BigWeather's Blog

August 11, 2012

Whoa, planey!

Filed under: Travel — Tags: — BigWeather @ 11:59 pm

We woke up super early (5 o’clock or so) and had breakfast and were on the road right at 7.  After a bit of initial confusion with signs (Los Angeles road planning feels very haphazard, and the signage can’t help but follow) we got to the rental car drop-off point, hopped on to a shuttle, and were at LAX.  Despite a rather large crowd even at around 8 o’clock on a Saturday morning the line moved fast as we got checked in, went through security, and proceeded to our gate a bit earlier than intended (about 8:20 for a 10:50 flight).

We got some McDonalds to tide us over a bit, as well as some snacks and Genetta a sandwich as airlines don’t give a proper meal anymore, even for longer flights like Las Vegas to Raleigh (following our short flight from LAX to Las Vegas).  Addison and I napped a little while Michelle and Genetta read and such.

The 10:50 flight to Las Vegas was interesting.  I saw a sign on the runway about “no turn until shoreline” which was interesting — basically we took off and only over the Pacific did the pilot turn the plane eastward while gaining altitude.  Now facing the proper direction we passed back over the basin and the mountains to the desert beyond, eventually coming to Las Vegas.  Had a great view of the strip (which was surprisingly close to the airport) including a few fake NYC buildings, a large black pyramid, and a sphinx.  I didn’t have my camera on me, sadly, so missed a picture.

We dashed off the plane and bolted for out flight taking off from another terminal in 50 minutes.  We were worried we wouldn’t get to sit together or, worse, miss the flight.  We needn’t have feared.  They hadn’t even started lining up the A tickets (Southwest groups A, B, and C, 1 through 60 in each group).

Amazingly enough, we encountered one of Addison’s friends from Boy Scouting and his parents and sister (names withheld since I don’t know if they’d want to be mentioned by name here) going on the same flight as well.  Turns out they had stayed a week on the Olympic peninsula (the same place we visited early in our trip) and had just flown in from Seattle to get on the leg from Las Vegas to Raleigh just as we had from LAX.  Small world!

The flight itself soon boarded and we got decent seats.  This time I was prepared, camera in-hand, to take pictures.  There was a delay taking off as the pilots dealt with “weight balance” issues due to the heat (already 110F).  That resolved, we took off and passed over the beautiful desert of southern Utah, into the plains, and finally over the Appalachians and home.  Our plane, a brand new 737-800 was neat and had LED lighting that changed color as evening approached.  We arrived in Raleigh shortly after 8 o’clock to a light rain — the first rain since we left nearly three weeks ago, aside from that minimal 10 minute rain in Yosemite.  Amazing luck we had with the weather on our trip!

Environs of Las Vegas, Nevada

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, southern Utah

Canyons in southeastern Utah

Rocky Mountains, Colorado

Great Plains, likely Kansas

Sunset over the eastern ridges of the Appalachians, North Carolina

The Southwest flight attendants had been great all day and were often quite funny.  The funniest moment came at the very end, however.  As we were landing the head flight attendant said “Whoa!” into the com system then made some horse snorting noises and a clip clop clip clop as the plane slowed down.  Too funny.

Adrianne drove us home where we unpacked a little bit, started laundry, and watched some TV before heading to bed.

We traveled just over 3250 miles during our 18 days (no including the two days traveling to Seattle and back from LAX), slightly more mileage than our 2010 trip (but also had a few more days to do it in).  I think we’ve all agreed that 18 days was a bit much and will try for 15 or so next time.  We’re also going to try and use “hubs” from which to drive to nearby sites rather than have a different hotel every night.  During our 2010 trip we had two hubs, in the Black Hills of South Dakota and in Yellowstone, Wyoming, that worked really well.  It means a little more driving but has the benefit of not always unpacking and packing the car.

There were some deviations to the original plan, but not many.  We skipped Mount Hood and the Columbia River gorge in favor of spending time in Portland’s Rose Garden and visiting Cape Disappointment, Washington.  We missed the Valley of the Ferns in Prairie Creek Redwoods SP due to the difficulty of getting to it.  While we did visit Lake Tahoe we missed Emerald Bay — not a huge loss considering we had already visited Crater Lake.  Glacier Point in Yosemite was shut down by law enforcement so we had to pass on that.  We skipped Muir Woods for Muir Beach, a great trade-off since we had already seen many, many large tree groves at that point.  In San Francisco neither Coit Tower nor Alcatraz (due to time and being booked out a couple of days) happened, but we did visit the wonderful Musee Mecanique.  We didn’t go to Hearst Castle or the Mission San Miguel.  Finally, in Los Angeles, we didn’t get down to Venice Beach nor make it to the Rainbow.  A big list, I suppose, but we made far more than we missed.  Only big regrets on that list are Valley of the Ferns, Glacier Point, and maybe the Rainbow.

