Friday, October 23, 2009

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Forbes Field


Forbes Field was home to the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1909 to 1971. Then it was torn down as the Pirates headed to Three Rivers Stadium downtown. While Three Rivers is already gone and hardly missed, Forbes Field is still a pleasant memory to many.

Maybe that's why parts of the place are still visible to the public. Part of the outfield wall has been saved. It sits in Schenley Park, adjoining the University of Pittsburgh. Every October 13, people gather and listen to a recording of Game Seven of the World Series, ended by Bill Mazeroski's dramatic walk-off home run.

Home plate was saved as well, and it can be found in Posvar Hall across the street from the wall. However, it's not exactly where it was when the ball park was standing. Supposedly, home plate rested where a women's restroom is now. The display spot in the hall is a bit more, um, tourist-friendly. There's a nice autographed picture of Mazeroski nearby. It's all worth a look for baseball fans.

North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania: Big Mac Museum


Mmmmmm.

I'm sure I don't have to tell you folks that the Big Mac was invented in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Such an event deserves to be remember, and this one is ... but not in Uniontown, but in North Huntington.

The Big Mac Museum is part of a McDonald's on U.S. 30 just West of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. There are a variety of kiosks and exhibits dedicated to the Big Mac, including packaging and pictures. The big thrill, though, comes when entering the kids' area. The Big Mac pictured above is waiting for you.

While you can order a Big Mac there, no one seems to have a problem about someone stopping by to look around.

Gallitzen, Pennsylvania: Gallitzen Tunnels Park


It's tough not to hear about railroads when visiting Southcentral Pennsylvania. Every town likes to connect itself with the history involved, and that includes Gallitzin.

The town is located a little bit West of Altoona, off U.S. 22. Right in the middle of it is Gallitzin Tunnels Park. You take a walk on an overpass and see the tunnel that is still used by the Norfolk Southern. To its left is the remains of another tunnel, now out of use.

Adjoining the park is a restored caboose and some informational signs. Across the street is a small museum and gift shop. The workers there really are happy to see visitors; be sure to sign the guest book to let people (meaning those who keep track of attendance for funding purposes) know you were there.

Altoona, Pennsylvania: Horseshoe Curve National Historic Landmark


As railroad curves go, this is a pretty interesting one.

The railroad industry had a problem in the 1850's -- how should get it an east-west line in Pennsylvania? The terrain was rather rugged. Engineers eventually came up with an elegant solution. They filled in some of the gaps in the landscape, and then built a rail line that made a sweeping curve of about 220 degrees as it slowly climbed up hill and out to the West.

It worked. In fact, it became one of the busiest train spots in the country. The site has been guarded during wartime (from the Civil War to World War II).

The facility is now a tourist attraction and a national landmark. Located just to the west of Altoona, railroad enthusiasts can drop by for as long as they want and watch the trains go by. Give it an hour, and you'll see a few -- sometimes two at once. Such as is shown in the picture above. There's also a museum at the bottom of the hill.

Farmington, Pennsylvania: Braddock's Grave


British Major General Edward Braddock led his nation's forces against the French in the French and Indian War in the 1750's. An American named George Washington was one of his top assistants.

Braddock was killed in Southwestern Pennsylvania. He was buried under the road that his own men had constructed, so that the French wouldn't do unspeakable things to the body. General Washington officiated at the ceremony.

The burial site eventually was dug up in 1804, and his remains were moved nearby. The road eventually became U.S. 40, and a monument was placed in Braddock's honor. It's considered part of Fort Necessity, which is from that era and is just down the highway.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Erie, Pennsylvania: Bicentennial Tower


If you had to guess which bicentennial, you'd probably be wrong.

Erie's waterfront lookout was built for the 200th birthday of the city in 1996, and not the 200th birthday of the country in 1976. It was a good idea either way.

The tower is at the end of State Street and it's tough to miss when driving down the waterfront. There are a couple of observation towers. We would have taken some pictures the day we were there, but the area was closed off for a fireworks show scheduled for that night. Darn. You can see the Perry Monument at Presque Isle if you look carefully (might help to click on the picture to see a larger image at the lower left).

