Visiting the Southern Vermont Natural History Museum

While we were camped at Hapgood Pondwe picked up a brochure somewhere for the Southern Vermont Natural History Museum.  Normally we look for attractions that participate in the AZA reciprocal program or ASTC Travel Passport program, to get the most value out of our Western North Carolina Nature Center membership.  However this museum’s regular prices were so low we didn’t need to look for a discount! Since it was July 4th, we called to see if they would be open, and they were.

As we arrived, the keeper on duty came over to let us know he was about to feed the snapping turtle so we could either come see it if we were interested, or stay away if we didn’t want to see the turtle eat.  Can you guess which way we went?  We all enjoyed watching the snapping turtle eat his dinner, consisting of an already-dead mouse, and hearing about the habits of snapping turtles in general and the history of this one in particular. Then the kids, not being shy at all, asked if there were any reptiles they could hold. After thinking for a moment the keeper led us to another room where he allowed the kids to touch and hold an amelanistic  snake while they discussed the difference between amelanism and true albinism. 

Once the impromptu reptile encounter was over, we went over the rest of the museum. A large number of the specimens are insects and birds. Some of the mammal specimens had placards explaining how the animal ended up in the collection- for example, there was a fawn who was preserved after the doe was killed by a car.  This was a little sad, but better than wondering if someone killed a fawn just to stuff it, right?

In addition to live reptiles, the museum also houses live birds, such as the owl pictured above.  Many of these birds are non-releasable due to injuries and serve to educate the public and schoolchildren about raptors. These birds ranged from a little screech owl to a pair of bald eagles.

 If You Visit the Southern Vermont Natural History Museum

The museum is located on Vt. Route 9, near West Marlboro.  From the road it looks like a teeny shack, but there is an extensive lower level you cannot see from the road. You should enter through the gift shop and pay at the counter, then you will go downstairs to the museum.

Admission is $5 for ages 13 and up, and only $2 for kids 5-12. Kids under 5 are free.

The museum is open 7 days a week. They are closed Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. They may close at times in the winter due to weather.

More information about the museum’s exhibits is available on the website.

Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska

Housed in a building just as beautiful as the art it contains, Joslyn Art Museum features a variety of art from medieval to modern.  The early twentieth-century Art Deco building, featuring a beautiful courtyard fountain, was Sarah Joslyn’s memorial to her late husband and a gift to the people of Omaha.  You can read more about the Joslyn family and the history of the museum here.

Both general admission and parking are free. The museum opens at 10 AM  Tuesday through Sunday and usually closes at 4 PM, though on Thursdays they remain open until 8 PM. They are closed on Mondays and major holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. A cafe and a gift shop are available in the building.



Girl in front of glass sculpture
Chihuly glass at Joslyn


Exhibits include European art, Asian art, American art, Greek pottery, a sculpture garden and more. Artists represented include Edgar Degas, Camille Pisarro, Mary Cassatt, Albert Bierstadt, Jackson Pollack,  Claude Monet, Dale Chihuly, Auguste Renoir, El Greco, and John Singer Sargent.  

While the older Tumbleweeds were enjoying all those works, the younger ones particularly enjoyed the hands-on activities in the children’s ArtLab on the lower floor.  Children of all ages can use a brush on a screen to create digital art or use dry erase markers to decorate a Greek-style amphora.  There were also books and cozy reading nooks along one wall.

We also enjoyed an exhibition of quilts from Vermont’s Shelbourne Museum. This special exhibition was not included in general admission, but the $10 adult ticket was very reasonable, especially since the children’s admission was free of charge. This exhibit included a variety of both antique and contemporary quilts some purely decorative, others created for everyday use. 


Dandelion embroidered on white quilt
One quilt on exhibit featured embroidered birds, butterflies, and flowers

Another temporary exhibit we enjoyed, which was included with general admission, was stereographs and photographs from the American west during the construction of the transcontinental railroad.  Both of these exhibits will be at the Joslyn through the end of 2018, so if you’d like to see them, go soon! We certainly hope to spend more time at the Joslyn on a future visit.

If we plan to pass near St. Louis, we always make time for a visit to the St. Louis Zoo.  General admission is free, though there is a cost to park. There are separate fees for some of the attractions: Riding the carousel is $3/person, the sea lion show is $4/person, the children’s zoo is $4/person, the stingray exhibit is $4/person, and the Zooline railroad, which you can hop off and on all day, is $7.95/person.  Children under 2 are free for all the above attractions.  An Adventure Pass  that covers the above attractions is available for sale; members of zoos on the AZA reciprocal list can buy up to four adventure passes for half-price.

You can enjoy some of these attractions without paying extra, however!  The stingray exhibit and the children’s zoo are free for the first  hour the zoo is open, and the carousel is free for its first hour of operation.

