2013: A Prehistoric Odyssey (North American Museum of Ancient Life)

The Museum's thoughtfully displayed exhibits give visitor's a sense of drama and excitement

The Museum’s thoughtfully displayed exhibits give visitor’s a sense of drama and excitement

If we were on a Prehistoric Grand Tour, then the North American Museum of Ancient Life in Lehi, Utah was our Louvre. We learned about the Museum from the America’s Best and Top Ten List of dinosaur museums. We would have placed it much higher on the list and we certainly count it as a highlight of our journey.

The Museum is huge and amazingly thorough, but is so skillfully curated that it does not become overwhelming. Interactive exhibits are strategically placed at intervals just right for giving visitors of all ages a sensory recharge to stay engrossed in the rest of the Museum’s engaging exhibits.

Even Max got into the hands-on experience at the build-a-dinosaur exhibit

Even Max got into the hands-on experience at the build-a-dinosaur exhibit

The Museum started with a couple of rooms introducing the science of paleontology to get visitors primed… and then the real adventure began when we entered a blackened room lit only by thousands of tiny, twinkling blue lights. We walked through the space with the keen feeling we were floating among the stars, experiencing the vastness of the universe. This dramatic entrance then led us to a dynamic mural featuring swirling planets and cosmic collisions, setting the stage for the Museum’s story of life on Earth from its conception in the Pre-Cambrian era. Here we found ourselves immersed in an underwater world teeming with unusual prehistoric aquatic creatures. As we moved through the museum, we were winding through time, until we completed our soujourn with the rise of humans in the Tertiary period where a tribe of skeletal early humans armed with spears faced down the formidable bony remnants of a mammoth.

The Ancient Life Aquatic

The Ancient Life Aquatic

There are no static set-ups here and the Museum bares no resemblance to the stuffy marble halls many associate with natural history fare. Each display is dynamic, drawing the visitor in, asking us to imagine the experience of the Earth through the ages. Fossils of larger-than-life dinosaurs stoop to drink from running streams where living goldfish swim. Sound effects and dramatic lighting effects engage the senses in the story of life.

Everett and Thomas were particularly excited to see Utahraptor, the ferocious namesake of the state in which it was discovered

Everett and Thomas were particularly excited to see Utahraptor, the ferocious namesake of the state in which it was discovered

We decided that this Protoceratops was just like Bix from James Gurney's Dinotopia

We decided that this Protoceratops was just like Bix from James Gurney’s Dinotopia

Jon and Max enjoy a loving moment despite the imminent threat from an approaching Megalodon

Jon and Max enjoy a loving moment despite the imminent threat from an approaching Megalodon

Thomas was thrilled to finally see Xiphactinus fossils up close and personal

Thomas was thrilled to finally see Xiphactinus fossils up close and personal

 

The interactive exhibits truly make this facility stand out. Our favorite was the sand-and-water table that occupied an entire room where we were encouraged to build up sandy embankments and watch the water pressure tumble them, burying toy dinosaurs and tiny plastic trees. That, friends, is why we have fossils today. There were giant magnetic skeletons to assemble and a sand pit filled with faux fossils for learning the art of excavation.

Everett simulates prehistoric natural disasters at the sand and water table

Everett simulates prehistoric natural disasters at the sand and water table

Everett and Thomas get some fossil excavation practice

Everett and Thomas get some fossil excavation practice

Knowing that we had to be conscientious about the time because we needed to be back to our campsite to make dinner before another frigid night set in, we cut our visit short at four hours including a meal at the cafe (which was the only disappointing part of the day). We didn’t even have time to take in one of the four IMAX films that were playing at the facility.

We were all truly glad that we made this a stop on our Prehistoric Odyssey. The North American Museum of Ancient Life, in its quest to show visitors the marvel of life on our planet, ranks among the best museums we have been to and we highly recommend it to any prehistory lovers who can find a way to visit.

