Wednesday, June 25, 2008

High Times in the (REALLY) Olden Days

I played hooky yesterday and skipped out of town with one of my best guys -- grandson Alex. The Sam Noble Museum of Natural History in Norman has just recently opened the Paleozoic Gallery in the already stunning Hall of Ancient Life. Also on view now, until August 24, is an exhibit called "The Science of SuperCroc." Alex and I are big dino fans so this destination was a no-brainer.
They've bitten off a big chunk -- about 4 billion years from the formation of Earth to the end of the Permian Period (251 mya). Alex and I gave short shrift to the first billion years or so -- drawn into the Cambrian period by giant sea creatures floating above the floor. Excellent reproductions and reconstructions of ancient marine life -- like a huge, armored fish (Dunkleosteous) forever chasing a Cladoselache (an early cartilaginous fish that looks very shark-like) put likely skins on bony fossil remains. Other exhibits feature carboniferous swamps and forest complete with beautiful, supersized dragon-flies (Meganeura). This new gallery is a worthy prelude to the already-established galleries.
Across the main hall, in the temporary exhibits gallery, SuperCroc holds sway. Sarcosuchus was probably the largest crocodile to walk the earth. His skull was six feet long, making him about 40 feet in all. Also in the exhibit is a skeleton of Nigersaurus, a sauropod found in the same region as Sarcosuchus. This strange-looking dino had a head that looks like a shoe box. Suchomimus, also on display, looks like dino put together by a committee -- a sauropod body with a crocodilian head. This one has been rigged so that its mouth and head can be operated with levers.
The Sam Noble has been a winner since it opened -- it's even better now. If you have kids, get them down there before SuperCroc leaves. No kids? Borrow some -- or go by yourself. This is one cool place to spend a hot afternoon.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Magnificent Mozart

It's been tough blogging lately because I've been on the road so much. I'm home for a bit, so I'll try to catch up. If there's no picture on this blog, please check back later. I'm going to spend some time this morning downloading photos from my latest trip -- Bartlesville, Oklahoma, for the Oklahoma Mozart Festival.

First off, I usually avoid festivals -- I hate crowds and especially dealing with parking -- so when I had an opportunity to go on a press trip where I could let someone else deal with the details, I jumped on it. Second, Mozart may have his name on this festival but the music ranges from bluegrass to contemporary and everything in between plus lots of other activities -- storytelling, jewelry making, art shows, tea parties, architecture tours.

What did I discover? For most activities, crowds are easily accommodated and, let's face it, crowds of people who come to these events are not exactly the unwashed masses (okay, that sounds snobby but I'm not a big fan of hanging around with big, hairy, sweaty guys in undershirts and sloppy women with strings of sticky, whiny kids). The only parking problems came at the outdoor concert and that event, held at Woolaroc, was such fun that even I would be willing to deal with it!

Since this was a press trip covering more than just the festival, I only went to a few of the many events available to the public. The first of the concerts I attended was a masterworks concert conducted by pianist Barry Douglas and featured a Bach violin concerto, and Beethoven's "Eroica" symphony and a Mozart piano concerto which he both conducted and played -- magnificent. The outdoor concert was a real kick -- lots of light classic faves, medleys from musicals and movie hits -- William Tell Overture, West Side Story, Pirates of the Caribbean and much, much more. The encore -- Theme from Superman -- topped off with a fireworks display. The last concert, the grand finale, featured Frederica von Stade. Brava!!!!!
Next year is the 25th anniversary year for the festival -- I guarantee I'll be there.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Jersey Girl

This is me trying to look cool -- and like I really am not too old to get the now historic '70s music scene. This is the Stone Pony -- a venue that looms large in the life of Bruce Springsteen, New Jersey's favorite son. Springsteen is New Jersey's biggest fan and the state, particularly Asbury Park, hearts him right back and then some. Stone Pony staffer Joanna White told me, "He sat down and chatted with me and I couldn't believe it. I was sweating. He's really real people." The Asbury Park boardwalk -- right across the street from the Stone Pony -- is undergoing a major renovation and is going to be one of the hippest spots on the Jersey shore. One of its charms was always the egalitarian nature of the place. It will be interesting to see if it can retain its connection with the common man when it's all decked out in high style.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

A Sad Tail

The Oklahoma Aquarium in Jenks is one of my favorite Oklahoma attractions so that's where I went yesterday while Jack sat in a meeting on investing. It was a good choice because I hadn't been there since they added a new exhibit on Oklahoma mammals -- featuring beavers, otters and raccoons.

Here's the bad news -- I went at nap time! I did get to see the beavers in their den, on beavercam. One was sleeping, the other giving himself a good scratch. The raccoons were curled up on a couple of high rocks, sacked out -- just a couple of furry lumps. The otters were totally invisible.

I did manage to see the sharks being fed -- and the electric eel and the archer fish. The aquarium now offers a lot more opportunities to see the fish in action and several pools, the tidal pool, the touch pool, the turtle pool and the sting ray pool provide chances to touch or feed some of the animals.

Watching the electric eel was shocking! The aquarium installed a speaker in the tank and when the eel gets fed, he gets so excited that he discharges electricity. This causes static in the speaker and it sounds like a giant stomach rumbling!

To feed the archer fish, the keeper put krill on the glass of the aquarium and the archer fish spit water at the pieces of food to knock them down. I was so busy trying to catch the spitting with the camera that I didn't get to just stand and watch! And I missed the spit every time!

I did better with the jelly fish -- I love the jelly fish.

Before I left, I went back to check on the beavers. One of them had come out of the den but was trying really hard to get back in. All I got in my shot was beaver butt!

Here's a hint: The beavers and otters are fed at 11 and 3 daily. If you want to see mammal action, that's the time to be there.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Never on Monday

Rats! I'm making a trip to Tulsa tomorrow and I'm looking for someplace I haven't been recently to write about -- as long as I'm in the neighborhood. Do you know how many cool places are closed on Mondays? I really need to see the Air and Space Museum -- closed on Mondays. I could settle for the Elsing Museum -- closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Philbrook is handy to where I need to be -- oops, closed on Mondays. Two places that are both handy and open are the Aquarium in Jenks and the Sherwin Miller Museum. Both worthy -- but I've covered them in the last year or two.
While there are good places to go -- it seems a lot of my faves don't show up on Mondays. In Oklahoma City, don't go to the Oklahoma City Art Museum and in Norman and forget the Fred Noble Jr. Art Museum and the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History.
I'm just peeved because the world doesn't work on my schedule. If I were in charge....