Saturday, November 22, 2014

Through Hail and Back: A Dam Trip

I had to tell you about today. No work, no chores, no school. 
We did a lot in school this week in addition to a surprise sleepover at Grandma's for the boys.
By today we were a bit stir crazy!
 We slept in, got breakfast out and went for a day trip. Out of our three options: Hug Point on the coast, Mt. Hood, or the Bonneville Dam in the gorge east of Portland, we chose the last. The kids’ winter clothes are not yet completely in order and both Mt. Hood and the coast were predicted to be windy and cold, so we decided to go with the ol' dam trip.   

Hello dam! From this angle you look like a dam prison.
This dam has two powerhouses; one on the Washington and one on the Oregon side of the mighty Columbia River. We went with the Washington side of the set-up because we’ve already done the Oregon side and it’s closed for renovation anyway. Also, Washington does NOT have a gift shop. This is a championship-level plus for us because the boys could spend seven weeks on average in even the tiniest gift shop.
Near the dam entrance, facing the direction of the storm.
We chose the old highway leading along the North side of the gorge from Vancouver on past Camas. It is an even more beautiful drive than my beloved Highway 84, which we drive many times a year. Today the weather made it spectacular. The skies were displaying lightning (a rare treat in our neck of the woods), spitting down hail, raining fat drops so hard we couldn’t have a conversation and blowing leaves in panicked circles in our path. The road at points was covered in a frozen slush, but there were almost always ruts with good traction mid-lane. Winter is so rare in Portland that it was fun to see a glimpse of it today. At one point Toby asked, "Is this a storm?" and I realized it's kind of sad he really doesn't have much experience with truly stormy weather. It generally just rains in a most matter of fact manner without much drama in Portland.

Here’s the truth: the kids were not at all excited about the dam at first. Usually they would be, but I think they had set their hearts on the coast. Instead they were whiney and complainy and asking how long it would take to get there-y. They can be really annoying in the small space of the car. Do NOT, for example, under any circumstances hum Bizet's Carmen. They will rock it Beeker-style until your ears bleed. 

Once we started to explore the place it got a bit better. There are some things for kids to touch and move in the visitor’s center, and a movie about Lampreys which both boys liked. They really loved the fish observation room and spent time on the interactive displays there. We were about to wrap up the visit when I noticed a sign about tours and realized if we booked it we would be right on time for one. We hurried the kids (“C’mon, we don’t want to miss the dam tour!!”) and made it to the ranger’s desk just in time. We were her only takers and she was an excellent ombudsman.

The tour is where it’s at, people. If you go to the dam in the winter, which I highly recommend because I like having places all to myself, do not skip the tour.
After some initial grumping, Isaac turned on his chatty self and asked his customary 11,000 questions. 
After that even the kids admitted they loved the trip. We went to Charburger, a longstanding local dive with a gorgeous view of the Bridge of the Gods, and then drove back home with a happy tired trio.
The tour takes you next to and below a real working generator! 

We were amazed that the deep thrumming was not the turbines
but rather the water rushing around and through the dam structure.
The tour guide told the kids it was enough water to fill a three bedroom house every second. 

In the future, I think we could make much more of our dam trips. We could pre-load some study (homeschoolers call them unit studies) about infrastructures, the mission and history of the Army Corps of Engineers, hydroelectric power, magnets (and exactly how the turning turbines create energy for a grid), fisheries, and "how terrorism threat levels make the guard have to open your trunk where you really hope all those falling books and coats and strollers and diapers will not injure him too badly". (That's a popular one with the unschoolers. I kid, unschoolers!)

As it was we came home and watched an episode of Dirty Jobs where Mike Rowe crawls all around inside a turbine, replacing bolts and lubricants and recovering fish tracking tags from waste pits and using the word "poo" a lot. I’d say we could count it as a school day if we needed to count such things.

Stuff that happened on the way home:
The boy finished Gregor the Overlander book 1.
He loves it and often busts out giggling in random, inappropriate places.
We have to remind him to close his book to walk.
Quintessential Isaac.

Because tomorrow is Sunday...

FangFang continues to adore and emulate her brothers. She wants to do everything they are doing. If one of them asks me a question in the car, they are interrupted by "MOM!" and a line of toddler babble ending with a big fat question mark. Sometimes there are adorable hand gestures and head tilts. She did this to the dam tour guide, patting her on the dark-khaki leg. 

Another habit this child has developed in her third month as an American is to bid adieu to everyone as she leaves a restaurant, grocery store, library. She shouts BYE! and waves at each one with the easy practiced enthusiasm of a miniature beauty queen. Sometimes that's hard to do because she is also carrying a large Calvin & Hobbes book like she has noticed Toby is wont to do. She is my daughter, but I am also her groupie. I get to associate with this little celebrity, and it's a very sweet gig. 

She even reads me bedtime stories before folding herself in half just for fun.

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