Outdoors


Outdoors15 Mar 2009 02:30 pm

Have you ever stood in a field of sweet orange California poppies, with the wide blue sky overhead? Now is your chance! Poppy season is upon us.

California poppies, those bright and simple flowers that happily appear at the first sign of spring, cover the fields and rolling meadows of Antelope Valley at the California Poppy Reserve. The California poppy was declared the state flower in 1903, hence the reason it has become a ubiquitous image in California, like the California Grizzly Bear (but not so much, though, the official California state marine fish, the garibaldi, which is also orange, by the way, as everyone who has visited the Roundhouse Aquarium knows (see Kosher Road Trip, Nov. 2007.)) The poppy is curiously delicate, yet hearty, as you will find if you pick some (which you absolutely cannot do at the reserve), and its brilliant orange sits opposite mesmerizing sky blue on the color wheel. Standing amongst the poppies on a clear day is electric.

The late March day we went to the poppy fields it was breathtaking, and really, really cold. It wasn’t nearly as cold at home as it was in the fields, so consequently, we did not come prepared with winter coats and gloves. A biting wind was blowing, which was truly invigorating, but my first thought was “must—tell—people—to wear—coats—brrr…” I reminded myself that in New England people would be wearing summer clothes in this weather, and we forged ahead, up hills and through dancing fields of wildflowers, orange, purple and yellow, taking pictures and just enjoying the beauty.

I had actually been wanting to see the poppy fields for a few years, but the reserve website kept saying ‘it’s not so great, the poppies are kind of shvach.’ And then finally, last year, the website said it was a good year for poppies, so we went. But guess what? The folks at the reserve are calling this year’s conditions the ‘perfect storm’ for poppies. That means the rain and snow fall has been good and so the poppies should be out in full force; just make sure to check the website or the poppy hotline to find out when the best time of the season will be.

When you see all the flowers and the vast expanse with a horizon so broad you can see the curve of the earth, remember that this is the Mohave desert and that with all of man’s sprinkler system technology, these green fields are dependent upon the rain…“Who fashioned a channel for the torrent, or a path for thunder clouds, that it may rain upon a land without man, and in a wilderness in which there is no person, to sate desolation and wasteland, to make vegetation sprout forth?” (Iyov 38:25)

And yes, they have an “Interpretive Center” with the standard attractions: gift shop—check, taxidermied wildlife—check, old fashioned style informational video—check. We appreciated the center for the opportunity to warm up a bit before braving the cold again. I’m joking; it wasn’t that cold. My daughter strongly recommends earmuffs, though.

So this year is shaping up to be great for poppies, and for all those of you who have considered going to the reserve but thought it would be too big a road trip, take note: it’s an easy drive from the 5 N. to the 14 into Lancaster and takes about an hour and a half. Your GPS or Google maps will tell you to take the 5 to the 138 because it’s shorter, but I’m recommending the 14 because it’s faster and easier, although not as pretty. Also, for people wondering about accessibility at the reserve, they do have a paved pathway around the main loop through the poppies, so I hope everyone really tries to get out there this year to catch a glimpse of these beautiful flowers that bloom for a very brief period of the spring.

Notes:

The Reserve is located 15 miles west of Lancaster at 15101 Lancaster Road.
Poppy Reserve Wildflower Hotline (661) 724-1180, www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=627

Park is open sunrise to sunset.
Interpretive Center open beginning March 14:
Weekdays 10 AM – 4 PM
Sundays 9 AM – 5 PM

parking: $5 per vehicle

Arts & Crafts&Botanical Gardens&Museums&Outdoors&science&Uncategorized&zoo01 Jun 2008 12:00 pm

We all have membership to the summer club. This is a wonderful club to belong to and can really be a beautiful opportunity to make great memories, share time with family and learn new things. Or it can be riddled with stressful questions like: “What are we doing with the kids?” “How come all these activities are so expensive?” “Who has time off from work to travel?”

But summer is summer. The days are hot and the nights are cool and homemade orange juice popsicles hit the spot. Also, lots of hiking spots around LA are free. Then again, it can be mighty hot to be outside. So here’s a look at some places to consider buying membership to, particularly for the summer.

Kidspace in Pasadena is a combination children’s science museum and indoor activity center. It is small and expensive. Membership is $160/ year for a family of four, $250 for a family of six. That means that four members of a family would need to go five times in the year to cover the membership cost. Are you likely to drive up to Pasadena, near the Rose Bowl to visit Kidspace, and is it worth it?

While there are activities for children ages 1 to 10, I think the most appealing features of Kidspace are the ones for toddlers. The Early Childhood Learning Center is a dream for little sweeties. A certain 19 month old was able to climb a rope ladder and slide down a decent sized slide all by himself over and over, and he was quite overjoyed about it.

There is also squirting water in the courtyard that little kids enjoy standing over until they are soaked (so bring flip-flops and a change of clothes.) For older children there are small educational exhibits like a water table to experiment with erosion, displays of live bugs, and some fun climbing opportunities. Outside is a small race track for tricycle riding, as well as a garden to explore. Just keep in mind that it’s blazes hot in the summer. They do offer special workshops and programs throughout the year so please call or check their online calendar for more information. By the way, I timed it, and it took me 15 minutes to get from Kidspace to downtown LA.

The thing I tend to look for with a summer outing is air conditioning. Huntington Library, also up the 110 in the Pasadena area (San Marino), has lots of air conditioning for the buildings that house their amazing art collections, but then there is a little known outdoor attraction that’s nice for the summer as well. Behind a really neat conservatory and teaching greenhouse is the Children’s Garden, especially designed with kids in mind. That means water squirts and shpritzes and fills areas with thick fog—-all for children to play in. But Huntington Library is quite expensive (two adults and two children over age 5 on a Sunday = $52.) So membership ($100.), again, may be something to consider if this is a place you are likely to visit more than a few times a year. There is a lot to explore between the gardens and the art. On the other hand, The Huntington is free the first Thursday of every month with advanced reservations, so it doesn’t have to cost anything to check it out.

Of course, we have our free museums around LA—the LACMA (after 5pm or through their NextGen program), the Science Center, the Getty– but I do maintain a membership to the Natural History museum, which continues to be a great bargain at $70 a year for the family. Just to be able to pop into the butterfly pavilion on any summer day and sit amongst the butterflies is worth it.

Plus there’s the Los Angeles Zoo ($75), and while I do like to visit the zoo during the cooler months, I find it too hot most summer days. However, membership includes a 50% discount on tickets to many zoos around California and the country. Of particular interest is the very cute Santa Barbara Zoo which is situated near the ocean and would be lovely during the summer. So please get out there and embrace the summer and enjoy the long days and the soft evening breeze and remember that orange juice popsicles hit the spot—and maybe a few hotdogs on the grill, too.

Notes:

Kidspace Children’s Museum, 480 N. Arroyo Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91103, www.kidspacemuseum.org, Open daily, 9:30am – 5pm, admission: $8/person over age 1.

The Huntington, 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, CA 91108, (626) 405-2100, www.huntington.org, open 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily (excluding Tuesdays), admission: Adults $15 – $20 (weekends) $20, (age 12-18, or with full-time student I.D.) $10, (age 5-11) $6 Children (under 5) free Free first Thursday of every month.

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, 900 Exposition Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90007 (213) 763-DINO open 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sunday and Holidays, admission: $9 adults, age 13 – 17 – $6.50 age 5 – 12 – $2 Children under 5 – FREE (recommend membership $70), Free first Tuesday of every month.

Los Angeles Zoo, 5333 Zoo Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90027, www.lazoo.org, 323/644-4200, open 10 –5 every day, admission: age 13 and up $12, age 2 – 12 $7. (recommend membership: ($75)

Nature Walks&Outdoors01 May 2008 12:00 pm

Once there were stagecoaches, rumbling over the hills of Simi Valley. The hills were alive with the sound of stagecoaches. But now, the hills are the quiet province of wildflowers and an occasional lizard. Were it not for the signs, the significance of the rugged, rocky trail cutting down the hill toward the railroad tracks below might have remained a mystery. Fortunately, as far back as 1939, some folks saw fit to mark the trail as the “Old Stagecoach Road.”

There are a few ways to find the trail—I strongly recommend coming at it from the top, on Lilac Road. This way is simple and straightforward and is located in a very rural neighborhood. The official park sign was burnt black in the Chatsworth fire a few years back, but if you walk up to it you’ll see some postings inside a glass case to let you know you’re in the right place. Plus, there’s a chain link fence cutting across what looks like an old dirt road. The road runs past an old house, well kept and clearly occupied, but from the windows of that old house the residents once saw stagecoaches roll by.

