Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Visiting Escalante State Park

Resevoir at the State Park

It was hot when we arrived at Escalante Petrified Forest State Park (it was September). As we talked to the park staff, we learned the best way to see the petrified wood was to climb to the top of the mesa.  So, we refilled water bottles, re-applied sunscreen, got our hats, and began the climb.

Geology of the Park

On this hike, you pass through the Morrison formation.  This geologic layer is noted for the number of dinosaur fossils found in it.  The Morrison formation is exposed in several areas of Utah, making Utah a great destination for paleontologists.

Petrified Wood

Once we reached the top of the mesa, we followed the loop and numbered points on the trail guide to view different petrified wood specimens.  I have read that there are better areas to see large quantities of petrified wood in southern Utah, but if you are not up for a back country adventure, this park is a great place to view the wood.

Large chunks of petrified wood

Smaller pieces scattered around the mesa.

This was not a particularly difficult hike, despite the heat.  It was interesting to see the variety of colors in the petrified wood.  One large piece was obviously a tree trunk and the tree rings were preserved and visible.

Counting tree rings.

The water at the reservoir looked cool and inviting, but we had miles to go on this day, so we piled back into the car and headed to our next destination.  

If you go:
Take Scenic Highway 12 (east if you are traveling from Tropic).  Turn onto Reservoir Road and follow it (less than a mile) to the State Park and reservoir area.  There is a small visitor's center with a few items for sale, and restrooms.  The park employees will collect your fees and give you a trail guide. Plan a couple of hours to hike and see the petrified wood.  

Monday, November 28, 2011

Festival of Trees - Art for Charity

Blown glass tree from 2008 Festival of Trees

The 2011 Festival of Trees is rapidly approaching.  If you've never been, this is a great way to kick off your Christmas season.  Every year, individuals and groups work to produce decorated Christmas trees, door wreaths, gingerbread houses, and more. Everything is sold to benefit Primary Children's Medical Center.  The Festival, now going on for 41 years, is currently housed at the South Towne Expo Center in Sandy, Utah.

Surfing Santa - 2009 Festival of Trees

Trees are often decorated to celebrate a loved one. Whether it marks their miraculous recovery from disease or hardship, or celebrates the memory of one who has passed on, the work put in by volunteers can best be described as a labor of love.  This "tree" featured a surfing Santa catching a wave filled with fish.  The trees are sold at auction before the event opens to the general public, but there are always a few unsold trees if you get the urge to make a purchase.  

Eric Dowdle art piece created for the Festival of Trees

As you stroll through the expo center, you have the opportunity to watch various performing groups, and to sample goodies.  In fact, the smells of those cinnamon rolls will make your mouth water.  Need decorating ideas for your home?  Check out the wreaths mounted on display doors.

Gingerbread house, 2010 Festival of Trees

The gingerbread houses range from the simple to the intricate.  This elaborate gingerbread scene from 2010 made many people pause for a second look.

There is a tree for every taste here, whether you are a sports fan or traveler, outdoors enthusiast or book lover, Star Wars fan or Twilight fan, you will probably find a tree to love.

Tree decorated with PEZ dispensers

Don't be a Grinch this Christmas!  Make your way to the South Towne Expo Center and support this wonderful community event.

Grinch Who Stole Christmas themed tree

If you go:  the Festival of Trees runs from Nov. 30 through Dec. 3, and is open from 10am to 10pm.  Proceeds benefit Primary Children's Medical Center. Tickets are $5 for adults, $3 for children ages 2 -11, and $4 for senior citizens.  Wednesday, November 30 is family day, and a family of six can attend the Festival of Trees for $15.  Visit the Sweet Shoppe and Gift Boutique while you are there.

South Towne Expo Center is located at 9575 South State in Sandy, Utah.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Christmas Lights at Temple Square

Salt Lake Temple

The lights are on at Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Traditionally, the thousands of lights in the trees at Temple Square are turned on the day after Thanksgiving.  Walking around in the glow of Christmas lights is one of my favorite things to do at this time of year, and always gets me in the right mood for the Christmas season.

Creche on display

Now the Christmas displays extend east across the Main Street Plaza and between the Joseph Smith Memorial Building and the Church Office Building.    Several creches representing different cultures dot the walkways.  Follow the luminaries around the path and pick out your favorites.

Japanese Creche


From the east, you have a great view of the Salt Lake Temple.  Head back toward Temple Square, and take in the beauty of the reflecting pool.

Reflecting Pool on the plaza

At this point, we were getting pretty cold.  The Nauvoo Cafe was selling hot chocolate on the south end of the plaza for $1.50 a cup.  It was very hot, and quickly warmed cold hands and stomachs.  There is also a stand just outside the southwest corner of Temple Square where you can purchase hot chocolate.

The Assembly Hall on Temple Square

Once inside the gates on Temple Square, you can wander the walkways and go inside the Assembly Hall, the historic Tabernacle, and the two visitor's centers.  All the buildings give you a respite from the cold.  The south visitor's center has a beautiful model of the Salt Lake Temple that shows cut-a-way views of several of the rooms in the temple's interior.  There are audio/visual displays and artwork, including the famous Christus statue, in the North visitor's center.

