Monday, August 19, 2013

July 5, 2013--Day Eleven

Today was another long drive day.  We drove to Calavares County.  They are knows for a few different things we did see (caves and sequoia trees) and somethings we didn't see (jumping frogs).

Our first stop was at California Caverns.  There are a few different caves to explore in the area but California Caverns is by far my favorite.  We started with a half-mile walk to the cave exit.  It was here near the exit that we picked and put on our hard-hats.

The actual cave entrance was  little further down the trail.  It was the original entrance from 1849, although, it's been opened up a little more so we could all enter the mountain safely.  

Once you enter the cave, and begin the maze of different corridors and rooms, you'll see all sorts of cave formations like the soda straws, stalactites, and cave bacon shown here:

Since the save formations take thousands and thousands of years to form, we're not supposed to touch them.  But here you can see the one spot where it's okay to touch.  Henrietta uses the touching rock to gain balance around a sharp turn.  In addition to the sharp turns there are also low ceilings and places you have to squat down to pass through.  You can see the places where people touch are much darker and less pristine than the other formations. 

One room they have, the jungle room, isn't open all year.  It's a room that often times gets flooded and because of all of the unique formations they limit the number of people they allow into the room even when it's not flooded.  Luckily our tour guide, David, enjoyed our quiet and respectful group.  He even went so far as to take a picture of us in the jungle room.  This was after he pointed out some of the more interesting formations that looked like a variety of animals. 

As we were leaving, David pointed out a hole in the side of a wall.  He explained that when you go on the Middle Earth tour (a longer, more expensive tour that you get suited up in full gear with ropes for) you start here at this hole.  This room starts with a six foot slide into a small room about the side of the inside of a two-seater car.  David explains they use this room as a test for the Middle Earth tour.  If you can make it into this room (and out) without freaking out, you can handle the Middle Earth tour.  The adults on our tour graciously chickened out.  But Henry, who's mom was there to approve it, gave it a try.  Here he is sliding into the room alone:

Henry did a much better than those of us on the outside.  Marilyn and I both pretty much held our breath the entire time.

Once Henry got out, we finished our tour and took some time "mining" gems out of the local dirt.  First students poured some dirt into a screened box.  They then lowered it into a trough that cycled water through the mud clearing all but the larger gems. 

 As you can see they collected quite a few interesting gems:

Feeling rich, but hungry, we laid out a spread of lunch meat and chips and made ourselves sandwiches.

From there we took some back roads to Calaveras Big Trees State Park.  In addition to having big trees it also had some pretty big pine cones, as you can see here displayed by Justin: 

The most popular spot at Big Trees is the "Discovery Tree" or "Big Stump".  This was the tree that put the park on the map.  Unfortunately, it was cut down many many years ago and turned into a dance floor.  You can see the Akiuk kids jumping on just one small part of the "Big Stump" as it looks today.

After the "Big Stump", we continued on a couple mile trail that highlights many of the named trees around the park.  Most of the time we stayed on the trails.  But some of the time, all that rule following got to be just a little too much and we let the kids be kids... or as you see here on the right... we let the kids be monkeys:

The hiking trail was a hit.  While we did encounter some mosquitoes the bench that let us view the tops of trees and the fallen trees that allowed for tree climbing were some of the highlights.

It wasn't the biggest highlight though.  The most exciting "find" on the trail was the loud baby birds calling for food.  You can see the head of one here in this hole.  We were tempted to reach in and grab a baby to get a better look but we knew that getting too much human scent around the nest would deter the mother bird from returning.  As it was the only "proof" of multiple birds in the tree was this picture and the memory of the loud (echoing?) squawking.

Sequoia trees are made up of a very fine fibrous material that was surprisingly delicate to the touch.  They may be the most massive tree on the planet but as you can see... even Yago can leave finger prints with with a delicate touch. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

"A lighter? Of our own?"--Justin

Day Nine:  July 4, 2013

The next day we packed back into the car and headed out East.  We've been doing a good amount of traveling to the coast but this was our first real move inland.  We drove for a little over and hour to Sly Park.  Sly Park in the winter is a ski area and in the summer it's a lake that attracts campers. 

 There's one place in particular that I like to visit in Sly Park.  It's a man-made waterfall about a mile from the camping/parking area.  The walk isn't strenuous but it's usually long enough to build up a little sweat and that makes the water is pretty welcoming.

