It’s as Easy as Riding a Bike

“It’s as easy as riding a bike,” she said.

We had spent the last twenty minutes strolling from the streets of the Old Market in Omaha, Nebraska to the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge.  The plan was to walk across the bridge so that we could stand in two states at once. The bridge crosses the Missouri River and connects Omaha, Nebraska to Council Bluffs, Iowa. Smack dab in the middle of the Missouri River is the state line and it is celebrated by a plaque that highlights this line on the bridge. We were about to arrive at the foot of the bridge when my sister was distracted by a B Cycle station.

The B Cycle station is a bike sharing system. You pay to rent a bike and then you can return it within your allotted time to any station in town that has open spots. Marissa immediately tried to lure me into a bike ride back to the Old Market.

“Absolutely not,” I shrieked, “that is not going to happen.”

“Why not? Come on! It’s as easy as riding a bike,” she said.

As I tried to distract her with the excitement of standing in two states at once, I was thinking about the last time I rode a bike.

I had let my kids and husband push me into purchasing a beach cruiser and when we got it home, it was time to try it out. I hated every minute of it. It had been years since I had ridden a bike and I weighed a lot less then. I was uncomfortable, self-conscious, and I was having a very difficult time keeping up with my family. That was the last time I rode that bike and it collected dust until we gave it away.

Sixty pounds lost and a couple of years later, I find myself staring at the B Cycle station.

The bright blue bikes were mocking me. You can’t do this. You still need to lose 40 pounds. You put five pounds on since going back to work. You haven’t kept up your workout regimen. You will surely die when you can’t pedal fast enough across the street.

All of these things and more played through my head the whole time that we walked along the bridge. A couple of pictures later and a stroll back down to the foot of the bridge and we were staring at those darn blue bikes again.

“We are going to do this,” said Marissa as she read the directions on the pay station.

It looked like there was no way around it so I took the bike out of the docking station.

Beep, beep, beep. That was the sound of the second bike waiting at the ready.

I hopped on with little grace and pedaled around the flat sidewalk for a few minutes. I stumbled just once while we did a couple of turns in a nearby parking lot and then we were off.

“I probably look ridiculous, don’t I?” I yelled up to her, still worried about how I looked.

“You look like somebody who is having a great time,” she said over her shoulder.

That gave me pause. I could feel the smile set on my face. She was right. I was having a good time. I didn’t need to worry about what anyone else around me was thinking. I still have forty more pounds that I would like lose. None of this mattered. I was enjoying myself.

As we pedaled down the sidewalks, we both giggled like school girls. We were those tourists laughing out loud as we tried to snap a selfie (oh, yes we did).

And I felt like a little piece of myself was set free.

Copper Mountain in the Summer

When we first moved to Colorado, we moved in November. Smack dab at the beginning of winter. Did I mention we moved from Florida where winter is like four days long? One of my friends told me that people come to Colorado for the winter and stay for the summer.

I have found that the longer I stay here, the more I love winter. I love to go to the ski towns but we still haven’t visited the ski towns in the summertime. This summer, I hope to spend a lot of time exploring the mountain towns in the summer and Copper Mountain is one of them.

Copper is amazing in the winter time and I can only imagine how great it is in the summertime. I am looking forward to taking the chairlift up so that I can do some hiking on those hills that we have skied down. Did you know that the chairlift is free when you spend $12 in the village? And kids under 12 are free, too. There are so many other things that you can do like zipline, play minigolf, ride gokarts, and more.

My personal favorite is to visit Sugar Lips Mini Donuts. I recommend the S’mores donuts. I sure hope Sugar Lips is open in the summertime, too! I think it will be the perfect place to stop after a morning of hiking.

It’s the best deal for families in Colorado! The revised pricing for 2015 is $49 per day and $109 for a season pass.

Activities open 10:00am-5:00pm Sun-Friday and Sat 10:00am-7:00pm. The summer activities will open June 12, 2015.

It is Going to Be a Colorado Summer

herman gulch1

In August, I went back to work full-time as a teacher librarian. At the same time, my husband switched jobs and is working much longer days. Because of this, we feel like we have become the perfect example of those people working for the weekend and we haven’t been able to do much traveling.

Part of that is work and life but part of it is my fault. I am just so tired at the end of the week that the last thing I can think about is traveling and coming home to a dirty house, an empty fridge, and a work week ahead of me. I have vowed to be much better during the school year but first, summer will be upon us soon!

Over the past month or so, we have been dreaming up some big plans for the summer. First, we talked about going to the Grand Canyon but then we realized we waited too long to book and everywhere we wanted to stay was booked solid. Next, we found some great ticket prices for flights to California. I grew up in SoCal and we talked about showing the kids my old stomping grounds. A few other ideas were thrown into the mix but in the end we decided that there is just so much of Colorado that we haven’t seen.

Enter the Colorado Summer! We are going to spend lots of summer weekends taking shorter trips around Colorado.

We are so excited to explore more of this awesome state. Some of the things on our list include Mesa Verde, the Sand Dunes (again!), and the Maroon Bells. We will go hiking and camping and spend some time in Estes Park.

Where should we go? What should we do? Share your ideas with us and help us plan our summer of Colorado itinerary.

Hiking a Colorado 14er with Kids

Winter is still upon us but I am thinking about the hiking that I am going to do this spring and summer. I have a date with a mountain. A mountain that bested me in July of 2014.

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It was a lofty goal. And I don’t mean for my kids. I was more worried about myself on the trip up a 14er.

Colorado 14ers are mountains that are above 14,000 feet. There are over 50 14ers in Colorado and they rank from a drive up the road to a rigorous hike to a mountain climb. We picked Mt. Bierstadt, a 14er that is known for being a great first timer hike.

And by first timer hike, they mean a hiker who hikes the heck out of trails but has never hit a 14er. Not a first time hiker.

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We prepared well. We researched the heck out of it. We felt ready. We weren’t naive about this adventure. We knew it was going to take anywhere from 5-10 hours, depending on our speed. We knew that it was going to be a 7 mile hike round trip. We knew we were going to have to pack snacks, lunch, and enough water. We knew we were going to have to leave our house before the sun came up.

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We also didn’t know much about this adventure. These are a few things I learned on my first hike up a 14er:

Only about 5% (okay, maybe 15%) of athletic people are still athletic at 14,000 feet. As we trudged up the trail, we saw everybody catching their breath and taking breaks. Once we hit a certain point, we started playing the passing game with people. We would pass a group and then that group would pass us a few feet later. You eventually get to a point where you are hiking with the same group. There were hundreds of people hiking Mt. Bierstadt at the same time we were. Sometimes, we felt pushed up the mountain.

Mt. Bierstadt is an easy 14er but that is an oxymoron because 14ers are not easy. This is not a leisurely stroll through the woods. It is quite possibly one of the most difficult things I have ever done. You are climbing up hill for at least three hours straight (maybe less if you are more athletic than I am). Then you have to climb all the way back down.

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Be ready to turn around. The only competition you have is with yourself. You still have to hike all the way back down the mountain to your car. The trip down often proves to be more difficult. You can always go back and try again. Be safe and listen to your body.

When they say to be at the peak of the 14er by 11am, listen. The storms roll in at approximately 12:01pm like clockwork. We were about halfway back to the car when the storms came in and it was scary at times. Next time, we will leave much earlier in the morning so that we are done well before noon.

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Altitude sickness is no joke and everybody in your group should be watched carefully for it. With the exception of my house hunting trip to Denver right before we moved here, I haven’t really experienced altitude sickness. We spend a lot of time in the Rocky Mountains and I haven’t experienced altitude sickness there. I was hit hard by it on our hike. I don’t know if it is the level of activity or if I wasn’t drinking enough water, but I was so dizzy at times that I had to stop and take a break.

This was eventually what led to my Mt. Bierstadt hiking demise. That, and my daughter decided she was done. We almost made it but we both knew that we had enough. We knew that the clock was catching up with us and we were worried that we wouldn’t make it back to the car before the dangerous storms came in. My daughter and I took a short break, had a snack, and started the hike back down. My son and husband continued up to the top and had just enough time to snap a quick picture and head back down. They were so fast that they actually caught up to us.

