Denver Museum of Nature and Science

Dinosaur bones…mummies…and gigantic geodes… Oh My

Visiting Denver? Have kids with you?

If so, you need to stop at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Exploring the wonders of Colorado, the earth, and the entire universe will keep you entertained and informed for the day. Don’t worry. Kids won’t be bored.

In fact, kids enjoy the Discovery Zone, where they can “excavate” fossils, manipulate and watch water in action, try their hands at building, and create art projects. With their Dinosaur Adventure Guide in hand, kids head to each of the six embossing stations to get their stamp. Truly interactive, this hands-on is complete with lab coats and safety glasses.

The Ultimate Dinosaurs exhibit showcases some of the most spectacular dinosaurs I’ve seen. With 17 full skeletons and dozens of fossils and casts, videos showing how they might have lived in prehistoric times, and numerous stations with interactive microscopes and touchable bones and specimens, you feel up close and personal to these critters.

When we were there, scientists were working in the lab uncovering some newly discovered fossils.

A little history: The story of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science begins in 1868, when Edwin Carter moved into a tiny cabin in Breckenridge, Colorado, to pursue his passion: the scientific study of the birds and mammals of the Rocky Mountains. Almost single handedly, Carter assembled one of the most complete collections of Colorado fauna then in existence.

Word of Carter spread, and in 1892, a group of prominent Denver citizens declared their interest in moving his collection to the capital city for all to see. Carter offered to sell the entire collection for $10,000. The founders also secured an impressive collection of butterflies and moths, and a stunning collection of crystallized gold.

Together, these three collections formed the nucleus of what would become the Colorado Museum of Natural History. After years of preparation and construction, the Colorado Museum of Natural History finally opened to the public on July 1, 1908. John Campion, the first president of the board, said in his dedication address, “A museum of natural history is never finished.”

A discovery in 1926 put the Museum on the map. A crew working near Folsom, New Mexico, unearthed stone projectile points alongside the bones of an extinct bison species. These “Folsom points” proved that humans lived in North America more than 10,000 years ago, hundreds of years earlier than previously believed. The Museum was propelled to the forefront of archaeological research, the beginning of contributions to science that continue today.

By the time the Museum turned 50 years old, more than 1 million people had visited, the building continued to expand, and it had a new name: the Denver Museum of Natural History. A year later, the first planetarium opened in a small room equipped with a star projector and fabric dome, which eventually morphed into what is today the digital Charles C. Gates Planetarium. The Museum celebrated its 75th anniversary with the opening of Colorado’s first IMAX theater when Phipps Auditorium, which for 40 years was home to popular programs for adults and children, was converted into the giant-screen venue. In 2010, 3D technology was added to the IMAX experience.

The north wing became home to Prehistoric Journey in 1995, introducing new techniques in exhibitry, such as “enviroramas” that use distinctive sound and lighting, and a viewing lab where the public watches dinosaur fossils being cleaned and studied.

In 2000, the Museum celebrated its centennial with a new name: the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

The Museum received international attention in fall 2010 because of an amazing discovery high in the Rockies. A bulldozer operator working near Snowmass Village unearthed the remains of a Columbian mammoth. The Museum’s curators dug a little deeper and found an exceptionally well-preserved fossil site, packed with Ice Age animals. In just 69 days, a huge team of scientists and volunteers excavated thousands of fossils. Quickly christened The Snowmastodon Project, the discovery represented a new benchmark for understanding climate change in the American West.

If You Go: The museum is open 9 to 5 every day except Christmas. For more information and for ticket prices, their website is

Address: 2001 Colorado Blvd, Denver, CO




The Old Sugar Mill

Mention wine tasting in northern California, and the obvious destinations come to mind. Napa, Sonoma, Lodi, Livermore Valley, Mendocino…just to name a few. Ask about Clarksburg and you might get some puzzling looks. Others realize the area as a great place to grow Chenin Blanc grapes. But, they don’t really know much else. And, they might not realize it’s also a great place to taste wines.

Locals knew the area before grapes were the main crop.

Sugar beets used to be harvested on the same area where rows and rows of grapes now sit. The Old Sugar Mill was constructed in 1934 by the Amalgamated Sugar Company, and was an operating sugar mill until 1993. At its peak, they processed 900,000 tons of sugar beets into 100,000,000 pounds of sugar.

That’s a whole lot of sweet.

Fast forward to today. The beautifully restored, red brick buildings sit surrounded by perfect rows of grapes…not fields of sugar beets. It took some work. Transformation from the Old Sugar Mill and its processing of sugar beets to what we see today began in 2000. With new owners and investment partners, the property has been transformed into a showplace wine facility.