When first we ventured forth on what we thought was the stagecoach road, we climbed up and down small hills, appreciating the breathtaking view of the valley below (and when I say breathtaking, I mean breathtaking.) I’m curious to know what it looks like at different times of the year, but in the spring, it is exquisite. It was so beautiful, in fact, that it was a wonder we had never been here before. The sky, the breeze, the wildflowers—and did I mention the view? The thing is, after a little while on this beautiful trail, it became more and more implausible that it could be a stagecoach road– with all it’s ups and downs and twists and turns, not to mention the fact that there were no signs of wheel ruts. So we greets some fellow hikers and asked them if this was the Old Stagecoach road, and, sure enough, it wasn’t. They told us to go back to the beginning of the trail and take the path that branched off to the right when we first entered. In retrospect, it seemed the more obvious choice, but that’s retrospect for you.

In retrospect I’m glad we took the wrong trail at first because it was far more colorful than the Old Stagecoach trail. But this adventure was about the real stagecoach route, preserved in the hills of Chatsworth and if we hadn’t bothered to find it, I surely would have left Chatsworth wondering about the road not taken.

And what a road it is. Probably heavily eroded by years of rain and flooding, it is an incredibly rough and tumble route. It is a bit of a challenge to walk down, let alone ride on the brittle wheels of a stagecoach. This trail is straight and cuts into the side of a hill, but were it not for the tile sign set into the stone along the trail declaring “Old Santa Susana Stage Road 1859-90, Marked March 17, 1939, Native Daughters of the Golden West” one might still wonder aloud, repeatedly, ‘how could stagecoaches ride this road?’

I cannot say for sure that I saw wheel ruts, but there were some strong possibilities along the way. And there definitely was a snake that went from one side of the stage road to the other, but it looked like a baby snake, and there did not appear to be a rattle on its tail (but please note that most hiking areas around us have warnings for rattlesnakes.) To top off this whole hike into the past, there is even a railroad track near the bottom of the trail with a tunnel though one of the hills for the trains to come through.

Going back up the stage road, there is a small divergence to the left where a pond is tucked away, out of sight, but pretty. I could imagine horses being led away from the main road for a drink of water, but that may just be my imagination.

On the way back to our car, a resident of one of the homes on Lilac Road waved us over to take a look at a nest tucked deep inside a thorny cactus next to his mailbox. Crowded into the nest were a handful of very new baby birds waiting for their dinner.

Notes:

If there’s an “old” stagecoach road, there must be a “new” stagecoach road, because at some point folks had to have said enough is enough with regard to that rocky ride. By going left from the offramp onto Santa Susana Pass Road there is access to the new stagecoach road. It is most definitely a smoother ride, however, I do not recommend it for a hike. This road is also cut into the side of a hill, but is has a sharp drop off into a deep revine where several abandoned cars can be spotted, not to mention lots of litter.

The best way to reach this hike is by taking the 405 North to 118 West. Exit at Rocky Peak, take a right on Suzanna pass, then a left onto Lilac Road. Drive up this road until you see a dirt turn-out on the left with some burnt posts. Park off the road and walk into the opening of the old metal fence.

Nature Walks&Outdoors01 Apr 2008 12:00 pm

We had actually taken a hike here once before. It was a hot, humid August afternoon, and while we were equipped with hats, sunscreen, and water bottles, there was only so much walking that was going to get done on that smoldering, end of summer day. Even with a reprieve from the heat in the air conditioned Visitors Center, complete with taxidermed rodents and models of indigenous tribal villages, we still couldn’t see fit to drag ourselves beyond Century Lake, a reservoir of water atop a steep hill.

This time, however, things were different. It was a cool, windy day, lunch was eaten in the car before we started out, and the goal was set: the far end of the main trail, to a place known as the “MASH site.” This seemed to be a goal for a lot of people hiking that day, although for different motivations than us. We had heard that it was a good hike. And indeed it was.

Starting out, the terrain looks pretty typical for the area—rolly hills, willowy trees here and there—that’s about the way it is up until the lake. After the steep, dusty climb to the top of the hill, the backup plan to turn around and go home kicks in. But keep going; it’s worth it. The path slopes downward into a small valley, sheltered on one side by a wall of stratified rock. Being that it’s springtime, the earth is green and buzzing. Orange poppies and other wildflowers dot the meadow grass like confetti.

After crossing a bridge over the creek, the path changes flavor dramatically. It becomes rocky and rough as it follows alongside the water. Interesting stones are strewn about, waiting to be studied. I happened upon a small rock with a clearly discernable clam shell fossil on its surface. This was especially exciting to me as I used to collect rocks and fossils when I was a kid and had always wanted to find a fossil myself. I took a picture of it, but then put it back on the path (for you to find.) There was also rose quartz, volcanic rock, and composite rock. As my daughter declared: “this place is full of wonders.”

The focal point of the trail, where everyone pauses a moment to admire the landscape before heading back, opens out into another valley, this time surrounded by imposing ridges reaching into the sky. Two rusted vehicles, a jeep and an old army ambulance sit along the path, remnants of the t.v. show that was once filmed here. We sat down at the picnic table by the jeep and watched a group of mountain bikers challenge each other to bike up a very steep dirt mound. Another group of hikers settled inside the jeep like little birds and ate their sandwiches. The wind started kicking up sand, so we decided to head back, finding the return hike much faster.

The full hike does require a few hours to do at a comfortable pace. It’s about 4 ½ miles of walking. Driving time really depends on traffic, but should take about 35 minutes from West LA when taking the 10 to the PCH to Malibu Canyon Road (it’s a right turn at Pepperdine.) Folks from the Valley come from the Calabasas side on Las Virgenes Road.

Ghost Towns&Museums&Nature Walks&Outdoors01 Mar 2008 12:00 pm

There are a lot of towns in the middle of nowhere in this giant state we live in. Some more nowhere than others. Why this intrigues me, I couldn’t exactly tell you. Or what it is about the world of old trains that draws me, I’m not sure. But there is a forgotten town in the Mojave National Preserve, that piqued my curiosity on several counts.

The Kelso Depot was built in 1923 to provide a full service stop for railroad workers and passengers on the Union Pacific railroad. The key ingredient to Kelso, which began in 1905, was the nearby spring water, required for running the steam engines that came through. At one point Kelso had up to 2000 residents as folks interested in working in the various mining operations in the area (including boron, iron, gold and silver) moved into the desert town.

Abandoned back in the 1980’s, the train depot was recently fixed up and turned into a museum, with national park rangers running the facilities. The most prominent feature of the building is the restaurant (no longer in use) for train passengers to have a meal or cup of coffee and slice of pie from one of the pie cabinets. There is also, within the building, a ticket counter and telegraph office, the storage area for luggage of those just passing through, and upstairs, the boarding rooms for Union Pacific workers. Here, in this distant desert depot, men who worked the railroads could live for a time, sleeping in sparsely furnished bedrooms and even reading the newspaper in the small but adequate lounge. While there are a few bedrooms to view, most of the upstairs has been turned into museum exhibit areas and office space for the rangers. The lounge is still available to sit and read books about railroads or the history of the Mojave area. There are little biographies within the exhibits, and stories about some of the towns in the area.

The ranger at the front desk will show you a short film about all the natural attractions within the Mojave preserve if you ask. Everything is spread out, though, and would require a greater time commitment than a day to visit.

Within the tiny town of Kelso there still remains the old post office, now boarded up, a rickety wooden schoolhouse, now boarded up, and, by the train tracks, a two cell iron jail. This was an endless source of entertainment for any children saw it and probably ended up in as many photographs as the depot itself. It seems that if there were any troublemakers of a criminal sort on the trains coming through, they were put in this holding cell until other arrangements could be made.

Noticing that there was a modest collection of trailer homes on the other side of the tracks, I asked one of the rangers if people lived there. After all, as far as I could tell, there were no functioning buildings for miles around besides the depot museum. The ranger told me that, in fact, there were eighteen Union Pacific railroad workers living in the town. I ventured that real estate is probably more reasonable out there than in Los Angeles.

