Oklahoma City Zoo Giraffe Feeding

Do You Speak Giraffe?

Giraffe encounters or feeding experiences make a normal day at the zoo exceptional. There is a certain elegance and mystery surrounding these regal inhabitants of the Sahara.

Reid Park Zoo Giraffe Encouter

Giraffes have really long tongues and big brown eyes with glamorous lashes.

So if you have small children in your life no doubt have from time to time been required to make animal sounds while sharing a book or story. Lions “RRRoaRRR” chimpanzees appear to laugh “ooh, ooh, augh, augh” but what do you say when you turn to a page with a giraffe?

Even if the mystery of what sound giraffes make is not solved, giraffe encounters or feeding experiences will be memorable. Here’s why.

When nurturing young children there is no substitute for being there even if you don’t speak the language and that applies to penguins, seals, goats, and a variety of interactive wild life experiences offered by zoos. I have found that with giraffes it’s really all about eye contact not just their amazing tongue action.

Giraffe feeding opportunities are now available at dozens of zoos across the country. Not surprising no two experiences will be the same because giraffes have their own personality quirks. I have noticed locations have their own style of communication with participants. Some zookeepers offer facts and suggestions while others, Reid Park Zoo in Tucson and Oklahoma City Zoo, actively engage youngsters in the experience, posing questions and answering questions.

Oklahoma City Zoo Giraffe Feeding

Nevertheless giraffes are gentle, curious and appear to enjoy interacting with humans of all sizes. Just how far will his neck stretch?

The calming experience has the potential to become a vacation highlight and certainly memorable. Like any interactive experience, the degree of success depends not just on the zookeeper but also the advanced information set up by parents. For example in the case of giraffes the tongue is long, very long and black which may be alarming to an unsuspecting participant of any age. Size and gangling movements which appear non-threatening at a distance intimidate when up close.

Giraffe feeding at Kansas City Zoo.

Staring down a giraffe is nearly impossible. They are curious and clever, quickly determine who has the lettuce. Just how long will its tongue stretch?

From our most recent giraffe encounter my five-year-old grandson learned that giraffes spend most of their time each day browsing for food, munching on leaves, flavorful plants, and bark from trees. Giraffes have a bony ridge instead of top front top teeth and a tongue which is capable of grasping, described as prehensile for vocabulary builders.

Curious Giraffe

Each giraffe has its own way of engaging with humans. The youngest ones seem more suspicious even though the are curious.

My grandson had two questions after patiently listening. How many spots do they have? He is in to counting everything. And, can giraffes kiss? I think he did not wish to be kissed or maybe he did. Our shared experience made a lasting impression on both of us. We are looking forward to meeting penguins in Tampa or maybe manta rays in Dallas.

If a zoo adventure is in your future and your zoo of choice offers giraffe time, just do it. Before the big day, I suggest acquiring a book about giraffes beforehand. A terrific, most enjoyable read is Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae with illustrations by Guy Parker-Rees. It is slightly silly yet inspirational for a young mind. And is a great set up for a zoo adventure. And because we all need to see the humor in situations, Shel Silverstein classic (from my children’s early days), Giraffe and a Half is enjoyable for all ages.

No need to speak giraffe, all you have to do is show up and listen.

Nancy Nelson-Duac,

Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files.



Celebrating 100 years of America in Historic Ways and in Amazingly Beautiful Places.

There is plenty good news for families planning vacations. At the top of the list is the celebrating 100 years along with the National Park Service which will waive entrance fees on special days throughout the year.

Arches National Park Story Circle

Arches National Park in Utah offers story circles by day and star gazing by night.

All national parks, including locations in Puerto Rico, and US Virgin Islands will be participating is the celebration and the free admission days. On the island of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park will be celebrating its own centennial anniversary.

Kicking off the celebration is National Park Week April 16-24. which includes free admission. The in-park events and activities launch the celebration which culminates with the official National Park Service Birthday four-day celebration August 25-28.

The rest of the year looks impressive with all locations offering unique events which expand beyond ranger talks and Junior Ranger adventures. The expanded menus of cultural and natural experiences reinforce a sense of place and add extra value to a visit or a family vacation. Mark your calendar, find your park and make it happen in 2016.

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park near San Antonio is also a UNESCO World Heritage.

During the year-long celebration parks will host innovative family activities, kid oriented activities, and distribute the new Centennial Junior Ranger booklet and badge. A preview is already available on line.

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park near San Antonio

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park near San Antonio is also a UNESCO World Heritage.

