Tag Archives: tourist

Over the Falls

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Our jaunt north to visit Ozzie for his birthday was extended to include a trip abroad. Since Ozzie’s birthday falls on President’s Day weekend we had Monday off school. This allowed for an impromptu trip over the border. With Molly leaving in a month, and everyone itching to get a little more use out of their passports, we made plans to head to Canada, following our visit with Ozzie. Ozzie didn’t have permission for an overnight excursion and Braden didn’t feel capable of managing the emotions of the weekend, so that meant we were down to four family members for our impromptu adventure into Canada.

We had 24 hours free to explore this neighboring nation and planned to make the most of this mini vacation.

After dropping Ozzie back off at his residential facility (following his 16th birthday celebration in Erie) we drove two hours north to Niagara Falls, New York. We found a motel for the night with plans to cross the Rainbow Bridge in the morning.

The next day we headed across the border, ready for some fun on the Canadian side of the falls. I must admit that the trip across the border was met with some anxiety… anxiety that was justified given my last Canadian adventure with Toby three years ago. For those who’d like to relive that excitement see the link below:

https://ktmccleery.wordpress.com/2017/11/10/just-bonnie-clyde-and-an-elevator/

This wasn’t our first time visiting Niagara Falls, but it seems that no matter how often I visit, it takes my breath away. No picture or video does justice to the overwhelming sense of awe that you feel as you stand beside this magnificent wonder of the world.

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The roar of falling water, the spray of the mist, and the view of millions of gallons of water rushing over the edge of the rock face is powerful and it soon becomes evident why this view…this experience…draws 12 million visitors each year.

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We decided to start our day at the falls, enjoying it first from the front, and then from the back.

By signing up for “Journey Behind the Falls,” we were able to take an elevator down 125 feet to explore the 130 year old tunnels that run behind the falls.

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The lower observation deck was closed due to ice,

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But we were able to get a great view of “the backside of water” through the viewing portholes behind the falls.

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It was a wet excursion, and we were grateful for the complimentary ponchos we received.

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As we walked along the underground corridors we were able to learn more about the history of the falls thanks to the informative signs posted throughout the halls.

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Here are some fun facts about the falls:

  • Niagara Falls is comprised of three waterfalls, from largest to smallest, the Horseshoe Falls (also known as the Canadian Falls), American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls.
  • Niagara Falls’ vertical height is over 176 feet in some sections.
  • The American and Bridal Veil Falls were turned off in 1969 by the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers to study the effects of erosion. There are plans to “turn off” the Falls again to rebuild two, 115-year-old bridges.
  • Niagara Falls’ current erosion rate is approximately 1 foot per year and could possibly be reduced to 1 foot per 10 years due to flow control and diversion for hydro-power generation.
  • The water that flows over Niagara Falls is at 25-50% capacity at any given time.
  • The first person to go over the Niagara Falls in a barrel was 63-year-old school teacher Annie Edson Taylor. She is buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls in an area called Stunters Rest, along with other Niagara Falls daredevils.
  • Cave of the Winds, located at Niagara Falls State Park is torn down and re-built every year.
  • The birth of Niagara Falls can be traced back more than 12,000 years to the end of the last glacial period.
  • Despite myths to the contrary, Niagara Falls does not freeze in the winter. However, the flow of water was reduced to a mere trickle for a few hours on March 29, 1848 because of an ice jam upstream in the Niagara River.
  • During periods of peak flow in the summer and fall, more than 700,000 gallons of water per second pour over Niagara Falls.
  • Four of the five Great Lakes drain into the Niagara River, (Superior, Michigan, Huron and Erie) before emptying into Lake Ontario. These five Great Lakes make up almost one-fifth of the world’s fresh water supply.
  • Niagara Falls is not the tallest waterfall in the world; however, the beauty of the falls comes from the height and the incredible volume of water running over the falls at a given time.
  • Fish travel over Niagara Falls and most survive because of their ability to flow with the water

When we emerged back at the surface, we headed outside to get some pictures by the falls. The blowing mist made photography a challenge and our efforts resulted in some cold fingers and noses!

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But we were  blessed to catch a glimpse of a spectacular rainbow that had formed as a result of the sun shinning down on that blowing mist.

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From there we headed over to Clifton Hill to spend the remainder of our day, before our four hour drive home.

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We started with a stop at the Hershey Store…

Which we found to be a bit anti-climatic after our visits to Chocolate World in Hershey, Pennsylvania, but we were able to nab a picture with Kiss in front of the falls.

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Before we began exploring Clifton Hills, we stopped for lunch. In addition to Subway sandwiches, we order a bowl of poutine and a Mr.Big bar to share as part of our Canadian cultural experience.

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Then it was on to Clifton Hill!

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 Clifton Hill is one of the major tourist promenades of Niagara Falls, Ontario. Reminiscent of Las Vegas, this street contains a number of gift shops, wax museums, haunted houses, video arcades, restaurants, and themed attractions. Unlike the Vegas Strip this touristy street is completely G-rated and popular with families.

