30 June 2007

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

This is our first visit to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and we decided to get an annual pass so we could go whenever we wanted. It's not really fair that they call it a zoo and aquarium since there is not much of an aquarium. It's just one small tank with some water creatures. Anyway, as far as zoos go it is decent. The annual membership also gives free and discounted access to 100 or so zoos across the country and we get free access to The Wilds which is a wild animal park that we have not visited yet. So that's pretty cool. It's located in north Columbus so it is a bit of a drive (about 1.5 hrs) but not too bad really. Here are some pictures:

Trek to Ohio - Chicago

Our next stop was Chicago. We planned on going to the Sears Tower but after looking for parking for 15 minutes and going down to it, they were closed due to high winds. So we immediately turned around to see if we could make it back in 15 minutes to avoid a parking fee. Unfortunately, it took 15 minutes just to get down to the Sears Tower even though we parked right there. So we had to pay $5 in parking just to find out that it was closed. Bummer :-(

Since that was really all we were planning on doing in Chicago (besides driving down Lakeshore Drive), we had to think of something else to do. We saw some signs for the Navy Pier so we decided to go there. We wanted to have Chicago pizza so rather than going to Uno's Pizza like we'd planned, we decided to have pizza in the food court. The pizza was just like any pizza we've had before. Thankfully, there is are several Uno's just outside of Columbus

We roamed around for a bit and Nicole saw someone with an American Girl store bag and asked the lady where it was. The lady said that it was only a few blocks away and that she walked from there. So we were off to a father and son's worst nightmare...to shop for doll clothing with two females in a store filled with females shopping for clothes and accessories for their dolls that look just like them. It was a little freaky. But Rebekkah loved it.

Overall, I hated Chicago because it was a big crazy city with what seemed to be little to do (at least downtown anyway). I hate big cities as it is, but a big city with seemingly little to do or see is even worse. Lake Michigan was amazing and looked like the ocean. We tried to leave at like 3:30pm and got stuck in rush hour traffic. It took us like an hour to get out of the city. I was very glad to get out and do not plan to go back anytime soon.

Trek to Ohio - Medieval Times

Definitely the highlight of the trip, we went to a dinner show called "Medieval Times" in an outskirt of Chicago called Shaumburg. This was definitely a family favorite.

We had to make sure that we made it to Shaumburg to be able to make the 7:30pm show so we were frantically driving to get there in time. When I was convinced that we could make it, I called the place to reserve the tickets while we were driving.

Then we hit the biggest rainstorm on the way and then a bunch of toll roads. We forgot to stock up with change and ended up using it all up. At the last toll road before the hotel exit, we needed $0.60 and were short $0.10. People behind us were honking as we combed the car to find some change in a panic. We thought about just blowing through the toll booth. But Rebekkah had a much better idea. She prayed and a second later Nicole found a dime. It was very cool. Anyway, we made it with a 30 minutes to spare and that even after going to the hotel to check in.

The show was very cool. Nicole and I had been to a similar show at Excalibur in Las Vegas, but this one was much better in my opinion. The food was good and the show was very well done (though, like the Las Vegas show, some of the falls and stunts were so obviously fake). Anyway, the kids really loved it and were very surprised. Here are the pictures...

29 June 2007

Trek to Ohio - Badlands

Right after Wall Drug we visited the Badlands. The Badlands Loop Road (Hwy 240) that we took was about a 45 minute drive. We didn't get out of the car very much here but mostly just admired the scenery. It was a very pretty drive. Many spots made you feel like you were on another planet entirely.

A pamphlet we received after paying to drive through the park said that this is the only national park where you are allowed to hike anywhere you want. Another bit of trivia is that the area was called the Badlands because all cultures considered it to be bad land to travel through.

Trek to Ohio - Wall Drug

The biggest tourist trap of our trip was Wall Drug in Wall, SD. There were about a million signs for the store starting hundreds of miles outside the town. We found out later that this was because the owner's wife had the idea to post signs that they would provide free cold water for thirsty travelers during the Depression. In my opinion, this visit was a complete waste of time. Though I suppose it was a good diversion from the drive. And everyone but me got a chance to ride the gigantic mutant jackalope. Not really very much interesting things to say about this stop but here are the pictures anyway.

26 June 2007

Trek to Ohio - Mount Rushmore

After spending the night in Rapid City, SD, we spent the next day at Rushmore. We stayed at a really nice Holiday Inn where the government rate was more than the regular rate. Needless to say I asked for the non-government rate here.

We went to dinner at a cool little restaurant called the Firehouse and then hung out at the pool for a bit.

On the way to Rushmore we stopped at this place called the Dinosaur Park. The kids climbed around on the dinosaurs and we took some pictures. Not extremely exciting but a good break.

After spending a couple of hours at Mount Rushmore, we headed over to Beautiful Rushmore Cave. The kids loved it, but I thought it was kind of cheesy. There are so many caves around this area that it was hard to choose which to visit. We opted to go to the one closest to Rushmore for convenience. People around said that all the caves were essentially the same. The formations in this cave were really dirty and dingy. I heard the formations in the other caves in the area were shinier and healthier.

Trek to Ohio - Devil's Tower

The next stop in our trek to Ohio was Devil's Tower. I'd never even heard of this national monument before. There is a restaurant in Waverly, OH (the town we are living) called "Dakotas" which has a chocolate cake "Devil's Tower" which I heard about when I was here in March. Then when we were planning our trek to Ohio I found that there was a national monument by the same name in Wyoming. I'm not sure what this has to do with the Dakotas though.

A big deal was made about how this monument was/is a place of worship for Native Americans. To recognize this, June is the month for a voluntary observation of a climbing ban. When we were there, there were still several people climbing the rock. According to the brochure, the fastest free climb was 18 minutes! I don't care who you are, that's just insane!!