The area around the tower has a hotel, some shops, marina, etc. It's a clean, functional, people-friendly area. That serves as a nice contrast to other parts of the Erie waterfront, which has surprisingly few areas for public access. So at least they are trying.

Erie, Pennsylvania: Presque Isle State Park


Presque Isle is, according to the travel book, French for "almost an island." Fair enough. It's a long peninsula that extends southwest to northeast into Lake Erie.

No matter what you call it, it's a great spot. There are seven miles of beaches, and lots of trails. When we went on a hot Sunday morning in August, it seemed like all of Erie was either going for a bicycle ride or enjoying the beach. There's a marathon held each year here that has to be the flattest course in the business.

Pictured here is the Perry Monument. Commodore Oliver Perry kept his fleet in the protected waters here during the War of 1812. Then he guided the ships out and headed down the Lake, where he won a big battle over the British around Put-in-Bay, Ohio. The Commodore got a monument there and here for his trouble.

And don't go looking for Presque Isle Downs and Casino in the park. It's on the other side of Interstate 90, a few miles away.

Oil City, Pennsylvania: McClintock #1


Consistency is a virtue, even in oil wells. Maybe, particularly in oil wells.

Say hello to McClintock #1 of Oil City, Pennsylvania. It's still pulling up oil, about 150 years after it first hit a gusher.

It takes a sharp eye to find it. It is just off Pennsylvania State Highway #8 a couple of miles north of Oil City. There is a small sign along the road. Visitors go around an industrial building, cross some railroad tracks, and seek the parking lot to the right. It's a very short walk from there to the well.

Apparently oil from the well can be purchased at the Drake Well Museum in Titusville. There's a museum in downtown Oil City, which obviously has seen some tough times economically. So you should take a look around the city and spend a few tourism dollars there.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Titusville, Pennsylvania: Drake Well


A revolution of sorts started right here in 1859. It also made a bunch of guys in the Middle East really happy many, many years later.

This is the spot around Titusville, Pennsylvania (NW part of the state) where Colonel Edwin Drake established the first commercially successful oil well. The stuff was on the land and in the water in the region, and Drake decided it might be worthwhile to drill several dozen feet down to see if he could hit something. Drake was lucky -- another spot would have missed the reserve -- but he hit a gusher.

I supposed someone would have discovered the stuff somewhere eventually, but it's still fun to stand on that very spot. A park has been established on the property that runs by Oil Creek. There's a museum with a video that explains everything in 15 minutes, some history of the region, plenty of oil drilling devices from the past, even some picnic grounds.

The oil strike caused many people to move into the region in the 1860's, and millions of barrels were pulled from the ground and shipped to refineries in Pittsburgh. Once we figured out the internal combustion engine, well, America would have a whole different look in the 20th century.

Sometimes it's nice to take a look at where we came from, even if Titusville is a little out of the way for most.

(P.S. If you are in the area, you might have an interest in a nearby town called Pithole. A classic oil boomtown, it started from nothing around 1860, went to 15,000 in population within a few years, and then went back to zero as the oil ran out. There is a small museum there, so those that like ghost towns might want to made the sidetrip.)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Queenston, Ontario: Brock's Monument


Are you sick of going to historical markers in which the Americans are the good guys?

This is your place.

Brock's Monument towers 185 feet over the countryside on top of a hill in Queenston, Ontario, just north of Niagara Falls and near the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge. It's a tribute to Major General Isaac Brock, a British military leader who died during a battle in the area during the War of 1812.

The Americans had crossed the river in October 1812 in an effort to gain a little ground in British territory. The Brits came fighting back and threw the evil Americans back into the sea ... well, they did force a retreat to the U.S.

The monument went up in the 1850's. You can climb to the top if you want, but there is a charge of a few dollars.

Damn yankees.

Niagara Falls, Ontario: Floral Clock


It's a little difficult to get people to stop at an area by a power plant. However, the good folks at Ontario Hydro came up with a solution. "We'll build a big floral clock," someone must have said.

