Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

When we were in Tucson, we left early one morning to visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  The drive there was one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. Happily, the museum opened at 7:30 am, and we were right there at 7:32, ready to go.  It gets hot quickly! 
I've been to a lot of zoos and museums in my life.  But this was by far one of the best.  Stunning beauty, natural scenery, and lots of hands on experiences for the boys.  They started with a cave exploration, and the boys had so much fun I thought we'd never get them to move on to the next exhibit.


All of the animals in the museum can be found naturally in the Sonora desert.  The boys were very interested to see the wide variety of rattlesnakes.  Luckily, this mountain lion was behind glass.


We did the half mile desert loop hike next.  You will notice that the boys are geared up with their own water sources, hats, and sunglasses.  Even though it was already extremely hot, we were able to manage the heat just fine thanks to these preparations.  They had free refillable water sites in the zoo and they even had sunscreen in the restrooms! 


The desert hike was so beautiful.  We saw numerous birds, little lizards doing push ups, and javalina.
The terrain is so different from what we are used to in Virginia.  We never got tired of checking out the plants.

Later, we found a cactus garden, and we hiked through that, too.


Paul took a fun picture of different cacti in the cactus garden.  I especially liked the little stumpy hedgehog cacti (not pictured here).


Pierce looked out at the views through an owl's perspective.


And Cort navigated a tunnel designed just for kids - no adults could fit through those narrow crevices:

The boys had the most fun at the stingray exhibit.  It was cool with hands in the water, in the shade, and the stingrays had such personalities!

One stingray, dubbed Slappy, would flap water in your face as it passed.  They did not seem to mind the gentle touch of human hands.

We wrapped up our visit with a hummingbird garden.  It was an amazing morning, and if you happen to find yourself in Tucson, I'd say it is a must-see! 

Readers, what is your favorite museum or zoo?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Oracle, Arizona and Biosphere 2

While we were in Arizona, we took a trip to Oracle.  There, we toured an historic ranch house at the Oracle state park.
The boys enjoyed seeing the big ice box used by the original family.  I liked some of the paintings and decorative details. 
Here, the boys are attempting to match the skull to the animal track.  They did a fairly good job.

Branding irons, hanging on a wall.  I knew what they were immediately, due to all the time I spent in Texas riding horses on a ranch. 
 
After our tour, we headed to Biosphere 2.  This facility was a closed experiment where a group of eight scientists attempted to live self-sufficiently for 2 years.  They did make it 2 years, but air quality was compromised, and they lost significant weight because the food they grew had to be rationed so much. 
 Impressive, isn't it?  Perhaps you remember the mid 90s movie Bio-Dome, with Pauly Shore?  I watched it in college.  It was one of those intentionally stupid movies that were a hit with college kids.  It was certainly based on this experiment (sadly, they were not playing Safety Dance on repeat inside).

During our tour, we learned that their coffee bean plant only grew enough beans to brew each of them one cup of coffee once every two weeks.  Rough, huh?  It does make you think about the limited resources on earth and how the future might have to adapt.

They tried to create different ecosystems inside.  This is a picture of the ocean, which has waves, but they sound kind of mechanical. 

Today, since this is open to the public, it is no longer a closed system.  However, they still do much scientific research here.  The picture above is from the rainforest section.  When the scientists were locked in, it had animals like monkeys and lizards.

Going down through the basement was eye opening.  The pictures I took didn't come out that well, but one of the strangest parts to the structure is a huge lung to expel air, should pressure build up too much. 

 
Finally, you can see a rain barrel system they have set up.  This was in the desert section of the structure.
 
The tour was lengthy (90 minutes - long especially for little boys) but I did find it informative and thought-provoking.
 
Me, personally?  I felt a little stir crazy in there.  I like having access to the outdoors!  But I'm glad I got to see it.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Hiking Catalina State Park, Arizona

My in-laws live within a couple of miles of Catalina State Park in Arizona.  One morning we got up very early for a hike there.

 Yet again, I was stunned by the beauty.  I don't think I would ever grow tired of these amazing desert landscapes.

 It was very hot, even though we got going early.  Pierce seemed to struggle the most in the heat.  He couldn't believe how hot it was!

 Paul invested in a new sun hat, having run over this other one with the tractor by accident.  He was overdue for a new one.

 Reid and Grandpa Bob take a rest and enjoy the overlook after hiking up a bit of a grade.
 
 
 Here the boys come up another long grade.  We didn't see as much nature on this hike as the one in Honeybee canyon, but it was also hotter on this day.

Another amazing overlook!  We took along plenty of water, so everyone made it through our hike just fine!  From there, we headed out for some more fun adventures, so stay tuned for next week.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Birding in Tucson

I don't pretend to be a birder, but I do love watching the birds and listening to their songs.  When we were in Tucson, I was continually amazed by the thriving bird population.  By far, my favorite was seeing a Great Horned owl family when hiking in Honeybee canyon.  I adore owls!  Here is a picture of one of the adults.  The baby was perched up on a rock, and I only had my cell so I could not zoom in to capture it.  Still, so wonderful to see.

