The kids got new bikes from the bike collective that gets used bikes, fixes them up and sells them or offers them to community outreach programs. The kids are now each the proud owner of a new-to-them Diamondback! Thanks so much to my sister for helping us narrow down the choices and for traveling out to check out the bikes with us! One has road tires and one has mountain tires and they are both so thrilled to be able to ride faster and with more ease. It’s been really fun taking them out as they enjoy it so much and we can go much farther and faster. We rode about seven miles with my sister this week.
We took a drive to Fish Springs to look for ghost town remnants and see the Wild Refuge (as it’s termed on a sign on the way there). As a bonus we got to drive past the geode beds, where Lilah dearly wants to go soon, and through some groups of wild horses which are amazing creatures to watch. Sometimes they come fairly close.
We didn’t see any of the old houses in the area so we’ll have to check again. We did see several blue herons, egrets, lots of redwing blackbirds and yellow headed blackbirds as well as ducks and swallows. It was a fun place to bird watch! We did spot fish in the pools as well.
We drove down to Chicken Rock. I’m not sure why it’s called that because it certainly didn’t look chicken-like. You can see it off in the background here, a bunch of tall rock pieces jumbled together.
But we went to find some abandoned farm buildings and we certainly did. One was still mostly standing though it was more of a trapezoid shape than a rectangle. Gavin and I had a conversation about whether or not it used to be straight angles and how a building shape could change over time.
Nearby there were some huge old willows overlooking a pond. There were so many birds and we even spotted six big frogs. I used my telephoto lens to get a close up of a few guys or gals. I think they were northern leopard frogs. We found some yellow flowered violets (I’ve only ever seen white or purple) on our travels as well as some old and decrepit cattle enclosures and some big feathers.
On the way home we listened to our audiobooks, stopped to check out a few tempting spots and saw a big hawk dive straight into a juniper tree and emerge a second or two later chased by two ravens. The kids guessed the hawk was after the raven’s nest in the tree.
We are making plans to go hunt some fossils and some geodes and possibly obsidian in the near future. We are enjoying making the most out of our free days and the spring weather to go places we’ve never ventured out to before as well as enjoying time at home, gardening, reading, playing online with friends, watching the spring flowers bloom.
It’s felt a bit springy here and I had a hankering for adventures so we left to discover a ghost town we’d never visited before: Silver City. It was a mining town, as are most ghost towns in these states around us.
It’s closer to home than many others and there are no intact buildings but so many fascinating walls and foundations left! The smelter is huge! There were several areas with pools of water and one underground room that we could just peer into that had water about 4 feet deep.
We found crucible bits (used for melting glass and metal in) and lots of bricks, core samples, and other odds and ends.
We found a new friend. It’s some kind of horned lizard but I’m not sure which variety. It was quite willing to let us stroke it’s back and hold it and even had to be nudged to leave my palm after we were finished admiring it.
Afterward we drove up the canyon a bit to see if there was more to explore and it looked quite promising so we will be back soon.
We signed the kids up for a sword casting class a few months back. It was so popular we had to be quick to get in but are so glad we did.
It was amazing!
The teacher travels around with his equipment and teaches groups and he has quite a wealth of knowledge to share about metals, casting, history.
The kids each chose a sword from many different shapes. Lilah sanded her wooded sword. They used sand casting to create a mold for the metal. Each kid started with a special wooden box that comes apart multiple ways. They fill it with sand mixed with bentonite clay and a tiny bit of water, pat it down.
Then they put the wooden sword in and push it down with a flat piece of wood.
Next they sprinkle powder on top to stop the next layer of sand from sticking to the first.
Then they fill up the next half of the box, tamp it down really firmly, and put the lid on. They use a tube shaped tool to create a channel in the sand for the metal to get into the mold.
Next they unlatch the box, open it in half and carefully take out the wooden sword. That was a bit scary because all that holds the sand in place (to shape the all-important sword shape!) is your packing skills and the texture of the sand! Then they carefully put it back together and it’s ready for casting!
He used aluminum for the swords because it’s less expensive and lighter weight than other options. He heated it in a small foundry with propane and then poured it into each vertical box mold.
It cooled in about five minutes, then he opened them and took out the metal swords.
After that it was time to shake out the sand so it could be reused. I was interested in the difference in the sand that had touched aluminum.
Next they were ground, smoothing them a bit and removing extra ends from the pour channel.
Last thing was to wrap a piece of leather around the hilt.
The kids were thrilled and learned so much and it was so great he had them do most of the process themselves.
