Category Archives: Adventure

Fallo da solo Italian Cinema!

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This week’s Barrosse family film series continues with a bit of homemade Italian cinema…

img_2318A few years ago, my family traveled to Italy in the company our good friends, the Rashids. We’ve known each other since college and have shared a long, rich history in music, comedy and theatre. Despite all that, we still get along.

We began our two-week Italian sojourn in Florence and took in many of the incredible sights that unparalleled city offers – then made our way to Pisa, Siena, Assisi, and a variety of small towns in southern Tuscany.

img_1846Our final week was spent largely in the small, historic hilltop village of Camporsevoli, near the border with Umbria, where we rented a venerable and very comfortable house, Casa del Neri, from the wonderful Grossi family, who own and manage the estate.

Picturesque Camporsevoli is like a tiny magical kingdom right out of a Shakespearean comedy, complete with a lovely church, clock tower, winding cobblestone streets, classic statuary, imposing gates and lush gardens. It’s an ancient place (two Etruscan tombs are preserved in the village cellars), and it’s been in the Grossi family since the middle of the 1800’s.

004_displayAs soon as we saw Camporsevoli – we knew we had to use it as a backdrop for a performance of some kind.

Thus was born “La Commedia di Camporsevoli”, written and shot over three merry, memorable days in a fabulous place to which we all hope to return someday soon.

italyaThe entire movie was shot on my iPhone. Not my new iPhone, mind you – but my ancient iPhone from three long years ago. That was all the equipment we used. And if that’s not homemade enough — the owner of the estate graciously agreed to play the priest. (He stole the show!)

Simple, bare bones film making — and lots of fun.

Si prega di godere il nostro piccolo film!

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Filed under Adventure, Art, Comedy, History, Travel

The Reasonably Fit, Slightly Overweight, Middle-Aged Guide to the Outdoors.

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My wife and I are reasonably fit, slightly overweight, middle-aged hikers who cherish our adventures in the great outdoors – and our visit to Glacier National Park in Montana was a highlight in our hiking history.

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 1.24.21 PMKnowing we were in for a memorable mountain trek, we decided to shoot a video account of our journey on the trail to Sperry Chalet. (See video above.)

The trail to Sperry Chalet rises 3,360 feet over slightly more than six miles from the Sperry Trailhead, located across the road from the Lake McDonald Lodge.

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 1.28.53 PMThe guidebooks call this hike “strenuous” – but, despite the July heat, the bugs, and the challenging elevation, we call it doable: provided you take your time, bring plenty of water, and start off early in the morning to beat the heat.

Sperry Trail hikers will be rewarded for their climb to the chalet by fast-flowing mountain streams, a variety of dramatic waterfalls, magnificent trees, verdant foliage, carpets of wildflowers and air that’s as fresh as it gets.

sperry-chalet_521752When you reach your destination, Sperry Chalet does not disappoint. It was originally built by the Great Northern Railway in 1913, and is now listed as a Historic Landmark.

Many visitors to the chalet push on the nearby Sperry Glacier – but we opted to hang out at the chalet, enjoy the homey dining room, and take in the dramatic views.

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 1.28.04 PMThe Sperry Trail was built in 1902 and 1903 by college boys from Minnesota, and was likely the first organized trail-building effort in the park. These two reasonably fit, slightly overweight middle-aged hikers wish to thank those industrious, visionary college boys.

Onward and upward!

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Filed under Adventure, Beauty

A Musical Metro Trip to Santa Monica…

Our songstress daughter Maura takes our grandson for a ride to Santa Monica on the new Metro train. If you haven’t taken the ride yet — here’s your chance to experience this corridor of Los Angeles to the beach from a fresh, fun perspective. And you can also enjoy two original songs by Ms. Maura.

For more info on what Ms. Maura is doing, you can access her newsletter here.

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No Doubt A Drought.

