Shedd Aquarium

Welcome to part 2 of our Chicago weekend!

Sunday morning, we woke up to a little snoring Eyra! She (surprisingly) slept in that morning, allowing us to sleep until almost 8 am!! It’s funny how that is now the definition of sleeping in for us! We got our things ready, got dressed and headed down to check out. We could have just dropped our keys in the slot but I insisted on going up to the front desk to explain why the snack sensors in our room might have been tripped! Luckily, the woman who helped me looked at Eyra and just smiled and said she understood! We then headed to the car to go to the aquarium!

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We got a nice outdoor parking spot very close to the aquarium and walked over to the entrance. We contemplated waiting in the regular line but we saw a better option, it was the “stroller accessible” doors and even better, there was no line. Boy are we glad we did that!! As we were patiently waiting for the aquarium to open, a few other people came up to wait by us. One family in particular that we struck up a conversation with. We introduced ourselves and learned the mom’s name was Katie (and I just have to mention, her blue/green/purple hair was amazing and I wish I was allowed to have my hair like that!!). Not that Clark would be opposed to that idea but it would look unprofessional at work. Katie and her family live about an hour outside of Chicago and come to the aquarium quite frequently. She gave us a lot of tips and pointers on what to see as well as lots of entertainment watching her children do potty dances while we were waiting! We told her we were from Pella and just visiting for the weekend, she was kind enough to use her aquarium membership to get us in for FREE! We even got to do the special amphibian exhibit and the Aquatic Show! It was such a big blessing!

So Katie (and family), if you’re reading this, THANK YOU SO, SO MUCH! We had a great time and we wish we could have bought you lunch or coffee or something! If you ever come to Pella, you and your family have a place to stay! Clark and I understand that you didn’t have to do this and yet you did.

As we began wandering around the aquarium, Eyra was in awe. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her say “Woah!” so many times! She also kept waving at the fish saying “Haw-lo dishies!”. First up at the aquarium was the exhibit called Amazon Rising! Here we were able to see fish from all over the Amazon River area including the notorious piranhas, stingrays, some turtles, and even an anaconda! I think Eyra’s favorites in this first exhibit were the teeny blue fish here! I think if she could have reached her arm in, she would have!

I think one of Clark’s favorite parts was the architecture of the building. It had huge, round, lofted ceilings with really cool ocean themed lamps! In many areas there were cool things hanging from the ceiling like these sharks! RAWR!!!

The next 4 hallways were simply called Waters of the World! Here we were able to see fish from pretty much everywhere! Some of the coolest were definitely the Spider Crab and the eels! We also got to see some VERY pregnant sea horses, but no babies quite yet! After exploring these exhibits, it was time to go to the aquatic show! I think this was definitely Eyra’s favorite part!

We were able to sit with Katie and her family and they got us GREAT seats! Right up front for the action! The show started with some kid volunteers doing trivia while the trainers got situated in the pool! Up next was a video about conservation and what we can do to keep wildlife safe. Then the dolphins began their tricks! Eyra was fascinated! “WOW!!” she would yell every time they would jump! Let me tell you, these are some very talented dolphins!!

A few minutes later, they brought out a sea lion who walked RIGHT in front of us! It was hard to keep Eyra on my lap at that point! Then we got to meet Dory, a rescue dog that the aquarium took in! Her and the dolphins then did tricks at the same time! It was so cool!

We weren’t quite ready for lunch yet, so we headed back upstairs to finish the rest of the hallways that we hadn’t seen yet! Up next was the Wild Reef exhibit! Here we were able to see all the characters from Finding Nemo as well as giant coral statues that Eyra loved touching! This was one of my favorite parts! I love how colorful and beautiful the reef fish are.

There was also massive amounts of coral and sea anemones. This exhibit also had the cool ceilings where the fish swim above you! This was one of Clark’s other favorite parts! Eyra also loved looking up at the fish! We also got to see SHARKS here and even shark eggs! You could even see the little shark wiggling inside the egg! Crazy cool! We learned that the Shedd aquarium also grows and breeds their own coral to help keep the populations alive and thriving!