Things I found interesting:
Aluminum doesn’t occur as an ore naturally. The only time it does is when lightning strikes it in rock form and heats it. Because of this it was discovered much later than many other metals. Unlike many other metals, it just looks brown in its rock form. Napoleon had a set of silverware made of lightning formed aluminum that he let his favored visitors use. If you weren’t favored, you had to use gold utensils.
The criss knife is a traditional ceremonial dagger, originally from Indonesia.
The Egyptian kopesh is a curved, notched sword, used to hook and pull shields down and away from opponents so that you can reach them. They based the design of the Assyrian weapon that looks much similar but slightly smoother, which had defeated them while they used straight swords.
We headed down south to find some flowers and sunshine with my parents.
Our first stop was a night in Las Vegas with Chris before he had to head back home to work. We enjoyed Cirque du Soleil’s Mystere. It was beautiful and fun and funny and we had a lovely time watching it together.
Next my parents and the three of us headed further south into California to Anza Borrego, a high desert which often boasts desert superblooms early in the year. This year we were a bit early for some of the flowers but we found a few spots where the sandy desert was covered in rich colored petals and it was magical. The smells were so lovely in the windy air.
We found a slot canyon (my kids favorite natural formation type!) and that was a fun hike. It was narrow enough to have to go sideways in spots and Lilah spotted a tarantula in the wash. Wow!
Almost every morning we were there we saw rainbows.
We spotted some desert bighorn sheep traveling along the mountain above our campsite and got a good look with my parents’ spotting scope.
Up the canyon from the campsite there’s a palm oasis, such a strange change of environment from a mile lower where the world seems to be just sand and rock. There was quite a bit of water and the palms looked happy and healthy with little ones sprouting and fruits hanging from the big ones. The kids found a spot behind the dry palm leaves and the rock that was sort of like a little cave.
We heard frogs each night so one day just after dark we headed to the pond the noise was coming from with our flashlights and after some long minutes we spotted one and then two! We watched them blow up their necks and make incredibly loud songs to each other even though they were only the size of a quarter or so.
Each night we saw more stars than you can ever see at home. We looked at constellations and I saw several falling stars.
Then we moved camp to Organ Pipe National Monument. I’d never been there before. It was gorgeous with cactus everywhere in so many varieties and stages of life and death. We saw saguaro, organ pipe, senita or gray bearded, barrel, prickly pear, hedgehog, cholla. We really enjoyed watching (and listening to) all the birds in the campsite! There were so many and they liked all the cactus and bushes near camp. We identified quite a few varieties with my parents’ guidebooks. Two types I know I spotted were the Gila woodpecker which liked sitting on the saguaro tops and the cactus wren who seemed to be interested in building a nest in a cholla, covered in spikes everywhere!
We ventured into some washes right near the US-Mexico border and saw lots of huge cactus with some wildflowers and lots of dead and decaying cactus too which was fascinating to see. Lilah particularly liked the giant cholla skeletons, full of lacy holes. The sunsets were beautiful. Lilah captured this one.
We hiked up a mountain searching for flowers. We didn’t make it all the way to the top of the trail because it was super steep and we only had an hour of daylight left but we saw plenty of beautiful views on our way.
We learned saguaro don’t put out arms until they are ninety years old. We learned there are bats who migrate from Mexico to feed on and pollinate the pipe organ cactus every year. We checked out some natural water tanks (spots in rocks that fill up with water) and an old adobe building.
We looked for elf owls who nest in holes in saguaro but never saw any. We did luck out, spotting a big horned owl nesting in a saguaro and got to look at it with the scope as well as some of us spotting it’s mate in a nearby tree on our way out.
We stopped for a night in Tucson on our way home and visited the Sonoran Desert Museum, which is a bit more like a zoo. They had great live animal exhibits. We particularly enjoyed seeing the cougars, bear, bobcats, ocelot, screech owl, burrowing owl and hummingbirds. The hummingbirds let you get very close to them which was really fun. Some were very quiet and some were very talkative. Lilah identified each of the four types in the aviary.
It was a wonderful time with my parents and in nature even if it was a bit windier than we had hoped for. I’m SO lucky to have family who love nature and camping and who I love spending lots of time with.
We’ve been heading further out lately to enjoy the fall weather and look for wildlife and ghost town remains and beautiful views.
Antelope Island is an amazing place to see bison, antelope, birds of all kinds. We found an owl but missed the burrowing owls and plan to go back soon and look again. We had fun looking at the old farm machinery and buildings and spotting so, so many animals.
