Among the Giants

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Visiting Redwood National Park has been a priority for several years now, and it was truly a pleasure to spend two days camping at the lovely Elk Creek Campground in the adjoining Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. It’s hard to describe the feeling of looking up and straining to see the tops of the towering redwoods all around, of having the cool fresh air wash over you as you hike through a fern-covered canyon, or spotting whales and seals from your picnic perch above the sea. We won’t even try, but we will give some glimpses into our favorite spots at Redwood National and State Parks.

 

Prairie Creek Trail
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Prairie Creek Campground
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Fern Canyon
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Lady Bird Johnson Grove
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High Bluff Overlook
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And no good trip to a national park is complete without participating in the Junior Ranger program. The booklet (available in both the national and state park visitor centers) was one of the best we’ve seen and had plenty to keep the Younger Fives engaged and learning for two solid days. Now that they’ve taken the official oath, they feel honored to do their part to protect and preserve these magnificent trees and their surrounding ecosystem.
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California’s Egyptian Oasis

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We’re often asked how we decide where to travel to next. Truth be told, one man has had as much influence on our travels as anyone: Rick Riordan. After reading the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series aloud as a family, Five of Hearts had her heart set on seeing Athens and Greece. Then, The Heroes of Olympus series hooked Five Ball on seeing Rome. We were fortunate to visit both places this past winter during our Train Odyssey, but Egypt (the inspiration for The Kane Chronicles series) remained elusive. However, driving through the Bay Area last week, we were thrilled to come across the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, an ideal place to experience in person the information we’ve learned about Egypt through the adventures of Sadie and Carter Kane.

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A dramatic entrance lined with papyrus plants leads into the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in the western United States. To give our exploration some focus, we downloaded and printed their Passport to Ancient Egypt, which gave a great background for each exhibit, provided questions for the kids to answer, and had a place for a special stamp available in most rooms of the museum. The passport is also available for purchase (under $1) at the front desk, which is a more compact version for older children who don’t need as much space to write in their answers.

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The kids loved making their way through the various exhibits filled with original artifacts, and we liked how important Egyptian objects physically located in other museums were recreated (like the Rosetta Stone above) to help visitors still experience them. While not every artifact held the kids’ attention, there were plenty of kid-friendly features to keep them engaged. In addition to the passport stamps, each exhibit had special clues/ facts that were only visible when the kids shone a special light (provided by the front desk) on them. Between searching for the answers to their Passport questions and looking for the stamps and secret clues, the kids had plenty to keep them busy as they expanded their knowledge about ancient Egypt’s gods and culture.

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Our favorite exhibits were on the bottom floor of the museum, devoted to burial practices and the afterlife. The kids couldn’t believe the human mummies in the glass cases were real, and they examined many original artifacts dealing with mummification and the afterlife. The best part, though, was the guided tomb tour. The tomb itself is a recreated composite meant to give a sense of what a typical tomb would be like. While visitors can explore it any time the museum is open, we highly recommend the guided free tour usually offered once per day. The friendly and knowledgeable staff really helped us notice details we would have missed on our own, especially the significance of the murals and hieroglyphs in the inner tomb.

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We decided to wrap up our visit by exploring the grounds outside the museum. We found a shaded table and chairs for an afternoon snack, and then we explored the gardens, fountains, and temple that make up Rosicrucian Park. As we were leaving we spotted a strange sight (traffic cones and an over-sized dice), so we couldn’t resist investigating. We had stumbled upon a giant Senet game and wasted no time reading the directions and trying to move our pieces off the board through spaces such as the House of Rebirth and the House of the Three Truths. No one knows exactly how the game was played in ancient Egypt, but there were enough imagery on tomb walls and artifacts discovered to make a reasonable guess. We weren’t, therefore, too worried about following the rules exactly, which made playing more fun. Sure, we probably made some moves that would make ancient Egyptians shoot us looks of disapproval, but we felt honored to be keeping their tradition alive over 5,000 years after the oldest known boards were buried for use in the afterlife.

Redwood (and Rookery) Coast

The past few days exploring the southern section of Big Sur have been breathtaking. While camping under towering redwoods, we’ve walked to the ocean-side of the campground to see whales spouting as they head south toward Mexico and sea otters drifting through the kelp beds. And then there’s the elephant seals, harbor seals, and dolphins we spotted from various roadside viewpoints along the way. All in all, it’s been a visit to remember! Here are some highlights in pictures…

 

Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery
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Limekiln State Park Beach
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Limekiln State Park History Hike
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Limekiln State Park Falls Hike
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Granite Glow

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With a week to go before we leave Southern California for Oregon’s Willamette National Forest, we’ve been thinking of some final activities to get in before we depart. At the top of everyone’s list was a final trip to Joshua Tree National Park, less than 90 minutes from the San Bernardino National Forest. This time around we decided to try something new, camping inside the park.

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We had spent most of our time in the Intersection Rock area during our last trip to Joshua Tree a few weeks ago, so the kids wanted to focus our climbing around Skull Rock in the Jumbo Rocks section for this visit. We found a great site in the Jumbo Rocks Campground, which offered some excellent climbing just beyond our tent as well as a hiking trail directly to Skull Rock. The kids wasted no time and sprinted to the rocks as soon as we parked in front of the site.

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After thoroughly exploring the formations towering over our tent, we walked to the center of the campground and took the connector trail to the Jumbo Rocks area. The rock formations in this part of the park definitely inspire the imagination, and we saw skulls, turtles, walruses, and a variety of other interesting forms in the monzogranite all around us. We had trouble keeping our eyes on the rocks, though, as the desert was in bloom around us, and all along the path we stopped to take a closer look at pencil cholla cactus and California buckwheat blooms.

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As always at Joshua Tree, we were equally exited to experience the park as the sun started to go down. We returned to our site and scrambled up the rocks there to watch the magnificent sunset, and from our perch up high we also caught a glimpse of a coyote making its evening rounds and of bats out catching their breakfast. By the time we settled into our tent a while later, we fell asleep watching the stars visible through the upper screen of our tent.

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The next day we made sure to get out on the rocks one final time before heading home when the afternoon heat set in. The Hall of Horrors area had always caught our attention, so we packed up and headed back towards Keyes View for our morning climb. After a few dead ends we found a way to the top of the middle formation, where we watched the moon still visible in the sun-drenched sky and played in some deep crevices in the rock. A few hours later we were all understandably worn out after two days of scrambling about, so we piled back into the car, put the windows down, turned the music up, and enjoyed a last view of the joshua trees as we made our way back to the San Bernardino Mountains.

Days of Pine and Roses

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The signs are many that autumn is almost upon us, and the time seems right for a summer nostalgia post. We could dwell on our many walks past Coulter pines and desert roses to the swimming hole that is now dry; or we could describe the hint of chill in the air as we take our afternoon walks; but instead we’ll just highlight some of the flowers we came across during our summer in Southern California.

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The last of the summer flowers also inspired an art project in homeschool this week. Five Spice had the excellent idea to use flowers as brushes and have everyone create pictures that incorporated petals and paint. And if we find ourselves pining for summer in the coming weeks, there’s always Coulter cone prints for an art class assignment 🙂

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