Last, but not least, we made it to Zoo Atlanta on our recent trip. I’d heard good things about their great panda program, and then we read The One and Only Ivan by K. A. Applegate together and found out that the real Ivan spent the last 18 years of his life at Zoo Atlanta, and we had to go. The zoo has a large (the largest?) number of western lowland gorillas in North America and what seemed like incredibly large and lush habitats. (Also, apparently this is where Dwayne Johnson did research for Rampage, and has since adopted a bachelor male, calling him Dwayne Jr. I am sad to report I didn’t see either Dwayne.)
Amongst the four of us, almost every animal in the zoo was a priority to see, so we waded through all the school groups, refueled with Dippin Dots when necesssary, and took in as much as we could.
Something I’ve been looking forward to was see great pandas. I know some people who are vehemently opposed to zoos, and I see their point when we look at history. I also appreciate the focus on conservation modern zoos, especially Zoo Atlanta, have adopted. Zoos are now key to species preservation for so many. Plus…..it gives so many people the chance to see just how large and amazing this world is. And whether pandas are really as dumb as rocks, or not.
You’ll have to go decide for yourselves.
Here are some of our other favorites:
After the raccoon-dog encounter, we ran across another shaggy, grizzled animal we’ve never heard of before lounging in a hammock. If the Wild Kratts haven’t told me about it, I’m pretty sure we’re just making stuff up now. Look at this guy, a binturong. Now before you claim him as your ‘spirit animal’ just know that I’ve already claimed this particular one, so go find your own.
We saw all we could handle, leaving out maybe a quarter of the zoo (and forgetting to photograph any of the elephants). We’ll have to go back some day. Other amazing encounters:
Time for a visit to our home away from home, the Fernbank Museum of Natural History. This was our third visit, (check out the first)and this time we allowed ourselves to stay as long as we wanted without having to rush off to drive another ten hours.
I was happy to see the Halls of Georgia timeline hasn’t changed, and that you can still watch an 8-minute video on the creation of earth, get right up to the point where single-cell organisms appear…..and it ends, and you walk out to see taxidermied turkeys. Such a great juxtaposition.
I mistakenly didn’t record all the many blooming glories of the city as I did last time. I wrongly assumed spring would soon arrive here in Madison and we’d have our own flowering trees and tulips to ogle. Here’s just a taste of what we’re still waiting for…
The newest addition to Fernbank (not including the special exhibit on the body’s microbiome which did NOT have hand sanitizer at the end, ugh) is an incredible series of boardwalks and paths winding around and through the wooded swampland behind the building. There are about 2 1/4 miles of walkways beautifully arranged and engineered to be an extension of the landscape. We were all enchanted. The area to the right is intended for younger kids with a nature-inspired playground and a manufactured waterfall complete with boats, simple dams and obstructions kids can manipulate to change the water flow.
Another section of the boardwalk is designed for a bit older group ready to climb through/over/under/down a bunch of rope bridges and tunnels. You can test yourself (dominated the rope bridge, thank you), or lurk at the only entrance/exit and tell your kids you ‘just love to watch them play’ (which I did a lot more of.)
Then, you have a beautiful, screened in building for nature talks and what-not, and paths through gardens and the forest floor and old mill (?) or church (?) foundation stones (I couldn’t find any information but was intrigued.) A cool, cloudy day, but no mosquitoes, and lots of fun.
I figured this would be our last time visiting Fernbank, but with the boardwalk addition, we might find our way back again sometime. Go see for yourself!
Our second trip to Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta was no less amazing than the first. What a gem.
We arrived right as the doors opened and were lucky to have the place almost to ourselves for a half hour or so. We skipped the dolphin show this time, remembering it as too loud and too Vegas for us, but instead had a penguin encounter (<3) and took the moving walkway through the Ocean Voyager exhibit (the huge tank with the whale sharks) twice.
We saw everything we wanted (me–jellyfish behind acrylic and African penguin up close, son–reef exhibit, daughter–above-mentioned walkway, husband–potato grouper), waded through the mob to eat, then ransacked the gift shop and went happily on our way. All of us were excited to see the belugas and penguins Jeff Corwin talked about in his Ocean Mysteries series and three of us are ready to get SCUBA certified and go swimming with those giant rays and whale sharks next time.
