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We visited two incredible places in East Austin that are rich in history and fun for kids, too: the George Washington Carver Museum & Cultural Center and Rosewood Park.

The Carver Museum, located at 1165 Angelina Street, is dedicated to the collection, preservation, research, and exhibition of African-American historical and cultural material.

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The 40,000 sq. ft. facility opened in 2005 and is named after George Washington Carver, prominent African-American scientist and inventor.

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The museum is very inviting and easy to navigate. The Juneteenth and Austin African American Families Galleries, as well as a small art gallery, were right behind these doors.

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I wasn’t able to take pictures in the main gallery. The kids were interested in the Austin African American Families exhibit, specifically a map of Austin with overlays of where freed slave communities (like Kincheonville in Southwest Austin) developed after the Civil War.

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The boys’ favorite part of the museum was the Children’s Gallery, which features African American inventors and scientists.

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The museum’s namesake George Washington Carver is highlighted, including this quote, “It has always been the one great ideal of my life to be of the greatest good to the greatest number of people.”

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Several other well-known and pioneering African-Americans are featured, like astronaut Mae Jemison.

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The Wall of Inventors was a big hit!

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The top of each diamond-shaped flap shows the design sketch of an invention. When the flap is opened, you see a brief profile of the inventor.

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Another interesting area of the Carver Museum is the section dedicated to the original L.C. Anderson High School, which served Austin’s African American students for decades until it was closed in 1971 during desegregation.

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The vintage trophies and other memorabilia are beautifully displayed.

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Next, we went outside to find out more about this historic structure adjacent to the museum.

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This humble building was Austin’s first main library and it was originally located at Guadalupe and 9th Street. In 1933, it was moved to its present location on Angelina Street and was named the George Washington Carver Library, which served as Austin’s first branch library. You can read more about the library’s history here.

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This building is currently not open to the public because it’s being renovated to serve as genealogy center.

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While Kealing Park is right next to the Carver Museum, we wanted to check out Rosewood Park since it has a splash pad. We drove less than 1 mile east to 2300 Rosewood Avenue and parked in the Doris Miller Auditorium lot.

As you can see by this description of Rosewood Park when it was “park of the month” in 2012, this park has something for everyone: splash pad, playscape, historic structures, beautiful trees, swimming pool, picnic tables, athletic fields, and more! We headed straight for this shady area by the Rosewood Recreation Center to relax for a few minutes. The recreation center building includes the Bertram-Huppertz house, built circa 1875.

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Very close to the recreation center is the Henry G. Madison Cabin, which was built around 1863 on East 11th Street, donated to the City of Austin in 1968, and moved to this site in 1973.

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From our shady spot, we could see the Rosewood Pool, which was renovated in 2012. Here are the pool hours and pool fees.

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We walked around to the northern section of the park (toward N. Pleasant Valley Road). The boys enjoyed running around and exploring the pavilion area.

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We thought this was a really beautiful picnic spot. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a picnic lunch with us!

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This sign explained why we saw such a variety of trees. The Catherine Lamkin Arboretum Trail of Trees was dedicated in 1995. It consists of 35 trees total along the Boggy Creek Greenbelt, with 19 trees located in Rosewood Park.

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In the summer sun, the playscape looked a little too sweltering for us.

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But the splash pad was just right!

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THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: We had fun and learned a lot….what a great combination!
Outing Time: About 2 hours for both the Carver Museum and Rosewood Park back-to-back.
Reminders: Bring a change of clothes and towels if you plan to enjoy the splash pad at Rosewood Park. Your kids will work up an appetite running around, so also pack drinks and snacks.
Both of these locations are venues for Juneteenth celebrations in mid-June so if you are visiting in that timeframe, check community calendars like the Austin Chronicle’s in advance.
Both facilities have free parking. The Carver Museum has free admission and operating hours are Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., Thursday from 10 a.m. – 9 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., and Saturday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. It’s closed on Sundays. Rosewood Park is open to the public 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily and the splash pad is in operation May 18 – September 8, 2013.
There is a public library, the Carver Branch, at 1161 Angelina if you would like to add a library visit to your outing.
Do512Family.com has also visited Rosewood Park; read their post here.

