Exploring Kansas

In August we had the opportunity to take a day trip across the state of Kansas with my best friend from college and her friend from New Zealand. We hadn’t really started up the school year yet, so it was a pre-school year field trip.

What were we thinking?!?

The pink lines represent our route. We drove 814 miles (round trip) in less than 24 hours!

We started out from the Kansas City area bright and early and headed west. We made it to Wilson Lake State park in time for a picnic lunch. After lunch we drove north to Lucas, Kansas, to see S.P. Dinsmoor’s Garden of Eden, which is not even remotely what it sounds like.

The Garden of Eden makes for a fascinating study of history and American folk art. The complex was by Samuel Perry Dinsmoor, a veteran of the U.S. Civil War, in the early 1900s. Central Kansas is largely prairie land that has been transformed into farms and ranches. There are precious few trees in the area. Industrious farmers and ranchers discovered that the local limestone was sturdy enough to be used in place of wooden posts for holding up their fences. The limestone is locally known as post rock limestone. Dinsmoor used this local limestone to build himself a two-story log cabin style home in the middle of town. Between the years of 1907 and 1928, he created his home, decorated his garden, and built a mausoleum that would be his final resting place.

The exterior of the “log cabin” home and part of the sculpture garden.

His sculpture garden was made with cement. In his self-published guide to his property, Dinsmoor said, “The porches, side walks, fences, strawberry and flower beds, fish pool, grape-arbor, three U. S. flags, Adam and Eve, the devil, coffin, jug, visitors’ dining hall, labor crucified, two bird and animal cages, and wash house are all made with cement. Up to this date, July 1, 1927, over 113 tons, or 2,273 sacks of cement has been used. The Garden of Eden is on the west; the front, or north represents present day civilization. There are fifteen cement trees from 30 to 40 feet tall. On trees, mausoleum, cages and dining hall are forty-eight electric lights. The most unique home, for living or dead, on earth.”

Here are some more detailed photos of the sculpture garden.

Every four-year-old needs a photo in front of a cement flag with her two stuffed kitties and her new best friend from New Zealand.

Cement sculpture of a Civil War soldier

Cement deer with real deer antlers

The sign for the Garden of Eden, also made of cement.

Adam and Eve stand below the Garden of Eden sign. The snake (behind Eve) is also a grape arbor.

This figure was sculpted so Dinsmoor’s wife could see it out the basement kitchen window, to keep her company while he was out working on the sculpture garden.

The strawberry bed

The top of the mausoleum

After thoroughly exploring the Garden of Eden, we got back on the road and headed farther west, in search of the Monument Rocks.

Monument Rocks are roughly 70 feet tall and formed out of Niobrara chalk. They are on privately owned ranch land, but the owners allow visitors to explore the formations. We had fun exploring the various formations, looking for fossils in the chalk, and taking in the majesty of nature.

This formation is called “The Eye of the Needle.”

One of the shorter spots, with a four-year-old for scale

Panorama of the Monument Rocks

Standing in the doorway to adventure

Our Wildflower Pilgrimage Experience

The Large-Flowered Trillium starts out white, then ages to a beautiful light pink. I love the petals’ “ruffles.”

Through the years, our family has taken many guided tours, mostly in national parks. We always learn something new, and it’s a great way to get out of doors on a field trip. This year we were following the Apologia “Flying Creatures” curriculum, and my kids’ assignments included completing the Bird, Insect, and Wildflower Pathfinder honors. So, when a friend suggested attending the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage in the Great Smoky Mountains, we jumped on it!

The title “Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage” is something of a misnomer only because it doesn’t just cover wildflowers. Experts in ornithology, entomology, biology, forestry, ecology, and herpetology join botanists. Artists and photographers are included to teach nature journaling and photography classes. Park rangers and managers round out the experienced staff.

Yellow Trillium were everywhere in the park. it was beautiful!

