Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County: Part One

Thank you Howard Robertson. There is a plaque on the wall in the museum that tells us all that you first foresaw the need for a museum here.  Oddly enough the webpage on the history of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County doesn't mention you at all.  Digging all the way down into page 360 of a book titled "A History of California and an Extended History of Los Angeles and Environs" written by James Miller Guinn we can find a little more.  William M. Bowen (who is mentioned on the museums website in the history) presented a plan for the government of the museum.  The museum was to be managed by a board made of two members from the Historical Society, two from the Academy of Science, two from the Fine Arts League, one from the Cooper Ornithological Society and one Chairman of the Board of Supervisors.  The building was to be managed by William M. Bowen, Dr George F. Bouvard, J. M. Guinn,Dr. A. Davidson,William A. Spalding, Mrs. William H. Housh, T.E. Gibbon and Howard Robertson. 

Breaking it down to a simple version of the same story.   On the history page of the website it tells a story of a local attorney and Sunday School teacher, William Miller Bowen, who was alarmed at the saloons, gambling halls and other vices that were growing up in the area.  He led the fight with some friends of his to develop this once agricultural fairground into what it has become today.  On November 6th, 1913, Exposotion Park and the new museum opened to the public.  The history, science and art collection outgrew the space of the 1913 building and in 1963 the Art Museum relocated to its own space in Hancock Park.  At that time the museum became the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County or NHMLA and was joined by the Memorial Coliseum, Sports Arena, Swimming Stadium, California Science Center, California African American Museum and the largest municipal owned rose garden in the nation.  The entire place is incredible and a must see.  

To plan your visit I highly suggest that you check out the website first.  Since the park is so close to so many amazing things it tends to have a lot of events.  Some of these events will effect the times of the museum, the crowds in the area and the parking situation.  The website is great for giving you a pop up type heads up of things going on.  The day we went there was a preseason NFL game between the Cowboys and the Rams in the L.A. Memorial Coliseum that would bring in crowds that night.  There was a warning on the site and we knew that we would be fine to attend the museum that morning.  

Parking is $12 cash only and this number can change during special events.  We are early risers here so it wasn't an issue for us but if you like to sleep in you might want to know that the crowds tend to build up through the day so the earlier you get there the better your views will be.  The museum opens at 9:30 a.m. We got there as it opened and the crowds were ideal.  Tickets are $12 per person for the museum alone, kids are less as well as students and seniors.  They have rotating exhibits that cost more.  Budget wise I think the annual pass is a great deal since you get an entire year to see the place and you get the rotating exhibits as well.  A family pass for us would be $99 and would also include the La Brea Tar Pits Museum and the William H. Hart museum (which is free as far as I can tell).  If we were to have gone to the museum plus both of the exhibits our total for the day would have been a total of $102 just for the day.  Plus members get these cool member stickers to wear around the place if you are into that kind of thing.  Brandan says I have an annual pass problem.  He might have a point but I still stand by the fact that it would have been a good option for the day.  I went along with his wishes and we just got the day pass.  We were only into our first area when we realized the museum is huge and it would take more than a day to really dive into the place.  

As we walked in the doors we were thankful there was a greeter there to give us a map and some ideas of how to explore.  There is no wrong path but the more popular areas do tend to fill up faster so start there.  I can't explain how huge this place is but I can show you a map.  Click that link and you can get an idea of how much time you will want to spend there.  They have shows at different times through out the day so you might want to plan around that as well.  This picture is of the Dueling Dinos.  This is the first room you will enter as you walk in.  As you can see its a large room with a lot of space.  Now if you look at the map and how small that room is in comparison you might get an idea of how much space is here to see.  

We decided that with all the things there are to cover here we couldn't cover it all in one post and give it the attention it deserves.  Stay tuned to Fridays post where we dive into the cool things you can see here.  

Until then, happy travels.  