The best way to become inspired about celebrating is to browse FindYourPark.com to view upcoming centennial events near you, share your own stories, and plan a visit.

Family friendly events span the gamut from living history moments to wonders of nature. At Guadalupe Mountains National Park join in an interactive session about javelinas the most curious canyon residents often confused with pigs.

Rangers from Dead Horse Point State Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Arches National Park will join forces providing telescopes so that visitors may experience the awesomeness of Utah’s night skies.

On the Atlantic coast Fort Moultrie National Park visitors will have a chance to view the night sky with Low Country Stargazers on Sullivan’s Island.

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park celebrates 100 years

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park celebrates 100 years on its own with cultural games and awesome lava bed hikes.

Visitors to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park during its centennial year will have the opportunity to take an adventurous guided hike into a large lava tube formed by Kīlauea volcano centuries ago and to participate in a variety of historic island games.

The best of America may be seen in our national parks. I am ready to celebrate this summer at Mt Rushmore in the Black Hills, Glacier National Park in Montana, and on Lake Superior’s awesome Isle Royale.

Nancy Nelson-Duac

Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files.

Snag a Ticket to Ride with Santa before It’s Too Late.

Don’t wait to snag a ride with Santa. I know Halloween evets and Thanksgiving dinner precede Santa on the calendar but waiting to make plans diminishes the chance of getting the perfect time on the ideal day. I have just spoken with more than a dozen locations who offer exceptional holiday experiences and all are already selling tickets to ride with the Jolly Old Elf.

Grand Canyon Railway Polar Express

Grand Canyon Railway offers a truly magical Polar Express ride on Engine 29.

For families time is a very precious commodity. So our holiday activity folders suggests oodles of ways to share the gift of time and snag holiday fun with children or grandchildren by creating a personal version of a time share – no condo needed. One of the best ways is to arrange a magical “Polar Express” adventure or a lively Santa train ride either of which makes a terrific yuletide family tradition with huge memory making potential.

From my recent research I know the season is set to sparkle across the country with countless memory making moments possible from riding the rails with Santa to sharing cookies with Mrs. Claus or sipping hot chocolate and singing carols with Christmas elves.

The promising list reveals a plethora of ways to share the magic with young children.  Ride the Polar Express at dozens of spots across the US from New Hampshire and Ohio to Texas and Arizona. Climb aboard a Santa train in Florida or sing along with Santa’s elves in California. The best options may be viewed in our Santa Trains & Holiday Lights folder.

As I write this I realize I do not have our tickets yet. UGH!

Nancy Nelson-Duac

Curator of the Good Stuff for theFamilyTravelFiles.com


Pumpkins and Kids – Color Your Weekends Orange.

I think October should be officially set aside to celebrate all things orange.

Perfect Pumpkins in the Sun

Perfect pumpkins come in all sizes but the most popular color is always orange.

I do not mean orange and black or orange and green, simply orange. Why? Orange is a happy color but except for harvest time which is also pumpkin time, it is relegated to coloring sessions when crayons make magic in little hands and grass, bunnies and occasionally people turn up orange.

Pumpkin patches and corn mazes go hand in hand but I have pumpkins on my mind because the shades of orange in any pumpkin patch signify a harmonious connection with our planet. I am inspired by the countless creative ways gardens and farms embrace the season and focus on scree free fun for all ages.

Pumpkin village at Dallas Arboretum

Autumn at the Dallas Arboretum includes a world class pumpkin village, a magical pumpkin carriage, and oodles of screen free families activities.

Near to my home and at the top of my list is the Pumpkin Village at Dallas Arboretum. The colorful pumpkins, gourds and squash population number well past 50,000 and create a setting that must be seen to be believed. Each season I watch tykes and their older companions awed by the remarkably artful Pumpkin Village and Cinderella’s magical pumpkin carriage.

The annual Keene Pumpkin Festival in New Hampshire pays homage to the color orange populating the festival with thousands of lit jack-o’lanterns and those in attendance have a chance to go pumpkin bowling.

Dewberry Farm South Texas Twins and Pumpkins

The awesome pumpkin patch at Dewberry Farm has pumpkins for tykes and enough family activities to last all weekend.

One of the best agri-adventures in the country is at Dewberry Farm in South Texas where acres of pumpkins ready for picking, and pumpkin carving and corn cannons add to the fun. On Saturday nights Pumpkin Hollow is aglow with hundreds of artfully carved pumpkins.

The Great Pumpkin Farm not far from Buffalo, New York has everything pumpkin-related from pumpkin decorating, and scarecrow stuffing to pumpkin pie eating. As an added bonus they have “FSI: Farm Scene Investigation” corn maze experience with its own interactive app.

