Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Lions and Tigers and Mummies

     Another pleasant sunrise found us in Hermann Park.  We were parked and patiently waiting for the Houston Zoo to open its gates and welcome us.  The park surrounding the zoo was nearly empty on this work day.  To kill some time while we waited, a walk around the lake that was the centerpiece of the park was in order and perhaps a chance to find our first geocache in Texas (and our first geocache in awhile).  The ducks quacked as we searched and the squirrels barked at us from just off the gravel walking path.  We had earned our Texas geocache badge just as we heard the gates of the zoo roll up.
     I had forgotten exactly how relaxing and enjoyable a visit to the zoo could be.  We took our time, lingering in front of any display that held anything of interest, be it an informational plaque, a display kiosk, or an actual animal enclosure.  It might not have been the biggest or oldest zoo but it held plenty within its confines and it had a pleasant layout.   The animal enclosures were built to mimic real environments and to engage the animals in "real" life.  They also offered several unique viewing points, with sunken pits with ground level windows for the African lions, roof windows for the climbing mountain lions, and above/below water split windows for the river otters.  Our family has reached an age that engaging in mature, intelligent discourse about the science of things, the nature of animals, and the overall experience is not only possible but wonderfully engaging with some unique views.
     The zoo began to fill as we reached the last enclosure and the sun bespoke of high noon and lunch to be had.  The snacks and drinks waiting for us in the cooler gave enough pause to map out the opposite side of the park and the museum that was built there.  We would be able to escape the afternoon warmth surrounded by history in the Museum of Natural Science.  The display of fossils dovetailed precisely with the kids' current course of study and the staff in this area of the museum were near bursting with excitement to share their knowledge.  The information we gained about the process of displaying fossils and rebuilding dinosaur skeletons was in-depth to say the least.  The collection of petrified wood was massive.  The hall of minerals, rocks, and gemstones enthralled my children, to my pleasant surprise.  They awed at gold nuggets as big as their heads and gawked at mineral finds the size of watermelons.  My oldest walked open-mouthed through the vault of cut gemstones crafted into mind-boggling jewelry of unspeakable value.  Yet the actual gem in this building was the mummies encased on the upper level.  There were sarcophagi of all sizes and in all states of closure.  Fully exposed mummified relics lay behind glass, perfectly preserved.  The entire hall was presented as if it were an actual tomb, complete with flickering torchlight and hieroglyphic-covered walls.  Every display within these walls, be it fossil or mummy or gem, was not only presented with respect but more as if it were a piece of art.  The whole place had the feeling of a cherished fine art museum rather than a cold scientific display case.  I would have been severely disappointed to have missed this museum only to learn later the treasures it held.
     The afternoon began to wane as our truck was once again packed full and pointed toward the highway.  We were headed east this time, however.  Our road was leading back home again.  Five days ago we had left New Jersey, 1900 miles ago we had jumped on the NJ Turnpike, forever ago we had headed west for the sunset, and now we were leaving Houston with the sun setting at our backs.  The horizon ahead was already dark and the purple waves of grain were waving at our tail lights.  We hoped to reach Beaumont for a good night's sleep and a two hour head start toward our next waypoint, New Orleans, by way of the Gulf Coast.  

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