Well, 59 years later and counting, it's still here.

Niagara Parks now runs the area, complete with a snack bar and rest rooms nearby. It's one big clock, the second-largest of its kind supposedly. The design is redone every year, and it is surrounded by a "water garden" which is nice as well.

You wouldn't want to make a special trip to Niagara Falls just for this, but it's a nice 10-minute stop on the bus route.

Niagara Falls, Ontario: Whitewater Walk


Shhh.

Don't tell anyone about this attraction. Not many people seem to know about it.

It's the Whitewater Walk. Tourists get in line for a little line to go down 70 meters in an elevator. Then they walk about that same distance through a tunnel. They come out right next to the gorge, a bit down river from the Falls and the Whirlpool Bridge.

As you can see, this is just past the Whirlpool Bridge. The rapids are class 6, as nasty as they come. The Whitewalk Walk has a boardwalk that goes along the river for about a quarter-mile. It's been open in one form or another since 1876, although the tunnels have been around merely since 1935.

The area sells a package of attractions, and this is one of them. Bring your camera.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Buffalo, New York: Pan-Am Building


The Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society has its main headquarters here, on Nottingham Court. The Pan-Am Building was constructed for the 1901 Pan-American Exposition. When the expo ended, practically everything was torn down. This is not because of sorrow over the McKinley assassination, although no one was too happy about that. It was a matter that the facility was designed for that.

However, the New York State building was a permanent structure, and that's where the Historical Society is today. You can see it pictured here, with Mirror Lake in front of the building. The entrance to the facility is actually on the other side, and the best view probably comes on the adjoining expressway -- which comes at 50 miles per hour. But, you might be able to pick out the statue on the patio. That's Abe Lincoln, with a good view of the lake.

The building has some permanent exhibits, including a street of shops and a display of Buffalo-made products, and some temporary ones. The staff does some good work; the celebration of the centennial of the Pan-Am Exhibition was particular well done and well-received.

The Society obviously isn't overflowing with money. The main building isn't air conditioned, for example, which makes some summer visits problematic. But it does the best it can, and deserves public support.

Buffalo, New York; Naval and Military Park


You might be wondering what a couple of battleships are doing on the Buffalo waterfront.

Well, you never know if Canada might be tempted to attack.

Seriously, Buffalo has the only inland naval park in the country. Shown are the U.S.S. Little Rock (the big one in back) and the U.S.S. Sullivans. The U.S.S. Croaker, a submarine, is also there.

The area also has some planes, tanks and other equipment on display as well as some memorabilia. But the boats are the big attractions, and the tours of them are self-guided.

Buffalo, New York: Broadway Market


Every big city used to have a huge market, filled with vendors selling fresh food. Buffalo was no exception, as the Broadway Market has been around in one form or another for more than 120 years. It was the center of commerce in the Broadway-Fillmore area of Buffalo for decades. The latest building went up in 1956, and takes up just about all of a city block when you include a parking garage on levels two and three.

You can probably guess the problem. The clientele went through a couple of generations and moved away, and the new residents had an ever-decreasing attachment to the place. That's led to lots of studies, some government funding and some empty space.

Yes, the Broadway Market is a Buffalo tradition ... one week a year, just before Easter. People go to pick up goods, including the ever-popular butter lamb. But what does the Market do in the other 51 weeks? They are still working on that.

One quick story about the picture. The lane in front of the Market, on the far side of the street, is reserved for taxis, at least according to a sign. I didn't see many customers there on a May afternoon, let alone taxis. Are they saving the lane for the one-week-a-year burst, or is it left over from bygone days?

Buffalo, New York: Central Terminal


The Central Terminal and Buffalo have had an odd relationship over the years.

The structure was built in the late 1920's, and is one of the youngest of the grand old railroad terminals, relatively speaking. The art deco style remains a classic. The terminal was quite busy in the Thirties, as Buffalo was second only to Chicago in rail traffic.