The St. Louis Zoo is home to over 14,000 animals, and everyone will have their own favorites.  Ours is the penguin exhibit.  Visitors enter a chilled building and walk through the center. On either side of the walkway are penguin habitats, giving visitors the chance to see the penguins up close.  Because there are no barriers other than the clear front of the water tanks, there is a strong odor in the exhibit.  This didn’t stop us from hanging out and spending time watching the penguins- and in Curly’s case, sketching them.  A sweater or light fleece jacket is a must-have if you plan on spending time in the penguin house-it’s kept at a temperature comfortable for penguins, not people!

Another favorite exhibit was the bird house. The kids loved seeing native birds, and interpretive signs helped us identify and learn about specific species.

Whichever exhibit is your favorite, free admission means you can go again and again, and take your time exploring and learning!



Hiking to Crystal Cascade

Mt. Washington is New Hampshire’s best-known mountain and very popular both with hikers and tourists who choose to get to the summit riding on the Cog Railway or driving up the toll Auto Road.  We decided to hike on the Tuckerman Ravine trail, not in hopes of summitting, but only as far as the spectacular Crystal Cascade. We ended up doing this hike on a cooler afternoon, after a couple of short hikes during the morning.

The hike to the 100-ft waterfall is listed as .3 mile and 250 feet in elevation gain, but parts of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail were closed for trail maintenance. ( You can check on the trail detour here.)We decided to leave our 4-year-old, Tiny, with a good friend while we tackled this one, which turned out to be a good choice.  The trail detour was pretty steep and since the weather had been very wet, the trail was muddy and slippery. I won’t name names, but a couple of us slipped and fell at various times!  Nobody was hurt, however, and we plowed ahead.

The payoff was worth it.  Nobody but us was at the falls, though we had seen a few others on the main trail.  We were able to take in the beauty of the waterfall and get some great photos without waiting for others to move out of the way or worrying that we were getting in the way of others.


Woman in front of waterfall
Tired but happy at Crystal Cascade

I wouldn’t recommend this hike for very young children, unless they’re going to  ride in a carrier part or all of the way, but this was one of my favorite waterfall hikes so far in New Hampshire.  The views of the falls are unobstructed and it wasn’t crowded at all. I hope you get a chance to check it out sometime!

One of our favorite places to walk or jog when we’re in New Hampshire is the trail that runs along the shore of Willand Pond between Somersworth and Dover.  The pond provides municipal drinking water, so no swimming is allowed, but people enjoy fishing, canoeing, and sailing on the 66-acre pond.  

Along the one-mile trail there is a picnic area with several tables. Spread out along the sides of the trail there are also fitness stations, such as balance beams, a sit-up bench, posts for support while stretching, and pull-up bars. Where the trail runs through marshy areas, there are low boardwalks, but most of the path is dirt. The boardwalks are made of a synthetic lumber that has a lot of flex, and so are very springy to run across!

Dogs are allowed and are required to be leashed.  However, our experience has been that many people disregard the leash laws and enforcement is poor. I do wish people would be responsible enough to keep their pets leashed, but since it is an issue, you should be aware. 

On the Somersworth side of the trail is a parking area and a not-very-clean porta-potty. There are no trash cans to be seen, either at the picnic area or either end of the trail. Please pack out your trash! Informational signs tell of the area’s history as a recreation center; the park that was by the pond boasted a dance hall, penny arcade, and bandstand, and was accessible to local factory workers by streetcar. You can even walk into the remnant of a pit where bear cubs were once kept and displayed.


Willand Pond straddles the border between Dover and Somersworth.

What we like about this trail, in addition to the pull-up bars, is the distance markers every quarter-mile. The unpaved surface is also much easier on the joints than walking on asphalt or a concrete sidewalk! Wild blueberries grow along the sides of the trail and there is plenty of shade.

An unpaved walking/jogging trail follows the pond’s shore

All in all, despite the lack of trash service and toilets, Willand Pond Trail is a good place to jog or walk and squeeze in a bodyweight workout.

What is “work camping”?  Like “boondocking” this is a term that has varying meanings to different folks, but we use it to mean any sort of work where a place to park the RV is part or all of the compensation.


When we visit Arizona, plenty of free dispersed camping is available on public lands, allowing us to find paying jobs rather than bartering labor for a site in an RV park as so many work campers seem to do.  Some people enjoy campground work, and when the barter arrangement is fair it can be a real win-win for both the park owner and the work camper.  However, with the growing popularity of Rving and work camping, Some RV parks and owners seem to be attempting to exploit workers.  In a barter arrangement, the value of the campsite is the pay, and when dividing the pay by the number of hours required results in too low an effective hourly wage, we just are not interested.  We are very happy to volunteer our time at state and national parks, but have no desire to help a private business avoid paying fair wages.  If all work campers would do the same, then park owners would start offering better compensation, but too many workers are all to willing to “volunteer” at private RV parks.  