We chose to focus on wildflowers, birds and nature journaling, though we were sad that the salamander tour filled up so fast! I spoke with a birder who had attended the salamander walk, and he reported that they had seen 11 species of salamander in one morning!

My kids thoroughly enjoyed the wildflower walk, and having an easy-to-use wildflower guide with clear pictures was exceptionally helpful! This particular book is organized according to when flowers bloom, so the smaller kids only had to flip through a small section of the book, rather than the whole thing, to successfully find a match to what they were viewing along the trails. (Most guides are organized according to flower color.) All together, we identified more than 40 wildflowers or flowering bushes/trees.

The only May-apple blossom we found: Our guide had been searching for one in vain until our tour — we felt privileged!

Attending a nature journaling class gave us an opportunity to sit in the shade and be creative. It was a perfect afternoon activity when the sun was hot and the kids were worn out from walking. The kids learned how to embellish their pages with stamps, fancy writing, and even pop-ups.

In the fall of 2016, fires devastated Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains, so the forests’ response to the fires was of particular interest to many on the tours this spring. We were delighted with a spectacular wildflower display; apparently the destruction of brush and undergrowth in the forest allowed sunlight to reach more deeply into the forest, and some flowers produce more after a fire anyway. God provides for the smallest detail in His creation. It was a beautiful spiritual lesson and reminder of grace and protection.

It was on our birding tour that I discovered my 10-year-old son needed glasses… Oops!

The kids realized out on the trail why we have been listening to recordings of bird songs: it’s often easier to hear the bird and then find what you know you’re looking for! Completing the Pathfinder honor was a breeze, with help from a guide. With help, we identified 18 birds by sight and an additional six by sound only. Some of these birds my kids were familiar with, like the brown-headed cowbird, red-bellied woodpecker, American robin, and downy woodpecker. But, others were brand new to them, such as the golden-crowned kinglet, yellow-throated warbler, white-breasted nuthatch, northern parula, ovenbird, black and white warbler, black-throated green warbler,and blue-gray gnatcatcher. Along the way we also identified more wildflowers: white-fringed phacelia, trout lilies,and spring beauties.

Our final guided tour was presided over by a Native American; she taught the wild edibles class. Her personal experience was invaluable for the kids to hear, and they appreciated the Native American items she brought, such as beads, porcupine quills, and clothing. We also learned that it’s important not to boil the stinkbugs with the staghorn sumac for tea! 🙂

In the wild edibles class, we learned that squaw root is often the first thing bears eat in the spring. It works as a colon stimulant.

A sick child and car troubles precluded us from attending our last two guided tours, but I felt like the entire excursion was definitely worth the trip and expenses. There is no substitute for an experienced guide along to help the kids positively identify plants and animals in the wild. The more exposure the kids get to these things, the more those plants and animals become like “friends” every time the kids find them. When we returned home, the first thing my kids did was to take a jaunt through our local woods, searching for trillium and lady slippers. That’s my definition of success!

Tips for Taking a Guided Tour with Young Kids:

  1. Be prepared for long walks. Check the printed guide and ask about the terrain. Some walks are labeled “easy” or “along a path”; on those walks a jogging stroller might be something useful for very small children. (But ask first!)
  2. Pack a small, lightweight backpack for every child. Include water bottle, rain poncho/jacket, hat, lightweight pocket guides or laminated fold-out guides, journal or small pad of paper, pencil, binoculars if birding, a magnifying glass (lightweight), and a quiet snack.
  3. In your backpack, a roll of toilet paper and baggies might be very useful for small bladders and those kids who drink all of their water in the first half-hour!
  4. Dress appropriately for the weather, and wear good walking/hiking shoes.
  5. Prior to the trip, it might be helpful to practice walking along a trail looking for flowers and listening for birds. Quietly walking and being observant is a skill, not a natural trait for most children. Preparing them ahead of time for what is expected helps!
  6. Birding tours are probably best suited to older children. My younger kids enjoyed the wildflower tour and the nature journaling class the most. Wildflowers don’t fly or run away, and they are easier to spot!
  7. If you are wanting pictures of the flowers you spot, you probably should tote along an actual camera. It’s difficult to steady and zoom in with a phone camera.

