Channel Islands National Park

Today we said goodbye to Los Angeles and hello to the beautiful central coast of California! Our first stop off “the 101” was Ventura. The visitor’s center for the Channel Islands National Park was in the marina there. Even though we weren’t going to take a ferry out to the islands, we wanted to learn more about them. Woody did his usual Junior Ranger program there, and we all learned so much about how the islands are protected, and what they’ve been used for over the years.

There was a huge beach off the visitor’s center, so the boys (all the boys!) went for a walk to dip their toes in the water. Gunner loved running on the sand, it almost looked like he was flying! He hadn’t gotten much exercise in LA, and here he was stretching his legs out happily! Andy and Woody found some rocks to climb on, with many little crabs all over them and they loved checking it out. Problem was, Gunner loved checking it out too and would get his head stuck down in a hole! The boys were helpful to him but he never learned his lesson!

Our jaunt north took us through Solvang, a super cute rural town with huge Danish roots. It totally reminded us of when we hosted a Danish foreign exchanged student in Wheaton. Karianne was super fun to be with and learn from, I hope we all get to visit her again one day!

Our stop for the next couple days is in Pismo Beach, near San Luis Obispo. We’re following the El Camino Real road, which connects 21 Missions in California. There are cast metal bells lining the highway every 2 miles or so. It’s fun to follow them, I bet we’ll get into a couple of Missions as we passed a couple of them on our way here too.

For supper we met an old coworker of mine (he’s not old, i’m not old, we just worked with each other yeaaaaaaars ago!) Brent and I worked at the Minneapolis Metro North Convention and Visitors Bureau(say that 10 times real fast!) in the early 2000’s with a great group of hospitality workers. Seems like nothing has changed except for addresses! We had a memorable meal sitting right on the beach, watching surfers, the pier and a beautiful sunset while having great conversation with Brent, his husband Dean and his niece Katie.

What’s really nice is that our RV park is within walking distance to the beautiful Pismo Beaches. What’s not so nice is the colony of squaky birds seriously right outside our door. I’m going to need some good earplugs this week- haha!

LA Studio Tours

The whole reason we even thought of visiting Los Angles with our camper is because Jesse’s cousin Mike & wife Kitty live here. Both work with residuals(finance) for different studios here, Mike is with CBS and Kitty is with Sony. We visited Mike on Tuesday for lunch at the CBS studios in Studio City. As the boys were eating lunch, they had a view of an outdoor taping of American Housewife. They could see all the cameras, tons of personnel helping with the taping and got a good view of the little girl from the show.

Walking around the studio, we saw where they taped other CBS shows, where they made different sets, and where writers and producers have their offices. We saw a whole bunch of audience members leaving The Talk talk show with goodie bags from the day. I even got a glimpse of Joey from Friends- Matt LaBlanc. He has a show called Man with a Plan!

Kitty arranged for us to see a taping of Wheel of Fortune, a gameshow taped at Sony Studios. She walked us around the studio grounds for a bit too, we saw the dad(Murry) from the show The Goldbergs which was super neat. We also saw the ghostbusters cars, the race car from Ricky Bobby and the camper from Breaking Bad. They had a neat little museum where we saw the living room set up from Seinfeld, more props and costumes from different shows and movies, and we got to hold actual Grammy’s and an Oscar!

We had VIP seats for the Wheel of Fortune which came with fun goodies bags! We were also able to meet the announcer of the show, Jim Thornton. He had such a great sounding voice!

The theme for the tapings was “Best Friends” and we got to watch 3 shows being taped. We had to clap a TON – haha, our hands were all worn out! We were excited for all the contestants. One person was from Sioux Falls so we totally cheered her on. We even saw a team win 2 Mini Cooper cars! During the last show’s taping, one of the teams had tried to answer the board after their time was up. They immediately made the teams turn around while they double checked to see if the answer was legit. It turned out that it wasn’t, but in fair play they decided to restart that round with a different puzzle. All of that was very interesting, from them editing that part to seeing who would finally win! The shows will air April 23-25.