Next, we decided to grab a quick bite to eat before heading down to see the Beluga whales! As we were watching the whales, we noticed one of them had 2 large things on its sides that almost looked like growths. We soon learned that this whale was actually a nursing mother and those “growths” were actually her stores of milk! How cool is that?! We enquired about which whale was the baby and found out that she is still nursing her 4-year-old baby! You go mama! That’s some dedication right there!

We were also able to go down 1 floor and see into the beluga tank as well as the dolphins, otters, and even penguins! They even had a little restaurant and a yellow submarine for kids to play on! Eyra had a blast standing against the glass and watching the dolphins swim by! They were very playful!

Eyra was getting very tired at this point and the aquarium was almost closing, so we decided to head back upstairs. As we were leaving, we saw 1 more cool tank that had beautiful pink jellyfish! What a great way to end our visit! We headed out to the car, got Eyra comfy, and headed home to Iowa! It was a busy, but super fun weekend! Chicago, we can’t wait to see you again!

The Field Museum.

Welcome back friends, this past weekend we decided to go to Chicago. It was quite the adventure. It all began with an intense week and a couple of visits to the doctor. As some of you may know, Eyra was not feeling her best two weekends ago and let’s just say that for now, Eyra is a bit better but not 100% quite yet. Now Abby and I are the ones who got the bug since we keep coughing left and right and it sucks big time. Our trip began with a baby foot on my face around 3:30 in the morning on Saturday, that for sure woke me up and that’s how my day began. Our Chicago reservations were made in a timely fashion, we were packed, fueled, snacks for the road were ready and we left exactly at 5:00am on the dot. Chicago is exactly 5 hours from Pella and if everything went right, our arrival would coincide with the museum’s opening time.  Eyra slept almost all the way and woke up as we were 10 minutes away from the museum (I call that, perfect timing).

When we left Pella, we left with rain and when we arrived to Chicago, we were greeted by much more rain. It has been 3 weeks since Abby and I opened our camping season and yes, our SUV has a roof top tent installed, we made sure to check the height of our SUV and made sure that our vehicle would clear most of Chicago’s parking facilities (buildings) prior to our trip. The majority of Chicago’s parking garages have a clearance of 7’ feet, my SUV’s height with the roof top tent is 6’ 8”, that being said, there was no need for us to take out the roof top tent. Well F**k!! I was completely wrong! The Field Museum shares parking lots with the Shedd Aquarium and Soldier Field Stadium and since we arrived at 10:00am which is the museum’s opening time, the outdoor parking lots were completely full. I didn’t hesitate since I was sure I was going to fit in the parking garage, which I did but the parking garage has fire extinguishing piping all along the parking garage’s supporting columns. The columns are located every 10’ and have lots of screws just hanging down and I scraped the s**t out of our roof top tent cover and ripped it pretty good, the damage looked like a beauty and I feared the worst. As C3PO from Star Wars would say “Thank the maker” there was no damage to the tent but the cover is a goner and the replacement is not cheap. All I have to say is… 7’ feet clearance? My a$$ (lie).

After parking and checking out the damage made to the roof top tent cover, we got Eyra all covered up, we got her rain gear on and placed her on her stroller and headed straight to the museum, we had to enter the museum through a separate entrance since we had a stroller and I am glad we did because the “normal” entrance was so full that the ticketing line went from the inside of the museum all the way to the outside stairs of the museum (not fun in the rain), according to Chicagoans, that type of weather happens all the time and they don’t mind getting wet one bit.  We got our tickets and headed straight to the children’s play area. Eyra had a blast, our kiddo wasted no time and quickly made a friend and the both of them played with corn in a Mesa Verde exhibit for a while, she also stepped inside a T-Rex footprint, played with baby dinos (got super scared for some reason), made music in the drum room and played with sand.