    Catesby’s trillium is considered a rare species, limited to the Southern Appalachians. My kids found this one near our home.

    Searching for lady slippers and trillium close to home

    A pink lady slipper found near home after the trip

    Wild geranium was in full bloom during our late-April excursion to the Smokies.

    The crested dwarf iris provided a lovely complement flower to the yellow trilliums along the roadsides.

    A Jack-in-the-pulpit was a fun find along a river.

1 Fish, 2 Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

Do you like fish? How about those adorable penguins? Maybe it is the sharks that intrigue you. For me it’s the octopus! If you or any of your kids are big fans of the underwater, visiting an aquarium should be on your bucket list.

You may not be aware that there are nearly 115 aquariums in the U.S. That means that if you live inside the U.S. or Guam, it is likely that there is an aquarium somewhere near you. My children had the privilege for the beginning six years of their life to grow up near the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga. We spent so much time there, in fact, that my daughter referred to it as “her aquarium.” We have since moved and find ourselves north of Knoxville in Tennessee. Yet again, we are near an aquarium, this time Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.

A couple of weeks ago we spent part of our vacation at Ripley’s Aquarium. This was our third visit. It was great, never disappointing. Each aquarium has its draw, its niche’, its audience. This particular aquarium is really great with the younger crowd, while still intriguing the rest of the family.

While Ripley’s Aquarium cannot compare in sheer volume to the Tennessee Aquarium, it doesn’t let you down. Ripley’s aquarium has a lot of interactive displays that are purposefully placed right at a kid’s level, with lots of bright colors and fascinating facts. At the entrance you are met with a huge round fish tank, flanked by a gigantic sea turtle skeleton hanging from the ceiling — pretty impressive, but just the beginning. Around every corner there is a new adventure area with facts about living environments, food preferences, camouflage, and temperaments.

One really cool element of this aquarium is that they give you a look inside…inside the filtration system, that is. Through a large window you can view the large filters and giant protein skimmer. Tours of the filtration system are available via their Behind the Scenes pass. However, it is pretty cool to look down over those giant tanks and skimmers.

Around the corner is one of the two most impressive parts of the aquarium, Shark Lagoon. I could stand here all day! There are sand tigers, sawfish (sawtooth sharks), shovelhead sharks, a giant sea turtle and more. The cool part is that you see it from the top! You get to see that shark fin break the surface and ominously skim through the water. We were there during feeding time for the sharks, and that was really fascinating to see.

We rounded the bend from there to find that they had added a children’s play area, with climbing and slides and tunnels, right in the center of the aquarium for the little ones to get their energy out. My three-year-old enjoyed the reprieve from standing and staring at fish. He ran and whooped and slid for five minutes, after which we moved on down the ramp and on to the piranhas.

We saw fish and frogs and penguins and sharks and eels. The eels I like best are the garden eels. They look like they are planted there in the sand, and all around them are tiny shrimp floating in the water. When one floats near, the eel will grab in and gulp it down. I think it’s fascinating.

Of course the most well-known feature of the Ripley’s aquarium is seeing Shark Lagoon through the underwater acrylic tunnel travelling on a 340-foot glide path. There are sharks literally lounging and cruising right above your heads.

I almost forgot that there is the “touch bay,” with horseshoe crabs. They have blue blood, by the way. In the same area is a pool where you can touch jellyfish.

Ripley’s has an area where there are changing exhibits. Right now it is a very interesting display about Pearl Harbor, complete with real news footage and audio recordings and a life-sized figure of Roosevelt addressing the nation (for those history buffs out there).

So all this to say, “Go visit some fish! Go find an aquarium!” After all, it is inside, out of the icky weather, and has tons of educational insights.

