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.

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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.


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.