I’ve got forty states now, Michelle has 39, and the kids 36 and 37 (Genetta lacks Ohio, which Addison most certainly does not due to summer camp).  We’ve got one more big trip, I hope, to the desert Southwest.  Probably using Las Vegas as a start / end point and going in a loop through southern Utah, Colorado, as well as much of Arizona and New Mexico and extreme western Texas.  That’ll pick up one for me (New Mexico) and two for Michelle (New Mexico and Arizona) and three for the kids (New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas).  Not too shabby, with the missing states being Alaska, Hawaii, and the rest in the Great Plains.

Is it worth it?  Yes.  It’s a fair bit of money and while there is little physical to show for it the memories last a lifetime.  It also means a good deal of concentrated family time which is really nice.  I’d always wanted to see this great nation of ours and share it with those I love.  If the kids decide to do the same when they are older and have kids of their own, great, but if not then at least they’ve seen it themselves.  The best part of any trip is that it builds an appreciation of home and of all of the unique, wonderful things that it has that other areas lack — such as sweet tea and barbeque.  Yum!

Route for July 23 through August 11, 2012

August 10, 2012

Sticky (and stinky) situation

Filed under: Travel — Tags: — BigWeather @ 11:59 pm

After a fairly leisurely pace for breakfast and showers we departed the hotel just before 10 o’clock.  Neil Diamond was getting a star at 11:30 but we decided to skip that in favor of seeing other stuff in the area.

The drive in to our hotel had convinced us that it was worth the $100 or so (for all four of us) to buy hop-on hop-off tour bus tickets.  We chose to just do the red line with StarLine tours, concentrating on Hollywood and Beverly Hills and giving us access to the sites we most wanted to see (mainly Sunset Strip and La Brea Tar Pits).  After taking a few shots of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre we piled on the bus, Michelle and Genetta remaining below and Addison and I going up top of the double decker bus.

We had a wait before the tour started so we observed the in-character people working.  Darth Vader did pretty well, though I was disappointed to see he was wearing huge platform shoes.  Captain Jack Sparrow did incredibly well — his look was pretty spot on.  There was also a Iron Man and a Hulk and you know the Avengers movie must’ve really helped their business.  Despite how “meh” their costumes were they were still getting bites.  And then there was poor Charlie Chaplin.  Despite being a convincing likeness nobody wanted anything to do with him.  He just twirled his cane, fidgeted with his umbrella, and made awkward waves towards people.  Sad.

The tour under way, we went by the Roosevelt Hotel where Marilyn Monroe did her first Hollywood shoot — right next to the pool.  Next up was a El Pollo Loco famous for having hired an aspiring actor to wear a chicken suit and advertise on the street corner years ago — Brad Pitt.  We passed The Laugh Factory where many comedians got their start.  On a sadder note we passed the Chateau Marmont where John Belushi died in 1982 and the Viper Club where River Phoenix died in 1993.  Drugs suck.

We also saw The Comedy Store, another comedy club.  Shortly after was the Whisky a Go Go, a club that features prominently in the rock scene from the late-60s through the 90s.  We had originally intended to get off the tour there and walk the short distance to the Rainbow Bar & Grill (it could be seen just beyond the Whisky) but it was much too early for lunch.  Instead we remained on the bus intending to get off at the La Brea Tar Pits and then coming back to the Rainbow.

Whisky a Go Go, Sunset Strip, Hollywood

The tour proceeded onto Santa Monica Boulevard past The Troubadour, a club famous for breaking many acts as well.  Shortly after we entered Beverly Hills, where I spectacularly failed to get a picture of the famous “shield” sign.  We learned that each street has a different tree species it is themed from, and it is that species planted at the entrance to the street.  Also there is an alley between the houses in Beverly Hills where residents have their trash picked up — not only does it hide the garbage collection from view but also protects it from prying eyes I imagine.

The Troubadour

Beverly Hills sign

We passed the Beverly Hills City Hall again (I have a picture of it in yesterday’s blog) and learned that it was used as the police headquarters for Beverly Hills Cop series of movies.  Nearby was the Presbyterian church where Jimmy Stewart would read Christmas stories on Christmas eve.  Next up was Rodeo drive.  Many people got off there but we knew we’d get the reception Julia Roberts got in Pretty Woman, with the exception that there would be no scene where we’d later come back with loaded bags and say “I was in here yesterday, you wouldn’t wait on me.  Big mistake.  Big.  Huge.”  We did see a men’s suit store called “bijan” that you must have an appointment to even enter.  The suits are in the $15,000 range.  Cuh-razy.  But it looks like they had one customer that could afford it — a Bugatti Veyron was parked out front.  They go for $2.4M and can get up to 267 mph.  What (on both counts)?!

