The Islands of the Galapagos: Baltra & Santa Cruz


This is the first post of a five day hopscotch series. Join me each day this week as I share with you our discoveries in the Galápagos Islands.


Isla Baltra is a small, flat island located near the center of the Galápagos. Created by geological uplift, the island is very arid and vegetation consists of salt bushes, prickly pear cactus and Palo Santo trees.

During World War II Baltra was established as a United States Army Air Force base. Crews stationed at Baltra patrolled the eastern Pacific for enemy submarines and provided protection for the Panama Canal. After the war, the facilities were given to the government of Ecuador.

Today the island continues as an official Ecuadorian military base. The foundations of buildings and other remains of the US base including the old airfield can still be seen on the island.

Upon arriving into Baltra, all visitors are transported by bus to one of two docks. The first dock is located in a small bay where the boats cruising the Galápagos await passengers. The second is a ferry dock which connects Baltra to the island of Santa Cruz via the Itabaca Channel.

We were transported to the ferry dock and from there, boarded a panga with which we crossed the Itabaca Channel to Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz

Situated in the center of the archipelago, Santa Cruz is the second largest island after Isabela. Its capital is Puerto Ayora, the most populated urban centre in the islands. There are some small villages whose inhabitants work in agriculture and cattle raising.

Highlands of Santa Cruz

The island is a large dormant volcano. It is estimated that the last eruptions occurred around a million and a half years ago. Upon our arrival, we boarded another bus and drove up into the highlands of Santa Cruz  which offer exuberant flora and are famous for a gigantic lava tunnel that is over 2000 meters long. Along the drive, we were fortunate to observe a Galápagos Rail (an endemic, flightless bird) on the roadside but sadly we weren’t able to capture a photograph.

We enjoyed a wonderful lunch al fresco (the first of many) and from our table could watch giant tortoises doing the same. Thereafter we put on our wellies (which were provided for our use) and were then guided around the property. Here, we observed the large tortoise populations up close. Though it is rare to see females in the highlands (they nest in the dryer area of the lowlands) – we did see one.

We visited the highlands once again on our sixth day – touring the property of a cattle ranching family where we were able to walk around at our own leisure. It was here that we enjoyed a little spelunking in a lava tube. It reminded us of the lava caves in Central Oregon and Hawai’i that we’ve explored previously.

We drove up to Cerro Mesa for a fabulous view of the island. It was quite overcast and cloudy but the view was incredible. A short distance from the peak was a huge crater with steep walls that were covered in diverse, lush vegetation – even cactus.

bachasbeachLas Bachas

On our fifth day in the islands, we spent the morning on Playa Las Bachas sunbathing and exploring the fringes including a small brackish lagoon where we hoped to see flamingos.

Snorkeling near the shore, I loved seeing hundred of sea cucumbers, evidence that the fishing restrictions were aiding in the comeback of these echinoderms. [I had read about the illegal harvesting of sea cucumbers in Galapagos at the Crossroads: Pirates, Biologists, Tourists, and Creationists Battle for Darwin’s Cradle of Evolution.]

landiguanaCerro Dragón

In the afternoon, we hiked along a trail near Cerro Dragón where we observed land iguanas foraging. The area is also known for its flamingo lagoon but these elusive pink birds eluded us all week. It was here on this hike that we really began to understand the geography of the islands [Developing Map Skills in the Galápagos].

Puerto Ayora

The Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) and the headquarters of the Galápagos National Park Service (GNPS) are located on Santa Cruz. The GNPS and CDRS operate a tortoise breeding centre here, where young tortoises are hatched, reared, and prepared to be reintroduced to their natural habitat, which we visited on the afternoon of the sixth day of our 8-day voyage.

The hatchlings we observed were just a couple years old. They remain in captivity – gradually moving from one enclosure to another – each with less ‘protection’ and a more natural environment. Hatchlings are highly susceptible to predation so the efforts at the research station have dramatically improved the population numbers.

