Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Fairytale Town

Jill's Journal: It didn’t take long for the girls to declare what will undoubtedly remain their favorite thing in Sacramento: Fairytale Town. Yes, that’s Humpty Dumpty on the wall at the entrance.

We started in King Arthur’s Castle. Fairytale Town is 2 1/2 acres of walking (or bounding, as the girls excitedly did) through the pages of all the most popular story books and/or nursery rhymes of childhood. It’s been around for 52 years. It is adorable. The girls loved every minute of our time there. I enjoyed it almost as much as they did.

This, of course, would be Madelyn pretending to be the Old Woman in the Shoe. Located in the William Land Park, Fairytale Town is pretty much a small child’s dream. There are nearly 30 “play sets” where the kids can play in scenes from childhood books. This giant shoe, for instance, is actually a slide.

The Crooked Mile was a favorite and the girls bounced along the very crooked, raised path (that represented a mile) three separate times. “That’s a REALLY crooked mile!” declared Victoria. Of course, the crooked man’s crooked house was at the crooked end.

This is Mary’s Little Lamb, who had a schoolhouse in her pen. Erika is our extreme animal lover and she loved all the live animals best of all, including the Three Billy Goats Gruff, the Three Blind Mice, Charlotte (the spider, of course), and Eeyore, the donkey from Winnie the Pooh.

And who could forget the Three Little Pigs? Apparently they were Vietnamese Pot-Bellied Pigs. Notice their house of bricks still standing. There was no sign of the Big Bad Wolf.

Madelyn and Victoria thought the best part was Mr. McGregor’s Garden because they got to water it to their hearts’ content. A real Peter Rabbit was close by (as was Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail).

We also found Sherwood Forest, Jack and Jill’s hill, the Little Engine that Could, Jack’s Beanstalk (along with a giant foot), Farmer Brown’s Barn, the Tortoise and the Hare, and many others. Fairytale Town just might be the unofficial cutest playground ever for little kids. We loved it!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sutter’s Fort

Jill's Journal: Kids who grew up in California have undoubtedly had the name “Sutter’s Fort” emblazoned in their memories from the annals of California history. Kids who grew up outside of California have probably never heard of the place, or at the very most had it relegated to a footnote about the 1849 Gold Rush in their U.S. History textbooks. Sutter’s Fort represents the start of Sacramento (the great state of California’s capital), the beginning of agriculture in California, and, perhaps most importantly, the onset of the Gold Rush and mass settling of the West.

Just Erika and Madelyn explored Sutter’s Fort with me today while Victoria stayed home for some quiet time while her Daddy worked. The sudden (for us) triple-digit temperatures do not sit well with the youngest member of our family. The heat turns our normally happy, smiley little one into a very cranky and miserable child. Poor thing.

Inside the fort, this is the main building where Johann (John) Augustus Sutter conducted his business and entertained his guests. Born a few miles from the Swiss border in Germany, Sutter considered himself Swiss. He left his wife, five children, and a string of bad debts and angry creditors behind when he sailed for America in 1834. His business ventures in Kansas City, Missouri also failed. He abandoned his problems there as well and borrowed and swindled his way west. After heading first to Hawaii and then Alaska, he became a Mexican citizen in 1840 to qualify for his grant of 50,000 acres of land that would become the base of Sacramento. He eventually controlled 191,000 acres, or almost 300 square miles of land, reaching from Sacramento north to the present-day town of Redding.

Sutter built his adobe fort, which he called “New Helvetia” or New Switzerland. He eventually employed hundreds of local Indians in his fields and ran 30 plows a day. At the height of his empire, he had 12,000 head of cattle, 2,000 horses and mules, between 10,000 and 15,000 sheep, and 1,000 hogs.

In the fort itself, he had everything from a blacksmith shop to a weaving business to a bakery, gunsmith shop, carpentry shop, cooper’s shop, distillery, and more. Many of the rooms, like this trade store, are set up to resemble what they may have looked like at the time.

Sutter’s Fort was well known in its day as a temporary refuge for weary travelers. Sutter generously housed them, fed them, and gave them supplies for free. He actively recruited settlers from across America and Europe. He was also instrumental in the rescue of the Donner Party, the 89 members of a wagon train who became trapped in the Sierra Nevada Mountains during the winter of 1846-47 in high snow. It was Sutter who sent rescuers and brought back the 47 survivors, who famously survived by eating the flesh of their dead companions. Patty Reed, a child in the party, donated the doll she carried with her during the harrowing winter to Sutter’s Fort after her death as appreciation for the care Sutter gave her family and traveling companions. It is still on display today (although is currently being restored and was unavailable to view on this day).

In 1847, Sutter had a man named James W. Marshall build a sawmill about 50 miles east of the fort. It was here that Marshall discovered gold in 1848 while installing the mill. Sutter originally tried to keep the discovery a secret, but there was no keeping it quiet. Thousands flocked to the area to seek their fortune. In 1849, during the height of the Gold Rush, they trampled Sutter’s fields, squatted on his land, stole his livestock, and swindled him out of his holdings. His debts began piling up again. He lost the fort later that year, but was reunited with his wife and children in 1850 (after 16 years of separation) on his ranch in Marysville (about 40 miles north of Sacramento).

