“This is the Place”

by Bob Sparrow

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SLC and the Wasatch Mountain Range

That’s what Brigham Young said in 1847 after a long overland trek from Illinois, when standing at the mouth of Emigration Canyon on the east bench of the Wasatch Mountain Range looking over what is now the Salt Lake Valley. It was there that their journey would end and where the Mormon religion would call home as they committed to “make the desert blossom like a rose”. It is said that there was only one tree in the valley at that time, now there are over one million trees and lots of roses.

 

I was first introduced to Utah in 1964 when visiting the campus of the University of Utah on a football recruiting trip. I was immediately taken by the beauty and majesty of the surrounding mountains. It was January and a blanket of snow covered the Wasatch Range as well as the wide boulevards of Salt Lake City. It was a spectacular winter wonderland, especially for a young man who was born and raised in California.

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Tuscany entrance

In recent years Linda and I as well as brother, Jack and wife, Sharon have tried to get back to a Utah football game each season. This year we were joined by Mark & Kathy Johnson for the Utah-Oregon game. The Johnsons had an additional incentive to go to Utah as Mark’s parents and a brother live there.  For the last seven years we have always had our ‘pre-game Friday night meal’ at a wonderful restaurant in Holladay, a southern suburb of Salt Lake, called Tuscany. It is nestled among cottonwood and box elder trees making it barely visible from the street and has a ‘cozy old world’ feel inside. On this Friday night we had one of the owners of the restaurant, Mark Eaton, eating at the table next to us. He was a professional basketball player for the Utah Jazz and is hard to miss at 7’4”. At 59 years old, he looked like he could still play. Delightful dinner, the pork chop is to die for!

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Rice-Eccles Stadium

The game was at noon on a clear, crisp Saturday, which kept us from using the day to stop by the campus of my son Jeff’s and my alma mater, Westminster College. But it did not keep us from heading to the tailgate party across from the stadium where Jeff had alerted a Utah alum friend that we would be there and so we were invited to their tailgate party, which was no small bash! With no professional football team within 500 miles, Salt Lake is a college football town, which was easily seen by the throngs of supporters wearing red and pouring into a sold out stadium. Rice-Eccles Stadium was brought up to its current state-of-the-art condition when Salt Lake hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics. The football game itself? I suppose it was exciting, but not a good exciting, as Oregon scored the go-ahead touchdown with 2 seconds left in the game to win 30-28.

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Tailgaters

Our ‘consolation dinner’ that night was down town at the Market Street Grill, which was just a couple of blocks from our City Center Marriott hotel. We were directed to the Main Street Grill by dear friend and neighbor, Marge Dunn, whose niece, Sarah works there. We had a delicious dinner and were able to talk with Sarah, who was bartending this night.

In spite of the Utah heart-breaking loss, which kept them from playing for the Pac-12 South championship the following week, the visit was invigorating. The weather was truly ‘fall-like’, which we don’t get much of in Southern California and Salt Lake has to be one of the cleanest and safest cities in the country. If you’ve never been there, put it on your bucket list, you won’t regret it . . . and don’t forget to have dinner at Tuscany.

 

 

 

BODIE, BUTTS AND…BENTON

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

imageWell, judging from the response we got to Bob’s post last week, I’d say his butt is so popular it should have its own Twitter feed.  He continues to do quite well in his recovery but his now-famous derrière is still stuck at home.  So this week you’ll be traveling with me again to the Eastern Sierras.  Last time I wrote about the ghost town of Bodie, which is a state park that has been preserved in a state of “arrested decay”.  Hmmm, sounds like some people I know.  In any event, this week our travels take us to the towns of Benton and Benton Hot Springs.  If you’ve never heard of them, you’re in good company.

No gas or food here

No gas or food here

Benton and Benton Hot Springs are on California Highway 6, 32 miles north of Bishop and 46 miles east of Mammoth Lakes.  The towns are three miles apart and are literally in the middle of nowhere.  More on that in a moment.  The “Bentons” were established in 1852 by the Paiute Indian tribe who sought out the warm springs that surround the area.  During the gold rush Benton became a stop-over spot for fortune seekers traveling to and from the western Sierras.  With the discovery of gold in Bodie, Benton became a supply center for the mines and the population swelled to 5,000 people.  The heyday of the towns was from 1862 to 1889 and then, much like Bodie, the gold-seekers moved on to other states and the towns that supported the mines fell on hard times.