Back down the sun baked old road we drove up is the Kelso Dunes. This truly is a wonder of the desert, a gathering of sand, blown mostly from the Baker area (which is 35 miles north of Kelso) and planted in a soft heap in the Mojave. The general floor plan of the Mojave is a dry, tan, dirt with small forms of plant life like yuccas and sagebrush. The dunes are pure soft sand. We began the trek out to the highest peaks of the dunes, hoping to hear them sing the weird rolling melody I had read about. These dunes are called “booming dunes” because, when one runs down the dunes, causing the sand to slide like a small avalanche, a sound can be heard. We walked and walked, passing people along with pieces of cardboard in their hands to use for sleds. The dunes were farther away than they appeared. Realizing we would have to walk all the way back at some point, we stopped on one of the lower dunes and began running along the ridge, hoping to hear the “booming.” The conditions apparently weren’t right that day. No one else hiking in the sand claimed to hear the mysterious dune sounds. Some reports say it has to be windy. Some say it has to be very dry. It was a fun experience just to walk on these dunes, which had been deposited in the middle of this nowhere. My husband said to my daughter that this must be like the sand that hid the Mitzri for Moshe Rebbeinu.

It is out of the question to visit this place in the summer. The temperature was lovely and mild for our winter day trip, but still so dry that carrying water is necessary even for a short walk. And then there’s that one teeny tiny factor that might make this a less than ideal road trip… it’s 226 miles to Kelso from Los Angeles.
Perhaps, if this sounds a bit much for a day trip, you might consider driving through Kelso on your way somewhere else. Kelso is, after all, on a wavy two-lane stretch, aptly named Kelbaker Road because it leads from highway 40, through Kelso, up to Baker. Baker is on the 15 freeway. Also, there are some other sites in the preserve like the “Hole-in-the-Wall” which is a hiking and camping area of volcanic rock that has been turned into swiss cheese by the wind, and Mitchell Caverns, which offers guided tours of the region’s limestone caves. Both are for experienced hikers.

So if you are on your way to somewhere in Arizona, or on your way back from Las Vegas, you could take a slight detour into this national preserve and have a stop at a train depot from yesteryear, before continuing on past the Joshua trees toward home.

Notes: Bring hats, sneakers, sunscreen, food and water. There is a gift shop in the depot with water in case you run out.

For more information on Kelso Depot and the Kelso Dunes see: Mojave National Reserve: http://www.nps.gov/moja/

Nature Walks&Outdoors01 Feb 2008 12:00 pm

Somewhere between the 405 and the Pacific Ocean, up on a vibrant green hill dotted with fir and eucalyptus and willow trees, is the home of a man from America’s past.

The Will Rogers State Historic Park in Pacific Palisades is 186 acres of grassy yards and walking paths that line the hills and ridges around the house. The Sunday we went, the parking lots were full, and yet there were no big crowds anywhere. Families were spread about the area having picnics, playing Frisbee, taking a stroll.
After our picnic, we queued up for the tour of Will Rogers’ ranch house, recently renovated and furnished almost entirely with the famous owner’s belongings.

I wasn’t really familiar with Will Rogers prior to the tour, but the outstanding state park ranger who gave the tour of Rogers’ house was a fount of information and told us quite a lot in his short introduction.

Will Rogers was the most popular entertainer in America back in the 1930’s. He was a performer and a writer, with many quotes to his credit, including: “Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.” It was in the 1920’s that he purchased this beautiful property on a hill and build a modest ranch to retreat to with his wife and children. The main room of the house is filled with Rogers’ collection of now quite valuable western art and artifacts, and here was Ranger Tim, equipped with a firearm and walkie talkie, discussing the origins of the furniture and rugs. It’s so enjoyable to hear someone talk about a subject they are clearly enthusiastic about.

We toured the other furnished rooms in the house before taking a short hike along a path that went above the main grounds, and looped around the hills leading toward the ocean and Inspiration Point. An expansive view of Los Angeles, from the snowy peaks beyond downtown to the shoreline of Marina Del Rey and Malibu await those who venture up this dusty trail.

The front yard of Will Rogers’ house was at one time a three hole golf course, so it is wide and clear. At one end is an old horse stable, which visitors can wander through. Although there are no horses there now, the structure holds the aura of its 1930’s past with a carefully crafted rotunda and even an old truck to climb on. In the blacksmith/carpenter shop nearby is a very old, broken down car that you can get up close to and look inside. At the other end of the property is a polo field which Rogers built to enjoy playing polo with other celebrities of his day. Polo tournaments are still played here in the spring.

There are meadows reaching up the sides of the hills as well as more paths, for walking and bike riding, that wind through the tall grass and disappear around corners.

It may have been extra crowded the day we visited the park because, unbeknownst to us, it was announced that the Governor was considering closing this park for budgetary reasons. I hope something can be worked out.

Notes:

Will Rogers State Historic Park 1501 Will Rogers Park Road Pacific Palisades, CA 90272, phone: 310-454-8212, http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=626 , park open during daylight hours, tours of ranch house Tues. – Sunday 11am, 1pm, 2pm. $7 parking fee.

Nature Walks&Outdoors01 Dec 2007 12:00 pm

The question I am most often asked on the topic of kosher road trips is: what’s a good hike nearby? My first inclination when the winter months come is to get out to the desert, but that isn’t a short drive away. There is, however, the Angeles National Forest, and that’s quite close. Part of it is close, that is. The Angeles National Forest is huge and sprawling, and apparently has lots of waterfalls. By taking the 110 to the 210, we found a stunning little gem called Monrovia Canyon Falls about 40 minutes away.

We drove out one Sunday morning in an attempt to get in a hike before an afternoon birthday party. Wending our way through the neighborhood streets in Monrovia, we wondered what we were in store for. We drove up the hill of the forest service park and stopped near the nature center. From that vantage point we could look at the towns in the valley below, cast in a soft morning gray, like the distant landscape of a Thomas Cole painting.

Depending upon where you park, the hike to the falls can go from two miles round trip down to a mile and a half if you start by the nature center as we did. Right from the entrance gate I knew I was going to like this park, and I couldn’t get over the fact that such a green forest-y place was so close to home. There were a lot of pine trees around, and when added to chilly sweater weather and the earthy smell of fallen leaves, it was simply dazzling.

Something I’ve noticed when hiking trails in the woods: people say ‘hi.’ On this particular occasion, people even said, ‘good morning.’ This can be a little surprising at first, as this certainly isn’t the standard in the city. There seems to be a hiking etiquette, a recognition that we all have something in common if we are walking along these trails: we must really like it.

This hike is just one beautiful scene after the next as it follows alongside a small creek on its way to the small waterfall. It is a fairly easy walk, with opportunities to branch off and explore here and there and the chance to cross the creek a few times via some well-placed stepping-stones.

We enjoyed lunch in a serene picnic area and then headed back down the hill and through “Old Town Monrovia,” where we stopped for a bit to check out some of the small shops and old fashioned storefronts.

I look forward to returning to Monrovia, hiking to the falls, and exploring the town some more. It was unusually appealing… especially considering how close it is.

Notes:

Bring a sweater, water, (and lunch if you like)

Monrovia Canyon Falls, Monrovia Canyon Park Nature Center, tel: (626) 256-8282, www.fs.fed.us/r5/angeles. $5 parking fee in the park.

Old Town Monrovia is located on Myrtle Ave, which is the street to exit off the 210.

Aquarium&Outdoors01 Nov 2007 12:00 pm

Always bring quarters. On the short list of things to keep in the car for a Sunday road trip, please remember quarters. Besides bottled water, sunscreen, and hats, we also keep quarters. And a small kite. If trunk space permits, please consider a picnic blanket, and some bicycles. But quarters are a priority. Sometimes quarters will allow you to park in good places. About Manhattan Beach: I had heard about a big sand dune that people ran up and down and decided to take a Sunday family road trip to check it out. Tucked into a very cute neighborhood a few miles south of LAX is a small park next to a National Guard center. The park consists of a huge, steep wall of sand and a play area for toddlers. That’s it. While that may not sound like much, it turns out that climbing this sand hill is an invigorating experience, even if you only climb up once. No special clothing or shoes are necessary, just join the many other adults and children making their way to the top. Leg muscles you may have forgotten about are called into action, and at the moment is starts to feel demanding, you’ve made it to the top. Yeay! At the top is quaint little street that leads straight to the ocean. I decided to take the stairs back down the sand dune hill, but my husband ran down and said it had almost the sensation of skiing. We watched some folks go up and down the hill several times for a hearty workout. Just thinking about it right now makes me want to go back.

Continuing south, through the neighborhood, we located Manhattan Beach Blvd., at the end of which is a pier. At the end of the pier is the Roundhouse Aquarium. Here’s where the quarters come in handy. The parking right along the beach requires lots of quarters, every day of the week, and there were plenty of parking spaces, perhaps because not everyone who would have liked to park there had quarters.Don’t be intimidated by the crowds on the pier: they aren’t all going to the aquarium. And yes, you’re in the right place. The first time I saw the little building at the end of the pier, I didn’t know it was the aquarium. I looked up and down the beach and even under the pier wondering where the aquarium was. That little round structure is it. Perhaps because we have come to think of an aquarium as being the size of a theme park, and as expensive, it was hard to imagine that the Roundhouse Aquarium was large enough to contain any fish. For a bite size, and free museum, it’s quite nice. Pop in a pet some sea urchins, cucumbers, and stars. Watch the baby rays and search for the sarcastic fringe head. Consider it an opportunity to focus on a few of the wondrous creatures of the sea.

