Late last week, near our home, my family spotted a small colony of swifts taking up residence in a nearby chimney. It was great fun to see these little birds gather, circle, and then enter a snug space for the night.
Typically, swifts migrate through Oregon each September on their way to Central and South America. Chapman Elementary School in NW Portland is "one of the largest known roosting sites of migrating Vaux's Swifts." Our family joined the crowds of people there last September to watch the nightly show of wildlife.
Chapman School has a huge chimney with room for thousands of birds. The Audubon Society has volunteers on site to answer questions. Folks gather early and picnic on the hill (just up from the playground). Bonus: If you go early in the season and bring cardboard, the kids can sled down the hill as they wait for the nightly "show".
The night we were there a hawk also came to join the event. Wowza! Migration; food chain; ecosystem; habitat: This end-of-the-summer, Oregon event is perfect for nature lovers both young and old.
I was determined to make our Yellowstone National Park memorable and so researched and planned our time in the park carefully. At the half-way mark of our visit, I asked my oldest son how he liked our vacation so far. He told me, “I like the doing-things more than the looking-things.”
This completely made sense to me. Yellowstone is a HUGE park with so many “sights” (and “sites”) to see, but little boys are little boys (and need to move, touch, and actively engage with their world). Here are the highlights of our “seeing things” time in the park. I’ll cover the “doing things” in another post.
DRIVING: The main road through the park is designed in a large figure eight. This road is two lanes with no (or extremely limited) shoulder area. The speed limit is approximately 45 mph. That said, there are frequent pull-outs, small side roads,
and the occasional traffic jam (when a bison or two decide
to claim an entire lane for themselves). My advice: Give
yourself plenty of time to travel from point A to B and understand that you are just visiting. This wild land belongs to the wildlife.
Different sections of the park offer different landscapes. The NE corner is high mountains and low valleys, the NW corner is dramatic rock fields, canyons, and cliffs; the Canyon Area reminds me of Oregon, and the Hayden Valley offers the large grassland/meadows where bison herds often roam. We drove the full figure-eight and I enjoyed the change of scenery.
LODGING: I’ve heard that many folks stay outside the park and enter during the day for activities. However, cabins in the very center of the park were very reasonably priced. The trick here is making reservations early. (Rooms go fast - even months ahead of time- but with a great cancellation policy you have plenty of flexibility in case your plans change.)
Our Frontier Cabin at Canyon Lodge was described as “rustic.” I took this to mean we had a 50/50 chance that it would be “scary.” However, we found our two double beds/private bath space both clean and comfortable. Since we were out in the
park from early morning to late at night, we didn’t need much indoor space and the resort’s guest service was always very helpful. Ice (for our cooler filled with breakfast, lunch and snack items) was readily available and fresh towels magically appeared when needed. Sadly, on our last day in the cabin a gentleman in the room next door experienced a medical emergency. I was glad to see EMTs with an ambulance on the scene in less than five minutes. Overall, I was very pleased with the parks accommodations would recommend them to other traveling families.
SEEING THINGS: It seems wrong to travel to Yellowstone and NOT see Old Faithful, so we made sure to set aside one full day to see the famous geyser.The area around Old Faithful is fully developed and offers the Inn, the Lodge, a Visitor’s Center, a General Store, Gas Station, Ranger Station, and Medical Clinic. There are miles of trails that lead to many smaller geysers and pools, with little shade and usually a big crowd. This isn’t walking on the wild side – but it does make for a lovely lunch on the shaded porch of the Yellowstone Lodge, a fascinating look at a seven story log cabin, and a quick stop at a quality children’s museum.
Our other sightseeing stops around the park included the Mammoth Hot Springs (which vary widely based on season – ask others if the hike up the stairs is worth it before you take little-ones); the Fountain Paint Pots (a short, easy walk that offers visitors the chance to see all four geo-thermal features active in Yellowstone Park), the Norris Geyser Basin (with its magnificent view of a geyser/hot spring field); the West Thumb Geyser Basin (a very short boardwalk with a great view of Yellowstone Lake); and the Sheepeater Cliffs (visible from the parking lot and a great spot to see marmots).
With something interesting to see at every turn, I chose just two locations a day as “must see.” This allowed us to stop and discover unknown treasures – some which we preferred to the big-name sites – along the way. By the end of the trip, each family member had a geothermal favorite.
Here’s the final tally:
This Dragon's Mouth ROARS!
Mud Volcano Mudpot
(“I love the glub, blub, gurgle, pop.”)
Dragon’s Mouth Spring
(“A great combination of sights and sounds!”)
Oldest Boy –
Fountain Geyser in the Fountain Paint Pot Area (“It was unexpected.”)
Youngest Boy –
Old Faithful Geyser
(“I liked it because it went so high and looked so powerful.”)
Tucked behind North Salem High School, is the Friends of Straub Environmental Learning Center. This community gem offers a monthly Nature Kids class that is both fun and educational for children grades 2-5.
My sons attended 2 of the classes this year and enjoyed both.
First, we attended a talk about urban wildlife given by the Turtle Ridge Wildlife Center. Turtle Ridge rehabilitates injured, sick or orphaned wildlife in the Salem area and brought several birds that have recovered from injuries.