CDRSHere, were also had the opportunity to see saddleback tortoises, two of whom had been “roommates” with Lonesome George who sadly passed away just two years ago.

The most memorable moment at the research station was watching “Charlie” – one of the tourists in our group – befriend a little cactus finch. The finch was so curious, she must have spent 10 minutes hopping about on his arm and shoulder, pecking every now and then. It was clear that the nickname we had given him was well suited.

Read my other posts in The Islands of the Galápagos series:



Santiago & Bartolomé



Interested in following along on another hopscotch? Check out the topics by the iHomeschool Network bloggers.


Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway

The volcanic activity of the Cascade Range has created unique geological formations that can only be seen in this part of the country. From gigantic obsidian glass flows (at Newberry Crater near Bend, Oregon), steaming mud pots at Lassen National Volcanic Park, and lava tube caves surrounded by a wide diversity of scenery make this journey an unforgettable experience.

The 500 mile Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway winds its way from Lake Almanor in Northern California through dramatic volcanic landscapes to Southern Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park.

volcanic-legacy-logoLiving in this region, we have had the opportunity to explore many of the volcanic sites over the years. This past weekend, we enjoyed unplugging and reconnecting with one another while camping at Manzanita Lake. It was the perfect field trip to augment our current geology cycle in STEM Club.

I am delighted to share some of the highlights from our experiences over the years along the volcanic scenic byway with you today.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

We will begin our tour with the remarkable hydrothermal features in Lassen Volcanic National Park which include roaring fumaroles (steam and volcanic-gas vents), thumping mudpots, boiling pools, and steaming ground. These features are related to active volcanism and are indications of the ongoing potential for further eruptions from the Lassen “volcanic center.”

manzanitaManzanita Lake at Lassen Volcanic National Park

At the nearby Loomis Museum, we learned how B.F. Loomis documented Lassen Peak’s most recent eruptions (1914-15) and reviewed the geologic, historic, and cultural past at the Lassen Crossroads Information Center.

Subway Cave

Heading Northwest towards Burney, we come to the Subway Caves where you can hike 1/3 mile through the largest accessible tube in the Hat Creek Flow. The lava was discharged in large volumes from a series of north-south fissures (cracks in the earth). This river of lava crawled northward 16 miles, covering the floor of Hat Creek Valley. While the top crust cooled and hardened, rivers of red-hot lava insulated by newly formed rock above, continued to flow. Eventually, the lava drained away, leaving tube-like caves. The entrance to the cave was formed by a partial collapse of the cave’s roof many years ago.

McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park

Not far from the caves, McArthur-Burney Falls features a 129-foot waterfall, cascading at a rate of 100 million gallons of water daily. While it is not the highest or largest waterfall in the state, many claim it to be the most beautiful. Additional water comes from springs, joining to create a mist-filled basin. Burney Creek originates from the park’s underground springs and flows to Lake Britton, getting larger along the way to the majestic falls. Teddy Roosevelt once described Burney Falls as the “eighth wonder of the world”.


Castle Crags State Park

Heading north now along the I5 corridor, we come to Castle Crags State Park which features 28 miles of hiking trails, including a 2.7 mile access trail to Castle Crags Wilderness, part of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.  The Pacific Crest Trail also passes through the park.  The park is named for the 6,000-feet tall glacier-polished crags.  The solitude you experience as you explore the forest or traverse part of the Pacific Crest Trail cannot be matched.

Klamath Wildlife

Continuing north, we exit I5 near Weed towards Klamath Falls. Along the border between California and Oregon are numerous wildlife viewing areas including Grass Lake Rest Area near Macdoel. North of Klamath Falls, you can’t miss the nearly 30 miles long and eight miles wide Upper Klamath Lake, the largest body of freshwater west of the Rockies. Because the lake is so shallow, a highly nutritious blue green algae flourishes, sustaining a food web that lures fly fisherman, bird watchers, and nature enthusiasts from across the globe.