The colder days being what they are, a strong wind was blowing and there weren’t many people on the beach, so we got the butterfly kite out of the trunk and easily got it into the sky, extending the line all the way. It was a beautiful way to conclude the afternoon outing.
Please note that there is a bike path and a separate footpath running along Manhattan Beach, affording another opportunity to get some exercise and fresh ocean air.Notes:

Sand Dune Park: the corner of 33rd St. and Bell Ave. (left off Rosecrans) Free parking.

Roundhouse Aquarium: end of pier at the end of Manhattan Beach Blvd. Open to public: weekdays 3pm – sunset, Sunday 10am – sunset., Tel: (310) 379-8117, cost: Free. Beach Parking: $1/hour (quarters only)

Outdoors01 Jan 2007 12:00 pm

People talk about our amazing proximity to both the beach and the snowy mountains, but how often do we take advantage of that proximity? Some might even ask, why should we take advantage of that proximity?

Just look at the Tehillim we read in the weekday Pesukei D’zimrah. In Psalm 147 it says: “He Who gives snow like fleece, He scatters frost like ashes. He hurls His ice like crumbs – before His cold, who can stand?”* It’s a glorious thing that we can experience snow and ice first hand, rather than just look at pictures. It really is amazing, when you think about it, that we can enjoy a warm sunny day in the city while less than two hours away fluffy white snow awaits us.

One possibility for sledding is Frazier Park. About 1 ½ hours North on the 5 freeway, Frazier Park is a small town with a treasure chest of snow. Our experience with Frazier Park has been that once you get off the highway and head up the main road that climbs into the mountains, it’s just a matter of stopping somewhere along the way and joining other adventurous sledders on a good hill. One year we found ourselves up in the hills, amongst the fragrant pine trees, a soft snow falling as we sought out clear areas to safely sled. It was, need I say it, freezing cold, and the air had the invigoratingly clean smell of ice and pine. We watched tufts of snow float down from the sky and caught the lacey snowflakes on our mittens. Just thinking about it makes me want to be there. There is an official “snowplay park” called Tait Ranch which is on the Frazier Park Road, only three miles off the highway and $5 per car to enter. Pulling over and wandering between the pine trees is free, however.

And then there’s Mount Baldy. Mount Baldy really takes the cake because it’s only a 1 hour and 20 minute drive from West LA. You can see it from the highway in the winter, covered in a blanket of snow. The winding drive up the mountain is kind of neat, too. It is pretty apparent where the sledding is. The road splits and there are cars parked up against the snow banks. On the hills nearby, families build snowmen and, of course, try the different sledding runs. A note about when to go to Mount Baldy: better to go during the week. A day when there happens to be no school is perfect. The trouble with going on a Sunday is that loads and loads of people from around LA have the same idea and it can make for an unpleasant experience. During the week, however, it seems to be just a few families with young children who tend to congregate on the sledding hills.

Both Frazier Park and Mount Baldy have weather condition updates online and it’s important to check the weather report plus call before you go to make sure there is enough snow for sledding. Unlike at my Mom’s house where you can look out the window, see your car buried in snow in the driveway and know that anywhere in New England there’s enough snow for sledding, we can’t determine much from looking out the window beyond if it’s raining too hard to brave the highways. We were once caught in a torrential downpour on the way to Frazier Park—I don’t recommend it.

And don’t forget your sled. The ideal sled, I think, is the red plastic toboggan, which doesn’t have any sharp edges and doesn’t require any skill to handle. We found my old standard at a local sporting goods store.

Despite the often clear blue skies, it’s important to wear the proper gear for the snow. This should include boots, heavy socks, a snowsuit or ski pants and a jacket, waterproof mittens or gloves, a hat, and sunscreen. The first time we brought our daughter to the mountains to experience snow, a little bit touched her skin and she screamed—I guess it didn’t feel the way she expected. Her reaction made me think about how we can take things for granted, those of us who grew up with four seasons, not to mention those of us who grew up around woods to explore and animals to see.

Within Tehillim 147, David Hamelech writes of grass on the mountains, of horses, and ravens– things we don’t see in the city. It’s important to get out and experience these things first hand, when possible, and to see to it that our children don’t only know snow from picture books.

*translation from Artscroll’s Klein Edition Women’s Siddur

Notes:

Frazier Park: take the 5 freeway north to the Frazier Park exit, keep going on Frazier Park Road, see: www.shopoutdoors.com/activities.html or http://www.frazmtn.com/fmcoc/snowcond.htm

Mount Baldy: take the 10 freeway east to the Mountain Ave/ Mt. Baldy exit, head north up the mountain. Ph. http://www.mtbaldy.com/

Ghost Towns&Outdoors01 Dec 2006 12:00 pm

When driving through the desert on the way to somewhere else, there’s a tendency to think the desert is a whole bunch of nothing; miles and miles of dried up earth and brownish plants all around. But then, that’s what makes a place like Calico such a curiosity. How is it that a town was built around a dry and desolate hill in the middle of nothing? How did anyone happen upon this particular hill when there are so many that look just like it in the Mojave desert? Somehow it happened that silver was discovered in 1881 on a crop of hills just north of Barstow and a town was built called Calico. Actually, the main hill of Calico does look a little different than the other hills along the highway; it is mottled red, green and gray from minerals in the ground, hence the name Calico.

Calico is located a mile from the I-15 E., going toward Las Vegas, another mysterious town in the middle of the desert. But, unlike Las Vegas, Calico was only briefly populated with folks who came to work the silver mines. Later, in the early 1900’s due to nearby Borax mining (which we will IY”H discuss in the near future) the town continued, but by 1930, it had gone the way of so many other mining towns around the West. In fact, the Barstow Chamber of Commerce lists eight such mining ghost towns in the Barstow area. Calico is unique among them because it was bought by Walter Knott of Knott’s Berry Farm and turned into the tourist attraction it is today. While five of the buildings are original, the rest are said to be replicas based on old photographs of the town. Frankly, the overall flavor is fairly touristy, especially considering that “Main Street” is heavily paved for your convenience and lined with gift shops. And compared to a remarkably well kept, dynamic, and historically packed town like Tombstone, Arizona, Calico isn’t much.

So the question is, why do I like Calico? Because there really was a small mining town right in that place, in the middle of nowhere. 1200 people lived there at one point, and, as the turn on the Calico & Odessa Railroad illustrates, the area in which these people lived was small and sparse. Looking out across the dusty ground which was once packed with small family homes and is now just a few stones from one foundation, it’s hard to imagine men, women, and children going about their business in such a blazing hot place. We are fortunate to be able to visit the desert in the winter, when the temperature is comfortably cool, but the residents of Calico lived day to day in the unforgiving desert sun. I didn’t find out where the town water came from, but that is a good question. The coolest place to be was deep in the mines, and this can be experienced with a tour of the Maggie Mine. For a small fee you can walk inside and through one of the hills next to the railroad. Throughout the tunnel there are larger rooms visible behind fences where miner mannequins have been set up in mining poses to give one an idea of what it might have looked like to be working in there. Carved into the side of the hill are cave-like homes made by some of the miners. Perhaps these primitive houses offered some respite from the heat, as the mines did. Considering that $86 million in silver was extracted from the Calico area, the desert heat must have been worth the trouble to some.

Other attractions include a craft shop where children can decorate their own ceramic medallion necklaces and a shop with old-fashioned clothes to dress up in and take a sepia toned family photo. Then there’s the “mystery shack,” a house in which the interior is a collection of optical illusions. I hear tell of an old west “shootout” that happens on Sundays, but we didn’t see any action while we were there so it’s probably a good idea to call first if your visit requires some cowboy gun-slinging.

Calico is only two hours from Los Angeles and worth the trip. I liked it so much I look forward to going again soon—but only in the winter, of course.

Ice Skating in Pershing Square

It’s that time of year again, when the park and recreation department transforms Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles into a winter wonderland, of sorts. From now until January 15, 2007, an ice skating rink is set up with skates for rent in all sizes. It’s really neat to skate on a little rink in the middle of the big city, getting a view of city life while gliding across the ice. Don’t miss it.