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For over 50 years, the Austin Nature and Science Center has educated Central Texas youth about the natural world around us. This wonderful facility–a favorite of ours–is located on the western edge of Zilker Park, at 301 Nature Center Drive. The Austin Nature and Science Center’s parking lot is located off of Stratford Drive, under Loop 1 (Mopac).

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You are welcomed in style by this beautiful arch, Arboreal Passage by Colin McIntyre, which was part of the City of Austin’s Art in Public Places Program.

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A trail takes you to the top of a hill, where you will find the Ashford McGill House, which was built in the 1870s and is now the home of Nature’s Way Preschool.

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We were excited to be back at the Austin Nature and Science Center!

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There used to be a bee hive near the front door to the Austin Nature and Science Center, but it looks like the bees have “moved out!”

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The first stop was the Naturalist Workshop: our kind of place!

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This handy board tells you what creatures have recently been spotted at the Austin Nature and Science Center.

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My sons’ favorite part of the Naturalist Workshop is the Trade Counter. You can bring special items like rocks, seashells, or seed pods to trade in for points that you can then use to select a new treasure. The Trade Counter is open 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday – Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

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We went outside to see the wildlife exhibits.

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Most of these animals have been orphaned or injured and could not survive in the wild. This opossum was very cute but I couldn’t get a good photo of him through the fence.

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We were amazed by the size of this raven!

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The bobcat’s name is Conan. He is an ex-pet who arrived at Austin Nature and Science Center in 2003.

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The wildlife exhibit has helpful signs to teach you about each animal.

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We were sad to see that Martha the coyote had passed away. We always stopped by to see her when we visited in the past.

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The next area is my favorite: Birds of Prey! This exhibit features owls, hawks, and vultures.

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My 10-year-old son felt like the Great Horned Owl was watching him.

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At the back of the Birds of Prey area, you can access the Zilker Nature Preserve and Trails.

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The trails have been improved and expanded since we last visited.

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Time to explore!

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We crossed the dry creek bed (Medicine Wheel Creek according to the map above).

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We weren’t sure what Lookout Point was but it sounded fun. Up we went!

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The climb to Lookout Point was pretty steep! It began as a trail and then was rocky toward the top.

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This is how we felt when we made it to the top: exhausted.

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The view was worth it!

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After enjoying the view from Lookout Point, we returned to the trail entrance since the gate to the nature trails closes at 4:30 p.m. We definitely want to come back again and spend more time on the trails! Next, we checked out the Small Wonders exhibit, which includes all sorts of tiny creatures.

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Don’t miss the realistic bat sculptures by sculptor Chris Levack on your way in!

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Inside the Small Wonders exhibit, you will find birds, snakes, fish, and more! This Gulf Coast Toad was pretty serene.

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We went back outside to look at the pond.

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After that, we stopped at the Dino Pit, an outdoor paleontology exhibit.

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The shovels were irresistible and so was the sand!

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My youngest son had a big find: this Hot Wheel!

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After a lot of digging excitement, we passed this beautiful stream and relaxed for a few moments before we went home.

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THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: A good mix of indoor and outdoor fun for nature lovers of all ages!
Outing Time: 1.5 hours
Outing Distance: On the nature trail, we probably walked about 3/4 mile (total) to Lookout Point and back.
Reminders: The Austin Nature and Science Center is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday – Saturday and 12 to 5 p.m. Sundays. This facility has no admission charge but donations are appreciated. The trail to Lookout Point is very steep and could be treacherous for very young children or those new to hiking. Use caution.

The LBJ Presidential Library (2313 Red River Street) on the UT-Austin campus opened in 1971 and has been a popular Austin attraction since then.

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We have visited many, many times over the years and we were excited to see what it was like after the recent major renovation. The LBJ Presidential Library re-opened to the public on December 22.

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The re-design has added “new exhibits for a new generation” and incorporates features like touch screens, films, and audio recordings.

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One of the major goals of the re-design is to show visitors how issues, events, and achievements from Johnson’s administration still impact our lives today.

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We were glad to see that our favorite presidential limo had earned its place in the re-designed library!

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The new exhibits are visually appealing and informative.

