Weiss Earth Science Museum

So, tariffs reigned supreme in the media this past week, pitting congress against the white house yet again.  Actually, the White House, itself, is divided in result of this latest move- I believe the chief economic advisor said ‘hasta la vista’ to Trump a few days ago.

Is the economy going to tank or will the US steel and aluminum industries start booming again?  Hell, I don’t know, not remotely qualified to answer those questions.  However, I do know where steel and aluminum originate.  That’s right, before they are finished in a factory they start from good old mother earth.  So in celebration of yet another Trump political fiasco, I figured I’d visit the Weiss Earth Science Museum at the UW-Fox Valley campus.

I know, the Paris Climate Accord would seem a better angle at current affairs.  The climate accord is a climate driven pact, and the Weiss Earth Science Museum is a mineralogical museum, however.  So, minerals taken from the earth, to create and manufacture common goods, seemed a more relevant topic.

As I reach the gift shop/reception desk, I’m stunned.  The price of the museum, besides one other, is the cheapest Museum I’ve visited.  The fee for an adult is an affordable three dollars.  Immediately, I start considering the wisdom of driving thirty minutes to visit this tiny place.  Why is it so cheap?

As I enter, I spy some underwhelming fossils in rock.  I wonder if that’s the highlights of this small collection.  Plus, I recall the receptionist’s words as I paid my two dollars, “We are doing some remodeling.  So, there are glass cases strewn about-please excuse our mess.”  She recited these words in a businesslike fashion, without a smile.  I feel like I’ve visited a family member when their house is in disarray, border line intrusion.

Yet, I turn a corner and my anxiety melts away.  Before me lie the most prolific geological specimens one could hope to retrieve from the earth’s crust.  Dinosaur skulls and a femur, the latter I’m encouraged to touch, adorn a dark corner.  My hand glides over the smooth femur, feeling like light sanded wood.   Unbelievably,  65 million years ago this was propelling a biological machine, totally unaware that one day it would be an interesting artifact.

Also, along with the Dinosaur bones, I’m captivated by a replicated nest with actual dinosaur eggs.  The species has been Identified after  fossilized embryo’s were detected inside the eggs.  That’s simply amazing.

I leave the Dinosaur eggs behind and peruse a brief snippet on mining.  Included in this bit, copper mines Native Americans conceived are mentioned.  Of course, in Wisconsin, one must know the reason for our nick name.  No, I don’t mean ‘America’s Dairy land’,  I mean ‘the Badger State’.

Wisconsin’s Pioneers didn’t happen upon herds of  ill-tempered black, grey and white creatures and label Wisconsin accordingly.  Actually, miners of lead were very prominent in the pioneer days.  These miners were known as badgers and pride in that heritage earned the State’s Identity, which endures today as the nickname of the UW’s flagship school in Madison.

After the mining exhibit, I find a time line, a brief sketch of 2.5 billion years of geological evolution.  The time line begins with the Pre Cambrian era and works its way towards the Ice Age.  There’s the basic layout of the earth at a given time frame, then information specific to Wisconsin.   As evidence of the claims the giant placards are making, Mastodon tusks, fossils and more lie with the appropriate era.  I find it interesting and mindboggling to realize Wisconsin was once underneath a shallow sea, located near the equator.

I end the visit with a discovery of rocks and minerals, cased in glass and begging observation.  Its dark in here, and the geological specimens aren’t dull.  They shimmer and sparkle in the light of the cases.  Amethyst, fluorite, pyrite and more ignites my imagination, guessing what just might lie under my feet.

There are other small exhibits to enjoy, like one on ground water.  As I said, the museum is small and I’m finished in about half an hour.  I enjoyed my time and felt that I was both entertained and informed.  I’ve jostled my memory banks and dusted off that grade school geology class education.  Of course, with the aide of exhibits like actual Dinosaur bones, relearning is simply fun.

The UW-Fox Valley Campus is located in Menasha.  If you’re in the fox cities area and looking for a cheap way to kill time, I would suggest this place.  It screams school boy destination, having cool rocks and dinosaur bones.  Not to mention, a few other unidentified artifacts incited the word ‘Cool’ to be uttered from my own mouth.

Considering the price, which I  believe is actually cheaper than a Big Mac at McDonald’s, you’re really not losing much if you disagree with my sentiments.  However, I think you’ll agree that there are some rather interesting and cool artifacts to see.