❤ Misty

Friday, August 11, 2017

KWERK at Six Flags Magic Mountain

Six Flags Magic Mountain is a favorite place of ours.  We do love the Disney's of the world.  Universal Studios will forever be a favorite too but Magic Mountain is different and wonderful in its own way.  Its easy and that is a big part of it.  Parking is easy.  Understanding where to go is easy.  With the dining pass it is easy to get drinks and food with out carrying wads of cash and coins.  It is thrill coaster after thrill coaster.  When I think about Six Flags Magic Mountain I think about how it is so fun to go in, wear our selves out, grab a snack and come home in how ever long we feel like spending there.  Id be missing a big part of the equation if I didn't mention that it is affordable too.  When you are comparing prices to the house with the mouse, this theme park can give you a full day of fun at a fraction of the cost.  

In all fairness there is an area where the Disney's blow most parks out the water.  It is their shows and non ride experiences.  Universal excels here too but I wouldn't say that it could top Disney's magical experience.  Before Kwerk I would have said that Magic Mountain was not even in their league when talking about shows.  We have watched music played there and it was fun.  We have watched Batman walk by and his costume was very believable.  But I just wasn't convinced that a sit down show would leave me awed.  

Six Flags Magic Mountain.  I owe you an apology.  I am sorry. I didn't give credit where credit was due.  I had no idea that in that steampunk Gearworks theater was such an incredible show.  Ive walked by dozens of times while on my way to my favorite coaster, Twisted Colossus, and never had any hints that there was so much I was missing. 

There is no explaining the experience you can have here.  There are no pictures and no videos that will help you understand how much talent was packed on that stage.  It was like steampunk meets dance meets acrobatics meets circus meets magic.  It was a well spent 20 minutes of my life and my only regret is that I didn't take advantage of it well before now.  

The show runs Memorial Day through August 13th for the 2017 season.  Last year they had a Kwerk holiday show called Kwerkmas running over the winter season.  I'm hopeful that they will repeat that this year.  I will make a full effort to get my seat and watch it multiple times. 

 You would never know from a tiny picture that there were two people on roller skates here.  You would never guess the things these two could do.  From spinning around while flying through the air to twisting while connected neck to next it was incredible. 

They ended the show with a trampoline.  Yes, you read that right.  A high bouncing trampoline act performed by Zero Gravity Arts.  They worked that bouncy pad like it was the easiest thing they had ever done.  There was so much personality to it.  The dance moves were entertaining and the acrobatics were a one of a kind.  The Tramp Wall was worth the show on its own.  

Really, this is a can't miss show.  I can't paint a picture that will tell you enough about it but until you can get there your self we have filmed a bit of it.  Nothing like being there in person but it might hold you over until you get your next day off.  

On to the next adventure. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Winchester Mystery House