Bugatti Veyron on Rodeo Drive

Beverly Hills palms

We later passed this fancy mall called Beverly Center before passing a number of restaurants including The Stinking Rose, which specializes in garlic.  Passing a statue of John Wayne we drove down the Miracle Mile, a stretch developed in the 1920s to be auto-centric and giving rise to not only Los Angeles’ “car culture” but in some ways the rest of America’s.  It was the first stretch of road to have timed traffic signals and where every business had parking spaces for cars.

The Stinking Rose, Los Angeles

It was in this area of tall buildings that we stopped and got off the tour.  The Los Angeles Count Museum of Art, or LACMA, occupies an area along with the La Brea Tar Pits and the Page Museum dedicated to excavating, researching, and preserving the fossils from the pits.  Across the street we saw a long line of food trucks of many different sorts of cuisine lined up for lunch customers.  That’s simply something we haven’t seen much of in North Carolina but it sure would be nice — why go to Mexican when Mexican can come to you?!

Food trucks in line waiting for customers

We opted instead for Marie Callender’s right across from the NBC / E! / G4 building.  I wonder if it is the one Conan O’Brien convened his staff at after deciding to leave NBC during that whole Jay Leno debacle?  Michelle, Genetta, and I had the pulled pork sandwich while Addison had a burger.  The pulled pork was great, though of course “western style.”  Still, very tasty.  They had apple pie for dessert while I had a coffee-like pie with a wonderful Oreo crust.

We headed to the La Brea Tar Pits.  It smells like tar, or more correctly, asphalt.  There is a lake in front of the museum that is partially covered by the asphalt and as sections where bubbles percolate to the top — natural gas bubbles.  They have statues of a mother mammoth being unable to escape while the father and child mammoth watch helpless.  Cheery!

La Brea Tar Pits main lake

In the museum we learned that excavations began in 1913 and to date there have been well over three million bones found, from 600+ species.  Animals would get trapped, unable to remove themselves from the muck.  The larger the surface area of the animal the harder it was to break free.  They had an excellent interactive display where we could try and lift smaller surface area items out of the asphalt versus larger ones, which were much harder.  Trapped animals would inevitably attract predators and scavengers which could themselves get trapped leading to an ugly chain of entrapments.

Page Museum, La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles

Where did all of this asphalt come from?  Millions of years ago the area of Los Angeles was a sea bed and thick deposits of dead sea life accumulated, which later became oil.  The area was uplifted about 100,000 years ago and fractures led to some of the oil percolating to the surface.  The fossil record in the pits starts at about 40,000 years old and extends to about 10,000 years old when many species met their end (whether due to climate change after the Ice Age or by man, or both, is not known).

The museum had an impressive display of over 400+ dire wolf skulls.  It also had many complete skeletons, including a 13′ high Columbian Mammoth weighing (when alive) 15,000 pounds.  Wow.  We learned that it was a Sabertooth Cat, not Sabertooth Lion.  In additon there was a jaguar that was even larger than that!  Finally, horses were from North America but many migrated to Europe and Asia while the local ones died out — imagine how different history may have played out had the Indians had horses when the Europeans initially arrived!

Columbian Mammoth skeleton

Dire Wolf skeletons

Sabertooth Cat skeleton

The museum also had a cool room called a “fish tank” where we visitors could observe fossils being attended to and found by the mostly volunteer force.  They were currently at work on a mammoth named “Zed”, having found and assembled most of the skeleton.  There were also two movies, the first was a bit boring but the second had potential.  That is until a visitor decided to take a picture each time a new closed captioning line appeared — and he had it set to loudly click on each picture.  Michelle and Genetta couldn’t hear it but it practically ruined the movie for Addison and I.  People!

"Fish Tank" in which fossil identification and preservation was performed

We picked up a few magnets from the gift store (I’ll need to make room for all of these new magnets!) and headed outside to see the other pits.  Honestly they weren’t as impressive as the lake in front.  It didn’t help that in addition to being stinky there was some litter in most of them (a product of being in the middle of a huge city, I suppose).  There were curious areas that were set aside by little square areas of fencing, though — turns out that some of the pits are very, very small, some less than the size of a coin.  They certainly don’t want people stepping into them, though.