 

Other Posts in this series:

Introduction

Zion

Dinosaur Discovery Site

Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest

2013: A Prehistoric Odyssey (Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest)

On the third day of our journey, we began breaking down camp at Zion while we had breakfast and Thomas enjoyed his new Light Saber toothbrush the tooth fairy had brought him during the night. The stubborn ground that had steadfastly rejected our tent stakes upon our arrival now firmly denied our attempts to remove them as if each one were a miniature of Arthur’s Sword in the Stone. Jon even blistered his hands and broke our camping hatchet/hammer in his attempts to pull them free. This challenge again caused us a delay in getting on the road and we were eventually forced to leave the stakes in the ground, hoping they wouldn’t cause problems for future occupants. While I coaxed the tent from it’s earth-bound anchors and packed it up, Jon took the boys to receive their first Junior Ranger badges of our trip. There the boys took an oath to protect Zion and all National Parks and to care for and respect the natural environment.

Getting sworn in by a Zion Ranger

Getting sworn in by a Zion Ranger

Being a Junior Ranger is serious business!

Being a Junior Ranger is serious business!

At last we hit the road with more than five hours of driving ahead of us to reach our next destination. We stopped for lunch at a diner in Beaver, Utah which provided entertainment on each table in the form of the pegboard game “The Original IQ Tester”. It was such a fun and effortless way to banish the little ones’ restaurant impatience that we decided to buy one to enjoy in the car. At a mere $7 it was a wise investment that we enjoyed many times over the next ten days. One thing I especially appreciated about the game was that it was cooperative rather than competitive in nature, thus minimizing feelings of jealousy and upsets over perceived failures.

When we at last reached American Fork, Utah, the nearest town to our campground, we stopped at a Wal-Mart to restock supplies and to again purchase new stakes for the tent. There are not many Wal-Marts in the Los Angeles area and I had not set foot in one since my college days before the advent of the “Super Center”, so this little excursion was a bit of a novel adventure in and of itself. The store was overwhelmingly enormous and we found it challenging to track down the few items we needed as we were not familiar with the layout. But, in the end it was mostly a convenient way to get all our supplies under one roof and we got a good workout from traipsing back and forth across the store. I’m sure the extra walking did us good after a day sitting in the car.

Once again, it was already getting late in the day and we wanted to get camp built and dinner made so we could rest up for the next day’s adventure. My minimum requirement for a campground when making reservations were toilets and running water with a bias toward the natural surroundings of a National Parks Service facility over a commercial campground. In this particular region of Utah I found my minimums were difficult to satisfy. The nearest location I could find to the dinosaur destination that brought us to the region that met my requirements was the Granite Flat Campground in the Uintah-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. The campground had the added bonus of being near Timpanogos Cave National Monument which I believed would add interesting diversity to our otherwise mostly fossil-related explorations. As we wound our way into the hills the scenery became more alpine in character with towering evergreens, aspens that shimmied with the breeze (oh, to have seen them in Autumn!), cottonwood cluttered ravines cut by freezing mountain streams fed from the shining snowcaps on the peaks above. This was the beauty of the Rockies that I had been raised with in the foothills of Colorado and I found myself feeling at home, reminiscing about the family camping trips of my youth.

Our snug campsite

Our snug campsite

However, the warm feelings of nostalgia were soon chased away by the chilly air that descended in temperature as we ascended the hills with our campsite being about ten degrees cooler than when we entered the Forest. The campsite was snug and our oversize tent only just squeezed into the allotted space. The ground, still damp from a recent rain and the soft, decomposed organic matter of the forest floor, was more than accommodating of our new tent stakes, so building camp was quicker than at our previous site. Unfortunately, the rain that softened the ground had also dampened our fire ring and soaked the firewood we purchased from the camp hosts. After many attempts to encourage a fire, we relented after dark set in and cooked a quick dinner of camp pizzas and hot dogs in baked beans on the camp stove and we ate in the tent. We were uncomfortably cold and remained so through the night despite our hats and many layers of clothing. Jon and I barely slept through the thirty-something degree night and we suspect that Thomas and Everett also had some difficulty. Max, on the other hand, fared pretty well for himself nestled next to me and enjoying his warm milk all night.

