Every third Sunday in May since 1975, Olompali State Historic Park
in Marin organizes a heritage day that celebrates both the Native American and Victorian heritage of the park. During that day, visitors get to see Dry Creek Pomo dancers perform at the reconstructed Miwok village, see blacksmiths in action at the forge, visit the Victorian gardens, observe insects of all shapes with the park rangers and drill holes in shells with traditional wooden hand drills.
All things exciting, yes, but if you ask my girls and their friend Ben today, the highlights of the day were catching tiny lizards with their bare hands at the Miwok village and close second, eating the complimentary Clover Stornetta Farms vanilla ice cream under the tall oak trees.
The festivities kicked off at 10am and we arrived shortly after after navigating a tricky U-turn as coming in from 101 south is not very direct. Skies were overcast and I was glad we all had long sleeves. Sadly we missed the native plant walk at 10am but the kids found activities almost right away. As we walked on the lawn at the entrance, we were greeted by a very realistic looking mountain lion!
From far it almost fooled me. The kids were thrilled. Mountain lion, bobcat, beavers, skunks – the animal gallery was displayed as naturally as possible, a skunk even “hiding” under a tree on the grass. This booth set up by the Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue was definitely hands-on, featuring fur pelts and naturalized animals to touch. It had a side display that delighted and disgusted our kids too.
Their little table with mouldings from animal scat (with an illustrated guide to connect the right scat with the right animal) and tracks drew interested “eeuws” from our youngsters who nevertheless grabbed the guide to find out what animal’s poop they were looking at. Ah, the power of poop!
Upgrading from naturalized wildlife to live insects, we went over to the California state parks table where big magnifiers were awaiting curious minds. “Want to see a spider?” asked a ranger. Our kids immediately gathered around a table where the ranger let loose a small spider. She then covered it with a tube connected to her computer and they watched the arachnid’s explorations on the computer screen. Gosh things have gone hi-tech since I was a kid!
After the spider came a millipede and a worm, sometimes combined in dangerous pairs under the same magnifier. If not for the ice cream cones carried by two other kids at our table, they’d still be watching insects. See, vanilla ice cream has an appeal that even the most lovable spider doesn’t have.
From what I’ve read, the free ice cream is a recurring feature of this event and always a hit. How could it not? Clouds are going away, the ice cream comes in crunchy cones, you can have as much as you want and the morning is drawing to a close. Why, ice cream is just the thing you need to go on to the next adventure.
After all that natural exploration the Miwok village was the place where we would satisfy our cultural endeavors that day. A work in progress, the current reconstructed village features two redwood bark kotchas (houses) and a native tule reed rounded hut. Perfect for role playing and hide-and-seek, the village was going to come to life with a dance by the Dry Creek Pomo dancers.
If Dry Creek rings a bell it’s perhaps because you’ve seen signs for the River Rock Casino
in the Alexander Valley. Opened by the Dry Creek Rancheria, this casino funds many of the tribe’s needs and Bay Area highways feature many big signs to attract customers. However the Dry Creek Pomo dancers’ performed was as traditional and no-thrills as a long-standing ceremony can be.
Two musicians, both of them singing and playing rhythmic sticks, a foreword to say “Oooh” to praise rather than clap, and ten dancers on a tree mulch covered circle. While the men wore elaborate feathered head dresses, the girls – including the cutest little dancer – wore fabric skirts and thick black belts with an interesting beaded head band that covered their eyes.
I wish we had had an explanation about the symbolism of the dances, a way to relate the body, head and hand moves to a story but that wasn’t the case. We sort of guessed there were hunting scenes involving an eagle and another bird of prey but we weren’t sure about the whole picture.
Since the dances were obviously divided into separate scenes, it would be great if the lead singer could also announce what is coming up or give a brief outline at the beginning. Even without a subtext the dances were beautiful and slightly hypnotic, a feeling that the regular beating of the sticks and singing reinforced.
Our children were captivated until the lizards came into play. They had caught lizards before the dance and fifteen minutes into the dance, wanted to catch some more. As respectfully as they could, they got up and they took off toward the bark village.
It didn’t take long before one of them came back yelping that “I got it on first try!” We quietly sent them away and met them after the dance. It was fun to see how kids took care of the lizards as they would have of pets. Holding them loosely between their fingers, they stroked their claws and petted their blue bellies while whispering sweet words. Had the little scaly guys been hamsters, they would have been treated just as well. Lizards and ice cream, who could have guessed? When I advertised the event over breakfast with feathers and indians, I certainly didn’t think we’d go for a crawling pets kind of day.
Next event at Olompali: Bat Night in August
You can visit Olompali on weekends until the summer, or on a daily basis after July 1st. Check the website
for details. However for extra excitement and if you are looking for a fun evening with the kiddos, August 15th will be Bat Night at Olompali! Expect a twilight slide show followed by a night walk to watch the bats colonies emerge in the evening skies.
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Laure is an author, environmental advocate, blogger, open water swimmer and now mother. She's passionate about inspiring families to enjoy the outdoors with their children, learning to unplug and living a healthy lifestyle, giving kids life skills and exploring the world around us sharing Family Friendly, Fun Ideas for the whole family on Frog Mom.