To Action Whitewater Adventures' guides, setting is everything. During their full-day excursions, guides and groups mounted in rafts battle Class III and IV rapids just to make their way to a gourmet deli lunch set against the backdrop of the lush Lotus River Valley. Of course, they might argue the fun part is getting there.
They lead excursions down both the South and Middle Forks of the American River, some of the most popular rafting waters in the nation. On the South Fork, they conduct the "Chili Bar" run, a trip that covers up to 21 miles favored for its rough-and-tumble class III rapids and stellar countryside. The Middle Fork provides even rougher-and-tumbler Class IV rapids, the 18-mile journey punctuated by clear-flowing stretches populated by trout and adorable baby Poseidons.
A pilot sinks into her cockpit, buckles up, checks the controls, and gets ready for takeoff. The engine hums to life and soon the ground rolls beneath her, until she lifts away and the buildings nearby shrink to the size of dust motes. But there's something unusual with the scene: the pilot isn't old enough to see a PG-13 movie let alone pilot an aircraft. That's because the Aerospace Museum of California doesn't let age become a barrier to flight. Children of all sizes climb into airplanes, pilot virtual jets in simulators, and experiment with the physics of flight while adults do the same, exploring the history of aviation both on Earth and beyond.
More than 37,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor exhibits chronicle everything from the very first airplanes made of cloth and wood to futuristic Mars-destined craft made of space-wood. Some of the museum?s prize possessions include the McDonnell-Douglas A-4C Skyhawk I, better known as one of the Blue Angels? stunt rides, and the Grumman F-14D Tomcat, just like the one co-starring in the 1986 film Top Gun. The Fun with Physics exhibit hammers home the idea of hands-on learning, letting young engineers play with simple machines, whereas the engine room dishes up eye-candy for motorheads, including specimens from 1910?s Le Rhone to the marvels that propelled the Titan rockets.
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A whirlpool drags boats into the watery abyss. Racecars vie for supremacy on a track. Inexorable gears grind in a vast and purposeless machine. These are not the dreams of a dozing Rube Goldberg, but the interactive exhibits at the Sacramento Children's Museum. Next to the fluid-dynamics room, where child Poseidons subject boats to their tidal whims, a solar-powered raceway and an interactive gear assembly teach important lessons about the forces that keep the natural world moving when it would much rather be eating Almond Joys. These entertaining, hands-on experiences with scientific fundamentals are bolstered by the museum's calendar of events. Regular showcases such as story time, cultural-history lessons, and exercise classes intersperse children's-museum interaction with traditional word-of-mouth learning sessions.
Breezes swirl down a corridor made by trees standing up to 100 feet and perched atop levees, which form the banks of the 200-year-old Bear River. Above rustling branches and the calls of nearby eagles, the hum of an engine cuts through the tranquil air. Dave Jewell of Blue Sky Powered Paragliding takes thrill-seekers—some as old as 80 years of age—soaring up to 500 feet above rolling, farm-dappled country and between Bear River's banks on propeller-powered parachutes. Though currently surveying Californian skies, Dave has led flights and organized clubs in Japan, Nigeria, Mexico, Germany, and France, and he continues to draw on knowledge of flight mechanics from extensive Air Force parachute training. Today, Dave takes off from 24 acres of campground, where a paragliding club meets occasionally to heckle poorly shaped clouds.
A sweeping bonfire pit, rustic picnic tables, and grassy swathes for RVs welcome campers waiting their turn to fly. Dave also mans a parachute and equipment shop where he conducts repairs and reanimates the corpses of dead kites. Dave insists that he never tires of his sport, as the weather and surrounding terrain are always changing, making his higher-altitude experiences "terrifying without being terrifying.” With a small wingspan, the motorized parachutes can also approach wildlife more closely than other aircraft; on one flight Dave found himself flanked by two bald eagles, beating their powerful wings just 20 feet away.
Each April, a tear in the space-time continuum opens up along the Sacramento River. Through it rolls a first-class locomotive right out of the 1940s and 50s. For 45 minutes, passengers in the train's coach and luxury first class car soak in the sights of California's fruit-growing deltas as the vintage diesel engine carries them into another time.
The California State Railroad Museum conducts these scenic, historic train rides. The excursions play a crucial role in the museum's mission to chronicle California's railroad history from the early days of the Gold Rush to modern agricultural transports and the proposed railroad to Mars. Spanning centuries, 21 restored locomotives and train cars blanket the museum's 225,000 square feet of exhibit space. A Pullman-style sleeping car and a dining car filled with fine china both sit on display, while the museum's Sierra Scene places a vintage steam locomotive next to a breathtaking mural of snow-dusted mountains. The popular Small Wonders: The Magic of Toy Trains exhibit currently commands the second floor, and with hundreds of examples of early electric toy trains and accessories such as stations, signals, tunnels, and bridges, it should delight even the most discerning miniature conductor.