Everett enjoys the morning sun

Everett enjoys the morning sun

When the morning light finally began to cast shadows against our tent, we were eager to welcome some warming sunshine. We were less eager to visit the vault toilet bathrooms. This campsite, while being impeccably maintained, was one of the most rustic we visited with no electricity and no sinks or flush toilets. Just like many other National Park Service campgrounds, it had been originally constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression and appeared to have changed little since then. However, it was with a sense of national pride that I gave Thomas and Everett an impromptu history lesson on how Franklin Roosevelt had created the Civilian Conservation Corps to serve an important dual purpose of providing needed jobs and easier access to our country’s natural treasures. Many times throughout our trip I found myself feeling grateful to the 32nd president and his distant cousin Teddy who established the National Parks system, as well as the hard-working CCC crews and National Park Service Rangers, realizing that our enjoyment of our nation’s natural splendors would have been greatly reduced without their efforts. We prepared for the fourth day of our travels with some breakfast and doing our best to get ourselves cleaned up. I did camp laundry in earnest this time, washing several bucket-loads and hoping, as I clipped the garments to the line, that they would be dry before the forest’s shade overtook our campsite. Once we got headed out, we wound down the mountain to the Visitor Center at Timpanogo’s Cave. Having entertained some enjoyable fantasies of family-friendly spelunking, I was disappointed when I learned that in order to view the caverns, visitors must join a scheduled ranger-led hike that would take 3 hours round-trip. It was mid-day already and we still had our dinosaur destination planned for the day. Although it was unlikely we would have the time to explore the cave, I picked up the Junior Ranger books and we enjoyed working on them during our car ride to the museum.

Thomas and Everett keep busy climbing the rocks while Mom and Dad do camp chores

Thomas and Everett keep busy climbing the rocks while Mom and Dad do camp chores

After an enriching and enjoyable four hours at our dinosaur stop, we headed back toward our temporary home at Granite Flat, stopping first to pick up a couple of items at the grocery store–including a Dura-Flame log. We did not want to take any chances on not having a roaring fire as a second chilly night set in. Despite the cold, the campground had grown more crowded with weekend vacationers and we enjoyed the noises of families having fun intermingled with the rushing sounds of the American Fork Creek in the distance. Jon and I enjoyed steak and potatoes cooked over the brilliant blaze we built in the fire pit. A nearby camper warned us that her husband had seen a bear down by Tibble Fork Reservoir and cautioned us to take extra care getting our food and cosmetic items secured in the car. The warmth of our fire was not enough to ward off the frigid night air and both Jon and I spent another sleepless night. While the surroundings were rich with mountain beauty, we wished we could have been enjoying the area in July or August when warmer temperatures would have improved our comfort. We weren’t sorry to pack up the next morning and head eastward to the lower altitude of our next destination.

Thomas thinks its too cold here

Thomas thinks it’s too cold here

Other posts in this series:

Introduction

Zion

Dinosaur Discovery Site

North American Museum of Ancient Life

My Introduction

Hello, my name is Jon.

 
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I am married to the amazing Lindsey and am father to the incredible Thomas, Everett & Max.  I grew up in Somers, NY and went to college in Santa Fe, NM.  I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 11 years.  I have a BA in Moving Image Arts and have been working in the film and television industry since arriving in Los Angeles.
 
I love traveling with my family (stay tuned for more on our amazing road trip), camping, being able to have lots of quality family time when I’m not working, reading books to the kids, lazy afternoons, good food, and television and film that makes you think and feel.
 
I do not like super hot days, camping in weather below 50 degrees, inconsiderate people, people who drive to fast in family neighborhoods, flying insects, ants, and most reality TV.
 
Favorite Movies: The Godfather 1 & 2, The Hustler, Manhunter, Thief, The Goonies, Alien & Aliens, Big Trouble In Little China, Better Off Dead, Die Hard, Chinatown.
 
Favorite TV Shows: Sopranos, Mad Men, The Wire, Game Of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Dallas, Twin Peaks, Werewolf.
 
Favorite Food: Anything Italian.
 
Favorite Wine: Pinot
 
Favorite Season: Spring
 
Favorite Holiday: Christmas
 
Favorite Meal: Dinner
 
Favorite Way To Spend A Rainy Day: Cuddled up with the family watching a good movie (this is how I first experienced many films as a child).
 
Favorite cocktail: Fancy Free
 
Dream Job: Teaching film production at my old college.

