Thursday, June 28, 2012

Timpanogos Cave

Timpanogos Cave is an adventure that everyone from Utah Valley should do. We tried it today with our 3- and 6 year-olds and had a lot of fun. Several pieces of information may help you plan your trip.

1) The trail is very steep and strenuous. The hike up to the cave is only about a mile and a half, but it is pretty much straight up the mountainside. Our oldest, who is an excellent hiker for an almost 6 year-old, made the entire trek, and even carried the heavy backpack much of the way. He didn't complain at all. Our youngest , who is 3, did about half of the hiking and Dad carried him the rest of the way. Make sure that before undertaking this adventure that you have enough stamina to make this climb.
Ancient marine fossils along the trail.
There IS a little bit of railing, but not much.

2) The trail is pretty treacherous. There is a steep drop-off to one side of the trail and no railing for the majority of the hike. A few years ago, a hiker actually died on this trail. Little children must not run and should stay to the inside of the trail. If you're one of those people who like the little ones to run free while you talk to your pals about the latest sales at Rue 21, this hike is not for you. Parents must be vigilant and aware of little ones-- holding hands, at all times.

3) Timpanogos Cave actually sells passes over the phone now. Call 801.756.5238 to get your tickets. They will give you a time to arrive and start your hike (90 minutes before your tour time). Walk-ups have a wait of 1-2 hours on most summer days. You can visit the park service website for more information here.

4) There is a Junior Ranger program at Timp Cave and the rangers are awesome. Our boys spent the hour we were waiting (we didn't call ahead) doing the activity booklet. The boys are pictured below holding their rewards (One wanted a badge and the other wanted a patch). In answer to the request for more information about the Junior Ranger Program, just ask for a Junior Ranger booklet. There were 4 things that every child had to do, like: Take a pledge to protect our parks, ask a ranger how he/she spends their time, and pick up trash. Then there was an under 8 section that my boys did: a maze, draw a picture of something you might see in the cave, match the animals with their names. I did all the writing for our 3 year old, but the 6 year old did his own. The over 8 section I didn't pay too much attention to, but our oldest was doing a word search, and I noticed a few other more complicated activities. A trip through the cave IS required to become a Junior Ranger. Then just turn the booklet in to the ranger. She went over it and had the kids repeat the pledge, then offered them the badge or the patch. Note: This program is a staple of any park, so you can get Junior Ranger patches or badges at just about any state or national park.

Junior Rangers!
5) The cave has special events. We will be attending a "Birds of Prey" show in the next few weeks. There is a monthly calendar here.

6) You should pack plenty of water (they'll ask you about this as you buy tickets). The ranger berated the people in front of us for taking "one tiny water bottle."

7) The temperature in the cave is only 46 degrees (I thought it felt wonderful after that hike). We took jackets for the kids, and our 3 year-old was still freezing in the cave.

8) Don't forget that you have to pay $6 for a 3 day pass every time you go up American Fork Canyon. You can also buy a yearly pass for $45.

Working on the Junior Ranger program

Our oldest loved this adventure. He kept rattling on about all the things he learned and talking about how much he enjoyed it. For the youngest, the day became too long. We spent about 5 hours on the mountain, and about halfway through the cave, he began asking, "When do we get to go home?" We still had the rest of the cave and the hike back down! He definitely enjoyed the the trip, but it was wearing on such a little one. We did see many other children making the trek, though.
This is a switchback on the trail.

We took a lot of pictures in the cave. Some were discolored due to the orange light on the camera, but we have included the best photos below.
The Heart of Timpanogos

A typical cave formation.
Someone fed a chipmunk-- not us, though!

Look closely for the squirrel.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cascade Springs

One of our favorite walks (it's a stretch to call it a "hike") is Cascade Springs. In order to get to this hike, drive up American Fork Canyon all the way to the top. This road eventually goes down into Provo Canyon through Sundance, so you can access Cascade Springs from Provo Canyon, too. At the top of AF Canyon, you'll see a sign that says "Cascade Springs, left, 7 miles."

It's a pretty drive, and the road ends right at Cascade Springs. There is a real bathroom (running water and a sink), but you have to pack all trash out and you may not eat at the springs. Boardwalks let you walk right out over the springs. We spied a family of ducks (they got away before we got a picture), several fish (fishing is forbidden), tons of butterflies (they are on our list of things to learn about), and a few deer on the drive.

The spring is beautiful and there are several bridges and waterfalls. Hold onto little ones as there is no railing on the boardwalk. You can hike any of several loops, none of which is even a half mile long. This hike is appropriate for pretty much anyone. It would be a little rough with a stroller, but definitely possible.

