San Francisco’s Salty Old Waterfront

blog-20120805-img1The visitor center at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park offers visitors a glimpse into a salty past. Most visitors to San Francisco’s northern shore only see a tsunami of stores that sell trinkets and bobbles; however, the curious will find ‘ The Waterfront’ exhibit to offer a rich story.

The Waterfront is not just an exhibit; it is an experience more than 150 years in the making. You can discover a time before European settlement, learn about how the Gold Rush shaped San Francisco, hear voices of sailors in a Barbary Coast saloon, and even see lumber being transported over your head as a ship delivers its cargo. The exhibits also include fishing boats, actual equipment and several hundred artifacts woven throughout the walk. A very realistic looking street fish market impressed my young daughter.

blog-20120805-img3

blog-20120805-img4

blog-20120805-img5

Afterwards, make a short walk across the street to explore the historic sailing ships of the Hyde Street Pier. Visiting the ships will cost you a little, but it is far more valuable than what is sold in most of the surrounding tourist stores. The queen of all the historic ships on display is the Balclutha, you can get a better look with this video-

Learn more: http://www.nps.gov/safr/index.htm

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

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

Seeing Eye-to-Eye with Birds of Prey in Eugene, Oregon

You can see magnificent raptors at the Cascades Raptor Center in Eugene, Oregon.

What is a raptor? A Raptor is “another word for birds of prey: eagles, hawks, falcons, owls, osprey and kites … hunting birds with keen eyesight and hearing, strong feet with sharp talons for grasping and killing prey, and curved beaks for ripping up their food.”

Seeing Eye-to-Eye with Birds of Prey in Eugene, OregonThe Cascades Raptor Center cares for the “sick, injured and orphaned raptors” in central Oregon “with the goal of returning as many as possible to the wild.”

As a visitor you can see many of these beautiful creatures up close. Be sure to read the signs that include information about the bird’s stories. Many of the birds came to the center with injured wings, or other injuries that prevent them from flying well, some of the raptors are even missing an eye – all injuries that will mean certain death in the outdoors to the high-performance athletes.

Other birds at the center were injured, and are now healing, they will be returned to the wild once they regain their strength.

On the day I visited it was feeding time. Several docents approached the outdoor cages. The first docent carefully opened one of the doors while the second docent held a large tray. On the tray was lunch – an assortment of rodents from small mice to large rats. Stops were made at cages and the appropriately sized lunch was provided to the hungry raptors.

Seeing Eye-to-Eye with Birds of Prey in Eugene, OregonI encountered these walking chefs several times, but the most memorable experience was just after they had provided a most juicy looking rat to a Bald Eagle. I quietly walked up, the eagle was about 8 feet way. The eagle stood at least 25 inches tall; it Seeing Eye-to-Eye with Birds of Prey in Eugene, Oregonhad a huge head crowned with white feathers and an intimidating yellow beak that reminded me of upside-down hunting knife. The rat was pinned with sharp and massive talons equal to the size of my hand. The great beak was quickly reducing the rat’s body to gulp-sized morsels. In a final gulp the hind end of the rat – tail and all – was swallowed. Then the eagle’s gaze settled on me. It had eyes the size of large marbles; black orbs surrounded by a ring of golden yellow. We contemplated each other for a moment, but the eagle did not look at me – rather, the eagle looked through me. For an instant, a primal fear cautioned inside me that I did not want to be an enemy of this creature, and I was thankful for the cage. Still looking at me the eagle lowered its head and in a quick wave-like motion raised the head and shrieked at me three times with a high-pitched siren. The sound was loud, piercing and intense…it was wild. Wow!

Seeing Eye-to-Eye with Birds of Prey in Eugene, OregonFeeling I had intruded upon the powerful creature I lowered my gaze and did not look directly at him. I quietly walked off but the great raptor watched me closely as I departed.

The center has a number of birds to see. I especially enjoyed seeing the owls, hawks and the vultures. One vulture (shown left) liked to hang out by a fence and allowed for a close up photo. As you can see, vultures are not as ugly a people take them for – consider it a stylish, bald look.

Seeing Eye-to-Eye with Birds of Prey in Eugene, OregonAs I left a private group was being treated to an interpretive demonstration about the raptors and several were being shown. Some friendly docents, with raptors on their arms, were very eager to share information.

