Sunday, August 07, 2016

Camping at Westmoreland State Park, Next Door and A World Away

[Originally composed 8/1/2016]

Snakes appearing to defy gravity by slithering up trees, prolific jellyfish, shark teeth, a garden overflowing with fluttering butterflies and trees with menacing thorns. Sounds like some exotic location, right? In fact, these are the sights we encountered traveling a mere 2 hours away in our home state of Virginia, at Westmoreland State Park.

We spent a fun couple of days camping at the park with our friends, Lauren and Nick, their two kids, and our friend's 6 year old. This was Lauren and Nick's kids first time camping, and they did fantastic! We had many of our usual camping fun experiences, including cooking hot dogs and s'mores over a fire (which I built and lit without cussing or throwing a tantrum, thank you very much!), sleeping out in a tent and getting in swim time both at the beach and pool. Westmoreland, however, brought a few bonuses I'd not encountered before.

After spending a good few hours playing at the pool and enduring a downpour, we returned to camp to find (what I believe to be) a black rat snake sunning itself. This part isn't especially unusual, but what I hadn't expected was to see it a few feet up in a tree. And more surprising was to see it slither down the tree. I didn't catch any video, but it's basically the same sight as this YouTube video. That just shouldn't work, but it does.

Speaking of run-ins with animals, Lauren and her daughter found out the hard way that the jellyfish activity in the Potomac river is thriving. While exploring Fossil beach, they both got stung. Ouch! Luckily the park has a pool, so the kids could get their swim time in there without fear of getting assaulted.

Speaking of stinging, J got a first hand introduction to stinging nettle which he won't soon forget. And check out this guy:

If my Google skills are up to the task, I do believe that's Aralia spinosa, more commonly known as devil’s walking stick or Hercules club for obvious reasons. Nasty, but beautiful. I'd only ever encountered such vicious trees in Central America before.

I'll be honest, I pushed hard to go to Westmoreland just because of this one sentence from the state park home page:

Fossil collectors enjoy hunting for ancient shark teeth along the Potomac.
Ancient shark teeth?! Seriously, who can resist ancient shark teeth<!/p>

Our first attempt combing the beach didn't turn up anything other than jellyfish stings. But later in the afternoon we returned and happened to run into a park ranger. I finally had a chance to ask: uh, what exactly am I looking for?. She explained it and then within a few minutes of looking, found a shark tooth. I was amazed. To her credit, she quickly offered it up to J, not me. Well done. I then spent the next hour combing (J had important castle infrastructure projects to work on) the beach and I ended up with two finds: a shark tooth(!) and a random bone. Is the bone from a pterodactyl or someone's chicken lunch last week? I've got no idea. I'm going to assume the former, though it's probably the latter. See:

I'm surprised, a quick Google search on amateur methods of dating bone turned up nothing. Surely there must be some way to determine if what I'm looking at is months, years, decades or older, right?

Near the visitor's center, the park had a small garden which was absolutely overflowing with butterflies and other pollinators. I don't recall seeing so many butterflies clustered in one location in the wild; at least not in the U.S.

It's hard to believe that the same Potomac river situated a few miles from our home could provide a rafting adventure as well as an exotic beach to hunt for shark's teeth. What a fun weekend!

For more photos, View The Full Album.

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