The problem, of course, is that airplanes were on their way in. And railroads thought they were in the railroad business, when they were actually in the transportation business. A slow decline in the business took place after World War II, and eventually the facility closed in the late 1970's.

That left Buffalo with a grand old building that no one knew what to do with. Over the years, practically everything of value has been stripped from the building by vandals. However, the structure remains, waiting for a chance at rebirth. In 2009 there was talk of high-speed rail between Buffalo and Albany, with the Central Terminal a focal point for redevelopment.

We'll see. In the meantime, it still looks good.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Buffalo, New York: McKinley Assassination Site


President William McKinley visited the Pan-Am Exhibition in Buffalo on September 6, 1901. He decided to greet patrons at the Temple of Music on the grounds. Bad idea.

McKinley was shot by Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist. McKinley lingered for a while and might have survived had the medical technology of the day been a bit better. But the President died on Sept. 14.

It's been argued that Buffalo never quite got over the shame of that day, although other cities seemed to recover from such actions. The city erected a huge memorial downtown by City Hall in Niagara Square.

The actual site of the act is a different story. The public literally tore the Temple of Music apart, taking home souvenirs. When the Exposition ended later in 1901, the grounds were developed.

However, the actual spot of the shooting is marked on an island on a residential street in North Buffalo. And this is what it looks like.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona: Angel's Window


Sometimes, words just get in the way.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona: Bright Angel Point


Doesn't take long to guess where you are, does it? To be specific, it's the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. This is the less-visited and less-developed side, and the views are said to be a little different. Maybe so, but the north side was just fine. This is near the lodge.

Just to repeat what everyone else says, try to stay in the lodge or cabin. The experience is much better, and it's a long drive to housing otherwise. Of course, you'll have to plan several months in advance at the least in order to get a room.

Grand Canyon, Arizona: Sunrise


Perhaps if you have friends like we have, who have been to the Grand Canyon, you'll get advice about what to see there. Several of our friends said seeing a sunrise at the Canyon was must viewing. So we got up at 5 a.m., walked a couple of hundred feet to the edge by the lodge, and waited 45 minutes.

Here's one of the pictures from that early-morning session. It's certainly pretty, but we had a split decision about whether it was getting up two hours ahead of time to see it. Meaning, half of our travel party was thrilled, the other half could have waited until after breakfast.

Monument Valley, Arizona


One look at the landscape, and you know exactly where you are: Monument Valley. The monoliths stick out of the ground like skyscrapers, except with more character. The site has been used for countless commercials and more than a few movies. John Ford, in fact, directed enough films here that the above site was named after him.

You can drive around the dusty rounds in a car, but it's better to sign up for a tour with one of the Native guides. There are a variety of tours, but the simple one probably works best unless you are very interested in the traditional Navaho life.

Monument Valley is located west of the Four Corners on the Arizona-Utah border. The road from Four Corners to Monument Valley is one of the loneliest in America; be sure to drive it during daylight hours. Alcoholism is a problem in the region and there are empty liquor bottles on the roadside. It's a little too easy for some intoxicated driver to wander off his or her lane.

Visiting Monument Valley is almost a spiritual experience. I haven't compiled a list of my 10 favorite places in America, but this would make it if I did.

Beverly Hills, California: Walking Tour


If you do find yourself in Beverly Hills, you should take a walk down a few residential streets. There aren't many places like it.

Many of the houses could only be called unique, like the one above with a roof that is positively wave-like. I'd bet there's some history attached to this house, as in Groucho Marx lived here in the 1930's or something. There are guidebooks for such facts, but it's a nice place for a stroll even without one.

Castroville, California


Every city likes to be known for something, and Castroville, California, is proud of its claim to fame. As the sign above says, it's the artichoke capital of the world. No dispute with that here. There are artichokes everywhere. A restaurant has a giant replica of an artichoke outside of its door, and serves it on a bun inside.

The Artichoke Festival is held in May each year. Based on a quick Internet search, William Hung of "She Bangs" fame recently turned up and was named "Artichoke King." Congratulations, William. Hope you didn't sing your acceptance speech.

