After two days in Los Angeles, it was time to say goodbye to L”s friends and Tinseltown. We were off to the Anza-Borrego Desert, a few hours drive. I had never heard of Anza-Borrego, but L’, who has already hiked in Death Valley, wanted to visit another desert socal117[1]park. The drive out was uneventful and we got to the park’s visitor center by mid afternoon to get some hiking suggestions and pick up a map. We then checked into the hotel and returned to the park for a hike to a set of palm trees and oasis (the Palm Canyon trail).  It’s about 3 miles round trip and we finish just as it’s getting dark. It’s neat to see water and palm trees in the middle of the desert. After the hike we return to the hotel for showers and dinner at the adjacent restaurant.

We now have one full day to explore the park. The park is huge (the largest California state park and the second largest in the lower 48 states) so we use our guidebooks to find some things of interest that aren’t too far away. We visit three trails to see Native American pictographs, morteros (holes the Native Americans bore into the rocks to grind up plants), and the Marshall South home. Each of these are moderately short hikes and we drive between them. L’ conveniently omitted telling me beforehand that to get to nearly all of the interesting hiking in Anza-Borrego, we would be driving on dirt roads. No wonder we took my car. The dirt roads, or as the map calls them "primitive roads", are in decent shape and you can easily go about 10mph. Except for getting filthy, the car survived unscathed.

socal154[1] Each of the hikes were interesting. The pictographs show that human activity has been present here for a long time, well before Europeans came. The moreteros and remains of the Native American village show more human presence in the desert. The South’s home shows what an eccentric (that is, nutcase) can do if they really want to (a family lived in the desert without utilities in the 1930s for 15 years).

After all the hikes we drive back to the hotel and do some online research to find a place for dinner. Many places are closed for Christmas, so we struggle to find something. We finally do and then figure out that the address we have is out of date. After much longer than it should have been, we find the place and have dinner before heading home to go to sleep.

On our way out of the park, we do a short hike at the Earth Narrows trail. It’s a narrow canyon type thing that would be more interesting if I were geologist. There are different types of rock as we walk and the change between types is obvious; however, we don’t really know why this is significant or why we should care.

socal287[1] We then head out from the park towards the town of Julian, California. It’s a town that dates to the mid 1800s and we’re surprised how many people are walking around the downtown area. We find a lunch place, wander the town for a little while picking up some candy, and then go for a hike at nearby William Heise County Park. We then start the drive home making it past Bakersfield for the night and finish up the drive the following morning to conclude our fun road trip to Southern California.

The full photo album is here:

As my friends may know, I’m a bit of a Simpsons fan. A few years ago, Universal Studios opened "The Simpsons Ride" and I’ve been wanting to go. The main reason for stopping in L.A. was for me to make my pilgrimage to the attraction. After breakfast, we went to Universal. I hadn’t been there since I was a kid.  After it took way too long to get our tickets, we entered the park.  We stopped by a couple rides and shows and then had lunch. By then, the wait times (as nicely indicated on the electronic sign) showed a reasonable wait time of about 20 minutes for The Simpsons Ride, so we hit the line.



The waiting area is well done with clever posters and new and old clips of the show. All the amusement parks do a good job of entertaining you while you are waiting (so you don’t feel like you’re on "The Line Ride"). The ride is done up as a visit to "Krustyland". It’s a motion simulator ride like "Star Tours" was years ago. They improved things a bit by making it more immersive by having the screen be nearly 360 degrees (think IMAX type). The "plot" is that Sideshow Bob is trying to kill the Simpsons at Krustyland. It had cute tie ins to the show and I liked how you were going though Krustyland and the town. All in all, I was entertained and my mission was complete.


socal074[1] Afterwards, we hit a couple more rides and got our picture with Marge & Homer. Before we left on vacation, I had the idea to get a picture with L’ on one side, Marge on the other, and me in the middle receiving a kiss on the cheek from each of them. Lacking the guts to actually set it up, L’ stepped up to the plate and asked Marge & Homer. Marge actually did it and L’ was ready, only the camera guy didn’t take the picture. Then Homer played along and looked upset, turned his back to which Marge consoled him. He then kissed her hand and made up. It was very cute and in the end we just got a picture of the four of us.

The studio tour tram ride was neat, but I recall it being better when I was there as a wee-one.  Now the tour feels much more like an amusement park attraction than an actual visit to a movie studio.  The only thing really movie related was seeing the set from Back to the Future and (my favorite show) Desperate Housewives.   There was a cool set of an airplane crash, but other than the sets, there was very little movie related.   L’ and I agreed that the place is fun as an adult but really magical as a kid.

After hitting the remaining attractions of interest, it was dark and we were getting hungry so we hit a restaurant adjacent to the park.  Since we had a somewhat early dinner, it was still early enough that we made a go of getting to the Griffith Observatory.  It was then that we got stuck in the infamous LA traffic. It turned out that the park the observatory is located in was home to a light show and there were tons of cars going there. We call the Observatory to find out what the deal was and were surprised when an actual person picked up. The guy was awesome and we described where we were and the traffic backup, to which he looked on a map and gave us complete directions to sidestep the jam and we make it to the Observatory. The museum there (famous for being in the movie "Rebel Without a Cause") was small but informative and the views of the city were great. From here, we headed home and went to sleep.


The full photo album is here:

We had been discussing taking a short vacation for awhile and finally on Saturday sorted out the details. After living in California for 10 years, I was finally off to visit our neighbors to the south- we were heading to L.A. We left Monday in the early evening to drive most of the way at night (since I-5 is an efficient, yet boring road). We made it past Bakersfield and were within about an hour of our destination by the time we grabbed a hotel for the night.

Waking up on Tuesday, we enjoyed our included breakfast at the hotel. While watching the news, we hear that the Grapevine is snowed in and that I-5 is closed. (The Grapevine is the name for the mountain pass that we need to go through to get to L.A.). Fortunately as we finish breakfast, the news reports that the road is open and we decide to just go for it. We luck out in that there is no traffic and a scenic snow dusting on the ground makes for a pretty drive.



We arrive at the Getty Center around 10:30am and are surprised how crowded it is. I’ve been wanting to go to the Getty for awhile. The architecture is interesting as is the art collection. It’s a lot bigger than I was expecting and we spend most of the day there. Mr. socal021[1]Getty made his money in the oil business and then died and left his estate to from the center. It’s now one of the richest art institutions in the world with several billion dollars in endowment. As my dad would say "you can do a lot on an unlimited budget". There aren’t that many superstar paintings, but it certainly is a worthy museum.


L’ connects with her friends that we’re staying with and we plan to meet for dinner. We get to the deli early which allows us to get some items at the nearby store. It was nice to finally talk with L”s friend and to meet her husband & kids who did not attend the wedding. We’re beat by the time dinner finishes and follow them back home to get some rest for the big day that follows.


The full photo album is here: