Tag Archives: California

Revisiting Manzanar

  

Darlene and I spent several hours at the Manzanar National Historic Site on our visit to the Owens Valley in the Traveling Cat Adventure Vehicle in mid-May.  I went to high school in Bishop in the 80’s, so I’ve certainly seen Manzanar before, but it’s quite different since I last visited.  They’ve converted what had become a county storage shed but was originally an auditorium in the internment camp into a very impressive and engaging interpretive center.  You can now see some of the belongings and artifacts of the people who were forcibly relocated there during World War II as well as hear recordings of their stories and enter restored versions of some of the camp buildings. It’s an incredibly well done exhibit and all the more relevant today with all of the new fear mongering going on.  It’s definitely worth half a day or more to visit.

Click through for the full gallery.

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To Universal Studios Hollywood

Darlene and I made a quick, three-day trip down to Universal Studios Hollywood last week — to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, of course!  While we were there, we also visited the La Brea Tar Pits and Griffith Park and tried to get to Mann’s Chinese Theater (but it was closed off for a movie premiere) – all places I hadn’t seen for 30-40 years and new for Darlene.

   

The main attraction was of course Universal Studios and we decided to buy their “VIP Tour” tickets.  These are guided, 12-person tour groups that start with early access to the park after an included breakfast.  You get an extended tour of the back lots (two hours rather than the normal 45 minutes) via a single-car trolley instead of the usual tram.  This back lot tour includes getting out and walking around some of the sets and potentially sound stages and working sets (depending on the activity that day) as well as visiting part of their props and costumes warehouse.  You get escorted “priority” access to the various rides and shows (bypassing the lines or enjoying reserved seating) and a really wonderful buffet lunch in a separate VIP dining area.  The VIP passes cost nearly three times as much as the normal pass but we had read reviews from a lot of folks saying it’s a fun and worthwhile experience and now we would agree.  Here’s someone’s detailed description from 2012.

We also took a nice tour of Paramount Studios the following day before catching our plane home.

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More Fresh Powder in Tahoe

I joined Resi, Troy and Aiden for a ski weekend in Tahoe (at Homewood) in early April and we lucked out with lots of fresh powder both days.  Click through for pictures and video.

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Five Days on the Sonoma Coast

Here’s some pics and video from our longest run yet with the cats in the Traveling Cat Adventure Vehicle – five days on the Sonoma coast from Bodega Bay to Fort Ross, coming back home on New Year’s Day.

Click through for the full gallery:

      

After another rough start with the cats (they still aren’t too keen on being trapped in the big, noisy moving house) and after cleaning up a messy episode with Pan, they eventually settled down for the journey.  We spent a couple of nights at the Bodega Dunes campground exploring the area on foot and finding a few geocaches by day.  On the following day we only ventured up the coast a few more miles and overnighted in an overflow area at Wright’s Beach.  We then continued on to visit Goat Rock to watch the crazy surf, check out the harbor seals at the mouth of the Russian River and hike out to the mammoth rubbing rocks.  We got to Fort Ross just before closing on New Year’s Eve and slipped in the exit gate to run around and check it out before they kicked us out.  On New Year’s Day, we started making our way back, watching for whales far off-shore as we made leisurely progress heading home via the Russian River valley.

The cats seemed to be doing well with slow speed travel and frequent stops and they definitely enjoyed a nice, extended lunch stop off-leash on some empty, grassy school grounds in Santa Rosa.  After five days in the traveling cat adventure vehicle, it was really going well and seeming like this was ready to work for extended trips.  Unfortunately, we had a bit of mishap just before getting home.  One of the solar panels came loose and started smacking around on the roof before we realized what was happening.  It broke free before I could get off the freeway and we ended up pulling over to assess the damage.  Before I knew it, Darlene was off running across the freeway to retrieve the lost panel and then we attracted a highway patrolmen who came over to scold us (and see if we needed assistance).  The noise and drama was all quite traumatic for Pan and a lousy ending to an otherwise promising start to future extended traveling cat adventures.  (And of course now I need to redo the solar panel installation.)

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Monarch Butterflies at Natural Bridges

Some pictures and video from a December visit to see the Monarch butterflies wintering at Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz:

They winter here from November through February, depending on the weather.  If you go, choose to get here during the warmth of the middle of the day or they won’t be very active.  And bring binoculars and a long telephoto because they’ll be mostly way up in the eucalyptus trees.

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Bed and Breakfast and Elephants

Two weeks ago, Darlene and I enjoyed a weekend stay at the Vision Quest Ranch in Salinas, CA.  It’s a facility that keeps and cares for a host of 100+ various exotic and domestic animals.  Their prime business used to be training and providing animals for use in the film and television industry, but with the increasing use of computer-generated, all-digital animals, they’ve turned more to adopting at-risk or retired animals, doing more educational programs and training programs and transforming the facility into a fully, open-to-the-public zoo, “The  Monterey Zoo”.  This effort is still in progress and so they’re now only open for short, daily, guided tours while they build out larger, more engaging enclosures for their animals.  However, they also run a bed and breakfast service based on several cabin-like tents situated on the property and provide a number of up close encounters with various animals, particularly a couple of retired circus elephants who greet you at your cabin as your breakfast is served.

You can read more about the history of the facility, stories about their numerous animals and information about their various educational efforts on their web site.

A video montage of our visit.

