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!

 

 

 

State Historical Society of Iowa Museum  

Very close to the Iowa State Capitol  is the State Historical Society of Iowa Museum.  What a mouthful! They should give it a short, catchy name that’s easy to remember and shorter to say or type.  By any name, however, the museum is a fun way to spend some time.  We visited after seeing the State Capitol building and spent the entire afternoon at the museum.

mammoth skeleton
This cast of a mammoth skeleton greets visitors to the Iowa State Historical Society Museum

The first thing we saw in the main lobby was an exhibit that includes a cast of a mammoth skeleton and other fossils, There’s a ton of information if you take the time to read the signs at the exhibits.  The lobby also features a large globe and an information desk.

Other exhibits in the museum move forward in time through Iowa’s history.  Visitors can learn about the native inhabitants of Iowa, the wildlife, and the early European settlers and the agricultural and industrial activities they brought to the state. Other exhibits tell of Iowa and the Civil War, the Great War, and Hollywood.  The Civil War exhibit is extensive, with a reproduction of an encampment, along with displays of swords, cannons and shot, and everyday items.  There is a cafe on the third floor, but we didn’t see a gift shop anywhere.

Like many family-friendly museums, the State Historical Society of Iowa Museum has a children’s area called Hands-on History, though the entire museum is very child-friendly! Hands-on History is designed with kids 10 and under in mind and has picture books and a comfortable reading area. There is also a play kitchen and a large wooden train table. An art station gives children the chance to make crayon rubbings or their own drawings and display them on the wall.

 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

As we planned a visit to Tucson, we began by looking for attractions that were free to the public  or free with our WNC Nature Center membership.  A look at the ASTC Travel Passport participant list led us to check out the International Wildlife Museum, a fabulous experience for both the scientists and the artists ni the family.

About the International Wildlife Museum

The International Wildlife Museum is located on Gates Pass rd. on the west side of Tucson.  Admission is $10 for adults and teens, $7 for seniors and military, and $5 for children (3 and under are free.)  The museum is open 7 days a week at 9:oo AM, but is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  Admission includes all exhibits and the wildlife theater, which shows nature films and documentaries.  Seating is first-come, first-served, but plenty of seats were available when we visited.  A sign on the door says popcorn is for sale in the gift shop for $1. Visitors should know that this is microwave popcorn, popped on request.  

Visitors should understand that the International Wildlife museum is not a zoo, and with the exception of a couple of exhibits in the insect room, you will not be seeing live animals, but rather preserved specimens and replicas.  One of the benefits of viewing a specimen is that it isn’t moving, allowing your young scientists and artists to carefully observe its anatomy and the colors, textures and patterns of its fur or feathers.

taxidermy display of several kids of birds
This display of various birds allows visitors to see and study details of the birds’ anatomy and feathers at length

 

Some of the displays depict predators in the act of pursuing and taking their prey.  If you think your children may be sensitive to this, we suggest preparing them ahead of time by reminding them that the animals are not alive, but stuffed, and that the scenes are created by humans.

taxidermy mount of wolvestaking a deer
Some of the displays at the International Wildlife
museum show the relationships between predators and prey

 

In addition to animal exhibits, the International Wildlife Museum has some art on display. One current exhibition is a collection of sculpted  leather mixed-media pieces by Jana Booker

 

Three brown sculpted leather portraits of indigenous people
Sculpted leather portraits by Jana Booker, on display at the international Wildlife Museum through July 2018
a shiny silver and gold- toned rhino sculpture
A Rhino sculpture made from buttons!

 

Although mammals and birds make up the bulk of the museum exhibits, the insect room was a great favorite with us all.  There was a wide variety of butterflies and beetles displayed, from native species to exotic.  There were live Madagascar hissing cockroaches and a live tarantula (which is not actually an insect, but an arachnid)

Two bright blue butterflies
just a few of the many colorful butterflies displayed at the International Wildlife Museum
Various longhorned beetles on a branch
Assorted longhorn beetles displayed on a branch.

 

We were also happy for a chance to see a specimen of the extinct passenger pigeon.  Nobody will ever have a chance to see this  bird again in the wild or in a zoo, so we were grateful to see it at all.  

