Saturday, May 17, 2014

Cameron Park Zoo

Since our idea of stopping at the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center after our camping trip didn't work out, we stopped at the Cameron Park Zoo in Waco, instead.  We hadn't been to this zoo in several years, but I remembered it being fun for kids because the exhibits are set up where they can get pretty close to the animals. We also realized Secora has never been to a zoo at all!

Another thing I like about this zoo is that it's set up in a loop fashion.  While you're never all that far from the entrance if you decide to leave, you can easily follow the loop and see every exhibit without worrying about missing anything or crisscrossing all over the park.  It minimizes the walking for little legs and eliminates debates over what to see next. 

The first stop was big birds.  Eagles, vultures, and parrots, oh my!  Sedona tried her hardest to get the parrots to talk to her, but they weren't going for it.
The tortoises were impressive...and hungry, one was pulling up every weed it could find.

Just outside the first bathroom there's a photo op to keep waiting kids entertained.  Everyone pretended they were butterflies.

Next up was the playground area.  I didn't let the girls play here last time because we had gone during spring break and it was really crowded.  This time around, we were there on a weekday and it was about 2pm, after all the school groups had left.  We pretty much had the whole zoo to ourselves, including the playground.

Of course, they ran right for the giant snake and wanted me to take a picture of them being eaten
Which meant "me too" had to be next
Balance beams are tricky
This is shaped like a shark.  Sedona jumped on and yelled, "Do not try this at home folks! SHARK BACK RIDING!!!"
The big girls tried to entice Secora to go down the tree house slide, but she wasn't having it.
She wouldn't slide with the otters either.  This is a slide that goes through the otter habitat.  Otters, being playful creatures, will swim alongside the kids while they slide.
Spotted one of the otters
An otter is swimming circles just above her hand

One of the indoor exhibits.  Lots of salt water tanks, including the Nemo tank.  You can't see, but there's even a mask at the bottom that's labeled P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way Sydney Australia
Outside, Sedona liked the alligators.  While everyone else backed up a bit as it swam towards us, Sedona stayed right where she was, 'cause it's Sedona.
Anyone else remember when she was 2 years old and already staring down alligators?  Here's an old pic from our trip to a herpetarium in South Carolina
Another indoor exhibit housed the freshwater aquariums
Here kitty, kitty, kitty....
No, I did not know that, but I'm feeling compelled to try it out.  I had to come home and research this one.  Found this little article about the search for the reason behind scorpion fluorescence.
  Snakes and lizards oh my.  Don't you get the impression she might just crawl into the enclosure if we don't watch her close?

Leaving, the herpetarium, Sedona shouted out, "a BUG! In the WILD! Take a picture momma!!"
This is about when vacation caught up to Secora.  She fell asleep on Josh's shoulder for a while, but she woke up to check out the rhinoceros (who had just had a lady friend added to his enclosure and was being watched closely by zoo keepers to be sure he behaved), and the giraffe. 
Over in the asian forest exhibit, Secora was most interested in the Orangutan.  She was fascinated with watching him play.  Sedona and Sierra skipped right past him, over to the komodo dragon.
Secora wasn't as interested in the giant lizard, but she found herself a nice nap spot while she waited for her sisters.
Turns out this particular komodo dragon was hatched just a few months after Sedona was born.  They sat face to face for quite a while sticking their tongues out at each other, I was kinda waiting for our own little Harry Potter moment to happen.
The last exhibit we stopped at was the tiger. 
Overall, this zoo is a great set up for younger kids to get around without getting exhausted and they enjoy the exhibits being set up so they can see almost everything without a grown-up having to lift them up higher.   Well worth a visit if you're in the area!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Back during cookie season, the big girls' scout troop decided they wanted to use part of their cookie money to take a family camping trip this summer.  While we'd all love to go, Secora has never actually been camping and we weren't sure how she was going to handle sleeping in a tent and having her regular routine so thoroughly disrupted.  We are also trying to save up money for a big trip next year, so we weren't planning to do any pricey vacations this year.  Seemed like the perfect opportunity to plan a trip to a state park we haven't visited before.  It would give us a chance to see how Secora would handle camping and also serve as a mini-vacation.

