Museums & Nature Centers

Spending an Afternoon with Judge John B. Waldo, Oregon’s John Muir

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy
Group: Obsidians
Dates: November 7, 2016
Participants: 6
Type: University of Oregon Archives Visit

On this sunny day in November, our small group of Obsidians spent several hours with the original writings, journals, and photographs of a true champion of nature – John B. Waldo.

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Waldo was an ardent conservationist, he’s been referred to as the west’s David Thoreau and even Oregon’s John Muir. Waldo was known for venturing into the Cascades, often spending months at a time, and recording his findings about this dynamic and vibrant landscape.

Over the course of his life Waldo worked as an explorer, legislator, and chief justice on the Oregon Supreme Court, all the time helping to preserve land in the Cascades. He envisioned a protected band of land along the crest of the Oregon Cascade Range that ran the entire length of Oregon. This goal became his personal mission.

On September 28, 1893 the Cascade Range Forest Reserve became a reality and 5 million acres were protected.

Today, we can experience his legacy in the protected lands and open spaces of the Cascades from Mount Hood south to the border with California, that include: Crater Lake National Park, Mt. Hood, Willamette, Umpqua, Rogue River national forests, and other public lands. And in the middle of this grand monument are the deep and pristine waters of Waldo Lake, named in his honor.

Curiously, little is written about Waldo. The judge was a philosophical and reflective person who did not directly seek publicity. But possibly this muted message is part of his larger voice – appreciating the beauty of Oregon is best experienced by hiking on the trails, exploring in the mountains, traveling in the wilderness, and experiencing the (as he wrote) “untrammeled nature and the free air.” Discover Waldo’s story for yourself. The University of Oregon archives are free to use – Knight Library, Paulson Reading Room.

Reference: John B. Waldo and William G. Steel: Forest Reserve Advocates for the Cascade Range of Oregon, Gerald W. Williams
Umpqua and Willamette National Forests
http://www.foresthistory.org/Publications/Books/Origins_National_Forests/sec21.htm

Here are just a few of the photos from his collection:

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Waldo Lake, Camp Edith (circa approx. 1890)

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Odell Lake (circa approx. 1890)

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Waldo Lake (circa approx. 1890)

Sutter’s Fort and the Gold Rush

blog-20120903-img1A whitewashed adobe fort sits within the busy, modern center of Sacramento, California. It is known as “Sutter’s Fort’ and is frequented by children learning about California’s pioneering history. But, it is not just for kids; older explorers can discover a thing or two as well.

The fort is named after John Sutter an immigrant from Europe who created a massive agricultural empire in California’s fertile central valley in the 1840’s. For roughly ten years he controlled all business interests and shaped the activities within the region. In a way, he was California’s first business entrepreneur. But, in 1848 that changed when gold was discovered at one of the mills that he owned along the American River; ‘Gold Fever’ was out. Within several years tens of thousands of gold seekers overran his lands, mills, and businesses. Ironically, Sutter became a pauper in the land where he once single-handedly ruled. It is in interesting chapter of the American West.

A reconstruction of his fort remains today. Outside, the fort has thick, adobe walls that are several stories high. Inside, dirt pathways guide folks around fire pits, canvas tents and wagons. All of the rooms are well stocked with artifacts and exhibits that help to tell the story from that time.

Check the calendar for events and special times when visitors can see modern folks who have dressed the part and provide a glimpse into life of the pioneers.
Learn more:
http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=485

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All Aboard at the California State Railroad Museum

Unleash your inner train-loving kid at the California State Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento, California.

I could easily spend another afternoon exploring over 20 restored locomotives and railroad cars, but this is more than just a place about railroads, it tells the story of how trains transformed America.

blog-20120804-img2After purchasing tickets you enter a large room with an impressive exhibit about the Transcontinental Railroad. This is an immersive, life-sized diorama that literally pulls the visitor inside to reflect on the arduous task of building a railroad over the rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains. At the center of the experience is a beautiful locomotive. In front of the engine is a tunnel – a masterwork of art – that plays on the eye and appears to continue into the snowy and cold mountains.

After this exhibit is a second immense room filled with trains and cars – all restored. Woven between these great machines are smaller exhibits that give glimpses and perspectives of how trains influenced a growing free-society in the United States. The exhibits also look at the daily life of train workmen.

blog-20120804-img3My daughter enjoyed a restored sleeper car, featured as part of the “Golden Age” of rail travel. Inside, the car was darkened, it rocked and swayed, complete with rail noise and passing light signals through the windows. It really did feel like being in a passenger car at night.

The roadhouse is filled with monster-sized locomotives and railcars. Don’t miss out on the postal car, where you can see the organization involved with delivering mail to remote communities along the rail line.

Upstairs is a children’s play area, and a sizable model train layout complete with bridges, tunnels and lots of trains for those who want to be eight year’s old again. Make sure to explore the adjoining area, where you walk over a train trestle and get a bird’s eye view of the entire museum.
blog-20120804-img4Learn more:
http://www.csrmf.org

Discovering The Nature Conservancy’s Tallgrass Prairie

Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

Few symbols represent the spirit of the American West like wild Bison grazing on the expansive and open prairie.

There is something about this setting that makes the heart pump a little faster and one’s breathing to quicken. Such a setting whispers about time when our ancestors lived on or traveled across this expansive landscape. It quietly reminds us, in today’s busy world, not to forget their stories about independence, rugged individualism and family. This uniquely American setting is often seen two-dimensionally in movies and TV shows, but a three-dimensional landscape can be explored and experienced at The Nature Conservancy’s Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Osage County of north-eastern Oklahoma.

Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is big. On a map it covers an area that is roughly 12 miles wide and 9 miles long! The total acreage is about 40,000 acres, with 25,000 acres reserved for the bison.

This is a wonderful place to visit for many reasons, but one of the most important is seeing this landscape that was almost lost. As the settlers came westward the Bison (also known as American Buffalo) were hunted and the land plowed to create rich and bountiful farmlands. But, there was a high cost. The original population of hundreds of thousands of Bison had been hunted to less than five-hundred individuals and the pristine open prairie that spanned from Texas to Minnesota had been reduced to less than ten percent of the original size. Fortunately, there were visionary folks who saw value in preserving untamed land. Since 1989 the Nature Conservancy, a private, non-profit organization, has restored the largest “fully-functioning portion of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem with the use of about 2500 free-roaming bison.”

Tallgrass Prairie PreserveMy visit to the tallgrass with my Father started in the town of Pawhuska, Oklahoma, close to the preserve’s southern entrance. The drive down a paved county road was surrounded by woodlands but this soon turned to prairie and the road turned to gravel and then a packed calichi clay.

Simple signage marked the entrance to the preserve.

The sun this autumn day was shining and the blue sky was punctuated with small white clouds. The wind was blowing about ten miles an hour and the temperature outside was around 40 degrees.