Notes:

Calico Ghost Town, Yermo, CA 92398, phone: 1-760-254-2122
www.calicotown.com
open daily 8am – dusk (5pm.)
admission: adult $6, child (6-15) $3, child 5-under FREE

Pershing Square Ice Skating:
532 S. Olive St. (parking garage underneath, for a fee)
cost: $6 per half hour skating session
$2 skate rental
www.laparks.org/pershingsquare/doi.htm

Apple Picking&Museums&Outdoors01 Oct 2006 12:00 pm

What is autumn without fresh from the orchard apples? When summer is officially over and the weather cools off, the call of crunchy tart apples drifts down from the mountains and beckons city dwellers to enjoy the freshest of fruit.

You may recall last year’s Kosher Road Trip to Julian, a small mining town three hours away which remains the premier spot for autumn apples. But there does happen to be a gathering of orchards closer to the Los Angeles area. Oak Glen, just down the 10 E. Freeway, takes half the time to reach (not more than an hour and a half) and, like Julian, offers a wonderful variety of apples.

Apples require a certain crispy climate in order to thrive, and the mystery of Oak Glen is how a place surrounded by desert and not that high up in the hills could have such a different climate. On the Sunday we went, recently, a dark grey cloud was looming over the tops of the hills and, as we began a walk on the Los Rios Wildlands Conservancy trail, rain burst from one section of the sky and poured down on us. Yet the sun was shining and the sky was blue most everywhere we looked. The trail looked promising, though, so we hope to continue on it another day.

Meanwhile, down the road just a bit is the Oak Glen School House Museum, a tiny school with one classroom built in 1927 for the handful of children in Oak Glen. This charming stone building, surrounded by trees and grass (and sometimes bears that wander through) was in use until 1965, and apparently had only one teacher for all the grammar school grade levels of the children in attendance. The volunteer museum guide showed us around and shared some cute stories passed down by local families of children sneaking out of the detention room, or hiding the sauerkraut, which sometimes appeared in the school hot lunch, so they wouldn’t have to eat it. The most interesting artifacts to me were the “Rules for Teachers” posted on the walls. Prior to building the stone school, there was a little wooden school built in 1888 to service the community, and some of the rules posted date back to 1872. Some of the requirements for the one room schoolteacher read: “Teachers each day will fill lamps, clean chimneys. Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s session. Women are forbidden to wear skirts slit to expose the ankles, men cannot have shirt sleeves ‘unlinked and rolled.’” Women teachers were also warned, “not to loiter downtown in ice cream stores” among other things. Perhaps even more eye opening is a copy of the 1899-1901 Eighth grade grammar school examination which asks students questions in physiology, geography, and several other subjects including the requests to: “Make a diagram of the stomach. Locate therein the openings into the stomach, and name them,” and “Name the countries of South America with the capital cities,” and “A note, face $250, interest 1 per cent, per month dated Nov. 1, 1898, due Sept. 10, 1899. Find bank discount on March 4, 1899, at 8 per cent per annum.” Makes you think.

The museum guide showed us the ground breaking indoor toilet with a rope to pull and flush, then rang the school bell for us as we left (and that’s a real bell, not the electronic timed ring schools have now.)

Back over at Los Rios, a small band was playing folk music as we checked out what apples were available in the store. Surprisingly, we didn’t encounter any honey, the natural companion to apples. In Julian there is an array of honeys which are naturally flavored by the flowers the bees collect pollen from. No local honey here, but there were some red delicious apples and very aromatic pears for sale. We then headed over to Snowline Orchards, which I had found in the past to be an excellent source for apples in terms of variety and quality. Even though we had come early in the season and not all the varieties were yet ready, Snowline did not disappoint. We gathered up bags of braeburn, macintosh, gravenstein, lura red, Ozark gold—the latter two were recommended to me for baking—and then we headed home.

So far I’ve baked two apple pies with streusel topping, a pear crisp, and some apple muffins. The macintosh are for eating straight and are crunchy and tart the way I remember from apple picking in Massachusetts.

Apple season is brief and can vary slightly depending on the weather, but when you get that vague sense that autumn is in the air, the apples are at their best. So whether it’s Julian or Oak Glen, please go and enjoy some California apples. You can even pick your own.

Notes:

The simplest directions to Oak Glen: take 10 E. to Oak Glen Rd. exit, drive into the hills
General information: www.oakglen.net
Snowline Orchards: 39400 Oak Glen Road Yucaipa, CA 92399, (909) 797-3415 snow-line.com, apples about $7 per big bag (call for availability)
Oak Glen School House Museum, 11911 S Oak Glen Rd., phone: 909-797-1691, open Sunday (except in Dec. or rainy days), admission free (donations welcome)
The Wildlands Conservancy at Los Rios Rancho, 39611 Oak Glen Rd., open Sunday 9am-4:30pm, admission free.

Arts & Crafts&Outdoors01 Jul 2006 12:00 pm

As nice as it is to be outside for a hike, often times, in the summer, it’s just too hot to trudge up a dusty trail in the blazing sun, or venture into the desert. There are a lot of neat places in the desert, but they should be discussed in the cooler months, not now, when the prospect of getting out of an air conditioned car to walk around in 125 degree heat does not sound like a vacation at all. Winter is truly the best time to visit the old west towns and other curiosities of the desert, so please keep it in mind for later…

There does exist a small place, outdoors, in Orange County, that we enjoy visiting every summer. It is the Sawdust Art Festival in Laguna Beach. Just down the street from the ocean, and shaded by a hillside, trees, and awnings, the Sawdust Festival (as we call it) is an annual summer gathering of various local artists. On display are paintings, photographs, ceramics, jewelry, blown glass, and other handmade works of art. Why is it called the “Sawdust Art Festival?” The pathways are filled with sawdust. According to festival history, the sawdust was brought in to keep the ground dust to a minimum. Whatever the reason for using it, the sawdust does have an appealing and memorable scent and it adds to the ambiance year after year.

And we have been going for several years now; it truly is part of our summer tradition. Perhaps the reason it became a standard for us is because it is so close to Laguna Woods (Leisure World), where Grampa lives. We can drive down mid-morning on a Sunday, pick up Grampa, and continue on another ten minutes to the Sawdust Festival. Grampa isn’t much for walking around, but he enjoys looking around, mostly from the raised patio at the back of the festival area. He takes a seat on a bench on the patio and listens to the folk music or watches the balloon animal artist, or whatever is going on. We bring sandwiches and drinks for lunch and eat with Grampa. Then we all watch the glass blowing artists who have amazing demonstrations throughout the day. It’s not often that we get to see glass in a malleable state being blown and spun into colorful vases.

Each artist at the festival has a booth to display his or her works, with some artists reappearing year after year and some new ones to discover. We like to peruse all the booths and find one thing we like to bring home from the Sawdust that year. One time it was a handmade ceramic beehive honey pot that we used for Rosh Hashana. Another year it was a stoneware dish with a lid that was, and continues to be, well suited for cholent. Last year it was a little handblown pink and green vase that just appealed to us.

There are a few different booths for children to make their own crafts. Last year, Grampa got a kick out of watching our daughter use a potter’s wheel to shape her own clay bowl. Ultimately, the festival is just a nice atmosphere to be together and see some interesting things.

This year happens to be the 40th anniversary of the Sawdust Art Festival, and the summer show only goes from June 30th to September 3rd, so please take a day out to enjoy the arts and crafts, and spend time with family.

Notes:

Sawdust Art Festival, June 30 – September 3, open every day 10am – 10pm. Admission: $7.00 Adult one-day $6.00 Senior one-day (65 yrs & up) $3.00 Child one-day (6-12 yrs) Free Age 5 yrs & younger. Address: 935 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, CA 92651, phone: Phone: 949 494-3030. www.sawdustartfestival.org

Museums&Nature Walks&Outdoors&Uncategorized01 Jun 2006 12:00 pm

Summer is coming. Summer means different things to different people. For some it means a few weeks in another country, or visiting relatives in another state, or exploring a national park far away. But not everybody can leave work for a week or more during the summer to travel. So should that mean the only difference between summer and winter is the weather? No way. There are adventures to be had during the weekday, after work, and on Sundays. Just look around.

The LA County Museum has free art projects for children on Sundays from 12:30pm-3:15pm. This is part of what the museum calls the “NexGen” program, which entitles children who have signed up to visit the museum any time for free (with free entry for one adult as well.) For the Sunday art program, a few different tables are set up with an assortment of craft ideas that share a common theme. When the masterpieces are completed, enjoy a picnic in the grassy park between the LACMA and the Tar Pit Museum.

A little known fact about the LACMA is that it is FREE for everyone after 5pm on weekdays. “Let’s meet at the LACMA after work,” is practically all the planning it takes to stroll into this enormous museum and explore as much or as little of it as you want. My particular favorites are the American art collection and the ancient glass. Even my daughter was in awe when we studied a whisper thin goblet of completely chip free glass and contemplated the fact that nobody had dropped it for over a thousands years. Amazing.