Bubbles in asphalt-covered lake

"What is this? A tar pit for ants?"

Hopped back on the tour bus near an area of LACMA that had a huge number of light posts of various sizes arranged about.  I don’t know if it is art but it’s something alright.  We passed by the Writer’s Guild, Farmer’s Market (formed in the 1930s during the depression), CBS studios, Paramount studios (saw, but could not nab a picture of, the famous water tower), Nickelodeon studio where they film iCarly and Victorious, and the Capitol Records building (which I failed to snap a decent picture of either, grrrr).

"Art" consisting of a bunch of lightposts, LACMA

CBS Studios

Also saw a few other theaters like the Pantages and the Pacific, and learned a bit about Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre built in 1922 right about the time that word of the discoveries in Tut’s tomb were reaching the United States.

Grauman's Egyptian Theatre sign

Grauman's Egyptian Theatre courtyard entrance

After heading back to the beginning of the tour in front of Grauman’s Chinese we decided not to hop back on to go to Sunset Strip (and the Rainbow) due to the late hour — no way the kids should be there on a Friday Night.  We were also worried that we’d miss the last tour bus and have to taxi it back.  I kinda regret that we missed out on the Rainbow (with such a rich rock history and the potential for a Lemmy sighting!) but it was for the best.

Instead we opted to walk along Hollywood Boulevard all the way to Vine Street to get a decent shot of the Capitol Records building as well as see John Wayne’s star.  On the way we got some drink at Popeye’s Chicken, Fanta Strawberry was incredible.  We then turned back west along Sunset Boulevard where the crowd was noticeably lighter (and a bit of a concern).  We passed a neat building called “Crossroads of the World” built in 1936 as well as Hollywood High School, home of many, many famous authors, actors (John Ritter, Fay Wray), and even some statesmen such as Warren Christopher.

Capitol Records building

Crossroads of the World

Hollywood High School

Our goal was finally in sight.  At the beginning of the trip one of my goals was to eat at a In-N-Out Burger as I had heard much good about it (well, good for fast food).  We had seen many but for various reasons (not hungry, wrong side of the road, place was packed, what-have-you) we never stopped.  The place was packed yet again but I would not be deterred.  We finally got some food and the burgers were solid, though I didn’t care for the “secret sauce” too much.  The meat and cheese was good, though, and the toasted bun was excellent.  I’d say a tad above Char-Grill but not earth shattering.  On the way out of In-N-Out Burger we saw that the drive through line was around the building and onto the street.  Popular place!

In-N-Out Burger on Sunset Boulevard

Walked back to Hollywood Boulevard then to Highland Avenue and the hotel for some packing, blogging, and TV.  Big travel day tomorrow!

August 9, 2012

End of the road

Filed under: Travel — Tags: — BigWeather @ 11:59 pm

We started the day with a pretty decent breakfast at the FogChaser Inn.  Reluctantly leaving the really nice accommodations, we hit the road before 10 o’clock and continued our journey towards Los Angeles (specifically, Hollywood) on route 1.  Before too long the road turned inland and our route merged with 101 as we traveled through scrub-covered brown hills inland through San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria.

Morning at Cambria's beach

Fog rolling into Cambria off of the ocean

South of Santa Maria we passed through a stunning mountain range, the Santa Ynez, one of a few entirely east-west mountain ranges in the United States.  The mountains were once the bed of an ancient sea, thrust upwards and tilted almost 90 degrees (to near vertical).  Also these mountains were more tree covered than many of the hills and mountains a bit further inland.

Santa Ynez Mountains of Southern California

Once to the coast again we went through Santa Barbara.  We took a very slight detour to see the county courthouse, the exterior of which is used as the police headquarters on the show Psych (which is mostly filmed in British Columbia).  As the view was on the left hand side of the car (stupid one-way roads!), Addison did photo duty from the backseat of our car.  We had considered parking and taking pictures on foot but we didn’t want to delay getting to Los Angeles (and beating, hopefully, rush hour) and there weren’t any parking spaces to be easily had.  Also, in a moment of almost pure zen — just as we were nearing the courthouse Hall & Oates’ “Private Eyes” came on the radio — not only relevant as that is what Psych is about, but because they did a commercial to that song not long ago.

Santa Barbara Courthouse, used for some exterior shots for Psych

Hopped back on route 101 until Oxnard when we decided to proceed to Los Angeles via route 1 hugging the coast.  As it was well past noon we stopped for lunch.  Once again we missed an In-N-Out (I WILL have one before we fly out!) and ended up at Elena’s Kitchen, a Philippine restaurant.  I had the beef steak with onions in a salty broth over noodles, as did Addison.  Michelle and Genetta had little egg rolls with some sort of meat (pork, I think?) in them as well as some chicken with rice.