Today, Benton Hot Springs is noted for a rustic bed and breakfast, aptly named The Inn at Benton Hot Springs.  Remember when my brother wrote about the Inn at Spanish Bay?  This is nothing like that.  However, it is a jumping off point for many of the hiking trails in the area and is busy all summer long.  Note that I said it is “rustic” – only one of the rooms has its own bathroom.  The inn gets varying reviews on Yelp from “fabulous” to “flea bitten .  Since sharing a bathroom with a stranger is my idea of Dante’s Inferno, I’m going to pass on the Inn.  But if you want to hike the area it is your best – albeit your only – bet.

It looks innocent enough but...

Hasn’t changed since the ’50’s

Benton is the real “town” of the two spots, although the current population has dwindled down to 165 hearty souls.  The town’s gathering place is the Benton Station Cafe, which coincidentally is also the gas station, bus stop and post office.  My husband and I have mixed memories of Benton Station.  About 25 years ago on our first trip through the area we decided to stop and use the facilities at the cafe.  It should be noted that Benton Station provides the only bathroom in a 30 mile radius so we assumed they had lots of visitors with urgent needs.  When we walked through the front door everything and everyone came to a standstill.  Every person in the place (and it was packed) stopped talking and turned to look at us as we walked through.  No one said a word to us but they followed our every move.  Images of “Deliverance” raced through our minds.  We scurried to the restrooms, bought a couple of Cokes as a donation, and got the hell out of there.  I have since learned that, like The Inn at Benton Springs, the Benton cafe has widely divergent reviews.  While their pies are rated universally tasty, the food is deemed to be either “best ever” or “sick as a dog for three days”.  It turns out there is a “good” cook and one whose vocational talents lie elsewhere.  The locals have memorized the cafe schedule so they know which days will provide a delicious meal.  After reading that I thought back to the day 25 years ago and surmised that we must have hit the cafe on a day when the “good” cook was working and the locals didn’t want us horning in on the food.

Our wingman

Our wing man

This year we decided to make the trip from Mammoth Lakes out to Benton once again.  Truly, the scenery on the road there is spectacular – a mix of mountains and rolling hills, pines trees and a view of the southern end of Momo Lake.  But knowing that the past can be prelude, we prepared ahead of time for this journey out to Benton.  We brought Dash the Wonder Dog along to act as interference.  After all, the locals might be wary of us, but who can resist the face of a cute dog?

 

Lake Arrowhead or Big Bear Lake?

 by Bob Sparrow

arrowhead queen

The Arrowhead Queen

There are two major mountain lakes in southern California, Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear Lake, they are both in the San Bernardino National Forest about 25 miles apart. They’ve been sibling rivals since 1922, when a dam was built to form Lake Arrowhead. They are both man-made lakes, with the dam that formed Big Bear Lake constructed back in 1884.

Having grown up around Lake Tahoe, I have a deep appreciation for scenic mountain lakes, so have visited both of these local resorts on numerous occasions, Arrowhead more than Big Bear, primarily because it’s a little closer and esthetically more appealing to me. In fact I had not been to Big Bear in several years, until a few weeks ago, when I  visited my daughter, Dana’s mother-in-law’s place to check out the ‘new’ Big Bear. I say ‘new’ because over the last several years, Big Bear has made a concerted effort to up-grade its redheaded stepchild image, with considerable success I might add.

BigBearVillageWinter

The Village at Big Bear Lake in Winter

As I explored Big Bear, I imagined a discussion between these two alpine lakes going something like this . . .

Lake Arrowhead (LA): “It’s nice to see that you’re finally cleaning up your act.”

Big Bear (BB): “Yeah, well let’s see what you look like when you get to be 132 years old!”

LA: “Why do they even call you Big Bear anyway, there are no big bears around?”

BB: “There used to be lots of Grizzlies here until man hunted them into extinction; and by the way, they used to call you Little Bear Lake’

LA: “But I still have 14 miles of beautiful shoreline.”

BB: “I have 22, which is why you were called Little Bear!”

LA: “You used to have 22 not-as-beautiful-shoreline-as-mine, but it’s shrunk considerably with the drought.”

BB: “Same shoreline, just much more beach now for a population of just over 5,000 to enjoy.”

LA: “That’s nothing; I have a population of over 12,000.”

BB: “So you’re saying that it’s more crowded there than it is here?”