Red Arty Hubbard Pumpkins

The best pumpkin patches prove pumpkins have personalities just like people and the come in all shapes and sizes from smooth and sunny to warty and quirky.

Not far from Wichita, Kansas, Walters’ Pumpkinfest is all about seeing more orange. From the pumpkin cannon blaster and pumpkin sling shots to pumpkin salsa, pumpkin chili, pumpkin bread and pumpkin soup, the festival is really orange.

Not far from Los Angeles Underwood Family Farms showcases more than a dozen varieties of pumpkins, squash, and gourds during their Fall Harvest Festival plus in Hollywood style Farmer Craig’s Chicken Show features an animatronic chicken clucking to popular tunes.

Our aMAZEing Fun folder features dozens of awesome places to encounter pumpkins, cornstalks, scarecrows and screen free fun. The season is turning more orange by the minute.

Nancy Nelson-Duac

Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files

Harvest Time Agri-Adventures Offer Screen Free Fun for Everyone.

The best agri-adventures and farmstead experiences offer creative and often challenging pathways through 10-foot corn stalks, pumpkin fields ready to harvest and a menu of screen free things to do outside with kids.

Minnetonka Orchards Scarecrow

Scarecrows make perfect harvest time companions for humans of all sizes but do they keep the birds away?

In addition to first person rural life experiences like hayrides, scarecrows, pony rides, farmyard animal encounters and corn pile play boxes many locations have added extra ways to enjoy farm time with kids. The most popular activities include goat walks, pig races, pig painting, apple cannons, pumpkin bowling, and nifty barrel-train rides.

The screen free menu of choices keeps expanding. The most ambitious additions include ziplining over corn fields, orbing down hills, cranberry bog experiences, giant viewing towers, and secret earth-tunnels. Plus, many locations have created night time maze adventures adding an extra dimension to family to the agri-adventures.

Corn maze at Minnetonka Orchards

The corn maze at Minnetonka Orchards is only part of the agri-adventure which also includes apple picking, wagon rides, barnyard animal encounters, and an awesome haystack.

Our aMAZeing Fun folder features least nine dozen locations to find terrific agri-adventures, corn mazes and fall festivals from coast to coast including great spots in Canada.

One of the world’s largest corn mazes is at Richardson Adventure Farm in Spring Grove, Illinois. Their agri-adventures pedal trikes, a 50-foot high viewing tower, zip lining, and a zorbing adventure inside an 11-foot orb.

The corn maze at Dell’Osso Family Farm near Lathrop, California is large enough to be viewed by NASA from orbit. Along with the maze challenge they run a pumpkin tram, have pumpkin blasters, zip lining, and aerial ropes course, and a plank plunge.

An agri-adventure at Marni Farm near Ipswich, MA includes 10 miles of pathways and hundreds of questions to be answered plus a larger-than-life spider web challenge, apple cannons, and thousands of pumpkins.

Dewberry Farms Pumpkin Field

The awesome pumpkin field at Dewberry Farm near Houston offers so many tempting choices.

The Texas Maze at Dewberry Farm near Houston includes an awesome pumpkin field, interactive corn maze with dozens of “cornundrums” plus honey bees at work, corn cannons, singing chickens, rubber ducky races, calf roping, and ziplining.

French Prairie Gardens Fall Harvest Festival in St. Paul, OR has a “Pigtucky” Derby and an opportunity for visitors to watch the secret lives of chickens.

The season looks very promising.

Nancy Nelson-Duac

Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files


Yippee for Labor Day! Family Fun Times Ten.

Before we make plans for Thanksgiving or iron out the details for the Christmas holidays let’s celebrate the end of summer. From LEGO animals at the Denver Zoo, Shakespeare in the park, and the American Music Festival in Virginia Beach to Bumbershoot in Seattle, Festival of Sail in San Diego and the lively Celebrate Bandera in Texas, family fun is the whole idea.

Native American Dance Practice at Celebrate Bandera.

Celebrate Bandera features uniquely American cultural experiences including lively music and colorful dance ceremonies.

The best festivals for families are both interactive and engaging making it easy share extra fun with kids. I always add another level to Labor Day weekend festivals and celebrations. I think they should not just be fun for families but also provide on-the-spot learning experiences as a bonus to jumpstart the school year.

Plenty of celebrations do just that. There are oodles of terrific ways to spend quality time with kids which makes me say, “Yippee for Labor Day!” I have my favorites and I have heard from folks who have theirs.

