Archive for April, 2014

Spring break: UCSC Arboretum and hummingbirds

By
April 14th, 2014



A trip to Santa Cruz, for me, wouldn't be complete without a visit to the University of California at Santa Cruz where I spent my first year after high school. It is a gorgeous campus set on more than 2,000 acres overlooking Monterey Bay.

Merrill College, one of the ten colleges that comprise UCSC

Merrill College, one of the ten colleges that comprise UCSC

We spun around the campus briefly, looked at my former college (Merrill), and spent most of the time at the arboretum, a research and teaching facility committed to plant conservation that serves both the campus and the public.

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UCSC Arboretum

UCSC Arboretum

"Its rich and diverse collection, containing representatives of more than 300 plant families, provides beginning students with a broad survey of the plant kingdom. Facilities for growing plants offer students and research faculty opportunities to experiment with living plants," says the website.

"The Arboretum maintains collections of rare and threatened plants of unusual scientific interest. Particular specialties are world conifers, primitive angiosperms, and bulb-forming plant families. Large assemblages of plants from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and California natives are displayed on the grounds. Many of the species in these collections are not otherwise available for study in American botanical gardens and arboreta."

Tour guide Mike. Thanks, Mike! You were awesome!

Tour guide Mike. Thanks, Mike! You were awesome!

We were lucky enough to get a tour with a knowledgeable and friendly volunteer named Mike, who gave us a quick look at the estimated 55 acre arboretum that included a little history lesson on the founding of the town and the school itself.

Old man banksia (Banksia serrata)

Old man banksia (Banksia serrata)

Eucalyptus caesia

Eucalyptus caesia

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Eucalyptus caesia

 

While he generously pointed out interesting plants like the cut leaf dryandra, banksia serrate, and eucalyptus casia, I must admit the most interesting section to our family was the Hummingbird Trail. This specially bred garden has a huge bush of hummingbird food.

Ruby cluster grevillea

Ruby cluster grevillea

Hummingbirds like the flowers of the ruby cluster grevillea, and this shrub is so big, it's enough to stave off the naturally-territorial birds' tendency to chase off other birds who might compete for food. In the quarter hour we stood there watching, listening, and getting educated by Mike on hummingbird behavior, we saw about 50 of the tiny birds.

Ruby cluster grevillea

Ruby cluster grevillea

Three types of hummingbirds frequent this area: Anna's, Allen's, and Rufous. They're so small and quick that it was impossible for me to get a photo for you, but maybe that just means you should come up here yourself to see it. It is a very special experience!

Hummingbirds like red, and by chance, Olivia was wearing bright pink. Perhaps it was the reason why she was able to get up close to one; Mike explained that the bird might have been flying up to see if this brightly colored shirt was a flower to eat. It was one of her trip highlights!

 

This eucalyptus tipped over in the 1989 earthquake, then kept growing horizontally. It's a living work of art!

This eucalyptus tipped over in the 1989 earthquake, then kept growing horizontally. It's a living work of art!

Other little woodland critters we saw included rabbits and quail, making this a very fun and memorable experience for our family.

If you go:

Wear walking shoes. For more information go to http://arboretum.ucsc.edu.

Spring break: Monterey Bay Aquarium

By
April 11th, 2014



Monterey Bay Aquarium on Cannery Row in Monterey.

Monterey Bay Aquarium on Cannery Row in Monterey

Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the nation's top family attractions, with one of the world's largest exhibit aquariums. It was a must-see on our family's trip itinerary!

Visitors enjoy the million-gallon Open Sea exhibit, featuring many returning visitor favorites. ©Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder

Visitors enjoy the million-gallon Open Sea exhibit, featuring many returning visitor favorites. ©Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder

The moment we walked in, it felt like we were swimming with the fishes due to the three-story aquarium with amazing views of sharks, sardines, and kelp-forest favorites. Our first stop was at the newly remodeled, million-gallon Open Sea exhibit, to watch a feeding of tuna, turtles, sharks, sardines and others.

Diver John talks to the audience during the daily fish feeding

Diver John talks to the audience during the daily fish feeding.