Tallgrass Prairie PreserveA plaque near the entrance of the preserve includes the text, “The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. You stand at the south edge of the largest unplowed, protected tract which remains of the 142 million acres of tallgrass prairie grasslands that once stretched from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Today, less than ten percent still exists, found mostly in the Flint Hills and Osage Hill regions of Kansas and Oklahoma. In an increasingly crowded and noisy world, what you see is an oasis of space and silence. Here you can experience the same beautiful vistas that greeted the earliest human hunters and gathers many thousands of years ago. This area is indeed a national treasure. Please treat it with respect.”

Sadly, the area surrounding this marker had been marred by a number of empty beer cans left apparently from the evening before. I later learned the roads leading to the preserve are county roads open to the public at all hours. Although there is a cleanup service provided in the preserve by volunteers they cannot be everywhere and at all times. We spent a few minutes picking up the unsightly and very uncool trash.

Twenty minutes or so down the road we stopped at an interpretive marker along the edge of the road. Dark stacked piles of bison poo dotted the area all around us. These were not messy cow patties, rather the dung was tightly packed together into circular disks. These nutrient rich ‘buffalo chips’ were used by natives and settlers as a charcoal because the material burns hot and slow.

Tallgrass Prairie PreserveFurther beyond a few dark bison sentinels stood at the side of hills, these were apparently lone males who had been pushed-out from the herds. The mature males, after mating, are no longer needed by the female dominated herds and are excluded.

Hawks and kestrels soared over the dry prairie grasses. Most of the birds I saw were sitting on fence posts observing their domain, but sometimes one would fly up, soar overhead and then later swoop down and appeared to have caught a rodent in its sharp talons.

Tallgrass Prairie PreserveA herd of bison was just ahead. It was easy to see their dark forms against the dry and brown landscape of late autumn. The bison allowed us to slowly drive past. They did not appear to mind us and continued with their business. If they wanted to the bison could cause us some harm as these are great creatures measuring 5-6 feet at the shoulders and 7-10 feet in length. Plus bison can weight up to 2,000 pounds or more! Some of the individuals peered at us through thick, wooly looking coats that would soon protect them from the coming winter cold. We watched them for some time.

In the sections of the preserve where we saw fences the barbed wire included 6 strands and were at least 6 feet tall. We later learned that bison can jump 6 feet laterally and 6 feet in height! The fences are tall so the strands appear at eye-level to intimidate the great beasts from jumping over.

Tallgrass Prairie PreserveWe passed another two groups of bison close to the road. The ‘Bison Loop’ road offered an additional several miles of great sightseeing.

The open prairie now presented low canyons of cottonwood trees and ash. In one of these more protected canyons was the Preserve Headquarters. As we pulled into the gravel parking lot an elegant looking eight-point buck darted in front of us and disappeared behind a building.

At the headquarters was an enthusiastic and and knowledgeable docent who was a treasure trove of information. One item she mentioned was that the hunting of bison in the 1800s had been so intense that the last wild bison seen in Osage County was in 1869.

Tallgrass Prairie PreserveThe Preserve Headquarters offers a great visitors center. One memorable exhibit showed just how tall the grasses at the tallgrass prairie can grow – as tall as a grown man. The grasses on the tallgrass are very nutritious and part of an amazingly fertile ecosystem. Another item was a table filled with bison bones and fur. I had expected the fur to be harsh feeling but, it was surprisingly soft and extremely warm. A scapula (shoulder blade) was at least 21 inches in length and 14 inches wide – a big bone for a large animal.

Near the headquarters are several short walking trails that looked welcoming, but the temperature that day was lowering and the wind was picking up.

We left the preserve when the sun was very low on the horizon. As the sun lowered past the rolling hills the dark forms of the bison were silhouetted against the rich shades of an ever increasingly dark sky. My heart pumped a little faster and my breathing quickened – it was a scene of the American West.

If you are interested in visiting, make the most of your day, stay overnight in the town on Pawhuska so you can get an early start. There are no gas stations or places to eat on the preserve, so fill up your gas tank in town and take some lunch or munchies with you. Tulsa, Oklahoma, has an airport, but be prepared for a good hour-and-a-half drive just to get to the preserve. Entering the preserve is free, though recommended donations of several dollars per person are welcome at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserveheadquarters. I was informed by a docent who has been at the preserve for years the best time to visit is in the spring (May) when the wildflowers carpet the landscape and the colors are superb. I plan to return at that time.

Quoted source and learn more:
http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/oklahoma/placesweprotect/tallgrass-prairie-preserve.xml

Exploring the Achensee of Tirol by Train, Trail, and Ship

Visiting the Achensee

The Achensee (ah-khen-say) is a beautiful natural lake nestled in the mountains of Tirol, Austria. The lake is sizable being 1 km wide and 9.5 km in length. It was to this lake that we traveled for a day trip.

The Austrian countryside sped past our window as the modern, aerodynamic train shot down rails of seamless steel. After a quiet, thirty minutes ride from Innsbruck, we departed at the Jenbach Bahnhof (Jenbach Train station) and proceeded only a few steps to the waiting Achenseebahn (Achensee train).

AchenseebahnHere stood a mechanized anachronism; an old-time, coal-burning, steam engine. It traveled on a narrow gauge rail, yet the engine was surprisingly large. The engine was oily, smelled of grease and belched and hissed steam. Inside the engineer’s cockpit, a messy pile of coal was sprawled across the metal floor. Along the sides of the machine were giant metallic wheels which supported the steam engine’s carriage. Underneath and between the wheels was a giant gear – a third rail – this was used by the train for traversing steep gradients.

We boarded one of two open-sided passenger cars. An antiquated latch locked a mini-door and kept several of us pinned in our row. A plaque on the wall stated the car was built in 1889 for Kaiser und König (Emperor and King).

The steam engine’s whistle was activated and a long high-pitched wail announced the start of the journey, with a small chug the behemoth came to life. The chugs grew with intensity and the entire train lurched forward as the engine pushed the cars uphill. Just one minute into the trip the tracks became steep and the third rail was activated, a clank-clank-clank of the greased metal gear could be heard.

AchenseebahnGeysers of dark smoke belched from the engine’s stack, the plumes repeated faster and faster as the machine’s power came to full strength. An engineer or an assistant shoveled coal into the engine’s furnace to feed the fiery beast. The burning coal boiled water and produced steam, this in-turn powered gears that moved the locomotive ever further up the hill.

The cars were pushed by the engine about as fast as a person could jog; through forests, past houses, small villages, and fields. Cars would stop at crossing signals and patiently wait for the train to pass, the people inside the autos were smiling just from seeing this historic train. On occasion tourists would run to a fence and start snapping photos, people in the train would wave back. The engineer would blast the whistle to add some zest to the excitement.