Monday-Friday 12pm-3pm

Saturday 10am-5pm

Sunday 1pm-5pm

Adults $3.00  Seniors and teens $2.00 children 3-12 1.00 and under 3 are free.

The Milton House – a symbol of courageous quests for freedom

Courageous battles seem to be a cliché in the media today.  I’m not saying people don’t struggle, many overcoming, or succumbing to, horrible ordeals, and I don’t mean to demean those stories as exaggerations of ones fortitude. As I give this some thought, everyone one has had strife to endure in their life. Some battles are more profound, or maybe simply more public, than others.  I just feel that, these days, the media outlets salivate over the next cancer survivor or harassed transgendered individual.

In museums, places you know I love if you’re a frequent reader of my blog, there are many examples of toil and struggle.  It seems examples of life’s hardships are everywhere.  Yet, a few days ago, I sat in an old root cellar and contemplated the words courage and brave, as I vividly sensed what those men and women, who used the cellar for safe passage, must have felt.

It was there, amongst pioneer period artifacts, that I realized I’m not as benevolent as I would like to believe.  I doubt I would have had the resolve, the courage, the ingenuity or planning to have pulled off what Joseph Goodrich achieved.  Spurred by a religious belief, borne from the Seven Day Baptist faith, he helped many attain their freedom.  I’m not going to say he gave them their freedom, everyone he helped fought equally hard and were genuinely brave for chasing that dream.  However, Joseph Goodrich, blessed with both hearty morals and sound business sense, provided a path of hope for those souls brave enough to follow it.

I’ll write a short background, before recalling my tour.  Like I mentioned, Joseph Goodrich was a Seven Day Baptist, arriving in Milton before Wisconsin reached statehood.  The Seven Day Baptist faith is a very strict religion, frowning upon Alcohol, Tobacco and, most importantly to my visit, slavery.  As a matter of fact, Seven Day Baptists were abolitionists before it was a popular movement in the Northern States.

Also important to note, while Wisconsin was not a slave state, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 prohibited the aide of runaway slaves.  This was enforced with severe financial penalties, and Jail time.  Not to mention, slaves were often maimed, or worse, when returned to their masters.

Today I visit a structure that ignored those laws, putting a higher value on God’s will and Freedom.

When I begin the tour, It has nothing to do with the underground railroad.  Instead, there is another plight for freedom and the American dream being aided.  I stand in a lobby, where many pioneers chasing a fresh start at life, once stood in search of a comfortable bed.  The building’s shape and material is of great interest, being that of a hexagon and constructed of limestone mortar, said to be the first in the country of such material.

I delight at an authentic registry book as signatures with great penmanship, despite the use of a quill, gives a glimpse at the men and women who spent the night.  We climb the winding staircase that adheres to the six walls of the building.

As we reach the top, we find small rooms that would have provided much needed rest.   The building does have a sense of classiness.  It was definitely not designed for the well to do, yet, not a crude rudimentary boarding house either.  There is a dignified and refined aura that anyone traveling by wagon, and later by train, would have felt.

Attached to the hexagonal hotel is what the tour guides call a ‘frontier strip mall’.  Businesses enjoyed prominence in the city of Milton inside this rectangular building.  Today, the museum lobby and an old ‘General Store’ among a few other things are housed in the structure, which was refaced due to a fault with the limestone mortar.

Set apart from these structures are old cabins, which Joseph Goodrich and his family once lived in before the newer buildings were built.  That becomes important later.

We approach the civil war portion of the tour.  Here, in an upstairs room, we learn of the city of Milton’s involvement in the war.  What I find cool, besides the rifles and a bugle from the period, is a photo of the survivors of the conflict.  Every single man in the photo told of life foreign, yet, somehow familiar to my upbringing. Their well manicured mustache’s and Union Uniforms seem evidence of a past that my Grandparents brought to life, by tales of their own Grandparents.

We descend into the root cellar, where folding chairs wait a sober audience. The disparity of the rooms of the hotel and the grit of the cellar are glaring. Here, the evidence of Joseph Goodrich’s involvement in the under ground railroad is on display.   We are shown a written account of a freed slave talking of the Milton House as a safe haven.  However, the coolest evidence is waiting just around a corner.