2013: A Prehistoric Odyssey (Dinosaur Discovery Site)

Utahraptor leg in Utah!

Utahraptor leg in Utah!

We undertook this expedition in order to immerse Thomas and Everett in lots of exciting opportunities to learn about prehistory. Even though our original plan had been to stop at the Dinosaur Discovery Site in St. George, Utah on our way in to Zion, some travel delays prevented this. Despite the fact that it was out of our way to go back to St. George, we made our first dinosaur stop a priority and abbreviated our exploration of Zion  to accommodate the visit.

The Dinosaur Discovery Site

The Dinosaur Discovery Site

The Dinosaur Discovery Site was originally intended to be farm land. When excavating the land to prepare for planting, a bonanza of prehistoric trackways were discovered. Eventually, Sheldon and LaVerna Johnson donated the land to be preserved for research and further discovery. The facility on the site is modern and attractive and houses an impressive array of original and cast trackways from a wide variety of prehistoric animals. The eye-catching centerpiece of the location is the colorful life-size dilophosaurus model placed as if frozen mid-stride atop the tracks it made 150 million years ago.

Dilophosaurus takes a stroll

Dilophosaurus takes a stroll

The effect was so realistic that it took only the smallest leap of imagination to picture ourselves back in a hot, verdant, swampy Jurassic lake shore that was once where the sun-baked desert plateaus of southwest Utah stand today. Thomas was so taken with the imposing dilophosaurus that he made a special point of telling the docent how much he liked it, and Max was so convinced by its realism that he felt a little frightened and made lots of roaring sounds.

"ROAR!"

“ROAR!”

The site is small, but packed with information that prehistoric explorers don’t often find elsewhere. We learned that trackways are valuable in the fossil record because they divulge information about ancient animals that bones alone cannot. Paleontologists can interpret the footprints to hypothesize more about a species’ gait, stride, speed, structure and even possibly their behavior. The Dinosaur Discovery Site even has a print of a dinosaur sitting down in the ancient sands.

Learning about the Discovery Site

Learning about the Discovery Site

Including our time in the well-stocked gift shop and watching the seven-minute informative film, our visit lasted about an hour (we ended up not partaking in the discovery room that was featuring an origami project). Many of the items were touch-friendly and a fish-bowl paleontology lab adds to the site’s interest. I think we all agreed that this was a worthwhile stop on our trip and that it would be valuable and enjoyable to any paleontology aficionados who find themselves near the St. George area.

Other posts in this series:

Introduction

Zion

Uintah-Wasatch-Cache National Forest

North American Museum of Ancient Life

2013: A Prehistoric Odyssey (Zion)

We got started on our grand expedition 2 1/2 hours later than we had planned. I always know we’re going to be late, but I always imagine that I can work more diligently and make our departure in a timely manner. I am always wrong. Max was also suffering from a bit of a fever as we left and was having a hard time keeping his milk down, but we knew that as a nursing baby he would have all the comfort and nourishment he needed wherever I was so we did not change our plans. Additionally, we got caught in traffic due to an accident in the Las Vegas area, causing us to lose another hour in addition to the one lost in the time change to Mountain Daylight Time. We were getting out of Nevada as evening was beginning to set in. Almost instantly upon leaving Nevada, the scenery changed as we entered Color Country. The placid hills and stately plateaus bear the battle scars of the planet’s eons-old struggle with itself.  One can plainly read the mineral-stained pages of Earth’s history book of geologic collisions; gashes slashed by the merciless and unrelenting flow of rivers; floods, winds and tides that have built the earth up layer by layer, only to tear it down again.

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The view from our campsite of the surrounding cliff walls and cottonwoods

Pulling in to Zion National Park and taking in the beauty of the area relieved us of some of the stresses of the days activity and travel. The cliffs that surround the Watchman Campground, like nature-made Gothic spires encouraging the eyes ever upward toward the heavens, securely embrace the serene cottonwood groves that shade the campsites. We were greeted by a brief rain shower as we backed into our campsite, just enough to refresh and not enough to put a damper on our camp-building. The campground, indeed the entire park, was impeccably maintained. It was probably, all things considered, the best campsite we had during our twelve day trek. Unfortunately, the ground of our campsite was so hard that we could not drive our weak tent stakes into the ground, even when a helpful camp-neighbor lent us the use of their mallet. The Watchman Campground is just a short walk away from the town of Springdale that sits on the  south border of the Park. The town has a market, a movie theater, a restaurant, and some other specialty and gift shops, so we were able to purchase stronger stakes and make our camp for the night.