Between shows, we were invited to come down to the stage and spin the wheel ourselves. How totally exciting and fun! It will be a memory we’ll have forever!

Vanna White and Pat Sajak were truly as awesome in person as they are on the show. He does such an easy banter with the contestants, and their banter with each other at the end of the shows is hilarious. Vanna had spoken with the audience between takes and she was lovely as well. They have both been hosting this gig for more than 30 years!

After the tapings were finished, the announcer came down to Woody and asked him if he would want to do a vlog post with him by the stage. Whoa-yes please! So happy to have his voice on camera, Woody loved chatting with him! The lighting wasn’t great for us, obviously it was fantastic for the show though, but you’ll still hear woody’s excitement in his voice!

It’s been 7 years since we’ve been to California, so the boys didn’t remember much. This time around, they will remember these experiences for their lifetime! It’s been fun to take a break from visiting natural wonders to seeing celebrities and iconic movie sets. But with the traffic we’ve been in and seen, we’ll take our memories and skedaddle out of here gladly!

Universal Studios

Today we went to Universal Studios in Universal City. As we were walking in we saw the iconic rotating globe. Once we were in we walked down the red carpet and straight to the Harry Potter part of the theme park. There, we got on a ride that took us through Hogwarts. The ride was a mix of videos that gave us simulated motion and brought us through some of the iconic parts of Harry Potter like the Whomping Willow and the Quidditch match where Dementors came in. I really liked that ride and I ended up riding it 6 times. Next we went to the other Harry Potter ride which was very small but was the closest thing to a conventional roller coaster there. My brother got some frozen butter beer that we shared and it was very good. We then went to the studio tour.

The tour said it was going to be guided by Jimmy Fallon but was instead guided by a guy who was more of a try-hard Jimmy Fallon. We got to see the filming of a Spanish music video and we got to drive by the set of Psycho and Jaws. I was surprised when a shark popped up and got me soaked. We also got to go in a sound stage that was meant to look like a subway but almost immediately things went wrong. There was an earthquake, things went on fire, and because the water lines broke there was a flood. Luckily we were able to get out before we got impacted.

After the tour we waited in line for the Simpsons ride which was not as cool as we thought because we were just in a little car that shook while a video played on the hemisphere screen that went all around us.

We went down a couple of escalators to the lower lot where they had more rides. The transformers ride was similar to the Simpsons ride because we mostly just sat in a shaking car while a video played on a big screen, the Despicable Me ride was also the same thing. I really liked the Revenge of the Mummy ride where we sat in a car and went through the pyramid. Suddenly the car shot forward and went super fast with twists and turns. It then stopped and it felt like beetles were coming up my leg when really it was just puffs of air. It then went backwards until the ride was done. After that we did the Jurassic Park ride where we went through the jungle with dinosaurs and we went down a big drop with water splashing us.

Later in the afternoon we went to the Walking Dead attraction which was basically a haunted house with Walkers. It was scary but it wasn’t too bad because the zombies didn’t pop out at me – but they popped out at my mom! I thought the “hospital” we walked through was cool because all of the equipment that was in it was very accurate. When we were done with the park we walked through the shopping mall adjacent where we had supper and after that we went home and fell asleep almost immediately.

On another note, a professor of anthropology from Tennessee recently re-examined bones found on a pacific island that were determined in the 40s to belong to a man and he found that they were actually Amelia Earhart’s bones. He also had his findings published in the University of Florida’s Forensic Anthropology Journal. These bones along with other artifacts found on the island that were thought to be on Earhart’s plane will help in piecing together this mystery. (AT)

The La Brea Tar Pits

Today we started off the day by dropping Gunner off at a kennel. It took us an hour to go the 5 miles to get there, and another hour(or so) to get 15 miles downtown. The upside was that we ended up driving the back roads through Beverly Hills and we saw a bunch of expensive looking mansions.

We were on our way to the La Brea Tar Pits. About 2 weeks ago, I started learning about them in my online earth science class. I knew we would be close so I asked if we could go there if we had time, and we had time, so we went there! There is a large public park downtown that most of the tar pits were in. We also went to the museum there that was free, we happened to hit it on the free first Tuesday of the month. My mom and dad was very happy about that.