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Although this area of the falls is touristy and tacky, there was something fun about strolling among the neon lights and crazy buildings that made us feel like we were on vacation.

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What drew us to Clifton Hill was a coupon we received for a discounted Fun Pass. This Fun Pass offered admission to six different Clifton Hill attractions for $25.00, an incredible discount when compared to the cost of paying individual admission prices. 

One of the attractions that was included was the Movieland Wax Museum.

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The laughs we enjoyed at the expense of some very sad looking wax figures made the cost of the passes worth every penny.

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I don’t know when I have laughed so hard.

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While there were a few realistic representations of famous stars,

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Most of the wax figures were only recognizable because of the signage or the staging.

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Our next stop was The Great Canadian Midway where two more of the attractions included in our pass were located. The first was the Wild West Coaster, which was a fun 4D ride.

We took our seats. This unique theater had seats that moved with the 3D cartoon, taking us on a rollercoaster ride with a cowboy and his horse on a cute and kitschy adventure through old abandoned mines.

Also located in the midway, on the opposite side of a room filled with hundreds of arcade games, was Ghost Blaster.

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This was an actual ride. We climbed into our cart and entered a world of black lights and glow in the dark ghosts that we had to shoot with our laser guns. Our ride kept track of the points earned by each target we successfully hit with our laser beam. 

Our next stop was the Niagara Skywheel.

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The Niagara Skywheel, which opened in 2006, stands 175 feet tall and offers visitors magnificent views of both the Horseshoe Falls and American Falls.

We got in line for one of the 42 enclosed passenger cars. I am terrified of heights and there is no amusement park ride I hate more than Ferris Wheels. I will ride the most thrilling of coasters and love them, but that slow crawl of a Ferris Wheel passenger car up to the heights of this one, terrifies me…

But the promise of amazing views and great photo opportunities, propelled me to set aside my anxiety and climb aboard. Molly and Tyler were excited by the prospect of the thrilling views and exciting ride, but Rusty was firmly seated in my camp, wondering if the views were worth the anxiety…they were!

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The views were even better than promised.

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And because my heart health hadn’t been tested enough on the Skywheel, we decided to elevate my heart rate even more with the final experience included in our Clifton Hill Fun Pass…

Zombie Attack!

This, like the Wild West 4D show, involved sitting in a moving seat that took visitors on a ride while immersed in a 3D movie. This experience differed a bit though, as we were also armed with laser guns that allowed us to interact with the 3D movie on another level as we battled zombies that were popping out of the screen at us.

I know it sounds horrid, but as a closet fan of zombie thrillers, I LOVED this attraction. It was like stepping into The Walking Dead.

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I can’t handle most horror movies. Zombie shows are the only horror films I can handle, and only because I believe that zombies are one threat I could actually outrun. 😉

It was a blast… by far the highlight of the day for me.

We competed against the other visitors that filled the theater. Rusty represented magnificently, earning 1st place in the tally of zombies killed.

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I spent more time screaming than shooting and came in second to last, earning a score only slightly better than an 4-year-old boy whose hands were pressed against his eyes the whole time. 😊

It was a magnificent day of fun in our neighboring nation’s backyard!

Robert’s Fruit Stand

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As we were leaving the alligator farm we passed a fruit stand that looked interesting. The 1st thing that caught our eye was the size of it. The 2nd thing that caught our eye were the throngs of people waiting in line to check out.  It was a Monday morning and certainly not prime tourist season in Miami, so we figured there must be something special about Robert’s fruit stand.

Boy were we right!

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This novelty fruit stand boasts a wide selection of exotic fruits from around the world. We stopped to get some Florida oranges and ended up leaving with a buffet of sweet fruits from around the world. Most of the fruits for sell were not ones we had ever heard of before. In noting our confusion, an employee kindly handed us a fruit guide to help educate us as we considered which fruits to try.

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We wandered through the outdoor isles, reading the descriptions of different fruits.  In addition to each crate of fruit listing its name and price, it also listed where the fruit was from and an informative description of its flavor, texture, and appearance.

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We decided that we would get a variety of different exotic fruits to bring back to our rental to try as part of our Florida experience. Rusty was especially thrilled. Just last week he was requesting (for his time treat) some sort of unusual fruit that we could snack on during his one-on-one time. After perusing the aisles of Walmart’s fruit and vegetable section, I came up with the nothing more exotic than an apple, orange, or grapes. The pickings were slim, so this was especially exciting for Rusty who had just been talking about wanting to try some new fruits. He ended up not only trying a new fruit but trying 7 new fruits from around the world that we had never heard of before, much less tasted.

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Here were our choices for our taste testing smorgasbord:

Apple Bananas: “They usually look like an over-ripe banana. These bananas are great for pies and fruit salads, as the fruit does not discolor.

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(This was the favorite fruit of Zach, Toby, Tyler and Molly)

Canestel (Egg Fruit): “This fruit is yellow and shaped like a Hershey Kiss. Wait until the fruit is extremely soft (like room temperature butter), then cut it open and enjoy the sweet egg custard flavor inside.”