Another Sunday special is the merry-go-round in Griffith Park. It’s one of those little gems tucked away from the main road that many people miss on the way to the zoo. Built in 1926, the merry-go-round lives in another time and seems to attract people who love the sweetness of a simpler day. Organ pipes beckon with tunes from “The Sound of Music” and other well-known melodies. The horses are elaborately decorated and bob past detailed murals on the inner walls. It’s definitely worth a stop for a ride on your way to one of the many other places in Griffith Park.

Speaking of nostalgia for another time, the Fun Zone on the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach makes for a nice day trip. The best way to get to the peninsula is via a small ferry that shuttles back and forth between Balboa Island and the peninsula all day long. (You can drive directly onto the peninsula but the ferry is more fun.) If you don’t need to take your car on the ferry, then stay off of Marine Road, park on a side street, and walk to the ferry. Right along the water’s edge, on Balboa Peninsula is an old amusement park with old fashioned arcade games as well as some small rides like a Ferris wheel, bumper cars, and of course a merry-go-round. Sure, there are lots of shops along the streets, but it’s the old arcade games that drew us. By “old” I mean really old; games like skeeball, aiming a ball to knock over pins, or attempting to roll balls into different slots (I don’t know the names of these games, but I like them.) Originally used in “Penny Arcades” these games of skill, with hardly any electronics at all, send out streams of tickets to winners, so the other fun part is collecting up tickets and then heading to the prize counter to select from an array of prizes you could buy in packs of three at the 99Cent Store. If you are seven years old, making these prize selections can take up to half an hour. But that is part of the fun of the whole experience. There are actually two arcades; in one the games take quarters, in the other, tokens. So either way, bring your dollars—and a budget. Boat rentals are available near the ferry, and on the other side of the peninsula (across the street), a long peer reaches out across the water for a beautiful view of the sailboats and the blue sea.

A little further south, in Laguna Beach, is Crystal Cove State Park. This really is a nature reserve for land and sea animals. From the parking lot to the right of the entrance gate, the meadows along the ocean are filled with an amazing variety of birds, and the pathways through the grassy areas are fully paved, so it might be fun to explore on wheels with a pair of binoculars and some crayons or markers to sketch the colorful birds. The main feature of Crystal Cove is the tide pools. Tide pools are pockets of water between rocks along the shore that contain lots of different sea animals. It is easy to find anemones, snails, hermit crabs and shore crabs as well as other tiny creatures. According to the park website, it is possible at times to find starfish (sea stars) and even octopuses in the tide pools. A fun game would be to write up a list of animals to locate for a scavenger hunt and point them out to everyone as they are discovered.

Enjoy your summer with family and friends. I’d write out directions to all the places mentioned, but there just isn’t space, so please call or check the websites.

Notes:

LACMA: 5905 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036
323-857-6000 (general information)
323-857-0098 (TDD)
http://www.lacma.org (see NextGen calendar for programming)
Open every day except Wednesday.

Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round in Park Center, open weekends throughout the year and weekdays in the summer, 11am-5pm, 323-665-3051.

Balboa Fun Zone
Located on the Balboa Peninsula
in Newport Beach
600 E. Bay Ave. Balboa, CA 92661
(949) 673-0408
Ferry ride: 60cents for adults, 30cents for children.

Crystal Cove State Park, located off Pacific Coast Highway between Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach, CA with easy access from I-5, 405 and 73.
http://www.crystalcovestatepark.com, bring $10 cash for parking.

Nature Walks&Outdoors01 Apr 2006 12:00 pm

Where can you find a park that offers paths for biking, nature walks into a wildlife reserve, and even paved paths through the woods for wheelchairs and strollers? That would be the El Dorado Nature Reserve and Regional Park in Long Beach. Half an hour away, off the Bellflower exit, El Dorado is a two part park. On one side is a very big grassy park with ponds and trees and areas for camping and barbecues. It also has a section for archery, and one pond has miniature buoys in it for the miniature remote controlled sailboat enthusiasts to race in their weekend regattas. But wait, there’s more: the piece de resistance is the four miles of paved bike paths, mostly surrounded by grass. I mention this because it is ideal for children who are learning how to ride a bike. With no traffic or driveways or rocky spots to interfere with the acquiring of biking skills, children can feel free to focus on balancing, with soft grass nearby for the occasional tip over.

Finding a good place for a beginning biker isn’t such an easy thing. There is a long bike path along the beach in Santa Monica, but it is a wide path with skaters and bikers speeding by and a small drop to the sand. At El Dorado, the bike paths, and in fact the whole park is family friendly and easygoing.

Across the street from the Regional Park is the Nature Reserve. Paying a $6 car entrance fee to either side gets you into everything. The nature reserve is different from other reserves or state parks I’ve been to around Los Angeles. It’s more lush and green and there are some unusual birds to spot in and around the pond. A rustic cabin houses the nature center, which includes some hands on displays for children like snake skins and turtle shells, plus a reading corner and a puppet theater. It’s a small place, meant to be explored at one’s own pace. The large pond at the center of the reserve has lots of turtles swimming and sitting in the sun. Signs direct visitors to a few different pathways through the woods. The shortest one, which winds through the trees, is completely paved smooth. The other paths loop over a creek and up hills and past berry bushes filled with birds. There really is something for everyone who seeks to be in the thick of nature.

To the north, also about half an hour away, is Millard Canyon Falls, one of many hiking trails in the Pasadena area. The first trail we headed for was actually Eaton Canyon Falls, but after driving in circles looking for the entrance to the trail, and calling the rangers’ office to ask where it was, we discovered that the fence we’d noticed with the chains and padlocks, was the beginning of the trail.

So we moved on to Millard Canyon Falls and discovered for ourselves a place worth visiting again. Now this is a trail for people who enjoy climbing over and around the piles of boulders that have filled this dried creek. We saw plenty of little kids relishing the search for a path from stone to stone and it’s easily doable in sneakers and a skirt.

The air is spicy with the scent of eucalyptus trees and every once in a while the remnants of the creek make an appearance, requiring some balancing skills and careful maneuvering over the rocks to avoid getting wet. The trail ends at a waterfall, shooting water between precariously balanced boulders wedged at the top of a cliff. There’s something dramatic about water rushing over a steep stone ledge into a crystal clear pool below. The hike is only a mile, and well worth doing again.

Another thing we learned along the way is that a parking permit is required to park in the park. There was no entrance gate anywhere to purchase this permit. Apparently, we were supposed to have known that we have to buy one at a sporting good store beforehand, I guess. A ranger at Millard Canyon told us that rangers drive around to check cars for permits and if they don’t have a permit, they get a ticket—-for the cost of the permit ($5). So you don’t need to pre-purchase a permit after all. We never did get a ticket, but just know that you can still park without a permit and work it out later if need be.

Enjoy the outdoors during Chol Hamoed and be back home in good time for a matzah lasagna dinner.

Notes:
El Dorado Nature Center, Regional Park: 7550 E. Spring St., Long Beach, www.longbeach.gov/park/facilities/parks/el_dorado_nature_center.asp,
tel. #: 570-1745, Trails: Tu-Su, 8am – 5pm Museum: Tu-F, 10am – 4pm, Sun, 8:30am – 4pm, $6 for parking.

Millard Canyon Falls: Angeles National Forest near Pasadena, exit Lake Ave. off the 210, tel: 818-899-1900, www.pasadenacal.com/sports/hiking.html, $5 parking if ticketed or order at: www.fs.fed.us/r5/sanbernardino/ap/

Museums&Nature Walks&Outdoors01 Dec 2005 12:00 pm

It’s good to have some activities up your sleeve that don’t require a full day commitment or a mall. Everybody has a few. The neighborhood park or the local library is always nice. But what about the park just a little way down the road or the library that’s so big it could fit all of our neighborhood libraries inside it? And even though Los Angeles is a city, a very big city, it still contains wildlife and swaths of green nature, tucked away from the main roads and found in the most unlikely places.

Take for example, Franklin Canyon Park, which can be found in North Beverly Hills off Beverly Drive, but which you would never have seen from the road, and yet it’s very big (605 acres.) It’s the kind of place that people don’t find unless someone else shows them. The park has different sections to it, but the main point of interest is a large pond (referred to as a ‘lake’) surrounded by trees and cattails and wildflowers and another smaller pond next to it with ducks and turtles. Of course there are trails to walk all around and explore. During this colder time of year, a chill settles into the park and you can almost smell winter in the fir trees.