So in these tar pits, tar has been bubbling out of the ground and it carries lots of ancient fossils in it. Different animals that are now extinct that can be found here are saber tooth tigers, wooly mammoths, dire wolves, Bison, large sloths and more but sadly no dinosaurs. We got to watch paleontologists work on the fossils. In one area, they were sorting tiny fossils from sand using a tweezers and a microscope.

Outside we saw more working tar pits where paleontologists were uncovering more fossils by slowly digging out the tar from the fossils in the pit. In other tar pits we could actually see bubbles surfacing. The tar is the same temp as the air, so when it’s cold out you can walk on it(animals can that is). The way that all these fossils got into the tar is that the animals like wooly mammoths would go into the tar, get stuck and then die. Then the predators like dire wolves would think it was an easy meal, but end up getting stuck in there too.

This the only area in the world that is like this. It’s crazy that it is downtown LA! Adjacent to Park was the LA County Art Museum with some funky public art spaces. And across the street was a line of food trucks. We had a “little lunch” of buffalo chicken mac and cheese, mango sweet rice tacos and a creme brûlée donut that we shared.

Use your imagination to guess how long it took us to get home that night. Maybe if I meet you one day, I will tell you. (WT)

Nixon and Regan Presidential Libraries

On our way into Los Angeles, we stopped at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda. At the entrance there was a memorial to Billy Graham, he seemed to be a friend to many presidents. The library was built on the same grounds that he had been born on, literally! The same house he was born in is still in the same spot it has always been, and we got to walk around it. Outside there was also Marine One, Nixon’s helicopter, beautiful rose gardens and pond . It was also the burial place of Richard Nixon and his wife Pat.

A couple of things I learned about Nixon was he passed Title IX legislature, helping women get a chance to play collegiate sports (like my mom!). In his first election, he won in the state that his opponent was from. He ended the military draft, and helped to create a voluntary military. He also lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. In his second term he resigned under a cloud of conspiracy. But he did many good things under his presidency too.

Fast forward 2 days, and we spent the day at the Ronald Regan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. This was one of my favorite libraries and I learned a lot about his life and his presidency. The best part was the getting to go in his Air Force One. The building was huge and built around the AF1. The building also housed Marine One, his helicopter. It was big but was dwarfed next to the airplane. In both vehicles, the place where the president sat had the presidential seal. In AF1, the seal was on the seatbelt buckle, and in the helicopter it was on the headrest.

Ronald Regan was an actor, which I did not know about before going here. But because he was, there were lots of pictures of him at an early age. He married the actress Nancy Davis, and she loved wearing red and spearheading the “Just Say NO!” program. There were lots of interesting gifts given to President Regan, including 372 belt buckles, many of which were on display. Regan loved to be a cowboy but he also loved fighting for peace.

There was even a section of the Berlin wall at the library, Regan had a famous line of “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!”. The library had a beautiful overlook of the Simi Valley, and both the President and First Lady are also buried here.

Overall, the 2 Los Angeles area presidential libraries have been very educational and fun to go to. It’s good to get ideas for what to put in mine one day.(WT)

Palm Springs, Cali

Jesse and I had a snapshot of what downtown Palm Springs looked like as we went on a date late Wednesday night. But after a full day at Joshua Tree National Park, I was ready to check it out during the day. I am so totally interested in the “desert modernism” architecture, and the funky overall vibe of the city. We first went to their visitors center, which was this old gas station with a huge triangle overhang. There we picked up a driving tour of historic houses and buildings. We drove around for an hour or so, seeing some pretty neat homes, but I could tell the boys had enough (they were so not interested in Elvis’s honeymoon home) but I hadn’t gotten my fill yet.

We had a fun lunch at Lulu’s, a funky restaurant with the Palm Springs vibe. The city seemed very dog friendly, as we were able to bring along Gunner to eat with us. He had as much fun dog watching as we had people watching. We had met my mom’s boyfriend for lunch, he spends his winters there to get out of the MN cold. Smart man!