Giant Sequoia National Monument, California: Junction View


The Kings Canyon Scenic Byway is one of the best-kept secrets in the country. The drive is one of the best around, skirting the top of the largest canyon in North America and then plunging slowly down to the edge of the Kings River. The road hugs the river's edge for several more miles. Thus you can look down at the canyon at one point, and up a bit later. It's all good, though.

Here's the view from Junction Point, one of the first good views of the area when coming in from the west. You can see the two-lane road up ahead.

Giant Sequoia National Monument, California: Grizzly Falls


This stream probably isn't much to see in the fall, but it certainly roars in the spring. The water drains into the South Fork of the Kings River, and the waterfall is a short walk from Route 180. It's a quick stop by car if you like -- or there are a couple of picnic tables if you'd like to stay a while.

Giant Sequoia National Monument, California: Hume Lake


It's a winding, 3-mile drive off Route 180 to get here, but Hume Lake certainly is worth a side trip. It's a campground area that has some sleeping facilities, a restaurant, and a gas station that is attached to the general store.

Based on this picture, Hume Lake is a great place to sit for a while and watch the world go by.

Hollywood, California: Mann's Chinese Theater


Grauman's Chinese Theater opened in 1927, designed as a showplace for the film industry. It worked. The facility quickly became "the" place for premieres, in part because Sid Grauman had such partners as Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

The reason why millions come here each year is that many old-time movie stars left autographs in the cement. (You might remember them from the closing scene of "Blazing Saddles.") It's called both Mann's Theater (current owner) and Grauman's, but either way it's very interesting.

Hollywood, California: Walk of Fame


I visit the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard, and who is the first name that you can read in my picture? Ed McMahon.

Nothing against Ed, here, but there are a variety of big names on the blocks here -- about 2,300 in all. Even Lassie and Rin Tin Tin are included. Behind Ed is W.C. Fields, which I'm sure thrilled him (Ed is a big fan), and Kirstie Alley is on the left edge. By the way, no Robert Redford, Jane Fonda or Clint Eastwood.

At least I didn't post my picture of Woody Woodpecker's star.

Kings Canyon National Park, California: General Grant Tree


Every nation should have its own official Christmas tree. This is ours, at least since 1926.

Kind of tough to put the decorations on, though.

The General Grant Tree was named in 1867, which is about what you'd expect. It's 267.4 feet tall and 107.6 feet around, which by any definition is a big tree.

The tree was made a national shrine in 1956. They have a special Christmas celebration on the second Sunday in December, complete with a choir. Sounds like it would be fun.

Here's a video of the scene:


Kings Canyon National Park, California: Roaring River Falls


Roaring River Falls supposedly is pretty noisy throughout the year. However, it's really noisy in late spring, when the snow above is melting quickly. This is a short, winding walk uphill from the highway parking lot to get there, and worth the stop.

Monterrey, California: Sea Lions


Nothing like catching a few rays along the ocean.

At least what these sea lions seem to be doing on a rare sunny day in Monterrey. As you can imagine, this is quite a site in person.

Awww.

Monterrey, California: Lone Cypress


This is one of the must stops on the 17-Mile Drive of the Monterrey Peninsula. It's also the corporate symbol for the company that owns most of the real estate in the area.

Supposedly there are pipes hidden from view that make sure the tree survives. but it's still part of a pretty picture. The coastline is spectacular, with plenty of opportunities to see wildlife. There's a nice little golf course that is one of the most famous in the world, Pebble Beach. The housing in that part of the world isn't bad either. It's a toll road, but worth the price.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Sacramento, California: State Capitol


Most states have an impressive Capitol building, if only to copy the big one in Washington. California's version in Sacramento certainly qualifies.

It was judged completed in 1874, although the building was partially occupied in the years before that. It also has been fixed up a couple of times on a massive basis, the latter coming in the late 1970's.

Tourists can take a tour and see the place. It ends in the Governor's office, although he didn't come out to greet us. But they also get to see the paintings on a wall, which no doubt grabbed your attention.