And then we made sure to stay long enough to dry off and swim again and dry off again and swim again.  Even Reha, who loves to swim and hang out around rocks, finally found a shady spot in the roots of a tree to relax herself.  While, of course, still mindfully keeping watch of everyone still in the water. 

By the time we drove back (stopping to buy fireworks) we were down to about an hour before dusk.  Henry was interested in shooting some baskets but with the broken window the basketball hoop in the backyard is on a hiatus. 

The closest hoops we determined were at Woodside Elementary School (the school I went to K-6th grade).  At that point no one was really interested in driving.  It was hot.  And going to be dark relatively soon.  Ultimately I decided to go ahead and take Reha to the dog park while the boys shot hoops for a quick 45 minutes or so.

Once at the dog park, in the same lot at the basketball nets at Woodside Elementary, I saw there were actually no dogs.  Silly me, most mindful dog owners were keeping their pets in when fireworks were beginning to sound.  

The last two years I have celebrated the holiday with Richard and Reha in Oregon.  We've sat contently in a car watching the fireworks in the sky and not the  hand-lit fireworks on the street.  Reha has done okay.  But today, being out on the basketball courts she was anxious.  We decided to leave before sit got too dark and she flat out ran all the way home.

On the way to purchasing fireworks today, we stopped at a gas station and I purchased them all lighters.  There were about 50 designs to chose from and everyone picked their own unique style.  Yago then removed the picture and had a plain white plastic lighter.  And then Henry left his in his pocket when he went swimming and had to borrow from others.

None of this deterred from the fun on playing with fireworks for over two hours in the street though.  As you can see, I have done my duty in turning five Akiukers into pyromaniacs.   

After fireworks (again close to midnight), I went to bed while the kids stayed up playing in the outside mini-pool until 3:00AM.  I'm not sure when they all actually went to sleep... but I can say that I had to wake Marilyn, Henry, and Alaina up at noon the next day to get them started.

"Hey! Someone gassed up my car when I was gassing up my car!"--Christina

Day Eight:  July 3, 2013

Today we piled into the car for the drive back down to the Bay Area.  Today's plan was the Exploratorium and a nature hike at Land's End.  The Exploratorium is a hands-on interactive Science museum.  This is one of those places where I know the teacher in me bleeds into my general vacationing trip with the kids.

I just can't help it.  The Exporatorium is just too cool to me.  One memorable activity from my previous trips to the Exploratorium includes a toilet seat with a faucet attached.  There is a plaque next to it explaining that it hold perfectly drinkable water but many people won't drink out of it due to its surroundings.  In these past visits I drank out of it, but most did not. 

The Exporatoriumin San Francisco moved a few months ago.  Now it's nearly three times larger and it's a location that is much easier to get to (right on Pier 15).  They moved the toilet fountain next to a regular fountain and placed them outside of the real bathrooms.  Alaina, as you see, had no hesitation.  Would you?

 It's hard to explain the Exporatorium to those who haven't been there but it's a TON of interactive stations where you can look, change, and play with scientific principals.  Above you'll see Alaina and Henrietta looking at the life cycle of a chicken embryo.  Some how this displays allows you to see live chickens in the egg state.  In the final stage (closest to the camera) you can actually see the blood vessels and a beating heart in the egg yoke.

Below you can see Yago and Justin working with spinning gears that can be arranged with elastic bands to start fans.  After they moved around the discs. Yago spun one gear that would start the five fans blowing on Justin.

 The challenging part of a museum like this is that there is so much to see and one, even a science-minded kid like Henry, can't possibly figure out what is happening with every single activity.  Once you interact with a half dozen stations, you're pretty much spent.  I was pleasantly surprised when Henry, a good two hours into our visit, he stopped and spend about 15 minutes on a ball launching activity.  As you can see here Alaina is about to drop a marble down the chute with a flat surface at the bottom that can be pivoted to shoot the marble into the air, and hopefully, through the hoops Henry is aligning.

 My parents usually sit out the Exporatorium.  But today they went in and played just as much as the students.  Well... until they didn't.  Then they sat down in the lobby and waited.  My mom admits she may have actually fallen asleep.  As it turns out they only rested about 15 minutes earlier than when everyone else was ready to take a break too.