It’s like the transition to wine tasting was a natural progression.

Currently, the Clarksburg vineyard appellation encompasses almost 60,000 acres in a 16-mile long, eight-mile wide area. This appellation is home to over a dozen wineries, 13 of which call the Old Sugar Mill home…Clarksburg Wine Company, Heringer Family Estates and Vineyard, Todd Taylor, Three Wine Company, Carvalho Family Winery, Elevation Ten, Rendez-Vous Winery, Due Vigne Di Famiglia, Draconis by Matt Powell, Perry Creek Winery, Bump City, Batia Vineyards, and Seka Hills Winery.

Wine varietals from all over northern California, some of which include Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Barbera, Tempranillo, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Sangiovese. In fact, there are ovver 35 different varietals grown here. Wineries from other parts of California buy grapes from here to bottle wines under their own labels.

Tasting the wines…I can see why.

The climate for the Clarksburg AVA creates a moderately long growing season with plenty of airflow and light. Located on the Sacramento River, this maritime influence of the Delta offers cool evenings, warm days, limited summer fog, and a significantly less probability of spring frost. Less rainfall is a good thing as well. Not having rain during critical growing stages, like late spring, depletes the ground water faster.

Good? You bet. The vines become stressed sooner and the flavors increase. Try it for yourself.













Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum


There are aviation museums and then there’s this one…

With displays ranging from the elegant aeronautic designs of Orville and Wilbur Wright, to an actual Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird that can fly at speeds of over 2,000 miles per hour, the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum located in McMinnville, Oregon, has a little something for everyone.

With two impressive museum buildings and a theater, you should plan a full day of exploring here. Founded in the memory of Captain Michael King Smith, exhibits celebrate the lives of innovators, pilots, and veterans who courageously pioneered flight in some pretty remarkable machines.

The centerpiece of these aeronautic breakthroughs is the original Spruce Goose. Built entirely of wood due to wartime restrictions on metals, this massive airplane stands as a symbol of American industry during World War II.

The largest wooden airplane ever constructed, and flown only one time, the Spruce Goose represents one of humanity’s greatest attempts to conquer the skies. It was born out of a need to move troops and material across the Atlantic Ocean, where in 1942, German submarines were sinking hundreds of Allied ships. Henry Kaiser, steel magnate and shipbuilder, conceived the idea of a massive flying transport and turned to Howard Hughes to design and build it. Hughes took on the task, made even more challenging by the government’s restrictions on materials critical to the war effort, such as steel and aluminum. Six times larger than any aircraft of its time, the Spruce Goose, also known as the Hughes Flying Boat, is made entirely of wood.

Originally designated HK-1 for the first aircraft built by Hughes-Kaiser, the giant was re-designated H-4 when Henry Kaiser withdrew from the project in 1944. Nevertheless, the press insisted on calling it the “Spruce Goose” despite the fact that the plane is made almost entirely of birch.

The winged giant made only one flight on November 2, 1947. The unannounced decision to fly was made by Hughes during a taxi test. With Hughes at the controls, David Grant as co-pilot, and several engineers, crewmen and journalists on board, the Spruce Goose flew just over one mile at an altitude of 70 feet for one minute. The short hop proved to skeptics that the gigantic machine could fly.

Perhaps always dreaming of a second flight, Hughes retained a full crew to maintain the mammoth plane in a climate-controlled hangar up until his death in 1976.

The Spruce Goose was kept out of the public eye for 33 years. After Hughes’ death in 1976, it was gifted by Hughes’ Summa Corporation to the Aero Club of Southern California. The Aero Club then leased it to the Wrather Corporation, and moved it into a domed hangar in Long Beach, California.

The Disney Company acquired the Wrather Corporation, thus taking over the lease of the Spruce Goose. Evergreen subsequently bought the aircraft from the Aero Club.

In 1992, Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum co-founders Michael King Smith and Delford M. Smith submitted the winning proposal to provide the aviation icon with a proper home. The Flying Boat was disassembled and transported by barge up the West Coast, then up the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, to Portland, Oregon. It remained there for several months, until water levels permitted the huge structures to safely pass under the Willamette’s many bridges.

Finally, in February 1993, the aircraft was transported by truck for the last 7.5 miles to McMinnville, Oregon. Temporary hangars were built as housing for the aircraft, while volunteers worked on the aircraft’s restoration. In 2001, re-assembly of the Hughes Flying Boat was completed in its new home.

This massive plane fills you with awe and wonder. But, that’s not all that’s here…

B-17 Flying Fortress

Best known for its surprisingly successful daylight raids on Germany during World War II, the B-17 bomber, also known as theFlying Fortress, withstood a storm of anti-aircraft fire to help ensure victory.

