorial Day holiday and the park's proximity to the busy Bay Bridge, but I was willing to give it a try.

I woke Sunday morning with a splitting headache.  I took some Alleve and lay on the couch with my eyes closed while the boys watched tv.  It was not a good start to our quest day.

By noon, I was feeling better and we headed to Sandy Point State Park, just 18 miles away.  The traffic wasn't bad and I thought our day was looking up.  But as we exited the highway, we saw flashing lights.  The road was blocked.  The park was filled to capacity and closed to any additional visitors.

I had not made a plan B.

We headed home and fired up the computer.  The next closest park was Merkle Wildlife Sanctuary in Prince George's County.  I'd never heard of it.  We quickly printed a map and jumped back in the car.

Once we cleared Bowie, the drive down 301 was pretty and peaceful.  Meandering along Croom Road, we saw deer, a rabbit, and an s-shaped black snake.  We got to "pick our feet up" twice as we crossed railroad tracks.  Matt wished for ice cream.

We made one wrong turn, but found the park.  We could have spent the rest of our day in the Visitor's Center.  The boys loved the snakes, toad, terrapins, and turtle in the Discovery Room.  They were only convinced to leave with the promise of a treasure hunt.

One of the rangers was kind enough to point out that on Sundays, the first portion of the quest could driven.  The Critical Area Driving Tour winds eight miles through the marsh and woodland along the Patuxent River.  The one-way trail begins in Patuxent River Park (a P.G. County park) and ends on the Merkle property.  It's open to vehicular traffic on Sundays.

Thank goodness.   

It was a beautiful drive with plenty of places to pull over and view the marshes and wildlife.  The boys especially loved this wooden bridge that elevated the road above the swamp. 

Not long after the bridge, we entered the Merkle property and began our quest in earnest.  Almost immediately, we hit a snag.

We had been given six clues.  We were to go where the clues led, find a small box containing a stamp and stamp our card.

We couldn't find the first box.  I felt certain we had the clue right, but the box was no where to be found.

I decided to move on to the second clue.  This time, the box was easy to find.  It was at the top of this Observation Tower.

The view was amazing.

Our next snag happened on the way to clue 3.  Gabe fell asleep.  He was cranky when we woke him.  Even more so when we asked him to walk a short trail.  The final straw occurred when we couldn't find the third box.  Gabe burst into tears.

Looking for the fourth box was miserable.  We were hot and tired.  We'd run out of water and we'd now been driving and hiking for two hours.  We only had two of our stamps.  I snapped at Matt for whining and Gabe yelled his annoyance as a fly buzzed past his head.

Time to throw in the towel.

Fortunately, Matt had made a wish on the railroad tracks.  Better yet, I had it in my power to make that wish come true.

Ice cream makes everything better.

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