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Many interesting items from the library collection are on display.

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The “Lyndon Johnson and His Times” exhibit on Level 3 (entry level where the lobby is located) has a timeline spanning LBJ’s life that includes all sorts of events (not just those related to LBJ) and provides helpful historical context.

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Also on Level 3 is the “LBJ’s Humor” exhibit, which features an animatronic President Johnson telling stories. My six year old said this was his favorite thing at the library!

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We went up the massive staircase to the Great Hall on Level 4. From the staircase, you have a four-story view of the LBJ Presidential Library’s official archives collection, which holds 45 million pages of documents.

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This touch-screen exhibit below describes the civil rights movement and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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Also on Level 4, you will find the Presidents and First Ladies Exhibit, which displays the official portraits of the Presidents and First Ladies from George and Martha Washington to the present.

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The LBJ’s Presidency Exhibit brings history to life with photos, films, recordings, artifacts, and interactive features.

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Important events as well as LBJ’s roles are clearly explained.

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This exhibit includes a display regarding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. There is not anything graphic shown but it’s probably a good idea to be prepared to answer your children’s questions regarding this tragic historical event.

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Many fascinating historic documents were on display: like this telegram to President Johnson from Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Important issues of the day are highlighted and explained.

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My six year old enjoyed listening to the recordings on these “phones.”

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1960s culture was showcased as part of the LBJ’s Presidency Exhibit.

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We took the elevator up to Level 10, which is the only other floor of public exhibits in addition to Levels 3 and 4. It includes a couple of things you would recognize from the original library: the Oval Office replica and Mrs. Johnson’s office.

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Oval Office replica (7/8 scale)

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Mrs. Johnson’s Office

This is the view from the 10th floor of the library.

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Level 10 also has the First Family in the White House Exhibit, which describes the family’s life during Johnson’s presidency.

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The boys liked this film which featured commentary about living in the White House from Lady Bird Johnson and her daughters Lynda Johnson Robb and Luci Baines Johnson.

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The Life in the White House Exhibit includes examples of gifts given to President and Mrs. Johnson. There are quite a few treasures to investigate!

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We covered all three floors of exhibits in about an hour. (Without kids, it would probably take at least twice as long.) On our way out, we stopped at The Store at LBJ gift shop. We headed to the outdoor plaza, which obviously lends itself to a game of stepping only on the black rectangles.

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We went down the stairs on the south side of the library, which is beautiful even without the fountain running.

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The kids ran up and down a big hill.

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We rested at this nice little spot at the top of the hill until it was time to go home. We were all glad we took the opportunity to visit the new and improved LBJ Presidential Library!

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THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: Interactive history covering an important and tumultuous era….just remember to build in some time for outdoor fun, too!
Outing Time: 1.5 hours (1 hour for the museum and 1/2 hour for running around outside afterward)
Reminders: In the past, admission to the LBJ Presidential Library was free. After the re-design, small admission fees will be charged: $8 adults, $5 seniors, $3 kids 13-17, and still free for children 12 and under. Operating hours are 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily (except Christmas Day). The library has its own parking lot (Lot 38), located on the east side of the library off of Red River. The entrance to this parking lot has LBJ Presidential Library flags posted. Please note that if you park anywhere other than Lot 38 you will be subject to UT parking fines if you park in a restricted area. The library has restrooms and water fountains. No food or drink is allowed in the museum. No flash photography.

Have you ever noticed those jets west of Loop 1 (MoPac Expressway) between the 35th Street and 45th Street exits?

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Photo of F-4C Phantom II courtesy of http://www.texasmilitaryforcesmuseum.org

The jets are a high-visibility marker of the location of Camp Mabry, which also houses the Texas Military Forces Museum, a must-see for anyone interested in history, the armed forces, or military transportation. The museum is free and open to the public Wednesday – Sunday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

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Due to its storied history, Camp Mabry is on the National Register of Historic Places.

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To get to the Texas Military Forces Museum, enter Camp Mabry from 35th Street. You will be required to stop at a security area for visitors, where your driver’s license and vehicle license plate are recorded. These post-9/11 security measures might seem intimidating, but the security guards are friendly and you will soon be on your way. When you reach the first stop sign, take a right. At the second stop sign, take another right. (Also note the Camp Mabry exit to your left at the second stop sign for when it is time to head home.) After you pass the P/X and a running track on your left, you will find the museum on your right.

