California Autism Excursions: Geysers, Fainting Goats, and Petrified Trees

(Meant to post this last week. Like sands through the hourglass...)

Leo was out of school this past week, while his sisters were not. This was actually a great arrangement -- Leo and I got to slingshot the girls to their respective schools, and then run to the hills for a daily hike. On Monday, Presidents Day, however, our entire family had blank slates for schedules -- so we daytripped to two semi-local places we'd never visited: Calistoga's Old Faithful Geyser, and the nearby Petrified Forest. Both were ideal destinations for our family, and Leo.


Leo enjoyed observing the geyser in action (we were lucky; it went off every 5 - 10 minutes), and learning the name of a new phenomena. He also loved running around the wide open yet fully enclosed Geyser grounds. We kept very close tabs on him, and didn't let him anywhere near the geyser's pool without holding his hand tightly. Not that the water is dangerous in temperature or chemical composition -- its surrounding pond roils with tadpoles.

Goat, sheep, and llamas live next to the geyser, and are covered by the same entrance fee. Mali apparently speaks goat, as here she is tells one of the more enthusiastic herd members to back off. This is not a fainting goat, though there were fainting goats. It is also not a llama, though there were llamas and I now know through hand-feeding/sensory experience that llamas have bifurcated and independently prehensile upper lips. *shudder* We also got to see a one-day-old baby lamb! CUTE!

After more ruminant petting and feeding, we all wanted to revisit the geyser -- but when it started spouting from Iz's head, we knew it was time to go. Especially since it was such an awful, awful February afternoon here in California. I mean, look at those skies! *ducks* (This was written when the entire East Coast was under 10 feet of snow.)


Next we drove over to the Petrified Forest, which was another great place for our whole family -- nice wide, easy, pretty trail for us all to hike, plus petrified trees for Seymour and I to get nostalgic over (we got engaged in Arizona's Painted Desert) and lecture about, and for the kids to climb on. The gift shop  was full of resources for science-minded families, including bins and bins of different tumbled rock varieties, which Leo could run his fingers through all day while we hovered and supervised; a decent coprolite selection, which made the girls laugh; and several dozen ammonites, which let Mali bust out her Dinosaur Train facts.

So,  yay, full-family success. As per usual, we tried to maximize our chances by going during the cold season (though the weather was warm and the skies blue), and near the end of the day, so as to avoid crowds.

Keep in mind that both destinations are smaller-scale in both size and features. We could have happily spent hours at either location, but were able to see all the key attractions in less than fifteen minutes -- so if Leo had had a meltdown and we'd needed to leave quickly, we wouldn't have felt cheated of time or money. As for that last item: both attractions have entrance fees, and neither is cheap ($10/adult, $6/kids under twelve, $0/kids under six), but since they worked so well for our family, we felt they were worth it.


  1. My mom and I went to see that geyser during one of my favorite valentine's day celebrations - it was just after a big chunk of exams in med school, and the two of us stayed in Yountville for the weekend and had lots of time to explore wineries and fainting goats and such. (We didn't plan it as a valentine's excursion, as such, but it worked out pretty nicely all the same.)

  2. Anonymous8:03 AM

    We went to these same attractions last summer, and I agree. They're easy for a family to navigate. The only drawback is the expense. In an absolute sense, they're not worth the $10/adult (think what else you could do for that money). But, given that those aren't friendly to the whole family in the same way, they work.

    We went in the summer, probably pretty close to peak season, and neither attraction was crowded then. They were both hot, though, and that could be an issue, depending on people's tolerance for heat.

  3. Thanks for the ideas!! I love driving north, but don't do it as much because I worry M will not do well. I think he'd love both of these places.

  4. silimom1:39 PM

    I love your blog. It is so down to earth and it's a pleasure for me to read (my two youngest have autism and my two stepsons have asperger's). You so often articulate many of my own feelings. Thank you.

    I know your family are Glee fans - I wasn't sure if you've heard but they're going on tour. http://marquee.blogs.cnn.com/2010/03/01/glee-is-going-on-tour/

    Anyway, thanks for your insights, your humor, and showing the world that autism is not a word to be feared.

  5. Wow, this brings back some really wonderful memories of a long weekend getaway my husband and took shortly before Nik came home from the hospital. Good times.

  6. Silimom: I showed the Glee link to Iz and she just about fainted. Except we don't live in one of those four cities. Sigh.

    Beth: That is one of the loveliest parts of this fine state, to be certain. As one who is not a huge fan of Napa wine culture, I also appreciate the Santa Rosa stealth approach into Calistoga.

  7. Anonymous2:02 PM

    The petrified forest sounds very, very interesting.

  8. I heart heart the expression on Leo's face in the photo when he's sitting down! Reminds me of my boy who I've been attiring in a similar shirt/pants color combo (don't know why I'm mentioning that).

    Also can't resist commenting on those coprolites, a term I had to refer to in teaching archaeology last semester---more websites out there about this 'ecofact' than one might have thought.

  9. Thanks for these great ideas -- I didn't even know about the geyser and the petrified forest. I live in such a bubble, but this would be a great outing for our family too.

    I just love your blog...I know I hardly ever comment but I often feel like you are writing parts of my life too. Mali and Ruby could be twins, and that's just the beginning of the similarities in personality among our kids.

  10. Mary, we really should get together. I'd love to see our littlests square off, especially.

  11. i must go to these places this year. Why have i never heard of the petrified forest?

  12. I agree!! Make Berkeley a stop-over to your next adventure north (or just make it your destination)


Respectful disagreement encouraged.