One of the lobbies has pictures of the last several governors. On the far left of the hall is Ronald Reagan. The painting looks like a photograph. He's on the grounds, looks great with a big smile. You'd want to vote for him just for that. And next to him is Jerry Brown, whose official portrait is a bit more, um, minimalist. It could have been done in crayon. Almost worth the tour just to see those two paintings.

Sacramento, California: Old Sacramento


Old Sacramento dates back to the Gold Rush days. When prospectors came around 1849 -- ever hear of the 49ers? -- Sacramento grew quickly as an outpost leading into the hills. Old Sacramento grew up a few blocks on each side of the river.

Fast forward, now, to the 1970's, when the city decided to restore the historic district. The Sacramento city fathers obviously have put some time and money into the place, and it seems to be working reasonably well. There are shops in the area, restaurants, museums, boats -- even a couple of hotels.

San Francisco, California: Cable Cars


It's not easy to get around San Francisco ... and it wasn't easy in 1873 either, when the roads weren't in perfect shape. That's when cable cars were introduced to the city, and they never left.

The cable cars came close to disappearing. The 1906 earthquake damaged the system, so that was a good time to install electric street cars. Then there was talk of doing away with them in 1947, but the public voted to save the system. In 1964 it was designated as a moving national landmark. Now it's a must for every first-time visit to San Francisco.

You might say it's a San Francisco treat to ride it. Ding ding!

San Francisco, California: Fisherman's Wharf


Visitors coming to Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco expect to have a choice of great sea food, and they do. There is a variety of markets and restaurants in the area that keep diners coming back. There are also museums, boat rides, and a number of other attractions.

Yeah, but you'll probably remember the sea lions more than anything else. They hang out at the end of Pier 39, and their barking can be heard throughout the area.

Awww.

San Francisco, California: Alcatraz


Alcatraz has great views of San Francisco, and plenty of privacy. But you wouldn't want to spend 20 years to life there.

This might be America's most famous prison. It was open for more than a century, closing in 1963 when it became twice as expensive to operate as any other prison. Alcatraz served its purpose. Since it's in the middle of San Francisco Bay and its strong ocean currents, no one escaped from there.

Indians occupied the building for more than a year starting in 1969. In fact, you can still see the graffiti from that event on the walls. The occupation is a large part of the tour, which goes through the various parts of the prison. You can even have a door slam behind you in a cell, if you dare.

Two movie stories about Alcatraz: When we visited, "The Rock" was being filmed, so the exercise yard was filled with lights and props. No Sean Connery sightings, though.

Supposedly, George Lucas taped the sound of doors closing from here, and used it in "Star Wars."

Sequoia National Park, California: General Sherman Tree


Say hello to the world's largest living tree.

In fact, it could be the world's largest living thing, but scientists aren't sure whether some huge underground fungi complexes are technically bigger. But if the tree wants the claim, I'm not going to argue.

The General Sherman (the crew that worked on access to the area used to serve under the Civil War leader) Tree checks in at 2.7 million pounds, and its circumference is 102.6 feet. The museum has a stat about how many thousands of basketballs you could fit into the thing.

And it's still growing. It will catch that darn fungus yet.

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Sequoia National Park, California: The Sentinel


The Giant Forest Museum has a rather large "welcome mat" in front of it -- this tree called the Sentinel. It checks in at about 270 feet.

The fun part, though, comes on the pavement in front of the museum. There are markings to indicate just how long 270 feet is. It's almost a football field. It's a good way of showing just how big these trees really are. There are other sequoias in the grove by the museum, so it's an easy hike to see them.

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Sequoia National Park, California: Moro Rock


Feel like going up a few steps?

Moro Rock is the place to do it. The Rock juts out a bit into the canyon formed by the middle fork of the Kaweah River. After going up 355 steps (I counted), which luckily has some railings because you'll need them, you'll get to see one of the most spectacular views in the park.

These mountains are actually the divide of the Sierra Nevadas, as in on one side the water goes to the Pacific and the on the other side it goes toward Nevada. Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48 United States, is part of this range, although it takes a hike to see if when visiting this part of Sequoia National Park.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Stockton, California: Asparagus Festival


It must be the biggest event of the year in downtown Stockton -- the annual Asparagus Festival.