Now for the homeschool stuff! Most aquariums offer a discount for homeschool students. Ripley’s is $10.99 per family member, and you have to bring proof of your homeschool status.

On their website they have offers for more educational opportunities with Labs and Behind the Scenes tours. Here is the link to Wikipedia’s list of aquariums in the U.S. Hopefully one is just around the corner from you.

Wanderlust, Part 2: Maui

We just got back from a week of vacation in Maui, and we want to share our adventures with you. We chose to attend a work convention/leadership training in Maui and then add several more days of adventure. It was a blast!

Since we live in Kentucky, it’s quite a long trip to reach Maui. It takes approximately almost a full day to get from here to there. We had layovers in Chicago and San Francisco, and then we arrived in Kahului International Airport. It was interesting to leave Kentucky with long sleeves and long pants, and have to change our clothes into shorts and T-shirts because the temperature in Maui was in the 80s (Fahrenheit).

We got the rental car from the airport and then proceeded to stop by our first adventure spot: Costco. Hah! We laughed about it, but we definitely needed to stock up on a few things such as water, fruits, and some swimsuits for the kiddos since they had outgrown their swimsuits.

The island of Maui is the second largest island among Hawaiian archipelago and is about 727 square miles, which is comparable to three times the size of Chicago, Illinois, thought not as populated. Maui has several volcanoes, but the one on the east, Haleakalā, rises to more than 10,000 feet (3,000 m) above sea level, and measures five miles (eight km) from seafloor to summit, making it one of the world’s tallest mountains. It’s a beautiful island, and we were even more amazed by the kind people we met.

The first few days of our vacation, we stayed at Honua Kai resort on Kaanapali beach, on the western side of the island, called Lahaina. Lā hainā means “cruel sun” in the Hawaiian language, describing the sunny, dry climate. Lahaina was the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii in the mid-1800s, and when you walk down Front Street, you can see this giant Banyan tree, one of the largest in the world, that was planted in 1873 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the arrival of Christian missionaries.

The banyan tree or Ficus benghalensis has roots that descend or sprout from the branches into aerial roots towards the ground, where they form new trunks around the main trunk. This Lahaina giant banyan tree sprouted 16 major trunks that are apart from the main trunk, forming a large canopy with a circumference of about one-fourth of a mile, and about a thousand people could congregate under it.

Maui is also the best place to watch humpback whales between the months of February and April. These whales migrate from Alaskan waters to mate and give birth in the warm waters of Maui. You can easily see these whales from the beach and from a boat. They often congregate in pods, which is typically a group of a mother, her calf, and a few male suitors. You may also see the males fighting for the female by bumping against each other. When you snorkel or dive, you will be able to hear the sound of the whales singing for hours under the water. It’s a magnificent experience!

We joined a whale-watching ship from the nonprofit Pacific Whale Foundation, and the tour guide gave great educational information on how whales behave, how to spot them, and how to protect these endangered animals. The kids loved it! We recommend going in the morning as the water will be calmer and it will be less windy than the afternoon would. You also should reserve your spots ahead of time as these whale-watching boats get booked up really quickly.

We got to attend a luau that exhibited amazing singers and fire dancers sharing their New Zealand (Maori), Samoan, Tahitian, and Hawaiian cultures and stories. This is one way to enrich your children’s knowledge of the world cultures while having fun at the same time!

My wife always wanted to see a pineapple plantation, so we booked a plantation tour with Maui Gold Pineapple, where we were able to see thousands of acres of pineapple fields in various stages of growth, tour the packing facility, watch how they harvest the pineapples, and taste various stages of the pineapple and tour the packing facility. The tour took about 1.5 hours and we got to come home with a box of two hand-picked fresh pineapples.

The last half of the trip we stayed at the beautiful Grand Wailea on the south side of the island, in Kihei. The kids loved every one of the nine incredible pools and beach. When you visit, you must check out the world’s first water elevator there. It is rated as the Best Kid-Friendly Hotel in Hawaii by Oyster. The view was breathtaking from any angle. You can even see whales swimming right from the beach or from their signature restaurant, Humuhumunukunukuapua’a. Try pronouncing that!

