Category Archives: Exploration

Rocky Peak Adventure

Just outside of Nome.What you see here is the photo I took at the summit of Rocky Peak. At 2,750 feet, this rugged promontory, well-deserving its petrological title, is the third highest point in the Santa Susana Mountains which form part of the northern boundary of Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley.

If you want to enjoy the same vistas I gazed out upon from this lofty aerie — once, by the way, part of the vast real estate holdings of entertainer Bob Hope — your desire can easily be satisfied. All you need is a stout trek pole, sturdy boots, a boonie cap with a chin strap, three water bottles, two chicken sandwiches, a backpack full of Cuties™ mandarin oranges, an iPod loaded with I, Sniper, a Bob Lee Swagger novel by Stephen Hunter, a smartphone equipped with GPS, a camera for bringing back the proof of having reached the summit and the iron determination to plod wearily up thousands of feet of not-too-step yet all-too-steep much-fissured fire road.

My little guidebook calls the Rocky Peak Road an easy hike. So it is. Easy to take exit 32 off the Ronald Reagan Freeway. Easy to park in the turnout located to the south on Santa Ana Pass Road. Easy to cross north on the bridge over the Freeway to reach the trailhead.

After that less easy: an hour and half of glute-stressing climbing, followed — after a chicken sandwich break en plein air during which you can admire the view of the Pacific far to the west — by a wobbly-legged descent of similar duration. But not too demanding, even considering the cold, unceasing, buffeting wind way up top which may possibly slap you so silly that you, too, forget to snap the evidentiary photo celebrating your conquest.

Half-way twixt summit and trailhead — at the juncture of the Rocky Peak Road and the Hummybird Trail — a thoughtful park ranger has installed a restful bench.


I Left My Heart in a Bowl of Rice-A-Roni™

Much more fun than cable TV.The onrushing cable car above hints at where we’ve been.

We spent a couple of carefree days strolling up and down (way up and down) the City by the Bay. Hadn’t climbed those  quadricep-challenging hills in years. We feared we might have to relearn that Awful Truth “What youth deemed crystal, age finds out was dew,” but San Francisco is one of the few places in this disappointing world that is exactly as nice as you remember it.

Even nicer in some ways. This giant hand, one of six, wasn’t there last time we passed through:

Three Heads Six Arms, 2008, by Zhang HuanNor, for that matter, was the present home of the Asian Art Museum where we spent about five times the amount of time we’d budgeted. After all, you can’t just rush by items like this seated Buddha from the 4th century:

There's a date inscribed on the back corresponding to 338 AD.It happens to be the “most published” item in their entire collection. Every book on Buddhist sculpture includes it, says the helpful placard nearby.

Then there’s this stern soldier — a “haniwa,” or Japanese funerary figure in terra cotta, made in the 3rd millenium BC  — who won’t let you pass until you pay your respects:

The entire figure is maybe three feet tall.And what would a sojourn in the Bolshiest city on the Bolshy left coast be without an hour browsing for lewd and seditious literature in City Lights Bookstore? This is the indy bookshop from which, in 1957, extruded Allen Ginsberg’s epic Howl. Signs in the upper story windows exhort passersby to “keep an open mind” and also to “turn left.” But can a passerby do both at once?

The best minds of MY generation were destroyed by Cocoa Puffs.We patriotically held out the palm and sneered “nyet!” to all the Bolshy blandishments, but before we could launch into our chant of “Sarah Barracuda” the Red Youth Brigade (now rather aged) spotted our red, white and blue hearts and ejected us into Kerouac Alley…

On the Road, In the Alley.… into which poor drunken Mr Kerouac had been tossed more than half a century ago from Vesuvio, a bar in which he had been demonstrating once again that the Beat Culture was more acceptable on paper than in the flesh.

But if you have to become so inebriated that crawling along the sidewalk becomes a reasonable mode of transportation, and street signs loom too far in the distance above your lolling head to help guide you to your SRO in the Tenderloin, don’t worry. San Francisco helpfully molds the street names into the concrete at every intersection:

Chewing gum splotches were Photoshopped out to protect your refined sensibilities.Next Post: A visit to San Francisco’s De Young Museum of All Kinds of Art.

Because It’s Stairs

In the Los Angeles Basin, a mainly pancakish bit of geography, there’s a gathering of big anomalous lumps known as the Baldwin Hills. Lots of oil pumps bob like drinking birds all over the 511 ft high protuberances. Fewer than in the past, though. As the oil companies move off to richer reservoirs, the land is being reclaimed by California State Parks. The northernmost prominence has been conveniently decked out with a viewing platform and Visitor Center.

This is where the footpath begins off Jefferson St.Today we set out to conquer that peak and view things from that viewing platform. Conquerors before us had provided a nice winding footpath all the way to the summit, and also a steep set of Tolkienesque stone steps climbing straight up from Jefferson Street to the snazzy Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook at the top.

Each step could have use its own set of stairs to mount it.We hauled ourselves up the uneven steps with greater determination than ease.

Well, in truth, the younger NiceWork pranced skyward like a mountain goat while the older NiceWork gasped for ever-thinning oxygen and wondered with each pop of the knee whether it wasn’t the sound of the fatal aneurysm.

There were lots of snails in the brush on either side of the staircase.Undaunted by either the number of stairs or the size of some of them, we rose and rose in hard-won increments high above Los Angeles.

The shades of night were falling fast, / As through an Alpine village passed / A youth, who bore, 'mid snow and ice, / A banner with the strange device, / Excelsior!We climbed with a half a dozen pauses to draw in prodigious lungfuls of the brisk and cool Pacific breezes. Our ascent was rewarded with wonderful views of Marina Del Rey and Santa Monica buried under the marine layer to the west, and the Hollywood Hills carousing far to the north, and the downtown L.A. bundle of skyscrapers off to the northeast, but we can’t share any of it with you because the shutter on the NiceWork camera jammed for all the summit shots.

Rested and jubilant, we hopped back down from stair to stair like Jiminy Cricket, and we solemnly vowed to return one day when we could jog blithely to the top like the many athletes who passed us on the way up and on the way down even after they had stopped at the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook to do, so help me, pushups.

"Beware the pine-tree's withered branch! / Beware the awful avalanche!" / This was the peasant's last Good-night, / A voice replied, far up the height, / Excelsior!

Old Mission Santa Barbara, an Old Mission in Santa Barbara

Today we left L.A. behind and drove 71 miles up Highway 101 with a single purpose: to see a famous old mission founded by the Franciscans back in 1786. Old Mission Santa Barbara is still a going concern. Monks study there, retreatants are put up, Mass is said in the church, and the grounds are maintained and art restored for tourists like us.

The Stairway to Hell had vending machines!

Our first stop on the self-guided tour of the monastery was the famous STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN. We ached to climb those timeworn stairs, but we hung back, daunted by the legend according to which those with stained souls would only find cactuses on every step. Somewhat shamefacedly we gave the Stairway the go-by and headed for the centuries old GRAVEYARD.

Not audio-animitronic.There, too, we met resistance. The SKULL-HAID DOOR challenges all comers with three riddles, one from each skull-haid. Answer correctly and you may pass safely through the portal. Answer wrong and you may still pass, but the skull-haids smirk and make you feel uncomfortable.

Tries to do like St Francis and get the birds to sit still for a sermon, but so far no dice.On the way out, as we wrapped up our self-guided tour and a visit to the (excellent) Gift Shop, we met BROTHER CAT who blessed us and let us rub his belly.