Sitting in the passenger car with my arm on the railing, I noticed my outside arm was suddenly covered in ash! The great billow of dark smoke had risen over the cars and the heavier ash particles were softly raining down.

AchenseeAfter the train crossed the highest point the engine was detached from the cars, it then traveled on a parallel track to the front of the train and was re-attached. Now the engine pulled the train. We resumed our trip. After a few minutes the track curved and in the distance was a sheet of blue hidden among the trees – this was the Achensee, a great inland lake, the largest in Austria. The lake rested in a deeply carved valley surrounded by high Alpine mountains.

A jet of steam was released from the side of the engine as the train stopped just meters away from the lake, we had arrived at the Achensee. The engineer jumped out and pulled a large faucet arm over to the engine and released a great flow of water. The steam engine greedily guzzled water to replenish itself for the return trip – a trip this steam engine had made thousands of times over the past hundred years.

The lake was beautiful, and because it was easy accessibility by automobiles and buses, the lake was a tourist haven, especially along the southern and western shore of the lake where we had arrived.

We walked on a lakeside trail for about 5 kilometers before we finally passed the last of the restaurants, tour buses and a multitude of visitors. It seemed odd that so many folks who visited these areas of comfort and relaxation looked unhappy and solemn from behind their sunglasses and wide-brimmed sun hats.

Hiking at the AchenseeThe trail we were on followed the edge of this elegant lake. Once we were past the touristy area the paved pathway narrowed, then became gravel walkway, then smaller again to become a dirt footpath. The lake began to reveal itself as we walked and passed small springs and quiet pebbled beaches. At one point a waterfall burst over the edge of a precipice – from fifty feet above – and tumbled down upon the path. The force of the water was strong but this part of the trail was shielded by a tin-roofed structure that looked all the worse for wear. The falling liquid drummed loudly on the roof as we passed under it.

The trail meandered along the inlets and indented shoreline of the lake. At one point we passed a great disgorgement of stone that had slid off the mountain – the action had created a jumble of rocks that fanned into the lake – we stood at the tip of a giant landslide. The mountain above was scarred like a great wound had been inflicted upon the surface.

We had been walking for two and a half hours since we left the train and were hungry. The plan was to meet several family members at an Alm about halfway up the northwestern side of the lake. They would arrive by ferry. We met them at the Alm and ate lunch, though, afterward we wished we had not eaten, for the meal was industrial in its preparation and it was presented without emotion. The meal was a disservice both in flavor and price paid -it did not represent this beautiful area. Having said that I must add that as I left the restaurant we passed others wolfing down the same meal, they were raving about how good it tasted.

FerryWe went outside and waited for the ferry. Our return trip would be by boat rather than by shoreline.

A large ferry boat out on the lake blurted its horn. It approached and with surprising agility maneuvered up to a small dock; we boarded. Not many people were on the ferry and we had the ship mostly to ourselves. Placards inside the main cabin advertised a nighttime cruise, an attached photo showed a sparkling and illuminated vessel on a dark body of water with a setting sun over a backdrop of mountains.

The ship hugged the shoreline. Now, just offshore I could study the topography of the steep and rugged mountains; from the sharp angle of the land entering the lake, it was obvious our ship traversed over deep waters. Looking overboard and into the lake’s water, the late afternoon sun shot lances of light down into the depths. The visibility was about 9m (27 feet) or so.

The recently eaten lunch sat in my tummy like a brick and I thought that if the vessel was struck by a calamity and sank into the dark waters of the Achensee that I would sink with it, like a stone, all because of that unfortunate meal that weighed so heavily on my stomach.

Ferry on the AchenseeWithin twenty minutes the vessel covered the same distance that I had walked in about 2 and half hours on the shoreline. It was then I realized I had not been so far away from the touristy area as I perceived myself to be, in fact, I had been in the middle of it. We docked near some hotels to gather passengers and the same solemn looking tourists I had seen earlier boarded. I guess they had eaten some terrible food too and that unhappy experience had etched itself on their faces.

In another fifteen minutes, the ship docked again and we disembarked. The Achenseebahn was quietly puffing away, waiting for us and others to board and be returned down the mountain.

The engine growled to life and we enjoyed a pleasant journey back to the train station. Everyone was tired and some of the people on the train slept, which was surprising considering the noise from the engine.

The late afternoon light provided great opportunities for photos as the train descended into the Inn Valley. In the distance, the train station and our final stop. Ten minutes later a modern, electric powered train arrived at the adjoining station and transported us back to Innsbruck in comfort.

Where Innsbruck’s Hidden Stories Are Kept

Where Innsbruck’s Hidden Stories Are Kept

While in Innsbruck, Austria, I observed the one-hundred year old building I was staying in was similar in architecture, but obviously much older than the surrounding buildings. I asked some local residents about it. They were not sure, but the question intrigued them. Finally, a call was made to Opa (the Grandfather) of one of the residents. He had lived in the building as a child.

He said the nearby rail yard in Innsbruck was destroyed by Allied bombs during the War (World War II) and many of the surrounding buildings had been pulverized, but his building survived – he was age 4 when the war ended. For many years afterwards he could remember having a clear line of sight, all the way to Schloss Ambras castle, several kilometers aways. In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s the ruble was removed and the city rebuilt.

Wow! A simple question had uncovered a great story. My curiosity had peaked, but where could I find other hidden stories? The next day I made a trip to the Stadtarchiv Museum (City Archive Museum) located in the Altstadt (Old Town) part of Innsbruck.

The museum has two entrances, but the front entrance from Altstadt is the most alluring. Peering in from Altstadt via a tunnel you see a pleasant courtyard. Most tourists see the courtyard and just move on, but if you take the time to explore, a small cobbled alley – almost hidden from sight – reveals itself. The museum entrance is just ahead. The museum itself is small and consists of two halls.

The first hall chronicles the history of Innsbruck from the initial founding roughly eight-hundred years earlier to the 1800‘s. It also includes many stories about the cultural and economic contributions of the city. Take some time to enjoy the beautiful paintings of Innsbruck at different times through the centuries.

The second hall includes an exhibit about the time between the wars, when Tirol was annexed by the Nazis. It and also features photos of the liberation by the Allied forces. One picture provided a direct connection for me; it is a black and white snapshot of an American soldier standing in the middle of a street directing traffic – it was the same location I had walked across that morning coming to the museum.

I saw a map of the bombs that had been dropped on Innsbruck during the War. The area around the building where I was staying was in was a sea of red dots, indicating where the various incendiaries had detonated. For some reason, possibly luck, the building survived while others around it had been devastated.

The exhibit then moves from that ugly period in history and continues to the more aspiring time when Innsbruck hosted several winter Olympic games.

The displays in the museum are in German, but translations of the displays are available in a booklet printed in English.