We also attended a great hands-on class that explored all things wormy! As well as learning about the role of worms in our local ecosystem, my boys constructed their own worm condos. It was good ol', dirty, fun-filled learning.
_ Oregonians have a true gem in the Oregon Zoo. Two weekends ago, my husband and I took our boys for a full day of spying the 2,000+ animals on display. During the long car ride home our 6 year-old talked non-stop about the cougars. We heard how far they jump; how fast they run; how tall they stand; what they eat; where they sleep; and a detailed description of what makes them so uniquely beautiful. It was 60 minutes of cougar crush confessions. (Side note: I savored every single moment and plan to look back fondly on this car trip one day - when he turns 15 and refuses to talk to me at all.)
Overall, I gave the trip two thumbs up. It was a bit cold and a bit wet, but a true bright spot of family fun. Here are just some of the highlights:
A truck load of snow was brought in just as we arrived on Sunday morning. Layering snow and fish and snow and fish right next to the viewing window for the black bear exhibit, zoo employees provided us with an up-close and personal view of the action.
Who doesn’t like a train ride through the trees and the chance to peek at the elephant yard from another view? Even better: it’s truly Oregon style with a biodiesel engine.
Predators of the Serengeti-
This new, impressive exhibit was perfect for my 9 year-old, as he just completed a school report on these amazing animals. I’ve never before seen such a great cheetah enclosure. Other new learning: hyenas area BIG!
The Oregon Zoo does a great job of presenting informational displays that catch your eye (rather than the standard printed poster that makes your eyes glaze over). This poster amplified the animal sound when you placed the pine cone over each picture. The elementary teacher in me says, "Bravo!"
We visited the elephant house twice: once to see the baby inside, once to see the baby outside. I never tire of how skillfully these animals use their trunks to gather hay. My youngest never tires of the elephant poop jokes. Oh my!
Also while in Orlando – my family visited SeaWorld.
We had a great day there. My sons saw their first dolphin, orca, and beluga. I saw my first ever mantaee and walrus.
The animals were all amazingly beautiful!
Here’s the 411 for families who plan to visit SeaWorld Orlando on their own…..
1) Getting There
There are a dozen shuttle and taxi services that can take you anywhere you need to go in Orlando. I say: Skip ‘Em! The public bus system is simple, safe, and a steal of a deal when comparing prices. Lynx Bus #50 goes from Disney World to SeaWorld every half an hour and costs just $2 per rider.
2) The Clock is Ticking
Plan to spend a full day at SeaWorld. Then plan ahead to see only your favorite exhibits. Although the lines were minimal on our visit – the overall size (read sprawl) of the park makes it impossible to cover that much ground with kids. You just won’t have time to see everything the park has to offer. We came with a plan and so really enjoyed ourselves without feeling rushed. I also recommend balancing your time between exhibits, shows, and the enormous playground at Shamu’s Happy Harbor. The rope bridges were a family favorite!
3) Take a Break
Shark’s Underwater Grill is the nicest restaurant in the park. And… when I say nicest I mean: expensive. However nice also means dark, cool and quiet -- which on a hot Florida day spells heaven. I called ahead (407-370-1573) to make early dinner reservations and found that the hearty meal was just what we needed to keep us going strong right up to the park closing.
4) Soak Zone
When SeaWorld posts signs that you may get wet – they mean it! “Soak Zone” seating is not for the faint of heart. You will get wet. In fact…You will get wetter than you’d ever imagined possible. You will take hours to thoroughly dry.
The same is to be said for the ‘Journey to Atlantis” ride. Back seats in this roller coaster are a 6 on the 1 to 10 scale of amusement-park-wetness. The front seat is a 12! We braved this fun ride (twice) as a family and giggled as we tried to ring out our clothes. (A handy extra shirt in the family backpack is a bonus. Otherwise – prepare to follow the crowd straight to the gift shop.)
Most the tours I posted here this summer dealt with urban living, but I wanted to give my boys a taste of agricultural business as well. So... just before school started, I called around the Willamette Valley to find a dairy farm that would host us and hit gold with the OSU Dairy Research Center.
Located just north of campus (4380 N.W. Harrison Blvd) in Corvallis, the dairy provided a tour for our family &friends.
Here are a few pictures of our visit,
a cow named Nadine, and our knowledgeable guide.
It was a great experience and we hope to return during milking time (or feeding time for the calves) soon. If you want to visit the OSU dairy contact Director Ben Krahn at 541-737-3275.
Artist and hometown boy Christopher Marley has brought big, beautiful bugs to town. Mr. Marley’s shop/art gallery, Pheromone, is nestled right downtown between Starbucks and Straight from New Pizza on Liberty Street and shouldn’t be missed.
Having spent many days in the rain forests of South America I have had my share fair of bug encounters. For years it didn’t bother me. I once saw a moth the size of a bird; a spider web designed to catch small birds, and a family of cockroaches who assumed mi casa was sus casa. I wasn't phased.