We continued our journey to a super cool Egyptian exhibit where we found out that big museums such as this one have a vast amount of amazing historical artifacts that draws an insane amount of visitors like ourselves and it’s really hard to enjoy each display. It reminded me of Disneyland, we have to wait for hours in line to enjoy the ride that lasts only 3 minutes and in this case we had to wait in line to see one display. The irritating part of it is that finally when we got to the display, we couldn’t even read all of the information in the plaques as people began to say (well your taking your sweet time). Yes, pal! I am taking my sweet time after leveling $100 bucks and just because you said that, I will go even slower. I sound super negative; I know! But what would you guys have done?  Moving on…The Egyptian exhibit also had an interesting bed which looked uncomfortable but it was quite the opposite, it was comfy and don’t mind the awkward pillow it was better than I thought (soft), it felt more like a hammock. So here is a weird question, do any of you believe in time travel? I have to tell you, Abby and I found a statue of an Egyptian Michael Jackson and it was legit. Is time travel a real thing? You be the judge!

As we arrived to the main floor. Sue, the T-Rex was hard to admire as there was no way to even get close to it, the amount of people around it was to great and we decided to move along and see other exhibits since there was no rush to see Sue right at that moment since we literally had the whole day to enjoy the museum. Our next stop was the ancient Americas, I wanted to pay a visit to my “compadres” in other words my ancestors, haha. It was really neat, informative and full of amazing artifacts. I just want to point out that the exhibit of ancient America did not only focus on the Mexican indigenous tribes but North, Central and South America. The exhibit included pottery from the Quechua to the uniqueness of the Navajo hunting tools to sacred scrolls of a well-known indigenous civilization who fancied themselves as the star gazers of the era (the Maya) and let’s not forget the architectural masterpieces of the Incas. It was a great exhibit.

One bizarre item that I noticed was a bra made out of gold. I am sure it was a good idea at the time but man! I wouldn’t want to be the chick wearing it, I am sure that golden bra must have been pretty uncomfortable.

We headed to an exhibit which in my opinion was the coolest and my favorite of all. This was the Northwest and Arctic people exhibit. I think I bored Abby on our way home from Chicago since that’s all I talked about. The artifacts, the knowledge of the wildlife that these individuals had makes hunters nowadays look like pansy’s.  The craftsmanship, the outfits, the tools, the respect for wildlife and most importantly, the bond of humans and animals was beyond cool.  You hear of people talk about their hunting rifles and bows, their scent free hunting clothes, their new Polaris UTV, their new camo shirt made by Under Armour and their top of the line fishing hooks from Bass Pro Shop and let’s not forget bragging about a deer or an elk kill as a trophy. Let’s begin shall we? The tribes from the Northwest coast and the Artic didn’t have the hunting gadgets that are available now. These guys killed an animal to survive and feed a tribe, not just a single family. The animal that was killed was acknowledged and never forgotten and it was seen as a gift from their deities and everything from the animal was either consumed and used.

These hunters tackled everything and anything. These guys killed whales and used kayaks to bring it back to shore, Their kayaks were made from seal skin and they did not use Japanese whale ships to reel in the whale, these guys killed deer and used their backs to carry it back to the tribe and did not use fancy UTV’s. Hooks and arrows were made out of bone or sea shells, not stainless steel or titanium, these guys did not use camo from Under Armour but instead used the fur of the animals they killed or clothing made out of animal skin decorated with animal paintings, such as orcas, eagles, bears, salmon and more, this represented the amount of respect the tribes had for these animals. No animals meant no food, and no food meant no survival in the extreme conditions of what is now Alaska. The totem poles were just unbelievable and I took my sweet time on that exhibition. I’ve had the privilege to visit Southeast Alaska and I have seen these mighty totem poles but never really understood its meaning. I learned something new that day.