  Everyone has that mental list of places that they just have to visit in their lives. Many of us want to see Hawaii or Paris. Well, I'm no different with the exception that I like to see some of the stranger places in the world. For instance, the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. It's old, odd and some say it may even be haunted. These are three of my favorite qualities in a destination.
  The house was built by Sarah Winchester from 1884 until September of 1922. Yes, this house was under construction for 38 years non stop, day and night until the day she died. At least that's what they say. Some people dispute that claim but who really knows?
  The house is an unorthodox layout at best. There is a staircase that leads to the ceiling, a door that leads to nowhere other than a long fall and cabinets that are only 1/2" deep (this gag was one of my favorite to tell the truth.) Mrs. Winchester was only 4' 10" tall and the house was built to accommodate her so there are areas of the house that are very uncomfortable for a person of my height (6' 3".) But that's part of the house's charm. The carpenters created "easy rider" stairs for her convenience in some of the hallways because she didn't like taking the regular stairs. Each stair stood only about 3" tall and in my opinion made it look like our tour group was a flock of penguins as we waddled our way up them.
  Despite the strange layout of rooms and criss crossing corridors the house's design is actually very elegant. Great care was taken and no expense spared in putting it together. With so much attention paid to the little details why would someone build such an...er...interesting house? 
 Sarah Winchester was the widow of William Wirt Winchester. If the Winchester name sounds familiar it would be because of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Well, the story goes that after Sarah and William's daughter Annie died 6 weeks after birth and William's passing fifteen years later caused Sarah to believe that the family was cursed. So, she referred to a spiritualist for advise, as one does. Turns out the spiritualist agreed with Sarah and told her that the souls of the people killed by the Winchester's rifles were out to get her. The only way to keep the spirits at bay would be to move out west and build a house for her and the spirits. The legend also says that she was told that if construction ever stopped on the house she would meet the same fate as her husband and daughter. Boom. Winchester Mystery house began construction. This story has been disputed over the years but whatever the truth may be, most people like to tell this fanciful legend because, well, it's more romantic if you will.
  The main tour takes you to 140 of the 160 rooms within the mansion. I don't know if it was because it was summer vacation time or if it is always this busy but we all felt that there were too many people on the tour group. The small, odd shaped rooms made it difficult to gather everyone in the same room at the same time so occasionally you had to listen to the tour guide through the old, thin walls. Of course, this wasn't really too much of a problem and I'm sure they do the best they can. When we visited the mystery house was still celebrating their first new tour in twenty years. In fact, they had only been giving it for around two months. The tour group was limited to a smaller group than the main tour and took us to most of the remaining 20 rooms and the basement. Due to low ceilings and sprinkler pipes you are required to wear hard hats on certain parts of this tour but it is worth it to see areas of the house that have never been on display since tours began over 100 years ago. In my opinion if you're going to tour the Winchester Mystery House pay the extra $10 and see all of it. Why leave any stone un-turned?
 You'll notice that this post doesn't have a lot of pictures. You'll also notice than none of the photos are of the interior of the home. That's because they won't allow you to take photos inside the house. Why, you ask? The story I was given is because they have recently shot a movie about Sarah Winchester and they filmed on location at the mansion. In turn, they took out a copyright on the interior of the home. Thanks, Hollywood for ruining the vacations of thousands of people who come to the mansion each year. It's unbelievable what people do in this day and age. We were extremely disappointed we couldn't take photos and to be honest it just turns me off of the film even though that is probably a very petty attitude. By the way, I don't care. Hollywood sucks.
 One last thing to note about the house is that it's rumored to be haunted. This is my personal favorite rumor about the house. There have been ghost stories about the house since the days it was still under construction. Our guide had her stories as well but you'll need to visit on your own to hear about it. We on the other hand saw nothing, felt nothing and that's okay. Perhaps another time. Maybe after I can take photos inside the house again.
  The Winchester Mystery House is located in San Jose, California. If you're in the area you should take the time to visit. Better yet, if you're visiting Gilroy for the garlic festival it's only a 30 minute drive from there and you can do both for the weekend. That's what we did and it was one of the funnest weekends we've had here in California. Hmmm. Are ghosts like vampires? They don't like garlic and therefore stayed in hiding from us? Oh the possibilities.


Friday, August 4, 2017

Inspirational: The Reagan Presidential Library

Portrait of Ronald Reagan
As a kid attending grade school in the mid 1980's it was hard to miss who the president of the United States was. I remember his photo hanging on the wall in classrooms throughout the school over the years. We talked about him and even though we were kids we looked up to him as a role model. His name was Ronald Reagan and he helped change the world. 

