Monthly Archives: November 2015

Kitt’s Peak Observatory – bringing the sky to life!


Kitt Peak National Observatory is the home of the largest array of optical and radio telescopes in the world, located at the south west of Tuscon, and sits just shy of 7,000 feet (2,133 meters). Needless to say, the views from the top are stunning and feel like they go forever!

We arrived a few hours before sunset and were able to check out 2 of the publicly accessible telescopes before starting our night observation program.

It was pretty amazing to learn about the internal complexity of how various telescopes work and how they are designed differently for different purposes. For example the Solar Telescope goes well below ground to help cool off the solar rays that it collects, which is completely different from a celestial telescope.

The night observation program is a 4 hour introduction to astronomy and provides a well rounded awareness of star-gazing and how observatories work. We got to watch sunset from the mountain top and learn about what makes the various colours that you see. We then learned how to work with star charts to get an orientation to the sky. We had a partial moon so it wasn’t perfect darkness but it was definitely interesting to look for star clusters from the top of the peak. The guides were fabulous and used laser pointers to help you find them if you couldn’t work it out on your own. We then experienced searching for more complex stars using binoculars and could definitely see the difference it made. Topping the evening off was getting to use the research class telescope to see distant galaxies and planets. We all thought the best part was an up close view of the craters of the moon!


We had been learning about early astronomers and the big bang in homeschool the month before so it was a great opportunity to connect all the dots. Definitely worth the visit!

Organ Pipe National Monument


Organ Pipe National Monument was our first stop heading east from the California coast. It is a few hours south east of Yuma, Arizona and about 10 minutes drive from the Mexican border. We rolled in after dark and were thrilled to discover this great big Organ Pipe Cactus right at our campsite. It was also great to be able to see the night sky and the stars again!

DSCN0999 The view the next morning was equally impressive. Big blue skies that seemed to go on forever.

DSCN0991We met a ranger shortly after pulling in and he mentioned that they had a packrat problem that they were working on – they were out on a trapping mission that night. I remember how fun the packrats were as a kid when we left out shiny things for them but having the risk of them eating at the important parts of the truck or trailer turned this from humourful to concerning. Neither Tim nor I had a great night’s sleep as we were up with any sound!

We headed out on a short morning hike before things got too hot and had lots of fun refreshing our memory on all the different versions of cactus – organ pipe, saguaro, ocotillo, chula and barrel cacti. Every vista was just beautiful…This also helped with Hunter and Tim’s ranger badges.

organ pipe ranger badges

We would definitely recommend this park – great campground, beautiful scenery, and good hiking!


San Diego Sheriff’s Museum – what a gem!

IMG_2935Hunter and I had a “downtown day” and hit Old Town San Diego as well as caught a few cultural events. The best unexpected gem was the San Diego Sheriff’s Museum, which is just on the south eastern edge of Old Town.

We started by wandering around the State Historic Park and saw the first Court House and accompanying holding cell, both which were established back in 1850. We learned that Sheriff’s are elected while Police Chief’s are appointed and that back in 1850 you could only run for one term and it lasted one year. Now they are 4 year terms and there is no cap on the number of times you can be re-elected.

IMG_2958We then headed down the road to explore the Sheriff’s Museum, which covers regional law enforcement from 1850 to today. In addition to great exhibits, the museum is staffed by former Sheriff staff and they do a great job of bringing the museum to life for kids of all ages! Note: The newly elected Sheriff used to get to choose the colour of their cars – hence the “dusty rose” from the 1960’s and the green taxi car’s from the 1980’s & 90’s. All cars are now mandated to be black and white to be more easily recognizable.

First stop was the gun room (aka the historic arsenal) where we learned all about a broad variety of weapons (peaceable and otherwise) and all of their various applications.

Next we experienced life from a criminal’s perspective and had to charm our way out of prison – good thing we are cute and polite!

We learned that in San Diego County the Sheriff staff wear their bullet proof vests under their uniforms for an entire shift – that makes for one long, hot sticky day! We also got to check out their various police vehicles, from off road bikes, heavy traffic motorcycles through to their patrol cars.

IMG_2957We also got to work through a crime scene and think about clues.

IMG_2960As Hunter is currently fascinated with Law Enforcement, and the RCMP in particular, this was a great find. We learned about all of the jurisdictional nuances between municipal, highway, county, state and federal law enforcement in the USA and had fun working to compare it all to what we have in Canada.

“Best Day Ever”…


I didn’t think that we could top go-kart racing but…. I was so very very wrong. Hunter has been wanting to play airsoft for the last year, which is really just an extension of his desire to find a community that will have complex nerf wars and  paintball games. I would like to be optimistic and say that this is all about “the art of war” but that just isn’t the case.

He is equally split between the strategy of the battle and the pure joy of running around (or squirming or crawling etc.) while armed and trying to hit someone else. I have NO idea where this joy came from but it’s definitely there. The one upside is that they spend 4-6 hours running around outside, which makes me happy.

San Diego has a very active homeschool group and there is a “Teen Activity Group” within the larger group. We were able to connect in with them and join in with a few boys to play Airsoft at Mr. Paintball in Escondido, CA. One of the main organizing boys was amazingly supportive and took Hunter under his wing, sharing some of his arsenal and generally helping him understand how things worked.

IMG_7083It was such an amazing experience that Hunter went again the following weekend and paid the $25 entry fee from his own savings. He is now busy plotting how to save up enough money to play every weekend when we are back in February and March!

La Jolla Cove & Caves

IMG_7009Our plan for the day was to take the Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) and paddle over the La Jolla Caves and La Jolla Cove to explore and do some snorkelling. We drove the 30 minutes south down the coast from Oceanside and managed to find the La Jolla shores beach that we were supposed to launch from but were bummed to discover the significantly large swells and onshore wind. On top of that the beach had signs warning about above normal (i.e. unsafe)bacteria levels. Shut out!

IMG_7026We decided to drive a bit further south and see what could be seen from the actual cove. It is located in a protected area so you can’t have any floatable mechanism in the cove (i.e. nothing beyond swimming) to minimize the traffic and protect the sea life. We got lucky and found a parking spot for Fordo just above the cove so hopped out and wandered around.

Right at the cove there is a lifeguard tower and stairs heading down into the water to provide access to swimmers and snorkelers. It seems that there is a fairly large long distance ocean swimming crowd here and they swim around a set of buoys or across the bay. The lifeguard mentioned that it is so busy in the summer time that they actually set up swimming “lanes” using buoys in the ocean.

Just north of the cove is a sea lion “beach” with over 100 of them lounging on the rocks. They seem fairly people habituated because they barely move when you pass by them. They do however bark and get grumpy at the tourists that don’t heed the signs to keep a reasonable distance. There also didn’t seem to be many big males that were protecting their territory, just lots of moms and pups, which were super cute! The downside of that many sea lion’s that close together was the smell – it stunk and stayed with you for hours!

IMG_6997We were definitely disappointed we couldn’t get in the caves but had to agree with the wiseness of the decision as we watched the swells come pounding through the one cave that you could see from shore. It wouldn’t be much fun to be bounced around on the SUP in that! Hopefully we’ll have better luck in February…