Last weekend was the big dog show weekend in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, culminating in the all-terrier Montgomery County Kennel Club show on Sunday. I needed/wanted to go for a few dog and dog club related reasons, but did not relish the long 7+ hour drive (each way) by myself. So I convinced Douglas and David to come along with me. I’d go to my dog club banquet on Friday night and the dog show on Sunday, but we’d skip the Saturday show, and do some family sightseeing instead.
There is quite a lot to do in the Philadelphia area – art, science and natural history museums, the zoo, plus historical exhibits like the Liberty Bell and Valley Forge.
We decided to give Doug the choice. He picked Crystal Cave in Kutztown. Boys and rocks.
I’m a bit claustrophobic and generally the idea of being in a cave gives me the creeps. This wasn’t too bad. The tour guide did an excellent job moving us through the cave, and the cave rooms themselves were fairly large, with very tall ceilings, so I didn’t get that “pressed in” feeling. Doug absolutely loved it.
The cave formations themselves are eery. Some could easily be alien life forms from a sci-fi film.
After the caves, we decided to head back and do a quick visit to Valley Forge. We’d been a number of times in the past, but Douglas didn’t remember it. On the way we stopped for lunch at a Texas Roadhouse in Royersford.
This was our first ever visit to this chain, and we were pleasantly surprised by the hospitality — warm and gracious — and the food — excellent. As first-time guests, they gave us a free bottle of their steak sauce, and asked us to fill out a brief questionnaire about our experience. I wrote in the comments that we very much enjoyed the food and wished there was a restaurant near us in Massachusetts. One of the managers made a point to come out and let us know that there were a few, including one not far from us in Worcester.
Why so good? Everything is very fresh. Homemade rolls, lots of choices for side dishes and good steaks. Is it Morton’s or Ruth Chris? Of course not. But when you are on the road looking for a quick reasonably priced meal, it’s a nice alternative to the burger and tex-mex lite chains. I particularly appreciated the 6 ounce filet for $16.00. It’s the right amount of meat for me and the price was fair. It was also very tasty.
We got to Valley Forge too late for an organized trolley or walking tour (although we have done the trolley tour in the past, and it is excellent). Instead we bought the self-guided one-hour CD tour ($15.00) and proceeded to drive through the park and learn a little history on the way.
Douglas wasn’t too interested at first, but we confiscated the Nintendo, and eventually he got into it. Admission to the park and buildings is free; there is a fee for the trolley tour.
As with all national parks, there are also special programs worth checking out if you are slightly more planful about your visit than we were this time 🙂 The park buildings close at 5pm, but the grounds are open until dusk. The last ranger-tour of Washington’s Headquarters is at 4:30 pm.
The centerpiece — literally — of the park is the National Memorial Arch. This time, we saw two wedding parties doing their formal photos. My pictures of them on Flickr.
You’ll also see lots of deer at Valley Forge. In fact the deer population of the park is a bit of a problem; if you are interested, you can read more at the park website.
For visitors, though, it is nice to see these pretty animals up close and vertical as opposed to lying by the side of the road, a sad but familiar site along Pennsylvania highways.
On Sunday, I went to the dog show. David and Doug went to the nearby Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania. They had a great time pumpkin painting and exploring the garden railway.
Other things to do in the area: We’ve also enjoyed wandering around the community of Doylestown, although we did not get up that way on this trip, and Longwood Gardens. Little kids would enjoy Sesame Place, although the weather never cooperated for that when Douglas was younger and now at nine, he’s well past it. If you like to shop, the ginormous King of Prussia mall is nearby.
Where to stay: I like the Marriott Springhill Suites in Plymouth Meeting. Reasonably priced ($89 AAA-rate), all-suite hotel. Indoor pool. Free breakfast. Free in-room Internet. Near the Plymouth Meeting Mall, which offers many restaurant choices including Benihana, another good choice when traveling with kids. The mall also has an arcade which entertained Douglas (and Dave) on Friday night while I was at the dog club banquet and on Saturday night while I made a quick run to Macy’s.
Word to the wise: Traffic in the Montgomery County area, especially on the Turnpike and its feeder roads, is awful nearly all the time. Plan accordingly.