This tiny museum is one of the most fascinating in all of Innsbruck, yet possibly one of the least visited or even the least known. It is best enjoyed once you have seen many of the other sights, traveled around and obtained a ‘feel’ for Innsbruck. Only then will some of the hidden stories written within the museum make themselves known.

Exploring the Halls of Schloss Ambras (Castle Ambras)

Schloss Ambras

An enjoyable outing while visiting Innsbruck, Austria, is Schloss Ambras. Schloss in German means castle. Plan to spend at least half a day to explore the armory, the chamber of curiosities, the gardens and the many rooms of this Renaissance palace. The castle houses a splendid collection of historical items and artifacts that have been collected over the centuries.

Schloss Ambras ArmoryThe first stop is the armory. Here visitors are greeted by a life-sized exhibit of armor-clad knights on horseback. The craftsmanship of the armor is first-rate. The metal work is so shiny that at times a visitor can be momentarily blinded by the reflecting lights. Adjacent rooms have a weaponry-cornucopia of swords, pikes, lances and a variety of hunting blades, even some of the earliest rifles.

Vlad aka DraculaThe Chamber of Arts and Curiosities lives up to the name. Some of the items in the collection do not need an introduction, like a painting of Vlad the Impaler, who was notoriously known throughout the centuries as inflicting horrific, slow and grotesque deaths upon his enemies. His atrocities have sobered many throughout the years, causing a person to wonder if such a human was really a monster? Vlad was the inspiration for the character we know today as Dracula.

Another painting features a man who survived being impaled in the head at a jousting tournament and apparently survived well enough and long enough for his portrait to be painted.

TödleinThe collection includes hundreds of items, but one tiny wooden sculpture, called the Tödlein, less than foot tall, is so ornately carved with such precision and detail that one catches their breath – only then to see the carving is without facial features – a skeletal head with deep and empty eye sockets and the toothy face of Death – and one catches their breath again.

Spanish Hall - source wikipediaWalking across the green courtyard in the brilliant sunlight you pass a small cafe and walk to the upper castle. Here is the Elegant Spanish Hall. This beautiful hall was built between 150 and 1572 and is truly a feast for the eyes. As in years before people have donned their finest attire to attend waltzes, balls, and social events and visit this hall for an evening of revelry and fun. Today, waltzes and other events continue held here in this lovely hall.

The remainder of the main castle offers 4 floors to explore. On these floors are 250 paintings from over 400 years of members from the House of Hapsburg and relations. You can also find special traveling exhibits. There is also a small, but the ornate church, and a bath hall.

Schloss Ambras GroundsFinish up the visit by exploring the lush grounds that surround the castle.

Learn more:
http://www.khm.at/en/plan-your-visit/ambras-castle/

Innsbruck’s Glockenmuseum (Bell Museum)

Ever wonder how those gigantic bells at the tops of cathedrals and town halls in Europe are made? A visit to the Bell Museum and Grassmayr Bell Foundry in the middle of Innsbruck, Austria, can help to answer that question.

For over 400 years bells have been forged at this small business. Visitors can explore the bell museum to learn about the manufacturing process, tour the old foundry and get a peek into the modern facility that continues to make bells. This is not a large museum, but a good amount of information and history is packed inside.

A ten-minute video plays continuously in a small room. It chronicles the birth of a bell from ore, through being produced, to completion. The video is in German, but English only speakers will still learn a good deal. Two items from the video are of particular interest: with all of the wars in Europe over the centuries few enterprises survived, however this bell foundry continued by producing cannons; the video also states that records were kept of all the bells that were made (over 6,000) but no records were kept of the number of cannons produced.

In the museum are bell patterns and casts of all sizes. Markings on the floor show sizes of some of the large bells – some of which are several meter in diameter! Outside is a coutryard lined with bells where you can see just how big and sturdy some of these amazing bells are up close.

For more information visit:
http://www.grassmayr.at

The Old Foundry

The old foundry

The New Foundry

The New Foundry

Hidden Treasures in the Tiroler Volkskunstmuseum

Hidden Treasures

Many visitors to Innsbruck see just the major sights and miss some of the real gems. One gem is the quiet Tiroler Volkskunstmuseum (Tirolean Folk Museum), it helps to tell the story of the Tirolean people who live in this dynamic landscape of high mountains and cultivated valleys.

The museum has amassed a collection of cultural treasures: richly decorated traditional costumes, beautifully carved wooded household utensils, to religious objects that celebrate life, recognize the rhythm of seasons and some items that reflect on the uncertainties – or even some unpleasant questions about life itself.

One section of the museum I enjoyed focused on the Tirolean common rooms, or Stube (pronounced st-oo-beh); these rooms are made of wood and ornately carved from floor to ceiling. It was in this common room where every member of the family gathered to eat, keep warm, worship and share stories. Long benches along the walls provided seating for multiple family members and friends at the tables. Visitors to the museum can explore many of these rooms and walk between the different styles and architecture. The rooms also included a large ceramic tiled wood stove, called a Kachelofen (pronounced kah-kel-ow-fen). Some of the Kachelofen were ornately decorated and beautiful, others had more earthy tones, but all looked like they would keep a house very warm and comfortable. Many modern houses in the Tirol have a Stube with many of these elements built into them: an abundance of wood, furniture pieces that are ornately carved, long benches that seat multiple people, or possibly an ‘L-shaped’ bench built into the wall, and in the corner or somewhere on the wall is a wooden cross. The Kachelofen also continues in some houses, but in more modern forms.

Another item of interest at the museum are the traditional costumes. Each valley in the Tirol has its own style of traditional costumes for holidays and events. One of the more ornate costumes I saw originated from Südtirol (South Tirol) near the town of Meran, here a bearded man is adorned with bird plumes and furs.

The museum offers visitors a chance to see the adjacent Hofkirche from the unique perspective of looking down upon the dark bronze statues and the crypt of Maximilian I. Ask at the desk where the door is located so you don’t miss it.

I found the museum bound together much of what I was experiencing by visiting the people here; it provided a greater depth and history to the modern culture. That personal connection is the real treasure.

The Tiroler Volkskunstmuseum is near the sights of the majestic Hofburg, the Hofgarten and Altstadt (Old Town).

To learn more:
http://www.tiroler-landesmuseum.at/html.php/en/volkskunstmuseum

Inside a Stube

Inside a Stube. Note the Kachelofen at the left, on top is bed space.


A Towel Rack

A Towel Rack. This appears to be carved from wood. One of the more creepy items on display. It is included in a section in the museum that reflects on the uncertainties - or even some unpleasant questions about life itself.


Man from Meran

One of the more ornate costumes I saw originated from Südtirol (South Tirol) near the town of Meran, here a bearded man is adorned with bird plumes and furs.

A Zoo in the Alps

A Zoo in the Alps

A visitor to Innsbruck, in the middle of the Tirolean Alps of Austria, would not immediately think this is a great location for a zoo, but a great zoo does exist. The Alpenzoo, as it is called, is unique in that the zoo focuses solely on the animals that inhabit the Alps.

