Sunday, June 30, 2013

Southeast Minnesota bluffs and Como Park

June 2013  Minnesota

After the road trip, I took a couple days to see friends and family in Minnesota before flying home.

The last of the lilacs-compare these to the ones in my backyard where the whole flower is the size of my fingernail.

 We toured the gardens of the Plummer house.  Nicely manicured lawns and decorative flowers, fountains and rocks.

The dog was very good and did not try to hop in!

The next day we hiked in Whitewater State Park.  It has some great trout streams and views of the river bluffs.  The view of course is at Inspiration point.

Which is up a gabillion stairs.  I hear I am lucky there are stairs as it used to be just trail!

But it was worth it at the top

 And just a little scary out at the point.  This is from the point, looking back at the trail.

The next day was Como Park Zoo and Conservatory which I remember as having an amazing garden and a small sad zoo.  The zoo has been upgraded, but so have the rides.  The amusement park portion is just perfect for the 6-12 yr olds.  

We just happened to be there with nine 7-year old boys.  We did not visit the zoo or the gardens.  I was one of the adults who got the pass so I could ride with the boys who were too short to ride alone.  I love  roller coasters!  I rode the Tilt-A-Whirl 4 times, the Tornado 4 times, and the Dragon coaster 6 times.  Since a single ride is three times around the loop, I did this coaster loop 24 times in about 4 hours-fantastic!!  I recommend the front car, which is the smoothest ride :)

Much respect for all the adults who took us to Valleyfair as kids.  I know that we went non-stop from open to close.  This was only a couple hours and it was tiring!

Shout out to John, the nice guy I met at the airport.  One of the great things about travel are random encounters-a few minutes of fun conversation adds a nice break from the boring and stressful parts of travel.  

Road trip from California to Minnesota!

June, 2013

It has been way too since I have been on a road trip so I jumped at the chance to join my friend Delicate Flower on her trip from California to Minnesota.  Even though it was with a dog and a 9-month old, meaning we needed flexibility in this trip!  I planned it for 5 days, with no more than 7hrs of driving on any day.  Turns out that was about right-the baby hit hour 6 in the carseat and was DONE.  The rest of the time he was very good-sleeping, playing, eating, pooing-pretty standard really.

We followed the 80 all the way to Des Moines and turned north.  Here are some of the highlights.
Nevada is full of rocks

Nevada is also where baby was being changed at a gas station and something went wrong.  I only have the pictures in my head of me holding him in front of me, 30% covered in poo, DF pulling out all the wipes-ah good times!

Thank goodness for the Taco Time where we ate the potato oles.

The open sky and the mountain ranges on the way into Utah.

The Great Salt Lake of Utah-it is freaky to drive past because it is so vast.  When you go by, watch the side of the road where people have left messages with black rocks.  I'm assuming they are leftover from building the road since the rest of the area is so uniformly flat white.
Out one side of the car
and the other side.

We made it to Park City, Utah and had a nice hike with friends.  The landscape is a complete change from the salt lake which is less than an hour west.  Can you imagine being one of the pioneers trying to cross the mountains?  You finally make it across the plains.  You go up and up and up.  And on the other side is the endless white salt flats?  Uggh.  I can't believe so many people made it over.

Lots of wild flowers

 and a mountain stream

Little America, Wyoming was the best stop of day 3.  They started advertising $0.50 ice cream about 100 miles out.  Here is our motley crew posing with the statues-baby was happy for about 3 seconds and then wanted DOWN!  They had the best selection of toys, books and snacks.  Next time we are staying at their hotel.

I think Wyoming likes to mess with people-we passed the roads called Deeth Star, Beverly Hills and Shafter just before going through Independence Valley, where the prison is.

 Even though storms had been happening along our route the week before, this quick storm in Nebraska was the only rain we saw.  

Iowa has wind farms-how cool is that?  We even got to see 3 of the blades being transported via truck.  

And finally made it to Minnesota in the early afternoon of the 5th day-phew!