Virginia Beach American Music Festival includes great music, fireworks on the beach and Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center is showcasing dinosaur roars.

Festival of Sail 2015 in San Diego has not just tall ships, yummy eats and great music but plenty of chances to sail in the harbor.

Duplos and LEGOS at KidFest.

So many LEGOS, so little time. Celebrate KidFest Labor Day weekend in Austin.

Bumbershoot in Seattle celebrates with music, arts, comedy and has Youngershoot – a festival within the festival created just for kids.

LEGOS, my new favorite thing to do, make the scene in Denver at the Zoo, and KidFest in Austen, Texas.

William Shakespeare sets the stage in Washington DC with Midsummer Night’s Dream performances as part of the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s annual “Free for All.” In San Francisco SFShakes presents free Shakespeare in the Park productions of Romeo and Juliet at The Presidio.

Add to these ideas a slew of Renaissance festivals which fall during Labor Day weekend and inlcude themed celebrations, interactive quests, and royal parades. The send-off to summer looks promising.

For the full list of family-friendly festivals and events including the best of Labor Day celebrations go to the Festivals and Events folder featured at theFamilyTravelFiles.com

Yippee for Labor Day!

Nancy Nelson-Duac

Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files

Add Dinosaurs to Your Vacation and Roar!

For more than a decade I have been posting news about dinosaur experiences, dinosaur exhibits, and dinosaur digs. I have noted the best places to view a Brontosaurs, Stegosaurus or T. rex and where to find the nearest Dinosaurs Alive! location. Each year I add more great options to the Dino Trips folder at the Family Travel Files.

dinosaurs at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.

Roar with the dinosaurs at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.

Adding a dinosaur or maybe two to your family vacation will guarantee squeals, roars, smiles and non-stop questions. Dino trips combine fun and learning with family vacation time. Seeing the biggest of dinosaurs and using big words to match is child’s play and meant to be shared.

According to Fred Rogers from the popular TV show Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”

I recently discovered Connecticut’s Roar Tour, a terrific menu of vacation options which include old bones, dig for fossils, animatronic thrills, sharks, sea turtles, lizards.  The Roar Tour also has vacation packages making a dino trip easy to plan.

Dinosaur World in Glen Rose, Texas

At Dinosaur World in Glen Rose, Texas tykes can hide in a dinosaur’s head and roar at passersby.

If dinosaurs are on your radar screen this summer then get excited. Exceptional dinosaur experiences span the planet from awesome techno dinosaurs at Connecticut Science Center in Hartford and giant dinosaur puppets at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History to Dinosaurs Live! locations and the enchanting pathways of Dinosaur World in Florida and Texas. The Royal Tyrell Museum in Alberta (one of my time favorite places to dig with kids) offers topnotch dinosaur experiences and T. rex Discovery Centre in Saskatchewan provides access to an actual dig site. The possibilities for fun and learning are endless.

A complete menu of places to vacation with dinosaurs may be viewed in Dino Trips featured at the Family Travel Files. For the latest family travel, dino news follow The Family Travel Files on Twitter (@FamTravelFiles), Pinterest or Facebook straight from the homepage.

As always I welcome feedback. Do you have a favorite dinosaur experience or place to roar? Just Tell Mom.

Nancy Nelson-Duac

Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files.

Star Parties, Night Classes and Dark Sky Adventures.

Almost every summer vacation activity requires sunscreen but not star parties. Even better for those who are not morning bunnies, star parties conveniently occur after sunset.  Stargazing with an astronomer as a guide has a magical quality in spite of the real science and history involved and the use of red pin lights makes everything seem authentic. The fascinating myths associated with the night sky and the location of constellations by season makes for a great, perhaps slightly geeky party experience to share with your kids.

Arizona star party time with real telescopes.

Arizona star party time where families have fun sharing real science in real time with real telescopes.

So where’s the party? Remarkable programs span the continent from Virginia, Minnesota, and Arizona to California, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah, each experience varying in scope based on geographic location. In the past few years I have had the opportunity to stargaze with my family several times. My list of suggestions is short but well vetted.

McDonald Observatory West Texas star party

A McDonald Observatory West Texas star party is a celestial trip with no sunscreen needed.

