Southern California Surprise Vacation

We (my husband and I) have been planning a surprise family vacation to southern California for some time.  In preparation, as our excitement builds, it was harder to keep our enthusiasm contained.  On occasion, we would ask the kids, “If you had the choice, where would you most like to vacation?  Yosemite or Disneyland?”  Surprisingly – or perhaps not so surprisingly if you know my kiddos – they would answer Yosemite.  We thereby began to wonder if shouldn’t rethink our vacation plan.  Heck!  We wanted to go to Disneyland … so we proceeded forth with thrusters.  :)

Day #1 – Drive South

We woke the kiddos early Friday morning and informed them that we were going to southern California and would be spending time at Legoland and Disneyland both as well as a few other surprises.  You would expect that they would leap up and cheer ecstaticly but a las, their response was the complete opposite. They both sat on the floor and looked up at us with dismay, “Really? Okay.”

The first day we did a lot of driving.  Though we departed at 4:30 a.m., we didn’t arrive until nearly 3:00 p.m.  We laid down for awhile after we had checked into our hotel – I believe Patrick even took a short nap. We later walked down to Downtown Disney for dinner.

Day #2 – Legoland

Our true adventures began today with an excursion to Legoland.  As we awaited opening, the kids were bouncing with excitement.  Buddy even said, “I can’t believe I am here!  I’ve been wanting to go to Legoland all my life.  This is like a dream!”  Finally!! Some enthusiasm is revealed … phew! :)

The kids loved the park – they marveled at the life size lego sculptures and the city-scapes built with Legos.  Buddy said he’d like to expand his Lego city .. sadly, I don’t think he has much room in his bedroom.  They also enjoyed taking par in a robotics class whereby they learned how to use the Lego Mindstorms product to build and program a robot to do simple tasks.  I see a Mindstorms purchase in our future.

 

Day #3 – La Brea Tar Pits  Dinner at Medieval Times

We headed downtown Los Angeles for day #3 .. stopping at La Brea Tar Pits (we did a little letterboxing beforehand), the Los Angeles County Art Museum (to see the street lights – we didn’t go inside), Hollywood Blvd (we just drove through), and a little shopping (American Girl Doll Store, Apple, and Nordstrom’s Rack).

That evening we went to Medieval Times for a thematic dinner.  I found this to be a little cheesy but the little guy absolutely loved it!  “Mom!  Is this your favorite restaurant because it is mine?!

Day #4 – Disneyland

Our first day in Disneyland turned out to be much more crowded than I anticipated.  We had visited the park 5 years ago (Buddy doesn’t remember it) on the same weekend if I recall correctly, and there were few crowds.  Today .. turned out to be a holiday (ColumbusDay) on top of the fact that Arizona schools were on ‘Fall Break’.  Ah well …

We had to force Buddy to go on every single ride.  After his first ride in Legoland (which we also insisted he ride), we knew he would enjoy each one.  The Legoland coaster was a little more stomach churning than we knew the rides in Disney to be and yet after his first ride, he kept talking about how fun it was.  His fears just get the best of him and he’ll hold back so we knew it was the right decision.  If he hadn’t liked the ride(s), we certainly wouldn’t have continued to pressure him.

 

Day #5 – California Adventure

We loved California Adventure.  The new Radiator Springs area – particularly the new ride, Radiator Springs Racers – is awesome.  We all love Pixar movies so we like this part of the park the best.  We also love Soarin’ Over California and California Screamin’ (the only ride the kids did not go on).

While waiting in line (once to get into the park and again in a line for an attraction), we bumped into friends of ours from Central Oregon. It was great to catch up and hear news from home.   It is indeed a small world!

 

Day #6 – Disneyland

Though we enjoy California Adventure, we returned to Disneyland on our third and final day because there were more things we had not yet seen or done.  Buddy loved the Jedi Academy and was very pleased that he was NOT selected to go up on stage.  Darth Maul took a liking to him though and came over to where he was seated and interacted with him a couple times.  I was seated right next to him so I couldn’t get a great picture of them both together but you can see Buddy’s reaction (he’s using the force to repel Darth Maul) when he approached the second time.

 

Day #7 – Aquarium of the Pacific

On our last day, we ventured to Long Beach to visit the Aquarium of the Pacific.  We really enjoyed this one – the kids loved finding all the passport stations throughout the aquarium and embossing their books with the images.  Our little pirate climbed on board the ship outside immediately and as he stood on the bow yelling, “It’s a pirate’s life for me!” Sweetie pushed a button on this giant fish and it squirted him dead center.  His surprised reaction was perfect and we all about died laughing!  Fortunately, he took it good heartedly and even asked her to do it again. :)

Day #8 – Drive Home

Another long day of driving.  We were sad to leave but a wonderful family vacation full of memorable moments.