The one downside to this trip was the time it took to travel from the mainland USA. This creates jetlag as your body tries to adjust to local time. We would be super tired at 6 p.m. local time (midnight in EST), and then wide awake at 2 or 3 a.m., as it’s already 8 or 9 a.m. in the mainland eastern standard time. By the time we were ready to leave at the end of the week, our bodies had finally adjusted to the Hawaiian time, which means it took us a few more days to again adjust once we get back home. We all agreed that the next time we return, we will stay much longer than just a week.

This was one of our favorite trips. We got to incorporate biology and science learning (whales, climate, and pineapple growing), and then history, geography, and native cultures. The kids got to meet various kinds of people from various parts of the world.

They also learned more about people with interesting tattoos all over their faces and body (Maori and most Polynesian cultures). They learned about how kindness transcends cultures and borders. They learned how the time change affected their body functions. They learned about how different cultures eat different kinds of food. They especially loved the physical education portion of this homeschool trip: swimming and bodyboarding!

Most of all, as we got to see Hawaii as a melting pot of many different cultures and races, we learned that Jesus loves all the children of the world: red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight. We all learned that God would love for all His children to be with Him again, and that the responsibility to share the Good News is on our shoulders.

Go travel, go outside of your comfort zone. If you haven’t read my previous blogpost on Wanderlust, you should! Click here.

God bless!

Arthur

Virtual Field Trip: Greenfield Village, Part 6

Hi, Boys and Girls! Are you ready to go on another virtual field trip? I sure am! I am excited to share with you more of Greenfield Village, a really cool outdoor history museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Have you ever seen a train before? Today I’m going to focus on the train ride, roundhouse, and Smith’s Creek station at Greenfield Village.

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The roundhouse here was originally built elsewhere in Michigan, but the remains were brought to Greenfield Village in 2000 and refurbished to the truly beautiful structure that exists today. It is one of only seven working roundhouses in the U.S.!

This is where all the work and repair on the steam engines is done. Plus, it’s where the engines go to “sleep” at night. Basically, it’s like a garage, but for trains. It is really fun to walk through it and see all the trains.

Below are some pictures of what was Henry Ford’s personal favorite engine, which he had restored.

You can even walk right underneath it!

There is also a fun painting on the wall, with a working wheel, that helps kids understand how the steam engine works. As kids turn the wheel, lights light up and show what exactly is going on.

You can even find a grandfather around the roundhouse every now and then! 😉

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Nearby to the roundhouse is the Smith’s Creek train station. This is the actual station that young Thomas Edison once worked out of. For a part-time job he sold newspapers on the trains. Because he liked to experiment, he begged the train conductor to let him have one baggage car just for his experiments. Everything went well until the car caught fire, and the conductor threw Edison off at this very Smith’s Creek station! But, besides that tidbit of history, it is just neat to see inside an 1860s train station. It was a real center of activity for the community, and served as both home and office for the stationmaster and his family.

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One of my favorite parts of the Village is the steam train ride. Smith’s Creek is one of the three stations where you can board. Here are some pictures of the train for you to enjoy!

The conductor and fireman checking to make sure everything is good to go!

Toot, toot!

 

 

…And back at the station!

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I hope that you have enjoyed this post! It really is so much fun to see history come alive at places such as Greenfield Village, and experience in real life what you would otherwise just have to imagine. Of course, while words and pictures do a decent job of getting the point across, there is still a lot left out — like sound! And, one of my favorite parts of riding a steam train is the sounds. So, this month I have included not only my videos of the roundhouse and Smith’s Creek station (you’ll get the tour spiel from the trained interpreters rather than having to put up with me), but also my train ride video. I hope you enjoy the sights and sounds! 🙂

Until next month, keep having a blast with the past!

~Austin