Last summer, we camped just west of Yellowstone National Park, and a sore throat led me to the sweet nectar of ramen from the KOA camp store. I also bought an emergency “hand stitched” fleece blanket. Last week, another sore throat led to more cheap ramen and recuperating on the sofa under that bear blanket and I got to thinking of our latest camping trip, to Glacier National Park.
Recovery on the sofa means lots of assistants
We drove the kids out to Glacier in August and lucked out, getting a campsite at Two Medicine and stayed for three nights. Most of the camp sites in the park can’t be reserved ahead of time, and the park has gotten so popular in the last two summers that you have to troll the campsites, waiting for others to pack up. We’re not the only ones who want to see the glaciers while they last, I suppose.
On the path to the Apistoki Falls, which we never found
I took a ridiculous amount of pictures, but truly, if you can go, you should to experience it yourself. The thing that stays with me is how quiet it was, and how dark the night was. We went to sleep the second night to very strong winds rattling the tent. (Don’t worry, the bear fleece was keeping us warm.) I woke in the night once the wind had died and there was no sound, anywhere. No crickets or peepers or even the owls from earlier or wind or distant car traffic or generators or any other human noise. It was the kind of silence that had a weight to it on my ears. I was unsettled by it then, but miss it now.
We checked out the Two Medicine area, St. Mary and Many Glacier before driving through the park on Going-to-the-Sun highway as we left. Two Medicine lake and a spot on the far side of Swiftcurrent Lake (that edges on the Many Glacier Lodge) were my absolute favorite parts of the park, although we really only saw a fraction of it. We did see some bears ahead of us on the road, twice, from the car, just the way I like. The open-range cattle were more shocking, though, just hanging out in the road, right after any sharp bend.
When we were there, wildfires in the park had been burning for about 10 days. No new back-country permits were being issued, and no campfires were allowed anywhere in thepark (camp stoves were still okay at campsites only) but that didn’t affect our plans at all, and we just dealt with hazy skies.
View of Saint Mary Lake, August 12, 2017, hazy from wildfire smoke
I had been hoping to see the Perseid meteor shower from our camp site, but even if they skies hadn’t been smoky, it was cloudy those nights. We were all exhausted from hiking and playing in the river to be too disappointed about this. The kids made sure to have their “special ramen” and made sure our neighbors knew that “ramen makes you toot.” They were from Seattle and before leaving, they gave us a bag of Peet’s ground coffee (because we’d very sadly left ours at home) and I’m still grateful. (I love you, Lisa!) What an amazing place in the world. Number ten on our list, and number one in our hearts.
Hiding from the wind at Rising Sun along St. Mary Lake
Fly into Phoenix, drive out of the airport and stop at Carolina’s, and feast on the best tacos you’ve ever had. Get a quesadilla and know what heaven tastes like. It’s up to you if you use the little cups for salsa, or your water cup filled to the brim like the locals.
Drive north a ways, weave through some side roads and canyons, and find your way to the abandoned Gold King Mine turned machinery graveyard/ghost town in Jerome, Arizona.
We went this past spring and spent some time wandering through the vast collections of machinery, mining tools, buildings with mannequin inhabitants and everyone enjoyed this charming oddity. Behold!
The man who preserved the Gold King Mine, Don Robertson, was apparently Gandalf’s own brother, and a an adventurer, collector and free-spirit. His family is now managing the site. It was fascinating to peak in to the forgotten mine town and the things people leave behind, and I’m so glad he created it and so glad we went.
Thanks, Don. Jerome holds a true roadside attraction everyone should see at least once.
Do you keep seeing black and white photos of people’s lives? It is easy to see the appeal of this particular challenge; The beauty of it lies in its simplicity. Everyone can find the gorgeous in the everyday with the help of a monochrome filter. It’s satisfying to see these spaces we inhabit be lifted to a higher plane, stark and barren without people. I like to see the world that way.
I also want social media to be a link for me to those friends of mine who’ve spread across the city, state, country and world, and yet that isn’t what it is for me. I’m not sure it ever was, but it certainly isn’t that now. I don’t want to spend my time there feeling more and more alienated rather than closer to people. I took a couple weeks away from all media (okay, not my Spider Solitaire), and I felt different, and better and more hopeful and I need that to continue. I don’t have the energy to invest in visiting social media everyday to post pictures as there are a dozen things I “can’t even” about right now and, as always….
Winter is coming. Here’s what I’ll be doing this cycle around the sun: Running. If you’ve never felt the lifting of your heart from the simple act of running, I wish you do someday. I’m leaving my bootcamp for a while, doing my PT, resting all five injuries, and running. And walking. In the cold. In the dark. In the snow. I welcome the fresh air to clear out the many cobwebs. And April 7th, I’ll be finishing a half marathon because the fifth time is the charm. I welcome the early dark as a blanket of calm to mute the sparkle of the holidays. I sort and store and prepare.
….And I’m an impatient story-teller. So, here’s another seven days condensed into seven pictures to stand without explanation. You don’t even have to check in every day.
A year and a week ago, we visited the Wyoming Dinosaur Center, and just had to go back. I always tell people my nine-year old is “a bit of a dinosaur enthusiast,” which, while true, is an understatement, and ignores that both his father and I are even bigger nerds about it. I mean, how often do you get to see the actual feather imprints of dinosaurs?!?
This year, after spending the night in Thermopolis, WY… in our favorite hotel (warm cookies in the lobby in the evening) and running along the boardwalks and suspension bridge that criss-cross the World’s Largest Hot Springs, we headed over.
I kid you not, the music playing as we walked in was the same as what my husband and I walked, together, down the aisle to: Bach Cello Suite No. 4 Sarabande (What a gift to have Nils Bultmann play at our wedding.) I was geeking out and tried hard not to get overwhelmed before making it to the main room this year. No luck. It is such a phenomenal collection of specimens from the beginning of life on earth. So much of what is on the floor is the real fossil, not casts or models, and it is mind-boggling. True, it has amazing, huge specimens of Supersaurus (“Jimbo” for those in the know) and Camarasuarus, but everything here is amazing: Stromatolites, first arthropods, fish, plants, amphibians, reptiles and on and on and on. Absolutely worth the two (or eight, or 14) hour drive.
It’s a small museum, absolutely packed with incredible fossils. It has the most complete fossil archaeopteryx on display in North America,
(although The Fernbank Museum of Natural History in Atlanta has a replica of the Berlin imprint/fossil that is indistinguishable from the real one.) I made it up to a stony, fossil skeletal lystrosaurus, “the most humble badass of the triassic,” before I couldn’t absorb any more.
I handed the camera over to my six-year-old and the rest of the photos are hers. I love seeing her view of things.
We spent just enough time in the charming Sedona last week to make me wish we lived there. We started the morning in Phoenix and drove north to visit Montezuma Castle National Monument, or rather two of us did and the one with pneumonia and I drooped our way back to the car and drank juice and coughed until it was time to go. I got just enough of a look to be amazed, and realize any pictures I took made it look like a doll house in the rocks. Guy overheard a teenager lie to his sister that this was Montezuma’s summer home. *snort*
We drove on through Jerome (more on that coming soon) and finally made it to Sedona just in time to be crushed to realize The Red Planet Diner is no longer. We mourned the loss of Space Junk, the entree, then found a worthy replacement at MoonDog’s Pizza. Granted, we were starving, but I’m still pretty sure the pizza and ancho chicken sandwich and spaghetti were great. I wanted to ask the owner if he was Moondog, expecting some old hippie, and was grateful I didn’t….because we heard a pack of coyotes singing and chattering three times that night and I put it together. Aha. Moondogs are coyotes. See, here, we hear a couple coyotes do a low howl now and then, but the moondogs in Sedona have a LOT to say. Especially at the full moon.
Even after a night filled with coyotes, snoring, and two coughing kids, we were sufficiently reenergized by breakfast at Nick’s to go on a short hike before the day heated up. We headed to Boynton Canyon in a designated Red Rock Secret Wilderness of the Coconino National Forest to hike the Vista trail for the supposed vortex at the end. We’ll take all the good mojo we can get for the Peanut. Perfect for us. Gorgeous and restorative, and only one of us needed a piggy-back ride back to the trail head. We’ll go back again and hike some more of those beautiful red rocks for sure.
After a roadside picnic, we piled back in the car for a drive along Oak Creek Canyon, a thirteen-mile stretch I remember well from the first time my husband and I drove it; I was pregnant and the curves and the dizzyingly close canyon walls were intense and nauseating. This was a much easier drive. We stopped at the canyon rim and got a chance to get out and look back….and promise to come back again soon. Thanks, Sedona!