  1. Sky watching in West Texas at McDonald Observatory offers unimaginable views of the planets and constellations from several telescopes of varying sizes.
  2. Night sky safaris from Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson will amaze even the most jaded teen. Like MacDonald, Kit Peak is an active astronomical research complex and a place to view what scientists view daily.
  3. The night sky is strong at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico. From June through October each year rangers at Carlsbad conduct a series of free night sky programs that pack an extra WOW!
  4. Astronomy Rangers rule at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. Organized star parties are held each night facilitated by Astronomy Rangers who monitor more than 40 telescopes scattered around the park.
  5. The free monthly star party at Griffith Observatory above LA is inspiring. If none of the star party dates fit in your schedule, no worries because free public telescope viewing is available each evening the Observatory is open and weather permits.

As always I welcome feedback. Do you have a favorite Dark Sky spot?

Nancy Nelson-Duac

Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files.

Share an Out of Gravity Experience with Your Kids.

This summer the Science Museum of Minnesota is showcasing an awesome and most enlightening exhibition about space travel, space living and space in relationship to our future.  It’s a WOW! in Earth terms.

Gigantic Spaceman Science Museum of Minnesota

A gigantic spaceman beckons earthlings to Space: An Out of Gravity Experience at the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul.

The Minnesota Science Museum has always been on my list of must see museums but until last week I had never stepped inside. Six hours later with two snack breaks, much needed to quell mind overload, I know one visit is not enough. The place is amazing at every turn.

Space: An Out-of-Gravity Experience is one reason to make plans to be in St. Paul with your kids. It is an eye opener. A gargantuan spaceman guards the entrance hall of the Museum beckoning earthlings to get in line to see really cool stuff about the future of travel in space. The presence of the three-story giant is exciting no matter what your age and from the third floor landing it’s possible to see your own surreal reflection in the spaceman’s mask.

Science at Museum of Minnesota space station playhouse.

Science Museum of Minnesota space station playhouse for miniature astronauts attracts kids of all ages to engage in imaginative travel with a mission.

Space poses the question, what does the future hold for earthlings and space travel? It does not cover historic moments or status quo thinking but instead focuses on possibilities. I was enthralled at every turn. The experience begins with a well-scripted cinematic introduction which describes in easy to understand terms the huge challenges facing future explorers and shows how preparations are being made to solve the situations.

Every means of engaging visitors is used to convey concepts which are still on the edges of comprehension for most of us. Interactive stations simulate robotic tasks and consoles allow users to engage in mission planning simulating tasks essential to survival in outer space. Stacking blocks is not as easy as it seems when the task must be completed using a robotic arm. It’s possible to board a life-sized rotating space pod simulating the International Space Station, slightly dizzying but intriguing.

If you are anywhere near St. Paul Minnesota, this is the summer to have an  out of gravity experience with your kids and while you are there sample the gelato for an out of this world taste treat.

Nancy Nelson-Duac

Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files.

Walking to Pluto with Kids.

This is the Year of Pluto and Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona where Pluto was discovered is celebrating the 85th anniversary in cosmic style and walking to Pluto is only part of the fun.

Lowell Observatory Cosmic Cat

An artful cosmic cat guards the Pluto Telescope at Lowell Observatory on Mars Hill above Flagstaff, AZ.

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Pluto because when I was in the fifth grade I played the tiny planet in a science fair skit. I knew then as I know now Pluto is small and its orbit erratic but the demotion to dwarf planet seems a little demeaning but no one asked me to vote. My family has found memories of visiting the Observatory when Pluto was still at the end of the planet chain. Mars Hill was then and is now a cool place.

Not able to let go of our love for Pluto, a few weeks ago my daughter and I revisited Lowell Observatory atop Mars Hill. The last time we were there she was eight years old and Pluto was still a planet. She remembered the famous telescope as being bigger and the walk much longer – no surprise.

The famous750-acre hilltop facility, guarded by a cosmic blue cat is quietly impressive. It’s a place where real scientific research is being conducted and yet the public has access to scientists who willingly answer questions about planets, star clusters, and cosmic disorder.

Lowell Observatory Pluto Telescope

After strolling the official Pluto Walk to Pluto head on to Lowell Observatory Pluto Telescope

While there are more than a dozen solar system walks spanning the continent, this Lowell Observatory hilltop complex is the best place on the plant to walk to Pluto with your kids. The official the Pluto Walk spans 350-foot (107- meter) and follows a path illustrating the scale of our solar system planet by planet with tiny Pluto at the end. Just steps beyond is the Pluto Discovery Telescope (actually an astrogragh), one of the most famous telescopes in the history of American astronomical research.

Within the hilltop complex there are plenty of cosmic connections, including stargazing to be enjoyed but for us walking to Pluto’s was the best.

Nancy Nelson-Duac,

Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files.