Creek BannerFor those who might be wondering if the talk of a drought in Southern California is overblown, I submit these photos of Mailbu Creek State Park in the Santa Monica Mountains near my home in Woodland Hills.

IMG_3791Malibu Creek State Park is named, of course, after the rather large creek that flows through it. Or, rather, that used to flow through it. At this moment, there is NO Malibu Creek.

I have seen the creek bed at low water in previous years – when the stream was reduced to a few feet across during the hottest days of late summer. But I have never beheld this parched, arid landscape — especially just a few months removed from Spring.IMG_3790For reference – check out this footage I shot this January, showing winter rainwater pouring down into Malibu Creek from the mountains above, churning up foam as it falls.

Now? Not a trickle.IMG_3792

I don’t know what’s going to happen with this drought. I applaud Governor Brown for getting serious about it. Perhaps, as my very creative wife suggests, we Southern Californians should get together for a big rain dance.

We could hold our Grand Rain Dance in Malibu Creek State Park.

We could dance right in the creek. And nobody’s shoes would get wet.IMG_3789

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Filed under Adventure, Politics, Random Commentary

Father & Daughter On The Mother Road

66banner166banner266banner3If you ever plan to motor west,

Travel my way — take the highway that’s the best.

Get your kicks on Route 66.

66-1When my daughter Emilia and I made our plan to motor west from Chicago to Los Angeles over the course of two marathon days in May, it was her desire that we get our California-bound kicks on that legendary highway — Route 66.

Well, it winds from Chicago to LA,

More than 2,000 miles all the way.

Get your kicks on Route 66.

I’d first driven the 2,150 miles from Chicago to LA – south on I-55 and west on I-40 along the path of the old U.S. Route 66 – back in 1991 when I planted my flag in Southern California to stake a claim in the television biz. Now, nearly a quarter of a century later, I was winding my way from Chicago to the west coast with the girl whose birth in ‘91 was one of the primary catalysts for our relocation to more lucrative employment in Hollywood.

66-24Emilia was gung-ho for the trip, eager to check off each of the ten cities listed in songwriter Bobby Troup’s much-covered classic. Troup wrote the song in 1946 on his own journey toward a career in the western Mecca of the entertainment business — immortalizing an itinerary of stops along The Mother Road, spanning the western two-thirds of America from the Windy City to the City of Angels.

Now you go through Saint Louis

Joplin, Missouri,

Oklahoma City is mighty pretty.

66-29You’ll see Amarillo,

Gallup, New Mexico,

Flagstaff, Arizona.

Don’t forget Winona,

Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino.

Nearly 70 years ago, when Bobby Troup made his pilgrim’s progress westward, the Main Street of America was just a series of two-lane blacktops: various State Routes snaking their way through the heart of each of the municipalities mentioned in Troup’s celebrated, syncopated lyrics. As postwar traffic along Route 66 increased and peaked over the following decades, the towns it traversed adapted and grew to meet the demands of highway travelers.

66-12aIn the years after President Eisenhower launched construction of the Interstate Highway System in 1956, the wide concrete belts of I-55 and I-40 mostly skirted the various city centers, bypassing many of the roads that had made up old Route 66. And while the driving time from Chicago to LA was reduced dramatically – so, too, was the colorful, unique local character of the Route 66 experience.

66-18You can still find original sections of the Mother Road – many of them just off an exit, running parallel to Ike’s great Interstates — the old motels, restaurants, gas stations, and roadside attractions in varying degrees of dilapidation, dowdiness and decay. Yet, some towns have managed to maintain carefully preserved stretches of old Route 66, doing a brisk trade in food, fuel, lodging, and nostalgia.

Won’t you get hip to this timely tip?

When you make that California trip

Get your kicks on Route 66.