Before I get to that, I’d like to explain the route that is believed these slaves followed.  It is believed they were from the Western part of the south, coming from states like Arkansas.  They followed the Mississippi River, branching off to the rock river,  and then cut across southern Wisconsin.  They reached the shore of lake Michigan, in Racine, and were ferried to Canada.  There is written account of about 100 slaves gaining freedom from the boat in Lake Michigan.

The coolest part of the tour is the underground tunnel, which brought the slaves from a log cabin to the root cellar.  The tunnel can’t be more than two feet wide, but is quite tall.  When we arrive at the cabin, which now is graced with a staircase instead of the original hole in the floor, I’m stunned at how authentic and well preserved the structure is.  I imagine being on the run, hurried into the most simplistic of log cabins, dropped into a tunnel and hiding in a root cellar, which was directly under the hotel dining table.

I’ve never experienced a museum quite like this.  It’s pioneer hotel meets local history and first and foremost, an authentically preserved piece of the underground railroad.

This place brings to light the most turbulent time of the United States past, giving credit to some of its heroes.

I apologize for no photos of the tour.  It was requested that I didn’t take any, of course I obliged.

Unfortunately the museum hours are rather minimal.  10-4 Monday-thursday

The Milwaukee Public Museum-great learning environment for all.

It feels, in this day and age, that one needs an alluring subject, or focus, to create an interesting place.  Their are tons of museums these days, a broad typical ‘public museum’ seems like an unwise investment of time.  There are natural observatories, museums on science and industry, railroad museums, airplane museums and everything else under the sun.

If I may, I’m going to disagree with my opening sentiment.  I mean, where else can a child, or a grown man for that matter, go to find dinosaur fossils and a live butterfly room under the same roof?  Believe it or not, there is a venue inside of Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Public Museum.  This is only the second museum I’ve blogged about labeled as a public museum.  Both are very different, yet, somewhat the same.

This museum stands out because, of course, attention is paid to the local history, covered in  an exhibit where replicated business fronts give you that home town main street feel.  Mainly, the museum does fall in line with what one expects from a big city museum, and a little more.  They may not be world class exhibits, but really, the artifacts under this roof, along with replicas, provides a learning environment for all that explore its halls.

I walk into a very commercial entrance where, beside the ticket counter, resides a coffee shop, with an enormous gift shop just down the way.  Also, tucked away in a couple of corners, a planetarium and a magnificent wooly mammoth skeleton start the museum experience off right.

We purchase our tickets and ascend a flight of steps.  The first things to greet us are skeletons, featuring everything from a humpback whale, suspended overhead, to a flesh eating dinosaur.  Already, I’m delighted, and have not even begun to explore the contents of this first level.

Front and center, as I gaze beyond the stairs I have climbed, lies prizes of the museum that have been here for quite awhile.  The museum, itself, is a historical institution, being chartered in 1882 and open to the public in 1884-that’s 134 years of public service.  It may not be that impressive when set against a world stage, but considering this is Wisconsin, and immigrants were still flowing into the state at the time, its a marvelous thought.

We meander through the exhibits on this floor.  Really, the amount of artifacts and replicated scenes, on this first of three floors, is enough to satisfy anyone.  Like I have mentioned, there’s an old town Milwaukee exhibit and also one focused on old world Europe.  We find a Dinosaur exhibit, where there might not be a ton of fossils.  Yet, the ones that are there, including a giant T-rex skull, are enough to thrill any young boy, including myself.

I just mentioned boys being thrilled.  What about the ladies and girls? In a glass chamber on this same level, much like a green house, flutter hundreds of butterflies.  Every color of the spectrum is represented across the many different species’ wings.  If you’re lucky, one might find your body a suitable resting place, creating the perfect photo opportunity.  My companion is so enthralled with the exhibit that we return after experiencing the rest of the Museum.

There is an array of learning opportunities on this level, from creepy crawlies to geological specimens and everything in between.  I have a hard time grasping the  suggestion that earth’s land was once one supercontinent, (Pangea) that is said to have existed millions of years ago. That is only one feature of the abundant topics on this floor.  The exhibits, of both the past and present, concerning the life and the earth that sustains it reign supreme.  The first floor, itself, was worth the price of admission.

We leave the natural exhibits of earth behind and survey the second floor.  Here Native Americans are highlighted, from sports they played to buffalo they hunted.  There are placards explaining the Indians plight from the invaders coming from the east.