Click through for the full gallery of pictures:

  

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California Railroad Museum

For Darlene’s birthday this year, we went to Old Town Sacramento for the weekend and stayed on the steamboat-turned-hotel “Delta King”.  We spent a good part of Saturday checking out the fantastic California Railroad Museum which makes up almost all of the pictures in my gallery:

   

No pictures, but we also spent time wandering around Old Town and checking out the shops.  That afternoon we participated in another “escape room” and successfully solved “The Study” at Escape Sacramento and then, after dinner, went to a fun play put on by the B Street Theater in town.  (Take note: skip the Suspects Mystery Dinner Theater option on the Delta King – it gets terrible reviews on Yelp and TravelAdvisor.)  Sunday was filled with a long bike ride out and back along part of the 30+ mile bike trails along the American River.

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Tahoe Ski Season

This is a handful of pictures and a couple of videos from this season of skiing (and an afternoon of sledding).  Featuring… Darlene, Mike, Nanci, Rick, Maxine, Greg, Erin, Jon, Bill, Kat, Jim and myself.

Click through for the gallery:

  

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Death Valley Super Bloom

Death Valley is in the midst of a rare “super bloom” of wildflowers right now.  Darlene and I were able to drive down there for a brief overnight visit, camping along one of the backcountry roads.

   

Click through above to view my gallery of pictures.  For more info on the current status, see the week-by-week wildflower update for this year’s bloom.

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Skiing/Gaming Week in Tahoe

Here’s the pictures and video from our annual week of skiing and tabletop gaming, this year back in Tahoe again with Jon, Jim, Bill, Kat and Brin. We were unfortunately in a bit of a very warm and dry spell for California at the end of February. This kept us to the freshly groomed runs, rather firm in the morning, soft in the afternoon and refrozen over night, but we hit up Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, Sugarbowl and Northstar over the course of the week.

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Into the Ventana Wilderness

Pictures from a four-day backpacking trip last week with Darlene, Laura and Rachel into the Ventana Wilderness, south of Big Sur and below Cone Peak – click through for the full gallery:

  

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Tahoe Skiing

Click through for my gallery of pictures plus a video montage from this past weekend skiing at Squaw and Alpine Meadows with the Outdoor Adventure Club:

  

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Eastern Sierra Colors

Darlene and I headed over to the Eastern Sierra for a few days last week to catch the fall colors of the aspen climbing the mountain valleys. We came over Sonora Pass, visited Bodie and camped the first night near Lundy Lake, hit Mammoth Lakes and then camped below Rock Creek Lake before finally having to make our way back via Tioga Pass and through Yosemite.

Seems like we might have been about a week early to catch the peak but it also seemed that a lot of the aspen were really dry and drying out quickly after turning yellow (skipping over orange and red), presumably due to the extended drought.

Click through for the full gallery:

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Whales at Moss Landing

There’s been loads of humpback whales in Monterey Bay this summer and Darlene and I finally had a chance to go on a whale-watching tour by kayak out of Moss Landing this past Sunday with Dave of Venture Quest Kayaks.  Thanks once again, Dave!  We had a great time and encountered numerous humpback whales diving and feeding together, once even coming up between our kayaks, as well as saw plenty of others off in various directions, blowing, diving and even breaching in the distance.  After a snack break back at the boat launch, we headed in to the Elkhorn Slough with the aid of some handheld kayak sails.

In addition to all the whales, we also saw plenty of other wildlife: lots of harbor seals, sea lions, otters, egg yolk jellyfish, starfish, porpoises, pelicans, gulls, terns, sandpipers, cormorants and even an egret.  A couple of people saw a mola mola pass under, but we missed that. D’oh!

However, our kayak was boarded in the slough by a sea otter “patrol” – apparently inspecting us for goodies… or contraband?  (Check out the video below.)

We had so much fun on Sunday that we decided to sign up to come back the very next morning. On Monday, the entire bay was incredibly calm but we really had to work to find any whales. We had to paddle out nearly three miles into the bay to find them, but find them we did! Or perhaps they found us…

A short video montage of our two days of kayaking (4.3 minutes, 70 MB)

Click through for the full gallery of images from both days:

  

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Riding Lake Tahoe Trails

Darlene and I went up to Lake Tahoe for a couple days of mountain biking midweek last week.  We did a bit of Sawtooth Ridge near Truckee after driving up on Wednesday – these are some nice wandering trails overlooking the Truckee River and highway 89 – and chipmunks everywhere!

On Thursday we went for a full day’s ride centered around the awesome views of the Tahoe Flume Trail, overlooking Lake Tahoe.  Here’s a two-minute video montage from the ride:

Tahoe Rim and Flume Trails

Richard fell sick and wasn’t able to join us so we caught the shuttle up to Tahoe Meadows (near Mt. Rose).  Our route started with the Tahoe Rim Trail heading south, then catching the Red House Flume Trail running clockwise, then back up the Sunflower Hill Trail, round Marlette Lake until finally getting to enjoy the Flume Trail proper.  Sweet and long 25-mile day with lots of breaks to enjoy the views and even snag a geocache along the way.

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Big Basin Camping

Darlene and I joined Laura, Rachel and Sanna for two nights of camping in Big Basin State Park (in the Santa Cruz mountains) earlier this week (Monday-Wednesday).  The creek was nearly dry due to the drought but we enjoyed some great hikes in wonderful weather, several successful geocaching finds and an overabundance of yummy food, including shish kebabs and brats over the campfire.  Thankfully there were practically no mosquitoes (nice change from our backpacking here in May) but we did have to fend off frequent forays by the numerous, brazen raccoons all around the campgrounds.  One of which snagged our buns as we were getting things ready for our brat fest!  The nerve!

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