As we set out from Chicago,geocaching_desktop_by_dusterbed_zps0ca7e9ed Emilia put just one other item on our two-day road agenda: geocaching. You may not know this, but millions of people around the world have hidden even more millions of small treasures called “geocaches” in interesting locations across the globe — challenging fellow geocache enthusiasts to find them, armed only with a set of GPS coordinates. Emilia was determined to find at least one geocache in every state along the way in which she hadn’t already logged a find. So I knew we’d be poking around odd corners just off the highway in Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

Now you go through Saint Louis…

66-8The drive south along I-55 through the prairie and farmlands of Illinois toward St. Louis is long, flat and straight. There are few curves in the road and even fewer hills. We made good time through the Land of Lincoln, our progress interrupted only once – when a sudden cloudburst drenched the highway in sheets of rain through which we couldn’t see more than 10 feet ahead. Luckily, the downpour ended as quickly as it began, and we rolled into St. Louis, Missouri under blue skies.

Sighting The Gateway Arch which dominates the St. Louis skyline, we exited I-55 to take the first of our selfies to commemorate our arrival in each town name-dropped by Bobby Troup.66-4a

Joplin, Missouri…

66-6aThere’s not much to say about our Joplin experience as it’s one of those towns that have been bypassed by Ike’s Interstate. Thus, what we saw of Joplin was similar to what we passed driving through lots of communities along the modern Mother Road: franchise restaurants, sequences of tacky roadside signs extolling the virtues of various upcoming gift-cheese-fireworks-souvenir-gun-knife-Indian trinket shops, and truck stops like Mother’s – where we paused to look for a CD of “Cracked Rear View” by Hootie & The Blowfish – and actually found it!

Oklahoma City is mighty pretty…66-10a

66-8aIf Oklahoma City is pretty at all, we couldn’t tell. Emilia was at the wheel and the weather turned foul as we made our way through OKC. Rain fell from the cloud-darkened sky, illuminated by sudden flashes of lightning and the sound of distant thunder that doubtless gave the city’s NBA team its name. Emilia did a great job negotiating the heaviest stretch of traffic we saw on the trip – and the weather broke just long enough for us to collect our selfie.

66-7And now that we were in Oklahoma, it was time to find our first geocache – which Emilia located near the parking lot of one of those ubiquitous truck stops. We grabbed a fast food dinner, I went back behind the wheel, and we listened to the Houston Rockets regain some measure of respect in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors.

You’ll see Amarillo… 

It was near midnight when we pulled into the parking lot of the Holiday Inn Express in Amarillo, Texas – after driving more than 1,000 miles during our first day. We grabbed five hours worth of sleep in a couple of very comfy beds – then got back on the road by 6:00 AM the next morning.

66-11aWe took our Amarillo selfie – and before long, Emilia found her Texas geocache. Those were the two highlights of our rather dull, flat, straight drive across the windswept Texas panhandle, marked by herds of cud-chewing cows and farmlands that extended far into the horizon without a hint of a hill to be had. Luckily, the speed limit for most of I-40 in Texas is 75 MPH – and I took every advantage of the opportunity to race through Ted Cruz’ state just as fast as we (legally) could.

Gallup, New Mexico…66-13a

66-14aAs we crossed from Texas into New Mexico, the landscape soon developed new contours: hills, then bluffs, then dramatic red rock mesas. The chaparral was still quite green and the combination of brilliant blue sky, white clouds, red rock and mountain greenery were a joy to behold.

66-15We scored our New Mexico cache at another truck stop.

This time, I was the one who discovered the tiny two-inch long aluminum tube, dangling from a thin chain into a hole in the ground next to a weathered wooden post holding up what was left of a battered old sign.

Flagstaff, Arizona…

Our family has been to Flagstaff before (and to nearby, magical Sedona) on a family vacation to the Grand Canyon.

66-16aEmilia was about 7 years old at the time, but the week we spent exploring this part of Arizona made a deep impression. And speaking of deep impressions, Emilia and I could drive past the famous Meteor Crater just east of Flagstaff because we’d already seen that prehistoric wonder.