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(This fruit had the texture of cooked pumpkin and tasted like egg custard. We all agreed it would be a better savory side dish to a meal, than a fruit eaten independently.)

Carambola (Star Fruit): “It is a five-sided yellow fruit. Slice this fruit crosswise into little stars and eat all but the stem and seeds. It tastes like a cross between and apple and an orange.”

(This crisp, refreshing fruit was Rusty’s favorite.)

Guanabana (Sour Sop): “This fruit is in the same family as a sugar apple but tastes different. Known as Sour Sop, it is anything but sour. Wait until the fruit is extremely soft, break it open with your hands, and then eat the pockets from around the seeds inside. Tastes like cotton candy.

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Kent Mangos: “Wait until the fruit is moderately soft. To cut the mango, hold it so that your hand is holding the widest part of the mango. Slice the right side of the fruit from top to bottom then flip it over and slice on the left side. The beautifully rich yellow fruit inside has a peachy-pineapple taste.”

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(Best Mangos we have ever eaten!)

Passion fruit: “This is a round, dark red or deep yellow fruit about the size of a plum. Wait until the skin is wrinkled, then slice and eat the pulp and seeds inside. It tastes like fruit punch.”

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(Gracie couldn’t get over the appearance of this fruit when sliced open. She said it was too reminiscent of toddler snot, but the flavor was delicious and tasted like a very strong fruit punch.)

Sapodilla: “It looks like a large kiwi without the fuzz. Wait until the fruit is very soft, then slice and enjoy. It tastes like a pear with brown sugar.”

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(Mmmm…delicious! It truly did taste like a brown sugar pear with a hint of cinnamon. This fruit was a favorite of myself, Grace and Braden.)

Well there we opted to cut in to the Guanabana (Sour Sop) fruit, which was advertised as “the world’s most delicious fruit.” The sign said that it tasted like cotton candy. We gave it a try. It did indeed have the flavor of cotton candy, but we found our group had very mixed reactions to this unusual fruit.

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Most agreed that while it tasted good, the texture was a bit hard to embrace. We decided that in the end we would have been better off buying one of the smoothies made out of this fruit rather than the fruit itself so that we could enjoy the flavor without the stringy, slimy texture of the Guanabana.

After eating that fruit we decided to use the Apple Bananas we purchased as a chaser. They were delicious. We all enjoyed them immensely!

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Before leaving we took a stroll out back to love on the farm animals that call Robert’s Fruit Stand, home.

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It was the most bizarre menagerie of animals I’ve ever seen.

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There in the pen there were zebu,  geese, emu, tortoises, iguanas, and goats all frolicking together like some sort of  Floridian Noah’s Ark.

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We could have stayed all day. Robert’s was a delightful roadside find in Southern Florida.

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Next stop was Jet Boat Miami…

Hold on to your hats!

“You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out!”

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A Christmas Story:

“Set during a snowy Christmas season in 1940’s Indiana, nine-year-old Ralphie longs for the ideal Christmas gift, a 200-Shot, Range-Model Air Rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time.” But when gruff dad and doting mom, and even a stressed-out Santa quote the usual BB gun warning, “You’ll shoot your eye out!” Ralphie mounts a full-scale, hint dropping campaign that is a sly combination of innocence and calculation. The movie is not only about Christmas and BB guns, but also about childhood and a semi-dysfunctional family life.

Ralphie endures endless kid-sized trials and classic moments: A bully with “yellow eyes” and a rancid coonskin cap terrorizes him. There is a sequence where a kid is not merely dared but Triple-Dog-Dared to stick his tongue onto a frozen lamp post, and the fire department has to be called to remove him from the pole. Ralphie’s Old Man winning the “Major Award” of a garish lamp in the shape of a woman’s leg. Ralphie blurts out the Queen Mother of swear words and gets his mouth washed out with Lifebuoy soap. His long-awaited Little Orphan Annie Secret Society Decoder Pin translates a radio program’s top-secret message that turns out to be a crummy commercial. Even Santa is a scary fraud. But Ralphie hangs tough and ends up getting his BB gun.”

A few years ago I discovered that the house used to film this iconic movie was in our own backyard…

Well, pretty close to our backyard…

And I’ve been itching to pay this classic Christmas location a visit.

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Monday provided us the opportunity. After a hard weekend I decided that a play day was in order. I was looking for a shot of Christmas cheer and just wanted a day of fun with my boys, so after a trip to Erie to drop Ozzie off we headed west to Cleveland to visit A Christmas Story House.

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We arrived and found parking between A Christmas Story House and the Bumpus House. Our hopes were dashed when no bloodhounds ran out to greet us.