What did I learn?  I learned about rest stops!
Iowa also has the most number of rest stops although half of them are parking only-nice job being safe Iowa.  Nebraska tries, but is lacking trees, Wyoming has few, but made up for it with Little America.  Nevada has the worst, make sure to bring your tissues in with you-are they cheapskates?  And Minnesota has the best, with informational signs and sometimes even people to answer questions.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Galapagos-the trip of a lifetime

Galapagos-May 2007

E- and I were lucky enough to get a spot on a trip to the Galapagos with our friends Lori and Troy.  Thanks to Lori for the slide set.

This really is the trip of a lifetime, especially for a biologist.  The unique animals, knowing that it was where Darwin had his lightbulb moment and the great job Ecuador has done preserving everything makes it worth visiting for a longer time.  I feel we got more out of the trip by paying for an experienced crew of naturalists and would recommend that if you visit, read reviews of the agents/boats/crews before buying a package.

The ship held ~100 passengers and almost as many crew.  Each expedition boat (holds ~10) has a naturalist so it is quite a lot of people to move about.  
There are very few accommodations on the islands because most of it is a nature preserve.  It is easiest to stay on a boat, which moves from island to island.  The sailing is very smooth, which apparently is because the islands are on the equator-our captain had been in the Ecuadorian navy and piloted their only submarine. The boat trips usually take you to an island in the morning, then lunch while the ship travels to a new spot, and then a different island in the afternoon.  The days are packed and you may end your vacation needing a vacation!

The birds nest on the ground since they have no fear of humans.  

This was the first time I had walked on lava flows-feels a bit like being on the moon.

The Marine Iguana sneezes out excess salt so they have no competition from the fresh water iguanas.

Too many of the crabs in one place is a bit freaky.  We spotted a number of the famous finches of the Galapagos, but they don't sit as still as the larger birds!

This is just after the chicks had hatched and we saw many cute little fluffies.  The 'nest' of the blue footed boobie is really a ring of guano.  They are worse nest-makers than mourning doves!

Lonesome George has since died but they have his DNA....

No longer a recent lava flow, but not yet covered in vegetation.  The big gap in the land on the picture on the right?  Man-made by the US military bomb practice.

The seals and sea lion also did not care about we humans walking around.  They don't even flinch as you walk by.  

Didn't manage to grab a photo of the reef sharks as they swam under me, but the rays were less scary.

Everyone takes these photos, right?

The whale or shark on the right has been reassembled by the naturalists.  

Monday, June 10, 2013

Chinese terracotta warriors in San Francisco

March 2013

Some of the terracotta warriors who were buried with the First Emperor Qin Shihuang are on a travelling exhibit.  They came to the San Francisco Asian Art museum and a big group of friends joined us for this unique show.

You can see them in situ in China, but the travelling exhibit obviously has a limited set. They are a nice selection-the standing and kneeling warrior, an archer, horses, and a general.  The gift store has reproductions from knick-knack to 3/4 size for your garden-tempting!

As with the pyramids or the Great Wall, the shear scale of the project makes it worth thinking about.  Imagine being one of the terracotta artisans.  You start your apprenticeship making basic arms, legs and torsos.  You  hope to move up to work on the faces, all unique (maybe you make one look like you?).  And you are going to be doing this most of your life.  And you know your work is going to be buried so no one will see it. 

It wasn't just an army, they also constructed a palace, extra buildings and gardens, including bronze geese and ducks. The entire project needed over half a million workers.  So right, there was some hard core project management happening there!  Unfortunately for some, the emperor didn't want anyone to know what was going on, so planners, designers, important artisans, and their concubines, were buried with the emperor.  With great honor comes certain death.

We checked out the rest of the museum which manages to pack in many Asian cultures.  Take time to look at the pieces that museum workers have picked as their favorites (like recommendations in book stores) - the comments are funnier than you expect.  In the Japanese section, check out the tea room where you can learn about just how complex it can be to drink tea.  Below are some items I found especially beautiful.


batik textiles

flowers and leaves are swirling in the wind