A stuffed passenger pigeon
Now we know what a passenger pigeon looked like! What a beautiful bird, and what a shame they were hunted into extinction.

The International Wildlife Museum would have been well worth the price of admission, however, the ASTC Travel Passport program saved us $49 on admission to this attraction.  The adults and children alike learned quite a lot and we even went back a second day to sketch and take another look at some of our favorites.  I hope you get a chance to visit too!

Although we found lots of other things to see and places to go once we got there, the reason we went to Arizona in the first place was to see the Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon with vegetation in foreground and ray of light on the left
A photo just doesn’t convey the depth and breadth of the Grand Canyon. You just have to see it for yourself!

 

We were there in March, not due to any preplanning but simply because that’s when we got there.  The weather was cool still, but there was no snow on the ground.  I should say, there was no snow on the ground when we arrived.  

About Grand Canyon National Park

A national park since 1919, Grand Canyon National Park contains 1904 acres. The canyon itself averages a mile in depth and ten miles across.  At the widest point, the distance from rim to rim is an astounding eighteen miles!

Entrance fees for the park are for a seven day period.  Entrance for a private vehicle and occupants is $30, a motorcycle is $25, and bicyclists or pedestrians pay $15. An annual pass for Grand Canyon National park is $60, which admits the passholder and the other occupants of the vehicle, or when entering by bicycle, on foot, or by shuttle/train, admits the passholder’s immediate family (defined as parents, spouse, and children) While the Grand Canyon annual pass is a good value if you’re going to spend two weeks or more visiting,  the “America the Beautiful”  annual pass, which grants admission to National Parks and other federal lands, is an even better deal at $80.

The south rim has a visitor center near Mather Point, with educational displays, video presentations about the canyon and a knowledgable staff to answer questions.  The Yavapai Geology Museum  features exhibits about the formation and geology of the canyon, and large viewing windows (a great choice for viewing the canyon if you have young children and are nervous standing near the rim with them!)  Kolb Studio, near the Bright Angel trailhead, was previously a photography studio and private home.  Today the building houses art and history exhibits.  At Verkamps Visitor Center you can learn about the history of  settlements and development in and around the Grand Canyon.  On the eastern end of the park, you can climb the Desert View Watchtower  for 360° views of the canyon and surrounding landscape.  The tower itself, though, is also worth seeing for its design and architecture.  Designed by Mary Coulter, the building contains murals by renowned Hopi artist Fred Kabotie.   Hermit’s Rest,on the west end of the park, is another Mary Coulter design, has exhibits, a gift shop and cafe.  Finally, don’t overlook the Tusayan Museum and ruin. There are no sweeping canyon views here, but rather an intimate look at the ways of life of the Ancestral Puebloan people.

 

interior of a circular room
Inside the Desert Watchtower
child in front of large stone fireplace
Inside Hermit’s Rest, taking a rest, of course!

 

Camping

Although  RV and tent camping is available in developed campgrounds within  Grand Canyon National Park, free dispersed camping in the Kaibab National Forest puts visitors just outside the park.  Stop in at the Tusayan District Ranger office for a Motor Vehicle use Map (MVUM) or get an electronic version ahead of time.  We chose a campsite on FR 307 up the road a ways from the Grandview Lookout fire tower. There is a trailhead near the fire tower, with vault toilets.

Travel trailer in a snowy landscape
We got just enough snow to look pretty for a day and then make a mess of mud when it melted! But see how how much space and privacy we had boondocking in the Kaibab National Forest?

Within the park there is a building with coin-operated laundromat and pay showers.  Visitors do not need to be registered at the in-park campgrounds to use these amenities.  Showers cost $2 for 8 minutes, and the water was good and hot.  A bill changer is available in the laundry room. There were men’s and women’s rooms with multiple showers, as well as a handicapped accessible/family shower.  I saw the attendant unlocking the handicapped accessible shower for a woman with a young school-age boy.  I supposed she felt he was a little old to go  in the women’s showers, but she didn’t want to send him in the men’s showers alone.  I was glad to see the staff accommodate them!