A friendly diver named John and a volunteer docent explained to the crowd for 15 minutes what we were seeing in this tank, as well as why each animal is important in the ocean's ecosystem. We learned about Monterey Bay's status as a marine protected area, how fish swim, and how the SCUBA equipment works; a well-rounded lecture for the many eager children sitting on the ground in front of the tank, as hungry for information as the fish were for the two-and-a-half pound of fish food John was doling out.

It was a great display, and I highly recommend you try to take in at least one daily show or feeding, as they're entertaining for both kids and adults. Show up a few minutes early to secure a seat or a spot on the floor.

Southern sea otter (Enhydra lutris) named Rosa. © Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder

Southern sea otter (Enhydra lutris) named Rosa. © Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder

Another much anticipated exhibit was the southern sea otters, housed in a two story tank so you can look at them as they romp, tumble and wrestle above or in the water. The spirited sea otters are all rescued animals, no longer able to survive in the wild.

The big surprise for Olivia is that they are much larger than they seem like in photos- about five feet long and up to 70 pounds. The big surprise for me was that they were hunted to the brink of extinction for their pelts- sad.

Spotted jelly from“The Jellies Experience.” © Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder

Spotted jelly from“The Jellies Experience.” © Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder

The Jellies is the exhibit that turned out to be my favorite. "Enter a far-out world where jellies dance, bloom and sting. These graceful and mysterious animals flaunt an array of fashions, from simple, see-through styles to vibrant colors with ruffles and beads. Some even glow when the light is just right," says the website. I could easily have sat there for an hour being mesmerized by their rhythmic movements and otherworldly glow.

More super cool looking jellies.

More super cool looking jellies.

More super cool looking jellies.

More super cool looking jellies. This photo is not upside down.

More super cool looking jellies.

More super cool looking jellies.

The Rocky Shore touch pool was fun, of course, but Olivia's favorite display was the Wave Crash gallery! We have not seen anything like that before, and all the little kids were delighted to stand under an acrylic tunnel and be "splashed" by a huge wave every half minute. The Wave Crash pumps about 600 gallons of water and "crashes" every 30 seconds. That's more than 500,000 gallons per eight-hour day.

Leopard sharks cruise a wetland pool in the Coastal Wetland to Sandy Shore exhibit in Ocean's Edge. ©Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder

Leopard sharks cruise a wetland pool in the Coastal Wetland to Sandy Shore exhibit in Ocean's Edge. ©Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder

It took us three hours to feel like we'd seen the majority of things, but if you really stopped to read each and every placard like my cousin Toni, it would take you double the time. It really is a great way to pass half a day or a whole day.

Anchovies swimming endlessly in a circle. Beautiful silver streaks.

Anchovies swimming endlessly in a circle. Beautiful silver streaks.

Founded in 1984, the mission of the non-profit Monterey Bay Aquarium is to protect ocean life for future generations by inspiring young and old with the beauty and wonder of the oceans. To that end, there is a heartbreaking display on how human carelessness kills marine life, helpful solutions as to what we can do about it now, and compelling reasons as to why you and I should care. If you'd like to support the aquarium or its conservation efforts, go to https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/support-us.

Penguin exhibit

Penguin exhibit

It's a beautifully designed aquarium and a place the entire family can enjoy. Don't miss it if you're in the area!

If you go:

Walking shoes are a must. Plan for three hours if possible so you can see it all without feeling rushed. Go early for street parking or find a nearby pay lot. More information at https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/visit.

 

Spring break: Winchester Mystery House

By
April 9th, 2014



Winchester Mystery House™ is an extravagant maze of Victorian craftsmanship – marvelous, baffling, and eerily eccentric. It's a huge house with 160 rooms built with no obvious architectural plan, constructed for 38 years until the homeowner died.

Winchester Mystery House

Winchester Mystery House

As the story from the website tells it, "In 1862, Sarah married William Wirt Winchester, son of Oliver Fisher Winchester, Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut and manufacturer of the famous Winchester repeating rifle. The couple’s life together was happy, and they moved in the best New England society. However, in 1866, disaster struck when their infant daughter, Annie, died of then mysterious childhood disease marasmus. Mrs. Winchester fell into a deep depression from which she never fully recovered. Fifteen years later, in March 1881, her husband’s premature death from tuberculosis added to Mrs. Winchester’s distress. It is said, she ultimately sought help from a spiritualist.

