A Weekend Full of Family and Friends

Our next stop was the Cherry Hill RV Resort in College Park, MD. This is the closest park to DC and, more importantly, to Columbia, MD.

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Cherry Hill RV Resort is quite an extraordinary place. First off, it is enormous. There are literally hundreds of camp sites. It has two swimming pools, a water park, a restaurant, miniature golf and a store with rv supplies, food and all sorts of things. Busses run guests to nearby mass transit and into DC proper. They even host nighttime tours of DC.

The resort is a sea of Class A’s and Fifth Wheels. During our perambulations around the resorts’ streets, we saw only one other Airstream. When we checked in, the man at the desk asked if we would prefer to be near the bath house or somewhere else. I asked for a quiet spot and we got a lovely site surrounded by trees. It was hard to believe we were in a major urban area. It felt like we were at a secluded state park.

Our weekend at Cherry Hill was a very social one. If we had been on our own since early March when we visited Jim’s brother, Jack, and his wife, Phyllis, in Pearland, Texas, we were now in for a full dose of family and friends.

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Columbia is the town in which Alex, our first-born and family Marine, lives. He works at Fort Meade, but lives with a friend. Alex joined us Friday night and we had a treat-your-child-special dinner in the Airstream. My goal was to make his favorite things which I know perfectly well, he doesn’t usually get to eat. We had steak, sautéed mushrooms and baked potatoes.

With some not-so-gentle maternal urging, Alex slept over with us in the Airstream. Saturday we lounged in the trailer in the morning and then headed to see his house in Columbia. It was very good to get a sense of our firstborn’s daily life. We met his room-mate, Rose, the actual homeowner, and Rose’s dog, Archer. Rose is a fellow Marine and seems to be a good friend and landlord. Rose is his last name. I don’t even know his first. I am not sure Alex knows his first name.

We were happy to see Alex living in an actual house—much better quarters than the barracks. The house had apparently been cleaned before our visit. It was, nevertheless, a bit of a bachelor pad. Both Alex and Rose are into video games and much more had been invested in monitors and CPU’s than sofas and chairs.

Saturday night we traveled down to DC to have dinner at our friends’ house. Hannelore and Didier live in the NW part of DC. I have known them both for decades—Hannelore since I lived in Vienna after college. Visiting with them is always a treat. They live in a lovely house with a back garden that is truly an oasis. Alex, their son, was home. A rising senior in high school now, we have watched him grow up and mature. Charlotte, their daughter, is almost always off on an adventure. They all tend to roam the world from France to Austria and back again.

Hannelore is the Washington Bureau Chief for the ORF (Austrian Broadcasting Corporation, the public service television channel). Didier is now retired but was a journalist for Agence Presse for many years. They have lived all over the world. In their home english, french and german intermingle from sentence to sentence. Hannelore is also an excellent cook. Every time we visit she cooks something marvelous which I happily take home to add to my own repertoire. Happily, the weather was delightful and we dined al fresco as we caught up on our respective lives.

As you can imagine, life has been pretty crazy for Hannelore for quite some time now. During our visit, President Trump was in Saudi Arabia and Hannelore looked very happy to have a brief respite. She has certainly been getting more than her fair share of air time.

Sunday was another quiet day. Alex is a very easy guest. He is happy to sit quietly and read. Actually, that isn’t quite true. It is somewhat difficult to get him to stop sitting quietly reading. He asserts, with some validity, that he should be able to do what he wants when he is not at work. Okay, so we sat quietly and read for much of Sunday.

Sunday night my step-sister, Kathi, and her wife, Kim, joined us at the Airstream for a barbecue. We cooked burgers, beans and slaw—perfect cookout food. We sat out under the awning. Despite Cherry Hill’s proximity to the urban sprawl of DC and I-495, our site was wooded and private. It almost felt like we were in the great outdoors. We cooked s’mores for desert and enjoyed a last campfire for this journey.

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Lost in Maples Paradise

About halfway from San Angelo to Vanderpool, right about Eden, we lost cell signal. After a while it became apparent that we would not be getting that signal back anytime soon. We hadn’t expected it and had failed to let our children or anyone know we would be out of range. Not much to be done about that now. It may have been the lack of contact with the outside world or just the park itself, but our two days at Lost Maples State Natural Area were way too short.