After a little searching and checking into availability, we decided to visit Dinosaur Valley State Park near Glen Rose, Texas.  We stayed Sunday through Tuesday, which was perfect.  I'm not sure I would want to be there on a weekend unless we stayed at the hike-in sites, I think it would be pretty crowded. 

While Josh was checking in at the ranger station, the little girls checked out a small informational display inside.  There were some replicas of dinosaur footprints and signs about what types of dinosaurs lived in Texas and which time periods they were from.

We weren't able to get to the campground until late afternoon, so after checking in and picking our campsite, we got to work getting everything set up and having a quick hot dog dinner.
Sierra has enough camping experience now to be a big help with setting up camp.  Sedona needed something to do, so I handed over the camera to her and told her to take pictures.  Some of them turned out to be really good and some are um...interesting.

We chose a site right next to the playground, so after dinner, the girls wanted to check that out.  It's pretty basic; a few swings, a slide and a jungle gym. 

Then it was back to our campsite for dessert.  We knew they were doing some electrical work in the park and had been told the bathrooms would be out of order (it turned out the women's was available, but not the men's).  They said water would still be available, but after Josh and I learned our lesson the hard way (multiple times) about carrying enough water when we were younger, I don't like to take chances and assume clean water will be available anymore.  I brought along a hand wash station to help with little kid clean up.
With mostly dirt free hands, it was time to dig into s'mores.  The girls wanted to make "mexican s'mores" the first night.  Mini marshmallows and mini chocolate chips wrapped in a tortilla, then wrapped in foil and thrown on the fire. 
We thought all of our cooking would have to be on camp stove due to a burn ban in the area, but when we got there, we found out charcoal was allowed.  We also found a lot of people had left their leftover charcoal from the weekend for other campers to use, so we snagged some and used the camp stove to light it. 
After s'mores, it wasn't quite dark yet, so we set out to find the nearest geocache.  We've done some geocaching before, but it's been a while and the girls didn't remember it very well.  Josh and I found the first one for them.
Took us quite a while to spot this one, we were expecting a bigger container. 
Swapping toys by lantern light
By then, the stars were starting to come out, so we headed back to camp and turned off the lights and tried to point out stars and planets to the girls.  Everyone was feeling pretty scared of the dark and wanting to be in the tent though.  That worked out okay, it was too hot to have the rain fly on and we could still see some stars through the screens on the tent.  Our only snafu that night was Secora indignantly saying, "I need a story!" when we told her it was time to sleep.  Thankfully her big sisters were happy to make some up to tell her.  One small car-camping with kids tip: we had a set of pajamas for everyone that stayed in the tent the whole time and a small door rug outside the tent.  Another benefit of a nearly empty campground was that we just took turns standing on the rug, taking off all the dirty clothes, then getting in the tent to put on clean clothes.  This avoided the inevitable sitting down in the dirt (either accidentally or on purpose) that seems to happen when I try to actually walk them anywhere in their clean clothes.

The next morning, we had a lot of hiking planned.  There was a lot of animal activity in the night and the girls enjoyed using the animal tracks guide they'd picked up at the ranger station to identify what had been nosing around the campground (lots of possum and raccoon).

Sierra was working on a geocaching badge for girl scouts, so she took over manning the GPS and we set out to find another cache. 

She also found this cool rock/shell of some sort that she thought looked like an elephant nose
Unfortunately, it appears the cache had been stolen (it was the "Amber Waves of Grain" cache).  Fortunately, lots of critters crossed our path, which the girls (especially Sedona) were really interested in, so they weren't too bothered by the missing cache.

This lizard was the first to cross our path.  I'm not completely sure what this one is, I think a 5 lined skink, maybe?