The Wisconsin woodland Indians are featured here, so are replicated buildings of homes constructed by native Americans.  Here, besides the focus on Native Americans lie the special exhibits.  We didn’t purchase the tickets and I’m glad we didn’t.   By the time we’re done with this floor, my mind is overloaded with exhibits and information.

However, we continue to the third and final floor.  It is here that all of the world’s history is found.  From Egypt and Jerusalem to Muslim and Asian.  I find decorative pieces and some that are flat out creepy.  Take, for instance, the canopic jars used for Egyptian burial, containing the organs of the deceased.

There are also weapons and shields here.  I find a cool room on Japan’s samurai warriors, complete with swords dating back thousands of years.  Other wartime hardware from different civilizations can be found on this floor.

Far removed from that are other Interesting bits. There is a replica of a Middle Eastern market place.  Also, Pre-Columbian artifacts, that spurn the imagination, live within these walls.  Tombs, pottery and more interest me as I’m imagining the many different worlds that called the earth home.

There is also an oceanic display, complete with sea turtles and sharks, only models of course.  I sweat in a small circular room, near the exhibit, to experience shell life of the ocean.  When I’m finished with the final floor,  I’m both exhausted and elated.  That was fun!

The layout of the museum is somewhat confusing.  You really have to backtrack and explore every twist and turn to make sure you don’t miss something.  Yet, their presentation is amazing.  It took a lot of work to make this place interesting and demonstrative in so many ways.  I applaud there efforts.

Monday-Friday 10am-5pm

Saturday 9am-5pm

Sunday 11pm-5pm

Ticket prices- $18 for adult $12 for children(5-13) $14 for seniors and active military.

Museums on Milwaukee’s Lakefront

It’s been a while since I’ve lived in Brew Town, almost two decades ago.  The two attractions I’m posting about did not exist, as they stand today, when I made my brief stint in this particular city, as their buildings are rather new additions.  I wish that they had.  They were fun, interesting, and were exhibited in beautiful buildings worth the price of admission.

I’ll start off by saying that, as I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I’m not a huge art lover.  I could, maybe, rattle off a handful of well known artists.  However, despite that fact, I took one look at an architectural wonder that housed art, both modern and classic, and was sold.  That architectural wonder resides on Milwaukee’s Lakefront.

Along with the art museum stands another venue, focusing on science and technology.  The Discovery World museum, from what I read, sounded somewhat appealing.  As it turned out, as there are a ton of interactive exhibits, I felt it was geared more for children.  Yet, I delighted in areas such as the Reiman Aquarium.

I make my way from an underground parking garage to the admission desk of Discovery world.  I receive a discount, as I am a veteran, and am permitted to examine the exhibits.  Leaving the desk,  I find myself striding a sleek and stylish hall lined with glass panels, overlooking the spider webbed fractures in the Ice of  Lake Michigan.

Entering the aquatic area, I feel a certain sense of appreciation for the individuals that worked on this educational Exhibit.  It’s cool to survey the Great Lakes, replicated to scale, as a model of the watershed lies before me in a giant room.  Along with the Lakes, the cities, such as Milwaukee and Toronto, that benefit from these bodies of water are labeled in their corresponding locations.

I find my way to a staircase and discover a model of schooner when I reach the top.  The vessel appears to be suspended in air, as I venture aboard.  This is Wisconsin’s flagship dubbed the ‘Dennis Sullivan’.  Around the schooner are all sorts of interactive exhibits.  I take notice of a feature on ground water in the city.

Leaving the exhibits behind, a flight of stairs descend into my favorite part of the Museum.  The Reiman Aquarium has various marine life cased in glass.  These fish can be viewed in some fun ways- the setting is immensely enjoyable.  Along with the Aquarium, a model of a submarine allows for some fun educational experiences.

Beyond the Aquatic area lies a second exhibit area.  Here, There is a gamut of interactive displays.  Heavy equipment to robotics exhibits can lend some insight, especially to the group of school children that happen to be visiting this day.

Although there are some great features here, I’m slightly let down.  It seems there could be more to experience.  Like I said, the aquarium was very cool.  Yet, I’m done in less than an hour.  Possibly, if I had brought children the time spent would have been longer.  The museum is adding an addition and I’ll be more than happy to visit once its done.

I drive from one underground parking garage to the next.  This time I find myself under a monumental structure, finished in 2015, designed by Eero Saarinen, David Kahler and Santiago Calatrava. The addition of the building literally changes the impression I have of the lakefront’s landscape, even the parking garage is attractive.