Scavenger Hunt in San Francisco

I am continually amazed by the creativity of our new Mandarin tutor.  He is always coming up with innovative ways to keep the kiddos excited about learning another language – particularly when it comes to rote memorization or review of vocabulary.  He loves technology and frequently integrates the use of the iPad.  He has shared with us many fun new apps for Mandarin.  Most recently, he and #1 spent their instructional time texting one another back and forth.  It was impressive to see how much more comfortable she was conversing in this way.
Last week, we had an opportunity to go to San Francisco – one of our favorite cities.  In anticipation of this trip, he  devised a scavenger hunt to engage the kids as we explored Chinatown.  #1 was expected to do all of the “Must-do” assignments as well as 3 “Optional” assignments.  #2 was expected to do only 3 of the “Optional” assignments.  
San Francisco Chinatown Scavenger Hunt – Click on it to enlarge

To further integrate their assignment into our homeschool activities, I requested that they each complete the tasks on their own blog.  Here are links to their completed work:

#2 – not yet finished
Please consider popping over to their blogs and leaving a comment for each of them.  They love to hear from their readers and it sparks them to want to write more.  :)

Dunsmuir Railroad Days

This past weekend, we surprised the kids with an impromptu excursion in Dunsmuir that coincided with the annual Dunsmuir Railroad Days.  It was a great family getaway, delighting everyone.  I was even a little surprised with how much #1 enjoyed our accommodations.  The photo here shows her reaction as we pulled into the resort.   We stayed in the Southern Pacific caboose shown below.  As we settled in, #2 exclaimed, “This is my dream!”  as he quickly dropped his bag and ran outside to begin exploring the grounds.  
In its golden era, Dunsmuir was once an important, thriving railroad community. Formerly named “Pusher”, this was the spot where additional locomotives were added onto the trains, to “push” them up the steep grade to Mt. Shasta. In 1968, the Murphy family, local descendents of pioneering railroaders, decided to collect and preserve the old rail era, by transforming rail cars into beautifully renovated units. A collection of cabooses, flat cars and box cars were acquired and work was started. “Murphy’s Pond” a popular swimming pond was the first phase of the project. In the years following, additional cabooses were transformed into motel units as well as a swimming pool and spa which completed the project. The Murphy Family still proudly owns and actively operates this family business.

After a quick picnic dinner, we drove into Dunsmuir for a quick tour of the quaint town.  We checked out a few of the train cars and marveled at the roundhouse.  We were excited to learn that the following day, we could climb aboard the engine as it went turned around on the turn-table.  We returned to our caboose later that evening and enjoyed a soak in the spa.  We met a kind gentleman from San Francisco with whom we exchanged stories of our travels and adventures.  We can’t wait to check out some of the places he recommended to us. 

On Saturday, we returned downtown to further partake in the festivities.  The kids participated in a Little Mister and Little Miss Engineer contest – whereby #1 brought home a trophy for her age group.  Sadly,  public speaking has never been #2’s strong suit and he competed against a 9 year old returning champion.  He earned 2nd place and was given a ribbon – but he was in tears.  A good learning experience nonetheless. 

 
A highlight was the Speeder Car ride up the track.  Speeder Cars, otherwise known as railway motor cars, werformerly used on railroads around the world by track inspectors and work crews to move quickly to and from work sites.  Although it is slow compared to a train or car, it is called speeder because it is faster than the human-powered vehicle that predates them.
Speeder cars were replaced in the 1990s with pickup trucks with flanged wheels.  Now Speeders are collected by hobbyists who refurbish them and use them for short excursions and outings.   

Whiskeytown Waterfall Challenge

One of my new favorite places is Whiskeytown National Recreation Area.  Within the park, are four wonderful waterfalls, accessible year-round.  The National Park Service, in an effort to promote a healthy lifestyle and get families outside, encourages visitors to take part in a waterfall challenge.  You can download their colorful waterfall passport (or use a nature journal of your own) to document your visit to each of the falls.  Along the trail to each of the falls is a metal pedestal with a relief carving perfect for crayon rubbings.  If you are taking part in the challenge, you are asked to do a rubbing at each of the waterfalls.  Visitors who complete the challenge are awarded a free “I Walked the Falls” bandana.

Crystal Creek Falls
Crystal Creek Falls

Crystal Creek Falls is the only “man-made” waterfall in the park. When the Central Valley Project was designed in the 1920s, an important component was the diversion of a large portion of the Trinity River to Whiskeytown Lake and from there to the Sacramento River. A 17-mile tunnel was excavated to transport the water underground from Trinity Dam to Carr Powerhouse and the tailings were dumped in the area near Crystal Creek Falls.  When it is necessary to shut down Carr Powerhouse for maintenance or to enter the tunnel for cleaning, the valve is turned and the excess water from the tunnel spills into Crystal Creek.  When the overflow structure was built, the Bureau of Reclamation rerouted Crystal Creek. The creek was moved about 50 feet to the left to make a shortcut over the cliff, creating this picturesque waterfall.

Whiskeytown Falls

For over 40 years this 220-foot waterfall was only a secret to the few that knew it existed. For a variety of reasons, some people decided not to share the falls’ existence with others. Today, people from all over the world have heard about the hidden secret.