66-19We turned off the road to get a snack, refuel and find Emilia’s fourth hidden geocache.

I was glad that the geocaching phase of our expedition was a success — and that my daughter could now log onto the Geocaching website and earn a badge for each of the four new states in which she found a cache — but I must admit that I was in a hurry to get to Williams, Arizona, just 35 miles west of Flagstaff on I-40.

Bobby Troup didn’t put Williams, Arizona in his song, but it’s a “don’t miss” destination for those seeking retro Route 66 ambience.

66-25Since we left Chicago, as we passed various Route 66 highway signs along the road, I’d been telling Emilia that we’d have an ample opportunity to score the mother load of Mother Road signs when we got to Williams, AZ. And we were not disappointed.

The last town bypassed by 1-40, Williams has preserved more than vintage signs. It boasts a town center featuring a half-dozen blocks of restored Route 66-era buildings facing an original stretch of the pre-Interstate road. The local shopkeepers – mostly mom and pop’s — trade on the look and flavor of the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. Here, you can get a sense of how it might have been to journey westward through the heart of such towns rather than whizzing passing them at 75 miles an hour.66-26

66-27Williams has a special relationship to Route 66 and I-40. In fact, it was the last town to have its section of Route 66 bypassed. But the people of Williams didn’t give in to President Eisenhower’s great highway project without a fight. Their lawsuits held up the last section of I-40 for nearly three decades until a settlement gave Williams three highway exits: an outsized number given the town’s modest size. Williams was finally bypassed on October 13, 1984 – 15 years after Ike passed away. The next year, Route 66 was officially decommissioned. From then on, the Mother Road existed only in memory, legend and song.

66-15aDon’t forget Winona…

Oh, yeah. Here’s another timely tip. Winona, Arizona actually comes before Flagstaff when you’re driving west. A songwriter like Bobby Troup can be granted poetic license, but he disqualifies himself as a navigator. When Emilia and I took our required selfie we were still 15 miles east of Flagstaff.

Kingman…

66-20There was still plenty of sunlight left as we descended more than 3,200 feet in elevation over the 115 miles of 1-40 from Williams to Kingman, Arizona. We were driving hard for California at this point – and Game Four of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals would be on the radio soon – so, we only spent enough time in Kingman to gas up, get a bite, and try to dial up the Cavaliers versus the Hawks. I’m a Clevelander born and raised. Listening to LeBron James and the Cavs close out the Atlanta Hawks would be an ideal end to this adventure.66-17a

66-19aBarstow…

At first, as we burned up the high desert miles toward San Berdoo, our radio delivered a strong AM signal – and the Cavs were beating the Hawks handily. But there’s not much in the way of civilization between Kingman and San Bernardino (though we did stop in Barstow, CA for our requisite selfie) and as the sun went down, so did our radio station signal. At times we abandoned the faint, faltering, static-strangled broadcast and Emilia read the play-by-play on her NBA Gametime app.

San Bernardino…

UnknownIt was around 10:00 PM when we drove past San Bernardino in the heaviest traffic we’d seen since Oklahoma. It wasn’t easy to find a safe location for our selfie, so Emilia and I agreed to settle for a shot taken through the car window as we continued homeward.

The local Los Angeles area sports talk radio channels were starting to come in loud and clear – and while my legs were cramping after long hours of driving, listening to excited post-game discussion of the Cavs’ victory gave me all the fuel I needed to power through the last stretches of the 10 and the 101 freeways.66-18a

My daughter and I had traveled Route 66, covering more than 2,000 miles in less than two days. We touched base in every city in the song – and found a geocache in every state we needed to find one. We listened to two great basketball games on the radio and played “Cracked Rear View” and John Fogerty’s “Revival” several times.66-3

We got to know the country a little better along the way – and we also got to know each other better.

It was, as Bobby Troup would say, a kick.

Now, sing along with Emilia and me:

760272Won’t you get hip to this timely tip?

