Tarantulas to T-Rexes

Thursday was the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. I told Heath and Katy the plan was to be there when they opened at 10 a.m. and we could stay as long as they wanted. As I suspected, we were there until 5 and only left then because we were meeting friends for dinner. The museum closed at 5:30, anyway, so they didn’t lose much time. I checked the website the night before to confirm the opening time and I’m glad I did. I saw they had tarantula feedings and a presentation by a marine biologist. When I asked the lady at the information desk if there was a schedule of events she looked at me like she’d never heard of such and thing and asked what I was interested in. So we found out the location of the spiders and the speakers.

The first feeding was at 10:30 so we headed right up to the insect area. I know, spiders aren’t insects but that’s where they keep them. There were a few families with little kids milling around and they passed around a grasshopper.

For a grasshopper, he wasn’t very jumpy
Rocky the (female) tarantula

In that corner they had a cross-section of a house showing where various types of bugs make their homes. I thought this sign was really cute.

No down-payment, no rent, no mortgage, just move right in.

After watching Rocky eat her once-a-week meal (and she didn’t eat her cricket the previous week), Katy wanted to go into the butterfly enclosure. It was humid in there!

A butterfly landed on my hand!

Butterflies don’t like to stay in one place long enough to get their photo taken but Heath got some nice shots.

Unless there is cantelope, then they stay put awhile.

After mingling with the insects it was off to the rest of the museum. Of course you have to see the dinosaurs!

Watch out behind you!
Katy loved this sign. Just stick to the basics.
There was a room with volunteers working on various fossils.

We went over the gem area and got a look at the Hope Diamond.

Then it was off to pre-historic people.

This Neanderthal was kind enough to share his meal with Katy.

Cooked over that new discovery, fire.

Heath and I thought this was interesting. A very short type of pre-human discovered in Indonesia. She is Homo floresiensals and just went extinct 50,000 years ago, which in the big picture was sometime last week. She was only about 3’6″ and 64 pounds with a small brain but could control fire and build and use tools.

Katy showing her who’s the boss

There was a place where you could see yourself as any type of pre-historic human. The camera took your picture then you picked which species you wanted to be. Heath and Katy tried that out.

Katy as some kind of an early human

And Katy hanging out in her cave.

This is a replica of an early flute from about 35,000 years ago. The original was made of mammoth ivory and found in a cave in Germany. They had a recording of someone playing it and it was very pretty.

And to totally change topics, here. Giraffes were not really designed to drink water. Not only does he have to spread way out and hope he doesn’t collapse, he’s got a valve in his neck to shut off blood flow to his brain so he doesn’t pass out while getting a drink.

And a few more animal shots.

A cheetah and his dinner
Henry the elephant

The Oceans Hall was really neat. That was where we heard the marine biologist speak. She showed a video taken with a deep-sea camera of a fish catching a shrimp and then ripping its insides out. You hear a voice on the film (audio from the boat) saying “I think I’m going to be sick”. Katy talked to the biologist a bit afterward. Katy has developed a real interest in marine life (recall our four-hour drive to look at sea turtles) and in genetics. There was an interactive board where you could touch a circle on the map and up popped a video with a short interview. I clicked a random circle and the interview subject was a marine geneticist. I had no idea there was such a thing. Neither did Katy. This guy was studying shark DNA. So Katy came away from that with something to think about.

A shark snack
Sea turtle skeleton in the bones area.
Art made from all the junk found in oceans. It’s amazing what people manage to lose.

We didn’t spend a lot of time in the geology area because we were running out of time and needed to go to the gift shops (they have four!) for a birthday present. We saw some meteorites intact and in cross-sections and learned a little about earthquakes and the solar system.

Katy standing by a meteor

There was a small area on Africa, too, for whatever reason. I saw this model of a plane and didn’t realize at first it’s a coffin.

We finally saw everything we had time for and after Katy found a birthday present in the gift shop we headed out. This was one of those times I was really grateful for my “get there when they open” philosophy. By noon the place was packed, we walked by the 11:30 spider feeding, just an hour after we went, and there was a much bigger crowd. We went to eat lunch in the cafeteria (obnoxiously expensive, I don’t recommend it) at 12:30 and it was busy. At 1 the line was out the door. I’m glad I didn’t go with my original plan of waiting until 1 hoping the crowd would thin out, that was the crowd.

The nice thing about being a TCK is that no matter where you go you probably know someone who lives there. My friend Nick Vargish, who I went to school with most of the way through, lives in Maryland so I had contacted him to see if he and his wife wanted to get together for dinner. He knew that another friend, Shannon, was in town with her son for a conference so he contacted her. We met for a nice, long dinner at a casual restaurant near the zoo. We had a great time catching up. I had told Heath he would really like Nick and I was right, they hit it off great.

Dinner with Nick and Shannon

We finished dinner about 8 and I thought we should go look at the monuments. Everyone says go at night, they’re beautiful all lit up and it’s not so crowded. Right on the lit up, wrong on the not-so-crowded. There was a big falun gong demonstration (complete with floating luminaries) at the Lincoln Memorial and a few guided tours at the MLK Jr. Memorial, including a group of Amish young adults. A park ranger was giving a tour at the Korean War Memorial. Everything was crowded but we’re glad we went. It was pretty at night. The MLK Jr. Memorial was one of Heath’s top two priorities.

Washington Monument at twilight. I love the pink.
Katy touching the Washington Monument.
WWII monument
Jefferson Memorial from across the water.
The Capitol seen from the Washington Monument
Entrance to the MIK Jr. Memorial. In 2000, the judges selected ROMA Design Group’s plan for a stone with Dr. King’s image emerging from a mountain. The plan’s theme referenced a line from King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, “With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.” The final design includes a massive carved mountain with a slice pulled out of it, symbolizing the “Stone of Hope” being hewn from the “Mountain of Despair.” (swiped from NPS website)
Wall of quotes
Faces on the Korean War Monument.

Soldiers in the field. There is a lot of symbolism in this scene if you want to look it up.

We went to the Lincoln Memorial next and talked to a park ranger. She’s the one who told us about the falun gong event. We asked if this was a typical crowd and she said it’s that way ever night, often up until midnight. If you want the place to yourself, go during the day, word has gotten about nights.

Lincoln Memorial
Katy in front of Honest Abe
The Gettysburg Address carved into the wall.
Washington Monument from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
The Capitol seen from the Washington Monument

We left the hotel at 9:30 in the morning and got back at 11:30 that night. We were exhausted but it was a wonderful day.

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