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This Cleveland Street of 1940’s style houses is now largely dedicated to honoring the movie that was filmed here. On the street four separate homes have been set aside for this Christmas experience, including the Bumpus House which is now a bed and breakfast and can be rented out for the night, A Christmas Story House which is an interactive recreation of the actual movie set, A Christmas Story museum containing memorabilia from the movie and interesting background information about the making of the movie. The final building is a huge gift shop containing all sorts of fun Christmas Story souvenirs, like character hats, leg lamps, pink bunny pajamas and cans of Ovaltine.

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It was in the gift shop that we started our tour. We purchased tickets for the 12:15 tour and then perused the gift shop, killing time and enjoying some belly laughs!

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At 12:15 we joined two dozen other visitors and walked across the street to A Christmas Story House, our first stop on the tour.

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We gathered on the front steps to hear more about the history of the house and how it came to be the home used in the movie.

When production was in the beginning stages the production team began scouting out locations for filming. They were in search of a department store for filming the Santa scene. They sent out letters to department stores across the country hoping to find a store that offered a tall interior space that was capable of holding the two story Santa display with the exit slide, as well as a department store that would agree to keep their store decorated for Christmas, months past the Christmas season, so filming could take place.

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The call went out to hundreds of stores but only one responded. It was a department store in downtown Cleveland. The scouting crew made the trip to Cleveland and decided it was a perfect location for shooting that scene of the movie.

Knowing that Cleveland was a steel mill town, the production crew decided they wanted to get some long shots of the mills along the river. Rather than asking for directions they decided to follow the smoke pouring forth from the mills and in their search for the steel mills ended up in the neighborhood that would become the home base for the bulk of the movie. When they saw Ralphie’s house in particular, they knew they wanted to rent it for filming. It was as though the house was trapped in the 1940’s and held many of the elements they were looking for, including a porch large enough for the leg lamp delivery, a large picture window for displaying the major award, and a fenced-in backyard with a view of the mills.

They approached the owner while lunching at a pub across the street and offered him $20,000 to rent the house for three months. The owner quickly rehomed himself at a local hotel for the duration of filming. That pub is still there today and offers a “Randy Special” of meatloaf and mashed potatoes on their menu as well as a challenge to customers. If you can eat the entire dinner without using your hands or utensils you will win a free t-shirt.

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If we had more time it was a challenge Rusty would have eagerly taken on!

Then we entered the house and were set free to explore this interactive experience. We were allowed to touch decorations, sit on the furniture, and pose for pictures throughout the home that had been renovated to look like the original house that this 1983 classic was filmed in.

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I LOVED exploring and being able to actually step into a scene from a favorite childhood movie. The little details added to the suspension of disbelief, making us feel as though the Bumpus dogs would come running through the kitchen door any minute.

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The second floor consisted of Ralphie and Randy’s bedroom,

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And the bathroom where Ralphie decoded his Little Orphan Annie message and got his mouth washed out with soap.

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In the upstairs hall guests can lift the telephone receiver and listen to a familiar tirade.

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On the first floor we found the kitchen.

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While in the kitchen, Rusty climbed under the sink to reenact Randy hiding in fright, fearful Ralphie would be killed,

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We also checked out the dining room where the major reward was delivered.

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Many might recall that the printing on the crate cuts off, leaving it to say “His End Up.” We found out the reason for this. It turns out that a neighborhood carpenter was hired to build the crate. He failed to measure the front door, an oversite that wasn’t discovered until they were filming the scene. The quick fix was to saw off the edge, making it narrow enough to fit through the door and taking the “T” with it,

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The living room was where much of the movie was filmed, including:

Christmas morning under the tree,

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Ralphie listening to the Little Orphan Annie radio program,

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The Red Rider BB gun tucked behind the desk,

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And the leg lamp that holds a place of honor in the center window.

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We exited through the back door into the back yard that served as the scene for Ralphie’s broken glasses,

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Before walking across the street to the museum.

In the museum we were able to learn more behind the scene facts including the fact that at the last minute the director decided he wanted to pull an Alfred Hitchcock move and make a cameo appearance in his film. He appeared as a walk on during the scene when the Old Man was across the street admiring his major award from outside. The funny thing we learned about his impromptu appearance was that he didn’t think about a costume change, so in a scene of characters dressed in 1940’s clothes he is wearing a distinctly 1980’s outfit, complete with a Miami Dolphins knit hat.

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In the museum we were able to see many original costume pieces from A Christmas Story that are on display,

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As well as one of six of the original Red Rider BB guns that were manufactured for the film. Of the original six, only three are accounted for.

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The tour guide told us that when searching garage sales for these three missing pieces of movie memorabilia you can know they are authentic by three key traits: a compass on the stock of the gun, a sun dial on the stock, and the tassel on the left side of the gun. Once Tyler heard that the last one sold at auction sold for $200,000 he has been itching to hit a flea market or two!

In touring the museum we also learned that weather worked against the production crew that winter. There was no snow, and snow was need for the scenes they were filming. The solution? Soap suds! They hired the local fire department to coat the street in soap suds with their big hoses, creating the illusion of snow during a dry, unseasonably warm winter in Cleveland, Ohio.

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The illusion of falling snow through the picture window was created using boxed mashed potato flakes…genius!