When you make that California trip

Get your kicks on Route 66.

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Filed under Adventure, History, Music

Blog 2014: The Fifth Year In Review.

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2014 was the fifth year for this blog — and though I have to admit I was a relatively infrequent blogger this year — there were a handful of events I could not let pass without trying to say something. Most important was the loss of two iconic figures who granted me (and many others) the privilege of their invaluable friendship and mentorship. The passing of Sheldon Patinkin and Ray Shepardson made 2014 a year I will always remember.

Paul’s Voyage of Discovery & Etc. has attracted 189,401 viewers since it began — 24,929 in 2014. The busiest day of the year was September 21st with 505 views. The most viewed post that day was O Captain! My Comedy Captain! — my post on the passing of Sheldon Patinkin.

This is not the real subscription sign up box. The real one is further to the right. And up a little…

I continue to be honored that 179 subscribers have now signed on to have my posts automatically delivered to them via e-mail. (And 59 more who follow this blog on Twitter.)

Are you a subscriber?

If you’re not — then look to your right at the photo of the saluting Matey and follow the simple instructions to “Hop Aboard!”

What follows is a list of The Top Ten Most Popular Posts of 2014.

Just click on the title of each post to access the original article.

1. The Top Ten Rock & Roll Singers of All Time

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There’s nothing like a Top 10 list to promote discussion on a blog – and this December 5, 2011 post did just that. It’s one of the posts that has generated the most comments. A lot of people feel I’ve left one of their favorites off the list. Check it out – and then weigh in with your own opinion. Just realize that your opinion on rock & roll singing cannot possibly be as informed as my own.

2. 
O Captain! My Comedy Captain!



Sheldon Banner

I don’t know where my life would have gone if the great Sheldon Patinkin had not walked into a small storefront theatre on Howard Street in Evanston — and took my silliness seriously. Sheldon didn’t just change my life. He changed generations of lives. I will miss him every damn day. But, in essential ways, he will always be with me — and with all of the thousands of creative people whose lives he touched. (Posted on September 21, 2014.)

3. My Book Report: “The Battle of Midway”midway

What a great book! What an amazing chapter of world history! On January 23, 2012, I wrote this review of a book that captures all the incredible heroism, good luck, and turns of fate that made this epic World War Two naval battle an overwhelming victory that turned the tide of the war against Imperial Japan. In 2013, I wrote another report on an excellent World War Two book, The Day of Battle, about the campaign to liberate Italy. A few weeks after I wrote that post, my family and I visited the American cemetery in Tuscany and paid our respects to the soldiers whose valor, sacrifice and victory are recounted in Rick Atkinson’s fine book.

4. 
Farewell to Ray Shepardson, the Visionary Who Saved the Theatres

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I honestly had no idea how to headline this tribute to the great Ray Shepardson, who died suddenly and shockingly in Aurora, Illinois in the spring of 2014. The man who saved dozens of great old theatres and movie palaces from the wrecking ball was a man of prodigious energy, drive, and “can do” creativity. He is greatly missed by many. This was posted on April 16, 2014 — my birthday.

5. Victory at Pearl HarborPearl Harbor

Originally posted in 2010 on the anniversary of the “day that will live in infamy” – this post has become an annual event. A lot of military history fans visit this blog, but I think Pearl Harbor fascinates and resonates with Americans whether they have an interest in military history or not. The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks took more American lives – but Pearl Harbor was the shocking opening act in a drama that ultimately made the United States the world’s preeminent superpower.

6. The Occupy Wall Street Movement Doesn’t Need Black Bloc Buffooneryblackboc

Though we didn’t hear much about it in 2013,  the Occupy Wall Street movement has inspired a lot of posts on this blog since 2011. This post, written on November 2, 2011, has proven to be the most popular. Maybe that’s because people agree that we don’t need a bunch of foolish, immature anarchists screwing up a noble movement that ultimately helped to put Barrack Obama back in office. Without Occupy Wall Street, would Romney’s attack on the 47% have evoked such a profound and spirited response? Without Occupy Wall Street, would the concept of the 99% and 1% have ever entered the Zeitgeist? And can Occupy Wall Street — or something even more effective yet peaceful — please come back in 2o15?