We drove south to see if we could find the ghost town remains we’ve heard rumors about. It took us two separate trips to find what we were searching for but we got lucky and found a great spot with old mining town remnants. Most of the structures we found were collapsed but Lilah found some pottery, we found some old metal mining cable, and this that was still upright.
I love ghost towns. I love the mystery and romance of them and knowing that what I see today may be gone by next year, or not. I love watching nature regain her territory, root and branches, wind and snow and time.
I love exploring and I love watching my kids enjoy exploring. This Earth is such a beauty filled place!
I did some research and picked a few closer ghost towns, packed water, snacks, lunch and we were off. We drove out first to Mercur, Utah. It was a mining town as many Utah towns were. When we got there though, it was gated off and there was no entry. Boo! We noticed some fencing up a hill a little way our side of the gated area so we walked up to check that out. We found lots of remnants of people spending time there, a nest in the fence, lots of exciting rocks and lots of deer bones. A little further up we saw a fresh deer leg, thigh chewed off the bone. I think the big cats must have taken the rest off to eat privately. Lilah was thrilled to find some purple glass and pottery shards scattered about.
After that we headed down and found the Mercur cemetery.
There were quite a few fenced gravesites and several that were just roughly indicated by rock borders. Most of the headstones were gone or in terrible shape.
Next we headed out to find West Dip, nearby. We had much better luck there but it has been used for dumping and graffiti and lots of shooting practice unfortunately. It was still fascinating and the kids were definitely interested in the trash as well as the old town remains but I was put off by hundreds of shell casings and food and drink refuse everywhere. My favorite part there was the sage brush growing on the roof of the building remnants. We saw a few lizards and some swarming crows but we saw no one else today aside on our explorations. The kids decided it would be hot and hard to live in a place like Mercur or West Dip.
As we drove out we saw something off the road and stopped to check it out. It turned out to be a mine shaft, going down further than light would go in the afternoon. The kids were fascinated and we crawled out on the (very solid) grate to get a good look.
Then we headed toward Utah Lake to find Mosida, another ghost town. When we got there it was gone. Nothing left at all. They are farming and building condos there. It was disappointing but did teach us that ghost towns are few, precious and fleeting and that we need to find more updated resources before driving hours to find nothing left. I did manage to find a great site and I think I’ll be cross checking any other info with that from now on.
I can’t wait to head out again, but the kids want to go rockhounding and ghost town adventuring in one go, so that will be our next challenge. I’ve heard Topaz Mountain/and Topaz Internment Camp (where Japanese were taken during World War II) are still a great place to explore…
The hexbugs came out and were built and raced with and they went to Hogwarts.
We watched and listened to Weird Al Yankovich’s Word Crimes song/video about misuse of the English language. I’m in complete agreement on the topic of saying, “I could care less.” That’s bothered me for decades now. The kids found it amusing and we got to talk a bit about some common mistakes that are made.
We checked out some pictures of sociable weaver nests – huge structures built by African birds who work together to build what is essentially a bird condo, with individual nests with separate openings are joined inside one large nest structure. Fascinating!
“Webervogelnst Auoblodge” by Harald Süpfle – photo taken by Harald Süpfle. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons
Gavin received a letter today from a friend he hasn’t seen in months. He was so thrilled! It asked two important questions: Did he want to be pen pals? and Can we have a playdate? The answer to both is of course, yes! I’m quite excited to both rekindle the boys friendship and to encourage writing. The best part of the pen pal suggestion is, both boys are slow, frustrated writers, so they will be a great match.
We strung up some of our paper hearts to decorate for Valentines Day.
The kids were happy to put them up and begin talking about what they’d like to do to celebrate. I’m thinking maybe some cookies with pink and red colors, some hand made valentines and…? We’ll have to do some more dreaming together.
After lunch we went to the Museum of Natural Curiosity. We climbed and slid and played with drum machines and melody makers. We spent quite a bit of time making drum loops and melody loops, trying faster and slower tempos, different sounds, different drums, patterns. Here they are, creating music.
We were bandits and stole dollars from the bank and then gave them to some customers outside the bank. We explored the magic shoppe and learned some new tricks.
We zip-lined and spun and explored the outdoor nature playground.
Then we headed home for a bit of a Harry Potter movie, dinner, reading, cuddles, songs and bed.
The morning brought more hex bug play.
We finished the craft flowers we started a while back. The petals were painted in carefully formed wire pieces previously and today they wound them around a stem, added leaves and then wrapped green paper around to make a stem. Gavin says his looks like a tulip.
I discovered a short video about how dogs smell and interpret the world that I shared with the kids.