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Celebrity homes on Lake Arrowhead

LA: “If crowded means we’ve had more star’s homes here like Tom Selleck, Shirley Temple Black, Priscilla Presley, Brian Wilson, Patrick Swayze and Michael Jackson, then yes, I guess we’re more crowded.”

BB: “Yeah, well we have the homes of Britney Spears, Mike Judge, who did the voices for Beavis and Butthead, Michael Richards, Krammer on Seinfeld, the metal band, Korn, and Richard Karn, who was the sidekick to Tim Allen in Home Improvement.

LA: “See, you have to explain who your ‘stars’ are; Michael Jackson needs no explanation.”

BB:Michael Jackson needs a lot of explanation, but that’s besides the point. So let’s stay in the show business genre, what movies have been shot there?”

LA: The Courtship of Miles Standish, The American President and Space Jam to name a few.”

Gone

“Frankly Scarlet . . .

BB: “Yeah, a few that are not very well known. Here’s some of mine you might remember: Heidi, Shane, Old Yeller and you may recall this one, Gone With the Wind. Case closed, let’s move on the skiing.”

LA: “We have great water skiing.”

BB: “You are a ‘private‘ lake and many activities are restricted to residents only. I have two marinas where the public can rent pontoon boats, go fishing, rent fishing equipment, take wakeboard or waterski rides, rent kayaks and canoes and ride a pirate ship.”

LA: “Well, the public can take a ride on my Arrowhead Queen and see all the spectacular celebrity homes around the lake.”

BB: “So what happens in the winter? How’s snow skiing at your elevation of 5,174?”

LA: “Well, we have Snow Valley fairly close by”

BB: “But it’s actually closer to me and I’m at 6,750 feet elevation; we also have Bear Mountain and Snow Summit at 8,200 feet elevation; so we are clearly the winter destination. Let’s move on, how’s your summer hiking trails?”

LA: “They’re awesome; I have Goat Trail, Little Bear Creek, Heaps Peak, Crab Creek, Little Green Valley and many more.”

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View of Big Bear Lake from Pacific Crest Trail

BB: “Not bad I guess, but I have Heart Rock, Vivian Creek, Castle Rock, Deep Creek Hot Springs, Big Falls, Cougar Crest and, oh yeah the famous Pacific Crest Trail, which goes from Mexico to Canada, runs right by me.”

LA: “Fine! Let’s talk about golf; do you have anything to compare to Arrowhead Golf and Country Club?”

BB: “No, not really, I’ll leave the country club set to you. I’ll admit you’re prettier than I am, but your ‘Village’ is looking fairly tired and my ‘Village’ is buzzing with new shops, restaurants and bars; summer or winter this is the place to be.”

LA: “But you said I’m still prettier right?”

Okay kids, enough! The fact is that neither one is a Lake Tahoe, but for my money, if you’re an adventurer, Big Bear Lake is probably your best destination in the summer and for sure in the winter, but if you just want to get to the mountains to enjoy some clean air and the scenery of a beautiful mountain lake, rent a home on Lake Arrowhead or stay lake-side at the luxurious Lake Arrowhead Resort & Spa and take a cruise on the Arrowhead Queen.

 

The Coast of California

by Bob Sparrow

Borrowing a format from friend, fellow adventurer and blogger, Jeff Kane . . .

The music: Coast of California, a haunting melody sung by the Kingston Trio

The wine: Big Easy, a Syrah blend from central coast’s Fess Parker Winery

Hwy 1     I recently had the pleasure of experiencing 137 miles of the natural beauty of the California coastline. The occasion was a golf trip for a milestone birthday celebration for friend, Judy VanBoxmeer, put together by husband, John. It was an opportunity to make a drive I hadn’t made in over 35 years – up State Route 1.

State Route 1 is arguably the most scenic road in America.  It has several aliases: Pacific Coast Highway or PCH to the locals, Cabrillo Highway as well as just Highway 1.  It was built piecemeal in various stages, with the first section opening in the Big Sur region in the 1930s.  It stretches as far north as the little town of Leggett, CA, in Mendocino County and in the south it terminates in Orange County, which I will probably do as well.  Leggett is the home of some of the largest Redwood trees in the world, including the famous ‘Drive Through Tree’.  But we weren’t going as far north as Leggett, we were headed to a place called Pebble Beach – perhaps you’ve heard of it.

legget tree

Drive-Through-Tree

Hwy 1 and Hwy 101 join together just south of the college town of San Luis Obispo and then splits again just north of SLO with Hwy 101 staying inland and Hwy 1 heading for the coast where it meets up with the Pacific Ocean at Morro Bay. Over the next 94 miles to Big Sur, the road hugs the coastline in spectacular fashion, passing through the little towns of Harmony (pop. 18), Cambria, the midway point between Los Angeles and San Francisco; then, after you pass through San Simeon (pop. 462) you have to force yourself to turn away from the spectacular coastline and look high up on the mountains inland to see Hearst’s Castle – an adventure for another day.