According to some sources, the Boston Medium consulted by Mrs. Winchester explained that her family and her fortune were being haunted by spirits – in fact, by the spirits of American Indians, Civil War soldiers, and others killed by Winchester rifles. Supposedly the untimely deaths of her daughter and husband were caused by these spirits, and it was implied that Mrs. Winchester might be the next victim.

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However, the medium also claimed that there was an alternative, Mrs. Winchester was instructed to move west and appease the spirits by building a great house for them. As long as construction of the house never ceased, Mrs. Winchester could rest assured that her life was not in danger. Building such a house was even supposed to bring her eternal life.

Mrs. Winchester’s financial resources were virtually unlimited; upon her husband’s death she received several million dollars in cash and 777 shares of stock in the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Upon her mother-in-law’s death in 1897, Mrs. Winchester received 2,000 more shares, which meant she owned just under fifty percent of the company’s capital stock. This provided her with an income of $1,000 a day – back in the days before income taxes."

In today's dollar, that would be $23,000 a day.

There are staircases that lead to the ceiling or into an eight foot drop to the floor below, miles of twisting hallways, doors of various sizes, rooms that she had sealed off to appease the spirits, a seance room, and the number 13 worked into many rooms and features (including 13 parts to her will.) It is unusual - and best experienced in person.

Claus and Olivia in Winchester Mystery House gardens

Claus and Olivia in Winchester Mystery House gardens

We enjoyed our Mansion tour, and our self-guided stroll in the gardens afterwards. I wonder what this place is like at night on a Friday the 13th?

If you go:

I recommend walking shoes as the shortest tour is 65 minutes. Reservations recommended. For more information to go http://winchestermysteryhouse.com/index.cfm.

Spring break: The Mystery Spot

By
April 7th, 2014



The Mystery Spot is a gravitational anomaly located in the redwood forests just outside of Santa Cruz, California. I have heard a fair amount about it but never been until this trip!

The Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz

The Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz

Our tour guide, Anna, explained that the Mystery Spot is a circular area of about 150 feet in diameter. As the name implies, step inside this zone and the laws of physics and gravity seem to be suspended.

Claus at the Mystery Spot

Claus at the Mystery Spot

The Mystery Spot was discovered in 1939 by a group of surveyors, who tried to build a cabin, and found that their compasses couldn't find true north, people seemed to shrink or grow taller, and balls seemed to roll uphill.  They decided to open to the public in 1940 as a mysterious attraction.

Anna poured water on this board and it ran uphill.

Anna poured water on this board and it ran uphill.

"Some speculate that cones of metal were secretly brought here and buried in our earth as guidance systems for their spacecraft. Some think that it is in fact the spacecraft itself buried deep within the ground. Other theories include carbon dioxide permeating from the earth, a hole in the ozone layer, a magma vortex, the highest dielectric biocosmic radiation known anywhere in the world, and radiesthesia. Whatever the cause is, it remains a mystery," according to the website.

Whatever it is, it was pretty amazing. A tilted cabin sits directly over the center of the spot, and once the group is assembled outside of it, the guide demonstrated some of the strange phenomena by having a ball roll uphill and water flow up a board.

Me in my Titanic pose, leaning forward

Me in my Titanic pose, leaning forward.

She then warned us that some people experience dizziness when they step inside the house, which is exactly what happened to me. I got incredibly dizzy and had a hard time walking straight.

Claus in his Matrix pose

Claus in his Matrix pose.

A few more demos in the cabin showed how people could lean at a 17 degree angle without falling, all of which amazed and delighted our group.

Optical illusion demo - people shrink or grow by two inches depending on where they stand. It's better to see this in person.

Optical illusion demo - people shrink or grow by two inches depending on where they stand. It's better to see this in person.