Our final stop was at the two car garage attached to the museum. Parked within its walls were two of the original vehicles used in the filming of the movie…

The Old Man’s car whose flat tire led to Ralphie’s infamous, “Oh, Fudge!” moment:

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And the fire truck that came to Flick’s rescue when he took the triple-dog-dare and stuck his tongue to the frozen flag pole:

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If we didn’t have to hurry home for Tyler’s dyslexia tutoring we probably would have lingered longer at this fun Christmas location,

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But our day of Christmas festivities wasn’t done yet. We had another Christmas activity planned for that evening…

Stay tuned!

 

 

Eating with Cowboys

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From Wall Drug we drove to Rapid City, our next stop on the way to drop Molly off at college. Because we had some extra time to kill that evening, and because we have such fond memories of our Chuckwagon dinner at Ft. Hays from our bus trip, I called to see if we could get reservations. We were able to nab the last four seats for Tuesday evening’s show.

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We arrived at 5:15, giving us an hour to walk around the Ft. Hays old fashioned town before we went in for supper.

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At 6:30 we were seated at long picnic style tables.

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Dinner was a traditional chuck wagon meal of BBQ beef, baked beans, applesauce, baked potato, homemade biscuits with honey, lemonaid to drink and spice cake for dessert.

We were called up to the kitchen by table.

The process began with everyone grabbing a tin plate. First food received was our baked potato, which was smashed onto the plate to flatten it and keep it from rolling off.

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From there we worked our way down the line getting all our wet foods: beans, meat, and applesauce.

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Then another cowboy tossed a piece of wax paper on our plate and we were ready for our next layer of food: biscuits, butter and cake.

The wax paper kept our dry food from getting wet.

The dinner was delicious! Everyone cleaned their plates but each had a favorite part of the meal.

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After dinner, the entertainment part of the evening began. It was a mix of music and comedy. The music selection ranged from classic cowboy songs that would have been sung on the prairie to more modern country favorites.

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The band was incredibly talented, particularly the female fiddle player. The best song of the evening was her rendition of “When the Devil went down to Georgia.”

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They ended their show, and the evening, with a tribute to all the military and veterans in the room, acknowledging them and showing their appreciation by ending the show with the song, “Proud to be an American.”

What a fun end to another wonderful day!

And on to the Derby!

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On Friday morning we disembarked from the houseboat, but our vacation wasn’t over quite yet. We decided that rather than drive the nine hours straight home, we would slowly meander our way back, over the next three days, stopping to see some sites along the way.

Our first stop was Louisville, Kentucky, home of the Kentucky Derby.

After reading amazing reviews online we decided to check out the Kentucky Derby Museum.

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Located at Churchill Downs, the museum showcases all aspects of the race, has multiple tours of the grounds, and a great short documentary on the race.

We aren’t horse racing fans…in fact I knew nothing about the Kentucky Derby prior to our visit other than the fashionable traditions of the fancy hats worn on race day, but we left with a great appreciation for this long standing tradition.

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The museum and accompanying tours can be a full-day event for those that have the time. Basic admission allows you to explore the museum, participate in a 30 minute history walk (these happen every half hour past the hour), and view their 18 minute video “The Greatest Race.”

The museum experience starts at the gates. There are two floors of interactive exhibits, videos, photos, race artifacts and information. It is tailored for all ages and degrees of derby fans.

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We loved how interactive and engaging the exhibits were.

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It was an amazing museum!

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We learned about the life and training of a racehorse from birth until it is races in the Derby at age 3. This was one of my favorite exhibits in the museum.

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We were able to learn the art of horse betting with a pretend ticket window where we could place bets on the race,

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And then sit and watch a recording of a previous race.

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At the end of the video we could scan our ticket and see what our $2.00 bet would have paid out. Through this experience we learned we should never gamble on horse races!

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The kids’ competitive natures came out when they had their go at being a jockey.

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They were able to mount up and race against other riders on the video screen before them.

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They got to dress up like jockeys and learn more about the colors certain jockeys wear,

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As well as see how they measure up to one of the most winning jockeys of all time.

Grace was thrilled to finally be taller than someone other than the toddlers she watches at the daycare.

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We learned a lot about the requirements that the jockeys have to follow on race day. The big one is their weight. The Kentucky Derby requires an exact weight of 126 lbs, including gear and saddle. Jockeys who fall short of the weight requirement must add weight to their saddle, no exceptions.

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There was an incredible amount of information about horses whom have raced. We were able to watch videos of past Kentucky Derby races and learn more about some of the greatest horses that ever raced,

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Including Balboa whose final resting place sits in front of the museum.

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After walking through the exhibits of hats and all the memorabilia it was time to watch “The Greatest Race.”

This video is displayed on a 360° screen in a theater big enough for 50+ people.

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As you watch, it will have you twirling in your seat to keep up and your heart pounding. The video covers race day preparations, interviews with jockeys, trainers, and owners, along with highlights from races dating back to the 1800’s.  The result is an appreciation for what goes into this huge event, an event that has more live spectators than the Superbowl!