Sutter and his fort were clearly pivotal in the development of not just Sacramento, but in the settling of California. He is a flawed and fascinating historical figure. Erika particularly enjoyed learning about him and the time in history. What a little traveler she is becoming! She had the map of the fort and loved serving as navigator for our little party. She listened to every word of every part of the audio tour. Here she’s showing some other kids what adobe mud walls feel like underneath the layer of stucco/plaster/whatever it is on the outside.

After touring Sutter’s Fort, we picked up our other family members for dinner at Nagato Sukiyaki, a restaurant Rob remembers visiting often as a child with his family (he grew up about two hours away and Sacramento was one of the two large towns his family frequented on regular shopping trips). The Japanese restaurant has had the same owners since it opened 41 years ago and it was so neat for Rob to relive some of those childhood memories with his own kids. Pretty special (and darn good food to boot).

Monday, August 29, 2011

Welcome to California

Jill's Journal: California’s magnificent Mt. Shasta beckoned us beginning around Klamath Falls, Oregon. We eventually passed the great mountain as we continued down the middle of the state to Sacramento, our home for the next 10 days or so.

Sunburned and mosquito-bitten from our time at Crater Lake, we left Oregon with smiles on our faces and lots of happy memories. But the instant we crossed the state line, we were abruptly reminded we were back in California. The road immediately changed from smooth and clean to rough with patchwork fixes of potholes. The graffiti started on buildings. Suddenly there were almost as many signs in Spanish as there were in English. The gas prices went up. The marked difference in…well, everything was crazy.

We returned to California nearly the same way we left it three months ago… That time was a blow-out, this time merely a flat. Because it wasn’t on a terribly busy road and it was on the passenger side, Rob changed this one himself.

The temperature climbed too…

And for the first time, the campground we’re staying in warned us to lock up our bikes.

Oh yes, welcome to California, indeed. There is much to like about the Golden State and we’ll certainly enjoy our time here, but there is definitely an element of culture shock every time we come here. Other than New York, we feel that adjustment more in California than anywhere else in the country. That probably sounds crazy since Rob and I both grew up in California and we know it well, but it’s true!

We’re going to hit some major highlights in the next few weeks/months -– places Rob and I have never been to (Yosemite, Death Valley, etc.) in spite of growing up here. I think we’ll manage to get over that "culture shock" pretty quickly. :)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Today's little ditty - a song in the tune of The Twelve Days...

On our journey back to Cali, this is what we saw...

12 (Hundred) Crazy Drivers
11 Highway Rest Stops
10 Near Collisions
9 Coca-cola's
8 construction areas
7 awesome vistas
6 missed phonecalls...
4 children's flicks
3 tired kids
2 done parents
and a campground that's nearly empty.....

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Cat’s Out of the Bag

Jill's Journal: The secret is out. This probably surprises no one but us, but we have fallen in love with Oregon. It’s not Maine, but what can possibly be as grand as Maine? With Maine, we fell instantly, madly, deeply, crazy, head-over-heels in love. Oregon has been different. It’s been a slowly-building appreciation that has gradually turned into love.

Oregon is an awfully nice substitute for all the glory and wonderment of Maine. We have enjoyed it tremendously.

We came into the state with no expectations and very little knowledge about the 10th-largest state. Now even the kids can rattle off random facts like Oregon, Washington, and Idaho are the three states that once made up the Oregon Territory. Some of British Columbia was originally part of it also, but was ceded to England. Oregon officially became a state in 1859, not long before the Civil War. It is said she entered the Union to help balance the slave vs. non-slave states.

Enough of that. But after all this time, we sort of feel like “locals.” Proud locals, at that.

We’d thought it would take us somewhere between four to six weeks to cover Oregon and then we’d move on. Instead it’s been twelve weeks and we’re truly sad to go.

Plus we’ve finally gotten used to not pumping our own gas. We’ve certainly gotten used to not paying sales tax. We’ve grown accustomed to the natural beauty, the friendly people, the mild weather, and the easy-going lifestyle. And Madelyn, in all her wisdom, really likes the Tillamook yogurt and other dairy products here. (“These are the best we’ve had so far; we should move here someday.”)

Who knows what the future holds for us and we certainly have many more foreseeable years of traveling left, but Oregon goes on “the list.”

*Disclaimer: We haven’t been to Montana yet! We’re pretty certain we’re going to love Montana.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Around the World at Crater Lake

Jill's Journal: Is this Santorini, Greece?

Hawaii? Or how about Jamaica?

Lake Tahoe?


Utah’s Zion?

Maybe a zoo?

No, no, no, no, no, and no! All these images are from Crater Lake today. WHAT a place. And yes, that is Rob leaping off a 20-foot precipice and into the water!

Crater Lake was like glass today. We could not have gone to the water line on a better day. Just look at that reflection.

