Sunday, September 25, 2011

September 25, 2011 - Hurricane Creek

The weather is finally starting to change to align with the calendar. It's hiking, camping, getting-outside-and-seeing-things season. October is just around the corner. We made a quick drive to our favorite local park for hiking and creek splashing, Hurricane Creek Park. We managed a 4.5 mile hike around the outer-most trails accessible to hikers. There are few other bike-only trails that extend up the northern paths, but I've never brought the required equipment to check that out.

Gears of a bike hanging from a rack on the porch.

While walking under a shaded portion of trail, in the shadow of a cliff, the kids spotted this little dude. He (she?) looks to be a ringneck snake. My reading tells me that these are usually nocturnal snakes, so seeing one around noon was a treat.

An earthworm's worst nightmare.

Here is my cell phone next to the snake for scale. He could have fit in my hand with plenty of room to spare. We assumed that this must be a very young, recently hatched juvenile, but I've learned that the adults only reach about 10-15 inches, so perhaps it wasn't as young as we first thought. They produce venom from something called a Duvernoy's gland. This is used mainly for capturing food and rarely as a defense strategy. When accosted by predators they usually turn the tip of their tails up and expose the bright red/yellow underside. We never saw this snake do that so I guess he wasn't very concerned with our observations and picture taking.

This is perhaps our most favored feature of the park, the Twilight Tunnel. It's not a cave but a crack in the canyon wall that formed when a large chunk of stone fell slightly away from the main structure. It's about 60-70 feet long from end to end. The trick is to let your eyes adjust and enjoy the light that filters in from the openings overhead and further down the passage. I co-hid a geocache in the tunnel that is extremely difficult to find- I had trouble locating it two years later!

Esther near the western end of the tunnel.
I discovered a fact about millipedes that was unknown to me. Here's a millipede from the front:

Here's a millipede from the back. Notice the tiny little millipede BUTT CHEEKS?!?!

It's not a hike in the woods unless somebody gets injured. This trip's victim was Jake. All I know is that there was some splashing and falling and dropping of water bottles and he banged his shin up on a rock. Here we are looking over the damage while Jake tries to dry out his sock. It was a pretty good ding, but he hasn't mentioned it in days. At the time there was much to do about limping and hobbling along with the assistance of a walking stick, but by the next morning... not so much.

Many years ago there was an incline cable cart that you could use to exit up the hill back to the office. I never got to ride it and the chances of it being repaired are pretty slim, but the tracks and the cart are still there, waiting patiently.

More pictures of this hike can be found here. Below are the pictures from previous visits to the park.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 5, 2011 - Anniston Museum of Natural History

Esther was out in the Wild West doing her thing, seeing new things and we, the great unwashed, were stuck in the cultural black hole of the universe under a leaky sky watching the grass grow before our very eyes. We could have just stayed at home and endured, but we all needed to see something other than computer screens and the digital corpses of our enemies strewn before us (lamenting of the women optional).

Our destination was the Anniston Museum of Natural History. We last visited on another sans-mom trip back on December 31, 2010. We purchased a family membership at that time and it was this membership that got us in free at the Adventure Science Center and the Space and Rocket Center.

Hello, zeeba neighba.
Ben watches the penny smusher.
We perused the gift shop and I picked up and put down many shiny things that I considered would look interesting in my cubicle. The prehistoric section that you'd normally walk through first was shut down due to renovations and so we had to walk through all widdershins. The boys were ahead of Chan and me and were looking at something in the display with a strange sense of wonderment and amusement. This is what they saw:

Um... yeah.
 Clearly these are labeled as "clay dolls". And yet clearly they are what can only be described as testicular fetishes. Something was going on in the Amazon River Basin back in 1946, but I'm not quite sure what.

Having just finished listening to the audio version of American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, I had to linger in the Egyptian section just a little longer than usual.

Mortician to the gods.

Jake described this as "Wolverine's adamantium-skulled house cat".

Ben, always willing to pose for anything.