Next we went to a Chinese exhibition, we had to pay extra to visit this great and detailed chamber. As I mentioned before, it was hard to see it all with detail since the amount of people at the exhibit was just too big and there was barely enough space to move aside. There was however a really neat and traditional Chinese puppet show that Eyra loved and Abby and I sure enjoyed it, it was different and nothing we had seen before. We concluded this exhibit fairly quick since it was impossible to see it all, maybe not impossible but difficult to get a glance at the artifacts since every display had a big line. The Chinese exhibit led us to the prehistoric section of the museum and it did not disappoint.

Eyra absolutely loves dinosaurs and everywhere she looked she kept saying “wow”!  I cannot tell you how many “wows” I heard in that exhibit; she was so excited. Her excitement was so great that she decided to walk and not sit in the stroller at all. We easily spent an hour and a half on that exhibition alone. Yes, it was that sweet and with so much information. It was the only place that Eyra gave her full attention to. By this time, we looked at our watches and realized it was nearing 3pm, time flew and we still had many exhibits to visit.

we visited a Tibetan exhibit followed by yet another comical and fascinating display of artifacts from Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand, the masks made by this native tribes, I honestly thought were made by Hollywood to make their films seem more legit, but I was wrong. Eyra also enjoyed these exhibits since her new favorite movie is Moana! That exhibit ended up merging with another exhibit about conservation and the importance of saving the world’s forests.

I was beginning to get tired but we had a couple of places yet to see and sadly we didn’t have enough time. I am not saying that the Field Museum is as big as the Louvre in France. My family and I spent 2 and a half days at the Louvre and we didn’t even hit 50% of the museum but the Field Museum proved to be worth every penny and worth the time and wait. The African displays were really realistic and the museum made us feel as if we were part of the exhibit, even Eyra got to ride on a disco bike that had a bunch of Michael Jackson cassettes, I am telling you, time travel is beginning to sound more like a real thing!!

We looked at the time and we decided to go check out the one display I been meaning to see the entire time. Can you guess what it is? Sue the T-Rex and yes, the line was down from 500+ people to maybe 30. Yes, people, we are that patient. Sue made my heart happy and also drained my last bit of energy and I was ready to call it a day. Before we left the museum, I asked Abby, “We as Americans have displays of almost every nation in the world, do you think other countries have displays about the United States in their museums, if they do, what could they possibly have? Maybe something WWII related I am sure.”.

We bundled up, braved the rain and the really low parking garage followed by a bunch of naughty words and decided to head to our hotel, we weren’t checked in as we drove straight from Pella to the museum. Abby is probably the second greatest planner I have ever known, number one being my late mother, anyway the hotel that she booked for us was not only supposed to be super fancy but also 2 miles away from the Field Museum. That being said in theory, we should have been to the hotel in no time. Well let’s see… It took us 45 minutes. Traffic was insane followed by the hotel’s parking garage being full. We found some outdoor parking, grabbed our things and started to walk to the hotel… and we got lost, which was no biggie. We got to see a bit of Chicago in the rain. Finally, after stopping at a restaurant and asking for directions, we found the hotel.

We got checked in and by this time, Eyra was a complete mess. She was tired and hungry and I was beginning to feel the same way. Well things didn’t go as planned. We got the wrong room and we couldn’t change our room since the hotel was overbooked. We disputed that but that was the only room available and honestly, at that point, we weren’t going to roam Chicago for a better hotel room. All I wanted was to take my shoes off, lay down and order some grub. Abby agreed and we said screw it. Well… The room was tiny with a queen size bed. Yeah! A queen size bed for the 3 of us. It sucked but we made it work. The view was fantastic, we got to see how the heater and A/C of another building worked, that is what I wanted to see this entire time.

It gets better (not). The so called free WIFI was bull. We literally had to call the lobby and dispute the free WIFI since we apparently had to purchase the WIFI option through AT&T. After 10 minutes on the phone with the lobby, they decided to give us the password to their “free” WIFI. Again, at this point is pouring rain outside and we decided to order in room service, yeah it was delicious but not $100 dollars delicious and that’s not including the 18% gratuity. What happened next was a boiling point for Abby and I, and we found this out as we were checking out the following morning.

