Quaking Bogs and Boy-Eating Plants

At the trailhead.

As I mentioned in my previous post lamenting our lack of snackage, the boys and I did a brief but fun hike at Volo Bog State Natural Area in Ingleside, Illinois (about 45 miles northwest of Chicago) last weekend.

Carved by the glaciers that ambled through here a few thousand seasons ago, we learned that Volo Bog is more technically a fen. The boys and I agreed that bog is more fun to say, so we’re content with current nomenclature.

 

The open water portion of Volo Bog.
The open water portion of Volo Bog.

There are two main trails at Volo Bog; the shorter 1/4-mile interpretive trail and a 2.75-mile hiking/cross-country skiing trail. Given the unseasonably warm weather and resulting potential for muck (not to mention my single mom status for the weekend–no way was I carrying our sturdy 3-year-old for that last mile!), we opted for the interpretive trail with a brochure keyed to numbered posts along the way.

At the trailhead.
At the trailhead.
Rightfully confused but determined moss jostles for its share of the sunlight.
Rightfully confused but determined moss jostles for its share of the sunlight.

While my middle child traditionally serves as the dictator keeper of the map, all we had was the handout, so he quickly lost interest. I gave him the job of seeking out the numbered posts instead.

Nolan earns his keep by spotting guideposts
Nolan earns his keep by spotting guideposts

The boys set out along the wooden boardwalk trails that literally sit on top of the water, quaking and tilting with each bounding, boot-clad step we took. I’d purposely waited to take this hike until Aaron was a little older, and at three and a half, I’m glad I waited. I don’t know how deep those waters are along the interpretive trail, but I wasn’t planning on finding out, either. Of course, the three of them jockeyed for the lead throughout the hike and I had to hiss and squawk at times to keep someone from going into the drink. There are hand rails for some portions of this hike, but some of them are seriously shaky and at points, nonexistent, so parents of very young children will want to keep their kids within snatching distance.

Aaaand they’re OFF!
Aaaand they’re OFF!
One of the hinges that keeps hikers bog-water-free
One of the hinges that keeps hikers bog-water-free

At each numbered guidepost, they stood and listened to about 3/4 of what I read from the information listed on the guided tour handout. There was a too much information for a three- and five-year-old (who accuses me of “blah blah blah” if I go on too long), but older kids will probably stay put for longer. The terrain changed often enough and, coupled with the factoids we picked up, like our discovery of a carnivorous plant (take it from me, boys LOVE the idea of carnivorous plants) and a deciduous evergreen tree (the tamarack pine, which sheds its needles each fall), this short hike packed a lot of punch.

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Exactly how wrong is it to tease your kids that carnivorous plants can chase them?

In the thick of it
In the thick of it

The bobbing and weaving of the trail itself adds an element of danger and adventure to the hike, something the boys enjoyed but that I’m sure contributed to the completely white head of hair I’m sure to have one day. What’s even better is that Volo Bog changes greatly with the seasons, so there’s often something new to see with each visit.

There are also usually guided tours along the trail we took, except for the one day we actually showed up on time, ready to be guided. The Visitor Center is kid-friendly and packed with exhibits that encourage touching, and questions are always welcome. Just be sure to be polite or the coyote greeter will escort you off the premises.

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We’re waiting for the next big snowfall for a return visit to see if those meat-eating plants will be poking up out of the snow.

 

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Photo Friday: Exploring Our “Back Yard”

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Today’s Photo Friday image was taken almost three years ago during a long weekend trip to Chicago. We live a little over an hour northwest of the city in a quiet rural county, and while we take a couple of day trips there each year, we really enjoy spending a long weekend in the city whenever possible. (In those instances, Priceline is our friend; we’ve snagged 4-star rooms for as little as $40/night–though keep in mind when booking a room that parking downtown usually runs into the mid-30s per night).

On this weekend trip during “spring” break (note the winter coats–leave it to our cold-hardy family would spend spring break exploring a Midwestern city!), we took the kids to several popular Chicago attractions, including: The Art Institute, Shedd Aquarium, and Pizzeria Uno* (where we learned we’d been remiss in raising our kids to enjoy Chicago Style pizza, because the deep dish, buttery crust combo did not appeal to them at all!). Their favorite thing about The Art Institute? The elevators! And their favorite part about the entire trip? A train ride on the El from the Loop to Lincoln Park and back for under $10.

That’s the cool–albeit sometimes frustrating–thing about traveling with kids: what wows you (Uno’s pizza!) won’t necessarily register with them (”Mommy! What’s wrong with dis pizza?”), and they find complete joy in things most grown-ups take for granted. When I was a miserable law student riding the El every day to school and work and back, I’ll admit I enjoyed those train rides but everyone commuting looked so miserable and blah. When I was pregnant with Jackson and working for a nonprofit organization downtown, I used to ride up in the front car like this to keep my nausea at bay. But to my kids? That elevated train ride was magical and exhilarating.

I love how reciprocal the parenting relationship can be; while my husband and I encourage them to explore and appreciate the world around them, but they teach us to remember to experience the simplest of things with joy unfettered by expectations.

Thanks to Deb Dubrow at Delicious Baby for hosting Photo Friday each week.

*Insider Tip: To fully appreciate the Chicago style pizza served up at Uno’s, skip the chains in other cities and even in the Chicago suburbs. There’s no substitute for eating at the original restaurant on Ohio Street, or its sister site a block away at Wabash & Ontario, Pizzeria Due.

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Virtual Getaways–Affordable Family Fun

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avalanchelake

Here’s a travel money-saver you might appreciate: virtual travel. Let’s say you’re researching an article and feeling generally sorry for yourself because your family has no big travel plans in their immediate future (ahem). Why not take an eTour or even an eHike of Glacier National Park, courtesy of the National Park Service web site? Yeah, I know it’s not the same thing as being there, but 1) it beats a sharp stick in the eye and 2) there are far lamer things you could be watching, on or offline.

So far, it looks like Glacier is the only park with what they’ve dubbed eTours and eHikes, though I found a few video podcasts while procrastinating searching around the various park web sites. An eHike or eTour is a great family activity; many of the slides on the eHike I took today featured clickable sound clips with wild bird calls and other sounds of the forest. There are video clips showing rangers explaining natural phenomena (have kids look for the Smoky Bear icons) and other videos showing waterfalls and other points of interest on the hike.

There are also free podcasts about Glacier National Park (available for download via iTunes and other MP3/MP4 formats), and many other parks, like Katmai and Grand Canyon, also offer them (search nps.gov for “podcast” to download tales about your favorite parks). I’m thinking about bringing a handful along on my next walk around our city park.

Again, eHiking is no substitute for the real thing, but they’re fun teaching tools for kids and their parents, and I think they’re a great idea. I hope more parks decide to get in on this.

What do you think? Have you come across any fun sites featuring virtual tours? Share your thoughts, links, and ideas in the comments section.

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