  I thought that maybe I looked up to him because I was just a kid that didn't know any better. I knew nothing of politics at that age and I certainly didn't understand world affairs but I remember being inspired by him anytime he was on television and I knew that people paid a lot of attention to him. Thirty years later I still have the fond memories but I also have a better understanding of the world and I actually admire Reagan more today than I did as a child. Naturally when I realized that the Reagan Presidential Library was just a short drive from where I'm staying I knew we had to go.
  Cars filled the parking lot the morning we arrived and it was obvious that the library was popular with those on summer vacation. Parents, children and retired couples filled the halls of the library to learn about Reagan's presidency and I imagine to reminisce to a certain extent. Reagan's Hollywood smile greeted us as we entered the library and like any story they start at the beginning. We got to see photos from his high school football days, heard stories of his family's immigration and of course we learned of his career in acting. They devoted a very small portion of the library to this period of his life however. I guess that makes sense considering this is a presidential library. 
  One room touches on the assassination attempt that nearly cost Reagan his life. Here we got to see the suit he wore on that day complete with bullet holes and incisions made by doctors as they cut the suit off of his body. Even his x-ray showing the lodged bullet are on display. Kinda leaves you feeling shocked but it is an important sidebar of his presidency. 
  We got to stand behind a teleprompter similar to the one he used on inauguration day. It gives you kind of an empowered feeling really. But can you imagine having to stand behind that podium when it really counted? That's pressure, baby.
Section of the Berlin Wall at the Reagan Presidential Library
  Of course if you're going to talk Reagan you have to talk about Russia and more specifically the Berlin Wall. As a video played explaining the Cold War I sat with my twelve year old daughter and tried to explain to her what the Berlin Wall was and why it was there and admittedly I learned more sitting there with her watching the video then I remembered from living through it. She was a bit confused and when the concept kind of sunk in she said, "So it's the Hunger Games?" And I said,"....Yup. It's kinda like the Hunger Games." Baby steps folks, baby steps.
Air Force One 27000
At the mid point of the museum sits a room large enough to hold Air Force One. No, really, Reagan's Air Force One is inside the museum as well as Marine One and a small deli. It's a really big room. Seven President's used this particular plane from Carter to George W. Bush but Reagan put the miles on her. 660,000 miles actually. He traveled to 46 U.S. states and 26 foreign countries aboard this Boeing 707. Here we got to walk through the plane and got to experience what it would have been like to be aboard the aircraft as they were in service. FYI, air force one is just as cramped as any passenger jet. This one just has some offices built inside of it. I don't know what I expected but it wasn't as luxurious as I imagined which actually made if feel more like a tool to me rather than some fancy way to travel for the President. I like that.

Reagan's Oval Office
 A tour through a full scale replica of his Oval Office and some of his personal saddles from his California ranch are some of the more personal displays at the library and just outside the library stands a small section of the Berlin Wall. The wall didn't come down until after Reagan had left office but he laid the ground work for its demise. He stood in front of this wall on June 12, 1987 and said the now famous words, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." We looked at the wall before we entered the library that morning but it didn't mean as much to the kids until after they got through the library. Yes the Hunger Games talk actually struck a chord and when Faith saw the wall as we were leaving she seemed to understand that the strange, ugly section of wall actually meant something important and that realization alone filled me with pride and made the whole trip worthwhile. 
The Reagan's Final Stop
As we left we got to pay our respects to the former President and First Lady as they lay together looking over their beloved Simi Valley. In a world so filled with uncertainty and hatred we can only wish to have another Reagan to help see us through the hard times. Like anyone else he had flaws but in the end he did the job with great patriotism and integrity and because of that he will always be one of the greatest and most important American's to ever lead this country. 


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Welcome to the Gilroy Garlic Festival.

Welcome to the Gilroy Garlic Festival.  It has been on my bucket list since I first heard about it about 18 years ago.  An entire festival dedicated to my favorite food!  This year we finally made it and it was everything I had hoped it would be.

The garlic festival was started in 1979 as a fundraiser for local charities.  The Gilroy Garlic Festival Association is a non-profit that helps support groups in Gilroy, California.  The festival is held at Christmas Park and it brings in a pretty big crowd, 100,000 people big. When we first pulled through the town on the way in Friday night we were greeted by a steady stream of cars heading out of town.  The festival had just closed for the night and this was the resulting traffic. We were planning on going first thing the next morning and it is a good thing we are early birds.  The festival opens at 10:00 am and we pulled into the parking lot at 9:15.  From the lot we popped on a shuttle that took us right to the ticket windows where we waited in line for our passes in.  The passes are $20 a person or $18 if you want to buy them online before you leave home.  Parking was an additional $10.  From there we were able to walk in to the full swing of the event a few minutes early. 