We almost made it!

We almost made it!

I am ready to conquer this mountain again come this summer.

Sunday Family Pajama Brunch at Keystone

We have visited a lot of the ski resorts within an hour or two driving distance of the front range of Colorado and we love each of them for different reasons. We haven’t found one that is as family friendly and kid centered as Keystone Ski Resort.

I am a huge advocate of going places because I want to and I know that my children will be just fine. I don’t need a place that caters to my kids but, sometimes, it is nice to be able to sit back and relax while the kids enjoy their kid-centered activities. Keystone Ski Resort is a pro at doing this.

Bighorn Brunch at Keystone

At Keystone, kids are king.

Bighorn Bistro and Bar Sunday Family Pajama Brunch was one of our favorite meals during our weekend stay at Keystone. The restaurant is located in the Keystone Lodge and Spa. Parking is across the street and easy to find. There is an underground tunnel that you use to get to the other side of the busy road.

The minute you walk into the Keystone Lodge and Spa, you are hit with the smells of breakfast. The Sunday Family Pajama Brunch was so much fun. There are two separate buffet bars set up – one for the kids and one for the adults. We started our breakfast in the main dining room together as a family. Brunch choices included items like bagels, made to order omelettes, stuffed french toast, and more. The kids’ brunch table had so many pancake toppings that my kids came to the table with a breakfast that looked more like dessert! Luckily, there were lots of healthy choices, too.

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After eating with us, the kids headed into the Littlehorn Dining Room where there were able to watch the Polar Express and create some crafts. They made picture frames, wooden airplanes, and drew pictures. They painted, crafted, and enjoyed some time while we spent some quiet time watching the skaters on the ice rink and the snow fall.

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You might even get a chance to see Riperoo and some of his friends.

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Did we forget to mention the bottomless mimosa and bloody mary bar?

*Thank you to Keystone for hosting some of our activities. All opinions are my own.

Winter Park Scenic Snowcat Tours

I have said over and over that before we moved to Denver, I thought ski resorts were for skiing. I hadn’t spent much time at ski resorts and didn’t realize how much the offer for the non-skier. For the past couple of years, I have tried to find time to take a snowcat tour but I just couldn’t justify the cost for the whole family and didn’t really want to go by myself.

Winter Park snowcat tour

This Christmas, my mom was in town and we spent some time in Winter Park, CO for the holidays. I decided that this was the perfect excuse to take a snowcat tour and we made a girl’s day out of it. Because we wanted to take the tour on Christmas Eve, we booked a couple of weeks in advance but you can book up until the day of if there is space available. If your time in Winter Park is limited and you don’t want to miss out, book in advance.

The tour begins in the Balcony House where you sign a waiver and then head outside to pile into the snowcat. Tours hold 13 passengers and the seating did not feel cramped. As the snowcat climbs the mountain, the driver will share some facts about the snowcat and history of the mountain.

Winter Park Snowcat tour

If you are a beginner skier or if you avoid the slopes, the snowcat tour is a great way to see a part of the mountain that you might never get to see. The snowcat tour takes you up to the Sunspot Lodge and the views are amazing. You will have thirty minutes to walk around, snap some pictures or grab a quick bite to eat. If you choose to stay longer than the thirty minutes, you can take the Zephyr chairlift down.

Winter Park Snowcat tour

Things to Know Before You Go:

Cost: $49 per person

Dress: Wear your winter gear. You don’t need your goggles or your ski helmet, but you will want your snow pants and snow boots. You will be at the top of the mountain trudging around in the snow. You will want to layer though because the snowcat gets hot!

 

Six Reasons Families Will Love Keystone Resort

Keystone Resort offers so many great activities that the whole family will love. While exploring Keystone, there were a number of things that I felt made our ski day go much more smoothly.

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Free Front Row Parking in the River Run Parking Lot Right Next to the Gear Wagons

I don’t know about you but I find the hardest part about skiing together as a family is just getting to the ski lift. By time the kids have pulled on the ski pants (because, you know, the drive up is much more comfy when you aren’t in your ski pants), the jacket, and the gloves to strapping on those ski boots, I often feel like running a 5K would have been easier. The River Run parking lot not only offers free parking but also front row parking for families (or large carpools). We had pulled in to park way in the back when one of the parking attendants told us to drive all the way up to the front and park. We arrived around 8:30am and there was still plenty of space in the family parking. We got a spot right next to the collection of gear wagons just waiting to hold all of our gear as we trekked to the ski lift.