Further up, off Coldwater Canyon Rd. is Tree People, another free park with trails winding over hills and through woods. It’s ideal for a long brisk walk and some fresh air.

Also in Beverly Hills, off of Foothill Rd., is Greystone Mansion, a castle-like estate built in 1928 by Edward Doheny, and eventually given to the city to be used as a public park. It has a big parking lot, an elaborate system of gardens, as well as fish and turtle ponds, and a house out of a storybook with a slate roof, and a veranda that looks out across the city. There are places to sit and read or enjoy a quiet conversation.

Then there’s the downtown area. If you haven’t been downtown lately, you are in for a surprise. When I first came out to LA, the downtown area was a faded and unwelcoming shell of its former self. But now, the sparkle and bustle of city life has returned since art deco buildings have been polished, the Disney Music Hall has opened, and real estate prices have skyrocketed. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Public Library, a huge architectural wonder, has continued to expand its appeal with a dazzling array of art exhibits and programs (not to mention a really cute gift shop.) The building is attractive inside and out with wall murals, carvings, fountains and tile work, it’s enjoyable just to look around. But then there are the books, the floors and floors of books. For people who love books, and I know there are a lot of us out there, the downtown library is a treasure trove of comprehensive collections and hard to find publications. Just think of a subject you’d like to learn more about and a bounty of books is likely to be available to check out or to reference. Once, my husband and I found a small white jar in the woods near my Grandmother’s house in Massachusetts. We went down to the patents floor of the library and actually found a picture of the jar and description of it, made in 1898, in the patents records.
The children’s section is absolutely dreamy with an enormous collection of books to choose from and chairs and couches to settle into for hours of reading.
A slight snag to the downtown library is the parking. In order to get a discount rate with validation, library patrons must park in the garage at 524. S. Flower Street, otherwise downtown parking can be a fortune.

One of my favorite places in Los Angeles is just a little south of downtown, where a family can find hours and hours and summers and late afternoons of enjoyment, for a small fee. A $60 family membership opens the doors to unlimited admission to the Natural History Museum, (which includes admission to the La Brea Tar Pit Museum on Wilshire Blvd., and the William S. Hart Park & Museum in Newhall.) The Natural History Museum comes in handy for “home nursery school” “camp Ema” and “after school play dates,” not to mention “relatives in town who want to go somewhere with the family on a Sunday.” Right next door to the free Science Museum, the Natural History Museum is huge and it is easy to visit it again and again for years and still have sections yet to explore. The Discovery Center, within the museum, is a two story children’s section with live insects and reptiles that are taken out of their tanks on a regular basis for educational (and petting) purposes. A whole section of the main museum is transformed a few times a year for special exhibits, and in the summer an outdoor garden pavilion is filled with a variety of fluttering butterflies to study up close. While it’s difficult to park on the street during the school year because of the USC students needing the spaces, during the summer and on Sundays street parking is easy to come by; just bring quarters (and save yourself the $6 parking lot fee.) The benefit of membership at such a big place is that you don’t feel compelled to see the whole thing in one day and can visit for short outings of an hour or two at a time, also members are sent schedules of events at all three museums throughout the year.
More local activity suggestions to come…

Notes: Franklin Canyon Park, 2600 Franklin Canyon Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210, www.lamountains.com
Tree People, 12601 Mulholland Drive Beverly Hills, CA 90210, (818)753-4600, www.treepeople.org
Greystone Park, 905 Loma Vista Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210. (310) 550-4654, www.beverlyhills.org
Los Angeles Public Library, Central Library 630 W. 5th St., Los Angeles, CA 90071 – (213) 228-7000, Mon. 10-8, Tue. 10-8, Wed. 10-8, Thu. 10-8, Fri. 10-6, Sat. 10-6, Sun. 1-5, www.lapl.org
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
900 Exposition Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90007, (213) 763-DIN0, www.nhm.org

Nature Walks&Outdoors&Restaurants01 Nov 2005 12:00 pm

Kosher Road Trip to the Herzog Winery

When friends and family come into town for a visit, the first place they want to go is Oxnard…

Okay… so maybe Oxnard isn’t even in the top ten on the list of vacation destinations in Southern California, but it soon could be.

Until very recently, the only thing I knew about Oxnard was that the strawberries I bought at the farmer’s market were grown there and that it was a place we drove through on the way to Santa Barbara. But now, less than an hour up Pacific Coast Highway (Route 1), tucked into an industrial park, is the new Herzog Winery and restaurant in Oxnard, California.

Oxnard is an ocean side town with beach houses, lots of farm land, Point Magu Navel Base, and the NAS Point Mugu Air Show, which recently has included the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels. Oxnard can be reached not only via the scenic Pacific Coast Highway, but also by taking the 101 North. I recommend PCH for two reasons: 1. because it’s a pleasant drive along the ocean and 2. because it affords access to some nice hiking spots if you’d like to enjoy an outdoor activity before lunch. Coming from the valley, there is the option of taking Las Virgenes from the 101 over to PCH in Malibu and continuing north.

Just down the hill going north past Pepperdine University is Corral Canyon, a bite size park (known as Solstice Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains park system). Just turn right on Corral Canyon Road and take a left into the park. There is free parking and maps of the trails posted in a roofed structure by the parking lot. The main trail is about two miles round trip and is really a leisurely nature walk on a smooth path. It runs along a small creek, through the woods and to the foundations of a curious estate that once stood against a hill and by a rocky waterfall. For the more athletically inclined, another trail goes winding up a steep hill from the waterfall and continues to the top for an amazing view of the surrounding Malibu “mountains.” This trail is more demanding and adds another half a mile to the hike, but it’s well worth the effort. Otherwise, enjoy the waterfall and return the way you came; there are always new things to see.

Besides getting out for some exercise and fresh air, the Corral Canyon hike is a wonderful option for children who may get a little antsy having to sit through lunch in a nice restaurant after a road trip. A two mile (or even one mile) walk can get a lot of that energy out, and along the way there is so much to see: wild flowers and frogs and trees arching over the creek.

Continuing up PCH, the waves roll and crash in shades of blue to the left of the highway, and to the right there are signs for more parks to stop at and explore. And then, in the sun’s quiet sparkle, Malibu slips into Oxnard and then into the driveway of the Herzog Winery. ***

A winery, it should be noted, is not a vineyard and so there are not rows of grape vines to explore, but rather a facility in which the wine is processed, stored in casks, and bottled. Herzog Wine Cellars does not have any of its own vineyards, in fact, but selects grapes from existing vineyards grown by other wine producers. The labels on the bottles– “Russian River,” “Napa Valley,” “Monterey County” tell where the grapes are grown. The self guided tour of the Herzog Winery includes a very brief video explaining the history of the Herzog family’s company, and what it means for wine to be kosher.

Everything about this new place is done elegantly and with a clean contemporary polish, most notably, the restaurant, called Tierra Sur. With hardwood floors, warm earth tones and an open kitchen, this is a kosher restaurant like no other I’ve been to. It’s the kind of restaurant I’d only seen in the pages of Gourmet Magazine. Our waitress said they are well attended during the week. I was glad to hear this because I found the place quite appealing, from the ambiance, to the wait staff, to the chef and his staff working efficiently in the kitchen.

When I go to a restaurant, I tend to order something that would be difficult or time consuming for me to prepare, so after perusing the lunch menu, I selected “homemade organic corn tortillas filled with birria, chili braised lamb with salsa cruda.” Thinking that our six year old would like something simpler, we ordered her the lemon and garlic marinated chicken. She not only enjoyed her food, but declared that she loved my entrée and my husband’s as well, having tasted them all. Everything was very good, especially the tortillas with braised lamb. We asked for wine recommendations from the restaurant manager, Michael Caeton, who even brought out two dessert wines for us to try with the molten chocolate cake and caramel ice cream (a big hit.)

With regard to the wines, just as the words “hiking” and “trail” shouldn’t make you think you need special equipment and training to take what is essentially a nature walk at Corral Canyon, “wine tasting” and “late harvest chenin blanc” shouldn’t make you think that you need to know something about wine in order to go to the Herzog Winery. First of all, wine is an ancient and precious part of our heritage, to be elevated in Shabbos Kiddush, Yom Tov, and all of our simchas, and ultimately, Herzog Winery is making kosher wine for Jews to use in celebration throughout the world. Second, all the wine at the Herzog Winery is Herzog wine, so wine tasting in this case is about trying different kinds of reds or different kinds of whites, and it’s really just a matter of personal taste.