Unfortunately, the difficulty with setting up the tent set us back even further on time. We decided we would go eat in town at the small brew pub only to discover they were just closing as it was already 10pm! Max had fallen asleep nursing as we walked into Springdale, so it was up to Jon to make dinner in the dark on the camp fire. This trip afforded him many opportunities to learn more about camping and I am sure he feels much more knowledgeable after his nearly two-weeks of gaining new skills. Thomas and Everett enjoyed “camp pizzas”, flat bread with pizza sauce and cheese grilled over the open fire, while Jon and I had fire-roasted hot dogs in baked beans. We all turned in shortly after dinner, taking a few moments to admire the stars, which appeared to shine bigger, brighter, and in greater quantity than at home in Los Angeles.

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Thomas lost a tooth! Hope the tooth fairy can find her way to Zion!

The next morning we awoke and completed our regular routine of cooking, eating, washing dishes and grooming. Thomas lost one of his front teeth while eating his breakfast sausage and I took a few minutes to do some camp laundry with our plunger washer in a collapsible bucket. We prepared for the day by packing sandwiches and snacks and headed to the Visitor Center to obtain two Junior Ranger booklets for Thomas and Everett. The Junior Ranger programs were an excellent addition to each stop we made, allowing all of us an opportunity to learn more about the natural wonders around us. Thomas and Everett were eager to engage in the activities and we never had to worry that they were too burned out by months of schoolwork to be active and interested in the programs. Because we had to reschedule our dinosaur destination due to our late arrival, we knew we needed to plan our hours exploring Zion carefully so we could get back to St. George with enough time to enjoy our visit and without wearing the kids down.

Headed to the Visitor Center

Headed to the Visitor Center

To become Junior Rangers, Thomas and Everett needed to attend a ranger program. We were informed at the Visitor Center that a program would be taking place in 25 minutes at the Zion Museum of Human History. We were easily able to transport to the site using the convenient shuttle bus that runs through a portion of the canyon. For many years, the popular sites of Zion were seen by private car… thousands and thousands of private cars that caused traffic congestion and pollution of the natural environment within the Park. The shuttle now takes the place of those thousands of cars and is an easy and enjoyable way to get to the popular sites without having to get kids in and out of carseats multiple times. On the northbound shuttles, a pre-recorded audio guide gives information about the Park’s sites. We were even able to arrive at the Museum a few minutes early to learn a little bit about the humans that have inhabited the Zion area over the last several thousand years.

At a shuttle stop. The flag in the background highlighted the patriotic feelings stirred up by the beauty of our National Parks, Forests and Monuments

At a shuttle stop. The flag in the background highlighted the patriotic feelings stirred up by the beauty of our National Parks, Forests and Monuments

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The layers of Zion’s geologic past are clearly seen in the stunning formations

The Ranger talk was led by a sweet young woman named Kim who had just recently come to Zion and was about the geology of the Zion area. This was a lucky turn for Thomas and Everett, because it meant there was some talk of fossils, dinosaurs and shifting landmasses. They got the opportunity to touch rocks from all the major eras of geologic development, including some dinosaur footprints. They both seemed truly engaged in the 25 minute talk and were eager to fill out their page about the talk in the Junior Ranger booklet. After a water break we hopped back on the shuttle and headed further up the canyon. At Zion Lodge, we stopped for a picnic lunch under the largest cottonwood tree in the expansive front lawn. Jon and I had our sandwiches and snacks while Thomas and Everett had cheese pizza, french fries and cookies from the cafe. Max was content to sample a bit from everyone. The lodge was a lovely spot and looked like it would be a pleasant place to stay while visiting the area.