The stretch from Oxnard to Santa Monica was impressive (but not as much as Big Sur).  We particularly enjoyed seeing Malibu (beautiful town and beaches) and the planes outside the USN base — a F4 and I think a F14.  When we got to Malibu we could see a really impressive thunderstorm off in the distance but I imagine it was far, far away as none of the area we subsequently drove through had any rain.  We also got radar scanned by a CHiP — an actual California Highway Patrol officer sitting on his parked bike and wearing the beige uniform.  Fun!

Beach west of Malibu, California

Malibu homes perched on a mountainside

Upon arrival in Santa Monica we drove up the California Incline (which was a bit steep, but nothing by San Francisco standards) to Ocean Avenue.  Caught a quick glimpse of the pier (didn’t see Iron Man there, though) before turning left on Santa Monica Boulevard.  We decided, for better or for worse, to just drive to our hotel (in Hollywood near the Walk of Fame) by traveling the entire time on that road.  Not only because we didn’t want to deal with the freeway but also because we wanted to see some of the sights along the way.

Thunderstorm north of Santa Monica

We saw a bit of Beverly Hills, the Troubadour, and the Beverly Hills City Hall (very impressive).  The traffic was pretty heavy at times, and we saw the fire department and an ambulance attending to a downed bikers.  Speaking of which, are they all crazy on the West coast?  Both in San Francisco and Los Angeles they seem to like to go between lanes of traffic stopped at lights to get near the front of the line.  Is that even legal?  I thought they had to behave like cars in all regards.  Anyway, a healthy example to the kids not to get into riding motorcycles (at least not at their young ages).

Beverly Hills' City Hall tower

Turning up Highland and passing the Highland and Hollywood intersection where the Dolby (formerly Kodak, of Oscar night fame) theater is located we quickly found our hotel and turned the car over to them for safekeeping until Saturday when we drive to the airport to drop it off.  We went up to the room for an hour or so to rest before setting out to explore a little bit on foot at about 5 o’clock.

Ubiquitous movie ads!

We headed down to Highland and Hollywood, soaking in some of the atmosphere.  Many people milled about dressed as movie characters and posing for pictures (and some money, of course): Zorro, a stormtrooper, Darth Vader, Jack Sparrow, several Batmen and a Bane or two, you name it.  On the ground were the famous stars of the Walk of Fame.

Just beyond the Dolby Theater was Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, built in 1927 and home to the Oscars a few times and many, many premieres including Star Wars in 1977.  In addition to the interesting style of the theater there were many concrete block with stars’ handprints, footprints, and signatures on them.

Grauman's Chinese Theatre, home of movie premieres since 1927

Statue in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre

Roy Rogers' cement signature

We returned back to the Dolby Theater and saw that there were posts with the best picture winners for every year since the first (Wings in 1927) on them.  Nifty.  The Dolby Theater was really more than just the theater (which hosts the Oscars) as there were five stories of shopping and restaurants as well.  Michelle checked out the Fossil store before we headed to California Pizza Kitchen for dinner.  A friendly saleswoman at the store told us about the recent Yorba Linda quakes and that the Dolby Theater mall itself was on wheels so as to move with any quakes.

Courtyard near the Dolby (formerly, Kodak) Theater

From the CPK’s balcony I could clearly see the Hollywood sign in the distance.  Dinner was decent, if a bit safe.  Afterwards we went back to the central courtyard of the mall, which had some impressive statuary and decoration and also a water fountain that people (who were waaaay too nicely dressed for what they were doing) stood in to cool off.  Took some pictures and also of El Capitan Theatre (1926) which was covered for renovations, unfortunately.

Hollywood sign in the distance

Marquee of El Capitan Theatre

Returned back to the entrance of the Dolby Theater as we had not realized that the staircase to the entrance was the staircase seen on Oscar night.  I mean, yeah, it had to be, but it looked so different without the golden statues on either side and all.  Turns out that prior to the awards they cover up all of the stores adjacent to the stairway with huge red curtains, change the sign that says Dolby Theater, and put in the red carpet.  Totally transforming the place, as you’d expect for an awards show about movie magic.

Grand staircase for Academy Awards, shops are covered with a huge red drape

Headed down Hollywood towards Vine in search of John Wayne’s star but turned around as it was getting dark and it was a bit farther than we had anticipated.  We did, however, see the star for Rush and Thomas A. Edison, probably the most important star on the whole Walk of Fame.

