Curator-led Tour of the Ocean Hall

Posted by barb on Mar 13, 2016 in Around DC, Recreation

Last year we bid on, and won, a curator-led tour of the Sant Ocean Hall at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum during the National Zoo‘s Zoofari auction. And, today, we got to cash in our prize.

We arrived at the museum early so that we could have some time in the exhibit before the “hordes” arrived. We met Dr. Nancy Knowlton, a coral reef marine biologist and Sant Chair of Marine Science.

She and I had emailed a bit beforehand, and she had asked what kinds of interests our group had, so she could concentrate on those with her tour. Since we had all been through the ocean hall before, I suggested that she choose some of her favorite objects or objects with an interesting story.

After signing us in, Dr. Knowlton brought us to the entrance of the Ocean Hall. She took us to several things around the exhibit and we asked loads of questions. This included talking about cuttlefish camouflage, the Science on a Sphere, the coral reef aquarium, and the P-T extinction event.

A couple of the most interesting things we talked about were the fluid that the specimens are displayed in, the life in one square foot exhibit, shifting baselines, ocean positivity, and our behind-the-scenes look at the collections.

We stopped to look at one of the giant squid specimens, and Dr. Knowlton talked about the fluid that it is stored in. Originally, such specimens were kept in formaldehyde or alcohol. But, formaldehyde is toxic and that much alcohol in one place could destroy the museum if there was an accident. 3M created a different solution that wouldn’t be as dangerous. However, it turns out the solution is about three times more dense than water. When they put the solution in with the specimens, the specimens floated right up to the top! So, if you look closely at the specimens on display, there are cables and poles keeping them in place.

Dr. Knowlton describing her work

Dr. Knowlton had a chance to tell us more about her research when she took us back to the Life in One Cubic Foot temporary exhibit. She had developed a way to repeatably test the diversity of coral reefs. To do this, they place a stack of metal plates that’s about a cubic foot in volume. After about a year, they pick the stack up and catalog the large life within it. Then they scrape off the rest of the life and make a “smoothie” that they then identify the various DNAs present to get a catalog of life that’s present. The photographer that was involved in this project was inspired to look at what other life is in one cubic foot elsewhere in the world. This exhibit showcases some of those cubic feet.

We stopped in the fossil area to take our picture with the ancient shark jaws – a shark that makes a great white look like a guppy.

Group photo of the ocean hall tour

Then Dr. Knowlton brought us to a new education center at the museum – a center where they have a selection of the collection in drawers that visitors can look at, handle (in some cases), and get more information about. She showed us some of the ocean specimens behind the scenes collections at the museum, laboratory.

Finally, she took us back behind-the-scenes. Most of the collections have been moved off-site, due to the dangers of keeping that much alcohol and formaldehyde in one place. However, there are still a few things on the premises – we saw a huge bank of cabinets which held various plant life. She also brought us down to the lab where graduate students and postdocs work on identifying DNA strands of various animals.

To make the day’s adventures complete, we stumbled upon the St. Patrick’s Day parade in DC when we left the museum (on our way to the National Art Gallery to see the Greek Bronzes exhibition), so we stopped to watch.

Pot 'o Gold in the St. Paddy's parade

Dancers in the St. Paddy's parade

Bikes in the St. Paddy's parade



Posted by barb on Jan 13, 2012 in Around DC, Pictures

Remember that Gin-GRR-bread contest that I won? The prize was a behind-the-scenes tour of the Elephant Barn at the National Zoo.

Last Saturday I got to cash in my prize. Sweetie even came out from MN for the tour! I also brought Andrew, JD, Laurie and their kids, Lorna, Stef and Doug. We had to get to the zoo early, but Marie, the elephant manager and our host, met us and brought us up to the Mezzanine.

Our elephant barn host - one of the elephant keepers, Marie

When we arrived, Kandula was getting his bath.
Kandula gets a bath!Footprints

The ladies, Shanthi and Ambika, were eating in another stall. They also were throwing hay onto their backs – apparently back-hay is very tasty:
Back straw is the bestBack scratches

Marie answered many of our questions. The kids wanted to ask about the elephant poo – how much do they poo in a day? Turns out, each time they poo, it weighs as much as a 7-year-old boy!

Next up for a bath was Ambika – Marie had to leave us, as she was in charge of bathing Ambika. So, Becky came up to answer our questions and supervise us.

That's a big scrub-brush!

After her bath, Ambika went to the “sandbox” stall, and started flinging sand on her still-wet back. Turns out this is good for their skin, because as the sand dries and falls off, it helps to exfoliate their skin.

Flinging sandFlinging sand

We stayed in the barn for an hour and a half! It sure didn’t seem like it. After the tour, we walked around much of the rest of the zoo. We even checked out the elephants again – we just hadn’t gotten enough! Oh, and the keepers were out in the yard, and recognized our group…I’m sure that was a good thing, and not because we were terribly annoying πŸ™‚

Elephant reflection

The rest of my pictures from the tour are here: Elephant Barn Tour on Flickr.


Lion Cubs!

Posted by barb on Dec 30, 2010 in Around DC, Pictures

The National Zoo was blessed this year with two litters of lion cubs, totaling 7 cubs. They started to let them out for public viewing Dec 18 for short periods of time. I dragged Andrew to the Zoo on Christmas Eve so we could see them.

Luckily the cubs are not cute at all…they’d have a hard time being taken seriously if they were cute. You can see for yourself in the pictures I took below:



Parlor Magic

Posted by barb on Oct 12, 2010 in Around DC, Entertainment

I’m usually on the look-out for fun and different things that we can do in DC, so when I saw the Glenn Gary Parlor Magic show on Groupon, I thought it would be fun to give it a go.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but we had a great time! The show is in the Fireplace Parlor in the Westin Hotel in DC. The venue is small, and so only about 30 people can be in the audience at a time. This made the show feel very intimate, and ensured that nearly everyone was included in some part of the show. While tricks are important, a magic show is really only as good as the magician’s banter. Glenn’s banter started out a little slow, but picked up (and because a bit blue at points!) – by the end I was giggling quite a bit.

As far as tricks, Glenn did several standards, like handkerchiefs and rings. Also card tricks and sleight-of-hand. The most impressive was his closer…I don’t know how much I should give away, but Andrew and I walked out of there wondering how he did it!

If you’re in the DC area, this show is definitely worth a visit. (And yes, even at full price!)



Bike DC

Posted by barb on May 24, 2010 in Around DC, Biking, Pictures

[Cross-posted on Jiggles]

This was the first time I’ve done an organized ride. We tried to do the WABA ride several years ago, but it was cancelled by damage from Hurricane Isabel. Each year since then we have had some conflict with the ride. I was excited that this year’s ride worked out for us…excited and a little nervous. I’m not exactly the fastest rider on the planet, so one of my biggest fears was that we’d get “swept up” before finishing the ride. I knew I could do the 19 miles – that’s actually a couple miles short of what our long ride should be this weekend for our training schedule…I’m just not as fast as many other riders.

I wasn’t certain about the weather, since I’d woken up a couple times in the night to hear downpours and thunder. We got up at 5:30 and checked the weather reports – one said 10% chance of rain until about 11AM when it would go up to 40-50%; another site said 90% chance for rain going up to 100% at 11AM. Hmmmm….they could not have been more different. We decided to at least head downtown, and if it was raining hard, we could always bail.

We had to be on the first Metro train out of the station in the morning so we could check in at registration. I’d been hoping to be one of the first riders out, but the 7AM train didn’t get us into DC until about 7:40. We checked in at the Registration at Freedom Plaza downtown and got going on the ride a bit before 8AM.

Andrew at the Bike DC registration

The route brought us right by the White House.

We rode past the White House

Then we went into Georgetown along the Whitehurst Freeway. It’s a little sad that this freeway is usually occupied by cars with drivers who probably don’t enjoy the view, because it was quite lovely. From there we crossed the Key Bridge and hopped onto the GW parkway. Part of the Parkway was closed off for the ride. It started drizzling a bit on this stretch of the ride, but it wasn’t bad. The route was a bit of a bear, though, because it was uphill, it seemed, for about 1.5 miles. Coming back down? Fun!

Biking on the GW Parkway

The next stop was a trip around the Iwo Jima memorial.

Iwo Jima Memorial

Then it was on to the Air Force Memorial. It was a huge uphill trip from the main road up, but worth it for the view. It was also my first time at this memorial.

We also biked up to the Air Force Memorial   View from Air Force Memorial

From there it was just a few miles to the finish in Crystal City. And I didn’t get “swept up”! We arrived around 10:30AM, so 2.5 hours for 19 miles, photos, and a pit stop. Mostly I had fun – the only questionable part was that uphill on the GW Parkway, but hey, it’s in the bank, right?

You can see the rest of my pics from the ride here: Bike DC




Posted by barb on Dec 21, 2007 in Around DC, Pictures

Zoolights arch

We went to the National Zoo last night to check out the ZooLights event.

I primarily wanted to go to see the lights, but there were also a bunch of family-oriented activities going on all evening. Sadly, the marshmallow roasting was cancelled for the evening (not sure why), but they had cookie decorating and several of the buildings were open (small mammals, big apes and reptile discovery).

It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, but it was exactly what was advertised, so I wasn’t disappointed. There were bunches of lights displays, all in the shapes of different zoo animals. A few of the displays “moved”, like a soaring eagle landing on a nest and a leaping frog.

Naturally there was also a gift shop open – I found a very cute pair of giraffe slippers for myself (I didn’t have any shopping left to do for anyone else, so naturally I *had* to get something for me).

I’m not sure we’d go every year, but it certainly was fun the one time. Maybe in a couple years we’ll try again…assuming we still live in the area.

Leaping frog  Pandas

All of my pictures from the event are in this Flickr set.