After the Exporatorium we drove down Lombard St.  Lombard St is the crookedest road in the world (really look it up in Guiness's Book of World Records) and it's there in San Francisco.  

 We then drove through Chinatown.  We didn't stop because we had already walked through SF Market just the day before.  But we got to see the overcrowded streets and store fronts that go out into the street.  We drove by the roasted whole ducks and chickens.  But in the end the only real noted observation was that it's probably the dirtiest area we've been in.  San Francisco is know for being an impressively clean city.  Larger populations in dense cities leads naturally to pollution, but this area of Chinatown is really the first time we had seen this.

 Driving through the city, we ended up at Land's End.  There is a great nature walk here but also some ruins of an old Bathhouse.  We walked down a large hill to these ruins and the shoreline and hung around the beach for a while. 

Beach combing, Henrietta found a crab claw.

And they all found some legless (tentacle-less) jellyfish,
which we later researched to find are probably
 moon jellyfish or comb jellies.  Neither of these are harmful.  
A good thing as we were all holding them.

Everyone enjoyed walking on the smooth clear beach and Henrietta was even moved to draw in the sand.

Here's a closing shot of the bathhouse ruins:

After hiking back up the hill and then hiking over to a restaurant to use the restroom, we decided to skip the nature walk and just head back home.  As it was we pulled into the house shortly after midnight.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

"So people sit on there? Even though dead people are underneath?"--Alaina

Day seven:  July 2, 2013

6:30AM came early that Tuesday.  We knew today was set to be another scorcher at 93 before 10:00AM and a high of 108 for the day. 

But our plan for today was to show off what happens on a normal day in the lives of my parents.  As it turns out my parents don't usually hit Santa Cruz, Disneyland, and the Jelly Belly factory each day.  Most days in fact they start the day with Tai Chi in the park. 

Tai Chi is a martial art that involves deep breathing, balance, and flexibility.  It is supposed to calm the mind and focus one's energy.  It's similar to yoga but without holding the positions for so long.  It's more fluid.  But should develop the same core strength.  In theory when you see a bunch of people in the park doing Tai Chi. You should be able to run off and push them without having them fall over.  This is due to the "roots" one works with when performing Tai Chi. I am suggesting you do this.  No, leave the 80-year-olds alone.  The cows will feel neglected.   
Marilyn enjoyed the Tai Chi but it didn't hold its appeal for too long with the kids.  They took to climbing trees, walking through sprinklers, and watching squirrels.  All of this was expected and planned for.  In fact one member of my parents' Tai Chi group, a 82-year-old Japanese woman named, Toshi loaned us a hacky sack to play with.  She even attempted to show us how it is done.  But the Akiukers chose to play tag with it.

We also came equipped with stale and moldy bread to feed the ducks at William Land Park.  We sat on benches and by the pond feeding ducks for a while and in the end both Henry and Alaina got the ducks to take the bread directly from their hands.  Once out of bread everyone started to approach the ducks for pictures. 

It was about 9:30 when we left the ducks and headed on to the Sacramento Zoo.  It was then that Alaina asked me the question on that is the title for today's blog.  The benches had in memoriam plaques.  It's a question that really makes sense... are the benches grave markers?  And while the answer is no, why not?  If the person being remembered enjoyed their time there on the bench--why not bury them there?

Some questions just have no answers I guess. 

Like zebras.

Why zebras?  Why do you look as you do?  No one has stripes like that.  You don't blend.  In fact, you look fake.  Love you zebras.  But you're way too fashionable for me.

The Sacramento Zoo isn't huge.  It's bigger than Anchorage.  But smaller than San Francisco.  My guess is that it's gone through some identity issues lately.  And what it's become through that is great.  It's a real learning zoo now.  There are lots of people in the park ready to provide information.  There was someone outside of the reptile area, for example, walking with a tortoise.  When we approach the animal "running" free, she told us all about him.  While he was a young tyke of 30 years old, his father is the oldest animal in the park. 

The veterinarian area has open glass walls and TV projectors with a microphone system to explain the procedures being done.  I watched and listened intently as they worked with a pair of one-month-old burrowing owls pictured here:

These owls were getting a West Nile vaccination and blood drawn to sex them.  I'm not quite sure if this little guy is a guy and neither are the workers there.  But the blood taken today will help us all learn more about him/her.