7. Happy Birthday Bill of Rights!

On December 15, 2010 – the 215th birthday of our Bill of Rights – I wrote this basic primer on the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution and it’s become one of the most-read posts in the history of this blog. I guess that’s because Americans still give a damn about their rights and are keen to understand their Constitutional foundation.

8. Bazooka Joe, Jay Lynch & Me

One of the first posts I wrote for this blog back on January 9, 2010 celebrated my brief but soul-satisfying collaboration with the legendary underground comix artist, Jay Lynch, who gave Vic and me the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to write a series of Bazooka Joe comics. It was one of the coolest chapters in my creative career. The Practical Theatre Company, Saturday Night LiveBehind the Music, The Vic & Paul Show and Bazooka Joe. Classics all. Can I retire now?

9. Paul McCartney & The War of 18121812banner

This was originally posted on June 18, 2012. That day was not just Paul McCartney’s 70th birthday – it was also the 200th anniversary of The War of 1812. 130 years after the young upstart United States declared war on Great Britain, Paul McCartney was born. I thought that was a real fun fact.

10. LeBron: The King Moves Onlebron-banner-2

As a Cleveland native, I’ve often been asked my opinion of LeBron James leaving the Cavaliers several years ago — and my friends and co-workers are usually shocked that I’m not upset or indignant or jilted, etc. And while the blogosphere hardly needed one more commentary on LeBron James’ move to the Miami Heat, I wrote this post on July 9, 2010 to explain that LeBron James didn’t owe me anything. He’s a professional basketball player who wants to win and be remembered as the best to play the game. The two NBA championships he’s won in Miami since I wrote this post have given LeBron all the scoreboard he needs. in 2014, The King came back to Cleveland, which is doubtless the reason for renewed interest in this post.

So, that’s the best of 2014. Stay connected. Subscribe. And please keep posting your comments!

Here’s to a worthy, adventurous voyage in 2015!

And here are the All-Time Top 10 Blog Posts from January 2010 up to today:

1. Happy Birthday Bill of Rights!

2. Victory at Pearl Harbor

3. The Occupy Wall Street Movement Doesn’t Need Black Bloc Buffoonery

4. The Top Ten Rock & Roll Singers of All Time

5. History & Honeymoon: Part Three

This post was the #3 post in 2010. 24 years ago, my wife Victoria and I went to Gettysburg and other Civil War battlefields on our honeymoon! I needed no other assurance that I had married the perfect woman. On our 20th anniversary, we returned to Gettysburg. Now both students of the battle, we walked the battlefield on July 1, 2 and 3, 2010 on the 147th anniversary of that critical conflict. My four-part account of our battlefield tramping became one of the most popular items on the blog. (Originally posted July 20, 2010)

6. A Childhood Memory of Kent State, May 4. 1970Kent State

On the May 4, 2012 anniversary of this very dark day in America history, I posted this personal remembrance of a young Ohioan’s earliest memories of that terrible day. Unlike the Pearl Harbor post, I haven’t re-posted this article every year — but readers still find it. “Tin soldiers and Nixon coming.” The shootings at Kent State should never be forgotten.

7. Aliens Among Us?

I’ve always wondered where singular, epochal, “out of this world” geniuses like William Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci and Bob Dylan came from. So, on January 26, 2011, I wrote this speculation on the possible alien origin of such monumental minds. Evidently, my curiosity (if not my Erich Van Daniken “ancient astronaut” fantasy) is still shared by a lot of people who read my blog in the past year.

