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!

 

 

 

 Tour of Iowa State Capitol

 

building with 5 domes
Iowa’s Capitol is the only one among the United States with five domes

Visiting each state’s Capitol building as we travel has given us an appreciation for architecture and a greater understanding of the history, people, and culture of a state. Des Moines, the Iowa State Capitol, did not disappoint. Another roadschooling family came along with us for this visit.  Although we had to pass through security to enter the building, the guards were very quick to accommodate the wheelchair used by a member of the other family.  We were directed to the information desk (right below the rotunda, on the ground floor) and had just enough time to check out the gift shop and use the restroom before starting a tour.

 

Our guide was very knowledgeable and first we learned about the previous capitols, construction of the current building, and a devastating fire that occurred in 1904. I learned that what is now Iowa was first part of the Wisconsin Territory before becoming the Iowa Territory and eventually, the State of Iowa.

We looked at a scale model of the Battleship Iowa and learned about her proud history. The children really enjoyed the model, but my 5-year-old had to be lifted up to see it, as the display case was higher.

Our guide pointed out lots of small details in the art and architecture of the building, things we may not have noticed on our own.  She took us to the Law Library, where we were able to see a book printed by Benjamin Franklin on his hand press. 

 

A display unlike any we’ve seen at other capitols featured dolls representing the spouses of the governors of Iowa.  The female dolls all have the same face and wear reproductions of the gowns the first ladies wore for their husband’s inauguration.  Since Iowa now has a female governor, a doll modeled on her husband is also displayed in evening dress. It’s fun to see how formalwear has changed over the years!

Dolls representing the governors spouses
This series of dolls represents the First Ladies of Iowa in their inauguration gowns. The gentleman doll is modeled on the husband of Iowa’s first female governor.

We finished up our tour with a trip up to the “Whispering Gallery” which overlooks the rotunda. The minimum age is 6 years old, and some steep stairs are involved, with no elevator access, so some of our party remained below in the care of 16-year-old Curly. During this time, one of the state Senators came across the kids waiting for us to come down, and offered to show them the Senate floor. (We had seen both chambers from the galleries during the tour) Of course, the kids said yes! I did not get this Senator’s  name, but it was exciting for the kids to get a special tour and we really appreciated her giving them her time.

We learned so much as the Iowa State Capitol and I recommend you visit if you ever have the chance. We followed up our Capitol tour with an afternoon at the nearby State Historical Society Museum

Some good friends recommended we visit Bisbee, AZ,  an historic mining town.  We did a little research to see what there was to do there, and were surprised to find a Smithsonian-affiliated museum, the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum.  After looking at the museum’s website and admission prices, we decided to go see it!

Visiting the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum

Admission is just $3 for children under 16, and $8 for adults.  For our family, that added up to just $34.  For an even larger family, or one with a child over 16, a family membership at $40 may be the best option.The museum is on the smaller side and half a day is probably sufficient to see it all.

Mining cars displayed in front of the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum

The first floor has exhibits about the history of Bisbee, including the infamous Bisbee Deportation.  In 1917, striking mine workers were kidnapped, shoved into boxcars and transported out of state.  The second floor displays teach visitors about the progression of mining practices and equipment.  Many beautiful mineral samples are on display, many on loan from the Smithsonian. Visitors can read anecdotes from former mine workers talking about their work.

The museum was kid-friendly and the staff was very welcoming.  The first-floor exhibits included items that children could touch, pick up, and play with,  as well as old-fashioned clothing to try on.  The second floor featured a large shovel cab to sit in with a video screen showing what it would be like to operate the equipment.  For the youngest visitors, there was a corner with Tonka trucks to push around on the floor.

In the lobby of the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum, free guides are available for three different walking tours of historic Bisbee.  We finished up our day by walking around, getting a cup of coffee, and looking at some of the historic homes and churches.  We enjoyed our visit very much and learned quite a lot at the museum.