While visiting Tucson I wanted a way to make some extra cash in order for Curly to take classes at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Art Institute.  Craigslist gigs can be hit-or-miss, but I kept checking and eventually found a job building horse fence at Grasshopper Hill Farm in Patagonia.  We contacted the owner to see if there were someplace we could park the camper on the farm,   As it turned out, they were currently homeschooling their daughter and were more than happy to welcome another homeschooling family to camp out on their property.  The pay was $13 an hour for the fence job, with no charge to camp there and a few meals thrown in. The kids were close enough to supervise throughout the day and happy to have a new friend and some farm critters to spend time with.  The couple we were working for were laid-back, intelligent, and fun to talk with, and we bonded over a beer at the end of each workday. 
They invited us to stay on for a week after the job was done and see some of Patagonia, and have invited us to come back again.  One of the best parts of traveling is making new friends!



Hiking Glen Ellis Falls

Glen Ellis Falls trail is an easily accessible, kid-friendly hike in Pinkham Notch. Some may classify it more as a walk, with stairs, than a “real” hike. Whatever you choose to call it, the views are worth the small effort to get to the falls.  The trail is about .3 mile each way, with approximately 100 ft of elevation change. The trailhead and parking lot are right off Rt. 16 just a bit north of the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center.  Although the parking lot is big enough for dozens of vehicles, it does fill up on sunny weekend days.  A vault toilet is available near the parking lot.


Girl near sign
Tiny excited to begin our hike


The trail is heavily used and can be muddy after a rainstorm.  Well-constructed stone steps are on the slopes, but handrails are often only available on one side.  The trail follows the river on its  way to the 64-foot waterfall, providing a pretty view along the whole hike. We stopped to take lots of pictures as we went and read the informational plaques.

Because it is so easy to get to, Glen Ellis falls is very popular on sunny summer days.

When we got down to the base of the falls, there was a set of steps to go up near the top of the falls. On a breezy day, this was a lot of fun because the spray from the falls misted over us! We went to Glen Ellis Falls on a Saturday afternoon, and it was rather crowded. We had to circle around the parking lot to find a space, and there were a lot of people on the trail and at the falls.  I would recommend visiting on a weekday, and going in the morning if possible. This was a very rewarding hike for young children and beginners.

Touring the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul

After we finished working the beet harvest, we had a little time for sightseeing as we traveled south. We visited friends near the Twin Cities, but found the weather too cold to enjoy outdoor attractions such as the zoo or sculpture garden. We did, however pay a visit to St. Paul to see the Minnesota State Capitol.

The Capitol is open to the public seven days a week.  Weekday hours are 8 AM to 5 PM. Saturdays you can visit from 10 AM to 3 PM, and Sunday hours are 1-4 PM. We had to pay a few dollars to park in a nearby lot, but if you visit on a weekend free parking may be available.


The Rotunda at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul

There were no security guards or metal detectors at the entrance, so we went right in and started looking around. What we didn’t know at the time was that the ground floor has a gift shop and visitor information desk, where we could take a tour. While we were near the rotunda, a tour group came in so we joined them. I was very glad we did because the guide pointed out lots of details we would have overlooked. Minnesota is the Gopher State and the state flower is a lady’s slipper.  Worked into the details of the ironwork throughout the building are small gophers and lady’s slippers that our guide pointed out to us. I also learned that Minnesota is the only US State with a French motto, L’Etoil du Nord. (The Star of the North)

The Minnesota State Capitol features beautiful art in addition to lovely architecture. The Governor’s Reception Room features Howard Pyle’s painting of the Battle of Nashville and other Civil War art. The State Supreme Court chamber features murals relating to the development of law throughout human history, including a powerful image of Moses on Mt. Sinai. There are murals and other art throughout the building, including many portraits.

Lots and lots of gold leaf!

 We really enjoyed our tour of the Minnesota State Capitol as a way to take in some history and some art and learn new things.



Friends had recommended the Henry Doorly Zoo to us when they learned we were going to be stopping in Omaha, Nebraska. Even though the weather was cold, when we found out how many indoor exhibits this zoo features, we decided it was worth seeing.

The Henry Doorly Zoo has different admission rates depending on the time of year. There are three sets of rates, one for summer, a lower rate for fall and spring, and an even lower rate in winter.  The adult admission applies to everyone 12 and over, and children 2 and under are always free.  More information on admission is available here.In the summer, not only are admission rates higher, but according to many reviews of the zoo, it gets terribly crowded.  By visiting when we did, we not only paid a lower rate, we were better able to enjoy the exhibits. We do hope to visit again during warmer weather to enjoy the outdoor exhibits, but will avoid the summer crowds when we do.