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Bixby Creek Bridge

From San Simeon to just below Big Sur, the road really traces the coastline closely. This drive is not for the timid or those prone to carsickness; it is a winding road with barely enough room for two cars to pass. During our trip the road was narrowed to just one lane three times, due to either the road having eroding below us or from rocks having slid from above. Thankfully there are numerous places to pull over and watch the sea lions sun bathing, the surf crashing against the cliffs or the sun sinking into the Pacific.

As we entered the Big Sur area, the road turned inland just a bit and we found ourselves deep in a forest surrounded by trees of every description, coast redwoods, bay laurel, white oak, fir, pine, as well as the endangered wild orchid. Although Big Sur is sparsely populated (about 1,000), its beauty and serenity attract a good number of musicians, writers and artists throughout the summer.

MoBP

Moon over Pebble Beach

As we leave Big Sur and cross over the iconic Bixby Bridge, we have about another 15 beautiful miles before we are greeted by the quaint village of Carmel-by-the-Sea – southern gateway to the Monterey Peninsula.

As we sat down for dinner outside at ‘The Bench’ just off the 18th green at Pebble Beach on a beautiful evening, I was reminded that we were only a few days away from the ‘longest day of the year’ as the last group of golfers were just teeing off on the 18th hole at 8:55 p.m.

Our stay at the Inn at Spanish Bay started with a most beautiful day to play the Links at Spanish Bay, which is laid out along the coastline, and ended with the traditional kilted Scotsman coming over the dunes at day’s end playing his bagpipe. The following day we played Pebble Beach, fog was included at no extra cost, although it seemed like there were some extra costs in there somewhere!  It was not as beautiful a day, but . . . hey, it was Pebble Beach! There is no real need to discuss my golf scores on these fabulous courses; the pleasure was in the beauty. The pleasure was in the beauty. bagpiperThe pleasure was in the beauty!

Great scenery, great friends and great expense made for a fabulous trip. I believe that every Californian MUST take the Hwy 1 drive at least once in their life.

 

Below is an aerial video from YouTube you might enjoy (Thank you son, Jeff for helping with the IT).

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The Mission Inn – The End of a Perfect Day

by Bob Sparrow

(continued from Monday)

Will Rogers probably defined the Mission Inn best when he said, “It is the most unique hotel in America. It’s a monastery, a museum, a fine hotel, a home, a boardinghouse, a mission, an art gallery and an aviator’s shrine. It combines the best features of all of the above.”

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The Chapel and our Docent

The chapel at the Mission Inn is stunning and is a National Historic Landmark with two original stained glass windows by Lewis Tiffany, yes, that Tiffany, and an alter that is 25 feet tall and 16 feet across completely covered with three coats of 18-karat gold leaf. The ‘Garden of Bells’ has over 800 bells including one dating to 1247 described as the ‘oldest bell in Christendom’. In 1932, son Frank Miller, who had by then taken over for dad, C. C., put up a ‘Famous Flyers Wall’ recognizing over 150 notable aviators.

There are so many nooks, crannies, artifacts and stories that go with them that I couldn’t begin to cover them all here; those who have been there know what I mean and I’m not a good enough writer to describe it to those who haven’t – just go!

Our docent worked overtime as after our tour she took us to the Presidential Lounge and asked us to get an adult beverage and follow her to a roof-top terrace where we watched the sunset. She told us that a song popular at the beginning of the 20th century, was written by Carrie-Jacobs Bond, a hotel guest in 1909,  and was composed as she watched from the hotel as the sun set behind Mt. Rubidoux, just as we were doing. The song is called ‘The End of a Perfect Day’ and I think it accurately summed up my time there.

MI Xmas

The Mission Inn during the holidays

Most visitors like to go to the Mission Inn during the holidays when it is resplendent with nearly 4 million Christmas lights and 400 animated figures, but I’d never gone thinking that I hate crowds and Google has lots of pictures, but now, after seeing how amazing this place is, I can’t wait to see it over the holidays this year. Besides, I know there’s some secret tunnels and catacombs just waiting to be uncovered . . . that would make it ‘The End of a Perfect Day’.