Visitors can see a variety of Alpine creatures including: Moose, Lynx, Golden Eagle, Ibex, Brown Bear, European Bison, European Otters and Wolves. The zoo accommodates about 3000 animals in all, many of them smaller critters like fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians. The zoo does an excellent job introducing visitors to the many animals that inhabit this beautiful region of high peaks, deep gorges, rolling hills and cultivated valleys.

During my visit, while near the Wolf enclosure, the resting pack of wolves suddenly sprang to life and moved with all speed to the lower area of the exhibit. I moved to the same area and found a docent near a door, behind her was a small group of children and their parents. The docent gave the children some instructions and opened the door. The wolves were present and looked at the docent with anticipation – they were only two meters (6 feet) away and at almost the same level as the people. Only some electric wires separated the space. The docent opened a bag and pulled out some large chunks of red meat. After tossing in a few initial chunks she invited the children to have their turn feeding the wolves. The kids had a blast.

Viewing the bear was another treat. An underground viewing area allowed visitors to be up close and look through a large window onto the bear’s enclosure. I found that when most of the other people left you could snap some amazing pictures – provided the bear allowed you to have the pictures. One of mine is shown above.

The Alpenzoo can be reached from downtown Innsbruck by bus, car, a local tram known as the Hungerburgbahn, or even by walking. For a wonderful sightseeing experience walk along the river Inn and up the hill to the zoo.

To learn more about the Alpenzoo visit them online:
http://www.alpenzoo.at/en/

Wings of Freedom

Wings of Freedom

Small and large airplanes fly over my house all the time, but when I heard the deep sounding and powerful “WWWwwrrrrhh” of propellers overhead I knew it was something special. Looking up I saw a World War II era bomber ploughing through the sky. “Wow!”

A quick web search revealed several wartime era airplanes were at a local airstrip and they could be toured. This was a golden opportunity to introduce my young daughter to a part of history.

TP-51C Mustang called Betty JaneWe arrived on the tarmac and saw three planes: single prop TP-51C Mustang called “Betty Jane” and two large bombers.

Betty Jane was silver in color with a sleek design; she was tightly built for speed and highly polished so that sunlight gleaned of her exterior occasionally blinding those who dare to look upon her. Some partition tape kept onlookers several steps back; this was a ‘look but don’t touch’ aircraft.

B-24J LiberatorThe B-24J Liberator sat further afield. This aircraft was stoutly and solid in appearance and looked as though it could take some solid punches if needed – it could also hit back with its 10 .50 caliber machine guns. It was a good-sized plane with 67 feet in length and a wingspan of 110 feet. Visitors could climb/walk through the plane via a small entrance at the rear. Inside it was Spartan with exposed cables and ribs of the airplane showing. Continuing through the plane was a large bay filled B-24J Liberatorwith replica bombs the girth of watermelons and about three feet long. A skinny catwalk in the middle of the bay, about six inches wide, was the only walkway to the other side. This was not scary when walking several feet off the ground, but what about when you’re several thousand feet up in the air? At the other side was the cockpit, with a variety of levers and switches. The Liberator could carry up to 28,500 pounds of weaponry – that is equivalent to the weight of 7 modern cars each weighting 4,000 pounds each! The Liberator is the only restored flying B-24J in the world.

B-17G Flying FortressThe next plane we visited was the elegant and formidable looking B-17G Flying Fortress. This is aircraft is often featured in movies and what people frequently think of when they hear of a Word War II bomber. Although this plane is somewhat pleasant to view it should be remembered it is a machine of war with 13 .50 caliber machine guns. The Flying Fortress is about 75 feet in length with a wingspan of 104 feet; this workhorse could carry up to 35,865 pounds of weaponry – that is almost equivalent to the weight of 9 modern cars each weighting 4,000 pounds each!

Visitors climb in through a ladder at the front of the plane. You can see in the front gunner’s position and also the compact looking cockpit. Like its sister plane, the inside is cramped and utilitarian – space was not wasted on conveniences. A small catwalk leads people through the bomb bay and you have to steady yourself with a rope handrail. Here you can see the ball-shaped lower gunner’s turret and get a feeling for just how small, claustrophobic and even terrifying this position must have been. Next were the B-17G Flying Fortressside gunner’s stations and their large .50 caliber machine guns complete with replica bandoliers, filled with bullets the size of lipstick containers, that fed into the movable (but non-functioning) machine guns.

Inside the B-17G Flying FortressAt one point a mechanic pulled off the cowlings over an engine and completed some work on an engine. He was readying the plane for a flight that afternoon for visitors.

We toured the planes several more times, walked around and underneath them and thoroughly enjoyed the visit.

Later that day, while at home, I again heard multiple propellers with a deep sounding and powerful “WWWwwrrrrhh” overhead. Directly overhead was the Flying Fortress that I had seen earlier that day. It really was something special. I am glad I had the opportunity to see it and introduce a family member to this part of history.

In the sky a B-17G Flying FortressThese aircrafts have been recovered and restored by the Collings Foundation, a group that preserves machines that helped build the world and helped keep it free. Visitors can tour the planes on the ground and experience them while in flight. Check the foundation’s website for tour locations, dates and prices.

http://www.collingsfoundation.org

Savoring the Experience at Eugene’s Farmers Market

The Lane County Farmers Market–

  • Traces its history back to 1915
  • Features over 85 growers and producers
  • Offers produce that is often less than 24 hours of being harvested

The market has a long history of providing jobs and locally produced food for the community.

blog-2011-05-26-img-01During a springtime road trip through Oregon’s Willamette Valley, I was offered a delicious opportunity to experience local and farm fresh food while visiting Eugene. Over the years of traveling in Oregon I had always found myself returning to the Eugene area, yet once again I was finding my time limited. I decided to make the best of those few hours and visit the local farmers market.

It was a Saturday morning and I walked about 15 minutes from my motel to the corners of 8th and Oak Streets. The evening before there had been a gentle rain giving the sidewalk and surrounding buildings a pristine sheen. The air was cool and moist but there was gentle warmth that hinted summer was near.

Ahead was a bustle of activity; there was a small city of tents, cars were being unloaded, people were milling about, and I could hear music. A woman passed me; she was carrying a large cotton bag that had been stuffed with greens, the vegetables were so abundant they appeared to be surging over the bag’s edge.

I had arrived at the downtown Farmer’s Market, officially known as the Lane County Farmers Market. As I walked up to the first grouping of booths I could not deny the abundance of colors: a color pallet of orange from the carrots, a gradient of white to green from the asparagus, and the rosy red blush of turnips. Nearby were grouping of dark leaves that sprawled across several displays, each bunch was vibrant and sturdy – it was a small forest of salad.

