What’s the 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 to 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 the 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 of 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: www.returntofreedom.org.