Additional photos

Top of Mt. Rubidoux today and an Easter Sunrise Service back in the day

Sunrise                                        Mt. Rubidoux

 

Bridge over the Santa Ana River (If you don’t see any water, no need to adjust your glasses, it is now dry, so Riverside should be renamed ‘DryRiverBedside’)

River

On the left is the Chamber of Commerce photo of the view from Mt. Rubidoux, my photo is on the right

mt r cc  smog

Interior Stairwell and Chapel at night at the Mission Inn

MI Stairwell   chapel

The Mission Inn and Mt. Rubidoux Tunnels?

by Bob Sparrow

MI entranceA mountain to climb and a visit to an iconic California hotel that has been rumored to be haunted was all I needed to inspire my trip to Mt. Rubidoux and the famous Mission Inn, just 45 minutes away in Riverside. I had no visions of having a paranormal experience or even finding the secret catacombs that supposedly connected these two landmarks which are a mile apart, but it might be fun looking for them and I thought you’d enjoy the journey.

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Mt. Rubidoux – notice the air duct

My day starts with the hike of Mt. Rubidoux, to be honest, it was more of a stroll than a hike, as it was only about 3 miles of paved trails with a total elevation of 1,399 feet – women pushing baby carts passed me by. The mountain looks like a small geological burp – a boulder outcropping rising out of an otherwise flat terrain. In 1903 the mountain was the site of the first non-denominational Easter sunrise service in the U.S., so it’s got that going for it. I hiked every trail and non-trail on the mountain looking for the entrance to the secret tunnel that leads to the Mission Inn. Just as I was about to give up I discovered an out-of-the-way rock formation that looked like an entrance AND it had what looked like an air duct pipe coming out of it. As I started to move towards it, a female park ranger asked where I was going. I looked at her knowingly, hiked up my pants and gave her that Barney Fife sniff and said, “I found it, didn’t I?” She replied, “You found an old sewer line, now move on.”

catacombs

Where does this go???????

Unable to use the ‘secret passageway’, I was forced to drive the mile to the Mission Inn for my docent-led 75-minute tour – well worth the $13 price tag I might add. The docent, who fortunately had a great sense of humor, introduced herself and asked our group if there was any part of the Inn that was of particular interest to us. I saw this as my opportunity to broach the subject of the ‘secret passageways’ and asked, “Are we going to get to see the passageways, catacombs, tunnels or whatever that connects Mission Inn with Mt. Rubidoux?” The docent rolled her eyes, ignored the question and started the tour.

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Mission Inn courtyard

We are first told what the Mission Inn is not; it is NOT part of the chain of 21 historic Spanish Missions in California, but rather it was built as a small hotel by Christopher Columbus Miller in 1876, and because Miller was a world traveler (not a surprise with a name like Christopher Columbus), the 30-year construction of the inn was influenced by many architectural styles: Spanish Gothic, Spanish Colonial, Moorish, Renaissance and Mediterranean Revival to name just a few. To my layman’s eye it looked like six committees from six corners of the earth worked on this project independently and Miller just glued them all together for the finished product, but somehow it works – it’s magnificent!

If you’ve never heard of, much less visited, the Mission Inn, let me start your edification of this unique hotel with a list of a few of the august luminaries who have stayed there.

US Presidents: Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Herbert Hoover, John Kennedy, Gerald Ford and George W. Bush.

Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan were married and honeymooned there. Let me rephrase that; Richard and Pat Nixon were married there and Ronald and Nancy Reagan honeymooned there.  Glad we cleared that up!

Why so many presidential visitors you ask? Not that I’m obsessed or anything, but I think it goes back to those tunnels as a security measure; if we ever had an emergency that required us to go to ‘DefCon4’ while a president was staying at the Mission Inn, they would have a secret underground escape route.  OK, maybe that’s just the conspiracy theorists in me talking.

Industrialists: John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, William Randolph Hearst, Henry Ford

Entertainers: Clark Gable, Spenser Tracy, Harry Houdini, W.C. Fields, Bette Davis, William Boyd (Hopalong Cassidy), he actually worked there for a while as a chauffeur.

Numerous movies have been shot there.