A man passed by, he carried a flat filled with produce and presented it to a woman behind their display. The farmers were surprisingly healthy looking with pink-cheeks, and well defined statures. Mostly, though I noticed their smiles; it was obvious they loved their work.

The time was now mid-morning and the market was just starting to kick into a higher gear. Everyone was lively and embraced the good ‘vibes’ of the morning air.

A dark-haired girl gently swayed her head to the melody she crafted with her violin. The open case at her feet welcomed donations from her milling audience.

There was a table covered with a red checkerboard cloth, upon it was a small display of eggs, each egg had a slight, yet distinct variation from the next; some were tan, others were red, some were speckled. As I observed them a woman wearing a sun hat came up, plunked down her money and spoke to the owner by name, she wanted 2 cartons. The scene reminded me of a cowboy swaggering up to the bar of an old saloon. The owner reached into one of the coolers, that was behind the table, and gave the woman 2 dozen fresh eggs.

A wood-fired pizza oven gently puffed a thin trail of smoke into the sky; it was still being warmed in preparation for lunch.

A waft of aromatic goodness and a sizzle from an iron skillet was seductively compelling. I peered over splashguard of a booth’s display; a man had just added several types of veggies and garlic to a masterful looking egg creation. It appeared as though this dish could rival a similar meal from a high-end restaurant.

Finally, my eyes and tummy got the better of me. I had to sample some of this amazing food, but I was in a quandary, of the amazing choices what should I eat? Finally, I decided, and then I ate well.

Afterwards, I stepped through a well-worn door and into the red-bricked and cozy Park St. Café; one of the neighboring locally owned businesses.

I enjoyed a delicious cup of coffee, read the paper, and watched the market unfold until it was time for me to return to my motel and grab my bags. For several minutes I had noticed a family outside the window, a curious child was at their side, the parent’s were carrying bags full of bread and vegetables. They appeared to be waiting for someone. I tipped the cup and savored the last few rich drops, both of coffee and of my time at the market. The family started to smile and they welcomed some friends who had just arrived, giving warm hugs to each other. As I sat the cup down, it was decided. This was a place where I wanted to spend my time.

The market has a long history of providing jobs, and locally produced food for the community; but look deeper, it’s the embodiment of a connection to the land, to friends, and with neighbors.

To learn more visit:
http://lanecountyfarmersmarket.org
http://www.parkstcafe.com

Eight Tips for Visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey Bay AquariumA visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California can be a treat. Families will enjoy the many treasures of the ocean with exhibits that inspire, educate and astound. Whether it is the 28-foot high kelp forest exhibit, the touch pools, mesmerizing jellyfish (shown) or seeing the ever-favorite sea otters it is a wonderful place for kids of all ages.

The aquarium is such a great place that it is often packed with visitors. If you appreciate your ‘elbowroom’ a little planning can go a long way. Here are eight tips to help make a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium more enjoyable:

1. Go Off Season
Summer is the ‘high’ season, but if you can visit during a down-time you might have the aquarium mostly to yourself. Consider visiting during October; the weather is generally pleasant, and most tourists are focused on the upcoming Christmas Holidays. Another good time is during the winter season when most families are reluctant to get outside. If summer is the only season you can visit the aquarium consider some crowd management techniques and visit mid-week or early/late in the day.

2. Visit Mid-week
Weekends are very busy, but Tuesdays and Wednesdays generally have fewer visitors to the aquarium. A staff member suggested that Wednesday was the best day to visit anytime of year; but in the summer Wednesdays can still be busy. The photo shows a diver cleaning the glass in the impressive Kelp Forest exhibit with a handful of onlookers silhouetted in the foreground. When you visit during a down-time you can better appreciate all of the exhibits without the crowds.

Monterey Bay Aquarium
3. During the Day Visit Early and Late
Regardless of time of year avoid the bulk of crowds by visiting in the morning for an hour just after the aquarium opens then return later that afternoon several hours before it closes. You can always stamp your hand as you leave the aquarium to return later that day.

4. Walk and See the Sights
A good number of people who visit the aquarium just explore a small area in Monterey called Cannery Row. Make it a point to see some of the sights in Monterey and the neighboring Pacific Grove. Better yet, just go for a nice walk. A pleasant and visually delicious walk along the Monterey Coastal Trail takes you from the aquarium to Pacific Grove – priceless views without the expense.

5. Bring Money – Parking is Expensive
Avoid the shock of arriving in Monterey only to learn that parking will cost you at least $10 to $15 a day. Driving around trying to find a cheaper space in the area is often not practical, frequently wastes time and on busy traffic days will lead to stress. Once you find a spot, grab it and start your day – having the family time is more valuable than grumbling about paying for parking. If you park on the street at a meter bring a roll of quarters (or two). Several local garages and parking lots are located near the aquarium but these can fill up by 10 a.m. on busy days. Parking in Monterey can be expensive so plan for it.

6. Munchies Are A Must
Bring some munchies to stave off that mid-morning or afternoon hunger. When you are ready to eat the aquarium has a café/restaurant and the surrounding area offers a number of places to eat. I have never been disappointed eating at the Sea Harvest. It has good food at reasonable prices. The Sea Harvest is located opposite the city’s public parking garage by the exit, just look for the big blue fish on their sign. 598 Foam Street, Monterey.

Monterey Bay Aquarium
7. Consider a Family Membership
It is easy for a family of 3 to drop $75 just to enter the aquarium. The money is well spent as the aquarium is a world-class experience. If you are staying in the area for several days, or will visit on several occasions, consider a family membership. The membership pays for itself in two visits and you have the benefit of entering the aquarium at a side entrance to avoid lines. Plus you receive a 10% discount at the aquarium’s gift store.

8. Stay Overnight in the Area
If you are staying overnight consider staying in nearby Pacific Grove about a mile and a half from the aquarium. It has some nice places to stay, like the Bide-A-Wee Inn and Cottages. Look for places that offer rooms with a small kitchenette and breakfast in the morning. The small downtown area of Pacific Grove has cozy cafes and a coffee shop where you can relax on a couch and enjoy a good book. During the summer and over major holidays lodging prices in the Monterey area can double or triple from their off season rates so plan ahead and look online for deals. If you are really budget minded try the Monterey Hostel only several blocks from the aquarium. Reservations are recommended at the hostel any time of year.

To learn more about Monterey Bay Aquarium visit:
http://www.montereybayaquarium.org

A Look Inside the Oldest Continuously Operating Lighthouse on the West Coast

blog_20101224_img1At the southern end of Monterey Bay in California is the picturesque Point Pinos Lighthouse. Since 1855 it has helped those at sea find their way. Families are welcome to explore Point Pinos, the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the west coast.

The lighthouse consists of a small, two-story house. Rising above the roof is the multi-prism Fresnel lens (pronounced fray-nell) that projects the light many miles out to sea. Unlike many lighthouses that sit at the water’s edge, Point Pinos is located a several minutes walk inland.