World War II Aircraft Area

Immerse yourself in history with rich stories and beautiful artifacts from World War II on display throughout the Aviation Museum WWII Aircraft Area.

Titan II Missile

Explore this large booster rocket from inside its missile silo, and then experience the excitement of a simulated launch sequence from the launch room.

SR-71 Blackbird

One of the world’s fastest aircraft, this high-altitude reconnaissance plane flew at the very limits of the earth’s atmosphere at speeds well over 2,000 miles per hour.


Check out the space travel exhibits…

The Evergreen Space Museum transports you back to a time when travel to the stars was just a dream, and then winds you through history from miniature rockets launched from remote farms to the robotic spacecraft we know today. See the artifacts and spacecraft up close – from rocket booster systems to manned and unmanned spacecrafts.

 Early & Earth Bound Rockets

The first milestone of space travel took place, not on the coast of Florida, but on a New England farm field, where on March 16, 1926, a flimsy, liquid fuel-driven structure lifted off and flew 41 feet into the sky – so began man’s journey to the stars. Learn more about the earliest achievements in space exploration with our historic exhibit.


Whether the payload is a atom bomb or an astronaut, the first step into space is the rocket booster which propels the vehicle into space. These increasingly huge engines unleashed the massive thrust necessary to break away from earth’s gravity and start the exploration of space.

 Manned Spacecraft

In 1961, the first man left the earth’s atmosphere to explore space. Since that time, man has navigated planets, orbited the earth, and walked on the moon. Follow humanity’s footsteps into space with our elaborate exhibit that explores the history manned space flight.

Unmanned Spacecraft

Robotic spacecraft has carved the way for extensive space exploration in ways that manned spacecrafts cannot. From visits to the sun to exploration of planets, unmanned spacecraft have provided valuable data to further our knowledge of the universe. Follow this remarkable trajectory from the earliest unmanned craft to plans for the future with our various displays and exhibits.

Like I said…plan on a whole day here.

If You Go: Located at 500 NE Captain Michael King Smith Way in McMinnville, OR. Hours are 9 to 5 daily. Website is





Sometimes you find a magical hotel and you don’t want to leave.

Sometimes you find a hotel where you’re treated so special you hate to say goodbye.

For me it was this week at the Pantai Inn in La Jolla.

I’ll share the details in the next few days.

Pantai Inn



These are the first words that come to mind as I sit in a private courtyard, watching the ocean meet the sky. Oh yeah, I’ve got a glass of wine in my hand and I can’t believe I’m a few feet from the street.

I could be on a tropical island…this place is like that.

Stay tuned…

To Reserve or Not To Reserve

Do you plan every little thing when on vacation? Do you make any reservations ahead of time? Or, do you just ‘wing it’ and hope for the best?

Certainly, there are upsides to reservations. They slash wait times, allowing you to see and do more. They curb disappointment because there’s no driving for an hour only to find out you can’t get in.

At the same time, there are trade-offs. For instance, spontaneity and serendipity, a large part of what makes travel surprising and rewarding, tend to go away. And as getting reservations for attractions becomes more competitive, travelers may soon no longer be able to choose whether to book in advance or play things by ear.

Increasingly, if you don’t make a reservation, you won’t be able to find a decent seat at a movie theater, camp at a popular national park, see the blockbuster exhibition, get to the top of the Eiffel Tower, or ride the latest roller coaster. Additionally, reservations are typically made online, which can put those without easy access to the Internet at a disadvantage.

In the case of some national parks, reservations can also be essential tools in helping preserve fragile environments. Utah, Zion National Park is considering adopting an online reservation system amid record crowds that are wearing down trails and campgrounds faster than the park can afford to repair them. Zion may become the first park to require a reservation for entrance.

Some of the biggest changes are happening at national parks because of the soaring attendance.

The California State Parks system recently rolled out an upgraded campsite and lodging reservation system, which aims to deliver a digital experience similar to booking a hotel room or airline tickets.

The system also allows users to see detailed campsite maps. You can book up to six months to the day in advance of the arrival date. Reservations at campsites in other parts of the United States can be made at sites such as

Being able to browse and book certain experiences has plenty of benefits, especially for travelers who take only one big vacation a year and want to make sure they can camp or hike where they want to.

Yet parks are not the only places making reservations more prevalent. Places like movie theaters and theme parks that already offer reservations for entry.

AMC Theatres announced that Manhattan would be the first major market where all its theaters would have reserved seating. At theme parks, there are reservations for practically every experience inside the gates: rides, shows, parades, restaurants, meet and greets. Walt Disney World’s FastPass+ allows visitors to reserve an arrival window for certain attractions as early as 30 days before you get there, or up to 60 days before check-in if you’re staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel.