As I enter the enormous lobby, I’m struck by the artistic prowess of the designers.  Not only is the building hip, stylish, artistically breath-taking, and simply mind-blowing, it also houses some pretty cool art.

I’m amused, beginning to stroll the high white walls of the modern art exhibits, as this is exactly how I’ve always envisioned a trendy art museum.  I’m not thrilled nor am I bored.  I don’t find the art mega interesting either.  My state of mind rests somewhere in the middle of these adjectives.  I’m taking in creativity and skill at its pinnacle, as they’re expressed with vessels such as wood, rock, steel and canvas.

Set off from the high white walls, lie darker hued borders encompassing older classic art.  There is much to view from European to Egyptian and Mediterranean  I’ve experienced classic art in a world class venue before, this does not fall far short.

As I’ve admitted, I know very few artists.  Today, I learn new names as I discover some striking pieces, especially those on canvas.  Among those works and names, one is Francisco de Zurbanan.  His portrayal of St. Francis is quite dark.  I’m left imagining dark wizards of non existant realms, not a representative of the Catholic church.

I find myself struck by works as I work my way through the four floors.  There are compelling sculptures, wood carving and brilliant paintings.  When I’m finished I’m refreshed and satisfied.  This is what an art museum should be.

I don’t have the insight of an art critic, or even educated one appreciates such subjects.  However, these pieces register both on an intellectual and emotional level for me.  I experience that emotion one has when someone discovers something pleasing.

These two venues are set in freshly constructed buildings, even if the museums have existed long before.  Its a trendy answer to neighboring Chicago’s Museum campus although their is more to be experienced in the windy city.  One must pay for parking at both lakefront Museums, but compared to Chicago’s Prices the admission is quite reasonable.

I enjoyed the time spent and will return to these sights

EAA Aviation Museum- mega interesting

Flying a private or military aircraft is a dangerous endeavor, for obvious reasons.  Yet, many are drawn to the open skies and the thrill of harnessing the winds, attempting to conquer Earth’s atmospheric forces.  In Oshkosh, there is a museum that celebrates that passion, as it holds a collection of replicas, past military craft, cool private aircraft and early commercial ventures.  That place is the EAA Aviation Museum.

I just want to say that I’m not an aircraft enthusiast, although I have a short background in aircraft maintenance.  If you include schooling, I have spent about six years in the field, flying only one aircraft in that time-that was with an instructor of course.  That being said, I didn’t share the same love of aviation as my colleagues, some who could identify any craft flying through the sky.  From my point of view, maintaining aircraft was simply a decent paying career.

I do find aircraft interesting, and that’s how the EAA museum left it’s mark on me.  I wasn’t thrilled or awed, but delighted by its aura and some of the original exhibits.  The museum displays thought provoking pieces, including a craft that never took to the air.

I make a start, as I leave the admission desk behind, into the upper level where two aged volunteers are waiting.  A frank gentleman, with a genuine but professional demeanor, spreads a map in front of me.  He points out exhibits and gives me an overview.  I’m impatient to start, but his presentation is so genuine, I doubt any was truly rehearsed.  He inspires a few questions from me and then I’m on my way.

The first thing I discover is purely trivial.  It is a great example of how this museum not only has aircraft, but interesting artifacts one might never have imagined.  I’m drawn to a propeller piece of a crashed aircraft, transformed into a picture frame.  The pilot of the doomed plane, having died in the wreck, was a famed dancer, credited with popularizing and perfecting the Foxtrot along with his wife, who was also his dance partner.  Their lives were dramatized in a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie.

As I move on, I discover a full scale replica of Spaceship One.  It is one of the most, if not the most, significant aircraft of this new century.  Although the original is in Washington DC, I feel that I must include this in my blog.  Spaceship One has opened the door to a new era in space exploration, as government programs are not the only players in this relatively new game.  This century has seen private craft dock with the International Space Station, and many other individual feats, accomplished by private companies.

This replica demonstrates the first privately owned craft to venture beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.  It’s feathering system, entirely changing the configuration of the aircraft, created enough drag to alleviate the extreme high temps of reentry into the atmosphere.

I leave the replica behind and discover my favorite part of the museum- the Eagle Hangar. The military, especially WWII,  is on display here, encompassed in a giant open area that looks and feels like a hangar from the period.  I enjoy the heroic sights of those aircraft that aided in the war effort, listening to songs like ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ and other war time classics.

