Exploring with Family

Carrying Ethan in the Museum of Natural History backyard.

Carrying Ethan in the Museum of Natural History backyard.

This past weekend granted Kierstin and me the opportunity to share the incredible sites and experiences of our wonderful city with my sister, brother-in-law, and five-year-old nephew. Erin, Justin, and Ethan traversed California and joined us in Santa Barbara, anticipating a pleasurable three-day weekend by the beach. They ventured out at an abominable hour Saturday morning and arrived in the early afternoon. I was officiating a tournament on Saturday, but Kierstin provided hospitality until I returned home.

Kierstin took them to a local greasy spoon by the name of Lily’s. It’s a walk-up counter that serves tacos of every cut of meat. You can order steamed eyeball, lip, cheek, tongue, and head; and grilled stomach, pork, veggies, chicken, or beef. The restaurant has perfected their simple art, and so it’s a great place to wolf down cheap, greasy, and delicious tacos. Kierstin took everyone to play on the beach, where the waterline was low enough to enjoy tide-pooling. Ethan started a rock collection while they investigated the tiny marine life living in the tide pools. My tournament was still dragging on and on. While still waiting for me, everyone walked from our house to the Santa Barbara Mission, where they absorbed the architectural mastery of some of the more ornate Santa Barbara homes and structures.

I finally arrived home, three hours later than I thought I would, and everyone was miserably hungry so we hurried downtown to have dinner. The downtown sidewalks were bustling with tourists and locals taking advantage of their three-day weekend – just like us.  We made it to Eureka Burger, our stomachs growling insatiably, only to discover we’d have to wait another 40 minutes to eat. The extended weekend apparently tantalized a large crowd to descend upon our local eatery, much to our dismay. We waited and waited until finally we were seated. Ethan, who had been up since 5 am, was still going strong past 9 pm – until after he finished his food and had nothing to do. Kierstin, Justin, Erin, and I were enjoying each other’s company and the good food and drink, but Ethan’s attention span couldn’t handle our prolonged stay. He rested his head on the table and quickly dozed off.

We had walked downtown from our house, and Ethan rode his scooter. When it was time to leave, we had a difficult time rousing him. He was still half-asleep, but resolved to ride his scooter back home. His first groggy attempts were entertaining for us. He tried to navigate uphill while half-asleep. Instead, he swerved like a drunk, nearly crashing into storefronts and light posts while avoiding pedestrians. He eventually got his second wind and we made it home, ready to rest for our next day.

Ethan woke us up bright and early the next day; it didn’t matter that he had been active for 18 hours the day before and had slept for barely double digit hours over the past two days. We readied ourselves for another day at the beach. This time, I was hoping to show them how to skimboard. It was a warm and sunny February morning, and the tide was high – typically ideal for skimboarding. Justin gave it a few attempts, but he wasn’t protected from the frigid water with a wetsuit like I was. Ethan and Simba played near the water, while Erin and Kierstin laid out their towels and absorbed some sunlight. We retired home to grill hot dogs for lunch after a failing attempt to construct a sandcastle.

There was still half a day ahead of us. We set out to cram in more Santa Barbara activities. Justin and Erin were interested in visiting the aquarium by the harbor in Santa Barbara, so we looked up prices for tickets. The aquarium is associated with the Museum of Natural History; ticket prices for both were listed online. The museum’s price list stated that the third Sunday of every month was free day at the museum. This was a serendipitous discovery. The museum was near our apartment; I had recently wanted to venture over to check it out; and it just happened to be the third Sunday of February.

Entrance to the museum

Unassuming entrance to the museum

The Museum of Natural History was absolutely amazing. I had not expected such intricate displays and elaborate dioramas, given that its hidden location in the hills is overshadowed by the nearby mission and it resides in a town more known for its beaches and downtown dining. The entrance is highlighted by the colossal skeleton of a blue whale (73 feet long!) that had washed ashore in the early 1980s. The scale between us and blue whales is unfathomable – it’s hard to imagine swimming or sailing and crossing paths with a blue whale.