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After the video we exited the museum for the included 30 minute history walk.

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Posted on the buildings around us was a chronological list of prior Derby winners, starting with Aristides in 1875.

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As we walked along, we saw every horse that has won the Kentucky Derby, the first triple crown winner, and the first father/son triple crown winners. Our tour guide was helpful in answering questions, and dishing out information about specific winners and races. Some people asked about famous horses like Secretariat and Barbaro.

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One of my favorite parts about the tour was the Paddock. The paddock holds the up to 18 contestants on race day, and is a popular viewing place for spectators. When the horses walk in, their lip tattoos are checked and then they are taken to the individual stalls. . The Paddock is the last place the horses will be before taking the walk to the track.

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Then to the track!

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The distance between the Paddock and the race track is connected by a small tunnel underneath the stands. The horses are escorted through the tunnel, and upon entering the track, the tradition of everyone singing My Old Kentucky Home begins.

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The horses are then led to the starting gate.

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It was amazing to stand at the edge of the track and soak up the history of the location. It made me want to add a trip to the Kentucky Derby to my bucket list. I can only imagine how charged the energy must be on race day.

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We were at the Kentucky Derby Museum on Friday for 2 1/2 hours and never made it to the second floor. The museum closed at 5:00 pm and everyone was so disappointed that we weren’t able to see it all that we decided to spend the night in Louisville and return back in the morning (our tickets allowed free access for 48 hours) to see the rest of the exhibits before continuing our trek north.

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We were blown away by the place and we aren’t even racing fans.

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Our discussion of the experience continued for days and we left the museum wanting to learn more.

Here are some of the fun facts we learned about the Kentucky Derby:

1. Nineteen past winners have had names beginning with the letter “S,” including Secretariat, the fastest horse in Kentucky Derby history, who completed the 1973 race in just under two minutes.

2. The amount of food consumed at the Derby is pretty astounding. On average, spectators will eat 142,000 hot dogs, 18,000 barbecue sandwiches, 13,800 pounds of beef, 32,400 jumbo shrimp, 9,000 scallops, 8,000 pounds of potatoes, 30,000 cookies and 300,000 strawberries.

3. Only three horses raced in the 1892 Kentucky Derby.

4. The traditional drink of the Derby is the mint julep, and over 120,000 are said to be consumed at the race each year.

5. Diane Crump was the first woman jockey to ever ride in the Derby; there has yet to be a female winner, but Shelley Riley came the closest in 1992 when she came in second. We were told that the reason so few women race in the derby is due to the massive size of thoroughbred horses and the arm strength needed to control them.

6. The Kentucky Derby trophy only weighs 3½ lbs.

7. The youngest jockey to win the esteemed race, Alonzo “Lonnie” Clayton, was just 15 come derby day in 1892. Bill Shoemaker continues to hold the title as the oldest winner; he was 54 when he took home the 1986 title.

8. Bill Shoemaker has also ridden the most Kentucky Derby horses (26) in history.

9. The record low temperature at the race (held on the first week of May every year) was 47 degrees in 1935 and 1957. The record high was 94 degrees in 1959.

10. Churchill Downs founder and president Col. M. Lewis Clark might have made the rose the official flower of the race after attending an 1883 post-derby party where socialite E. Berry Wall was handing the flower out to the ladies in attendance.

11. The Derby is also referred to as ‘The Run for the Roses’ because the winner is awarded a blanket sewn with over 400 roses post-race. This blanket weighs about 40 lbs.

12. Owner Calumet Farm  holds the record for most Kentucky Derby wins, with 8. “Plain Ben” Jones holds the record for trainer with the most wins (6).

13. Post No. 1 has become known as “the dreaded rail.”

14. 1919 champion Sir Barton was the first Triple Crown winner, however he hadn’t won a race before arriving at the Derby.

15. Over $150 million in wagers have been placed over the last several Kentucky Derby races.

16. Horses must be three years in order to compete.

17. The Derby has never been cancelled or postponed due to inclement weather.

18. The historic 1¼-mile race was originally 1½ miles before the current distance was established in 1896.

19. The Kentucky Derby was started by Lewis Clark Jr.—grandson of William Clark, half of the famous explorer duo Lewis and Clark—after he saw England’s Epsom Derby.

20. Only three fillies (female horses) have won the Derby: Regret in 1915, Genuine Risk in 1980, and Winning Colors in 1988.

21. The 2018 event set the record for the wettest Kentucky Derby in history, with over 2.31 inches of rainfall.

22. The race was first televised in 1952.

23. The purse for the 2019 Derby will be $3 million, with the winner taking home $1.86 million, $600,000 for second place, $300,000 for third place, $150,000 for fourth place, and $90,000 for fifth. This marks a significant increase in the prize money: from 2005 to 2018, the purse was only $2 million.

This stop moves to the top of our list of must-see places for travelers…

Right up there with the City Museum of St. Louis and Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.

We are so glad we stopped in Louisville!