A palm tree in my in-laws' yard was hosting this mother dove with her two babies.  Aren't they beautiful?
On our hikes, I loved seeing all the birds living in holes in the saguaro cacti.  Here, a crow sits up top.  He has quite the view.
We also saw tons of roadrunners, but they were much too speedy for my cell phone.  I did catch this one on cell phone at the Arizona Sonora desert museum (more about that in a later post):
Finally, the quail families!  Oh they were everywhere and so cute!  One day, there was a bunch of distressed peeping coming from down in a storm drain in front of my in-laws' home.  We put down a ramp, but they didn't use it, and there were no parents to be seen.  So I got down in there.
 I used a pool skimming net to try to catch the baby quail.  I managed to pull up three before they took off down the drain pipe too far for intervention.

I set them into a region of desert where I had seen tons of other quail families.  I don't know if they were old enough to make it, but no doubt they had a better shot than down in a cement storm drain.
Readers, do you have a favorite bird?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Surprise Trip to Tucson

Paul's parents live in Tucson, Arizona, and were kind enough to host us for a visit a few weeks ago.  We did not tell the boys.  We woke them up at 5:30 and told them we were headed to Atlanta.  Boy were they surprised when we pulled in to the Roanoke airport.  Cort and Reid had never flown before.  Once we got to Atlanta, they eventually learned we were catching another flight.  People in the airport were so amused to hear them talking (loudly) about how they didn't know where we were going.  They sure were thrilled to find out we were headed to Tucson.  Here is our first picture there, taken in the backyard of my in-laws (is that a killer view they have or what?).
Because it was so hot there (the hottest day reached 113*), we tried to stay on Eastern time so we could get going early enough to beat the heat of the day.  Having gone to college in Texas and spent some time traveling out west, some part of my brain remembered the high, dry heat, and embraced it.  In a way it felt like coming home - I hadn't realized how much I'd missed the American southwest.

A typical day started with me waking up via internal alarm at 4:30 and heading out the door for a run.  Here's a picture Paul took of an amazing 9 mile run I did in the desert (Paul biked with me while I ran, for safety reasons).  We did not see a soul.  It was like we were completely alone.  We did see lots of jackrabbits, though.

Afterwards we would go change and clean up and grab breakfast.  Then out the door (usually by 7) for adventure.  The first day we took the boys hiking in Honeybee Canyon.
I felt so lucky to be there, looking at the desert terrain, walking through canyons.  I would breathe in the hot dry air and just sigh in overwhelming amazement.
In addition to jackrabbits, we saw javalina, a bobcat (their bobcats are SO much bigger than the ones we have in Virginia), cottontail rabbits, and heard the coyotes.  The birds are plentiful as well, and I'll be devoting an entire post to them.
The boys struggled a little more than the adults with the heat, but we kept them covered in sunscreen with hats and sunglasses for much of the trip.
From my perspective, it was hard to worry about the heat when I was surrounded by so much beauty.

What a wonderful way to start the day.  In the afternoons, the boys would cool off at the pool.  I think they would've been happy to just stay at the pool all day, every day.  I have more posts coming from our trip, so stay tuned!
Readers, have you ever had the opportunity to visit the American Southwest?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Father's Day Hike

Last month I saw where a new hiking trail had been formed not far from us, so we decided to give it a shot on Father's day.
 The trail had lots of white dashes painted on trees, but there were times when it wasn't quite clear which way to go, and we did end up doing one loop twice by accident.  There were so many berries teasing us - not quite ripe yet.

Our favorite part was an old cemetery, which is located just off the trail.  I later learned this is the Boone-Hardy cemetery.  It went from very primitive stones:

To slightly less primitive (most of the stones were from the 1800s, although there were a number with no markings):

To (in comparison) more ornately carved stones:

The fence was fallen in most parts, and we found the old gate propped against a tree.  In google, I found that the town is hoping to restore this cemetery as an area of historic interest.  I hope that will happen.  But it was an interesting place deep in the woods. 
The trail doesn't have a name yet, but perhaps if more people hike it, it will shape up and earn a name.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Bluegrass and Brews

Last month we decided to take the boys to hear a friend's band play bluegrass music at a local brewery.  I had been to a flea market the day before and found a bunch of inexpensive games, so I brought them along to keep the boys busy.  I figured the more busy they were, the longer we would get to stay.
 One of the things I picked up at the flea market (for $1.50) was this stacking cups set.  It came with a mat and timer, as well as a dvd to show the sequence.  I spent the next three days refereeing fights between the three boys, who all wanted to use it at the same time.  They time themselves and started a wipe erase board with their personal records.  At the brewery, every kid in the place gravitated over to check out the stacking cups.  The boys were good about sharing with the other kids, and teaching them how to do the stacking sequence.


We also brought Blockus and Qbitz.  both of these are thinking games.  The boys were really content to do these activities and listen to bluegrass.  It was a successful evening, and I know next time I'll be bringing our bag of games! 

Readers, do you have a favorite board game?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Bathroom Humor

Sometimes I can't help but find amusement when people get creative in public bathrooms.  In May we went to the Harry Potter festival in Roanoke.  This was the first year.  I was amused when I went to the bathroom in Ravenclaw.

 
Of course, no Hogwarts bathroom would be complete without Moaning Myrtle...
 


Then in June, we went to hear the band of a friend play at Chaos Mountain Brewery.  They displayed some bathroom humor as well:

How about you readers?  Have you seen anything funny in the bathroom lately?  Is that a loaded question?

Hope everyone had a great July 4th!