Rush in the Limelight

Stopped by McDonalds for some sweet tea and then headed back to the hotel for Olympics and blogging.  On the Olympics saw some BMX, including one quarterfinal heat where seven of the eight riders were taken out by one accident.  Ouch!

Route for Thursday, August 09, 2012

August 8, 2012

California dreamin’

Filed under: Travel — Tags: — BigWeather @ 11:59 pm

Woke up, got our free breakfast, and booked it out of San Jose as fast as possible, wishing to get an early start on the drive to Cambria, a town mid-way between San Francisco and Los Angeles.  We took 101 south and then switched to route 1 in to Monterey.  In Monterey we took the roads that got us closest to the beach so that I could take pictures and such.

It was really nice as there was very little traffic — much fewer cars than I feared — and the viewpoints and parking areas mostly had plenty of room.  Addison and I looked around for starfish but found none, we think the problem is that we’re not hitting the beaches at the right time.  Starfish attach to objects below the low tide line, so we’d have to be there at low tide and then still need some luck to see them in the (now more shallow) water.  We did see some amazingly big strands of kelp (like 2″ plus in diameter) so that was cool.

Fog shrouded dunes outside of Monterey, California

Monterey, California rocks

Yet more beautiful rocks at Monterey

Waves breaking against rocks, Monterey

The Pacific is just jam-packed with interesting plants and other sea life

Once around the top half of Monterey peninsula we hopped on to 17-mile drive (they charged $9.75 for the privilege, ouch!) and enjoyed several vistas there as well as a view of the Lone Cypress, long a symbol of Pebble Beach.  The Lone Cypress almost fell in the sea in the past and has since had its area shored up and cables help support it.  The Lone Cypress is a Monterey Cypress, only found on Monterey peninsula and in Big Sur.  It has a life expectancy of 300 years.

Beach near Pebble Beach and Monterey area

Surf between rocks, Pebble Beach and Monterey area

Beautiful ocean at Pebble Beach

Lone Cypress at Pebble Beach, California

Once off of 17-mile drive we realized we needed to get some lunch (it was after 1 o’clock at this time) as the drive further south was pretty desolate food-wise.  We ate at this place called Bistro 211 in Carmel.  It was nothing to write home about, the food (all of us got burgers) was adequate but quite overpriced.  I can’t wait to return to North Carolina prices!

We headed down route 1 through Big Sur.  I don’t know if I’ve every seen a more breathtaking coastline, much less any type of scenery.  The road clung on the side of mountains (or really large hills) as they plunged into the sea.  Rocks were everywhere, breaking up the surf and launching huge plumes of sea spray into the air.  There was very little tree-sized vegetation on the hills so the view was almost always unbroken.

Big Sur beach

We got to this point called Hurricane Ridge.  The wind was blowing at a constant 40 – 50 mph, at least — even almost knocking me down.  Small clouds were coming in off the ocean and sweeping up the hillsides at tremendous speed.  It was simply amazing.

View from windy Hurricane Point, Big Sur, California

Another view from Hurricane Point, Big Sur

Yet another view from Hurricane Point, Big Sur

A bit later we passed Point Sur with its lighthouse standing on a very large rock connected to the mainland via a low-lying land bridge.  The land bridge had sand dunes, mostly covered with vegetation, on it.

Point Sur seen from Hurricane Point, Big Sur

The road became quite twisty just before straightening out in the final push for San Simeon and Cambria.  Impressive bridges (mostly built in the 1930s during the Great Depression) spanned gorges and small ocean coves.

Big Sur coast

More spectacular Big Sur coastline

Another view of the Big Sur coastline

At this point on the coast the mountains were further inland, leaving a much flatter coast.  We lucked out when we pulled in to a vista point and there were elephant seals just off the boardwalk.  We all enjoyed watching them lay in the sun and occasionally using their flippers to smack themselves or toss sand on themselves.  There were a fair number, both the very large males and the considerably smaller females.

Coast near San Simeon, getting flatter

A male elephant seal tossing sand on himself

Elephant seals sunning themselves near San Simeon, California

Pulling into Cambria we located our hotel, The Fog Catcher Inn, and checked in.  What a nice room!  Huge ceiling, plenty of room, nice HDTV and Wi-Fi, gas fireplace, and they even knotted together some of the towels to look like two swans.  Relaxed a tiny bit then headed to dinner at the Moonstone Bar and Grill.

Beach near Cambria, looking south

The Moonstone Bar and Grill was good, if a bit pricey (as with all things in California — though the gas isn’t nearly as bad as I expected, hovering below $4 as at home).  I had New York strip that I shared with Addison along with some steamed vegetables and mashed potatoes.  Quite good.  Michelle had clam chowder and shrimp cocktail (she’s really taking this opportunity to fill up on seafood which is great, since we so rarely have it at home), Genetta had herb-crusted chicken, and Addison the kid’s chicken strips (and some of my steak).