Lilah and I boiled water and stirred in (lots and lots!) of sugar to begin growing sugar crystals.
Gavin came and helped us decide when we’d added as much as could dissolve. It’s amber colored because the sugar we used is non-whitened.
Gavin worked on some more Lego master builder pieces while Lilah helped by finding pieces for him.
In the afternoon we headed up to the local living history museum, This Is The Place. It was pretty quiet, mostly closed for the winter, but we wandered the village, took a short train ride, enjoyed some animals.
On the train tour of the village, Gavin noticed that they had a small version of the blue locomotive named Jupiter, named and painted based on the famous locomotive from the joining of the railroads at Golden Spike site. He also checked to see how the train cars were linked together and discovered it was different than the huge old link and pin that the replicas of the old trains at Promontory used. There was a rope in the tree and they figured out quickly what that was for. Gavin and I read a plaque with information on all the hand-cart companies that travelled across the country to Salt Lake City, when they left, arrived, how many there were, how much equipment they carried and how many survived the journey.
We visited the boot shop and the observatory and house that was inhabited by a squirrel. That was amusing- going in the bedroom and seeing a squirrel who shot away into the kitchen and then out the door to escape us.
They also practiced their carriage driving skills, sans horse this time.
The kids played Heroica with my sister for an hour or so and then they took the dog for a short walk.
Lilah worked on some perler bead making.
Gavin helped Dad pump up his bike tires. Then he biked while Lilah and I walked to the park where there was swinging
and biking on the hills
and spotting some tiny fish in the creek that has trash in it and isn’t taken care of well at all. But there are fish living and growing! We saw at least ten the size of Lilah’s fingers, darting over and through the shadows.
The kids taught me how to play “Chinese War”, a variation on the card game War, that my cousins taught them over the holidays. Gavin got very frustrated when he was losing and decided to stop playing. I’m not sure how to help him deal better (faster? more easily?) with the frustrations of games that don’t go the way you wanted them to.
Lilah and I went to gymnastics class while Gavin played Civilization with his dad.
On the way home we passed a UPS store and Lilah asked me if we order things from UPS. I said no, and explained how people and companies pay UPS (or USPS or…) to pick up and then deliver their packages for them.
We started a project making hearts out of paper. It involves stapling and cutting with a paper cutter so the kids practiced their safe and effective stapling and paper cutting. We made a huge heart but don’t think it could stay up that way so we might just string them as a garland.
I read a chapter of The Wizard of Oz to them. We talked about what cowardly means, since we just met the Cowardly Lion.
There was coolmathgames.com play together.
They played several more hands of Chinese War, often getting really frustrated but continuing or playing again later. It’s hard for me to decide whether and when to step in and say, “This is causing too much frustration” and whether and when to let them keep hitting the same wall and trying again. Sometimes they deal with it alright and sometimes they get mad, yell, throw things, refuse to do anything for twenty minutes, Gavin more than Lilah as his expectations are often higher. More and more I think I need to say aloud what I notice happening, maybe say what I would feel or choose if I were in the same position and then let them work it out. Solving problems for others doesn’t work for kids any better than for adults.
The perler beads came out again. A ninja star was designed by Gavin and a lace circle by Lilah.
We went to Lindsay Garden park and the kids spun on the merry go round for a long while while I used the swings.
Then we went on a short walk through the cemetery. There is supposed to be a nesting owl who comes every year about this time but I have no idea which tree they call home. Maybe sometime we’ll happen on an owl nest.
After lunch we watched a bit of the 5th Harry Potter movie. We’re listening to the 3rd audio book when we’re driving around.
Then it was time for Lilah and I to pick up her friend from school.
All three kids played with K’nex, Legos and pop beads together, making up an epic tale involving ninjas, queens and magic ala Harry Potter. There was scepter building, underwater place building, cat drawing, cafe visiting and everything else they could toss in.
In the morning the K’nex were used with the pop beads to create this home for the pop bead characters they are designing and playing with.
We took a drive out to Promontory, Utah to visit the Golden Spike National Historic Site.
It was a long drive and so we were happy to get out and balance on the rails, inspect the replicas of the old locomotives, check out the large collection of tumbleweeds hiding behind the railing at the visitors center and admire various old tumbling down buildings (more me than the kids).
The actual gold spike was not at the site, it’s at Stanford University, but they had a replica there. So Gavin learned that word pretty solidly and has been using it since, at least twice that I’ve heard.
