Friday, August 29, 2014

RonnieAdventure #0115 - Museum of Natural Curiosity, Lehi, Utah County, Utah

When the Utah grandchildren said that they wanted to go on a RonnieAdventure, the first place that came to mind was the new Museum of Natural Curiosity at Thanksgiving Point. The Museum is a hands-on learning experience that exemplifies Albert Einstein's quote "The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing." Although one of the grandchildren  had already been to the museum, all three were thrilled to go!

The museum is fun for kids of all ages, including senior citizens; or as the museum's spokesperson said, experiences for everyone from "cradle to grave."  There are over 400 different interactive experiences located in five different areas - Rainforest, Water Works, Kidopolis, Discovery Garden, and Traveling Exhibits. According to the spokesperson, the experiences "teach science, arts, history, and culture through a unique interdisciplinary approach to family learning."

The rainforest contains various rope bridges suspended above a maze of tunnels, reconstructed ancient ruins and chambers, a 45-foot-tall monkey head, slides, and other obstacles. One chamber that you have to crawl through is pitch black with numerous dead ends and the people on the outside get to monitor your clumsiness on heat sensory camera screens.

At Kidopolis you can be a sleuth and try to solve the library mystery using only five clues. Or, you can be a bank teller; but don't get locked in the vault. Some people even loose their head at the Magic Store.

The Exploratorium is adjacent to Kidopolis and has a wide variety of hands-on science experiences. You can learn about gravity, centrifugal force, and if you peddle a fast enough you can even light up a series of lights (but not for long at my age).

In addition to getting wet at Water Works, you can also stand inside of a tornado, suspend balls on fountains of water, and stand in a 85 miles per hour wind storm.

The Discovery Garden contains a large playground with some unique experiences, along with a zip line and other typical playground equipment. The gardens throughout the complex are beautiful, even in late summer!

Friday, August 22, 2014

RonnieAdventure #0114 - California, 2014 Part IV

Vandenberg Air Force Base is located near Lompoc and has a nice museum that can be toured if you write ahead for reservations. Most weather satellites and some military satellites are launched from Vandenberg because this is the only US location where satellites can be placed into a polar orbit.

Mission la Purisima Concepcion de Maria Santisima (Mission of the Immaculate Conception of Most Holy Mary). was founded in 1787, but was destroyed in the 1812 California earthquake. Today, only a few wall fragments of the original mission remain intact, primarily on private lands in Lompoc.

After the earthquake, the mission was rebuilt in 1813 on a site a few miles to the northeast, which was considered to be better soil for development. Unfortunately, as with other missions in the area, in 1834 the Mexican Governor confiscated the lands and buildings. However, unlike Mission Santa Barbara where the Friars were allowed to remain in the mission building, at La Purisima everyone was driven off the property and the land and buildings were sold to a rancher. Eventually, the rancher abandoned the buildings and over a period of time all that was left of the mission was a pile of rubble.

Then, under Roosevelt’s New Deal program, it was decided that the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) would rebuild the mission on the 1813 foundations, using only tools, materials, and building techniques that were available in 1813, with one exception – steel rebar was placed in the adobe walls to protect the buildings from future earthquakes. Today, La Purisima Mission State Historic Park is the most fully restored mission in California with ten buildings constructed on the original foundations, furnished rooms, mission gardens, and livestock that would have been found at the mission during the 1920s. 

This seemed to be our “California Mission Tour,” so we couldn’t miss Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa Pro Cathedral in San Luis Obispo.  

Diagonally across the street from the Mission is the famous Ah Louis Store. Ah Louis (aka On Wong) is credited with development of the California Central Coast by organizing the Chinese labor force to complete railroad tunnels through the Santa Lucia Mountain range.

When we stopped for lunch at a restaurant in Morro Bay that advertised beautiful views of Morro Rock, we knew it was our lucky day because we were given a window table. Unfortunately, the fog was so thick that we never could see Morro Rock. (The waiter told me where to point my camera and I was assured that my picture included Morro Rock. When I have more time, I will go through my old files and find a better picture without the fog!)

No trip through Cambria would be complete without stopping for a tour of Nitt Witt Ridge, which was named after the builder Art Beal, who had the nickname “Captain Nitt Witt.” Some of the local people contend that Art was dropped on his head when he was born; thus, the nickname. Art also had the nickname “Der Tinkerpaw, because he liked to “tinker” with things. The California Parks and Recreation sign in front of the property states “Nitt Witt Ridge, one of California’s remarkable twentieth century fork art environments, is the creation of Arthur Harold Beal (Der Tinkerpaw or Capt. Nitt Witt), a Cambria Pines pioneer, who sculpted the land using hand tools and indigenous materials, remarkable inventiveness, and self-taught skills, a blend of native materials and contemporary elements, impressive in its sheer mass and meticulous placement, it is a revealing memorial to Art’s unique cosmic humor and zest for life.”

Art was a local trash hauler and had a difficult time discarding material items, so he purchased 2.5 acres of land in Cambria so that he would have a place to store his treasures and build his dream house. The locals call Art’s home “The Poor Man’s Hearst Castle,” which has some literal basis because some of his construction materials reportedly came from the real Hearst Castle located a few miles up the road.

Art especially liked old bathroom fixtures and used them for various purposed throughout the property. Old toilets made great chairs and his favorite use for old toilet seats was for picture frames because you could put the lid down when you didn’t want to look at someone. Outside old sinks were used for fountains with recirculated running water stored in old bathtubs! There was even a wishing well, wedding arch and garden where people could get married. (Apparently, during the early 1970s some people actually did get married here!)

Due to declining health, Art was forced to leave the property in 1989 and the buildings were left to deteriorate for almost a decade when the property was purchased for back taxes. Even though the building had been vacant for a long time, the new owner was surprised to find that everything was almost entirely intact, including clothes in the drawers and closets (including Art’s signature faded blue bathrobe), old letters, newspaper clippings, calendars, canned food, and other household items.

Art worked on the property by himself for over 51 years, while Hearst Castle located 6 miles up the road had a small arm of construction workers employed for 28 years to build an estate on 127 acres of land, The finished building at Hearst Castle has 41 fireplaces, 56 bedrooms and 61 bathrooms. Today, both Hearst Castle and Nitt Witt Ridge are California State Historic Landmarks, so there are more similarities between the two properties than most people realize.

After touring Nitt Witt Ridge, we drove up to Hearst Castle, only to find that there were several hundred people wandering around the visitor center searching for a working restroom. (The water had been turned off, so the only thing that was available were some portable toilets that had been brought in and placed in the parking lot.) Since we had previously been on several of the Hearst Castle tours, we decided not to stay and fight the crowds. However, it was nice to see the ocean across the road from the Castle. (Apparently, they have the fog trained to stop at the highway.) 

The intersection of California 41 and 446 (now 46) will always be known for the tragic accident site that claimed the life of James Dean on September 30, 1955 at 5:59 PM. There is a memorial at the nearby café, which also sells a wide variety of James Dean souvenirs. To this day, Dean is the only actor to have had two posthumous Academy Award nominations.