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Baskets in the Bathroom

Have you ever taken a young child to the restroom when they are covered head to toe in snow gear? The jacket and the gloves are usually the first things to come off. Somehow, the hat ends up on the dirty, wet floor. Then, well, you get my drift. Keystone has baskets hanging above the toilets in the bathrooms to help with this and it is the thing that parents dream about while standing there holding all the gear. Drop the gloves and hats into the basket and then you will be ready to help your child get those snowpants unbuttoned. For the fourteenth time that day.

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 Tubing at 11,640 feet

Snow tubing is big fun. Snow tubing at 11,000 feet? Amazing. The whole family will load into the gondola to ride up to Adventure Point . After signing some waivers and watching a video, you will hit the tubing hill. Tubing sessions are an hour and you might feel like that won’t be enough time, but, believe me, it is. Be sure to allot some time to play on the snow fort. The kids will love to climb, slide, and explore the world’s largest snow fort.

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Beginner Ski Lessons on Top of the World

When my kids both learned how to ski, they were very disappointed that their ski day was spent at the bottom of the mountain on the magic carpet. Now, I am not saying that my kids were ready to go up the chair lift that first day, but there was a lot of talk that evening about how all they did was ride up and down the magic carpet. Keystone has some great learning areas that have to be reached by gondola.  The kids will love riding the gondola to their lesson spot. Bonus? The view from one of the learning areas is amazing and not a view that you often see during your first few lessons.

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Fun for the Non-Skiers

Before moving to Colorado and trying our hand at skiing, I thought ski resorts were for downhill skiers. Boy, was I wrong. Keystone caters to everyone. As we were exploring Keystone, all I could think about was how much fun it would be to have a family reunion there. Visitors from 1 to 100 will find something to do. There are sleigh rides, snowshoeing trails, tubing, gigantic checkers and chess. There are restaurants, coffee shops, snowcat tours, and ice skating.

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Kids Ski Free and Night Skiing

Keystone has one of the longest ski days around because they keep 9 trails open after dark. With our condo booking, we were given the option for free skiing on the night of our arrival. When you book two nights, kids ski free during your trip and this will help save some major cash for your ski vacation. I love that there are no blackout dates and you can choose from any lodging to qualify. This means that you can choose lodging in your budget, from hotel rooms to condos.

*Thank you to Keystone for hosting some of our activities. All opinions are my own.

Sweet Berry Farm in Middletown, Rhode Island (pick your own and market)

There is something about picking your own food that makes it taste better than the food you buy in stores. I have always preferred to grow my own fruits and vegetables, and I recommend you do the same if you are able. The sweet smell of herbs picked after the morning dew, or that giant cucumber that you somehow missed until it was two feet long, create magical stories to tell and memories to keep and pass down from one generation to another.  Unfortunately, my family has recently moved to a rental that we will be in for less than a year (military life). There is no time, space, or options for growing my own food. When such is the case, I immediately put my energy into finding the nearest and best U-Pick farms and farmers’ markets.

I really lucked out here in Newport, Rhode Island.  My nearest farmers’ market, Aquidneck Growers Market, lasts from June until October and is abound with local growers, bakers, cooks, freshly prepared foods, entertainment and more! It also happens to be less than half a mile from my house.  SCORE!  Each Wednesday my children and I will be strolling up to Memorial and filling our market bags with freshly picked fruits and vegetables, local meats and cheeses, and the occasional sweet treat.

 

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Even more thrilling is the close proximity of Sweet Berry Farm in Middletown, Rhode Island. It is less than a 15 minute drive from my home in Newport and it is everything you could possibly want in a U-Pick farm. The owners, Jan and Michelle Eckhart, have truly turned U-Pick into an art form. Most farms I have frequented in the past were made up of the crop itself and a couple of tents for the owners to huddle under and keep away from the summer harvest heat. Even at the more elaborate U-Pick set ups were you lucky enough to find a permanent outhouse to use.