After lunch, the boys went to the Palm Springs Air Museum and I continued on my house tour drive. My favorite stop was checking out the Parker hotel. It has a fun past, but has renovated 10 years ago by Jonathan Adler, a designer I really like. Everything was rad, from the ornamental front wall to the expertly designed inside. In another life I will live here, I just know it:)

Neighborhoods upon neighborhoods had the mod look, it was like I was stuck in the 60’s with the Rat Pack look everywhere! I even found one of the nicest dog parks for Gunner to get a run in at.

As I was driving to pick up the boys at the Air Museum, I saw and heard a really fast airplane speed overhead by the airport. Now I haven’t picked up all the flight speak that the boys have, but even I knew that the plane wasn’t going to land and was just showing off.

The boys had texted me saying that they needed more time. The plane that I had just seen overhead was a F-18 from Canada and was going to land at the museum. This would be a highlight for them all, as they got to see the plane up close and talk with the pilot. Another highlight was that the boys got to get in B-17 bomber. They all just can’t get enough of airplanes, Jesse is a bit homesick for his!

Later in the evening, we went night swimming under the full moon in the hot springs pool back by the RV park. The national parks and museums are a great experience, but at the end of the day, the kids sometimes just want to play in the pool! (MT)

Joshua Tree National Park

Yesterday we left Phoenix to begin the trek to Los Angeles. Our route was planned so that we could not only hit up another National Park Service location, but also stop in Palm Springs to see a family friend. One nice thing about pulling our house behind us is that we get to stop wherever we please!

One of our family objectives when we set off on this adventure was to see as many great sites as we could. NPS sits at the top of our resources when looking for places to visit. Not only does the NPS maintain national parks, but also national monuments, national historical sites, national historic parks, national memorials, national preserves, national seashores, national lakeshore, national rivers, national battlefields and national cemeteries (I may have missed a few, but you get the point)! Needless to say, our list is large. Since beginning this adventure, we’ve probably visited at least 20 different locations! A friend of mine has shared with me that he and his wife have designated NPS as a benefactor in their estate plan. After seeing what we’ve seen, I have to say I’ve called and thanked him!!

Joshua Tree National Park is located in Southern California near Palm Springs. While JTNP only became a national park in 1994, it has been a national monument since 1936. The most amazing aspects of this park were the giant boulder formations and, of course, the joshua trees! The joshua trees are yucca plants of a variety only found in this area straddling the Colorado Desert and the Mohave Desert. When Mormon settlers were traveling through the region, the trees reminded them of the Bible story of Joshua reaching his hands up to God. Local Cahuilla Indians call the trees humwichiwa and used them to make sandals as baskets as well as eating the seeds (perhaps like dates). The trees were very interesting to see and each one was unique in how the branches reach to the sky!

The boys and I had a blast exploring the “Hall of Horror” trail. Maureen and Gunner hung out in the truck as dogs aren’t allowed to explore JTNP. This trail allowed us to go exploring the giant boulder formations. Both the boys have really become great scramblers and could have left me behind a few times! There was one boulder that took all of us working together to get up. I was first up with Andy and Woody giving me a boost from behind. Next came Woody with Andy pushing and me pulling him up. Finally, I grabbed Andy’s hand and he and I worked together to get him up. The views were great, but just being boys playing on boulders was the best!

Some of the other exploring and adventure we have done here includes healing ourselves in the hot springs at our campground. Below this region, there are natural hot springs with “natural healing properties” according to Dr. Broue, a 1930’s chemist, metallurgist, physicist and geologist (trust him, he’s trained). Healing or not, the pool is awesome at 94 degrees. The hot tubs range from 98 to 104 and feel great too! Our family loves swimming and this place was a great find (hip hip hooray for Maureen)! Palm Springs was fun last night as well. Maureen and I had a great time going out for happy hour dinner, drinks and dessert–plus a stop at the casino where Maureen won enough to pay for a round or two!

Next stop on the map is LA–let’s hope my patience for congested areas holds out…I mean pulling a camper in LA can’t be that bad, right!?!?

Don’t forget Woody’s vlog!