Collier State Park & Logging Museum

Back on the road, we come to Collier State Park is located just north of Chiloquin, Oregon near the confluence of Spring Creek and the Williamson River. Beneath towering Ponderosa pine trees, this park features an outdoor museum of historic logging equipment dating to the 1880s. You can imagine the rugged woodsmen and the immense task of moving raw timber with innovation and brute force. There is also a relocated pioneer village, giving you an idea of how these families once lived.  Railroad buffs can learn about the role the railroad played in logging.

Crater Lake National Park

Lastly, we come to one of the gems of the National Park system, Crater Lake. The collapse of Mt. Mazama created a caldera that filled with clear blue waters to form the deepest lake in America and the 7th deepest lake in the world. There is so much to explore at the 183,225 acre park, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface.

One of our most memorable activities in the past was creating a 3D topographic map of the park, Build Geoography Skills with Topographic Maps, for a geography co-op.



Hot Water in Lassen Volcanic National Park

The remarkable hydrothermal features in Lassen Volcanic National Park include roaring fumaroles (steam and volcanic-gas vents), thumping mudpots, boiling pools, and steaming ground. These features are related to active volcanism and are indications of the ongoing potential for further eruptions from the Lassen “volcanic center.”  The hottest and most vigorous hydrothermal features in Lassen Volcanic National Park are at Bumpass Hell and we recently had the opportunity to explore this area for ourselves.

mount lassen volcanoAll four types of volcanoes found in the entire world are represented in Lassen Volcanic National Park. Volcanoes found in the park include shield (Prospect Peak), plug dome (Lassen Peak), Cinder Cone (Cinder Cone), and Composite (Brokeoff Volcano) volcanoes. Hands-on models of each volcano type are accessible in the visitor center as well as numerous historical photographs, interactive maps, and of course the park film.

The Lassen region is at the south end of the Cascade chain of volcanoes.  Steam vents and hot springs are surface expressions of hydrothermal systems, in which cold surface water percolates deep into the ground, where it is warmed by the slow release of thermal energy from a heat source. The Lassen volcanic center is host to such a system because it has the three required elements—abundant ground water, permeable rock, and a heat source at depth. The vigor of Lassen’s hydrothermal features varies both seasonally and from year to year.

The kids completed a scavenger hunt within the exhibit hall (one of several components of the Junior Ranger program) and reflected upon previous visits to Lassen.  In addition, they completed a few of the activities outlined in the Volcano Club guide available on the park website. We live within a days drive, so we’ll be back again soon to further explore this dynamic national treasure and to complete the Junior Ranger program.

volcanic-legacy-logoA 500 mile volcano to volcano driving guide highlighting the geology that shaped the land from Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California and ending at Crater Lake National Park in Southern Oregon is available.  See Volcanic Legacy Byway  for a map of the geology guide and corresponding points of interest by number. 

10 Free California Field Trips

To say we LOVE field trips is an understatement.   I have found that hands on learning and exploring makes topics more interesting and memorable for my children. Sadly, public schools are consistently cutting back on their budgets for field trips and other extracurricular activities. These one of a kind learning experiences are essential for a child’s development and some of my fondest memories from my own schooling. Being able to take field trips is actually one of the many reasons we homeschool.

Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.  ~ Benjamin Franklin

Isn’t tasting freshly pressed olive oil at the site where it was made, listening to a Native American speak about his ancestors and share his knowledge of native plants, touching a plane that was used in WWII, or walking portions of the Cherokee Trail of Tears more exciting than learning about them in a book?

Today, I share with you some of our most memorable California field trips we have enjoyed this past year.

Free California FieldtripsLego Fun – Buddy is big time into LEGOs. When we are home he spends  hours playing with them so of course we had to visit Legoland when we were in Southern California.  While there, we stopped by Lego® Mindstorms® and signed up for a hands-on tutorial. The kids had a blast building and programing a computerized robot.  As a result of this experience, we are contemplating starting our own Lego League this fall.

