Bell Museum Garage Sale

img_3357

The James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History is one of my favorite hidden gem museums in the Twin Cities, tucked away on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis. The U’s showcase for the natural sciences, of Minnesota, the world, and the cosmos, I loved exploring its detailed wildlife dioramas as a child and ducking in for a relaxing diversion as a college student. The handsome art deco building built in 1940 houses a great variety of specimens, hands on activities, and works of art, and is a great place to visit if you are interested in checking out exactly what type of creature a “golden gopher” is. However, if you want to visit it at its current location, you only have until the end of the year! After December 31st, the museum will close to prepare for a move to a new, state of the art location being constructed over at the St. Paul Campus. As the only natural history museum in Minnesota, it’s always been a special place to me, and I must admit some mixed feelings seeing it move. Still, I’m excited to see what the University has in store for the bigger, better building!   

img_3355

Waiting to enter, morning of November 25th.

This weekend is a great time to stop in at the Museum if you haven’t been or want just one more visit to the cozier old location before the great expansion. Until Sunday, the museum is hosting a garage sale, dispensing with a multitude of awesome museum ephemera that any museum nerd will just have to have. Lindsay and I stopped in this morning, braving a bit of a line to get inside where we dug through awesome t-shirts, posters, and display cards from special exhibits from past decades, and piles of books, among other interesting finds. There might still be fishing rods from the museums’ old summer camp, if you’re into that! While I think all of the lifesize fish silhouettes were snatched, there’s bound to be a lot more treasures to be found over the next couple of days, and at pretty good prices, too! Sunday, in particular, includes free museum admission and $5 for whatever you can fit in a grocery bag!

img_20161125_115027

Wolf diorama- Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

After loading the car with our haul, it was nice to get to wander through the museum’s renowned dioramas one last time, watching people walk over the simulated bog and other old favorites, such as the touch and see discovery room, filled with all manner of bones, terrariums, and other fun stuff. What will the new location bring that we still can’t imagine?

img_20161125_135259

Our haul! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

It’s open tomorrow from 9 to 5, with an admission of $8 for adults (free for University students and staff), and 10 to 5 on Sunday, with free admission!

img_20161125_113306

A collection of stuffed rodents- Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Advertisements

A Voyage to the Northwoods

img_20160527_204936

Bear Head Lake on a rainy evening. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Having recently returned a few weeks ago from my family’s annual trip across state lines to Door County, Wisconsin (a first for my beloved), I thought I would write a little on the many adventures Lindsay and I have had this summer exploring the state of Minnesota, from the northwoods to the prairies, taking advantage of the state’s natural wonders and seeing some pretty interesting things.

p1010782

 

 

In early June, we drove up to the Iron Range and the Boundary Waters, the first time either of us had visited these famed regions. Taking no heed of the late spring rains, we pitched our tent at Bear Head Lake State Park. A beautiful near wilderness, Bear Head Lake appeared a little mysterious, wreathed in mist and rain as we drove and found our campsite, our first of the year. Lindsay purchased the state’s annual sticker, which we would make use of the rest of the summer and into autumn. Bear Head Lake felt like among the most isolated state parks I’ve visited, making it a good place to get a feel for the conditions of the northwood’s waterways and conifer forests before braving the Boundary Waters or the Gunflint Trail someday. A couple warnings as well for those looking to visit; at this time of year, the mosquitoes were pretty intense! Stepping into the forest, it did not take long for a swarm of whining assaulters to surround us, becoming a maddening cloud around our heads. During an atmospheric expedition to Raspberry Lake through a rolling landscape of billion year old rocks and tall pine trees, I  think we ended up with more than a hundred bites between us by the end. This was, at the time, the most mosquitoes I had ever seen. Strong bug spray is a must. Also, I found a deer tick as well, so always self check!

img_20160528_164331

What you can’t see are the mosquitoes. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

 

By far the highlight of the trip was our descent into the mine shaft at Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Burrowed nearly half a mile into the ancient metamorphic rock to extract the precious, remarkably pure iron ore, it is an amazing place to visit. The first source of iron on Minnesota’s eponymous Iron Range, the Soudan Mine opened in 1882 and began delving deep into the earth’s crust in 1892, thought of among miners as the best working environment in mining. Miners continued tunneling for iron ore until 1962, in almost complete darkness until the end. Taking a tour introduces you to the dangerous conditions miners encountered underground. In addition to incredibly poor lighting and uneven ground (with the occasional unprotected hole), miners were often organized in groups from different immigrant ethnicities, mutually unacquainted with each other’s languages to cut down on organization but also the ability to communicate danger.

