State Park: Antelope Valley Indian Museum

Crushing acorns

State Parks offer vast opportunities for children to learn and explore both indoors and outdoors. I recently took the boys to one of my favorite spots, the Antelope Valley Indian Museum State Historic Park located 70 miles northeast of Los Angeles in the vast Mojave Desert.

It was a welcome visit. The site had been closed for four years for earthquake retrofitting, and had reopened in the Fall of 2010.¬†Our MOMS Club had organized a field trip to the site, so our visit took place outside of normal business hours (Hours: Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Our park ranger hosts had developed an hour-long program perfectly suited to the children’s ages.

First they helped the children experience the collection by playing games with them.

“What kind of tools do you have at home?” Ranger Jean asked.

“Screwdriver! Hammer!” the children shouted in turn.

“See if you can find some examples of tools in this room that the Native Americans used,” Jean challenged them.

And so the preschoolers set off to explore. When the children had found a few tools, Jean explained how Native Americans used rocks, twine and sticks to help them do their work.

The boys also heard a Native American story about Bluejay, Crow and acorns. They learned how native people made a kind of oatmeal from crushed acorns and pine-nut butter from pulverized pine nuts. (Pine-nut butter was Cooper’s joke.) The children got to try their hand at grinding the acorns and pine nuts just as the Native Americans did. Then we took a little nature hike along the nearby trail, which typically boasts a beautiful wildflower display during the season. We wrapped up our morning with a nice picnic that allowed us to chat with ranger Deb one-one-one.

For locals: The Antelope Valley Indian Museum , a State Historic Park, is a Southern California gem. Located in the vast Mojave Desert about 70 miles northeast of Los Angeles, the park was once home to amateur anthropologist William Arden Edwards, a set designer in Hollywood. The main portion of the museum is Edwards’s Swiss chalet-style home, which he built directly into Piute Butte. A rock outcropping serves as one wall of the home’s majestic Kachina Hall.

Edwards harbored a deep interest in Native Americans of the southwest, and his home included a room for displaying his collection of pottery, baskets and other artifacts. Years later, he sold the 160-acre property to Grace Wilcox Oliver, who turned the it into a full-fledged museum. She converted the home into exhibit galleries, added her own collections and operated the Antelope Valley Indian Museum for more than 30 years. The State of California bought the site in 1979.

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