 

The City of Brotherly LOVE

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Following our trip to the Kalahari Resort in the Poconos of Pennsylvania, we decided to take a little detour before heading home. Our detour required a south-easterly jaunt to get to our desired destination…

Philadelphia: The City of Brotherly Love!

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We didn’t have a lot of time to spend in the city, as three kids had work at 6:00pm and we had a 5 hour drive to get home, but we wanted to make this stop a priority.

Gracie, our eldest daughter, will be marrying her true love on October 17th. They have decided to be married at the Philadelphia temple of our church: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

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It was important to Grace that her siblings visit her wedding location prior to the big day. Much of this was for the benefit of Tyler and Braden who struggle with the unexpected and unknown. She knew that visiting prior to her wedding day would alleviate some of the emotional angst connected to her getting married and leaving home.

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It was a blessing. Grace was able to share her excitement of her upcoming nuptials with her family while also walking the boys through what they can expect that day. She was so sweet, asking for their input on decisions like the best locations for photos and what flowers would be pretty in her bouquet.

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The visit was a blessing for the entire family as we all were strengthened by the spirit felt on those temple grounds.

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And Gracie just glowed with anticipation as she imagined what her wedding day would be like.

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By the time we left the Philadelphia temple we just had two hours left in the city before we needed to get on the road. Molly, Rusty and Braden were all scheduled to begin work at 6:00 pm, so we did a speed tour of Philadelphia sites that we didn’t visited on our last trip to the city.

Our first stop was the “Rocky steps,” located in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, made famous by the film scene from the movie, Rocky.

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Toby opted to do a drive-by and drop us off rather than try to find parking,

while the kids ran the 72 steps that made the site an iconic tourist spot in Philadelphia.

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I did not run the steps, but did walk then so as to take in the view of the city from the top,

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And capture this memento of their Rocky moment:

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A quick stop at the Rocky statue and then we caught our Uber (aka: Toby) on his fourth loop around.

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We decided with our remaining time in the city that we would head to Reading Terminal Market, per Gracie’s suggestion.

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Here is a little background information on this iconic Philadelphia site:

Reading Terminal Market is an enclosed public market located at 12th and Arch Streets in Center City Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It opened originally in 1893 under the elevated train shed of the Reading Railroad Company after the city of Philadelphia advocated to move public markets from the streets into indoor facilities for both safety and sanitary reasons. The Reading Railroad Company owned and operated the market space until 1976 when the company liquidated, leaving the market without its parent company and foot traffic from the train. Presently, it still occupies the ground floor and basement levels of the Reading Terminal’s former train shed which is now part of the Philadelphia Convention Center. Vendor stalls occupy the ground floor with entrances on Filbert Street to the South, Twelfth Street to the West, and Arch Street to the North. The stalls are arranged in a grid pattern with an open area in the center with tables and seating. Over one hundred merchants offer fresh produce, meats, fish, artisan cheese, groceries, ice cream, flowers, grilled cheese, baked goods, crafts, books, clothing, and specialty and ethnic foods.

It was a very cool place with its bustling atmosphere, sights, and smells. Had I not been trying to keep six other people in my sightline, while making sure everyone stayed regulated in this highly chaotic and stimulating environment, I probably would have enjoyed it more,

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But if I am being transparent in my recollection of the experience, it was my idea of a living nightmare. (Just keeping it real)

I found everyone’s assessment of the experience fascinating as we took in the energy of the space. The introverts of the family began breathing quickly taking note of the closest emergency exit and desperately seeking out a corner to hole up in, away from the bustling crowds.

My extroverts, however, came alive, energized by the crowds and social atmosphere of the environment.

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I found all family members landed firmly in one of two camps. They either LOVED Reading Terminal Market or HATED it.

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The one thing we could all agree on was how delicious the food was that was sold there.

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We decided to make the experience authentic by eating lunch there. We found the prices to be reasonable and the choices were abundant. Toby split the group in pairs of two and sent them out with money in hand to each buy  what they wanted for lunch. The kids loved the freedom of picking their own meal and liked being able to be as daring (or not)  as they liked in their food choices. There was something for everyone!

I opted to sit and save a table, having discovered an elusive find in seven free chairs around a reasonably clean table.

From my spot, back against the wall, I was able to observe the “dance” of the market from a place that felt much less overwhelming, and actually enjoyed it. It was fun to “people watch” once I was out of the stream of moving people, and the activity was pleasant when observed from the outside looking in.

We enjoyed a delicious and unique dining experience before jumping back on the turnpike for home. It was the quickest Philadelphia tour ever, but we fit a lot of fun and special family moments in our three-hour morning there!

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Diamond Hunting!

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It’s finder’s keepers at the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro, Arkansas. The only public diamond mine in the world, Crater of Diamonds offers you a one-of-a-kind adventure – the opportunity to hunt for real diamonds and to keep any mineral you find.