Here, along with some vintage war birds, nose art is sprinkled around the hangar.  These works of art were a personalized touch, as the aircraft belonged to closely bonded Crewmembers. Although never sanctioned by the military, nose art was not frowned upon, especially during world war II.  The loss of aircraft and crewmembers was staggering at the height of the nose art era. I take it as an expression of attachment and pride, even if many pieces were subject to controversy.

There are many interesting aircraft to be seen in the Eagle Hangar, and I’m going to only name a couple.  There is the Navy’s F-4 Corsair looking bold in its blue lacquer.  Also, a P-51 Mustang known as Paul, named after the EAA’s founder, sits quietly in a corner. I enjoy the authentic cockpit display, something I was once very familiar with, and a turret ball from a bomber.

I leave the Eagle Hangar behind and am off to discover the storied relics lying just beyond its doors.  Like I said, there are many interesting pieces, from a world war I trainer (pictured below)  to mail carriers.  It is compact and, among the many original exhibits, meticulously constructed replicas of the Spirit of St. Louis and the Wright Flyer are here to be investigated.

As I said, the museum pegged my interest meter.  One of the most interesting was an aircraft known as an auto-giro, produced in 1931.  Its appearance  is enough to garner anybody’s attention.  With rotor blades above for lift and a propeller for thrust, this odd looking aircraft was the predecessor to the modern helicopter.

It was known as Miss Champion, providing advertisement for Champion spark plugs, a flying billboard.  Not only was it used in an advertising campaign, it was also instrumental to archeologists in the Yucatan peninsula, investigating Mayan ruins.  With its unique ability to hover, it had an advantage over both aircraft of the time and someone on the ground.

Finally, I’ll leave you with my favorite discovery of the day.  Sometimes its not the aircrafts achievements but the story behind it.  This craft was intended for racing and was built by Ettore Bugatti, the same Bugatti behind the European performance cars of the 20’s and 30’s.  Bugatti’s goal was to break the speed record of the time, his plane was designed to do just that.

WWII interrupted completion of the craft, being stowed in a barn in the European countryside.  Bugatti died in 1947 and the plane was largely forgotten for 30 years.  Finally, after a few change of hands it was brought to the states.  A replica was built and flown twice, crashing the third time.  However, this plane has sat Idle, never achieving its purpose for being built.

Besides the artifacts and planes, there are many other ways to enjoy this museum.  There are aircraft simulators and plane rides.  The rides being offered at Pioneer Airport, across the field from the museum.

I admit, when I decided to go to the museum I wasn’t sure if it would be a waste of time.  My conclusion, even if you’re not really into aviation, there are many interesting planes and artifacts to both entertain and educate oneself.  The atmosphere, especially in the Eagle Hangar, gives a great sensation as you view these exhibits.

Museum hours: Monday-Sunday 10am-5pm

Adults-$12.50  Seniors-10.50  Students-9.50  Children 5 and under-free

Family rate-31.00

The museum is located right off  I-41 in Oshkosh Wi

Chicago’s Field Museum-one of the largest of its kind.

A few things before I start.  First, I hadn’t planned on visiting the Field Museum  before we arrived in Chicago, last-minute decision.  We were debating whether we would see the Art Institute of Chicago, as we were cramped for time on our last go round, or see something else.  So I didn’t get a chance to research at all, I usually get a preview on a subject if I plan to write about it.  I wasn’t sure if I would blog this.

Secondly, we didn’t see everything, only the general admission exhibits. At $22 dollars a head, with an extra $15 to see the ticketed exhibits, the general admission was pricy enough.  I chewed on the Idea of seeing everything but, in the end, we saved $30.

So, I wasn’t prepared, plus I hadn’t seen the entire Museum.  Why write about it?  My answer is, simply, that I was stunned.  I’ve been to Museum Campus plenty of times, usually to visit Shedd’s Aquarium or the Museum of Science and Industry, both great learning and entertainment endeavors.  Yet, I only knew of  the Field simply as the ‘place with the Dinosaur bones’ which, as I’ve been visiting Museum Campus since boyhood, should have been enough motivation.

I am left to simply relive the highlights that, in their own right, are definitely worth the rather high admission rate.  The Field museum has the feeling of scholarly antiquity.  I sense the intelligence and feel the excitement of those leaders of the field, having discovered these pieces.