During my family’s visit we rounded the front of the building and were reminded of the rainstorm that was approaching from the Pacific Ocean. A strong and cool wind was blowing and dots of horizontal rain patched our clothes.

A man with a white beard welcomed all of us into the warm and cozy building. He was a volunteer docent, but was dressed as though working at a lighthouse was his profession. He could easily have walked out of the late 1800’s.

As he closed the door the blustery outside wind immediately ceased. The house was noticeably solid and well built. The walls were roughly a foot thick and had been constructed with a granite core; the building’s outside had been covered with wood and was whitewashed.

The main floor included three rooms and an old-time bathroom with a gravity feed water closet. A living room was refurnished with furniture and décor.

Moving to the second level we ascended a steep spiraling staircase. Here were two rooms: first was a refurbished bedroom of the lightkeeper, the second bedroom offered a glimpse into the history of the area during World War II when soldiers were stationed here to help protect the coast from possible enemy attacks.

A visit to the third level, with the Fresnel lens, was unfortunately off limits to visitors and we could only peek up the spiraling stairs … very curious about the lens we could not see.

Returning to the main floor we explored some side stairs that led to the basement. The basement was made with the same rock as the house; it was obvious this entire building was stoutly constructed and looked as though this place would survive any calamity. As we stepped into this cozy underground space another docent greeted us as. She was very eager to share her knowledge and gladly answered our questions.

The ClockworksA well-machined series of gears, levers and weights sat inside a Plexiglas display. This curious looking machine was an original ‘clockworks’ timing mechanism that allowed a shade to move around the light, giving the light a characteristic ‘light signature.’ The docent picked up a large wrench, inserted it into the machine and gave it a good turn. Immediately the weight raised and the gears began to rotate. Above the machinery a large polished metal shield quietly turned briefly blocking the light from our view.

A display about the Fresnel lens showed how the use of simple glass prisms can help a small light be seen very, very far away. The light bulb used in the lighthouse is about the size of an adult’s thumb, yet the Fresnel lens allows this light to be seen 17 miles (27 km) out to sea!

As we left the lighthouse the damp wind blowing off the Pacific greeted our faces. Looking across the ocean swells of 12 to 15 feet (12.6 -13.5 m) were rolling into the shore less than a quarter of a mile away. Even from this distance it was easy to see spray jumping into the sky as the waves pummeled the rocks. Dark clouds were on the horizon and a gray ribbon of rain was falling in the distance. If I had to be on a ship, I would want nothing more than to make it safely home – and would be comforted to see this beacon of light from the Point Pinos Lighthouse.

For more information visit:
http://www.ci.pg.ca.us/lighthouse/default.htm

The suggested donation is $2 per adult and $1 per child. Donations are for helping to repair the lighthouse.

Get Up Close to Art and Artifacts of the American West at Tulsa’s Gilcrease Museum

blog_20101213_img1Just north of Tulsa is a great museum with art of the American West and artifacts from the Americas.

This is the Gilcrease Museum. It is a pleasant day trip for families curious about western U.S. history and the artistic traditions of Native Americans.

During my visit several favorite exhibits included: amazing paintings of ‘the West’, displays of Native American headdresses and clothing, and portraits of the men and women who helped shape the frontier. What really impressed everyone was the ‘Kravis Discovery Center’ on the lower level. This small research area houses many smaller items from the museum’s collection. Here are beautiful crafted arrowheads of all shapes and sizes – including some gorgeous and rare Clovis points, ancient pottery and ceremonial items.

Afterwards, grab a bite to eat at ‘The Restaurant at Gilcrease.’ Request to sit by the large glass windows for views of the picturesque Osage Hills. The menu offerings are simple, yet varied and very tasty.

blog_20101213_img2Parents will enjoy touring the various gardens that surround the museum. Kids can burn off some energy at nearby Stuart Park, just a quick walk away. Here you will find many carved woodland animals hidden along the trail. Visitors will also find a number of bronze statues on the museum’s grounds that are fun to visit. The image above, located at the entrance to the museum is the ‘Sacred Rain Arrow.’ The life sized ‘Pioneer Woman’ sculpture can be discovered while exploring the nearby trails.

The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed on Mondays and Christmas Day. Admission is $8 for adults and kids under 18 are free.

Visit Gilcrease online:
http://gilcrease.utulsa.edu

A Good Family Hike in Eastern Oklahoma’s Redbud Valley

Redbud ValleyA short drive outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma is the 220-acre Redbud Valley Nature Preserve. This preserve has a great deal of scenery packed into a small space: woodlands, prairie grasses, a creek, springs, small caves and rugged looking cliffs.

Families will enjoy the main loop trail that takes about an hour and a half to complete. Kids will especially enjoy the many small caves and overhangs in the cliffs area.

As your family explores look for what really makes this place special – many of the plants traditionally found further west on the prairie and much further east in the Ozark Mountains can be found here in this preserve. Think of Redbud Valley as a unique spot, between the prairie and the Ozarks, where these plants live.

A small visitors center is onsite. Flush restroom facilities and picnic tables are located near the parking area. Admission is free. Redbud Valley is open from 8 am to 5 pm Wednesday through Sunday. From Tulsa drive east on Interstate 44 to the Hard Rock Casino on 193rd E (also known as Hwy 167). Go North on 167. Drive 2 miles to Redbud Drive, make a left. Drive roughly 5 miles until you reach the parking area.

For more information about Redbud Valley visit:
http://www.oxleynaturecenter.org/redbud.htm

Explore a Log Fort at Oklahoma’s Fort Gibson

blog_20101207_img1When people think of a log fort from the 1800’s they might envision a large square-shaped structure made with an outside wall of sharpened logs to keep out attackers. Watch towers at the corners of the fort keep a lookout over ‘untamed’ lands. Inside the fort are soldiers cooking, cleaning, writing letters home and maintaining weapon readiness. In a modestly furnished room officers are engaged in negotiations with local peoples, trying to keep the peace while projecting American interests on the western frontier.

If you have ever wanted to explore such a place – you can at the Fort Gibson Historic Site in eastern Oklahoma. Fort Gibson is a great place to explore; kids will enjoy the cannon in the plaza while Mom and Dad can peek into various rooms and quarters that are refurbished with period furniture and equipment. During your visit check out many of the surrounding buildings in the area, many are from the 1840s -1870s.

Fort Gibson is not known for one particular historical event like some forts in the west, rather it had a long service that affected many events in U.S. history.

blog_20101207_img2Some of the people who walked the grounds at Fort Gibson greatly influenced American history especially leading up to and during the Civil War, including: Robert E. Lee (General of the Confederate Army), Jefferson Davis (President of the Confederate States of America) and Zachary Taylor (General and 12th President of the U.S.).