The wine tasting bar is located in a big airy room with an array of wine serving and storing items for purchase, as well as colorful rows of the many Herzog wines, including some eino mevushal and hard to find ones at discount prices. The wine tastings are $5 to $7 (free for restaurant customers) and there are a few tasting lists to choose from.

We bought a few bottles of wine for gifts and headed back down PCH, getting home well in time for mincha at shul. We all look forward to more opportunities to go to Oxnard to eat at Tierra Sur, whether it be as a stop along the way to Santa Barbara, or on an excursion to see the Point Mugu Air Show, or perhaps soon for an evening out to try the dinner menu which is scheduled to debut in November. We could eat at one of the outdoor tables, beneath the twinkling stars in the Oxnard night sky, while the chef tends the wild Pacific king salmon at the outdoor grill.

Oxnard is now on my list.

Notes: besides the regular car supplies of bottled water, hats and sunscreen, a change of shoes would be a good idea so you can take off your dusty sneakers after the hike if you stop at Corral Canyon. Also, if you’d like to take a walk on the beach in Oxnard after lunch, bring towels to clean up sandy feet.

Herzog Wine Cellars, 3201 Camino Del Sol Oxnard, CA 93030
Tel: 805-983-1560
Tasting Room Hours: 11am – 6pm Sun – Friday

Restaurant open 11:30am – 3pm M-F Sunday 12pm – 5pm (call for dinner hours)
www.herzogwinecellars.com

Corral Canyon, 25623 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu
For directions see: www.lamountains.com or www.nps.gov/samo/maps/solstice.htm

Apple Picking&Museums&Outdoors01 Oct 2005 12:00 pm

“So where have you been? What have you seen?” Rav Natan asked my husband and me, married only a year. We’d both come out to Los Angeles to attend USC and had confined most of our exploring to the Pico Robertson neighborhood.

We shrugged and just looked at each other blankly. No wonder neither of us was enthralled with California; we hadn’t seen it. Our excuse for not having ventured beyond the county limits was that we had school and work and no money. Traveling was an expensive proposition and a big production, wasn’t it?

Rav Natan jokingly chided us, “Come on. What’s the big deal? Just get in your car and start driving. There’s so much to see.” And that is, in fact, what he and his family did on a regular basis. He and his wife piled their young children into their old Volvo station wagon, somehow packed enough food and clothing to meet everyone’s needs, and got on the road, often camping at national parks and cooking under the open skies.

So, maybe we could see what was out there, way out there, even on a tight budget and even if we had to be home by Shabbos. For the big road trips, we could even be in another state for Shabbos, with a little advance planning. But I’m getting ahead of myself. So let’s start with a day trip.

Many wonderful adventures on the road since that conversation with Rav Natan have helped us to fine tune the road trip prep time so that if we decide on a Sunday morning that we want to go somewhere we virtually have only to hop in the car. A few things we like to keep in the car when we’re on the road: a case of water bottles, a box of hand wipes, wide brim hats, sunscreen.

Special items for this trip: lunch and snacks, packed in a cooler if perishable, cash to pay for apples and museum.

Now, onto the road…

In search of autumn one year, we found the small town of Julian, CA. I grew up in Massachusetts where autumn is a beautiful season of red maple leaves, sweater weather, and apple picking. For the cost of a three hour drive into the mountains east of San Diego, you can have a little taste of a New England autumn.

The best route is to take the 405 South to the 5 South to Highway 78 East, which you will find in Oceanside. Take the 78 all the way up to Julian. It gets kind of convoluted around Ramona, but just watch the signs. As you approach Julian, you will see orchards and farm stands with fruit for sale. You can hit those places on the way back to stock up on the wide variety of apples only available during apple season.

Julian was once a gold mining town. Today it is all about the apples and the atmosphere. The center of town smells like apple pie and mountain air. Park on the street in town and walk around. There are lots of little shops with crafts, artwork, and different tasty honeys (please note that, according to Rabbi Eidlitz in Kashrus Conscience, all pure unflavored honey is fine.) It’s a nice place to pick up little gifts for people.

Strolling up and down Main Street is a horse drawn carriage which fits right in with the late 19th — early 20th century houses and shops in town. “The Country Carriage” offers half hour rides, and another way to take in the charm of Julian. It’s an appealing option if you’d like to see the town at a leisurely pace. By the way, if you’re really interested in horseback riding, Julian Stables has guided trail rides, but you’ll need reservations.

When it’s time for lunch, find a park bench and unpack the sandwiches you brought. Another reason to always have water bottles on hand is for washing. When on a road trip, be ready to picnic anywhere. And take the time to enjoy this new place you are in. The air in Julian is delicious and refreshing, and the wonderful scent of apple pies serves as an inspiration to bake your own when you get home. After eating, and exploring Main Street with its old fashioned storefronts, take a look inside the Pioneer Museum, located just half a block from Main Street. It’s a tiny museum, but those are often the most intriguing. It’s truly amazing what the smallest towns with the smallest museums can contain, and part of the fun is finding out. The docent we met, again true to small museum form, was enthusiastic and had lots of tidbits to share about the town.

For a self-guided walking tour of some of Julian’s historic sites, hit the Chamber of Commerce office in the Town Hall building (corner of Main & Washington) for a map, updates on what’s going on in town that day (and maybe inquire about the History Hunt while you’re there.) The October calendar of events includes an in-town melodrama and a free arts & crafts show in the Town Hall. I picked up a handmade hat pin last year.

There are hiking trails around Julian to enjoy the natural beauty of the area, and at this time of year, the air not only gets cold enough to make tasty apples, but it also turns the leaves the glorious hues of a New England autumn, best appreciated in the thick of it.

Whether you want to pick some of your own apples or buy bags and bags of them at a stand, you will want to go to Julian during the brief period when apples are in season. It does not happen at the exact same time every year, with the peak of season coming sometime between September and October. The word from Calico Ranch is that apple picking starts October 1st this year, and on Sundays they are open from 10am to 4:30pm. The great thing about apple picking is that it’s fun for all ages and you can actually pick the apples you want right from the trees. Long sticks with hooked baskets on the top are used to reach the out-of-reach apples and you can buy as many empty bags to load with apples as you like. Calico Ranch is two miles west of Julian on highway 78 and they don’t take credit cards.

The thing is, it’s worth it to drive all the way to Julian just to buy the fresh picked apples, even if you don’t pick them yourself. Once you have taken a bite of a crisp Pippin apple or seen how white the flesh of Red Delicious is supposed to be, it will be hard to find a tolerable store bought apple again. Have you ever had a Winesap or a Jonathan or even a Northern Spy? Many varieties of apples are only available near apple orchards during apple season because they diminish in quality very quickly. The amazing thing about having a variety is that when you bake an apple pie with three different kinds of apples, they produce enough of their own sweetness to make the pie moist and tasty without added sugar.

Take lots of pictures, stop at Meyer Orchards, on highway 78, (no credit cards) for a wide variety of apples and pears, and appreciate that there are small towns like Julian in the mountains a few hours outside of Los Angeles with crisp autumns and even snowy winters. What an amazing place we live in.

Please check out the Julian Chamber of Commerce website for the calendar of events for the coming months: www.julianca.com

The Country Carriage: $25-$40 for ½ hour ride, reservations preferred, (760) 765-1471
Pioneer Museum: $2 donation per adult, $1 for children over 8, free for 7 or under (760) 765-0227
2811 Washington Street
Calico Ranch: approx. $7.50 for a 5 lb bag, no credit cards,(858)586-0392
Meyer Orchards: (760) 765-0233
3962 Highway 78, Wynola, CA, no credit cards
Julian Stables: $45 per person, call for reservations (760) 765-1598

My Mom’s Apple Pie Recipe:

Preheat oven: 410 degrees Fahrenheit

Ingredients

Two 9” pie crusts*
8-9 peeled, cored and sliced apples of 3 different varieties, preferably (Cortland, Yellow Delicious, Macintosh, Baldwin, etc.)
¼ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon margarine
Spread sliced apples evenly into pie bottom, mix sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon together and sprinkle over apples. Sugar causes water to release from apples when baking, making a slight syrup. No sugar will give a drier, but still tasty pie. Dot apples with margarine. Cut vents into top crust, place on top of pie, trim and flute edges.

Bake at 410 degrees for 10 minutes
Then, reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 45 minutes to 1 hour

To make my mom’s pie crust from scratch:

2 cups flour
2/3 cup margarine
pinch salt
5 Tablespoons ice water or apple cider

Cut shortening into flour until pea size. Add 5 Tablespoons ice water (or cider), toss with fork, form into ball quickly with hands, wrap and chill. Depending on humidity of day, more or less water may be required. Do not over-handle dough.

After dough chilled firm, split into two balls, roll into two 9” crusts.