Friday, May 25, 2012


I'm not sure when exactly it starts. Maybe by second grade the kids know that in fourth grade, they get to go on this really special field trip. It's hyped beyond reasonable expectation, from the first day in the fourth grade classroom. In the spring, the entire grade will board buses at 6 a.m., drive three hours to Gold Rush Country and spend the day at Columbia, an old mining town that is now a museum of sorts. They won't get back until AFTER NINE. Ooooh. Past bedtime.

Parents around here are so gung-ho (or freakish about their kids' whereabouts) that they have to hold a lottery to pick the chaperones for this trip. I didn't particularly want to enter, but Smunch wanted me to and I couldn't tell him 'no'. And, of course, I was one of the "lucky" ones. 

Does that photo look blurry? Yeah. It felt blurry in front of the school at 6 a.m. too.

A number of the chaperones decided to drive on their own instead of taking the bus with the kids. I think they'd heard horror stories about riding on the bus. But it wasn't very eventful. We stopped in Tracy, where the kids ate their breakfasts outside Macdonalds. They weren't allowed to buy anything there. They brought their breakfasts with them.

We drove past Manteca, where Smunch played baseball last summer. And we drove through the cute little town of Sonora, where I've heard the Diamondback Grill serves a mean burger, but we didn't get to stop. Finally, we arrived in Columbia.
Naturally, the first order of business was the learn to pan for gold. Smunch's whole class listened carefully, then got to work.
Many of the kids in his class probably could have done this all day. Fortunately, the gravel was seeded with little flecks of real gold, so I think everyone had some success. Also fortunately, the kids were scheduled for a stagecoach ride, so we couldn't actually stay there all day.
It was fun and bumpy. The stagecoach got held up by a rogue bandit. The kids seemed fairly nonplussed.

My four charges (all boys) and I wandered around the stores quite a bit since the kids were allowed to bring up to $10 to spend. I was somehow supposed to ensure that they each spent no more than $3 on candy. Not sure if that worked out or not. You can buy a heck of a lot of candy for $3 though!

They'd ordered hot dogs and sandwiches from a local shop for lunch, so we all planted ourselves in the gazebo shade for a little bit before heading up the hill to the grammar school to learn about school in the West in the 1860s.
Smunch didn't fare so well. I'm happy to say he wasn't up there in the dunce cap because he was really behaving poorly. He was just a willing volunteer. I wish I'd gotten a decent picture, but the teacher was pretty strict and I wasn't as willing to don the dunce cap! Next up, they had a great little tour with one of the rangers, culminating in a lesson on how the townsfolk put our fires using a bucket brigade.
The kids had a blast and it was fun to watch. No one stayed dry. We all had coupons for a "free" ice cream cone. After all that candy, it didn't seem like such a good idea, but it was hot and the kids had been great. We all deserved one. The day was winding to a close, so I took the boys for one more trip to pan for gold (and several separate, but equally desperate, trips to the bathroom) before we all had dinner, loaded the buses and headed for home.

 Smunch would probably never forgive me if I left this last part out because I'm fairly sure he thought it was the most exciting part of the trip. It was particularly windy that evening and part of our trip was over the Altamont Pass, known for it's huge wind farms...because it's usually windy right there. That night, it was exceptionally windy and it blew open the emergency escape hatch of the top of the second bus (we were on the first bus).

Smunch was sitting with me, up near the driver and right behind his teacher, so he got the whole scoop as she talked on her cell phone and the driver radioed headquarters. Apparently, a dad on the other bus strapped his belt to the hatch and held it down himself for the rest of the way home.

High drama, that.

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