Playing in DC

Posted by barb on Jul 14, 2007 in Around DC, Pictures

We took a trip into DC today to see a couple little things that I’ve been wanting to see. First on our list was an R2-D2 mailbox. I’d heard rumor that there was on at L’Enphant Plaza, so our first stop was there. Sadly, we walked all around that area and couldn’t find it. It may well still be there, but I didn’t have any better directions, so we gave up.

Jo Looking at the Capitol

We trekked up to the main DC post office near Union Station from there, stopping along the way for Jo to take a look at the Capitol. We did stop at a shop and found theΒ 5 best motorcycle jackets ever, but alas we didn’t come for that so we left empty handed. There was some kind of police event downtown, as we saw bunches of police cars and motorcycles on the Mall. And the police cars were from many non-DC-area jurisdictions.

The second place I’d heard there there was an R2-D2 mailbox was the DC post office, so we popped in there, but still didn’t see one. Andrew asked at the counter, and they told us to go to the Union Station post office. Fortunately, Union Station was just across the street (I’m not sure either of us could have walked much more before lunch!)

R2D2 Mailbox!

And it was there! Cute as everything! Andrew had even saved one of our outgoing pieces of mail so I could mail it from there. He took a picture, but hasn’t uploaded them yet.

Jo at the Bead Museum

From there (and after lunch), we went to the Bead Museum. We’d tried to get there earlier this year, when they had a Shakespeare bead exhibit, but a migraine kept us from going. (Damn migraines!) They’ve now set up and exhibit on cowrie shell beads. The museum is rather small, but then, beads are generally fairly small. There is a permanent collection tracing beads back to 12,000 BCE to the present. It’s an impressive collection, especially the beads made before modern times.

On our way back to the Metro, we stumbled upon a cheese shop – Cowgirl Creamery Cheese Shop. Naturally we had to stop in, and we came home with a couple of stinky cheeses (yum!).

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Saturday Cuteness in the Cold

Posted by barb on Feb 4, 2007 in Around DC, Pictures

It’s 9 AM. You have a free Saturday that you’d like to fill with something fun. It is 25 degrees outside. The high for the day is 35. What’s the first thing you think of?

Why, the zoo, of course. The outdoor zoo.

I’ve been talking about going to the National Zoo for a while. I’ve really wanted to see the baby panda, and I’ve been worrying that it’s too late to see the cute guy as a a cute guy. (Not that pandas aren’t cute all by themselves, but there’s something about baby animals.)

So, we bundled up, hopped the metro, and went to the Zoo. Many of the animals were inside (who can blame them?), but we did get to see some of my favorites – pandas, big cats, and seals.

Tai Shan Cheetah Sea Lions

Tai Shan is still a little cutie – he tumbled around his mom and was just a curious little guy. I have a little video, which may or may not appear below.

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Giant Organs

Posted by barb on Feb 3, 2007 in Around DC

A couple weeks ago, while walking through Union Station.

Giant Colon

Andrew: What is that up there?
Me: I dunno. Maybe a giant colon.
Andrew: No. It couldn’t be.
Me: Okay, maybe a giant aorta. It looks like some internal body part.

[Getting closer]

Me: It IS a giant colon. Why did I know that?
Andrew: I don’t know.

Giant colon



Too Hot to Bike

Posted by barb on Jul 15, 2006 in Around DC, Pictures

Four Spring screen by Dewing

This weekend was just too hot and too humid to bike. Friday night we went to a movie (The Devil Wears Prada, if you’re wondering), and I felt like I was having trouble breathing just walking into the theatre. Gotta love 80% humidity with >90Β° temps.

So, we took the opportunity to knock off a couple items off of our summer “to-see” list.

One item on the list was a small exhibit at the Freer Gallery called Pretty Women. It was an enjoyable exhibit. I didn’t snap any pictures, but did get one by one of the same artists featured in the Pretty Women exhibit.

Next on the list were the Muppets at the American History Museum. The museum has a display of Muppets voiced by Jim Henson, and some later Muppets from The Dark Crystal (the latter ones are not near the 3rd floor display of the other Muppets – you’ll need to search a bit, but I think they were on 1st floor, if I remember correctly). The display is only up until September, when they’re closing the museum for renovations. Here are a few of my pictures (I’m posting thumbnail sizes to fit more pics in this entry – click an image for a larger view at Flickr):
Early Muppets voiced by Jim Henson Swedish Chef Later Muppets voiced by Jim Henson Emmet and Ma Otter Muppets from Him Henson Dark Crystal Muppets_1

Smithsonian Carousel

After lunch, we walked down to the Air & Space Museum to see Magnificent Desolation, and IMAX movie about the moon landings. The movie was really cool, and probably the closest I’ll ever get to walking on the moon. We still want to see the Roving Mars IMAX movie (also at the Air & Space), and Aliens of the Deep (at the Natural History Museum) – looks like we’ll have to make another trip down to the Smithsonian this summer.


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