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Monday we woke up early with plans to get on the road by 5:30 am. Our intention was to work our way towards Memphis, TN. We said our “goodbyes” the night before to all our family. The last of the wedding guests were heading out after a magical weekend, with Kelly’s family and our family the first to pull out since we each had a 11 hour drive ahead of us.

As we drove along I searched for sites along the way that we might want to see while we were in the area. We are firm believers that if you are in an area of the country you normally don’t frequent, you might as well stop and see the top sites, for who knows when we will be out that way again.

It was  that mindset that led us off the highway to Crater of Diamonds State Park. I remember hearing about this unique state park and when we discovered it was along our path of travel there was no way we could drive by and not stop.

When else in our lives will be have the opportunity to go mining for diamonds?!

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We arrived and headed first into the Visitors Center where we learned more about the geologic history that led to the formation of the diamonds in the park, as well as the history of discovery and mining on the land.

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We also saw displays that showcased the diamonds that are found in the park and what they look like in their uncut state, giving us a better idea of what we needed to be on the lookout for.

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Then we paid the mining admission price and headed out to the mining fields to begin searching,

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after a quick stop at the pavilion to rent our mining equipment.

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What a thrill it was stepping out onto the field, with the prospect of finding a diamond a distant but exciting possibility.

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The kids were convinced they were on the brink of discovering their life’s fortune.

We began searching the 37-acre plowed field – the eroded surface of an ancient, diamond-bearing volcanic pipe.

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We had three options for diamond hunting and ended up exploring all three strategies.

The first was surface searching. With this strategy visitors search the surface of the field in search of crystals that have been exposed by rain or plowing. We began our search with surface searching.

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The second method is screening. With this strategy visitors shake soil through a screen to find minerals. This method is most effective when the soil is dry. This was the next method we tried.

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The third method, and the one we spent the most time using, is wet screening. With this method of diamond hunting visitors use the water available at the mine washing stations to rinse dirt through a screen and collect the minerals that are left behind.

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It was so much fun. The process was as satisfying as the hunt itself. We filled bucket after bucket from the field and sifted and rinsed, collecting the minerals that were left behind.

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In addition to the diamonds in the soil, other rocks and minerals were found hidden in the soil, including: Jasper, Agate, Quartz, Amethyst, Calcite, Barite, and Mica.

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But as cool as all those pretty minerals were, everyone was tunnel focused on finding the elusive diamond.

Since diamonds were first discovered on the site in 1906, over 75,000 diamonds have been unearthed.

When John Huddleston plucked two diamonds from the greenish-colored dirt of his farm, a hysteria known as “diamond fever” ensued. Although the excitement has since waned, interest in Arkansas’s diamond mine remains high. About 120,000 people come to Huddleston’s old farm site, now the Crater of Diamonds State Park, each year to search for these precious gems.

This Arkansas crater is the only diamond mine in the world where the public can pay a fee to dig and keep any gems they find.

Although thousands of people have dug and sifted through the volcanic “lamproite” soil, there are still plenty of diamonds waiting to be discovered. Since the park opened in 1972, more than 30,000 diamonds have been found. This is still a place where diamonds are found regularly — park officials say about two are found by park visitors each day.

Not all of the finds have been small. The largest documented diamond find is the 40.23-carat “Uncle Sam” diamond, which was discovered in 1924. The largest diamond retrieved since the Crater of Diamonds became a state park was the 16.37-carat “Amarillo Starlight,” discovered in 1975.

Other notable finds include the “Star of Arkansas,” which was 15.33 carats and the 8.82-carat “Star of Shreveport.” The 4.25-carat “Kahn Canary” diamond was found here in 1977 and was  mounted on a ring worn by Hillary Clinton during the presidential inaugural balls. The 3.03-carat “Strawn-Wagner Diamond,” found in 1990 was cut to a 1.09-carat gem graded D-flawless 0/0/0 (the highest grade a diamond can achieve) by the American Gem Society.

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Geologists believe these diamonds were formed millions of years ago with tremendously high pressure and temperature and shot to the earth’s surface during a violent volcanic eruption. The portion of the crater that is known to be diamond bearing is about 37 acres and is the eroded surface of an ancient volcanic pipe.

Test drilling at the crater has shown that the reserve is shaped like a martini glass; it is believed to be the eighth largest diamond reserve in the world, in surface area.

We stayed for 4 hours digging in the dirt and playing in the water, in search of a diamond to call our own.

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When we were ready to leave and get back on the road in our journey towards Little Rock, we stopped at the Diamond Discovery Center to have our haul examined.

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A kind and informative ranger looked over the kids’ pile of rocks as they held their breath. After careful examination, he broke the news that we didn’t find any diamonds but sifted through their pile explaining to them all that they did find out in the field. It was an awesome geology lesson, as he took 20 minutes to explain to the kids why diamonds exist in this particular area, and describe the unique characteristics of the rocks and minerals they did find.

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We didn’t find any diamonds during our visit to Crater of Diamonds State Park, but I left the proud owner of something of far greater worth:

A once in a lifetime experience with my greatest jewels!

What an awesome day!