8. Growing Up in the Space Age

The last American space shuttle launch inspired this July 14, 2011 remembrance of my personal connection to the Space Age. This popular post salutes my fellow Ohioan, John Glenn, who served as both the first man to orbit the Earth and as a Senator from my home state. I wish that my three daughters had grown up experiencing something half as exciting and inspirational as The Race to the Moon.

9. My Book Report: “The Battle of Midway”

10. Bazooka Joe, Jay Lynch & Me

 

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Filed under Adventure, Art, Comedy, History, Politics, Sports

Available Adventure: Big Santa Anita Canyon

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 10.46.28 PMScreen Shot 2014-04-30 at 10.56.40 PMI’ve said it in this space before, but one of the great advantages of life in Southern California – and there are many – is the opportunity to embark on a myriad variety of grand adventures within an hour or two of your home.

From where we live in Woodland Hills, nestled in the southwest edge of the San Fernando Valley, my wife and I can arrive on a Pacific Ocean beach within 20 minutes, begin an ascent into the Santa Monica Mountains in less than 15 minutes, visit the high desert in a half-hour – and drive less than an hour into a world as rough-hewn and glorious as Big Santa Anita Canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains.

BigSantaAnitaCanyonIt’s hard to imagine that Victoria and I have lived in Southern California since 1991 and it took us 22 years to discover Big Santa Anita Canyon. We’ve often hiked Malibu Creek State Park, Topanga State Park and many of the wonderful trails winding through the valleys and along the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains. But it wasn’t until the summer of 2013 that we trekked eastward above the town of Arcadia into the fascinating valley at the foot of Mt. Wilson, below Chantry Flat in the San Gabriels.

Victoria at the trailhead, ready for adventure.

Victoria at the trailhead, ready for adventure.

Victoria and I first descended into Big Santa Anita Canyon on a day hike. And it’s a steep descent. The walk down from the Chantry Flat trailhead to the valley floor begins at the parking lot and plunges 400 feet over 8 tenths of a mile. As relaxing as it is to start a hike with a long downhill stroll, veteran hikers know it only means a tortuous uphill slog on the finish.

Once on the valley floor, we followed the wide, shady trail along Santa Anita Creek leading to the popular 50-foot Sturtevant Falls.

We hiked about 7 miles that day, enjoying the canyon’s unique, rocky, riparian landscape and the midsummer trickle that dripped down the otherwise impressive Sturtevant Falls.

Sturtevant Falls, Photo by Andy Serrano

Sturtevant Falls, Photo by Andy Serrano

Contemporary-cabin-scene1-600x450We especially enjoyed the sight of all the funky old creekside cabins, built back in the 1920’s and 30’s, when the U.S. Forest Service promoted recreational residence in the canyon. There are over 80 of these privately owned cabins, which have no electricity or running water — and they’re not available for rental. But they look cool. The whole scene reminded me of a So Cal version of Middle Earth. (Indeed one of the cabins was dubbed Bombadil’s Castle: a clear J.R.R. Tolkien reference.)DSC_4967-copy20_12638999_0_1354646330_636x435

After surviving that last, brutally hot, 8th of a mile, uphill endurance test to climb back to the trailhead — Victoria and I decided to return as soon as possible for an overnight stay at valley’s historic Sturtevant’s Camp.

ranger-cabin-signSturtevant’s Camp is the oldest resort in the San Gabriel Mountains, built in 1892 by Wilbur M. Sturtevant during the “Great Hiking Era”(1880’s through the early 1930’s) when thousands of tourists hiked into the local mountains, covering long distances over crude trails to encounter the natural beauty of their Southern California home.

Today, it’s hard to imagine many So Cal families abandoning their SUVs, highways and fast food stops to hike with a pack mule train along the strenuous 4.5 mile trail from Chantry Flat to Sturtevant’s Camp, climbing about 1,800 feet along the way. But it was a challenge Victoria and I eagerly embraced.