In 1824 the site for Fort Gibson was chosen because it is strategically located at the confluence of three major waterways in the region: Grand, Verdigris and the Arkansas Rivers. At the time it was the most western fort on the American frontier. The fort’s mission was “to protect the nation’s southwestern border and to maintain peace on the frontier, particularly between the feuding Cherokee and Osage.” After the 1830 passage of the Indian Removal Act the fort “became increasingly involved in the removal of eastern tribes to Indian Territory.” The Fort also provided troop deployments to Texas when Americans in Texas were rebelling against Mexico. During the Civil War the fort served as a Union base of operations. For more blog_20101207_img3than sixty years the fort served the country until 1890 when the site was abandoned. After the abandonment many of buildings fell into disrepair. In the 1930s much of the log fort was rebuilt and many of the surrounding buildings repaired.

Today, what is the most fun about Fort Gibson is that it is not a glitzy tourist destination – it offers visitors an honest and refreshing ruggedness not found in many historic sites. If you want a real treat start a conversation with a volunteer to hear some interesting stories and learn more about the people who lived and worked at Fort Gibson.

Source:
Oklahoma Historical Society Encyclopedia: Fort Gibson

For more information visit:
Oklahoma Historical Society Encyclopedia: Fort Gibson
Oklahoma Historical Society Military Sites

What’s the Giant Forest Museum?

Giant Forest Museum

Giant Forest MuseumThe Giant Forest Museum is the best place to learn about giant sequoias.

The museum is located in the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park. The Giant Forest is a plateau of just several square miles that is home to the largest trees on the planet.

Inside the museum visitors will discover interpretive exhibits all about these magnificent trees. Rangers are on hand to answer questions, provide maps and help point folks in the right direction.

The Museum is also the central transit point for the park’s shuttle system. Across the street check out the Beetle Rock Education Center, a hands-on place to learn more about nature for all ages.

Re-Discovering the California Academy of Sciences

The California Academy of Sciences is a colorful, exciting and fun place to explore!

The folks at GlyphGuy Backpacks recently re-discovered this wonderful museum located in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The museum closed in 2003 for earthquake retrofitting and was redesigned from the ground up. Five years later the California Academy of Sciences is now the greenest museum in the world.

For our visit we each packed a GlyphGuy Coyote backpack with some water, snacks and a light jacket.

The abundance of light is everywhere and cannot be missed as you enter the building. The museum is a single structure, four stories tall with floor to ceiling windows.

RainforestOn the lowest level is the 500,000-gallon aquarium. This is an immersive experience as visitors wind their way through and between various exhibits. Water surrounds you on all sides. You will not get wet unless you choose to visit the touch ‘pool’ which is inhabited by easy to touch starfish and similar creatures.

Moving back to the main floor you can still enjoy the aquarium, only now you see it from above. These large pools are home to colorful reef fish and corals.
Dominating the main floor are two large spherical structures which house the rainforest and planetarium exhibits. Both spheres extend from the ground to four stories overhead.

RainforestThe first sphere is 90 feet in diameter and contains a rainforest! Entering the sphere you step “inside a living 4-story rainforest, where dripping water sets the beat for a symphony of croaking frogs and chirping birds. Peer into one of Borneo’s bat caves, meet chameleons from Madagascar, and climb into the tree-tops of Costa Rica to find free-flying birds and butterflies. Finally,descend in a glass elevator into the Amazonian flooded forest, where an acrylic tunnel allows you to walk beneath the catfish and arapaima that swim overhead.” (Cal Academy Website).

The second sphere is home to the Morrison Planetarium – the world’s largest all-digital planetarium. Not only does the planetarium zoom visitors to distant galaxies in a colorful, full digital presentation it also helps visitors to see our own world from the perspective of an Astronaut. The inaugural planetarium show is the ‘Fragile Planet.’ This show is a treat, and as advertised, really does redefine your sense of ‘home.’

Outside the Planetarium

Across from the planetarium make sure to continue your own explorations by visiting the Naturalist Center. This center is a great resource for both amateur and professional, young and old who wish to learn about the natural world.

As you leave the Naturalist Center observe the building’s ceiling. The ceiling is not flat but contoured. It flows over and around the Rainforest and Planetarium spheres that rise up and touch the ceiling. On the ceiling are multiple portholes that open and close to regulate temperature within the building.
Finally, take a few short steps and go outside, on top of the museum to explore the living roof – 2.5 acres of native species that inhabit the roof of the Academy. Here you can see the other side of the porthole windows and better appreciate their unique beauty.

The Living RoofWhile the new facility reflects 21st century ideals of sustainability and interdependency they have preserved aspects of the old museum that has made it an endearing place to visit for many years. The public’s enthusiasm for the museum is evident by the number of visitors on weekends. If you wish to avoid crowds, visit on a weekday. The experience is worth the price of admission.

Reference: Cal Academy website.

Visiting the Horses and Burros at Return to Freedom

horses and burros at return to freedom

Anna, my seven-year-old daughter loves horses. When a family weekend trip included a visit to the “Return to Freedom” sanctuary for wild horses and burros she was ecstatic.

Anna Jasper the DonkeyReturn to Freedom is a non-profit, 300-acre sanctuary near Santa Barbara, California, where families and young people can directly experience America’s remaining wild horses in a natural setting. Wild horses are a living symbol of our country’s heritage.

We jumped out the car and readied our GlyphGuy backpack with water for the warm day. Suddenly a burro appeared, startling us with his stealth. Anna giggled. “Hello donkey.” The greeting was returned with a soft nuzzle. The burro’s name was Jasper.

Several other families soon arrived and were also greeted by Jasper. A guide for the sanctuary welcomed everyone and after a few ground rules we began to meet the horses and burros. We began to learn for ourselves why this place is important.

Many of the horse family groups found refuge at Return to Freedom after being displaced from public lands in the west. The Sanctuary provides a safe haven for wild horses, herds and burros who might otherwise be separated, slaughtered, abused, or left to roam without food or water. Anna met several horses, Flicka and Ginger, who were only minutes from being destroyed before finding refuge at Return to Freedom.

In the afternoon a visit near a herd of about forty wild horses allowed us to rest and let the horses approach us.

A Kiger Mustang stallion is the most famous resident at Return to Freedom. ‘Spirit” was the inspiration for the animated DreamWorks film, “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron”.

Anna Meeting Spirit the Stallion of the Cimmaron

Jasper always made sure no one got too far away from the group. When it was time to leave it was Jasper who led Anna up to the visitors center.

Anna said goodbye to the horses she had met; she gave Jasper a big hug around his neck, “Thank you Jasper for being such a great host.” This inquisitive and gentle donkey had become one of Anna’s new best friends.

All of us left with a deeper appreciation for why places are needed for free ranging horses and burros. This place was more than a sanctuary; it is a reminder of our own heritage and freedom.

Learn more about Return to Freedom at: www.returntofreedom.org.