As some of you may know, hotel rooms have snacks that you may eat and pay upon checkout, well…our room had the same thing. These snacks consist of water, soda, candy, chips, etc. The snacks were all laying on top of a table with sensors, if you touched the snacks, it automatically triggered the lobby to charge the card on file at checkout. This would have been no big deal (we know better than to mess with room snacks!) … yeah Eyra touched all of the snacks, she didn’t eat them but just moved them. Pricey charge I tell you. We won that dispute, also I am glad we didn’t park on the hotel’s parking garage because they charged $45 the night, we did however park across the hotel for $18 dollars. Was the hotel fancy? Yes, it was! Was it worth staying there? NOPE!! That is our first and last time we ever book there. Despite the hotel fiasco, I would recommend the Field Museum to anyone, is AMAZING!! I would love to go back. If that opportunity happens again, if it does, I will make sure we go during a weekday to avoid the crowd, the museum in my opinion is a national treasure that we all need to cherish and enjoy while we can, especially our children.

Chicago was leaving a sour taste in my mouth but what happened next at the Shedd Aquarium made me regain faith in humanity once more.I feel grateful and lucky to have met this individual and her family and if that person gets to read this, I want to let her know that you have a huge heart and Abby and I are glad that people like you still exist in this world. That is a story that will be told by my Abby in the middle of the week.

The Chicago adventure continues…

Home sweet home.

Welcome back everyone. Some of us can already see and smell the change in the air as Spring is beginning to show. For others, that feeling may be completely the opposite. Then there is us, where snow comes and goes and the weather fluctuates drastically. We live in the land of the wicked. 69 degrees in one day, followed by tornadoes, rain, hail and constant wind and not to mention snow the following morning, there is no happy medium. This weekend we had planned to go to Dubuque Iowa to the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium as well as Crystal Lake Caves.

Trips like this take planning, budgeting, research and more. We tend to always stick to plans, well… let me rephrase that, we try. That being said we never take into account the obstacles that life gives us. We can’t win them all. Abby and I noticed that Eyra had a pretty terrible cough but only during the night which was very bizarre and this cough kept happening for 2 days until we decided to take Eyra to the doctor on Friday afternoon. One of the things I love about Eyra is that no matter what life throws at her, Eyra is always happy and enthusiastic unless you are giving her chicken for dinner, she hates chicken and the world ends.

During our visit to the doctor she played, climbed, laid down, sang, ran and more. She did normal things that every kid would do and not a sign of a cough, I thought to myself, we are having a Murphy’s Law moment, just when we want our kid to show how sick she is, my kiddo shows us different.

The moment of truth arrived and Eyra cooperated with the doctor “for once” in every way, maybe because Eyra had never seen that doctor before and felt intimidated since our doctor was on vacation. The doctor mentioned that Eyra could have symptoms of RSV but he was certain that Eyra definitely had Bronchiolitis and needed to be treated with a nebulizer at home. Abby and I decided to play it safe and stay home during the weekend and do absolutely nothing. We watched Disney’s Moana 3 times since Eyra loves that movie, played puzzles, read Disney’s The Haunted Mansion since Eyra has literally memorized some of the silly pages that the book has. She ran around the house with Teddy, we cuddled and most importantly she used her nebulizer, she doesn’t like the nebulizer mask but she does like the way the vapor feels on her face without the mask.

Eyra and Babraham (stuffed animal) roamed around the house while Babraham was strapped in to a kid’s stroller until Eyra decided that it was time for bed (not true). An hour and a half later, Abby and I were victorious and treated ourselves to half a pint of ice cream, well… that was mostly me. Overall, we had a great weekend. We got to spend time together in the comforts of home and we just hope that Eyra continues to improve throughout the week.

To be continued…

Amana Colonies

Welcome back everyone! This week we had some special visitors in town! My parents, Dave and Risa, came to visit us from Colorado! We wanted to take them somewhere cool and semi-close to home, so we decided on the history rich, Amana Colonies. The colonies are located about 1 hour 30 min north east of Pella and is a National Historic Landmark.