Lucero Olive Oil – After trying our hand at harvesting our own olives recently, What to Do With Fresh Olives, I wanted to give the kiddos a taste of the agricultural sciences which brought us to Lucero for a taste experience we will not soon forget.

bird watching

Nature Walks  – Our Roots & Shoots friends have joined us on many of these adventures.  Our volunteer guide is very knowledgeable about birds. We look forward to her outings every month.

Lady WashingtonLady Washington & Hawaiian Chieftan – We were fortunate to happen upon these historic ships while in San Francisco one weekend.

Free California Field Trips

I have shared about some of our other field trips here, here, and here … but since I never tire of sharing, here are 10 more FREE California field trips you can enjoy:

  1. California Capitol – always FREE. The State Capitol Museum is open daily and offers free tours hourly; self-guided tours are also available. Reservations are required for large groups or sign up for a guided tour.
  2. Jelly Belly Factory – Learn the secrets to how we create the legendary Jelly Belly jelly bean, and discover why it takes more than a week to make a single bean.
  3. Nature Centers – California has many nature centers that do not charge to walk the trails. Some of these are Oak Canyon Nature Center in Anaheim, San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center, and Turtle Bay Exploration Park.
  4. Historic Ships Dockside Tours – When in port, these historic ships are sure to impress. $3 donation suggested
  5. Bohart Museum of Entomology – Founded in 1946, it is located on the University of California, Davis campus. Dedicated to teaching, research and service the museum boasts the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and is worldwide in coverage.
  6. Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary – Housed in an historic Coast Guard Station, the exhibits highlight the amazing wildlife in the Gulf of the Farallones, the threats to the wildlife, as well as what people can do to help protect the sanctuary. Open to the public Wed – Sun from 10 am – 4 pm
  7. Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden – A living museum, having special collections designed to assist the teaching mission; offers free docent-led tours for groups of 10 or more.
  8. Santa Ana Watershed Association – Offers free environmental education programs taught by Naturalists who specialize in conservation, watershed issues & ecology.
  9. Fish Hatcheries – There are many fish hatcheries in California, including the Coleman Fish Hatchery in Anderson and the Mad River Hatchery in Arcata.
  10. Federal Reserve Bank – The San Francisco Fed offers one of the world’s foremost collections of historic United States currency and a look at cash processing too!  Free tours are available at the Los Angeles Fed as well.

Field Trip Planning Tips

Always check out the websites prior to your desired visit date and try to plan your visit around special programs or events.  Additionally, you’ll often find downloadable guides for kids and suggested activities with which to engage them before/after your visit.

Though the suggested sites listed here may not be in your proximity, you can use this list as a guide to find similiar sites near you.

Thanks for visiting. What has been your most favorite field trip so far this year?

Astounded by Arches National Park

Arches National Park has over 2,000 natural stone arches, in addition to hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins and giant balanced rocks.  Arches is a great family park. The rock formations delight kids as well as adults, and many short hiking trails provide opportunities for everyone to get out of the car and explore the park’s features.  We had more time at Arches and thereby took advantage of every moment.

This is the eighth post in the – Homeschooling on the Road – marathon blogging series.

One of the highlights of our stay at Arches was the Ranger Program we attended in the evening, Archeoastronomy.  It was a fascinating talk on how the Native Americans utilized their study of the stars and planets to better understand their environment; when to plant and when to harvest. The ranger shared their stories and helped bring the stars to life.  We learned how Ursa Major changes over the course of a year and how cultures across North America tracked the movement of the sun.   Delightfully, our little man was eager to help out when called upon.

Arches National Park

Hikes We Enjoyed in Arches

We enjoyed many short hikes and two long hikes while we were in Arches National Park. Our favorites were the long hikes … the views were just astounding and the strenuous hike made it all the more memorable.  Walking along the fins was a surreal experience; it felt like we were walking on the spine of the continent.