Flamingo.  Flamingo. Flamingo. Flamingo. Pelican. Flamingo.  Flamingo. Flamingo.  Do you ever have one of those days where you just feel a little out of place?  This guy cracked me up.

You know what else cracked me up?  Trapping Alaina in the exit turn-styles. 


Across from the Sacramento Zoo is Fairytale town.   Even though admission was only $4 a person, we didn't go in.  We were too big for the entryway so we figured it wasn't really catered to us.  We did look into Fairytale Town as we walked around to the car though.  And lamented at all the things 2.5 ft. off the ground that we COULD have been climbing.

At this time of the day it was around noon and a scorching 103 degrees.  We had been outside, without air conditioning, for just under five hours.  It was time to go inside.  Everyone thirsty but we should have all been hungry too. 

We went to a place called No. 1 Buffet.  It's a Chinese food place that has a lot of different options.  Everything from sushi to chocolate fudge to marinated chicken feet was had by our group there today.  Side note:  Henry and Justin followed up their dessert of ice cream with a second helping of sushi.

With full bellies, we went and did some shopping at SF Market.  SF Market has a lot of interesting items.  Like live blue crabs and frogs to eat.
We did not buy either of these but we did buy a life catfish, which was then gutted and chopped for soup that evening.

Side noted number two:  you see that dollar bill in Alaina's hand?  She and Henrietta both got one for remembering and reciting "Happy New Year, may I have lucky money?" to my mom. 


After SF Market I took a nap.  It was only for about an hour but it was just the refresher I needed to fulfill our promise yesterday to go to Sun Splash. 

The sunburn everyone sustained in Downieville has at this point become itchy peeling as you can see here: 


Some are peeling much worse than the kid in this photo and some are doing a little bit better but every one of our Akiukers is peeling.  We got to Sunsplash at about 5:30 and there was quite a line to buy tickets and enter for the Night Slide.  All the while I looked at the waterslides getting more and more excited about which ones I'd want to ride first.  You see, I haven't been to Sun Splash before.  I've driven by it plenty.  And I have even dropped off kids there before, but this was the first time I paid my money and went in myself. 

The first thing the ladies did was enter the wave pool.  It is pictured here:

Marilyn and I went pretty far in before the waves started.  As they continued Marilyn went closer to "shore" and I went even deeper.  As I started to tire, I move in a bit and met up with Alaina.  We were both in over our heads for a little while before we spotted Henrietta and Marilyn.  All four of us were together for the end of the waves and decided not to wait for them to start up again.  We instead took a turn in the lazy river (pictured two pics above).

After a loop in the lazy river we grabbed inner-tubes and headed for the rides.  I asked the attendant which ride he recommends for first-time riders and he suggested "Twin Twisters".  It was a great first ride.  Alaina, Henrietta, Marilyn, and I all finished that ride and got right back in line for the next ride.  The second ride was in complete darkness.  And it too was a blast.  But after that second ride, or fourth ride depending on how one defines a ride, we decided we'd look for the boys.

We found them shooting baskets.

So we rode a couple of the kiddie slides and then asked them if they wanted to ride the big water slides pictured behind the wave pool up above.  They declined.

So the four of us again rode great water slides including one that we did in a four-person inner-tube and one that we did Superman-style in a race (Henrietta was first but I went the furthest).  From there I split off from the group and went around the lazy river several more times.  Everyone else hung out by the water basketball until I decided I wanted to go on another big slide.  The first person I spotted was Alain who quickly said she would join me on Stealth.  We looked for Henrietta (because you can ride Stealth with one, two, or three people) but couldn't find her. 

The line was long and while we were standing in it we saw two more rides that looked like they had short lines.  Both rides were tube-less. 

Stealth was awesome.  Alaina says it was the highlight of the water park for her.  The two of us together nearly touched the top of the first shot upwards.  We know we were higher than most.  What a ride.

Incidentally these were everyone else's favorite part:

Henrietta:  Dark Zone

Henry: Thunder Falls

Marilyn: Six Chuter

Christina:  The Vortex

Justin: Basketball

Yago: Basketball

Alaina:  (when I asked a few days later she said)  All of them... equally

From this point I split off again and rode both of the body-slides while Marilyn convinced the boys to ride the last two rides she had done.  Everyone then met up in the wave pool until about 10:00.  The park closes at 10:30PM and as you can see, we shut down the place after dark.  It was a great night.