There are 7 colonies total which include Amana, East Amana, High Amana, Middle Amana, South Amana, West Amana, and Homestead. The history of the colonies is very interesting! The community was started by a religious group that called themselves the “Community of True Inspiration”. After experiencing some religious persecution as well as an economic depression in their fatherland of Germany, the “Inspirationists” decided to find a new home. In 1843, they left to the United States and started a community in Buffalo, NY. As the community grew and flourished, they began running out of room and decided to move further west.

In 1855, the group bought 26,000 acres of land in Iowa and they named it Amana which means “remain faithful”. At this point in time, 6 villages were created roughly 1-2 miles apart from one another. They would organize the town in a wheel and spoke style, with all communal farm equipment towards the center of town, then the houses, then the farmland on the outskirts of each village.

Amana was a completely communal living society. They did not use currency within the village, and were discouraged from going out of the community. Children would go to school 6 days a week, year round, until the age of 14. At that time, they would then be told what they would become by the elders. Most boys would learn a trade (woodworking, blacksmith, or farming) however, some were sent to Iowa City to learn things like medicine, pharmaceuticals, and dentistry. The women would normally be assigned to a communal kitchen, help in the gardens, do laundry, mend clothing, or sometimes work with the wool. Every family got a certain amount of goods they were allowed to get from the general store. In order to be a part of this communal society, members had to agree to help where ever necessary as well as attend church services 11 times per week (yes 11 times!!!). They would go to church once on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, twice on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and 3 times on Sundays! While attending church, the men and women had to sit on opposite sides of the church!

There were 50 communal kitchens throughout the 7 villages, which would serve 3 meals a day as well as 2 snacks. In each of the towns, there was a dairy, smokehouse, bakery, gardens, vineyards and ice house. In 1861, the Homestead village of Amana was added to ensure they had a depot on the railroad.

While the community was fairly self-sufficient, they did sell much of their linens and wool and soon became known for the high quality. In 1923, a fire broke out at the flour mill and soon spread to the Woolen mill. This was a devastating blow to the community. They did not have insurance on the buildings and would have to re-build from scratch. Shortly after this, the nation succumbed to the Great Depression. During this time, farming was less than successful and the decision was made that the community needed to change. At this point they were no longer considered a “communal living” and they established a profit sharing corporation to manage all the farmland and industries that Amana had to offer. It was in everyone’s best interest to change with the times instead of just watch as their children and grandchildren left to pursue different opportunities. Luckily, the history and sense of community still exists and can clearly be seen when talking to residents.

We arrived to Homestead around 11 am and our first stop was the General Store. The building is the original building and was erected in 1858. The store had all kinds of goodies including, salt water taffy, vintage candies, cinnamon roasted almonds and walnuts, and all kinds of other trinkets! Attached to the general store was a year round Christmas store. Boy was Clark in heaven there!! It also had a downstairs that was full of Amana made coffees and teas (and samples as well!).

We headed next into the Fudge and Lace shop! We tried a piece of dark chocolate and salted caramel fudge… Let me tell you… this was probably the best piece of fudge I have ever eaten! It was DELICIOUS! This store had cute little wall signs and a back room filled with beautiful handmade lace items!

Next up was the Amana Heritage Museum. We were warmly greeted by a sweet older lady who explained to us that (usually) there are 3 buildings to explore on the tour. However, when we were there, the 2 outside buildings were closed for repairs. We did however, still get to watch the video on the history of Amana Colonies and included letters and journal entries of some of the first members of this community.

We then headed to the kid store which was awesome! It had all kinds of classic toys as well as new things! Eyra’s favorite was a grocery cart that was just her size! She pushed that thing all over the store! After entertaining our inner children, we then headed to the 2 different winery’s in the town for wine and cheese samples! My two favorites were the strawberry and mango wines. Eyra was very into the cheese samples, so much so, that we had to buy 2 bricks of cheese!