Store01Incredibly, those pack mule trains still operate today. One of the coolest things about Chantry Flat is that it’s home to the last pack station in Southern California: the last operation where they actually use pack mules to haul supplies into the valley. Alas, Vic and I were too late to use the mule team service, so we had to carry two day’s worth of supplies on our own backs.

Road to campOn our return visit to Big Santa Anita we blew off another look at Sturtevant Falls. After all, it hadn’t rained during the intervening two weeks. Instead, we took the trail leading up the valley to Sturtevant’s Camp. This trail wound along the rising cliffs above Sturtevant Falls, providing us with a new perspective on the falls — and some dramatic photo ops.

We made good time climbing up the trail and arrived at Sturtevant’s Camp much earlier than we expected — and too early to rendezvous with our camp host.CampSturtevant-3613

We needed our host. He was the guy who would open our cabin and turn the gas on. Without him, all we could do was peek in our cabin window and look around at the dowdy yet charming remains of what was once considered a resort destination.

CampSturtevant-3626There was a time when Sturtevant’s Camp one of five resorts in the canyon back in the 1930s. That’s not the case today. Now, it’s the only “resort” left – and its chief characteristics are a rundown, historic appeal and a basic utility. It’s a comfortable and clean enough place to rest your head (and feet) after a hard day of hiking.

But there was no rest for us yet. An enthusiastic (and annoyingly unexhausted) group of 20-somethings arrived at the camp: a matched set of three boys and three girls. We were pleased to know that we wouldn’t be alone at the camp – but we weren’t ready to get social yet. And since our camp host had yet to arrive, we made a bold decision: to climb 5,710-foot Mt. Wilson.

Trail1Since the camp sits at about 3,500 feet above sea level, our ascent of Mt. Wilson covered three miles and 2,200 feet of elevation. That’s a lot of “up”.

It’s a good thing that Victoria and I had been hiking regularly for several months before we attempted the summit of Mt. Wilson. And thank goodness we brought just enough water. The late afternoon sun was merciless, and there were several treeless stretches with little or no cover along the winding, narrow, rocky, dusty trail up to the famous observatory.Up to Mt Wilson

Even before we gained the summit our hard work was well rewarded by stunning views of the L.A. basin spreading out before us to the south. It was a clear day – and even Catalina Island was in view.

Okay, so you can't see Catalina. Blame my damn iPhone camera!

Okay, so you can’t see Catalina. Blame my damn iPhone camera!

Mt Wilson 3At the summit, we still weren’t finished hiking. The concrete roads wound past the white domes of the observatory and a series of other telescopes. Finally, we arrived at the Cosmic Café, which is open from April to October.

The Cosmic Café is not fine dining, but we were happy to indulge in a hot dog, Diet Coke and more water as we rested before our descent back to the camp.

When we got back to the camp our host was waiting for us. He opened our cabin – and, exhausted but feeling victorious, we moved in for a rustic but comfortable night’s stay. The next day, we’d be hiking for another 7 rugged miles on our way back to Chantry Flat. But first, it was a delightful evening of sipping Chardonnay and enjoying the quaint, spare luxuries of Sturtevant’s Camp.

What follows are some photos of our cabin – and scenes from our hike back to Chantry Flat.

Our cabin.

Our cabin.

Inside our cabin.

Inside our cabin.

cabin room

The kitchen in which we cooked chicken breasts for dinner.

The kitchen in which we cooked chicken breasts for dinner.

Our somewhat comfortable bed: more than serviceable after our trek up Mt. Wilson

Our somewhat comfortable bed: more than serviceable after our trek up Mt. Wilson

The pleasant sylvan view from our window.

The pleasant sylvan view from our window.

A view from the upper trail back to Chantry Flat.

A view from the upper trail back to Chantry Flat.

Close to summit

It's scenes like these that keep us coming back to the mountains of Southern California.

It’s scenes like these that keep us coming back to the mountains of Southern California.

 

 

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