Other notables: Amelia Earhart, John Muir, Booker T. Washington, Albert Einstein, Helen Keller

Will Rogers probably defined the Mission Inn best when he said . . .

(Continued on Thursday)

 

Treasures in the Desert

by Bob Sparrow

ironwood 2My formal introduction to the ‘treasures of the desert’ probably took place in the early 70s, when brother, Jack took a job as restaurant manager at Ironwood Country Club in Palm Desert and he invited me out for a weekend. I believe it was in March and I was teaching school in southern California at the time; I remember thinking as I made the drive to Palm Desert just how close the desert really was – only about an hour and half drive and yet, I was to find out, a world apart. And while the weather was certainly nice in Orange County in March, it was amazing in Palm Desert, especially the nights. I remember sitting out on a beautifully clear evening with a billion stars all around, wondering how long this had been going on – apparently for quite some time.

painter's pallet

‘Painter’s Palette’ Death Valley

My love and fascination with the desert and its flora and fauna has continued to this day. I was amazed at the colors and the shear beauty of the desert on my first visit to Death Valley where I was also intrigued with ‘desert stories’ like that of ‘Scotty’s Castle’. My two treks through Joshua Tree National Park introduced me to unique rock formations, eerie hidden caves and spectacular views. My hike through Havasupai introduced me to the extraordinary water features in what was seemingly a dry, desolate desert. I recently visited the Desert Museum in Tucson with niece, Shelley Watson and continued to be amazed at all the beauty and life that exists in the Arizona-Sonora desert. The Raptor Show, featuring Ravens, Great Horned Owls and Falcons was remarkable!

Aside from the ‘family treasures’ in the desert, such as my sister, Suzanne living in Scottsdale and my sister-in-law, Starlet in Apache Junction, there’s a small oasis about three-and-a-half hours from home that calls to Linda a couple of times each year; you might know the place . . . Las Vegas. Linda has not met a Top Dollar slot machine that she doesn’t think she can hit the ‘big one’ on, so for her birthday each year, I ‘surprise’ her with a trip to visit our money. This year we did manage to salvage a little education out of the trip with an excursion to Hoover Dam, the building of which was amazing.

primm3

Primm, Nevada

With all the hikes, excursions, timeshare in Palm Desert and trips to Vegas, you’d think I’d have my fill of the desert, but no, there is yet another pilgrimage that we make each year and from which I have just returned – Primm.

Primm, or what used to be called Stateline, is on the California-Nevada border, and at first passing you wonder why anyone would stop there with Vegas just 30 minutes away. The answer is Primm’s two 18-hole golf courses, which have a unique history of their own. Famous golf course designer, Tom Fazio, was contracted by Steve Wynn to design the golf course at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas, under the condition that he would not design another golf course in the state of Nevada. Thus, the two magnificent courses he designed at Primm are just over the border in California.

south point

South Point Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, NV

A group of 12 couples from Yorba Linda Country Club have been going to Primm on ‘Derby Weekend’ since 1996. The outing was originally put together by Debbie Osborne, who with husband Russ, still attend, along with two other original members, John & Judy VanBoxmeer and Don & Marilyn Spradling, who made the trip this year from their home in Fresno. Linda and I have been lucky enough to have been part of this ‘gang that couldn’t shoot straight’ for the last 12 years

equestrian center

Rodeo at South Point Equestrian Center

A small wrinkle in the Primm trip this year was, for the first time, we didn’t stay in Primm. While the golf courses are top quality, the Primm Resort & Casino would be lucky to get the tip of one star in a five-star rating. So, one of this year’s organizers, Chuck Sager, who has ‘connections’ at South Point Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, suggested a change of venue. The South Point Hotel is very unique among Las Vegas hotels – it has 124 bowling lanes as well as horse stables and a full equestrian center, where, last weekend, many of us witnessed our first rodeo. It is truly an amazing place.  Thank you Chuck!  We also changed golf courses to Rhodes Ranch, another ‘treasure in the desert’.

derby

Sometimes a ‘winner’ is a ‘loser’

A tradition at this gathering is a large bet on the Kentucky Derby. We have two legitimate ‘pony players’ in the group, Jack Budd and Russ Osborne, so everyone gives them $105 and they make some sort of boxed, parlay, quinella bet to heighten our interest in watching ‘The Derby’. We actually won about $24,000 in 2011, of course it was split amongst 24 people, but still, it was a lot more fun than losing, or winning the way we did this year. Jack & Russ actually picked the top 4 finishers, but because they were mostly favorites, our $105 bet got us a $30 return, so ‘winning’ produced a $75 loss. But it was exciting for a moment, before we realized that winning was actually losing – more mysteries of the desert!