Quoted Reference:
Cascades Raptor Center Website

Learn More:
http://www.eraptors.org

A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week

If you ever have the opportunity to experience San Francisco’s Fleet Week, it is a blast!

I arrived with my family at the SS Jeremiah O’Brien on a Sunday morning. The O’Brien is “one of two remaining fully functional Liberty ships of the 2,710 built and launched during WW II.” At the pier we showed our tickets, A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week had our backpacks briefly inspected, and we walked up the gangplank. We joined about 950 other people on-board that day to experience Fleet Week, a time during the middle of October when active military ships dock in San Francisco, California. The passengers of the O’Brien would be enjoying the events that day from the middle of San Francisco Bay.

About a quarter of the passengers wore caps identifying they had served in the military over the years, while some caps stated, “Korean War Veteran” or “Desert Storm Veteran”, many had caps stating the names of various naval vessels.

A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet WeekAt 10 am a deep yet high pitched ‘Bhwaaahh’ and a river of steam gushed from the ship’s turret. Gigantic ropes that held the ship fast were brought aboard and a tugboat helped to pull the 441 foot long Liberty Ship from the dock. Looking over the aft of the ship I could see sheets of spray being ejected from the water every second as the massive propeller chopped though the water. We were underway.

A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week Our first treat that morning was seeing the Golden Gate Bridge up close. This massive structure dwarfed the O’Brien as the ship chugged under the mile long span and out in the Pacific. After a few minutes we turned and returned under the bridge to parallel the San Francisco waterfront. There was a definite presence of the security: police and military boats skittered quickly over the water to create a boundary area, an exclusion zone, for the aircraft to perform that had to be free of boats.

A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week The O’Brien was the only ship to parade in front of the waterfront that day. The day before the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) a supercarrier, the USS Antietam (CG-54) a guided missile cruiser, the USS Milius (DDG-69) a guided missile destroyer and a number of naval vessels, entered San Francisco Bay in a Parade of Ships with the O’Brien bringing up the back; as we skirted down A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week the waterfront and under the second massive bridge in the bay, the Bay Bridge, we passed many of these ships now at port. In the distance, anchored in the middle of the bay the impressive and intimidating looking supercarrier, the USS Carl Vinson. Around all of the ships were gray-colored military patrol boats protecting the perimeter of their respective vessels.

After a closer, yet still distant look at the Carl Vinson, the O’Brien chugged back under the Bay Bridge. It was time for the air show to start and within a few minutes a tight group of sleek looking planes descended in a A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week tight arc over our heads and into the exclusion zone we had traversed earlier. At first it was hard for us to view the air show but the O’Brien positioned itself between Alcatraz Island and the Bay Bridge; this location allowed us to look down the two or three mile long ‘channel’ of where the planes would be performing.

A number of planes performed that day, too many to respectfully give credit in this short write up, but all were magnificent. Just a few a mentioned below.

A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week The sleek Red and White Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Snowbirds soared overhead. These individual aircrafts moved as one organism in the sky, with often only a few feet from a each other. When they separated each became a unique part of the whole in performing their choreographed maneuvers. At times it appeared the planes were playing a game of chicken turning to the side at the last second as they zipped past each other.

Then came an F-18 Super Hornet. It roared over head passing several hundred feet at times over the O’Brien. Once, it moved slowly over the water, with it’s nose pointed high to the sky, it seemed to hang in the air for several second then shot away as though catapulted away by an unseen slingshot. It disappeared into the blue… everyone looked around, we could not see it. About half a minute passed and we stated to think this part of the air show had ended. It was unusually quiet…

A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week A thunderous and encompassing roar ripped through the air – splitting the solitude. The sound made the O’Brien shudder and scared the life out of everyone. The passengers looked up to see the gray F-18 several hundred feet overhead slicing like a great axe through the air – water vapor was rapidly condensing at the back of the wings creating a white cloud that followed the jet. In just a second or two the fighter was already distant – the white cloud now appeared to be a gigantic cone that enveloped the back of the plane – yellow and red fire spewed from the engines and the cone still seemed to grow wider. Now the thunderous sound caught up to us, the sound grew deeper, louder and could be felt in one’s chest. The plane now appeared to be half way to the Golden Gate Bridge a distance of several miles, we still had to cover our ears because the noise was so loud. The jet pulled up and disappeared in a fog bank that seemed to appear off the ocean from nowhere.