Our next stop was Iowa’s Largest Walnut Rocking Chair!!  As you can see from this picture, Eyra was astounded!!! Her and Babraham couldn’t believe how high up they were. This was probably our favorite stop on the trip because of all the fun stuff in this room! Not only was there the rocker, but they also had wooden drum boxes, many handmade instruments like xylophones and wind chimes that Eyra was allowed to play with, and a very cool wooden golf ball toy. Next door to this is a cute broom shop where you can actually watch a broom maker create the brooms! I channeled my inner Gryffindor and tried to take flight with a Nimbus 2000… but alas, it didn’t work!

Our last stop was the General store in High Amana. This store was also original and still has formed tin ceiling as well as vintage ice cream freezers, product containers and boxes as well. Clark had a fun conversation with 2 very nice and knowledgeable ladies whose grandparents were community members when Amana was still a communal society! Wilhelmina (or Willa as she went by) and Molly Kephart. They were very accommodating and answered any and all questions we could think of. They even let us use their bathroom before we headed home and also let us snap a picture of them as we were leaving.

Overall this was such a fun trip and we were so lucky to have been able to enjoy the company of Dave and Risa on our journey!

What adventure will we take next? Unknown but I am sure it will be exciting!

To be continued…

 

Homestead National Monument.

Welcome back everyone! This weekend we kicked off the camping season! We drove out to Beatrice, NE to visit the Homestead National Monument. It’s roughly a 4 hour and 15 min drive from Pella, so we headed out on Saturday afternoon since we had an important matter to attend to that morning! Eyra did great on the drive and we soon arrived at Oak Aven Acres, a quaint RV/tent campground which is located a mile away from Homestead National Monument.

Before setting up camp, we decided to go grab some grub at a local restaurant. Playa Azul! The food was great and (what a small world) the owners were from Guanajuato, Mexico. The same state where Clark was born!

We headed back to our campsite and set up our new roof top tent! Let me tell you something, it was SO much easier to set up than a regular tent! Just open and go! We loaded all of our stuff up there and decided to eat our take out up there! It was so much fun and Eyra had a blast running around the tent. Yes, it’s that spacious. After eating our yummy food, we headed outside to star gaze! We were able to see Mars, and Venus (it was super bright), the moon, and Aldebaran being extremely bright! After some gazing we headed back in to get some sleep.

The night was an interesting one! Eyra and Clark fell asleep around 8:30pm and I have no idea how? The weather was not cooperating and the wind was blowing at 25 mph! The rain fly on the tent was flapping, the wind was howling, and strong gusts were even rocking the car back and forth! This mama bird was worried we were going to fall out of our brand new fancy nest, yet Eyra and Clark were snoring away (literally). Luckily, Clark’s installation skills were on point and we didn’t move an inch! Eventually I got some sleep, and surprisingly both Clark and Eyra woke up well rested!

 

Honestly, there is nothing better than waking up to a well-rested Eyra! Clark and I were up around 6:45am and around 7, little Eyra eyes fluttered open! She looked at me, then over to Clark, then broke out a huge smile! She then asked where Teddy was! Silly girl!

 

We then packed up the tent and our campsite and headed into town to grab some breakfast! After we filled our belly, we headed to the monument! And boy was it awesome! It’s truly amazing what a small town has to offer! We never expected the museum to be so detailed and fancy!

 

As we walked up the monument we noticed red flags on all of the corners of the parking lot, and we thought “Hmm… that’s strange!”. As we continued to walk up we noticed a sign that explained the red flags. The flags marked the 4 corners of 1 acre of land, then it explained that each homesteader got 160 acres! Wow! That’s a lot of land! We also noticed when we were walking up, that there were sculptures of each homestead state and the amount of land that was given out during the Homestead Act. We took a picture of Iowa (our current home), Colorado (the state where we both were raised, met and married) and California (where I was born).

