Good Night, Pardner


When the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County offers a family sleepover at one of its facilities, reservations tend to get snapped up quickly. So, if you're interested in the first "Cowboy Sleepover and Night Hike" at the museum's William S. Hart Park in Newhall on June 27, skip the rest of this column and call right away to book.

The event will take place outdoors on a ranch site once owned by silent-movie western star "Two-Gun" Bill Hart. Participants, who must be 5 or older and accompanied by an adult, will set up camp at 6 p.m. They must bring a tent, sleeping bag and, if they want, an air mattress. All meals will be provided.

During setup, a cowboy crafts table (for designing brands, etc.) and Native American games will be available.

At 7 p.m. folks can visit the park's petting zoo (horses, cows, chickens, rabbits, ducks and goats) and have a special tour through the Hart mansion--a delightful huge adobe fortress decorated with lots of authentic cowboy equipment, which kids get to handle.

As night settles in, between 8 and 9 p.m., Peter Rice, a naturalist who is an expert in local plants and animals, will lead campers on a nature hike.

"Our eyes will adjust to the dark, just like an owl's, but it takes awhile," he will explain to campers. Rice, who has been conducting such events for museum groups for 15 years, will begin by teaching visitors a Chumash "welcome song"--part of his explanation of what life was like for the indigenous people who lived on the plants and animals encountered on the hike. Example: They made soap from the chaparral-like green bark plant--and campers will get a chance to do so, too.

For safety's sake, the hike will take place with the aid of red-filtered flashlights. "These don't bother the animals because they can't see red light," Rice says.

"We'll do the census thing--looking for animal homes, tracks, (audible) signals and droppings."

He'll also explain nature's "food chain," telling campers, "That means, who eats who? Starting with the grass and ending with the hawk." The answer to "Who eats the hawk?," says Rice, is, "The FBI--fungus, bacteria and insects."

Toward the end of the hike, he'll show folks how to make native musical instruments from natural materials and tell stories about the night sky, based on local native tradition.

After the hike, back at the ranch, Nancy Fox, the museum's education coordinator, will lead campers in cowboy-type activities from 10 to 11 p.m. Everybody will get a chance to use a lariat to rope a stuffed bison head.

At 11:15 it'll be "cowboy story time," followed by bedtime at 11:30.

Breakfast the next morning will be early, so that by 8 a.m., little cowpokes can mosey on home.


"Cowboy Campout," for kids 5 and up accompanied by adult, 6 p.m. June 27 to 8:30 a.m. June 28, William S. Hart Ranch and Museum at Hart Park, 24151 San Fernando Road, Newhall; per-person, $40 museum members, $50 nonmembers; family discounts available; pre-reservations required; (213) 763-3534.

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