Thousands jam into the center of town in April to engage in all sorts of activities -- visit exhibits, take paddleboats into the river, listen to music, and of course eat asparagus. The line for fried asparagus is a little daunting, but it doesn't seem to stop anyone.

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Venice, California: "White Man Can't Jump" Courts


If you take one of the tour buses that hit the attractions of Southern California, you'll visit Venice Beach. And the guy on the intercom/driver will tell you that the above setting was where the basketball scenes from "White Men Can't Jump" were filmed. The space was a parking lot, but it was converted into courts and apparently have stayed that way.

We drove past pretty early on the tour, which perhaps explains why there is no game going on. Or, the players looked in the sky and figured out it might rain.

Yosemite National Park, California: Glacier Point


From the bottom of the Yosemite Valley, it takes a while to drive up to Glacier Point. There are some bends in the road, and the scenery is mostly trees.

Then you arrive at the top and forget about that. It is very possible to hike up to Glacier Point or, better yet, go down hill. No matter how you get there, though, you should get there. Sorry about the shadows in the picture above.

By the way, during our visit we found a pay phone by the rest rooms at the point. So we did the logical thing -- called our mothers and tried to describe the view.

Yosemite National Park, California: El Capitan


You shouldn't take places like this for granite.

Sorry.

El Capitan is one of the highlights of Yosemite. It's the largest granite mountain in the world, going 3,000 feet straight up. El Capitan is an impressive site from anywhere in the valley.

That being the case, imagine what it's like to climb it. Many do, as it is an excellent challenge no matter where you climb it.

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Yosemite National Park, California: Ahwahnee Hotel


When Yosemite Village was in its infancy, developers thought that it was important to have a first-class hotel in order to lure wealthy guests (as if the part itself wasn't enough of an attraction). Therefore, the Ahwahee was constructed.

No one argues that they didn't succeed. It's a lovely place, surrounded by the mountains near the end of the valley. It was built to fit in to the surroundings. If you look at it from a distance and above, it really is difficult to pick it out.

The shot is the famous dining room, with big windows for spectacular views. It's pricey for most, but you should at least have breakfast here if you are in the area.

Yosemite National Park, California: Half Dome


There are few mountains that can be instantly recognized because of their shape. This is one of them. Half Dome looks like it was split in two somewhere along the way, but it really wasn't. That's just the shape of the mountain at this point.

You took can take this dramatic photo while visiting Yosemite. There's a meadow near the Ahwahnee Hotel. Take a walk to the middle and look up. This is the view. Aim and shoot.

Yosemite National Park, California: Mirror Lake


You see photos in travel books in which it is difficult to tell which end is up because of the reflection in the water. These shots are easier than you'd think.

Here's an example of this -- the appropriately named Mirror Lake. Find the right shot, put the top of the water at the halfway point of the picture, and shoot. Hard to mess this up. You might want to hurry, though. The lake is slowly draining and eventually will become a meadow.

Yosemite National Park, California: Bridalveil Falls


Bridalveil Fall is a heck of a welcome to the Yosemite Valley. You can see it here above from an overlook as you approach it from the northwest, full of spring's fury.

Yosemite National Park, California: Tunnel View


For those coming into Yosemite Valley from the south, they drive for about an hour and wonder what all the fuss is about. They then go through a tunnel and pull into a parking lot.

This is what greets them. Everyone takes this photo; do an Internet search for the picture in winter, in storms, in sunshine. But it's pretty good as it is here. That's Bridalveil Falls to the right.

Doesn't look like anyone's home, does it?

Yosemite National Park, California: Fallen Monarch


There sure are some big trees in California. Yosemite has some in Mariposa Grove, near the South Entrance.

This is a good way to demonstrate just how big these trees are. Fallen Monarch died and fell over a while ago. This way, you can see the size of the roots. Yes, those are people in the background. And note how far the tree goes back into the distance.

Whew.