No more getting up before the birds, rushing to the park, and waiting in line to get to the rides you want. Nothing better than being first in line…as a kid. No more having to be patient, waiting for the line to move. No more watching the street entertainment while the line inches forward.

So, which way is better?

I don’t know…it’s your vacation. For me, I’m glad we made reservations to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower.





If you’re planning to fly after Jan. 22, you may not be able to use your driver’s license as a form of identification to get through security. That’s because of the REAL ID Act of 2005, which I have written about previously.

What it is: The law, a counterterrorism measure that followed 9/11, calls for states to issue driver’s licenses with more security features, such as scannable bar codes and digital photos. They will be required for people to board any commercial flight and enter federal facilities and military bases.

Passports or other approved forms of federal identification, such as a border-crossing card, U.S. military ID, TSA Pre-Check, or Global Entry card, can be used as an alternative. You will need this alternative ID if you live in one of 24 states that have yet to add the security measures to the driver’s licenses they issue. And you may need to get a new, updated license if you live in one of the states that already offers them.

Enforcement begins on Jan. 22. You can check your state’s status on the website of Department of Homeland Security. In addition, some states have been granted extensions to make their licenses compliant.

The bottom line: You don’t want to find yourself barred from flying just because you didn’t realize your old driver’s license is no longer an acceptable form of identification. If your state doesn’t have the new IDs, there is still time to get a passport or apply for another ID, says Tom Spagnola, senior vice president of supplier relations at the online travel agency CheapOair.

Spagnola says airlines, not to mention airport security agents, don’t want to face a slew of angry and confused travelers when enforcement begins. Many in the travel industry are working overtime to inform the public, so he’s hopeful the message will get through: “We still have three more months to work on passenger awareness.”

Still…it’s worth checking on before you get ready for your next trip.


Napa Valley

Perhaps you’ve read about or watched the news regarding the devastating fires in northern California over the past weeks.

So, what’s going on with wineries? Are they open, should you go, what do you need to know?

Yesterday, we toured though the areas of Napa Valley, the town of Napa, the town of St. Helena, and just north of there. We have not seen Sonoma, Santa Rosa, Glen Ellen, or other parts of the fire damaged areas.

Damage is real in the Napa area. Much of the fire damage is in the hills, on the hillsides, and above the valley floor…especially in the southern area of the Silverado Trail. Signorello Winery is completely gone and many others have damage, some extensive, all important. There is other damage to homes and areas we didn’t see.

But, Napa and St. Helena wineries and businesses are open for business. In fact, we were told they welcome visitors.

Some things we discovered:

Smoke still lingers in many areas. If you’re going to be outside for any length of time, wear a mask. But, it’s not solid smoke. You can still see the vineyards and hills. Also, if you have trouble breathing, a mask is a good idea. We didn’t have any problems breathing.

When the wind shifts, the smoke clears in one area and drifts to another area.

The hills are blackened in many areas. You can see where the fires burned the hillsides and stopped a few feet or less from a vineyard.

For the most part, the vines are not burned. There are some areas where they are singed, but not destroyed. Most of the harvesting of grapes was finished, with some crushing finished as well. We were told it’s a ‘wait and see’ about this year’s vintage.

Dozens of signs, if not more, thanking fire fighters and first responders line the streets and highways. Every business, every home, every corner has a sign. The work of the fire fighters and first responders is not taken lightly. It is all appreciated.

There are thousands of folks working to get these fires under control.

Restaurants and cafes offer free meals to fire fighters, first responders, and those who have lost their homes. In some cases, those restaurants deliver to fire camps or individuals. Everyone is pitching in.

Wineries and restaurants are open. If you plan to go, you’ll probably have your choice of appointment to taste wine and your choice of seating in most restaurants.

We had a fantastic tasting at Stony Hill Winery north of St. Helena. Sitting outside, enjoying the view was not much different than other times we’ve been there. Off in the distance wisps of smoke could be seen, but nothing that bothered us or hindered our tasting.

Lunch at the Goose & Gander in St. Helena was terrific, if not a little quiet. They thanked us for coming in and appreciated our business.

Tasting wine at The Terraces, along the Silverado Trail, we saw smoke in the distance. Business must go on. These people are all working hard to reestablish their livelihood.

Everyone is still vigilant. Fire is not something to ignore, even when it appears to be out. The winds can change, sparks can fly. But, Napa Valley is surviving this and wanting to get back on the road to recovery.

Bottom Line: Take a trip to Napa Valley and see for yourself.