Not Sweet Berry Farm.  Jan and Michelle have taken the business to a whole new level, complete with a post and beam barn you can rent for weddings and other events and a full, permanent, indoor market.  The market houses fresh and local fruit and vegetables in every direction and Sweet Berry’s own line of jams and honey from the bees that help pollinate their luscious berries.  With a seat-yourself-cafe – tables indoors and out – you can grab any of their copious amounts of pies, cookies, snacks (MANY gluten free offerings included) prepared meals, sandwiches, Susanna’s Ice Cream (made in house) and more all while you enjoy (and purchase to bring home) the bountiful bouquets of flowers held in bushels near the door (um, yes, they also offer catered dishes!).

Alas, I seem to have gotten so caught up in the excitement of all the farm has to offer…I should probably mention what my daughters and I went there to do in the first place…BERRY PICKING!

 

twokidsandamap.com visits Sweet Berry Farm

Sweet Berry Farm offers a wide variety of U-pick fruits and even Christmas trees!  They almost always have something in season from June through October.  As usual with any pick-your-own farm, please call ahead to see what they have available. Usually for this type of post, I would spent the next several paragraphs giving you pointers on things to know, or bring with you, or what you should do in advance, but Sweet Berry takes care of it all for you.  Go straight to the shop and pay in advance before you pick.  They provide the baskets for you in various sizes and write the days’ code on the basket.  I was a little disappointed when I asked if I could bring my basket back to re-use it and I was told no. I hate to have to waste packaging, even if it is recyclable.  Nonetheless, I will probably bring it back and ask again just to be sure.

All of that isn’t enough for you?  Sweet Berry Farm also showcases local artisans and live entertainment all summer long.  So whether you are in Newport to join the oodles of summer sailors, or viewing the mansions around Bellevue, take a minute and add Sweet Berry Farm to one of your afternoon plans and get the best of what the locals have to offer!

I will be returning very soon for use of the cafe and farmer’s market, not to mention, the peaches will be ready by the end of this week!

Marissa

Summer Tubing at Snow Mountain Ranch, Colorado

**I am back to work full-time and was so disappointed that I couldn’t make it to the preview of Snow Mountain Ranch. I was thrilled when Laurie, from Guessing all the Way, agreed to write a post for Two Kids! Thank you, Laurie!

I often try to decide if I love living in Colorado more for the winters or the summers. They both have equal opportunities for exploring the great outdoors, both have the same beautiful blue sky and the scenery is beautiful regardless of the time of year. For those three reasons alone, it makes it impossible for me to choose.

One of the things I love most about the winter months however, is going up to the mountains for some tubing fun. Being from Texas, I have never quite gotten the hang of the ski slopes. (Though I have given it the old Texas try a few times.) I do love the snow though and enjoy activities that allow me time to play in it. Tubing is definitely one of the things that I missed during the summer months in Colorado, so I was more than excited to learn about Snow Mountain Ranch’s grand opening of their “Summer Tubing Hill.”

Summer Tubing Hill from YMCA Rockies on Vimeo.

Snow Mountain Ranch is part of the YMCA of the Rockies, a place designed to bring families together in fun and unique ways. The newest way they are working to do this is with their “Summer Tubing Hill” designed for ages 3 and up. A first of its kind in Colorado, this tubing hill brings the excitement of winter tubing to the spring, summer and fall months. It’s a perfect way to enjoy one of the best parts of winter without the cold temperatures and bulky clothes.

The kids and I were all three a little intimidated before our first trip down the hill. Since it was our first experience with anything of this nature, we were not sure what to expect. Made of a material called Snowflex®, the slope looks like an actual snow tubing slope. The top of the hill has a fairly steep slant that gradually turns into several rolling hills. Once we took our first ride down the slope, we were hooked. My daughter and I had to ride connected together in separate tubes due to her age, while my son who is 7 took off on his own tube. My favorite part of the slope was the gentle sprays of water mist from the sides of the slope. It was just enough mist to be refreshing on a hot summer day.