Brandy Creek Falls
Brandy Creek is noted for five large cascading falls that sweep down across the polished granite rock in the upper box canyon. Upper Brandy Creek Falls plunge in a unique split formation through the steep vertical walls. The trail to the falls was improved in 2005 with hand-hewn rock steps and a metal railing to help hikers safely reach the top of the waterfall. 
Boulder Creek Falls

At over 138 feet high, Boulder Creek Falls was thought to be the tallest waterfall in the park until Whiskeytown Falls was re-discovered in fall of 2004.  The three cascades of Boulder Creek Falls are tucked into a dark, shaded box canyon filled with moss and ferns. 

Old Time Holidays :: Field Trip

Each year in early December, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area and Old Shasta State Historic Park team up to offer numerous holiday activities for families. Ever intrigued by living history opportunities, we were eager to take part.

 Our first stop was at the historic Camden Tower House, built in 1852, the Camden House is the oldest house in Shasta county.  Here, the kids cooperated together to create a Christmas wreath of evergreens. We then toured the inside of the house (though it is furnished minimally in only two rooms).  It was fun to imagine living here in the late 1800s and looking out upon the orchards.  Upstairs, we enjoyed listening to a Christmas story read aloud by a volunteer in modern clothing.

Returning outdoors, the kids selected a old-style picture postcard and used a feather quill and ink to write a seasonal greeting to a family.  We had tried to make our own feather quills some time ago … the directions had stated to bury the feather in an aluminum pan of hot sand.  We did so … but apparently the sand was too hot and the feathers blistered, warped, and burned.  The kiddos were thereby very excited to give this a go.

We then made our way to Old Shasta where we were able to walk along the row of old, nearly-ruined brick buildings.  Once the “Queen City” of California’s northern mining district, these ruins and some of the nearby roads, cottages, and cemeteries are all silent today.  Volunteers dressed in period attire introduced the kids to numerous children’s games – Hoop & Stick, Game of Graces, and Jacob’s Ladder.  Sweetie asked if perhaps we could volunteer here, “I miss dressing up and pretending I lived in 1880.”  I promised I would inquire, but sadly the park is one of several state parks slated to close in May.

We then walked down to the Blacksmith shop where kids could try their hand at forging a piece of iron into a wall hook.  Sadly, we arrived late in the day and the last visitor they would have time to tutor was just getting started.  Buddy was fascinated … as I’m sure any young boy would be … and he begged to come back another day.

We were able to dip candles, however.  As there weren’t many children at this late hour, they were even able to get back in line a second time.  Each of the kiddos brought home two hand-dipped candles.

Everyone had a great time and it was a fun way to kick off the holidays.  We hope that funding or alternatives can be found to keep the museum accessible.   

California State Railroad Museum

This has been a long awaited trip … the California State Railroad Museum is well known throughout the western states and it’s been on Buddy’s ‘Bucket List’ for years.  Now that we live in California .. the trip was an easy few hours drive from home.  The museum is located within Old Sacramento State Historic Park.

As the commercial center of the California Gold Rush, Sacramento became a crossroads of transportation, connecting steamboats to San Francisco, supply roads to the mining regions, and to Folsom by the first railroad in the West.  Though the commercial district gradually moved east of the the riverfront, today there are 53 historic commercial structures on 28 acres that make up Old Sacramento State Historic Park.

While the focus of our visit was the Railroad Museum – we’ll definitely be back again when our history studies bring us to California.  The railroad museum houses more than 20 restored locomotives and railroad cars along with thousands of smaller artifacts and a variety of exhibits in its exhibition facility. In addition, the Central Pacific Railroad Passenger Station and Freight Depot make up a part of the historic district.

The passenger station is a reconstruction of the western terminus of America’s first transcontinental railroad (circa 1876).  Here you’ll find the ticket office (where we purchased tickets for the Spookomotive Train event), telegraph office, main waiting room, and a separate waiting room for women and children only.  The museum’s steam-powered excursion trains arrive and depart from the reconstructed late 1800s transcontinental railroad freight station.

We planned our trip to coincide with the Spookomotive train ride – a whimsically decorated train staffed with an entertaining ‘skeleton crew’.  We had hoped for a spooky ride – perhaps a little mystery in which we’d get to take part onboard.  As it turned out – the ride was a simple down and back along the riverfront with the crew wearing skeleton printed t-shirts and passing out silly plastic toys.  It was suitable for ALL ages.
Buddy’s favorite exhibit was the 4294 locomotive.  The unique cab-forward design of the locomotive saved engineers from being asphyxiated by smoke fumes in Southern Pacific’s numerous long mountain tunnels and snow sheds.  Sweetie’s favorite exhibit commemorated the completion of the transcontinental railroad and the ceremony that took place at Promontory Point, Utah.  We were surprised to learn that the paintings we see so frequently in the history books portraying this event were staged.  Some of the people pictured were not even there when the infamous gold spike was nailed in place.  Sadly, the people that were responsible for the construction of the train – most of whom were immigrants from China and Ireland – were not featured at all.
While we were there, Buddy completed the Junior Engineer assignments.  He was disappointed though that his special award was game token for Old Sacramento Historic Park.  He’d hoped for a patch or lapel pin.  Ah well – the important thing was what he learned not the tangible reward.