I am left to wander a hall whose walls hold mildly interesting exhibits.  It is here, in a small room, that I discover something I’ve always fancied viewing in person.  It may seem rather mundane, however, like many of my generation- I love Jurassic Park.  Insects trapped and preserved in amber beg the question, “Could we really reconstruct a prehistoric animal?”  I marvel at an extinct bug, forever giving testimony of its existence, in a crafted piece of jewelry.

After the fascinating start, I find the Ancient Egypt gallery.  With the lights turned low and the aged art, jewelry, pottery and mummies I feel as if I have entered some ancient realm.  I can only imagine what the discovering archeologists thought when they  uncovered hieroglyphs 5,000 years old.  The fact that a culture can speak to us with actual words, albeit in a dead language, is simply mind-blowing.

A replica of a tomb and an actual boat strike a conclusion.  It seems, even if we are far more advanced today, the human mind of ancient Egypt was already well-developed, as was his aptitude for innovation and logical thinking.  The need to preserve bodies and prepare tombs for the coming afterlife cast a shadow.  In their time, so much discovery and understanding of the world, in which they lived, was lacking.   Yet, ingenuity and creativity prevailed in one of the oldest societies on the planet earth.

More ancient cultures lie ahead.  This time the subject matter is the ancient civilizations of the America’s.  When someone mentions the new world’s past, I picture sketchy theories and forgotten worlds.  Although much of Ancient Egypt is a mystery, the American counterparts just don’t have the same kick.  I change my mind after walking through the abundant artifacts and exhibits.

The walls contain everything you could imagine.  From Mayans, Incan’s and Aztecs to Eskimos, Cherokees and Apache.  I marvel at the ancient art of the Mayan’s, Incans and Aztecs.  I’m not only looking at lost pottery recovered in dirt,  but interesting creations, leaving me guessing as to their significance on an ancient society.

Looming in one of the many halls, totem poles,  created by early inhabitants of the northwest, dwarf awestruck visitors.  The giant timbers decorated with imaginative beasts and, what appear to be, demons send a thrill through me.  Of course there are weapons, tools, musical instruments and clothing on display from the many lost cultures of the conquered Americas.

I leave the galleries with a new perspective on the inappropriate title ‘New World’.  Obviously, civilizations farmed, hunted and traded with one another before Europeans felt the urge to develop new and faster trade routes.  Art, architecture, warefare and much more were being developed by people unaware of the dangerous greed rising across the Atlantic.

We leave the plight of the ancient cultures behind and find a menagerie of animals.  Well, they are not living, but the taxidermy has preserved these beasts so, at least their likeness, could be looked upon.  Headlining the show, the lions Tsavo remind us how dangerous mother nature can be.  They were maneaters, killing at least thirty five men before they were hunted down and killed.

The last and most significant part of the museum, not saying the rest was not compelling, is the Evolving Earth Gallery.  This follows the development of organisms from single cell lives to the thinking minds of man.  There are fossils, skeletons and more in this great exhibition area.

The pinnacles, of course, have to be the remnants of the largest animals that walked the earth, dinosaurs.  Following that, in a close second, the remains of early species of man are on display.  Neanderthal and the like cause me to marvel at the complexity of natural selection.  How did they die out?  Do we want to know?

There is more, from meteorites to DNA labs.  Alas, I’ll allow you to discover these on your own.  Along with all these unique artifacts and fossils lies the Museum’s prized piece, Sue (Pictured as the cover photo) the most complete and largest T-rex to date.

The Field Museum, listed as a museum of natural history, is one of the largest of its kind.  We did not see everything, yet, I feel fulfilled after the visit. We spent over three hours in the museum and, if I wished, it could have been much longer.   It offered insight, education, entertainment and an appreciation of the very diverse and complex world in which we, as man and Americans, were derived.

Final Post South of the Border-Boat Tour on the Pacific

img_0506I’ve experienced the shores of both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, having visited these  bodies of water in warm climates.  I still enjoy them in my dreams while I pleasantly slumber. The combination of Palapas or shade umbrellas protecting me from the sun, scents of the comfortably humid air and whitecaps that thunder towards the sandy beaches inspire and sustain uplifting, peaceful emotions.

For all that I’ve mentioned, one regret remained while thinking of those blissful memories.  I never voyaged the salty waters with any sort of watercraft.  I was sure, as I planned my trip to the Barra de Navidad, that regret would be subdued.  It was.

