A short weekend trip to Penn State. Not for football. Met some friends. Walked around. Had ice cream. Enjoyed the drive over the Poconos. It’s a good reminder that we should take these kind of trips more often.
On the way back from Packer we visited the California State Railroad Museum. This has become somewhat of a tradition as well and was especially interesting this year as a point of comparison to the Western Pacific Railroad Museum.
Lots of context and no climbing in Sacramento. Also much less for me to photograph both because of the low light and how there’s so much less rolling stock to see. Still, the boys are finally old enough to pause a bit in museums and learn about what they’re actually seeing. And getting all their “TRAIN TRAIN TRAIN” excitement out in Portola meant that they were also ready to ask questions and listen to the responses.
The two museums really work well together as I’ve not previously been able to actually talk to the boys about how the tracks were built, how the trains actually work, and how the world changed when trains made everything connected.
The 8-year-old made a connection in Portola that the town reminded him of Radiator Springs. I informed him that that connection was pretty insightful in terms of both the boom and bust nature of the town and then reinforced that connection through the exhibits in Sacramento.
The unexpected benefit of my car dying is that I would otherwise never have visited the Western Pacific Railroad Museum. After visiting Sand Pond and Frazier Falls, we rolled into Portola not knowing exactly what to expect but optimistic that it would hold my sons’ interests for the hour or so before I planned to retrieve my car from the mechanic.
Ok, we kind of expected something “loving hands” rather than a museum with contextual histories for the artifacts on display. And this is definitely that—the most history on display is a paragraph about when things were made and when they were decommissioned. But where the context is missing this museum just keeps things wonderfully simple.
Here’s over 30 acres of rolling stock. Go explore. Go climb on things. The only rules are don’t walk on the tracks and don’t climb on the roofs. Everything else is fair game.
Is awesome. We all climbed on engines and into cabooses. Looking into the engine cabs is great. Climbing up into the caboose cupolas is a thrill. Seeing all the different box cars and hearing the sounds of the still-working rail yard is a thrill.
There was not only plenty for the boys to do, they want to go back again.
As do I.
Since this was primarily a trip to retrieve my car from the mechanic I did not bring all my camera gear with me on this excursion. In particular, I left my Yashicamat in the cabin at Packer. This is probably just as well since I was on kid-watching duty (and there’s a lot to watch out for). But when I come back I need to make sure I have my Yashicamat with Portra loaded so I can go to town.
This year’s Packer trip threw a bit of an unexpected wrinkle when my car died mid-trip. We were planning to go to Frazier Falls and then have lunch in Graeagle. Instead I got to push-start my car and drive it the 25 miles to Portola where it got a new alternator and battery. Yeah I kind of gulped when I found out I’d been driving on a bad alternator. I’m glad it didn’t completely die on me while I was driving.
Anyway the result of the car trouble is that we ended up doing two short hikes—more like walks—on Friday when we went to go pick up the car.
Then we went to Frazier Falls where there was quite a bit less water compared to last year.
This year we figured the boys were big enough to attempt the Sierra Buttes hike. It’s one of the tougher hikes—4 miles each way and quite a few steep sections as it climbs 2600 feet—and because of snow issues is frequently not passable in mid-June when we visit. The last time I went was 11 years ago and I’ve probably only climbed it a half dozen times total.
It turns out that the trail has changed a bunch since the last time I climbed it. Over the past year it’s been completely redone into a less-steep, much-longer, and much-nicer trail. So instead of coaxing the boys up a steep hot grade of cobbles we had to coax them along an extra two miles of more-manageable trail. The extra two miles (each way) is worth not having to deal with the risk of turning an ankle on rolling cobbles* and baking in the sun as it both beats down from above and radiates off the rock.
*Though I did step too close to the edge of the new trail and have it give way under my foot since it wasn’t fully compacted yet. The resulting tumble could’ve been much worse than a skinned knee and scratched elbow but did serve to drive home the point about staying in the middle of the trail that the boys kept forgetting.
And the lookout at the top is the same scary stairs for that cheap, quality thrill in climbing and descending. Neither boy was particularly rattled and so, as a result, they rattled their parents instead.
I used to vacation at Packer Lake every year. As I got older I had other things come up more often and so I was only able to visit every other year. Once I moved out of California, my visits got even less frequent and I no longer expect to be able to go each year.
I did get to visit last year. And I was lucky to be able to visit again this year. It’s always a nice way to recharge and the kids are getting old enough now that they’re really appreciating the lake and activities. Long hikes are possible. Fishing isn’t just throwing rocks and trying to keep them out of the water. And they’re learning and absorbing a proper appreciation for wilderness and the Sierra Nevadas.
Yes they’re growing up on the East Coast but letting places like this into your soul marks you as a West Coaster at heart.