Everyone on the O’Brien was silent.

Then someone giggled aloud, followed by others laughing, then people began to speak with exclamations of “Wow!” At that moment nine-hundred plus people on the O’Brien were smiling.

A few minutes later a sudden cold wind, that must have been 30 miles an hour, hit everyone in the face and it did not let up. The Stars and Stripes that rested atop the mast had been still for much of the morning, but now the colorful banner flew straight out to the side. The fog bank on the horizon moved closer and started to blanket one of the tall towers of the Golden Gate.

A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week A United Airlines 747 was seen low in the north, it banked right, flew next to the Bay Bridge then between the O’Brien and San Francisco. Some laughed as to why a commercial jet was in an air show, but as this massive plane flew over us, they stopped laughing. It is one thing to see such a huge jet at the airport, but when it is directly over you…you get an appreciation for the scale and presence. The jet made three passes for the spectators, just a few hundred feet over the water, and on the last pass pulled up extremely tight climbing into the sky.

A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet WeekA sleek looking F15-E Strike Eagle, dominated the sky, it too made a number of passes, rolls, dives and maneuvers to showcase its dexterity. Again the people of the O’Brien loved the show.

The fog bank was still closing in, hid many of the ships and sail boats that were on the bay water. The wind grew still more intense. People of the O’Brien A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week sought shelter behind walls and side rails to shield them from the wind. Most were not prepared for the sudden change in weather.

The massive Cargo Support Plane (I believe a C-117) for the Blue Angels passed nearby, it made several passes to introduce the highly-skilled flight team, but it was obvious the fog was going to be a problem. The fog now completely covered the massive Golden Gate Bridge and had engulfed half of the area in which the Blue Angels were to perform.

As the support plane left a deep ‘sshhhoooo’ of engines announced the Blue Angles as they flew past. The sleek blue and gold planes made multiple passes of the area traveling in wide circles, apparently studying the foggy theater of activity before deciding on a plan of action. Then they returned and in a tight formation made a slow and respectful pass between the waterfront packed with spectators and the O’Brien before leaving. The air show had concluded.

The inability to see, was a safety issue not only for the pilots, but for the public. Everyone on board the O’Brien was sad to see the Blue Angles leave early, but no one spoke badly about their decision, everyone understood that safety was paramount.

As the show ended the exclusion zone on the water was no longer needed, a thousand sail boats and small vessels moved in every direction like water striders moving in all directions across the San Francisco Bay to return home. That alone was an amazing sight.

A View From the Bay at San Francisco’s Fleet Week The O’Brien spent the next thirty minutes slowly maneuvering back to it’s berth. The volunteer deck hands wrestled giant sized and intertwined ropes to secure the ship. After fifteen minutes or so the gangplank went down and we disembarked.

It had been a fantastic day on a historic WW II ship, being in the company of so many who have served their country over the decades, while seeing some amazing aircraft piloted by very skilled pilots. I was very thankful for that day and having the opportunity to enjoy it with my family in a free country.

To those reading this who have served, or are serving in the U.S. armed forces, “Thank you for your service.”

Reference:
SS Jeremiah O’Brien website.

Learn More:
http://www.ssjeremiahobrien.org
http://www.fleetweek.us

Innsbruck’s Bergisel

Any visitor to Innsbruck, Austria, will notice the Bergisel, a high and rounded hill at the southern end of the city.

On the hill are several great places to visit. Two are listed here, the first is “Das Tirol Panorama.” This is a new and architecturally beautiful museum that highlights an important battle that occurred on the hill and defined Tirol. In 1809 Bavarian troops, allies of Napoleon, marched into the Inn Valley to Das Tirol Panoramaassert control over the land. The Tiroleans, led by a local folk hero, Andreas Hofer, rallied to protect their homes and their independence. The most famous battle was the Third Battle of the Bergisel in which the Tiroleans fought off the invaders. The battle was memorialized in a giant panoramic painting that is 1,000 square meters (10,764 square feet) in area. Today, this huge and historic 360-degree painting is accentuated with bullet shredded trees, cannons, and war-torn land, giving the viewer the perspective of being in the battle.