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Yes, this is the door to the museum: an adventure awaits!

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Inside, you will find a mind-boggling display covering almost 200 years of Texas military history, from militias in Stephen F. Austin’s colony to present day. Exhibits focus on the role of Texas military forces, including militia and volunteer units from the 1800s, Texas Army National Guard from 1903 to present, the Texas Air National Guard, and the Texas Defense Guard/Texas State Guard.

The entrance takes you directly to the Great Hall, which houses large artifacts from horse-drawn wagons to tanks.

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It’s not every day you see an airplane hanging from the ceiling!

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We visited the Lost Battalion Gallery, which tells the story of the 2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery whose members were taken prisoner March 1, 1942, near the Island of Java in the Dutch East Indies. Most members of the group were forced to work building a railroad between Thailand and Burma, including the famous Bridge Over the River Kwai. Survivors were freed after 42 months in captivity. (Some images within the exhibit may be disturbing to younger children.)

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The exhibits have clear labels and explanations so the purpose and background of everything on display can easily be understood.

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In the Air Guard Gallery, you can take a close look at this jet engine, which weighs 2,455 pounds!

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Your children can climb aboard and check out the seating arrangement for themselves. My 10-year-old son thought this was a tight fit!

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In the 36th Infantry Gallery, you can view detailed dioramas of different battles. This display shows the taking of Velettri, Italy, by the 36th Infantry on May 29, 1944.

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Informative posters help you understand the whole story behind the exhibits.

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It was interesting to see this poster describing the 36th Infantry’s experience liberating a small concentration camp near Landsberg, Germany (a sub-camp of Dachau). The poster states, “If American soldiers had been uncertain why they had been fighting since 1941, they now had an answer they would never forget.”

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There also is a collection of Nazi artifacts, still unnerving decades later.

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My biggest “aha!” moment was seeing these anti-tank obstacles….now I know what those little pieces were in the kids’ army sets!

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Kids fascinated by firefighting vehicles will love this U.S. Army fire truck!

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Did you know that Audie Murphy, the most decorated combat soldier in U.S. history at the time of his death, was a member of the Texas National Guard?

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While the museum has displayed artifacts related to the Texas Revolution for a long time, these new explanations and timelines were very helpful.

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This Tenth Texas Cavalry Regiment flag is from the Civil War.

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We have been visiting the museum for many years, so we were pleasantly surprised to find the new exhibit gallery covering the Cold War to the Global War on Terror.

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You can even see a piece of the Berlin Wall!

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If your kids really don’t want to hear about the Cold War (just try to explain it!), they might be more interested in this display of dime store toy soldiers from the 1930s.

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Unlike most museums, the Texas Military Forces Museum has a significant outdoor component: Armor Row and Artillery Park.

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The kids were happy to stretch their legs and explore the giant military vehicles.

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All of the fascinating artifacts on display had sparked their imaginations, so the boys devised a “battle” of their own behind this barricade.

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The Texas Military Forces Museum is in the process of being renovated and expanded. Whether you’ve been there often in the past or are a first-time visitor, you will find something new to learn about!

THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: An informative and easy outing packed with opportunities to cover important educational and historical topics.
Outing Time: About 1.5 hours
Reminders: If you have not talked to your children about the 9/11 tragedy, think about whether you want to visit the Global War on Terror Gallery. There is a picture of the World Trade Center burning, but it is not graphic. Any discussion of the War on Terror would be incomplete without including 9/11, so plan ahead on how you want to handle this. The track at Camp Mabry is open to the public if you or the kids would like to go for a walk or jog after you visit the museum.

We celebrated the first “official” day of summer (June 20) by spending the afternoon visiting the cool and inviting Texas Memorial Museum on The University of Texas at Austin campus at 2400 Trinity Street. The museum serves as an “exhibit hall” for the Texas Natural Science Center.

We parked in the San Jacinto Parking Garage and followed the signs to the front of the museum. This mighty saber-toothed cat welcomed us!