As we drove into town the night before you could smell garlic in the air.  It was such a great smell.  The smell only got better as we got closer to the park and as we were there the smells of garlic in all of its form flowed through the air like a heavenly fog.  There were booths set up in a row of garlic related items and a few other little treasures.  The park is grass and dirt so it was a good thing that we all wore smart shoes. This isn't the place for your fancy hills ladies.  You could find garlic oils, garlic spices and garlic clothing of all kinds here.  
I got this epic garlic hat.  I can't wait to wear it to pick up my son from school this year.  I was also able to pick up some Garlic Garni.  If you like garlic at all you will love this all around great seasoning.  It may just be a spice but to us its a bit of a memory.  While Brandan and I were dating we would go to home shows and one day I found this spice.  We loved it from the start and we still do today.  

Pyro Chefs
The heart of the festival is Gourmet Alley.  Here you can find all things garlic.  With options like garlic shrimp, calamari, scampi, garlic pepper steak sandwiches, garlic bread, garlic fries, stuffed mushrooms and garlic pasta you can feed everyone in your family exactly what they want.  The garlic bread was the best I have ever had.  Really, it was that good.  Off to the side of Gourmet Alley you can see the Pyro Chefs.  They are cooking up your food over a gas flame and putting on a show for you to watch.  

If you are looking for a treat instead of a meal then you can find that too.  How about all the free garlic ice cream you can handle.  For Brandan that was one but for me I could have gone back a few times.  It was like a sweet vanilla with a touch of caramelized garlic goodness. It was very enjoyable.  We also found garlic kettle corn.  We got a huge bag so we ate it on the drive home and a little for lunch the next day as well. 

 We followed the kettle corn with snow cones and of course the flavor of choice was garlic.  A sweet sugary sauce with a touch of garlic flavor.  Brandan didn't love it but I did.  Maybe not in a way that would lead me to have it every day but I would definitely have it again.  We passed on the alligator, kangaroo, bison, frog legs and basically anything else you could smother in garlic and make a meal of.  It was incredible to see all the ideas people came up with.  There was four other garlic ice creams with other special flavors as well if the basic wasn't special enough.  

Where there is cooking there is BBQ and this was also the case here.  The Gilroy Garli-que BBQ Challenge let professionals on Saturday and amateurs on Sunday for prizes totaling $7500.  

All of this cooking didn't even count the main cooking event of the festival.  Professional chefs battled head to head in a Garlic Showdown hosted by Food Network star Giada De Laurentiis.  

The Burning Bulb
The Burning Bulb here was a favorite place to snap some pictures and a great place to see how much money was raised for local groups.  When you can have a blast with all things garlic and get a chance to funnel some cash to a well deserving group then its a worthwhile adventure.  

I might be smelling like garlic for weeks to come and it was all worth it.  Great times with great people.  I really do have a pretty good life.  Its the little things.  


Friday, July 28, 2017

San Buenaventura Mission

  You don't have to look far to see the Spanish influence in California. With names like San Diego, San Francisco, and Santa Monica it seems pretty obvious. We had nothing much going on so we decided to head into Ventura to visit the San Buenaventura Mission.
  At 241 years old the United States is young compared to the rest of the world but that doesn't mean that we are lacking in old structures and the California missions are a prime example of that. The San Buenaventura mission was founded in 1782 but burned to the ground shortly after. The building that we see today started construction in 1795 but wasn't completed until 1809. The mission did have an old feel to it but at the same time felt more like a dated chapel from the 1970's rather than the 1800's to me. I imagine that routine maintenance on the building may have something to do with that but really it's just my opinion.