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Entering Lost Maples is like discovering a verdant, hidden valley. It is hard to do the tremendous beauty justice. Turning off the highway one is immediately surrounded by tree-covered ridges. It feels safe, secure and delightfully isolated. After a few weeks in the very arid desert in both Texas and New Mexico, the effect of all this green and tree covered hillsides was all the more welcome.

This park has a small campground with 24 sites. The park was about half empty, but we later heard that it is an incredibly popular park especially when the leaves turn in the fall and people book sites a year in advance.

We did a full camp set up with mat, chairs, Jim’s site toys and awnings. Our site wasn’t completely even. In fact we ended up with a very long last step out of the trailer and we were unable to deploy the back stabilizer, but otherwise this was a very charming and congenial camp site. The afternoon was quite warm, but there was a nice breeze to keep us cool. We crossed our fingers that this park experience would not devolve into some terrible storm event.

We sat out in the afternoon and evening and enjoyed the stillness and bird song. Our site was sheltered by some lovely tall oaks. With no television and no cell service, we relished the quiet. No news from the outside world could disturb our peace. As the sun slipped behind the valley walls, a gentle darkness fell and we crawled into bed with the windows wide open to catch the sounds of the night.

One reason it felt so tranquil here is we had finally escaped the west Texas wind. For the last two weeks we had been continually swept by unrelenting winds. From the beginning of our transit across Texas to the interlude in Ruidoso to Monahans Sandhills and San Angelo, whether we were in a storm or just normal weather, there was the unceasing wind. I don’t know if I could take that on a permanent basis. It was a relief to feel the stillness in the air.

Lost Maples is known for and named after the bigtooth maples which are found on the rocky slopes of the Sabinal River. Cypress and sycamore trees and several varieties of oak trees are also found in the park. The park offers quite a few miles of trails and it was tough to make a choice. We only had one day to hike.

We decided to hike the East Trail. We chose this trail because it promised the most exposure to the bigtooth maples. These are the maples for which the park is named. This trail follows the Sabinal River and even cuts back and forth across it quite a few times. Dakota was really enjoying crossing the river. This dog who once disliked getting his feet wet was now wading with abandon through the rippling water.

From its beginning on the valley floor, the trail winds through wooded areas overhung by rocky slopes and outcroppings. The rock formations are remarkable. One highlight is Monkey Rock–named so for obvious reasons.

The trail gradually gains altitude until, after some steep stone stairs, it hugs the top of several ridges and eventually descends another steep and rocky grade back to the valley floor.

We enjoyed our picnic lunch up on top of one of the ridges with a dramatic vista across the valley. The sun was warm on our faces and looking out across the ridges covered with trees was dramatic. We sat on two large rocks eating our lunch and meditating on the view.

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The last stretch of the trail was a steep downward grade. It was very rocky and easy to slip or twist an ankle. We had to walk carefully. It was also incredibly tough on poor Dakota’s paws. He was a game fellow but finally we ended up carrying him over a good portion of it. We needed two pairs of doggy hiking boots. Those rocks are tough on little paws.

The park map warned the trail would be strenuous and challenging and they weren’t kidding. By the time we descended and joined the East-West Trail for the last mile of our hike we were walking mighty slow. Despite our fatigue, it was a really wonderful hiking experience and we were very sorry that we would have no more time for the other trails in the park.

IMG_1067We were a weary crew after our hike, but not too tired for a campfire and s’mores. The ranger’s station offered all the makings for s’mores and, unbelievably, Jim had never had one. We enjoyed our dinner sitting outside at our picnic table. We had been hauling some firewood with us since Ocklochonee (a big no-no we discovered, you’re supposed to only burn local wood) waiting for the right moment. It had seemed that there was always an impediment to make a fire undesirable—too much wind, rain, too much heat. But on this evening all systems were go.

We sat and watched the fire for a long time. Its warmth was welcome in the cool night air. We were pleasantly tired and very peaceful. It was truly a delightful evening and stay and we wished it could be longer.