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A cave-like formation cut into the rock face along the Lower Emerald Pool trail

After filling our bellies, we started off on our hike to Lower Emerald Pool. The trail is paved and mostly level, so it made for an easy hike. In fact, the biggest challenge was simply to be repeatedly reminding the boys to share the path with all the other tourists. A short 1/2 mile hike along the Virgin River, in which we spotted a wild turkey, natural springs and many interesting rock features, brought us to the Lower Emerald Pool, so named for the brilliantly colored algae that grows in the waters. Two diminutive waterfalls sparkled over the top of the rock inlet, feeding a peaceful pool below. There was no access to the pool, but we got a pleasant shower as we passed under the falls. Geologically, the rock layer above is stronger than the layers below, so the these falls have been patiently carving out this oasis for eons. When the wind blew, the sprinkling cascades of water would bend in the breeze. As I observed the pool and the many human onlookers, I was suddenly struck with the sense that this was a sacred space. It was easy to image what it would have been to be among the first people who inhabited the area, and how it may have felt to trek to the pools and bathe, enjoying the spray from above and feeling grateful for the beauty and resources that the earth provided.

I couldn't help but indulge in a little lens flare shot at the Lower Emerald Pool

I couldn’t help but indulge in a little lens flare shot at the Lower Emerald Pool

Although the trail continued on to the Middle and Upper Emerald Pools, we turned back toward the trail head so we could enjoy some time splashing in the Virgin River before heading back in to St. George. The clear water of the river was cold at first, but soon felt refreshing and invigorating. The boys enjoyed navigating across the rocks and we spotted some horses taking drink downstream. I spotted a couple places that, with more time and more courage, would have been excellent for a full-body dip.

Despite being a little wet and muddy, we boarded the shuttle for a quiet ride back to the Visitor Center. We returned to camp, quickly changed our clothes and loaded into the car to head out of the Park. We were all excited to take in our first official dinosaur destination, and we passed the time by working on Junior Ranger booklets along the way so we were able to have them mostly completed by the time we returned back to camp in the evening.

For dinner, Jon and I enjoyed salmon and ears of corn roasted on the fire, a satisfying and delicious meal to cap off our busy and beautiful day of exploring. Thomas and Everett particularly enjoyed their frozen treats picked up at the Springdale market. After dinner, Jon got Thomas and Everett tucked into their sleeping bags and then we took a little time to enjoy some wine by the fire for our last night within the walls of Zion’s canyon.

Other posts in this series:

Introduction

Dinosaur Discovery Site

Uintah-Wasatch-Cache National Forest

North American Museum of Ancient Life

2013: A Prehistoric Odyssey

A scene from inside our vessel, the "Toyota Enterprise" as the kids call it.

A scene from inside our vessel, the “Toyota Enterprise” as the kids call it.

We have completed our Dinosaur Country Grand Tour and have so many stories and pictures to share from our expedition! It was an amazing adventure, and despite lots of hard work building and breaking down camp five times and more than 2000 miles of driving, we had a wonderful time. The next posts will detail our trip. I am separating posts between general destinations and dinosaur-related stops. Hope you enjoy our stories even a fraction as much as we enjoyed our adventures!

Other posts in this series:

Zion

Dinosaur Discovery Site

Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest

North American Museum of Ancient Life

Conflict Resolution

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All relationships and all families experience conflict. With the big personalities in our family and the large amounts of time we spend in each others company, our conflicts have a tendency to get pretty intense.

I recently purchased a conflict resolution guide for teachers (which I plan to review more in depth at a later time) and we’ve begun to implement some of the ideas and strategies I am learning. The guide encouraged each classroom (which in our case is our family home) to have clearly defined rights, responsibilities and rules.

So I got to thinking that our family needs a Bill of Rights and these are the rights we came up with:
1. The right to physical and emotional safety
2. The right to be treated with respect
3. The right to be treated with kindness
4. The right to express our feelings, thoughts and opinions

We may decide to add more “amendments” as time goes on, but for now we felt that these for would be manageable while meeting our needs. I plan to have Thomas and Everett draw pictures of what each right looks/means/feels like to them in order to appeal to their visual learning style. Once we begin to get a handle on understanding and respecting these rights, we will move on to what our responsibilities are.

I even got to throw in a mini history lesson explaining to the boys what the national Bill of Rights is!

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