We also took a picnic and ate on the way up at one of the many picnic sites in AF Canyon. You do have to pay to drive in AF Canyon--it's $6/car for a three day pass.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Timpanogos Cove Park

We found a fun new park this weekend. It's called Timpanogos Cove Park (not cave, Cove). It's a Cedar Hills city park, and as our 6 year-old said, "It's right up in the mountains."

What we liked about this park is the unique playground equipment. There is a really cool 3-story toy with 3 slides, 2 climbing walls, multiple ladders, and a caged in room on top. It's probably more for the 4-11 crowd, but our 3 year old was able to manage and enjoyed it quite a bit.

To get to the park, take Canyon Road up past Purple Turtle. After you pass Discovery Park and the temple road turn off in Manila, you'll come to a street on the right called Cedar Heights Drive. Turn right and follow it to the left up around the bench. Take a right a few blocks down on a road called Timpanogos Cove Drive. The park is at the end of this road, so follow it right in. The play equipment is down the stairs.

There are also some really nice basketball hoops and a few covered pavilions, so bring along a picnic lunch!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Find Cassiopeia

Stargazing is a cheap, easy, fun adventure. We live in the northern hemisphere, and on most nights, we can find constellations including: The Big DipperLittle Dipper, Cygnus, Andromeda, DracoOrionPleiadesPegasus, the Winter TriangleGemini, and Taurus. We also find stars like BetelgeuseRigelPolarisBellatrix, Vega, Albireo, Deneb, Castor, Pollux, and Sirius.

So here's the constellation Cassiopeia. She was the queen of Ethiopia in Greek myth. Good luck finding her because in the night sky she doesn't look at all like this!

The five stars that make up Cassiopeia. You can almost always see 4 of them
(unless she is below the horizon).

Here's what you're really seeing. To me, it looks like a letter "W" that's a little warped. If I squint really hard I can get a crown out of it-- she is a queen, after all, but mostly I wonder what those Greeks were thinking. (Ptolemy described this constellation almost 2000 years ago.) Some people describe this constellation as Cassiopeia's chair. I guess I can see that.

To find Cassiopeia, first, find the Big Dipper. (The Big Dipper will serve as an "anchor point" to find this constellation-- at least at first.) Then locate the north star, Polaris. Now, go to the point where the handle of the Big Dipper meets the cup. From there, draw a line through the north star. You should run into Cassiopeia. The north star is about half way between the Big Dipper's handle and Cassiopeia.

Here's what it looks like:

I find her by using the Big Dipper's handle and Polaris.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Find the Big Dipper, Little Dipper and North Star

We don't get to do a lot of camping this year because of our baby due on June 29th. One of our favorite things to do on a good camping trip is stargaze. We've learned to identify several constellations and stars that are simple and easy to find. Over the next month or two, we'll take you on a simple journey to find some very basic constellations, stars, and other sky phenomena that we enjoy seeing.

Most everyone can identify the Big Dipper. In fact, it is the probably the most known constellation. If you can locate the Big Dipper, you can find several other cool constellations, too.

Here the Big Dipper is upside down

Remember, this constellation can be upside down, standing on its handle, or pointed in any direction because it rotates around the sky. It depends on the day and time what direction it will face. It looks exactly like a big dipper. One hint if you can't find it: It will always be in the north "half" of the sky. Face directly north. Any part of the sky you can see by rotating your head may contain the Big Dipper, but it won't ever be behind you. (Note: sometimes the Big Dipper is below the horizon, too.)

To find the north star, known as Polaris, follow the two end stars on the dipper to the north. The bright star you find there is Polaris. The cool thing about Polaris is that it barely moves in the night sky. It stays fairly constant in its position. You can see the north star on the flag of Alaska.

This is the flag of Alaska showing how the Big Dipper points to Polaris
You can easily find north if you can find Polaris. Simply look straight up, follow that line to the north star, and the line points directly north. That's exactly how sea captains have found north for hundreds of years.

Once you find Polaris, you've already begun to find the Little Dipper. Polaris is the tip of the handle of the Little Dipper. Where we live in Utah Valley, you can't always see this constellation due to light pollution. You can usually see the north star and the two farthest stars from it on the cup. It takes a pretty clear night, and being away from the city lights to see the entire thing. It's easy to spot when you are camping.

Some people say the Little Dipper pours into the Big Dipper.
Maybe in this picture, but not always. They will always be the same in
relation to one another, but not in the same positions.

Here's how to find PegasusCassiopeia, Andromeda, DracoOrionGemini, PleiadesCygnus, and Taurus. We also find stars like BetelgeuseRigelPolarisBellatrixVega, Castor, Pollux, and Sirius.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

New Hogle Zoo Exhibits

We went to check out the new exhibits at the Hogle Zoo today. Starting June 1st, the zoo has opened a new "wing" with Pacific Corridor animals. They have (more) bald eagles, polar bears, otters, seals, sea lions, and grizzly bears. The layout is awesome! You can see the animals from several different angles including above and below the water.

