On Wind & Sail: Letterboxing in San Francisco

One of the benefits of homeschooling is the flexibility of our schedule. When Patrick has business meetings out of town, we are often able to accompany him. This works not only to his benefit – he has company on the long drive, we often share in the task of driving so the other can catch up on work, and he can take advantage of the carpool lane – but to ours.

While he is engaged at his conference, we hit the road to explore the city or surrounding area. This is just what brought us to San Francisco earlier this week.

We assumed that we would be staying in downtown or the financial district as we had in the past. Come to discover, this conference took place near the airport in Millbrae. Not exactly convenient for walking. Though the proximity to the BART would have been ideal – our plans for the day provided only a small window of time and we wanted to squeeze in as much as possible.

A las, I made the decision to drive back into SF proper myself and take our chances with parking. Our first destination was Golden Gate Park. In all our previous visits to the city, we had not previously explored this gem. My goal was to locate the Roald Amundsen or Gjoa Monument as well as two historic windmills.

On Wind & Sail: Letterboxing in San Francisco @WellTraveledFamily.netIn October 1906, Roald Amundsen and his crew arrived in San Francisco aboard the 69-foot Gjoa. Previously a herring boat from Tronso, Norway, she had been retrofitted for Amundsen’s quest to discover the famed Northwest Passage. The Gjoa took the small crew up and over Canada, east to west, finally arriving near Herschel Island, in arctic Canada.

To get word back to the outside world of his success, Amundsen left his men behind in the icebound ship and skied some 500 miles into Eagle, Alaska, where he telegraphed the good news home. As he and his crew arrived in San Francisco a few months later, they were hailed as heroes.

This epic quest was not Amundsen’s only feat, however. He led the Antarctic expedition (1910–12) to become the first to reach the South Pole in December 1911, an epic race against Robert Falcon Scott. In 1926, he was the first expedition leader to be recognized without dispute as having reached the North Pole.

We had visited the Gjoa ship at the Maritime Museum in Oslo. It was exciting to experience this full circle. Not far from the Norwegian granite stele is located a short distance from two windmills.
On Wind & Sail: Letterboxing in San Francisco @WellTraveledFamily.netBuilt between 1902 and 1908, the two historic windmills that overlook Ocean Beach at the far west end of Golden Gate Park were originally designed to provide water for the fledgling park at the beginning of the last century.

Fresh water was essential to transform the sand dunes of the Sunset district into the green that it is today.  The ground water inland was insufficient, so the coastal winds were harnessed to pump deep water closer to the ocean shore.  The windmills were in use only until 1913, when they were replaced by more efficient electric pumps.

The North windmill, known as the Dutch Windmill, was the first, built in 1902 to fill the artificial ponds within the boundaries of Golden Gate Park. The South windmill, known as the Murphy Windmill, was the largest of its kind in the world, with gigantic 114 foot sails, each cut from a single log. These sails turned clockwise, unlike traditional Dutch windmills which turn counter-clockwise.

While in Golden Gate Park, we also enjoyed one of our most favorite pastimes, Letterboxing – the ultimate scavenger hunt. Hunting letterboxes in San Francisco is always enjoyable – the boxes tend to be well maintained and the stamps are amazing! Often, intricately carved or multiple stamps that “stack” within one another.

We hunted three boxes (Aphrodite, Artemis, and Breathe) and were delighted to find all three with ease. My girl has become quite adept at locating the boxes – often without the complete set of clues .. a real sleuth.

We also picked up a hitch-hiking stamp and hope to be planting it in Ashland next week. 🙂

To learn more about letterboxing, visit AtlasQuest.

 

Creating a Labyrinth on the Beach with Artist, Denny Dyke

We get home to Oregon regularly and though I grew up in Bandon, hidden gems and little adventures continue to take me by surprise. This is exactly what happened on New Years Day this year when we happened upon Denny Dyke creating a holiday labyrinth.

Image of people walking a hand-drawn labyrinth on a sandy beach taken from above

We first met my dad at the house and visited for a short time. He shared with us his latest projects and we then proceeded to downtown for our usual Fish & Chips at the Bandon Fish Market. {When it is in season, Salmon Fish & Chips is the best!}

Labyrinth Art

Earlier that morning, I had fortunately caught an advertisement of a labyrinth event shared on Facebook and I was looking forward to seeing the Circles in the Sand near Face Rock Beach.

We were delighted to arrive early and thereby have the chance to take part in the creation of the labyrinth. It’s amazing how simple it is once Denny describes his vision to you. He lends you a few tools and off we go filling in the design.

image of mother and daughter creating a labyrinth on the beach

When the design was finished, we were able to set down the tools and be amongst the first to walk the creative maze. As we walked, we could contemplate the coming year and give thought to the year that past.

In Greek mythology, the original Labyrinth was an elaborate structure designed and built by Daedalus for King Minos of Crete at Knossos. Its function was to hold the Minotaur (half bull, half man) eventually killed by the hero Theseus (son of Aegeaus, King of Athens). According to the mythology, Daedalus had so cunningly made the Labyrinth that he could barely escape it after he built it.

Serendipitously, I was inspired to write this post as the kids and I just read of King Minos, the Minotaur, and Theseus earlier this morning and we recalled fondly our own labyrinth experiences.

image of two children jumping in front of the famous Face Rock in Bandon, OregonThere has been a resurgence of interest in the symbolism of labyrinths which has inspired a revival in labyrinth building in recent years. On low tides, labyrinth artist Denny Dyke regularly creates classical cretans, baltic wheels, and double spirals in the sand. He also draws large versions of the Chartres and Santa Rosa.

May 2nd is World Labyrinth Day. Join Denny at Coquille Point (aka Elephant Rock) to join in the fun in creating a labyrinth with a sandy path.

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

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.