Cityscapes Philadelphia – What To Do, Science & History Geek Edition

BenFranklinStatue 199x300 Cityscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Science & History Geek EditionOne full day of our Philadelphia weekend, our second full day of sightseeing, was the Science day.

We spent most of the day at The Franklin Institute, Philadelphia’s most excellent science museum. We saw the planetarium show, The Wildest Weather In The Solar System, which was included in our admission, and Kenya Animal Kingdom, the 3-D movie in the Franklin Theater, which had a small upcharge on our Philadelphia Pass admission. Exhibits we liked the best: the special exhibit on tech innovations, the gears and small machines, and the train factory. And of course, the gift shop where Doug found some great science and math books, including The Geek Handbook  and a super “Big Bang Theory” inspired t-shirt that spells out our favorite catch phrase using the symbols for barium zinc and gallium – BA ZN GA. Not exactly this one on Amazon, but close.

On this trip we did not have time for the nearby Academy of Natural Sciences, or the Mutter Museum of medical oddities, which was just a bit off our planned trajectory, but they are both on the list for our next visit.


We started our mini-vacation with a visit to the Ben Franklin Museum, which is part of the Independence National Park exhibits, but has a small admission fee. Located on — well strictly speaking underneath — the site of his home and printing business, the museum mixes interactive exhibits and historical artifacts to tell the story of Franklin’s life and role in American history.FranklinCourt 300x200 Cityscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Science & History Geek Edition

The rest of the National Park exhibits are free but you need a timed ticket for the guided tour of Independence Hall (get it free at the National Park desk in the Visitor Center or preorder online for a small charge) and there is a queue to see the Liberty Bell. Both of these exhibits also have security inspection of your bags. Our strategy was to go on a weekday first thing (Tuesday to be exact.) Exterior2IndepHall 200x300 Cityscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Science & History Geek EditionWe were able to do the first tour of Independence Hall at 9am, followed by Congress Hall (where the House and Senate met when Philadelphia was the US capitol), and there was no line to speak of for the Liberty Bell when we finished with those two important landmarks. Weekends especially later in the day the lines for the Bell are LONG!!!

Most of the rest of the historical sites we saw from the comfort of our seats on the Big Bus Tour, which we used to get around for the two middle days of our 4-day trip. We also did the duck tour, Ride the Ducks, since it was included on our pass, and we had a little time left at the end of Science Day. While it covered most of the same sites as the Big Bus, it was fun to get on the water for that perspective.

ElephantZoo 300x200 Cityscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Science & History Geek EditionWe wrapped up our trip with a visit to the Philadelphia Zoo, which I am squeezing into the history category since it is America’s first zoo. Highlights for me were the Victorian-era animal statues throughout the zoo, and the Big Cat exhibit. It was too hot for the cats to be very active, but the exhibit was laid out in such a way that even sleeping cats were visible, without it being disturbing to their sleep. I’d love to go back on a cooler day, and slightly later in the day, when the chances would be better that animals would be moving through the catwalks featured in the exhibit.

BigCatZoo 300x200 Cityscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Science & History Geek Edition
GiraffeZoo 300x200 Cityscapes Philadelphia   What To Do, Science & History Geek Edition

On our list for our next visit: I want to go back to The Barnes Foundation, and Doug never passes up a chance to go to the science museum. We also want to check out the African American Museum, and outside of the city — the Adventure Aquarium across the river in Camden NJ  and Longwood Gardens, which we visited briefly a few years ago and wanted to visit on this trip, but ran out of time.

Because there is A LOT to do in Philadelphia.

See all my photos from the trip on Flickr

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Leaving the desert behind

The time had come that our travels would start to take us back East, closer to home.  I’m not sure what it was that changed the energy just a bit but you could sense something was different.  Maybe it was that we were starting to lose an hour with each time zone we crossed instead of gaining one?  Maybe it was because we had started to recognize time as days left instead of days to go.  Maybe we were just too darn hot! 

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Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona

Our New England bodies weren’t adjusting to the 100+ degree temperatures quickly.  Most likely, the energy shift was because we knew we had three days of driving in front of us with very little sightseeing and R&R along the way.

