We started off at the week off at Montauk State Park. We spent four days trout fishing before moving on over to Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park. Before we explored the Shut-Ins we drove up to Elephant Rock State Park. After all that rock climbing we were ready for a cool dip into the spring fed water.
I did a lot of research before we left to go on vacation. I knew that a Shut-In was a constriction in a river-way. I knew that hundreds of people visit the Shut-Ins every weekend of the summer. I also knew that approximately five years ago an electric company's water reservoir breached sending 1.3 billion gallons of water downstream flooding this state park. I also knew that venomous copperhead snakes and even black bears were known to call this area their habitat.
No amount of research could have prepared me for the Shut-Ins themselves. The Short Chic felt some sense of familiarity with them as she had played in another Shut-In during our visit to Rocky Falls. But these Shut-Ins were different. There were rocks on top of rocks. Below the surface of the water, you could see more rocks. Some were very sharp. Most were jagged. And the water coming through the rocks was very powerful.
It has been almost five years since the flood. The campgrounds have been moved to higher ground a few miles from the Shut-Ins. Giant boulders remain littered throughout the park as a powerful reminder of the flood. Just inside the entrance is a new and inviting visitor center. If you visit here take a few moments to sit in the air conditioning and watch the three video's available in the movie theater. One video is about the volcanic rock that dominates this area, another is about the reservoir breach and the rebuilding process. When you think about the devastation that occurred and you see all the efforts to conserve and rebuild, it is honestly amazing!
If you are like us and actually plan to enter the water there are a few things you should know before hand. The water is cool and refreshing. It was perfect for a hot summer day. Water shoes are an absolute requirement. I would want the thickest sole shoes I could find. Life Jackets are another must take items if you are visting the Shut-Ins with kids. Part of me wished we had also brought helmets for the kids to wear as well!
There is no need for swimming toys. Not unless you select a different part of the river to play in. (Those parts do exist!) Know that any pool bag, towels, or anything else you carried down to the Shut-Ins is just going to get stashed away in the cracks of rock until you are ready to go and collect them.
There is a store with changing area and lockers at the top of the hill. I wish we would have known that before we drug out things down to the river. Warning signs are posted everywhere reminding you that in case of a flood you should move to higher ground. There are also warning signs about black bears too!
The Boy nearly gave me a heart-attach when he decided to jump into one of the deeper pools of water. He even got his mini-me to go with him. He won't admit it out-loud when I am around but I think he probably jumped a little too wide and hit a rock under the surface.
I should report that we never saw a bear during our entire visit. I can't say the same about the cottonmouth snake. We actually had one visit our campsite every evening. I am happy to report that while we did finish our vacation covered in bug bites and unexplained bruises from the Shut-Ins no one was bitten by the cottonmouth.
The Park Rangers and the camp staff held educational/informational programs on the weekend nights that we stayed in the park. The kids attended both of them. The first night the program was ironically about snakes. The second night the program was about the meteor shower that was hitting our area the week after our vacation. The kids came home from the second program so excited about shooting stars as well as balloons and glow sticks (props used in the program)!
The camping area of the park was not what we expected. Given a flood went through here five years ago, we were expecting a tree-less, no shade park. What we found was the exact opposite. There were plenty of tall trees and a really peaceful outdoor experience. The park has an equestrian loop. A full service loop as well as cabins you can rent. There is even hike-in camping with roll carts you can rent to get your things to your site. After our experience of hiking at Montauk, I will report that we did not venture out onto any state park paths during our time at Johnson's Shut-Ins.
The Boy was disappointed to learn that the entire park has no cell service. He did find free wi-fi at the camp store.