Then I suddenly seemed to reach capacity and now even sugar ants give me the heebie-jeebies. Then just this spring, I was bit by a spider while gardening, and half my face swelled to the point of losing feeling for two days. It was awful! I’d file a restraining order against insects if I could. I want them 100 yards away from me - at all times.
And then…we step into Peromone. My son ooos and ahhhhs. The colors are displayed so exquisitely. The arrangements are so precise. Strangely, I find that I’m drawn toward these creepy crawly beasts instead of being repelled by them.
Perhaps it is time for a peace agreement.
Just a quick shout-out to Orchard View Veterinary Clinic!
I cold called this local business in hopes of securing a tour for my son and his preschool friends. We received a wonderfully warm welcome from Center Manager Brittany, Dr. Lipscomb and qualified staff. We visited each room of the clinic and learned all the many ways vets help local pets. The children on the tour loved to see behind the scenes and (using the cap and mask at home later) our stuffed animals received a thorough check-up.
For preschool children, the greatest education you can provide is experiences with which the children can build vocabulary and gain a greater understanding of the world around them. A BIG thank you to this local business for giving their time and effort to help these young citizens of Salem grow and learn.
I’m hoping to contact a few other places for future tours as well. Do you know a local business we can visit?
Zebras on the road.
While my ultimate dream is to take my family on an African safari in Tanzania, our recent trip to Wildlife Safari in Winston provided a good adventure for this summer. Nestled in the hills of Southern Oregon, Wildlife Safari is a 600 acre park and home to over 500 animals. Visitors drive their own cars along a 4.5 dirt road and can come face-to-face with giraffes, zebras, emus, elk, and bears.
Bison just outside my window!
Visitors can also sign-up for special ‘animal encounters.’ Our family delighted in two such programs: the elephant car wash and the bear feeding. The bear feeding was really interesting – the animals are beautiful and any extra time to talk with the animal caretakers is worth the effort.
A once in a lifetime view!
The elephant carwash was really an unexpected delight. The caretaker told us that each elephant has their very own method for the task. One of the elephants, that doused our car, placed its trunk right on the side window and then blew the water out with all its might. Once the water gone, you could see right up the elephant’s trunk. The whole thing had us all in fits of giggles.
Even little ones can keep up!
Folks just traveling through the area could make a quick 2 hour tour of the park, but I would recommend dedicating the whole day so that you can stroll through the Safari Village, ride the train, play on the playground, and participate in the tortoise walk or listen to the Cheetah Keeper Talk.
- Admission allows you to drive through the park twice.
- For the drive; pack water, snacks, and a camera.
- Check the park's daily schedule so you don’t miss a thing.
The Obery crew hit the beach this weekend – and found lots of fun things to do. Here’s just a few we recommend:
While kiddo #1 loved walking through a tunnel surrounded by sharks, kiddo #2 like seeing sea lions being fed, the hubby was totally impressed with the octopus, and I loved the touch and feel pools where you could touch the animals. Go early, plan to stay most the day, and take this coupon with you!
And don't forget .. right next store is the Hatfield Marine Science Center. Admission is by donation only and the nature walk behind the center is worth the time.
Newport Old Bayfront-
I love this part of Newport; It’s ten blocks of pure adventure. First watch the fish be cleaned and fileted right off the boat – just behind Mo’s Annex. Then just another block down watch shrimp being cooked, cleaned, and packed in the processing plant. Keep on going and you’ll see the sea lions who have taken over the dock next at Pier 1 and just a bit further, you can walk down Pier 5 and see the big fishing boats and buy crab right from the dock.
Yaquina Bay Lighthouse-
This State Park has two things going for it:
1) The view of the Yaquina Bay bridge and jetty!
This quick stop off Hwy 101 gives you a bird’s eye view of
the bay and it is quite a sight.
2) Sand dunes galore!
Climbing over the rise of the dune, my husband exclaimed,
“It looks like a desert!” The dunes do seem to go on and on but it was
the fog that kept us from seeing it end and the ocean begin. Either way…
my boys loved running down the rolling sand hills.
A Newport favorite for tidepools can be found at Nye Beach. A great walkway is just north of the ‘Elizabeth Inn’. The walkway is a memorial to Vietnam Vets and has artwork, benches, and a nice sloped ramp. My kiddos and I saw starfish, sea anenomes, snails, mussels, and crabs.
Please remember tidepool etiquette as well: Avoid stepping on the animals and plants. If you peek under a rock, put it back. Also, never move an animal forcefully, you may tear off its feet or squeeze its organs.Check the schedule here to see when to go.
Depot Bay -
Lots of folks drive through this small town and don’t stop unless they can find a parking spot right along the seawall, but trust me it’s worth the time. Just turn up the hill and you’ll find plenty of public parking one block back. This is a great place to see whales and the handy ranger station right at the mouth of the harbor provides binoculars.
Fogarty Beach -
This was one of my favorite places as a child and my kiddos love it now too. To reach the beach take the north entrance and walk under the Hwy 101 bridge to find a beach protected from wind and with fabulous climbing rocks! No swimming here, the waves are rough and the entry steep, but the sand is like fine worn gravel which comes out of your shoes with ease when you are done with that friendly game of volleyball.
On the Go