The indoor exhibits we enjoyed included an indoor rainforest, a domed desert exhibit, an insect exhibit with butterfly room, a nocturnal animals exhibit, and an aquarium.

The rainforest exhibit could be enjoyed both from ground level, as in this photo, and from an elevated walkway around the upper level.

We probably could have spent all day in the rainforest exhibit alone.  We saw howler monkeys, a wide variety of birds, a pygmy hippo and her baby, tapirs, and lots of fruit bats. At the end of the day, the bats were more active, flying along the paths and through the tunnel, right over and around us.

A fruit bat “hanging out” in the rainforest exhibit

The desert dome featured plants and animals from an Australian desert, an African desert, and North America’s Sonoran Desert. We enjoyed seeing the plants and animals that have become familiar to us from our winters in Arizona. We also enjoyed seeing the similarities and some differences between desert-adapted flora and fauna around the world.

The aquarium featured penguins, jellyfish, and an amazing walk-though tunnel with small sharks and other sea creatures.  It didn’t photograph well for me, so you can check it out at the zoo if you visit, and I recommend you do!

Things to Know When You Visit Henry Doorly Zoo

The entire zoo campus is tobacco-free. 

You can purchase food and drinks at various locations around the zoo, or you can bring your own, provided you don’t bring in alcohol or any glass containers. 

Parking is free.

If you have a membership to an AZA member zoo that participates in the reciprocal admission program, your visit to Henry Doorly Zoo will be half-price. We have a member ship to the Western North Carolina Nature Center, which is a particularly good value, because in addition to the AZA Reciprocal program, they participate in the ASTC Travel Passport program, which offers free admission to science and technology centers. We have saved literally several hundred of dollars in admission to zoos and science centers across the country. If you would like to become a WNCNC member, you can do so online  here without travelling to North Carolina. 

Strollers, wagons, and motorized wheelchairs are available to rent at the zoo.

We hope you get a chance to visit the Henry Doorly Zoo and enjoy it as much as we did!




Basin Campground and Basin  Pond

This summer in New England we had to stay in campgrounds. The first year we had the RV, we camped on my mother’s property.  The next summer, that place was for sale, but my cousin invited us to stay at his place. We had a wonderful summer there, but when we bought the new RV, we realized it is so much taller than our old one that it wouldn’t fit in the same spot.  We decided to look for a work camping gig. None of the campgrounds looking for work campers were within a reasonable distance of the family members and friends we wanted to spend time with, so next we looked at campgrounds.

We took a drive to check out Basin Campground, one of the Forest Service campgrounds in the White Mountain National Forest.  Looking at a website is a good starting point, but sometimes the only way to determine if our rig will fit in a campsite is to go look. We found plenty of sites that we could get into and decided to give Basin Campground a try.


Basin Pond-too many leeches for swimming, but fine for fishing and canoeing.

Approaching the campground we passed the day-use/boat launch area. (Non-motorized boats only are permitted.) The pond and adjacent meadow make for some great photo ops! The kids enjoyed wading in the pond to chase frogs, until they discovered how many leeches live in the pond!

Basin Campground is about 15 miles north of Fryeburg, Maine right off Route 113.  There are 21 sites, 7 of which are walk-in only. Camping is $20 per night with a 14 day stay limit. Access and Senior passes are honored for half-price camping at Basin Campground.

Each site has a picnic table and fire ring. There are flush toilets near the camp host’s site, and water spigots at a few locations throughout the camping loop.

Basin Campground does not have electric or water hookups at the campsites, and there is no dump station on site.  The nearest dump station we found was in Gorham, NH at the water treatment facility.

CAmp site
Each campsite has a large picnic table and fire ring with cooking grates

Basin Campground is further away from the amusement parks, restaurants, outlet malls, and other tourist attractions that are popular in other parts of the White Mountains.  There are opportunities for hiking, fishing, and enjoying nature, which is what we go to the mountains for in the first place! Basin Campground was within a reasonable distance of the birding blind at Deer Hill Bog, and several hiking trails.  Though we stocked up on groceries before we went up, there is fresh produce and firewood available at roadside farm stands. Gorham, NH also has a good-sized, diverse farmer’s market once a week. 

Two children running
Adjacent to the day-use parking is a huge wildflower meadow with lots of room to run.

The camp hosts, Roy, Ann, and Kimberlee, were very helpful and friendly, and had firewood available to purchase. We are looking forward to seeing them again when we return to Basin Campground next summer!