Pacific sunset near Cambria, California

Headed back to the room.  The girls decided not to swim but Addison and I headed to the heated outdoor pool and hot tub.  Very enjoyable!  On return to the room they watched some Olympics and played with the iPads while I blogged.

Route for Wednesday, August 08, 2012

August 7, 2012

Playthings and “children”

Filed under: Travel — Tags: — BigWeather @ 11:59 pm

Woke up, ate breakfast, and headed out for a couple of hours around 10 o’clock.  As it was quite foggy / cloudy and there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of enthusiasm we decided to skip Coit Tower and instead go to the Musee Mecanique.  The MM is a collection of turn-of-last-century through relatively modern machines found in arcades, boardwalks, etc. — nickelodeons, moving dioramas, fortune telling machines, slots, pinball, piano players, etc.  It is open free to the public on Pier 45 (Fishermans Wharf area), though it is a for-profit operation — from the money to play the machines.  I know we sank around $30 into them!

Entrance to Musee Mecanique

Wurlitzer, still in working condition

"Want some rye? 'course ya do!"

The kids really enjoyed some of the pinball games (they had Indy, Addams Family, Pirates of the Caribbean, and a 1968 or 1962 Olympics, at least), early video games (Centipede, Millipede, and Galaga), and the air hockey.  I enjoyed two matches of air hockey against Addison, both 7-4, with him winning the first and I the second.

Michelle and I enjoyed going around and trying out most of them, at least one of each type.  We tried a nickelodeon that posited the timeless question “What do belly dancers do on their time off?”  SPOILER ALERT: apparently they play the ukulele in (for then) racy lingerie.

Nickelodeon for the 1906 quake, as we can't show the TOO HOT FOR BLOG belly dancer ukulele one!

We tried several moving dioramas that were rather macabre: an English execution that involved a hanging, a French execution that involved the guillotine (of course), a graveyard scene with a bum and a monster popping up from behind a tombstone, and our favorite — an opium den.  This one was a doozy.  The opium addicts rock back and forth and then two doors open with skeletons behind them, and also a snake appears from behind a curtain.  What. the. heck?  I can’t make this stuff up!

Uhhh, what am I watching? And they say modern videogames are risque

There were also moving dioramas that involved industry, like a farm, sawmill, oil rig, that sort of thing.  Also the typical band-based ones — mechanical monkeys or humans or what-not playing instruments.  There was one called “End of the Trail” that showed a wrecked wagon and skeletons of pioneers and their oxen strewn about, and the 25 cents just activated a fan that made the tattered remains of the wagon’s canvas covering blow as if in the breeze.  Wish I could have that quarter back, but it was kinda fascinating.  They had a really complex mechanical horse diorama.  There was another that was hilarious called “Song of the Prairie” that had four cowboys eating near their wagon at night.  For 25 cents I got to hear them… fart.  Repeatedly.  Best 25 cents ever!  Mel Brooks eat your heart out!

Best. Game. Ever.

Brilliant and complex mechanical horse

Laughing Sal. Great, now I'll never sleep again.

After spending almost two hours there we went out onto the pier and checked out the exterior of the Liberty ship they had (the plan was to build ships faster than Nazi Germany could sink them — 2,700+ ships built with a build time of 60 days for each one) as well as the submarine SS-383, USS Pampanito.  What a beautiful craft that is, they just don’t look that cool anymore.  We also saw USA 76, an America’s Cup Yacht owned by Larry Ellison that raced in the 2000s.

USS Pampanito at Pier 45

USA 76 America's Cup Yacht from the 2000s

About noon we headed towards the In-and-Out hoping to try it out.  Sadly it was packed, so we ended up eating at a place called Fisherman’s Pizzeria.  I had meatballs in marinara and mushroom sauce with mozzarella cheese.  It wasn’t that great, mainly because the meat was a bit tough and spiced oddly.  Addison did enjoy his burger and Genetta her pizza, though.  Michelle had rigatoni that was “alright.”

Fishermans Wharf restaurants

Headed back to the hotel and checked out, and oddly (or perhaps not so much, given the huge amount of driving we’ve done) my first thought when seeing the car emerge from valet parking was “oh, no, not this again!”  Part of it was due to knowing we had to get through San Francisco first — and that Los Angeles awaited.  While the traffic was pretty hairy we managed to make good time to the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose.