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The entrance takes you to the Great Hall, featuring the museum’s most valuable specimens like Quetzalcoatalus northropi, the Texas Pterosaur.

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Also in the Great Hall, you can view the E.M. Barron Exhibit of Minerals and Gem Collections. You might be surprised by how much your children enjoy looking at these “rocks.”

On the third floor, we saw this beautiful display in the Hall of Texas Wildlife.

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The Hall of Texas Wildlife also includes wildlife dioramas, which are models (or examples) of different creatures that live in Texas, from ducks to snakes to fish.

We took the stairs to the fourth floor exhibit, the Hall of Biodiversity, where you will find an interactive learning center focused on the understanding of biological evolution. My 6-year-old son was interested in this computer exhibit about diatoms.

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We took the elevator down to the first floor, the Hall of Geology and Paleontology, which holds over 500 dinosaur and fossil specimens. This is our favorite part of the museum!

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(You better not hit that armadillo with your car!)

The museum has a cell phone audio tour so you can learn more about featured exhibits, like this giant ground sloth.

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Kids love the Discovery Drawers. All sorts of irresistible items are stored within!

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A “real life” paleontologist was on hand in the Paleo Lab to talk with visitors about fossils.

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The Texas Memorial Museum has a unique history: it was built in celebration of Texas’ centennial in 1936. The University of Texas, the State of Texas, and the Texas American Legion joined forces to establish this state museum. “Erected to commemorate the heroic period of early Texas history and to celebrate a century of the independence and progress of Texas as a republic and state and dedicated to the study of the natural sciences and civic history” is engraved on the western facade of the building.

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Architecture aficionados will note the building’s 1930s Art Deco style, exemplified in the bronze front doors.

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After exiting the doors on the west side of the building, we walked toward the Mustangs statue, across San Jacinto Boulevard, and down to Waller Creek. The boys spent about 30 minutes exploring around the creek bed and taking a “hands on” approach to their natural science education!

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THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: An educational indoor escape for a sweltering afternoon!
Outing Time: About 2 hours 15 minutes
Reminders: Admission to the museum is free. (Donations accepted.) There is a gift shop on the 2nd floor, adjacent to the Great Hall. The parking garage costs $9 for 2 hours on a weekday. On weekends, you might be able to find street parking and avoid the garage expense.

Austin Active Kids went on our first out-of-town excursion: San Marcos or bust!

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We arrived at Aquarena Center (921 Aquarena Springs Drive) at 10:15 a.m. If you haven’t visited in the past few years, erase from your mind your previous experience of Aquarena Springs in its “amusement park” incarnation. The old visitor’s center and other buildings (including the underground theater) are being torn down and removed. The ultimate goal under the stewardship of Texas State University and the Rivers Systems Institute is to return Aquarena Springs–specifically San Marcos Springs and Spring Lake–to its natural state.

Fortunately, the famous glass-bottom boats are still in service. The 30-minute boat ride costs $9 for adults and $6 per child over age 4.

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The glass-bottom boat tour guide was very knowledgeable about the springs, their history, and their ecological significance.

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The lake below was clear and beautiful. One of our favorite parts of the tour was seeing spring water bubbling up through the limestone far below us (visible as the circular areas in this photo).

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We will be talking about this boat ride for a long time!

Next, we went to the education center to see the new aquariums.

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The aquarium area is relatively small but that didn’t make the creatures within any less fascinating to the kids (or me). The highlight of the aquariums was the Texas blind salamander, an endangered species that lives only in the Edwards Aquifer beneath and near the City of San Marcos. I could not believe the creature on display was real! I asked a staff member, who told me that not only was he real but when he moves he has robotic motions. Despite my waiting around, he stayed still during our visit.

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Our next stop was about 1.5 miles away: the Children’s Park at 205 South CM Allen Parkway. This park has an incredible playground, lots of shade, and several picnic tables. We ate lunch and took advantage of the sprawling playscape.

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Across the parking lot is a trail along the San Marcos River. If you head north on the trail (to your left from the playground) and walk less than 1/4 mile, you will find a scenic area where you can enter the river for wading and splashing. The water was cold and refreshing!