We recommend bringing plenty of groceries with you.  Prices close to the park are very high.  We only planned to stay a few days and were not well-stocked.  Then we got some snow, which quickly melted, and we felt it best not to try to get underway until the mud dried out. After a week, when  we decided to stay a second week, we took a day to drive into Flagstaff to resupply. Had there not been a 14-day stay limit in the National Forest, we might have stayed even longer!  

Things to Do

In addition to the many museums and visitor  centers, Grand Canyon National Park offers a variety of ranger-led programs. There are daytime talks suitable for younger children, but we particularly enjoyed the evening ranger programs.  We learned about subjects ranging from the Colorado River to the effects of fire suppression on the forest landscape. These programs are held at Shrine of the Ages, which also is home to various religious services on Sundays. Although most worshippers were employees  (and their families) of the National Park Service, US Forest Service, or the hotels and eateries within the park, we were made to feel very welcome at church services as visitors.

One of the best parts of visiting Grand Canyon National Park was hiking.  We hiked about 3 miles along the Rim trail, hopping on and off the free shuttle at various points.  We also hiked below the canyon rim on the Bright Angel trail, going as far as the lower tunnel before turning around.  It’s  much harder climbing back up than going down!

Grand Canyon with vegetation in foreground
View of the canyon from near Hermit’s Rest

 

hikers in front of a rock face
Below the canyon rim on the Bright Angel trail.
hikers on a trail
it was a warm spring day, so we had plenty of company on the trail.
group of children hikers standing in a rock tunnel
One of two man-made tunnels on Bright Angel trail

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.

 

In the beginning of March, we were in Arizona already, and this National Park site was not too far from the FamCamp where we were staying, so we decided to check it out. The entrance fee was $12, which was good for a seven day period.  

We decided to camp inside Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The rate was $16 per night, but with the Access pass it was discounted to $8 per night. There were no hookups available, but each site had a barbeque grill and a picnic table. Some sites had shade ramadas. The sites were rather close together, but we had adequate room, and anyway we were really only at the campsite to eat and sleep. There were RV rows where generators are allowed, RV rows where generators were NOT allowed, and tent rows, with the no-generator RV rows acting as a buffer between the tent sites and the generator sites. We chose a site in the no-generator section as close to the tent rows (and thus furthest from the generator rows) as possible. We had a solar panel rather than a generator, and wanted to minimize noise. There were comfort stations with flush toilets and solar-heated showers. I was  also very excited to see a book exchange near the entrance to the campground. I got rid of some books we were done with and picked out a couple of new ones. 

We felt that camping in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was a good value because the amphitheater where evening programs are held is adjacent to the campground. Had we camped outside the park on BLM land, I doubt we would have had time to come back into the park for evening programs after returning to our campsite to cook supper, and the evening programs were well worth our while. Topics ranged from night-blooming cacti and the bats and moths that pollinate them, to identifying animal tracks, to the Native American stories behind the stars and constellations. The evening programs at this park were the best we’ve attended in any park so far.

The children, big and small, enjoyed completing the junior Ranger program and earning a badge.  They also particularly enjoyed going on a Ranger-led hike to Red Rocks Tinaja. We were the only family with children on this hike, but the ranger was happy to answer their many questions.

group of children hiking in the Sonoran desert
The Ranger-led hike was a big hit with the kids.

One of our favorite parts of our visit to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was the ‘Hike for Health” program. We picked up a log sheet in the visitor center and recorded our hikes. Once we reached 5 miles in total, we recieved a free pin. By dividing the milage among shorter hikes over a couple of days, even my three-year-old was able to do it!

This park site preserves a unique piece of habitat in the Sonoran desert. Not only is it one of the only places where the organ pipe cactus is found in the US, it is also home to an endangered pupfish. You can see the pupfish in a manmade pool at the Kris Eggle Visitor Center, and also in their original habitat, Quitobaquito Springs.

The Monument is right on the Mexican border, and there has been illegal activity in the past. The Visitor Center is named after a ranger, Kris Eggle, who was killed in the line of duty in 2002 while pursuing drug cartel members. Don’t let that deter you from visiting Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, however! We didn’t encounter anyone sneaking across the border, but we did see a gorgeous variety of plant and animal life.

children in front of an organ pipe cactus
Organ Pipe Cactus