Salt Lake Temple at night

The Salt Lake Temple is beautiful at night with all of the lights.  Although it seems like there are not as many lights this year, it is still beautiful.  One of the main attractions on Temple Square during Christmas is the nativity scene between the Tabernacle and the North Visitor's Center.  A short narration tells the story of the first Christmas, and the figures are lit at appropriate times during the story.

Shepherds in the Temple Square nativity story

Joseph, Mary, and Baby Jesus

The narration repeats about every 15 minutes, and includes music from the Tabernacle Choir.  If you miss part of the story, there isn't a long wait to see it again.

Wise Men from the east

At the end of the nativity story, a beam of light creates a star on the roof of the Tabernacle.  The lights will be on every evening at Temple Square through the Christmas holidays.  If you are looking for a family friendly Christmas activity, this is a great one.  Events at Temple Square are free of charge.

Christmas at Temple Square

If you go:  Parking at a meter is free in downtown Salt Lake in December, but there is a two hour limit.  Temple Square is open from 9am to 9pm daily. Tours for individuals or small groups need not be scheduled in advance and are free.  You may take a tour or explore on your own. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Paris Without A Passport

Movie Poster

Since a return trip to Paris is not in my immediate future, here is how I am getting my "fix."  Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris is the little film that could.  After an extended engagement at the Broadway in downtown Salt Lake City, it is now playing exclusively at the Tower theater. This film has a Dec. 20 DVD release date, so put a trip to Paris on your calendar for Christmas break...I am hoping my visit to Paris without a passport will be under my Christmas tree, and can't wait to see this movie again.

Set in modern Paris, the main character, aspiring writer Gil (Owen Wilson) is on a midnight stroll when he is magically transported to the era in Paris he considers to be the very best.  He interacts with Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, and Salvador Dali (Adrian Brody) and other famed characters and American ex-pats.  Hemingway is a cad, Dali is odd, Picasso is a presence, and this movie has lots of scenery, art jokes, and fun along the way.  Gil moves back and forth between the world of his fiancee in Paris, and the world he enters on his midnight strolls.  This movie is very entertaining, and made me wish more than anything to visit Paris again.


Gil and his fiance visit Versailles with an insufferable know-it-all friend who is laughable in how many things he gets wrong.  Gil is put off by this companion, but his fiancee is enamored with him.  It was wonderful seeing the scenery of Versailles.  I am glad I had the opportunity to travel there when I was in France.

Gardens at Versailles

Filled with wonderful characters and great scenery, this film portrays a "grass is always greener" mentality.  Gil meets a young woman in Paris-past, who does not appreciate her own time, and longs for an even earlier version of the City of Lights, complete with Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec.  Are you unsatisfied with the time you live in?  Have you always wanted to visit another era?  As much as he loves visiting the past, Gil must face his present and make crucial decisions about his love life and career.  With an engaging story, likeable characters, and Paris scenery, this movie is a great escape.

Watching "Midnight in Paris" was like re-visiting this wonderful city.

Notre Dame in 2008

I loved seeing many places I had visited show up in this movie.  It made me long for the corner crepe stands and walks along the Seine.  I missed the little boulangerie around the corner from our hotel where we purchased pain au chocolat for breakfast.

A bridge across the Seine

If you are like me and can't get back to Paris right away, take a chance on "Midnight in Paris."  The more you know about art, the more jokes you get, but this movie is fun whether or not you are an art history aficionado.  And if you DO get to go to Paris in the near future, have a lemon-sugar crepe for me!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Norman Rockwell

Although your Thanksgiving may not be as picture perfect as a Norman Rockwell painting, I hope it is still a wonderful holiday for you!  I have so many things to be thankful for, and am especially grateful for a wonderful family, and a home that gives us shelter.  November has been busy with many good things, and I have been busy enjoying every minute of it (hence the limited blog posts...but sometimes Artwife HAS a life after all...who knew?)  After reading an article in the paper this morning about a study that indicates being grateful can make you more productive, help you exercise more, and benefit you in many other ways in your life, I am going to make more effort at tracking things I am truly grateful for this year, and especially through the holiday season.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Natural History Museum of Utah - Behind the Scenes!

Collections area of the Natural History Museum of Utah

One of the really fun things about visiting the museum on its opening day, November 18, was that the 4th floor was open to the public.  We were able to tour collections areas, see the new storage facilities, visit lab and research areas, and talk to scientists.  This was always our favorite thing to do on basement days at the old Utah Museum of Natural History, and it was still wonderful in this new space.  This particular storage area has a capacity to last another 15 years, with the option to expand their storage units after that.

Storage goes high-tech

Purchased with grant money, these lockers and shelving systems slide and can be compressed together to conserve space.  Controls allow someone to move an entire row of storage space next to another row, opening up a different aisle space so that needed items can be accessed.  These mobile units held shelving with acid free boxes, cabinets like the ones in this photo, and climate-controlled units that held textiles and fragile items.  This has greatly increased the storage capacity of the museum.

