I suspect our visit to Grayson Highlands State Park will remain a memory my children will take with them into adulthood. We went to this state park on the Fourth of July. Online I had found a letterbox clue for a box located on the Rhododendron Trail in the park. When we arrived at the trail, we were a little surprised by how steep it was. Also, based on the description of the trail posted at its beginning, it seemed that the letterbox was likely located several miles from the start of the trail. Even with these drawbacks, we started on the trail because we were there and it was something to do.
As we walked up the steep path, I mentioned that there were wild ponies in the park and the girls should keep a lookout for them. Because it was the Fourth of July, there were lots of people on the trail and one kindly woman told us there were ponies if we continued on the path. Our entire group hiked until the Rhododendron Trail crossed the Appalachian Trail. At that point, my parents and Anne took a rest while Meg, Clare and I continued up the steep path. Meg had her heart set on seeing the ponies and Clare wasn't about to let Meg see the ponies without her. At one point in our journey we had spotted ponies on a far off hill--so far that we could barely make out they were ponies. As we continued, we kept thinking we would come to that hillside. Just as we were giving up and looking to one side of the path believing the ponies we had seen were in that direction, a fellow hiker told us to look to our left. Up a slight rise, a large group of wild ponies (including several babies) ate and slept. While these ponies were wild, they were used to being around people in the park and we were able to walk right up to them (though many signs posted in the park warned against touching or feeding the ponies).
Meg and Clare were most excited about the foals. These precious babies rested in the grass or nursed from their mamas. Somehow they simultaneously appeared both fragile and unbelievably well equipped to handle the difficult terrain. One foal remained so still in the grass that several of our fellow hikers moved closer to it in an attempt to get him to move. "Is he dead?" Meg asked. "He's breathing," I assured her. Soon the little foal was up and moving around with the other ponies.
As we walked around the ponies, both Meg and I spotted a large gate in the distance that seemed to meet the description in our letterbox clue. We so wanted to keep climbing up the path to see if we had found the spot where the box was hidden, but poor Clare had needed a restroom break for a very long time. Meg and I knew we couldn't ask her to go any farther. Happily, the trip back down the Rhododendrum Trail was much faster than the hike up. While Clare concentrated on finding the closest restroom, Meg declared, "I'm going to be a ranger when I grow up. The type of ranger that rides horses and takes care of animals." A passing hiker walking his dog responded, "That sounds like a great plan." A little while later, Meg simply said, "This is the best day of my life."