The eagles are in a much larger enclosure than before.

Here's a river otter venturing out of the water.

The boys playing in a hollow log.

You can see the harbor seals right up close.

The sea lion looked to be doing some training.

Seeing the seals underwater was exciting.

I didn't know seals swam upside down-- they spent more time upside down than right side up.

Apparently grizzly bears are good climbers . . .

. . . and sleepers.

Outside the polar bear exhibit

The polar bear was putting on a photo shoot in his pool.
We really like the new exhibits. We spent 3 hours and didn't see most of the stuff at the zoo. If this keeps up, it will take a whole day to see it all!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Circumhorizontal Rainbow

Our 6 year-old came in to get us to see a rainbow today. We were surprised, since it's a pretty warm day with no rain predicted. Imagine our surprise when we saw a circumhorizontal rainbow! Neither of us have ever seen a rainbow of this kind be this clear and bright before, even though the basic kind aren't all that uncommon here in Utah.
This picture, taken in Florida in 2007 (we don't have palm trees like that!) shows a complete ring,
but the colors are pretty washed out.

This type of rainbow is formed not by rain, but by ice crystals in the high wispy cirrostratus clouds. It sort of looks like the sun is right above you and a ring (partial in this case) forms all the way around the sky. Often the ring is monochromatic. In our pictures, it is a really nice bright rainbow.

The sky has certainly been good to us this summer!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

American Fork Pool

One of the most popular pools in Utah Valley is the American Fork Pool at the American Fork Rec Center. We really like the American Fork pool. They have a lap pool and a large leisure pool that starts shallow and gets deeper. There aren't a lot of fancy toys in this pool, but there is a  little slide, which happens to be very popular with the kids.There is always a crowd because this is a pretty great pool.

There is also a large slide, a lazy river, and a play area for the kids. My boys always like to play at this pool. It is about the same price as every other pool around ($4/adult, $3.50/child ages 4-17). One reason I like the American Fork pool is I feel like everyone is very friendly and nice here. They always answer my questions or help me find someone who can. 

The big slide and lazy river.
This year we are taking swimming lessons at the American Fork pool because we heard they do a great job (So far we have been pleased). Also, my children are afraid of the dumping cup at the Legacy Center pool, so they just freak out if we go there.  

The red slide and leisure pool. The lap pool is behind.

The play area.

Since we are taking swimming lessons, we decided to get a month pass so we could play as much as we want before I have a new baby. So this year we are going to be spending a lot of time at this pool. The pool is located at the American Fork Fitness Center at 454 N. Center Street. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Transit of Venus Pictures and Video

The Transit of Venus was somewhat underwhelming. Though this event won't happen for another 105 years, if you missed it, you didn't miss much. Scientists learned much about the relative size of the Solar System during other transits, but for us, it looked like a tiny black dot on a yellow ball. It was impossible to take a picture through the eclipse glasses like we did of the Solar Annular Eclipse (seen here).

We were successful with a different technique, though. We reversed a pair of binoculars and focused on a piece of white paper. It takes a lot of patience, and it is almost impossible to hold still. In fact, I was balancing the binoculars against my body and you can see the image bounce every time I breathe. It gives you an idea just how large the sun is since Venus is much closer to Earth and still appears as a tiny dot. Venus and Earth are pretty similar in size, too.

Here's the video:

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Lunar eclipse

If you happened to be passing the empty cattle field adjacent to my house at around 4 o'clock this morning and looked up in the branches of a deadfall, you'd have seen me balancing my binoculars, video camera, and still camera. I was trying to get a picture of the Lunar Eclipse. This type of eclipse happens when the Earth passes between the moon and sun blocking sunlight from hitting the moon. Since the moon is almost entirely full, the effect was pretty good. I took around 30 pictures. Three of the stills turned out pretty well, and the video camera captured the eclipse nicely (despite me saying "January 4th, 2012" when it is clearly June). There were a few wispy clouds at first, but it cleared nicely.

The eclipse is not "total." In fact only 37 percent of the moonlight was shadowed by the Earth.


The sky has been good to us. Two weeks ago we had the Solar Annular Eclipse here in Utah. We are unlikely to see anything like that in my lifetime in our neck of the woods. On June 5th we get the Transit of Venus, which will not happen for over 100 years. And this morning (June 4) we had the partial Lunar Eclipse. It's amazing to me that these once in a lifetime events happened so closely together. It's also pretty awesome how exactly they can be predicted!