Our drive north out of Arizona was lovely.  Climbing into the mountains with the red rock in the background gave us the last look over Sedona as we left the city limits.  We decided we would “stop by” the South Rim of the Grand Canyon because it was only 2 hours out of our way.  What’s another 120 miles between family?!  Our drive by Mather’s Point brought to light two good decisions we made.  First, seeing both the North and the South Rims was worth the drive.  Both were very different, both beautiful in their own way.  Second, I’m glad we camped in the North Rim.  The number of visitors and volume of traffic in the South Rim was 10x more than we experienced in the North Rim.  We had lunch on the east banks of the South Rim before we continued our journey east.  It was goodbye to another treasure of the desert.

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Four states at once!

Up next was the lamest tourist trap of them all and I was so excited to finally go there in person!  When planning our trip, we had a few must see stops and the Four Corners was #1 on all our lists!  The Four Corners is the only place in the country where the four right angles of four states, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Utah meet at a central point.  It’s the only place in the country where one person can stand in four states at the same time.  Recently it was discovered the monument about a mile off the actual spot, making it even more fabulously lame.  It costs $3 per person to experience 5 minutes of vacationer paradise.  I wouldn’t have missed it for the world!  I even got in the picture for this one-Luke in Utah, Den in Arizona, Cam in Colorado and me in New Mexico.  Before the flock of wild Girls Scouts swarmed into the area, the boys and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to physically touch four states at once.  Like their mother, they can now tell people they’ve been in Colorado even though it was just one foot!

The next camping stop wasn’t until Arkansas, several hundreds of miles away.  Three days of driving brought us through New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas before we hit the state line for the Clinton’s home state of Arkansas.  Most of the drive was uneventful, long straight roads with little descriptive scenery.  A few highlights were the ancient Indian ruins perched high in the hills throughout New Mexico and parts of Texas. 

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Shiprock Pinnacle

You can only imagine the history that lies in the doorways of the towering rock formations.  In hind sight, I would have set aside time to visit and learn more about this fascinating culture.  At another point, Dennis and I reminisced about the past when we passed Shiprock Pinnacle, most likely the inspiration for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, even though the real New Mexico fixture holds deep spiritual solace for the faithful believers.

Regretfully, Route 40 East passed through several poverty stricken areas and hundreds of unusable acres of Indian Reservations in New Mexico and northwest Texas.  I’m sure our limited perspective isn’t indicative of the entire area but it wasn’t until eastern Texas that dry, barren fields were replaced with cattle roaming green fields and seeking shelter under a single shady tree.  It was easy to say goodbye to that facet of the desert but will be hard to let go of the images.

We ran into some of the worst weather of the trip on the Oklahoma/Texas border.  Driving directly into a lightning storm ahead, my imagination ran wild with thoughts of tornados throwing cows and trucks through the air!  I watched “Twister”, I know what I’m talking about.  Trailers and RVs are always the first to get hit!  It was a rough but short lived storm and we made it through untouched.  We spent the night in a skin-crawling, nasty Days Inn in Elk City Oklahoma and were up and out very early the next morning.  We slept with one eye open that night but at least it gave us a chance to charge up all our electronics before our next stop.

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Southern Missouri

Buffalo National River was just outside a small town called Yellville.  It was only about a 5 hour drive from Oklahoma but we took a planned detour into Kansas and Missouri so I could cross them off my list of states visited!  In the three days of driving, the most beautiful views came from this stretch of the trip.  I never expected southern Missouri and northern Arkansas to be so clean, lush and filled with rolling hills and farmland.  I guess I never really thought about it and after the desert it was a welcomed change.  We made it to our campsite early evening.  It should have been sooner but I gave Betty a bum steer as to the location of the campground and actually programmed in the business office three towns over!  Thankfully the ranger set us straight and we arrived at a well kept, clean and spacious site alongside the Buffalo River before dark.  Juicy steaks on the grill, BBQ chicken, baked potatoes and veggies never tasted so good!  Four happy yet tired campers turned in for a wonderful night sleep with the promise of a sunny 85 degree day ahead of them!