Like Pinocchio, in the stomach of the massive blue whale.

Like a couple of lying wooden puppets in the stomach of the massive blue whale.

The museum interior consists of a centralized outdoor courtyard that leads to various exhibits, as well as walking paths along Mission Creek in the museum backyard. Our first stop was the Mineral and Gem Gallery. Each exhibit promoted exploration with multiple senses; the Mineral and Gem Gallery had a cave simulation, complete with minerals to feel and see and sounds of deep, dripping caves. I was immediately impressed by a massive quartz crystal displayed near the entrance. Even the most common mineral in the Earth’s crust can grow spectacularly translucent natural crystals. There were other equally notable minerals on display, like a huge chunk of cleaved pyrite (commonly known as fool’s gold), fluffy spheres of okenite in basalt (resembling cottons balls), and silvery molybdenite embedded in quartz (a striking contrast). There were also interactive displays demonstrating fluorescence, causing dull-looking rocks to glow with hues of green, purple and red under ultraviolet light.

Cotton-ball formation of okenite.

Cotton ball-like formation of okenite, which is actually fibrous crystals of silicate.

We continued on to the Marine Hall, Geology and Paleontology Hall, and the Chumash Indian Hall. The Marine Hall featured dioramas of fish habitat and included an extensive display of fish species. I helped Ethan identify a bizarre-looking California sheephead and varieties of swordfish, tuna, and mackerel. The Paleontology Hall featured archaeology digs from the local Channel Islands. I marveled at the replica of the dig site, which showed the discovery of a pygmy mammoth on Santa Rosa. One paleontologist collected hundreds of fossils from different sites to create a composite pygmy mammoth, which is currently on display in the museum. The Chumash Indian Hall relayed the history and customs of the Chumash Indians, native to the Santa Barbara area. We browsed this area, learning about how the Chumash survived in the past, quickly moving on to see other exhibits before closing time. The astronomy gallery gave us a quick glimpse of our galaxy and also showed us our heat signatures. We were captivated by the infrared camera displaying how much heat (in the form of infrared radiation) our bodies gave off. We probably stood in front of the camera for a good five minutes, analyzing Kierstin’s cold cheeks and trying to warm our hands to notice any differences. The loudspeaker announced closing time while we were viewing taxidermied mammals in their respective replicated habitats, and we sauntered through the gift shop before leaving. We missed a couple exhibits, and I’ve already decided that Kierstin and I will return again someday to check them out.

We wanted to cap the weekend off with an ultimate Santa Barbara tourist experience: dinner at a beachside café. Daniel joined us for dinner, where we were seated adjacent to a window with perfect views of the ocean and pier. The food was ok, not great, and overpriced but that had been expected for the experience. Ethan’s lack of sleep finally caught up to him, and he was dead asleep before his food even arrived. We tried to wake him to eat, but he wouldn’t budge. He finally opened his eyes and tiredly took a bite of food. He alternated like this for a while, hilariously dozing off then waking up to have another bite. His head would fall forward as he fell asleep in mid-chew, and then he’d jerk awake again looking delirious and confused.

All weekend, Ethan had been asking to use my telescope to look at the stars. The first night was cloudy, and with the surrounding trees and bushes, we couldn’t see anything from our apartment. We promised we would head to the park on the last night for stargazing. Probably recalling this, Ethan began to reawaken on the car ride from the café. We were going to take him to the park but found out there was no need to when we got home. The moon was in a rare position, perfectly viewable from our front porch. So for our last adventure of the weekend, we relaxed while looking at an enhanced view of the moon’s craters. We shared a few beers and played games until we were ready for bed. It was a great ending for a great weekend, and the next morning we said our goodbyes while Erin, Justin, and Ethan began their long journey back home.

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2 thoughts on “Exploring with Family

  1. Pingback: Balloons that Smell | Material World

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