I didn't remember this, but this monument appeared on Close Encounters of the Third Kind. According to Wikipedia, it's coordinates were incorrectly referred to as 40°36′10″N, 104°44′30″W. It really bothers me that Spielberg couldn't get this right. I mean, really, how hard could it be? Is it too much to ask to ask for some accuracy in our science fiction films? Anyway, here are some pictures for your enjoyment...

25 June 2007

Nicole's Dream House

I was going to post events in order, but Nicole couldn't wait for me to post these pictures. Please allow me to set the stage:

On the way back to the hotel from Columbus one weekend I pointed out an abandoned home (there are many such abandoned homes in Ohio) that I figured she'd love. This resulted in unrecognizable high pitched tones which I gathered meant that I needed to stop and pull over. So I pulled into the driveway and Nicole jumped out and proceeded to break into the house (actually, one of the doors was opened so technically she didn't "break" in). Nicole's crazy idea is to find out who owns it, buy it from them, and restore it...to which I responded that she would need to find another husband who not only was interested in such ventures but also had the ability to do such a thing.

Anyway, below are some of the pictures that ensued...

Nicole's Interlude: I did not scream in unrecongnizable high pitched tones, just really LOUD yelps of unadulterated excitiment. I mean how often do you find a huge brick house that no one wants! (Doug has reminded me that someone must want it or it would be for sale, but there is always a price you just have to find out what it is...right?) I love the front stair case...there is a fireplace in every living space in the house...and it has a secret staircase! I can't imagine anything more romantic in a house than a hidden staircase!!! There are wood floors in the whole house I am guessing it's about 5,000 sq ft. There is also a backstaircase and, and...and...I am out of breath. I just love it!!!!!!!...

Whatever. Anyways, I assume that these will be submitted as Exhibit A for Nicole's crimes in Ohio. Please enjoy viewing the evidence...

Trek to Ohio - Bighorn National Forest

After a night's stay in the rodeo town of Cody, WY after going through Yellowstone, we drove through the beautiful Bighorn National Forest which we had never even heard of before. We stopped on the side of the road and the kids got out and played a bit on the hills.

As we were driving through Bighorn National Forest we happened upon Shell Falls. Bighorn National Forest sort of reminded us of the Sound of Music. There was also a ski resort that we passed by. I'm thinking it was Big Horn Ski Resort.

After we got out of Bighorn National Forest we were stopped by some deer crossing the red road...at least that's what color Nicole told me they were (if you don't get this, it's because I'm colorblind and I would probably have never known that they were red unless she had told me). I did a quick search on the internet and could not find out why these roads were red. If anyone can find out this bit of trivia, please let me know.

23 June 2007

Why we're in Ohio...

For those of you who don't know why we're in Ohio it is a long term temporary assignment for my job. You can find out more about the project I'm on here. I'm the process field engineer which means that I am the design/engineering group interface with construction to help make sure everything gets installed correctly.

If you look at the photos for Portsmouth, those big white tanks (HF Storage Tanks) in the pictures are one of several pieces of equipment I was the engineer on. The Oxide Hoppers are also part of this same procurement.

The company that I work for is a French-German company called AREVA NP. This is the press release after we were awarded the DUF6 Convesion Project. For you techies out there, it is a nuclear (pronouned "Nuke-u-ler" by those with southern accents) cleanup project where we're taking the depleted uranium hexafluoride (UF6) in storage cylinders and converting it to uranium oxides (U3O8 and UO2) to be buried and hydrofluoric acid (HF) to be sold.

We will probably be in Ohio and possibly Kentucky for the next year. Our plan is to travel around while we're over here and see all the sites within driving distance. Two of the main places we plan on visiting are Washington DC and New York. We also plan on going to places like Hershey, PA, historical sites in VA, and Niagara Falls. So far, we've been to Columbus (Zoo) and Cincinnati (Aquarium).

Trek to Ohio - Yellowstone

The first tourist attraction that we stopped at on the way to Ohio was Yellowstone. We entered the park at the west entrance and drove south to Old Faithful stopping at several spots to see the wildlife and other geysers. Here we checked out the lobby of the historic Old Faithful Inn.

After we saw what we wanted to see at Old Faithful, we loaded into the van and drove along the northwest shore of Yellowstone Lake (which is enormously huge) up to Canyon Village to see the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone where I was reminded of my fear of heights. We stopped at Inspiration Point and took a 3/8 mile hike down to the Brink of the Lower Falls.

And of course, we mustn't forget seeing all of the Bison which brings up an interesting bit of trivia: Are the terms bison and buffalo synonomous? According to Wikipedia, "Though both bison and buffalo belong to the same family, Bovidae, the term 'buffalo' properly applies only to the Asian Water Buffalo and African Buffalo." Interesting eh? What was funny about the Bison was that at first the kids were so anxious to see them but after seeing umpteen million of them they became like squirrels to us.

I found out from the little newspaper that they hand out at the entrance after you plunk down your 25 bucks that there were several podcasts I could have downloaded to my iPod for use in the park. Of course, since I did not get this information until I entered the park, it was too late for me to get it on my iPod to enjoy it. Oh well. Anyway, for your edification, they are called Inside Yellowstone and Yellowstone InDepth. This multimedia information is also available for viewing in your web browser here and here, respectively. Lessons learned: I'm going to visit the websites before visiting the tourist attractions to ensure I get the full orbed multimedia experience available with the latest technology.

Speaking of technology, Nicole and the kids got me a TomTom One for Father's Day at Costco. If you do any traveling at all, I highly recommend it. It's so small that it can fit in your coat pocket or purse. With this neat little gadget, you'll never get lost again. Heck, it's so easy and fun to use that even the technophobe Nicole loves it!