We asked if the wildlife in the area reacts to the mystery spot, and she said birds generally avoid it, but the few that do fly over seem to often get confused. In her five years of working there, she's seen a few fly into trees when flying over this spot. She said she's seen service dogs get upset when standing in the cabin, and that squirrels also give it a wide berth. She pointed out the redwood trees growing in the spot or on the perimeter are bent. Strange!

Crooked trees at the Mystery Spot

Crooked trees at the Mystery Spot

The tour lasts 45 minutes and Anna was extremely entertaining the entire time. It's a really fun way to spend a couple hours in the morning!

If you go:

$6 per person and $5 parking. For more information go to http://www.mysteryspot.com. Reservations recommended, and parking is limited.

Spring break: Santa Cruz

By
April 4th, 2014



I finally went back to Santa Cruz, California, a place I haven't spent much time in since I was here for a year during university. I like it more now than I ever did.

It's a shame I couldn't appreciate it as much when I actually lived here, but college was full of distractions and other decisions that felt more important at the time. I transferred out of UCSC to Menlo College after my first year, and my path of travel thereafter really never included Santa Cruz.

It's like a time warp. Memories and feelings were much sharper when I was standing in the exact place that these things happened. It was interesting to revisit decades old memories.

Santa Cruz Boardwalk as seen from Steamer Lane

Santa Cruz Boardwalk as seen from Steamer Lane

As I remembered, Santa Cruz is still a totally mellow place and a great choice for a family - kind of like a California version of Kailua. We took in an activity or two per day, and did it at a very leisurely pace.

A couple mornings in a row we ate at bakery called The Buttery, which lives up to its name. Oh, yum. Olivia asked me if I could work at a bakery like that if I do have to get a job. I guess that's the big seal of approval, huh?

The Buttery in Santa Cruz

The Buttery in Santa Cruz

I liked walking along Pacific Avenue and the wharf. At the latter, we walked to the end to see sea lions. They sun on the pilings under the pier and raft in the water. They bark at each other. The whole thing is entertaining.

Pacific Avenue shopping street in Santa Cruz

Pacific Avenue shopping street in Santa Cruz

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Cowell's Beach in Santa Cruz, the first place I ever tried to surf - which was in PE class in university.

Cowell's Beach in Santa Cruz, the first place I ever tried to surf - which was in PE class in university.

 

Claus and Olivia looking at sea lions under the pier.

Claus and Olivia looking at sea lions under the pier.

 

Sea lions in a raft by the wharf.

Sea lions in a raft by the wharf.

Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz

Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz

We spent half a day at Natural Bridges State Beach, so named for a bridge like rock formation created through years of erosion. "This beach, with its famous natural bridge, is an excellent vantage point for viewing shore birds, migrating whales, and seals and otters playing offshore. Further along the beach, tidepools offer a glimpse of life beneath the sea. Low tides reveal sea stars, crabs, sea anemones, and other colorful ocean life," describes the website. Olivia loved running along the shore and finding sea life (mostly dead, some alive).

Tide pools at Natural Bridges State Beach

Tide pools at Natural Bridges State Beach

This park offers a hiking option as well. If you head inland you can take a very short walk along a well-maintained walkway to see the Monarch Grove, which "provides a temporary home for up to 100,000 Monarchs.  From late fall into winter, the Monarchs form a 'city in the trees.' The area's mild seaside climate and eucalyptus grove provide a safe place for monarchs to roost until spring," further explains the website. When the weather gets warmer, they migrate again.

Monarch Grove in Natural Bridges State Beach

Monarch Grove in Natural Bridges State Beach

Unfortunately, we had just missed the hibernation by a month, so by now, all the butterflies had woken up and flown off. There were still a few fluttering around the forest but nothing noteworthy.

The ocean is always cold there, even in the summer. However, our hotel had a nice, heated pool, which may have been someone's highlight of the day!

Hotel Paradox pool (Courtesy Hotel Paradox)

Hotel Paradox pool (Courtesy Hotel Paradox)

All in all, a relaxing day in a lovely beach town.

If you go:

Natural Bridges State Beach is a day use beach. Parking is $10. Information at http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=541.

 

 

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