Pickled snakes?

The staff member working in the biology area joked that they have considered handing out pickles during these tours.  This collections area is filled with shelf after shelf of creatures in jars.  They are initially preserved in formalin, then stored in liquid.  The lids and seals on the jars break down from the solutions and have to be replaced, but the glass jars hold up very well.  Liquids have to be replenished upon occasion.  This area held amphibians and reptiles.  We saw frogs, snakes, and lizards in jars of varying sizes.

Rodents in abundance.

In another are of the 4th floor, we learned that these animals are preserved by skinning them.  The skins dry quickly, like parchment, and then are stuffed with a cotton material so that they have a shape.  The bones are cleaned (beetle larvae are used in the process) and then stored as well.  Skeletal material is tagged to match up with the skin, so that insides and outsides can be studied together.  We saw various mice, a pika, and a tiny water shrew while we visited with a researcher.

Black and white style pottery

With the increased display space in the new museum, items like these pots are on display instead of being relegated to shelving units in the basement.  On the fourth floor, we were also able to see beautiful snail shells in all sizes, stack after stack of plant specimans, and more.  The paleontology lab was also open to visitors.

"Navajo Sand Monster"

Fossil finds like this one were not displayed in the old museum due to lack of space, but could often be seen on basement days.  It was wonderful to be able to access so many items from the many different collections of this museum.

For information on visiting the museum, click here.

If you would like to see more about the museum's activities and displays, check out my previous blog post.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Natural History Museum of Utah - Opens Today!

Walking up to the new museum

If you are a fan of the Natural History Museum of Utah, it has been a long wait for the museum to move its collections from President's Circle at the University of Utah to a new facility on Wakara Way.  Today is the official opening day of the museum.  We were fortunate enough to schedule a time slot and free tickets to explore the museum.  It is much larger than the previous facility, and although we spent about two hours there, we did not see and do everything.

Wall in the Canyon Lobby

When you enter the museum, you are greeted by this wall in the lobby.  It displays everything from fossils to clothing and blankets.  When you are on an upper floor, you can see parts of this wall up close from the other side.  From the lobby, you may also enter the gift shop and museum cafe.

Shoshone dance regalia

We were advised to begin our exploration of the museum at the top level (5th floor) and to work our way down.  The upper floor has displays of Utah's five native cultures:  Navajo, Ute, Goshute, Paiute, and Shoshone.  

View from a patio at the museum.

We stepped outside to look at a weather station and to see the Salt Lake Valley. This museum is located in a beautiful setting.


Of course, one of the main attractions of the museum has always been the dinosaur fossils. More fossils than ever are now on display in this new expansive space.  A puzzle of a fossil allosaurus skull made its way from the old museum to the new one.  At the museum, kids can participate in mock paleontology and archeaology digs.

Ceratopsian skull

One wall holds a display of various ceratopsian fossil skulls.  There are several familiar fossil mounts here, but conspicuously missing was one of my favorites:  the stegosaurus.  If I somehow missed it, please let me know, but I couldn't see a stegosaur anywhere!

Dinosaurs galore!

We saw some beautiful birds and mammals on the biology floor, and also watched amazing animations of cells, including cell division, osteoblasts making bone, red and white blood cells and more.  It was fascinating.

This beaver is one of the mammals on display.

The earth science area still has a seismograph, and you can still jump and make it move.  The shake table wasn't working when we were there.  This trial day was to help the museum staff work out the glitches.  There was a repair man there fixing some of the interactive displays while we walked around.

Assemble a cell!

There are ample interactive opportunities for children of all ages.  There is an erosion table, a shake table for earthquakes, this cell puzzle, and many visual and audio displays.  We even found an area where you can smell a decaying dinosaur era forest!  Many of the displays are stunning, and I greatly enjoyed our afternoon at the museum.

Mineral on display

We needed the map to find the geology specimans, but enjoyed the display area.  There are minerals under uv lights so you can see them glow in astonishing colors.  Who doesn't enjoy seeing a relatively plain rock glow neon red and green?  Overall, I give the new museum a gold star.  Although there were many people there on the day we went, the design of the floor plan and exhibits flows well, and it did not feel crowded. 

Butterfly in the display wall in the Canyon lobby area.

As a family, we are mourning the loss of some of our favorite things which did not make the transition to the new space.  We did not find the stegosaurus, the geiger counter display where you could measure the radioactive output of different rocks, or the old mine that fourth graders have been climbing into on field trips for generations. I am glad I have memories of these favorites, as well as wonderful ramblings through the cramped warrens of the old museum building during "What's in the Basement?" days.  However, we are amazed at all the planning, donations and hard work that went into creating this beautiful new building and exhibits.  

If you go:  The museum is located at 301Wakara Way, near Red Butte Gardens.  It is open daily from 10am to 5pm, with extended hours (until 9pm) on Wednesdays.  The building is large, and while the floor plan flows smoothly, we had to consult a map a few times to locate specific sections we wanted to see.  Happy exploring!

(Areas normally closed to the public were open today...stay tuned for a look at the museum behind the scenes!)