Outside the museum is a life-sized statute of Andreas Hofer along with several monuments of Emperors of Austria.

Bergisel StadiumUp the hill is the entrance to the Bergisel Ski Jump and Stadium.

The ski jump rises 250m (820 ft) over Innsbruck. It is a sleek and modern structure with a steep track that pours down from the tower and launches over an extremely large open space – a deep depression – carved into the hillside for viewers. This bowl-shaped viewing area can accommodate 28,000 standing visitors! At the opposite end of the jump are the cauldrons of the Olympic flame that were used in 1964 and 1976.

View from the TopAs I entered the Stadium a swoosh was heard. A man had just launched from the edge of the jump and ‘flew’ with grace for several seconds until his skis made contact with the steep artificial ground, in several additional seconds he had stopped and left the field. Everyone watched the jumpers for some time with their practice runs. It was very impressive to see.

I climbed a good number of steps to the base of the tower (yes, there is a lift that will take you from the base of the stadium to the tower). An elevator inside took myself and several visitors 50 meters to the top to a restaurant and a viewing platform.

Visitors can get to the Tirol Panorama and the Bergisel Stadium by bus or on foot. Regardless of how you arrive, wear comfortable shoes.

Exploring the Halls of Schloss Ambras (Castle 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

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.

The Power and Beauty of the Hofburg

The Hofburg (Court Castle) in Innsbruck, Austria, is a majestic sight. The building elegantly conveys beauty while projecting the presence of Imperial power. Originally completed in the year 1500 by Emperor Maximilian I it underwent refurbishment in the mid seventeen hundreds when it gained many current features. Today, the Hofburg is used for concerts, government social events, and a place for curious travelers to explore.

Inside the Hofburg are a number of rooms featuring the furniture and possessions of Imperial family members who resided here at different times over the centuries. In addition to being an extravagant home, the Hofburg also reinforced the presence and power of the Austrian State. The Giants Room where social and state events would be held is an example of this; it is a large freestanding Renaissance style room without columns, massive chandeliers hang from the ceiling, multi-colored and interlocking marble designs accent the floor, oversized portraits of the Imperial family members hang on the walls and an impressive almost three-dimensional painting on the ceiling dominates the heavens.

The Hofburg is beautiful, regal and elegant. It showcases how the über-elite lived in extravagant comfort and opulence. It also hints at how servants who worked in the palace lived. In one section a small, cramped and dimly lit room that was scarcely furnished sat adjacent to the larger Imperial ‘bathing’ room. Here the servants waited patiently and quietly until they were summoned.

While the building itself was impressive my ‘take away’ from the Hofburg was that the Imperial family members who lived here, in a way, lived in a microcosm. Actions related to politics, war, the economy and marriage assisted the goals and ambitions of one Imperial family. Many State decisions were likely made in a comfortable setting, with the warmth of a fire, with an abundance of food and surrounded by servants. While I appreciated the visit I was glad to step out the main door and return to the Republic of modern Austria – and the many rich experiences, choices and opportunities that can be enjoyed by all individuals. …Oddly, my first thought was to find some ice cream.

One such enjoyment are the free live performances that are held in the evening in the Hofburg’s courtyard. In summer (July) local orchestras, musicians and traditional folk music groups are scheduled every evening to play in the courtyard. The courtyard is surrounded by the elegant Hofburg and the majestic building provides an audiophile’s dream of a clean, elegant and imperial setting for enjoying live music. I greatly enjoyed the presentation by an orchestra one evening – it was truly a treat. Arrive early for better seating.

Another nice treat is the Rennweg, the street that stretches in front of the Hofburg. Here are great opportunities for photos, sightseeing, theater, and seeing one of the many Fiakers (horse drawn carriages) that meander through Innsbruck’s streets.

A Little Known Story About Innsbruck’s Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof)

Visitors to the Alpine city of Innsbruck, Austria, can expect to see the Goldenes Dachl (The Golden Roof). The Goldenes Dachl is the center of Altstadt (Old Town) and the historic center of Innsbruck.

The name is derived from the 2,657 gilded copper shingles that adorn the top of this structure built around 1500. The effect is radiant when light shines upon the roof; it continues to impress visitors 500 years after being built by Emperor Maximilian I.