Kudos to Snow Mountain Ranch for continuing to hold true to their mission of providing unifying experiences for families. We can’t wait to have another visit when dad can come along too.

If you are looking for a fun way to wrap up summer with the family, visit the Snow Mountain Ranch website for lodging and camping information.

National Cryptologic Museum

MZPZO OAD FQJSOTWBZF VNPDNV UTL!

Key A=H

Can you decode the message you see in blue above?  If you visited the National Cryptologic Museum at Fort Meade, Maryland, you would be able to!  Okay, okay. I will give you the encryption code.  Use this cipher wheel (obtained at the museum).  I have already lined the letters up to match the key I chose (you can’t tell from the picture, but the black wheel turns independently…I have it lined up so that A=H). Now, match up each of the letters in the message above to find the answer (the answer can also be found at the bottom of this post)!

cipherwheel

This is just one example of the engaging activities that caught our attention today at the National Cryptologic Museum.  My husband, father, and two oldest kids had the pleasure of visiting the museum today and I was so pleasantly surprised, as was everyone else!  We had a TERRIFIC time.  The museum had several rooms of displays depicting the history and growth of cryptology in America.  Actual machines that were used, models of items used in international espionage, encrypted letters, and more.  Everything you could possibly desire to awaken the super spy inside of you.  Be careful though, you  may leave with a whole new sense of paranoia!

The museum was first built for use by NSA employees at the nearby offices, designed to enlighten them on the history of their careers.  The museum has been open to the public for more than two decades now and they offer opportunities for individuals, groups, and organizations to visit.  They offer guided tours and countless free booklets to take with you.  Once we returned home, my husband spent the better part of the afternoon reading a booklet and trying to confirm the mathematics behind the Enigma encryption machine!

Enigma Machine

The most valuable service they offered, however, was the Crypto Kids Challenge!  Oh my gosh.  Every museum should have a program like this.  Every museum.  We all know that the mention of a museum does not exactly insight excitement in people under the age of 18.  I cannot even count on my two hands the number of museums that I have been too and have barely been able to graze the surface of the information they had to offer.  The kids are bored after five minutes or constantly wanting to move from display to display, without really learning much of anything.

Deciphering Codes                     Deciphering Code

The National Cryptologic Museum has a great solution to that with the Crypto Kids Challenge!  My son, age 12, and my daughter, age 9, were both given a clipboard, challenge sheet, pencil, and cipher wheel at the entrance to the museum.  A pleasant man explained the “rules” to them:  They were to seek out the special signs throughout the museum, read the question, and decipher the code that contained the answer to the question.  After they documented all of their answers the children took their answer sheets to the front desk and received their choice of prize (both of mine chose a Frisbee and a pencil).

How many kids can you count on the floor focused on their work???

Not only did this engage my children in the displays, but it also gave them the opportunity to become a cryptographer for the day!  Not to mention, us adults were able to peruse the museum with very quiet, intent children, doing their own thing.  There were just enough signs to decipher to keep my kids involved for the duration of our visit.  They were also able to read about Native American Code Talkers and Soviet Spies, and see cryptology computers that filled up entire rooms and were only able to hold 256 MB of data!  The displays were filled with interesting topics.  There were plenty of interactive areas for everyone to enjoy, including typing your own code on an enigma machine, writing with invisible ink, and more.

Hands On Activiities

I highly recommend you visit the museum if you are in the DC  or Baltimore area, or anywhere in between.  It is a terrific way to spend the afternoon!  You can also follow in our footsteps and go to Expressway Pit Beef to grab lunch or dinner.  It’s a fantastic outdoor local BBQ spot.  Get your favorite BBQ dish and sit down or eat at one of the stand up picnic tables.

Details for the National Cryptologic Museum:

Fort Meade, MD

Like Their Facebook Page

Phone numbers
Office – 301-688-5849
Gift Shop – 301-688-6857
Library – 301-688-2145
Fax – 301-688-5847

Monday-Friday
9:00am – 4:00pm
Saturdays
(1st and 3rd of the month)
10:00am – 2:00pm
Closed Sundays and
Federal Holidays

Answer to the encrypted phrase above: Visit The Cryptologic Museum Now!