Delicate Arch
Starting Point: Wolfe Ranch parking area
Length: 3 miles round trip
Open slick rock with some exposure to heights. The first half-mile is a wide, well-defined trail. Upon reaching the slickrock, follow the rock cairns. The trail climbs gradually and levels out toward the top of this rock face. Just before you get to Delicate Arch, the trail goes along a rock ledge for about 200 yards.

Double O Arch
Starting Point: Devils Garden Trailhead parking area
Length: 4 miles round trip
Beyond Landscape Arch, the trail becomes more challenging as it climbs over sandstone slabs; footing is rocky; there are narrow ledges with exposure to heights.

A hike out to Double O is not without caution.  We came upon several people who chose to turn back or had refused to go any farther, choosing rather to sit and wait for their party to return.

Arches National Park

Biological Soil Crust

One of the most fascinating ecological discoveries we made at Arches National Park was learning about the biological soil crust.  This dark, bumpy layer is a community of organisms (cyanobacteria, green algae, microfungi, mosses, liverworts and lichens) living at the surface of desert soils. These crusts hold sand grains together (preventing erosion), absorb water, give seeds a place to grow, and provide nutrients for plants (they fix nitrogen). Biological soil crust is very fragile. One footstep may destroy it. Since it lives everywhere, it is important to stay on trails and not “bust the crust” while at Arches. Biological crust grows in places throughout the world. See if you can find it where you live. 

Exploring Capitol Reef National Park & Canyonlands

Of all the national parks we visited last month, we spent the least amount of time in Capitol Reef and Canyonlands.  We just didn’t have the time and had to make a decision.  Each park was en route to our overnight destination and we thereby had time only to see the highlights and complete the Junior Ranger books.

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef’s rich cultural history dates back to early hunters and gatherers and more recently Mormon pioneers who settled the area in the 1800s. Around 500 CE, Fremont Culture changed from food foraging groups, to farmers of corn, beans and squash. Petroglyphs etched in rock walls and painted pictographs remain as sacred remnants of the ancient Indians’ saga. Explorers, Mormon pioneers and others arrived in the 1800s, settling in what is now the Fruita Rural Historic District. They planted and nurtured orchards of apples, pears, and peaches.

If you visit Capitol Reef National Park and have the time, I would suggest checking out their Family Fun Backpack available at the visitor center.  The pack is full of pioneer games and tools to read a contour maps, identify night constellations, and improve your bird-watching skills. The Ripple Rock Nature Center is open in the summer months.  Here kids can explore spin wool, make cornmeal on a prehistoric grinding stone, and learn to identify fossils.

Our Highlights at Capitol Reef

  • Stopped at the visitor center and watched the park movie
  • Toured the the historic Gifford Homestead
  • Enjoyed a fresh baked fruit pie
  • Drove the Scenic Drive
  • Took the Junior Ranger pledge
  • Visited the petroglyph panel and historic schoolhouse

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park was impressive.  I think we were more in awe of the canyon here than we were of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.  The pictures don’t even do it justice.  The park is divided into four districts by the Green and Colorado rivers: the Island in the Sky, the Maze, the Needles, and the rivers themselves.  Canyonlands National Park preserves one of the last, relatively undisturbed areas of the Colorado Plateau. Carved out of vast sedimentary rock deposits, this landscape of canyons, mesas, and deep river gorges possesses remarkable natural features that are part of a unique desert ecosystem.

As The Island in the Sky is the most accessible district, offering expansive views from many overlooks along the paved scenic drive, this was the only district we had time to explore.  The Needles District offers more of a backcountry experience, requiring some hiking or four-wheel driving to see the area’s attractions and The Maze is a remote district requiring considerably more time and self-reliance to visit.

Like Capitol Reef, Canyonlands National Park also provides families with the opportunity to borrow an Explorer Pack. These packs contain binoculars, a hand lens, a naturalist guide, a notebook and more.  In addition, the Canyon Country Outdoor Education program has developed numerous curriculum packages for grades 1-6.

Our Highlights at Canyonlands

  • Stopped at the visitor center and watched the park movie
  • Drove the Scenic Drive
  • Took the Junior Ranger pledge