  We entered the mission through a gift shop filled with plenty of religious pictures and statues that you could take home. Not sure why but this seemed really strange to me but who am I to argue? We payed an entry fee ($4) and were given a choice. We could proceed and take the self guided tour now or we could come back a little later after the wedding was over. Wait. What? Yes they had a wedding going on and they were still letting tours go through the mission. So we took the tour.

  Okay, full disclosure, the ceremony was already over and they were just taking photos out in the grounds between buildings. Not a big deal. I couldn't in good conscious walk through a chapel while a wedding was taking place. Maybe they shut it down during that time but we didn't ask. 
  The first room was filled with old books and other items that had been used during the mission's history. Not being a Catholic I have no idea what most of the items were but they were still cool to look at. One display had two wooden bells that had hung in the mission when it first opened. Time has taken its toll on the bells and their brittle structures are slowly giving way to old age. Another display has a hand written letter from Thomas Jefferson. It's true that you just never know what you'll come across in a museum.
  There are paintings inside the chapel that tell the story of Jesus' crucifixion. The artworks are over 250 years old and are still in great shape. The room didn't feel very large. I suppose back when it was built the mission probably didn't see the crowds that SoCal has today and with only a few tourists walking through it seemed extra  quiet, like people were afraid to speak. I think that's the norm since every church that I've been through that offers tours seems to be that way. I'm not saying it's bad, just feels strange.
  Overall we spent about an hour at the mission. It really isn't that big, after all. I have a great respect for the builder when their creation has stood for such a great span of time. The missions were built to convert the Native Americans and to supply fruits and cattle to the area. While what the Spanish did to the locals has been described as oppressive and abusive it is still part of the history of the area and the thought of walking through a building that has seen so much history is interesting to me. 
  There are twenty one missions that you can visit throughout California. While you may not want to center an entire trip around seeing them all I would recommend dropping into one of them while you are in the area just to experience one for yourself. You might want to dress for the occasion, however. You may find yourself standing with a new bride and groom during your visit.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

An Evening At Dodger Stadium

 It's as American as apple pie. In fact, it's known as America's pastime. Yes, baseball has a rich history and despite the nickname is played all over the world. 

 Utah doesn't have a professional baseball team but they have had professional baseball in some form as long as I can remember and currently the Salt Lake Bees are king of the hill as far as the local teams go. They are AAA level and their parent team is the Anaheim Angels. We have watched the Bees play on many occasions and the experience has always been fun and the games have always been good but we have always wondered what it would be like to see a Major League game in person. Well recently we had an opportunity to attend an LA Dodgers game and we took advantage.

 Okay, so truth be told, I'm not a Dodgers fan. I love the Yankees. But there is a little room for the home team in my heart. You know, "when in Rome," especially when the crowd might be a bit hostile to fans of another team. But at one time I was an Atlanta Braves fan and they were in town to take on the Dodgers so part of me was rooting for them. It really didn't matter to me which team came away with the victory. I just wanted to see a good game. We grabbed a Dodger Dog and took our seats in the outfield. 

  From our seats we looked toward home plate from afar and the view of the towering grand stands filled with almost 56,000 fans was a stark contrast to our 15,000 seat stadium in Utah. It was amazing. From where we sat fans could talk with the players. Yup, they could hear every good or nasty thing fans chose to spit at them. 

  For Dodger fans the hot dogs were probably the best part of the game. They were tasty, I had two to make sure, but the night belonged to the Braves. The Dodgers made multiple mistakes including one dropped pop up in the infield and never really got things going. We saw two home runs come our way, one of them a Grand Slam. This to me was the highlight. I don't know why but seeing a Grand Slam in person was pretty cool. Hey, I don't get out that much. By the eighth inning the home team was down 12 to 3 so we decided to beat traffic and headed for home early. Overall it wasn't a bad way to spend a Friday night despite the game's outcome. I could possibly be talked in to going again. Or maybe we'll try an NFL game. We'll just have to see.

  If you're a baseball fan and haven't seen a Major League game in person, you should give it a try. I may even be persuaded to fly into to New York where I could see a game that really mattered to the world. Just kidding!