Remember the raft trip we took back in June? I mentioned that the kids were practicing hold their butts out of the water to avoid being bitten by gar. Here he is, in person, the great fresh water bitter of butts himself:

Place buttocks here.
 Something about this display makes me laugh. It's like the antelope-thing is saying "where's your fancy bi-pedal stance and tool-making skills now, monkey boy?"

Here's the obligatory "hey, put your head in that" shot. Looking back I made Jake do it the previous trip.
When you put a coin the in the giraffe is laughs. The kids forgot about this and they all jumped. Worth the nickel. 

Here are two flowers whose names Esther might not even know. 

The birds of prey trail outside the museum has these cool tiles on the archways that mark the entrance/exit to the trail. For some reason, I really like these. There are several with the tracks of wild animals, some with smalls sculpted representations of the animals themselves and others with the leaves of native plants.

The birds are in shelters that shade most of the sunlight on a clear day and this was nothing of the sort, so I only have this one good shot of the Great Horned Owls huddled in a corner looking like ticked-off cats.

After the museum I took the kids to one of the local Chinese buffets, as a treat. The funniest thing that happened there was me accidentally eating frog legs. Now I never have to do that again.

Finally, Ben vs. Jell-o.

All the pictures from the day can be seen in my gallery here.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

September 3, 2011 - U.S. Space and Rocket Center

This past Saturday we sent Esther on her way, up in the air, upon wings of steel and aluminum to scout out the great wastelands and unknown vast nothingness of the Wild West.

Be brave, boys... be brave.


And then we went and had some fun at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center

Could be some circa 1960 high-tech control panel, could be the controls for the sprinkler system!

Funny story... a couple of years ago I was helping give a customer at work a tour of our plant and the guy giving the tour pointed to a large, round piece of equipment at the back of the test lab and announced, "and this is the centrifuge NASA used to test the effects of a high g-force environment on the monkeys Able and Baker. We bought it at a yard sale a few years ago." Sure enough, there's a small plaque on it. Which leads me to this picture:

Flight capsule for Able/Baker.
New to the USSRC is the traveling dinosaur exhibit. 

Cast from the actual fossils of "Sue" the T-Rex. (Actual non-fossils of Ben and Jake for scale.)

One of the cooler things to play with in this section were the dino-simulators. Here's Jake playing as a triceratops that's just encountered a heard of peaceful herbivores. He was eaten by a T-Rex five seconds later. Ben managed to fare better. He actually KILLED A T-REX with his little pointy horns, laid eggs, covered the eggs, ate a plant, drank water, and POOPED. The game prompted him to POOP. To our horror, he did so on top of his freshly lain eggs. Oops. 

Jake laments the lack of rocket launcher and the ability to jump.

Minor complaint about the dino exhibit: none of the staff was checking receipts to see if anybody entering the that area had actually paid the extra cash to check it out. It cost the three of us $40 to play the games, see the replica of Sue and not much else. We could have just walked right over on the standard ticket (free in our case for our partner membership at the Anniston Museum of Natural History.)

We also walked around and looked at the rockets that have been there since before I was born. We also rode the G-Force (centrifuge ride) and Ben and I did the Space Shot while Jake recorded video from the ground. Sadly, not much has changed over the years. The Space and Rocket Center is in tremendous need of a fresh coat of paint and and update of their attractions. The G-Force is nothing more than a "Gravatron" like you find at  county fairs across the nation- there used to be a two-tier centrifuge that incorporated a projected film on the ceiling of your "travel through the solar system". The current machine, like the Space Shot, makes not even an attempt at being educational. The idea seems to be, "get spun around and feel 4x normal gravity, just like the astronauts!" and "get shot up into the sky... just like the astronauts!" 

One last complaint and then I'll shut up.

As you can see from the interstate there is a large, cool-looking, black plane parked out front. All the promotional literature calls this an SR-71 Blackbird. But it's not. The plane is an A-12 Oxcart. They look similar, but they are not the same aircraft. 

NOT a Decepticon jet. NOT flown by the X-Men.

More pictures from the day are available here, including artsy-fartsy macro shots of bits and pieces of aero-space doo-hickys.