The Winchester Mystery House was built by Sarah Winchester, widow of the second president of the Winchester Corporation that manufactured the “gun that won the west”, the Winchester Repeating Rifle.  He died at a pretty young age of tuberculosis, however, and their only daughter only lived six weeks.  Distraught, Sarah Winchester turned to a Boston psychic who said she must move out West and keep building a house until she died lest the spirits of those killed by her late husband’s company’s guns find her.  So she moved out to California and bought an existing eight-room house.

Front of the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California

By the time she died in 1922 she had a 160-room 24,000 square foot house, with some rooms having been remodeled or rebuilt up to six to eight times.  After the 1906 quake collapsed a seven-story tower she had built (reducing the structure to its current height of four stories) she sealed off large areas of the house.  Many of the staircases have very slight risers as she was arthritic.  One staircase was only about 3 feet wide and took 7 complete turns just to go up 9 feet.  There are a few staircases that just go straight up to a ceiling, doors that open to nasty drops up to twenty feet, windows that open to walls, a window in the floor, doors that open to walls, etc.  Really kinda whacky, but not trying too hard, if you know what I mean.

That's not a "Door to Nowhere", that's a "Door to a Broken Leg"

We learned that many homes of that age used sand for insulation in the ceilings and floors.  She also used a type of pressed pulp wood wallpaper which today would cost over $200 a square foot.  Ouch.  She was very solitary, living only with her servants and her favorite niece.  She paid her servants in cash daily so she could fire them immediately should they step out of line.  They tried not to, though, as she took care of their lodging and food, and the $3 per day pay with all necessities taken care of was an incredible deal at the time.

Side of the Winchester Mystery House

Before she died she had stored a bunch of stuff in a storeroom including (in today’s terms) $2.5M worth of that wallpaper as well as Tiffany windows — including one she designed custom.  She was big on spider web designs and the number 13, so her window had a spider web with 13 glass beads on the strands.  She also bought a (again, in today’s terms) $100K+ window of cut glass meant to refract light into rainbows all about the room but installed the window such that it could never get sunlight on it.  She installed all of the columns in the house upside down, as well.

When she died the house was valued at just $5,000 (apparently they had not found the storeroom) — with practically all that valuation coming from the plumbing she had installed.  A group of investors got the 160 acres and the house for $131K.  That investment sure paid off given how much they charge for tickets now!

Another view of the Winchester Mystery House

I titled this blog “Playthings and children.”  The playthings obviously were the items in the Musee Mecanique that we saw in the morning.  What were the children?  Warning, rant incoming…

The children were the idiot adults we toured with.  Is it too much to expect adults to pay attention to explicit instructions?  “Don’t take photos.”  So, two or three were constantly whipping out their iPhones when the tour guide wasn’t watching.  “Don’t touch the wallpaper, we’re trying to preserve it.”  A grown-up touched it almost immediately.  “Don’t stand on the fireplace floor tile, we’re trying to preserve it.”  A grown woman plants her 2 inch heels right on them.  Half the group was lagging behind and opening doors (in a house known to have dead falls, how stupid can one be?!) and “exploring.”  One even asked if she could go to the bathroom as she didn’t know the tour was going to be so long (even though it was clearly stated to be 65 minutes).  How old are these people?!  Adults should know better.  Blatant disregard for simple requests that preserve the site and protect the visitor just sicken me.  I swear I have to do this last trip (to the desert Southwest) soon because the older I get the more I just want to be done with people altogether.  Whew, rant over.

Anyhow, visited the gift shop and got our traditional magnet.  Genetta got a couple of shirts as well.  I was bummed that they had a Theater of Magic pinball machine but it was out of order.  They too had a “bum in the graveyard” mechanical diorama like the Musee Mecanique had, as well as a fortune teller named “Zelda.”  I couldn’t resist taking a picture of that.  And, yes, the picture was allowed — as were all of my exterior shots of the house — just no interior ones from the tour allowed.

"I predict you will have to navigate a Water Temple"

After the gift shop we got some Icees (Coke for me, yum!) and walked around the house via the free Garden Tour.  That was fun.  That finished we hit the road and drove via non-highways to our hotel in San Jose.  Sadly, another motel.  Couldn’t turn the AC unit on because it drew in outside air and our neighbors were smoking out there, despite being told by the hotel to smoke in the designated area (far from guest rooms).  People!

Ate dinner at Panera at a nearby strip mall — had wanted to avoid the chain restaurant but the BBQ destination I picked turned out to be Hawaiian BBQ and I just wasn’t in an adventurous mood.  Returned back to the hotel where we watched the movie Sahara and I blogged.

Route for Tuesday, August 07, 2012

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