Another reflection. Look how perfectly the clouds in the sky are mirrored on the lake. By the way, on the ridge is the Crater Lake Lodge. What a view guests have.

We finally made it on the boat tour. Third time was a charm. Our Wednesday tour was cancelled due to threat of weather and our morning tour today was cancelled due to a captain quitting. We were so happy to be accommodated on an afternoon boat today.

But this sign at the top of the trail made me worry. One hundred-fifty flights of stairs! We’d heard earlier it was only 65 flights. I guess at that point, what’s another 85 flights of stairs, right?

And honestly, the trail wasn’t bad. The joke is it’s 1.1 miles down but feels like 11 miles up because of the 724 feet of elevation change. But we all did fine and were surprised when we reached the top so quickly. We asked the girls at the end which was worse: the Crater Lake climb or the Oregon Trail hike we did a few weeks ago. We got an emphatic, unanimous Oregon Trail vote! At least that historic place will be forever burned into their memories. :)

The boat tour itself was nice, but our ranger guide was very technical and the girls quickly lost interest, especially as they couldn't see over the sides without standing on the seats (which was only permitted for brief periods). Our guide actually cracked me up as she was a clone of Sarah Palin’s in both voice and mannerisms.

Our two youngest got sick of being stuck on a boat for nearly two hours without really being able to see out and got pretty restless and crabby. This is a very mad Madelyn who had just told me she was “sick of looking at beautiful scenery!”

The water was just amazing. There is no color like Crater Lake Blue. The clarity is second to none; in fact, the world record for how deep one can see in the water was set at Crater Lake at an astounding 143 feet. Rob’s childhood home of Lake Tahoe is known for its clarity as well, but that registers at “only” between 40 and 80 feet. I was once in the Cayman Islands where visibility was at around 100 feet (I could see scuba divers swimming beneath me!), but clearly even places like the Caribbean don’t quite measure up to Crater Lake.

The boat tour took us on the perimeter of the entire lake, plus around both Wizard Island and Phantom Ship. One of the most wild spots was at Phantom Ship. Immediately around the rock structure, the water was only about 12 feet deep. However, one could clearly see something the rangers call “the Blue Line.” It was like there was a line drawn in the water, where the color abruptly changed from the shallow teals to the deep blue. And sure enough, in a matter of only three feet, the water depth drops more than 1,000 feet.

I had to show this shot of Rob leaping into the water again (after the boat ride) because the girls so wanted to follow him into the water. And to be honest, I wanted to also! It looked so fun and refreshing. But alas, the girls aren’t ready to be leaping off cliffs and I didn’t bring my bathing suit (not that that stopped other people!).

The ranger told us the water is 55 degrees until you are five feet below the surface; at that point, it drops to a constant 38 degrees.

Here are the girls at the top of the trail, happy to be done with the climb. Victoria had our favorite line of the hike, “I’m so tired I just need to go to bed.” Those words have never before crossed her lips! Clearly there should be much more hiking in our future. :)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Picnic at the Lake

Jill's Journal: Apparently it’s impossible to take a bad picture of Crater Lake. Here’s the beautiful scene yesterday, when we were scheduled to go on a boat tour. We arrived on the rim only to find all boat tours for the day were cancelled. Apparently there was a hint of a storm brewing on the lake and the rangers don’t take any chances. We were disappointed, but better to be safe than sorry. And we were thankful they cancelled before we did that brutal hike to the bottom…not after!! We then grabbed the last few tickets available during our stay (on another day), so hopefully the weather on the lake cooperates and we’ll still get to go.

If you look closely, you can see the wind patterns on the water.

We had planned to picnic at the bottom before our boat tour, so we called an audible and instead hiked the Discovery Point area, looking for a nice quiet ridge to enjoy our lunch. I think we found it.

Discovery Point is the area where the first non-Native American to lay eyes on the lake discovered it. He was a prospector looking for gold and plodding along on his mule when the mule suddenly stopped short. Startled, he looked up and found himself only a couple of feet from the edge.

“I knew when I gazed upon Crater Lake that even though the West was filled with undiscovered wonders, Crater Lake would hold its own.” –John Wesley Hillman

Even the critters enjoy the view here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wildflowers, Butterflies, and Volcanoes

Jill's Journal: Yesterday we took a series of three easy hikes in Crater Lake National Park. The girls’ favorite, by far, was the Castle Crest Wildflower Garden. Not only were the hillsides of wildflowers and streams beautiful, but these white and black butterflies were everywhere. We’ve seen hundreds upon hundreds of them in the area and the girls have not tired of them.

The most memorable of the three hikes for us was probably a visit to Lady of the Woods, not because of the unfinished rock carving, but because we learned the hard way the boulders around it are slippery!

And finally, we took the mile hike to see The Pinnacles. These unusual volcanic formations are in a canyon next to the former East Entrance to Crater Lake.

Here are the girls at the now-defunct East Entrance. It’s been closed for nearly 40 years. Although covered with new-growth pine trees, the former road can still be clearly seen through the surrounding forest.