We entered the monument and were greeted by a very friendly, older park ranger. He welcomed us and let us know about an upcoming eclipse whose path is going right over Nebraska! Homestead National Monument is expecting 750,000 people for that event, that is insane and really neat! (Another Nebraska trip soon???) We chit chatted for a bit before making our way downstairs to the museum!

If you have forgotten your history lessons, the Homestead Act became effective on January 1st, 1863 as well as the Emancipation Proclamation. Both were part of Abraham Lincoln’s plan to end slavery and help entice people to disperse and move west in order to modernize. Despite being in the middle of the Civil War, 15,000 claims were filed by the time the war ended (May 9th, 1965).

But what did this Act really mean for the Native American people? Many of the Native Americans had already been displaced due to Andrew Jackson’s “Indian Removal Policy”, but the Homestead Act displaced them even further. Lincoln wanted them to trade in their native (and sometimes nomadic) ways and begin farming instead. What unfortunately happened was Natives were shuffled onto smaller and smaller reservations. This can clearly be seen from a plaque about the land loss from 1775 to 1894.

An interesting plaque that was discussing Natives feelings towards the Act caught my eye. It was of a Creek Indian describing how the government had no right to give away land that was originally given to his own father. The reason this caught my eye was that my Aunt Gayla has traced our family lineage back to the Creek Indians of Arkansas. As feisty as my family is, I wouldn’t be surprised if we are related to Chitto, who was an “important symbol of resistance”.

However, for many immigrants and newly freed slaves, this act was a God send. Anyone, including single women, were allowed to apply for homestead for a small filing fee and then had to prove they had lived on the land for 5 years before they technically received ownership of the land.

The museum had all kinds of artifacts including replicas of the windmills that were used to pump fresh water, farming tools that could be used by dogs, and even a goat treadmill used to power a washing machine, butter churn, or other equipment! It also had plenty of videos describing the hardships, excitement and hope that went along with a Homestead. The wall of propaganda fliers shows just how “fail proof” people thought homesteading would be! However, if you had a homestead, failure was NOT an option. It was “thrive, or die”. It didn’t take long for many of these people to band together to help one another out. The women would get together and produce fruits, while the men would help each other farm and help construct homes.

The museum also had a good chunk of information about Daniel Freeman, who is thought to be the very first person to stake a claim under the Homestead Act. The Homestead National Monument was actually built in Beatrice, NE because that’s where Daniel Freeman built his house on his claim. His house is still standing and we had the opportunity to go in and see what it would have been like to live as a homesteader! The craziest part? Freeman had 10 children and they all lived in this house, let me rephrase that, a tiny house. I am assuming Mr. Freeman had 10 children since the park ranger mentioned there were 12 people living on the property at the time.

After checking out the house, we took a 1.5-mile hike around the prairie land that Freeman had claimed. The Rangers have been working hard to restore the land to its original prairie grass habitat so everyone can fully grasp what it would have been like to venture out of your comfort zone and start a new life away from the bustling cities. On our walk we saw a monument from the State Capitol commemorating that this land was the first registered homestead in the US and was erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution.

When we were about ¼ of a mile from the car, I look back and see a little Eyra, with her head lolling and eyes drooping. Sure enough, within minutes she was out snuggled up with the newest member of the Arteaga family, Babraham! Eyra calls every stuffed animal “baby” and since the Homestead act was created by Abraham Lincoln, we name the stuffed animal Babraham.

The last site we got to see before getting back to the car was Daniel and Agnes Freeman’s grave site. He lived on his homestead until the day he died, and was buried here as well. After his death, his brother took over the homestead.

Overall, this was a very interesting and eye opening trip. I don’t think I would have ever had the courage to be a homesteader, to leave a life that I was accustomed to and go out west to take my chances on a farm. After leaving the monument, we got to drive through Beatrice and were able to see some of the more interesting sites! There was a building with beautiful gold design work on its turret, an antique wagon with a sign reading “Beatrice, Nebraska or BUST!” and even a Pet Cemetery (has Stephen King been here?!). We all had a great time!

Where to next week? Well, you’ll just have to wait and find out!