There was a crew working on restoring the locomotives, one coal burning, one wood burning. They were welding and scrubbing. The guide kept referring to Gavin as a girl and he never chose to correct him, so I followed his lead. Afterward I told him that he’s always free to point out he’s a boy if he wants to in these situations (happens shockingly frequently!) or ask me to if that’s more comfortable. He answered that he didn’t really care, which surprised and impressed me. The last time he was not happy about it at all. So we left it at that. It didn’t really matter enough to make a fuss over. If he’s comfortable, that’s what matters to me! A cat visited us while we were admiring the paint on the trains. She’s in charge of the mice, the guide told us. It seemed to me she was also an expert in visitor relations. She came right over to us and Lilah knew she’d like some petting. And she did.
We learned that the trains had to stop every 15 or 100 miles, depending on what they burn to produce steam. We learned that hooking the trains to the other cars was a very very risky career with injuries and deaths likely. Here’s Lilah trying her hand at using the link.
Afterward, on our way home Lilah spotted a playground and shouted, “Mama, PLAYGROUND!”, in a sort of desperate plea/command. So we circled around and tried out another merry-go-round and teeter totter, climbing bubble, and finally the play structure. That seems to be how the kids rank the various options – older and probably more dangerous first, then new and plastic and (possibly) safer.
I’m glad to know a merry go round is still something that can occupy hours and endless combinations of movement and experimentation. I remember it the same way from my own childhood. There aren’t very many left in our city – only one that I know of but in smaller towns like where we stopped today there are probably many more older playthings left.
I’m working hard to get us outside every day and take advantage of the spring time weather we are having in the beginning of February. It’s gorgeous right now, even while it’s obviously a sign of climate change.
Over the past week or so the kids have been playing Spore every morning lately. So, the rest of the time the kids conversation is including evolution, mutation, tribes and herds. (It’s a computer game where you start as a tiny sea-dwelling organism and slowly evolve and become a land-dweller. You get to choose the changes, like type of eyeballs, type of feet, size of torso…, as you slowly level up and your creature changes and develops.) Usually both of them are leaning together, planning what changes to make next, where to take their creature in search of food, shelter or allies. Here’s Lilah in a rare moment without Gavin’s sage advice on hand.
Gavin built a Lego version of Carcassonne, complete with four civilizations, Japan, China, Vikings and Rome. It has a volcano and a temple, four cities and a river that goes to the sea. I’m impressed by his building, his creativity and his interest in geography, history and game mechanics.
We finished reading Madame Pamplemousse and the Enchanted Sweet Shop and are continuing Prairie School.
We looked at a bunch of slides with the new microscope as well as some feathers from our parakeet.
Lilah went to gymnastics. She even went up to the high bar, the one up higher than my head, swung herself around and up and did her “mermaids” on that bar before swinging down and dismounting. I was impressed.
Gavin and Dad played civilization.
We built my new single-serving puzzle.
Lilah’s had a cough for weeks and the air has been really bad here so we’ve been staying in quite a bit. Yesterday and today the air is finally clear again thanks to some rain and snow.
The kids have been playing with their Hero Factory modular robot toys.
Here’s a snippet of one of their stories:
G: “I’m following you Earth Leader. All right, Sandstone. Look this is the tricky part of getting down.”
L: “Yeah but remember Kai is good at climbing.”
G: “Yeah he’s good at climbing things but not slippery things like vines.”
“‘Let’s go to the new city of Earthler which I’ve never seen’, Kai admitted.”
L: “Look, she’s fireproof and waterproof!”
We talked about sales tax because Gavin has been doing chores to earn money and is interested in spending it on a new Bionicle figure. We discussed how much sales tax is, why it exists and what its for in general and specifically here in Utah. Then we began talking about when it started and got into the Boston tea party and representation of the people in governments. It was a pretty great bunch of discussions!
We picked up our Spanish practice again, going over food words, animal words and I learned how to say, “You are so sweet my teeth hurt.”
Gavin finished knitting his hat on the loom.
Gavin asked recently about Atlantis, if it’s real or not. So I explained that actually there are plenty if cities that have sunk for different reasons and we don’t know if Atlantis is one of those. Afterward we looked at some great photos of sunken cities and read the brief descriptions of where they are, when they sank and if they know why. It’s been something that has interested me since I was a kid, so it’s fun to see Gavin interested as well. I’m glad to know and be able to pass on that there are infinite mysteries left in history, biology, physics just waiting to be discovered and puzzled over.
We went the the Museum of Natural Curiosity and climbed and read and spun and wondered and built and laughed. My favorite part this time was watching the kids dress up as pirates and put on a play.