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The kids found a lot to investigate in and around the river. There were some other visitors enjoying the river (including these folks floating by) but it didn’t feel crowded.

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My sons were happy to have a friend along to share in this adventure.

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THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: A whole day’s worth of fun in just a few hours!
Outing Time: About 3 1/2 hours (not including travel time to and from San Marcos)
Reminders: Pack water, snacks, lunches, towels, bathing suits or change of clothes, water shoes, nets, and buckets.

Today we explored one of our city’s incomparable treasures: the historic Texas Capitol. Since we are “Austin Active Kids,” this was not merely a stroll through the Capitol building but rather an indoor/outdoor extravaganza!

We arrived at 10 a.m. and parked in the Capitol Visitor’s Parking Garage at 1201 San Jacinto. We crossed San Jacinto at 12th Street and walked toward the Capitol. The Lorenzo de Zavala State Archives and Library Building was directly on our right so we decided to take a peek. The front of the building has beautiful mosaics like this for each the six flags of Texas.

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Look at the amazing front door!

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We went inside for a few minutes to see the lobby area, specifically this striking mural entitled, “Texas Moves Toward Statehood.”

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From the Archives and Library Building, we had a short walk to the east doors of the Capitol. Visitors to the Capitol are required to go through a metal detector. There was not a line and we moved through the security area quickly.

We walked through the east wing of the Capitol toward the rotunda and appreciated this famous view.

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Many tourists were visiting the Capitol and taking advantage of the tours provided by the Capitol Information and Guide Service, which is located in the restored Treasurer’s Business Office on the first floor of the Capitol. Tours were being offered about every 20 minutes. We preferred the self-tour option so we picked up a self-guided tour brochure. (“Slow down” is not always in the boys’ vocabulary!)

We took the stairs to the second floor to view the House of Representatives chamber, in the west wing of the Capitol. Since I saw the kids’ eyes glaze over during my explanation of how Texas government works, I encouraged them to entertain themselves by looking for examples of unique, detailed craftsmanship that can be found throughout the Capitol. When we entered the Texas Senate chamber, we found a perfect example: this chandelier in which the lights spell out T-E-X-A-S.

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We returned to the first floor and took these stairs down to the ground level (basement) of the Capitol.

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Although included in the official Capitol tour, the ground floor of the Capitol has an off-the-beaten-path feel. It is a neat place to find some unusual views, like this one looking up and out toward an exterior wall of the Capitol.

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Or this one, where you can see the limestone foundation of the Capitol, under the “sunset red” granite.

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From the ground floor, we took the steps down into the Capitol Extension. We walked through the extension, took an elevator up, and came out on the north grounds of the Capitol. The Capitol grounds contain many historic monuments as well as this beautiful rose garden in bloom.

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We walked toward the west side of the Capitol to take a break and have a snack. The kids really knew how to enjoy the luxurious landscape, primarily by rolling down these little hills.

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The children loved all of the extraordinary trees on the Capitol grounds, which we later learned is called the Trail of Trees.

We walked around to the south side of the Capitol, to take in this classic sight.

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On our way across the south grounds to the Capitol Complex Visitors Center, we saw the new Tejano Monument that was just completed in March.

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I was pleasantly surprised by how much the boys liked the Visitors Center.

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My 13-year-old son was intrigued by the Voices of Veterans exhibit. My 6-year-old son loved this “cut away” of the Capitol Dome.

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The building was fun to explore.

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The multimedia exhibits on the second floor grabbed the kids’ attention and so did this telescope where you can get a closer look at the Goddess of Liberty on top of the Capitol.

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We had an interesting and educational visit to the Texas Capitol. What a magnificent place!

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THE RUNDOWN:
Austin Active Kids Opinion: This outing will get your kids moving (indoors and outdoors) and it has an important educational aspect, too!
Outing Time: About 2 1/2 hours
Reminders: You might want to review these maps ahead of time if you are not familiar with the Capitol Complex. Talk to your kids about not wandering off too far: the Capitol is a big place with a lot of people! When the Texas Legislature is in session, you should plan to visit the 3rd Floor Visitor’s Gallery of the Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate (instead of House Floor and Senate Floor on the 2nd Level).