I won’t go into the life of Emperor Maximilian I, but here is a little about his legacy; Maximilian greatly expanded the House of Habsburg, through wars and marriage, and helped it become one of the most important royal houses in Europe thus greatly influencing European history for centuries after his death.

Today, most visitors just look at the Goldenes Dachl, take a photo and move on to the next sight. But, the curious should peek inside the Goldenes Dachl Museum (Golden Roof Museum) to learn more about Maximilian I and the 500 year history of the Goldenes Dachl. Inside this museum are some great photos, including photos of Innsbruck during the early 20th century prior to and during World War II (it was here I was reminded about a story I heard back in 1996 during a pervious visit to the city). The story involved the people of Innsbruck encasing this beautiful building in a protective bunker during World War II, yet little is mentioned today about this act of preservation. The story might be known to natives, but it is rarely mentioned to tourists.

During World War II Innsbruck suffered from both occupation by Axis powers and aerial bombing from the Allies. In the mid and late war years the city was slammed on multiple occasions from Allied bombs which devastated the nearby railroad yards and many surrounding buildings. The Altstadt area also received bomb damage. To protect this treasure, the people of Innsbruck encased the Goldenes Dachl in a thick bunker to protect it from damage. At the War’s end the bunker was removed; amidst the surrounding ruins of war the preserved Goldenes Dachl shown brightly and became a symbol of hope during Innsbruck’s rebuilding.

Shown below is an image taken in 1945 showing bomb damage with two meter deep rubble piles; the rectangular bunker can be partially seen in the left of the image, note the horrific gouge in the top front. The color photo is from the same vantage point taken in the summer of 2011; it shows the Goldenes Dachl and Altstadt area alive with visitors.

Original 1945 Photo Source: Goldenes Dachl mit Luftchutzmauer, Friedrich Nickel, 1945, schwartz-weiss Negativ, Sammlung Walter Kreutz KR/NE-3486.
Source Book: “zur Stadtgeschichte Innsbrucks,” page 120, Ingrid Bubestinger and Gertraud Zeindl.

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

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.

Home

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

Sequoyah’s One Room Log Cabin

Sequoyah’s one-room log cabinSome of the most interesting places are located just a short drive off the main road. Sequoyah’s one-room log cabin in the beautiful forests and hills of eastern Oklahoma is just such a place.

Sequoyah is known as the inventor of the Cherokee’s nation’s written language. He built this cabin in 1829 shortly after his moving to what is present day Oklahoma.

Sequoyah was born about 1770 in Tennessee to a Cherokee mother and non-Indian father. Sequoyah was “intrigued with the fact that white men could convey messages by the use of writing or ‘talking leaves’…. Sequoyah came to realize that the Cherokee language is composed of a set number of reoccurring sounds. With this insight it was possible for him to identify and create a symbol for each sound, thus producing a syllabary rather than an alphabet.” After 12 years of work, in 1821 he completed the Cherokee syllabary.

The drive to the cabin takes visitors along some beautiful country roads. The first thing you notice when you enter the grounds is the air – it is clean, moist and just makes you feel good. The next things you notice are the well-maintained grounds followed by how solid the buildings are constructed. It is obvious this is a well loved and appreciated landmark.

Sequoyah’s one-room log cabinThe cabin is actually preserved inside a modern building. After opening the door of the outside building you enter a single open room; at the center is a hand-hewn log cabin, along the walls are displays about Sequoyah’s life and his work. What is nice about this exhibit is that visitors can actually step inside his cabin for a close up view of the period furniture and items that would have been in his life. Unlike many places that hide stories from the past behind cold glass, this landmark is open, inviting and warm.

The people working at the landmark were all friendly.

Sequoyah’s cabin is located about 6 miles northeast of Sallisaw, Oklahoma, on State 101. The cabin and grounds are open Tuesday – Sunday. Check the website for hours. Admission is free.

The cabin is preserved as a National Historic Landmark.

A special ‘thank you’ to Arethia Stann for her introduction to this great place and a tour of the surrounding countryside.

For additional information visit:
http://www.okhistory.org/outreach/homes/sequoyahcabin.html

Reference: “Sequoyah’s Cabin” brochure.

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

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 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.