p1010788

Soudan Mine elevator

The creaking, rattling elevator takes you and a dozen or so other visitors down to the 27th level, 2341 feet, a damp, chilly 51 degrees. Learning about the how the miners crammed into the same little elevator with only small personal lights to guide them through the treacherous maze of pits and tunnels was pretty mind blowing. However, the history aspect is only one of the tours available, though for the other one, you have to move fast!

img_20160528_100736

Half a mile underground! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

For decades, a portion of the 27th level has been utilized for an entirely different project- the Soudan Underground Laboratory. Instead of digging hematite out of the rock, the former mine was used to extract knowledge of the cosmos itself. As part of the University of Minnesota’s particle physics laboratory, the thickness of the rock prevents interference from the ambient cosmic radiation on the surface, allowing for physicists to search for exotic particles without contamination. Several experiments have been underway in the massive cavern, with its huge detector plate, designed to catch a variety of mysterious neutrinos and other Dark Matter being beamed through the earth’s crust all the way from Fermilab, outside Chicago. Taking the informative physics lab tour at the mine is a great way to experience a taste of the mysterious of the universe and how scientists are attempting to plumb them. Even for someone so lost by complex mathematical discussions as myself, the tour was entertaining and informative, simplistic enough to appeal to general visitors but packed with enough information about the various forms of neutrinos and other ghost particles to inspire awe. The mural painted on the wall inside the physics lab is also quite awe inspiring.

img_20160528_101957

The detector plate and mural, Underground Physics Lab. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

After twenty five years, though, the two experiments are wrapping up later this year, so people interested in seeing the Underground Lab as a working physics lab have only the next two months to make it up to Soudan to take the tour. We’d really recommend it!

In the nearby town of Ely, the “gateway to the Boundary Waters,” there are many local attractions celebrating the rich ecosystems of the conifer forests and the majestic wildlife that live there. We visited a couple that focus on some of the most popular and feared of the animals native to the region, the International Wolf Center and the North American Bear Center. Whether you are a fan of gray wolves or black bears, both are worth a stop if you have any interest in nature and the environment, and in particular the effect of human interactions on these populations. While both present at least an official neutrality in regards to hunting as a means to balance populations, and each strive to present accurate information on these oft misunderstood creatures, they also each take a slightly different approach. Both rely heavily on the presence of their focus species to familiarize visitors with them and both contrast scientific studies with the folklore and culture surrounding them.

img_20160528_143146

Some sleepy wolves. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

The International Wolf Center, though, had a more focused experience, centered around the gray wolves and their ambassador pack.  For the most part, they seem to let the pack alone to live as naturally as they can in their several acre habitat. If you don’t schedule your visit, the wolves might be in hiding from annoying human interaction. In the informative, interesting, and exhaustive displays, the wolf specimens were carefully noted as from wolves who died from natural causes or accident. At the North American Bear Center, though, the displays seemed more wide ranging, a little less organized. The bear specimens were often from record-breaking hunting trophies donated to the center, though they were also prepared in a style that minimized their perception of ferociousness. Here, too, the resident black bears (all rescues from situations that would make it difficult for them to survive in the wild) were given plenty of acreage to wander, but were presented with plenty of peanuts to entice them to approach the fences.

img_20160529_142112

A hungry bear. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

We spent the next segment of our trip in one of Minnesota’s most popular vacation locales, Grand Marais. Situated between the North Shore of Lake Superior and the Sawtooth Mountains, Lindsay and I had some fun comparing Minnesota’s examples of “mountains” and coasts to her experiences as a Californian. It was a lovely little town, and a place to stay and read alongside the pounding surf of the world’s largest lake, an inland sea unto itself. Even as a driving wind came up off of the lake during our evening jog, making it feel closer to April than June, it was a relaxing stay. The Voyageur Brewing Company offered some tasty beers and good food, and the World’s Best Doughnuts lived up closer to its namesake that you might think.

img_20160530_181812

Lake Superior, just outside Grand Marais harbor. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

We didn’t just enjoy the surf and sun, though, we also checked out one of Minnesota’s two National Monuments, Grand Portage. Some thirty five miles north of Grand Marais, it makes for a very interesting day trip. A fascinating recreation of the North West Trading Company’s 1802 post at the portage, where furs from across North America were traded between the Ojibwe and other indigenous peoples and European newcomers, becoming one of the major zones of interaction between the groups on Lake Superior. After viewing an entertaining and informative video, we explored the lovingly recreated buildings (including costumed living history interpreters who were happy to share all of their knowledge on the canoe technologies that connected the interior of the continent to Montreal and Europe via this bustling spot) and dock on the lake. Walking up the steep hiking trail to the summit of “Mount” Rose gave us a stunning view of the monument, Lake Superior, and the surrounding landscape.

p1010812

View of Grand Portage from the top of Mount Rose

On the way back to Grand Marais, we also took advantage of the lovely hiking trails at Judge Magney State Park. We hiked  along the Brule River, leading up to the beautiful Devil’s Kettle waterfall, which plunges a majestic fifty feet, spraying up impressive plumes of cool mist.

img_20160531_102440

Visiting the Devil’s Kettle! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Of course, before heading home to St. Paul, as we drove back along the North Shore towards Duluth, we had to stop by the most photographed location in Minnesota, the lovely Split Rock Lighthouse. I was so happy to stop by this Minnesota icon with Lindsay, who was visiting it for the first time. It is always worth a stop, especially when you have a membership to the Minnesota Historical Society as we do! It was definitely a great way to finish up a wonderful trip!

p1010843

Northern Spark 2016: Climate Chaos, Climate Rising

IMG_2921

I attended the Northern Spark for the fifth time this year, and it was quite the adventure as always. Checking it out with my sister and aunt as well, it was Lindsay’s first time experiencing this idiosyncratic standard of the Twin Cities summer! Spending a sultry summer night experiencing the many wonders brought to you from the innovative and diverse minds on the streets of Minneapolis has always felt like a magical night to me. Wandering around, there were new and strange wonders to experience everywhere. This year, the majority of the festival centered exclusively in the Mill District, utilizing facilities at the Mill Ruins Park, Mill City Museum, and the Guthrie, so Lindsay and I biked in from St. Paul. As the twilight faded and night arrived, haunting images were projected up on the old grain elevators and factory chimneys and eerie music began to drift up from some undersea dance.

img_20160611_220454

The glowing sea creatures of the Illuminated Reef. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

The theme this year’s Northern Spark was climate change and the future, “Climate Chaos and Climate Rising,” a theme that is continuing on to next summer as well, and if you’ve followed my other blog, Reading Rainstorm, you know this is a topic I find fascinating. Many of the events and exhibits brought a makeshift, tongue in cheek “apocalypse” to the Mill District, fitting in well in the industrial ruins of the former milling capital.

IMG_2911

The flags indicate jars of water and their quality from various bodies of water around the Twin Cities, from Lake Calhoun to a puddle from a dog park. 

IMG_2909

Entrance to the Night Library

Having a couple of librarians with us, we of course started out at the Night Library, the Hennepin County Library’s interactive performance celebrating the role of libraries in the community. Nestled under the Stone Arch Bridge, the Night Library imagined a post-apocalyptic future swampland in Minneapolis, plagued by mutant mosquitoes and moose, as scavenging librarians hoped to piece together the knowledge of the past to share with the future. A little weird, but a lot of fun!

img_20160611_223914

The Minnesotan Ice bartering storefront. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

The Minnesotan Ice concessions stand seemed to come from the same world, a traveling caravan carting potable Minnesotan Ice to the parched lands of the future, allowing festival goers to trade random objects for some object frozen in a block of ice, 2.5% of which were edible. While we didn’t come away with a treat, Lindsay did get a cool

img_20160611_225824

Treasure from Minnesotan Ice. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

“grandma” card frozen in an ice cube!

Over in the Guthrie, the Nerd vs. Nerd event, sponsored by the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Advanced Study, was another festival highlight, in which local scholars present short papers while a local artist interprets them. A good way to sit down for awhile while learning some interesting things. Over in the Mill City Museum, we also got some rest watching the intriguing Wayang kulit, the shadow puppet art form from the island of Java in Indonesia in its traditional all night length. A new story, Bimo Gugah, depicts a hero realizing that various climatic calamities were the result of his country’s poor leadership, the lush show featured guest artists from Indonesia and the rest of the U.S.  

img_20160612_022349

Late Night in the Mill District. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron.

 

As we paused to listen to the music and watch the screen and behind the scene working of the music and shadow puppets, we noted climatic changes of our own as lightning began to arc across the sky above the Minneapolis skyline, followed by distant thunder. Realizing the night was nearly over, as the rain began to fall, we began pedaling our way back to St. Paul, getting soaked during the journey. The wet bike ride was an exciting end to a fun night!

 

Science Museum of Minnesota: Ultimate Dinosaurs

Triceratops Horridus, the largest complete triceratops skeleton on display, a standard at the Museum for decades!

Triceratops Horridus, the largest complete triceratops skeleton on display, a standard at the Museum for decades!

Though it is now closed, I managed to check out the special Ultimate Dinosaurs traveling exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota last week. It was pretty awesome.

During my childhood, probably my biggest interest was, of course, dinosaurs. Like many children, something about the prehistoric creatures fascinated me to no end and I memorized the many species of dinosaurs and other prehistoric reptiles and mammals, and learned all I could about evolution and deep geologic time. While I was interested in nature and science in general, the mysterious and intriguing Mesozoic period was what i wanted to study most. Though there are no dinosaur fossils here in Minnesota, there are plenty of Cambrian fossil deposits in the Twin Cities where you can dig up brachiopods and crinoids, among other ancient creatures. I still have boxes of them from when I took a class from the Science Museum of Minnesota paleontologists and went out to the cliffs near the Mississippi in St. Paul to search the limestone bluffs for these ancient shells and fragments. I even hoped to go into paleontology to study fossils in order to piece together the ecosystems of the past. Sadly, though, my math skills were not up to the task of any hard science, so I followed the path from natural history to human history, where we could just avoid mathematics at all costs. My fascination for prehistoric life has kept with me, though and I could not pass up an opportunity to check out this special exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota before it packed up.

2014 summer 123

An actual skull of Edmontosaurus, one of Canada’s most well known dinosaur species and featured prominently in the Royal Ontario Museum’s collections.

As a kid, probably my favorite place in the Twin Cities was the old Science Museum of Minnesota, a large rectangular building with rounded edges in downtown St. Paul, with a giant metal iguana out in front and cool stairs that made music when you walked on them. Nowadays, of course, the old Science Museum is now home to the Scientologists (a totally different use of the root word); the building which housed the dinosaurs, though, is now a part of the McNally College of Music. The Science Museum of Minnesota has had a pretty impressive paleontological collection, specifically dinosaurs, by itself for a state that contains no known Mesozoic fossils. The famous triceratops skeleton being most well known, (one of only four such fossils displayed in the world, and the largest of them as well) but also an impressive diplodocus and allosaurus, ancient crocodiles, and Pleistocene mammals.

Since 1999 the Museum has moved into it’s new and impressive home on the banks of the Mississippi, and expanded in space; in addition to a greatly expanded paleontology collection, they host some very impressive traveling exhibits such as last years fascinating exhibit on the Maya. This summer, the go to subject was the ever popular display of dinosaur skeletons, and as can be seen on TV spots and billboards around town, it was greatly hyped. It was a pretty good exhibit, if a little steep. In the end, the price might have been a little high, but for anyone at all interested in dinosaurs, it was well worth it.

2014 summer 122

An unusual sauropod from South America, Amargasaurus is one I had never seen before.

Organized with the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto (a very awesome museum itself), the exhibit showcases reproduced mounted skeletons of twenty “new and exotic dinosaurs” from the Southern Hemisphere (known during the Mesozoic as Gondwana).  The exhibit focused on continental drift and had a lot of cool, hands on activities to explain how the breakup of the supercontinent Pangaea into Laurasia and Gondwana during the Mesozoic, and how this spurred a diversity of dinosaur species. Containing reconstructed dinosaur skeletons from a variety of rarely seen species from diverse areas of the globe, such as Ouranosaurus, Eoraptor, and Giganotosaurus, and some I had not even heard of before, like Cryolophosaurus, Rapetasaurus, and Amargasaurus there were some very good information.  The exhibit arranged the fossils by geologic period and geographic location, including Triassic Argentina, Jurassic Antarctica, and Cretaceous Madagascar. Not only dinosaurs were spot lighted; I particularly enjoyed the Simosuchus, or “pug nosed crocodile,” a short, stubby herbivorous crocodilian from Madagascar. In all, an informative and eye catching exhibition. For anyone with kids, or for anyone who has held on to their child like enthusiasm for the prehistoric, there was a lot to look at. If it moves to your city next, check it out! I am looking forward to seeing what the Science Museum’s next special exhibit will focus on.

From what I have been reading about recent findings, though, I am surprised we did not see any more feathers; I’ve been reading some books on paleontology lately, so stay tuned to my book blog Reading Rainstorm as I go into some discussion of paleontology.

2014 summer 119

Cryolophosaurus, a large theropod from the Jurassic discovered in 1991 in Antarctica. One of the species featured by Ultimate Dinosaurs.