Next up, this guy ran across our path.  I'm pretty sure it's an Eastern Spotted Whiptail

 I also snagged several pictures of damselflies while everyone else was taking a snack break

We finally moved on and found our way down to the river.  The water level was extremely low, which gave us room to do a lot of exploring
We tried (somewhat unsuccessfully) to teach the girls to skip rocks

And of course, we found more lizards.  Another whiptail:
And a Greater Earless Lizard:

And another Greater Earless Lizard (I'm actually think the first one might be a pregnant female based on the info on the Lizards of Texas site):

We even watched a bee stop by for a drink:

After lots of rock skipping and lizard hunting, we moved on and headed towards one of the dinosaur track sites.  It was pretty cool to see the footprints pressed into the rock, there's a pretty long track where you can follow where they went.

This was the whole point of picking this park and we thought the girls would be excited to see them.  Yeah, they didn't really care.  They were interested long enough to say, "yeah, that's cool" and then they were off looking for live animals again.
Sedona did decide she needed to leave a human track:
There were yet more lizards sunning themselves here:

It had been a long morning, so we headed back to camp for lunch and a short rest.  We had used dry ice (Josh has a lot at work from receiving cold shipments) in our cooler and our lunch meat turned out to be frozen solid.  Lesson learned to keep the dry ice a little more isolated, we had to wait a bit for lunch.
Surprise, surprise, Sedona found more bugs at camp.  I'm not sure what this is, a blister beetle?

Before long, the little people were restless again, so we headed out to another geocache.  This one required a mile hike across an open field.  It was very sunny and hot, but there was shade at the end to rest in for a little bit.
We were pretty hot when we got back to the trail head, so we stopped by the park store to buy popsicles for everyone.  We tried to visit the swimming hole, thinking there would be a beach of some sort and the girls could wade a little bit.  It turned out to be not very kid friendly (at least not without life jackets), so we headed back to the section of the river where the tracks were at and gave the kids the go ahead to leave their socks and shoes on the rocks and wade in.

After trying (very unsuccessfully) to catch a fish bare handed and looking at all the different rocks, the girls were looking pretty worn out.  Especially Sedona, who had fallen in the river and was covered with quite a bit of river mud/slime.  It was time to head back and get started on dinner.  Secora tried to fit herself into a full sized camp chair.  I kept waiting for her to fall back and hit her head, but she did alright with it.
3 years old, 5-ish miles, 95 degrees, countless rocks picked up out of the river and thrown back in the river.  This is what you get at the end of day:
I stalked the cardinals that were nesting somewhere near our campsite.  There were two pairs we kept seeing.  Here's one set:

Second night dinner was another easy one...frito pie and regular s'mores (Sierra planned our menu).  The girls were slightly more at ease and sat out longer looking at the stars before getting in the tent.  They passed out a lot quicker once they did lay down though.

The next morning they also slept in longer, but eventually they all rolled out of the tent to watch/help Josh make breakfast while I packed up sleeping bags and cleared out the tent.  Sierra helped me pack up the tent and then they went to play on the playground a little bit while I took some last minute pictures of a few wildflowers.

I'd never seen bluebonnets going to seed before, so I was fascinated with this:
Some type of little iridescent fly was snacking on this flower

One last picture before packing up to leave!

Because we were leaving pretty early in the day, we decided to do something extra on the way home.  We knew we were close to the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, so we decided to go by and see about doing that.  It's a drive thru, so we figured there would be a per car price, or maybe a per car option and a "per person on the tour bus" option.  Nope, everything was per person and it was going to cost us SEVENTY-TWO dollars to go through.  And that was on a Tuesday!  On the weekend, it would have been $30 more.  Then another $8 if you wanted to get food to feed the animals.  We thought that was more than a little ridiculous, so we passed.  Once we picked up cell service again (we didn't have any service the whole time we were at the park), we looked for alternatives and decided to visit the Cameron Park Zoo in Waco.  We had been there before, but it was about five years ago and the girls didn't remember it, so it was a fun stop that was a lot more affordable.  That's a whole separate blog post though!


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