We saunter through a narrow street of Barra de Navidad, enjoying the pleasant morning temps.  As we do, a polite man approaches us with an engaging smile-he’s selling a boat tour.  This is a common occurrence near the lagoon in Barra, the tours being offered in several locations.  Today we are prepared to take him up on his offer, having delayed this portion of the trip long enough.

The craft isn’t large, probably seating eight people at most.  We’ve decided on the 700 peso tour, choosing to view the rugged landscape just beyond the beach and inlet to the lagoon.  Along with the sightseeing, our guide baits two mammoth fishing poles and tosses the lines in the water.  I’m psyched.img_0583

The breeze, incurred from the speed of the boat, feels great as we skim the lagoon’s calm and shallow waters.  Once we head into the ocean, the boat sways and crashes along the waves, thrilling my companion. Soon, I survey the entire four mile beach, with Barra de Navidad on one end and Melaque poised at the other.

img_0520We head around a mountainous shore and delight at rocks jutting from the oceans simmering surface.  These rocks are of volcanic origins, as the mountains have worn from time.  It seems, as we progress around the tall standing mounds of the shore, that we have entered some worm hole, seeming to be transported to another geographical location.

From Barra, despite a lack of rain, the climate seems that of a tropical region, being palm trees, hibiscus and other such vegetation in and around the town.  Once we find the other side of these mountains, we discover an arid setting.  Cactus and desert shrubs sprout from the earth, high atop the rugged slopes of the volcanic sediment.

As we course through the waters, our guide points out rock formations.  One of these naturally sculpted pieces appears as that of a turtle, another a gorilla.  I’m mildly impressed, more impressed however by simply voyaging the ocean and taking in these sights.

img_0533Along the stone face of one of the mountains lies a shipwreck, a rusty victim of Hurricane Patricia.  The freighter is enormous and we are told the wreck is only two years old.  It seems the salty air has sped the corrosion of this wayward vessel,  observing the twisted barge pinned along the rocks.

It is now, when we are set to return to shore, that the guide suggests snorkeling and a longer fishing excursion.  The snorkeling trip is considerably higher in price and, although I was eagerly watching for the poles to bend in reaction to a tropical fish, I’m not prepared to pay the price for several hours on the boat.  I kindly wave a hand and shake my head.  I’m not sure the guide acknowledged my decline.

Instead of taking a return path towards the lagoon, he veers to the left.  I’m puzzled as he heads for Barra de Navidad’s neighboring town, Melaque.  I feel a lump in my throat, the thought of having to be firm with the mild mannered gentleman crossing my mind.  Is he simply Ignoring my refusal?  Then he alarms me more and turns towards the shipwreck, with the lagoon at our backs.  I’m turned from him and am trying to figure out how to be tactfully resolute with this gentleman when he taps my shoulder.

img_0545I follow his pointing finger towards a vertical jet of ocean spray, appearing as a slim ghost against the mountainous backdrop.  “Whales!”  He exclaims with delight.  “I thought I saw them.  Would you like a closer look?”  I blink in disbelief as I fixate towards the area he’s pointing to, sure enough, like a tiny geyser, mist emanates from the rolling ocean.  I nod emphatically.

img_0551He navigates the boat only twenty feet from the whales, which surface quite frequently.  I can hear the hollow drone of air as they breath through their blowholes.  “Babies,”  The guide explains.  Yet, they are the biggest thing I’ve ever set eyes upon in open water.  I take tons of pictures, yet, as they continuously surface, a great still of the moment eludes me.  (as I write this, a concrete live reel plays in my head)

It’s nature.  It all is.  The volcanic rocks and mountains, the rolling ocean, the desert shrubs and cactus, and the lined palm trees point to a natural setting that seems sensational to my Midwestern acclimated soul.  The whales, something that must seem routine to the guide, is a once in a lifetime moment.  I’m ecstatic that I cannot only see them, but hear them as well.

We return with perma-smiles fixed on our sea-fairing faces.  It was enjoyable to the point we repeated the tour the following day, our last of the trip.  On that trip the guide was gracious enough to allow me behind the wheel.  I was reminded of my grandfather at that moment, who allowed me to navigate the swells of Lake Michigan.  It really is no different.

If you’re in Barra and someone offers a boat tour, provided you have the cash and time, take it.  It seems hard to believe that many in the town, being professional fisherman, make their living in such splendid conditions.