Monday, July 6, 2009

The Exploratorium

I've been wanting to visit The Exploratorium since before we moved out here. I had wanted to go for my last birthday, but tickets were sold out then. I booked us four days in advance, and we were able to get in to do the "tactile dome" experience... which was truly one-of-a-kind.We headed into the city with the intention to be at the museum when it opened at 10am. We parked at 10:08, so we were pretty close to the plan. Now, this is the world's first hands-on museum, but I still didn't know quite what to expect. I was kinda guessing that there'd be areas focused on different things, then a bunch of interactive exhibits demonstrating said things. There was not one single non-interactive thing at this place! No overviews, no "just-read" or "just-look" things. This made for a very tiring day.
We hit the upstairs area first, since it wasn't that crowded. Up there were the magnet exhibits (so you know Jonathan had a good time), electricity, life sciences (aka cells), and sound. We got to play with musical instruments, test our hearing at all frequencies (Jonathan's is slightly better than mine), and play with a ton of neat magnets and things. After that, we went downstairs and did a few optical illusions before heading to the Tactile Dome for our noon reservation.

Now, there's two major things to say about the Dome... it's a fantastically neat experience that everyone should try... but it's not for everyone. You can't be afraid of the dark. You can't be claustrophobic. You can't be obese. You can't have back or knee problems. And you have to be ambitious.

It's literally a reallllly big dome. You go into a room and sit on a stool. You empty your pockets and take off your shoes, putting all your things in a cubby. Then, you wait your turn. There were about 18 people assigned to the 75-minute time slot. The employee lets a few people in at a time, and she has a PA system to let her know when groups reach various rooms so another group can begin. Jonathan and I were the third group to enter, and I went in first. Now, they call it the Tactile Dome because you must use your sense of touch to navigate the thing... there's nothing else you can use, since you're in complete darkness. The walls, ceiling, and floor have various fabrics throughout, and there are several rooms with themed items stuck places to touch. I won't spoilt the entire thing for you, but I'll say that there's crawling, climbing, sliding, bouncing, and at times there's less room around you than if you were crawling inside a McDonald's PlayPlace as a full-grown adult.

Jonathan and I swapped out "going first" a couple times through the Dome, and we were surprised when we finally found the exit. After another "break" period, we were allowed to start through again, and this time we swapped "going first" in the areas where we followed before. We also identified more items that we felt. On the third run through, we went pretty slowly, trying to feel and identify all the items (although I'm sure some went unnoticed by us, since "keys" were an example of "things found inside" that we never felt). There was time for us to go through another time or two, but we were hot and tired at that point, so we headed out of the Dome and grabbed a bite to eat at the cafe.

After eating and resting, we continued tackling the museum. Pendulums, natural disasters, heat, light, and optics came next. I learned some neat things about natural disasters (namely avalanches, since I had never really understood how those things work before). There were a lot of lines for things at this point in the day (plus at least one field trip from a summer camp was there), so we skipped over a few things. There were some live demonstrations of different things, and I sat in and got to participate in two card tricks, so that was pretty neat. All in all, we actually ended up leaving before we had seen everything, because there were so many people and we were just tired! I have never had a museum take that much out of me before.On our way out, we walked around the building (the Exploratorium is at the famous Palace of Fine Arts, which id enormous) and I took a few pictures of the gigantic and beautiful architecture. And apparently I'm not the only one who found it to be a picturesque location, since there was a bride and groom taking photos there, too!

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