Whether I’m hiking, exploring, golfing or just losing money, the desert continues to lure me to its hidden treasures.

Beach Music

by Bob Sparrow

beach musicBeach music is the music I hear on the rare occasions I frequent the beach. Beach Music is also the name of a novel by my favorite author, Pat Conroy, who wrote a number of classics, and who sadly passed away earlier this month. He wrote prose like poetry – such a gifted writer, gone too soon. Here a passage from Prince of Tides that I think exemplifies his writing . . .

It was growing dark on this long southern evening and suddenly, at the exact point her finger had indicated, the moon lifted a forehead of stunning gold above the horizon, lifted straight out of filigreed, light-intoxicated clouds that lay on the skyline in attendant veils. Behind us, the sun was setting in a simultaneous congruent withdrawal and the river turned to flame in a quiet duel of gold.

You and I would just write something like, “Hey, the moon is coming up just as the sun is setting, cool.”

rainy beach

Rainy day in Malibu

Although I have lived nearly my entire life within a half-hour’s drive of one beach or another, I am not, nor have I ever been, a ‘beach person’. So the music I hear is not actual music, but rather the vibe of the beach; the pounding of the surf, the squawking of sea gulls, the spray of the ocean on my face. To me, beaches are most interesting in the winter when it’s cold and rainy. It’s at those times that the coast briefly returns to its natural state of sand beaches with no umbrellas stuck in them and the rhythmic and steady slapping of the ocean on the shore. Even without all the man-made trappings, each beach has its own personality. My destination today is Malibu. I choose it not for it’s popularity or its connection to Hollywood stars, but rather because of its most-interesting history.

malibu homes3

View I never saw!

Malibu’s ‘Hollywood’ past includes being the backdrop for such movies as Gidget, Planet of the Apes and Grease as well as the TV productions of Happy Days, Baywatch and The O.C. – yep the series about life in Orange County was filmed in Los Angeles County! Past residents of Malibu include, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Gloria Swanson, Rod Steiger, George C. Scott and Johnny Carson to name just a few. The long list of present residents includes, Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert Redford, Tom Hanks and Whoopi Goldberg.

‘Malibu Beach Music’ – a few of the musical artists in Malibu include Barbra Streisand, Bob Dylan, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Cher, Brad Paisley, and Pink.

With all the enclaves in southern California, why have so many stars chosen Malibu as their home? I thought you’d never ask.

It’s all about the privacy, and of course the weather.  And why is Malibu more ‘private’ than any other place? I found the answer to thatK&Q question in a book I recently read called, The King & Queen of Malibu, written by David K. Randall. It is a fascinating story of Fredrick and May Rindge, an odd, millionaire couple from Boston, who came to California for ‘health and wealth’ and in 1891 ended up buying over 13,000 acres of property called ‘the Malibu’, that included Topanga Canyon, the Santa Monica Mountains and Malibu Beach.

The Rindges guarded their privacy zealously; hiring armed guards to shoot any trespassers, which they did! They successfully fought off Southern Pacific Railroad, who wanted to establish a railroad line through their ranch, but in 1929 lost an ‘eminent domain’ fight, which allowed the government to put a road through their property along the coast – that road today is the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). But May Rindge, then a widow, kept control of Malibu Beach, and in order to raise much-needed money, she allowed a few Hollywood stars to build vacation homes there, and thus ‘the Colony’ was created.

I decided that I would take the hour or so drive north to discover what I could of what Malibu looked like today. I arrived in Malibu in an early morning fog that would hang on for another hour or so before the sun burned through the marine layer to reveal the full extent of the coastline. The fog was dense and close and a chill rented the air on this last day of winter.

scenic beauty

Really?

Upon entering the city limits of Malibu, I encounter a sign welcoming me to Malibu, stating, “27 Miles of Scenic Beauty’. My research had told me that since being incorporated, Malibu had 6 miles of that 27 annexed by Ventura County, so it’s now only 21 miles of . . . regarding the ‘Scenic Beauty’, when one drives north on PCH though Malibu, the mountains rise sharply up on the right so all one sees is dirt or hillside grass. On the beach side there is a continuous line of two-story homes that are connected so as to limit access to, and visibility of, the beach; so all one can see are garages and the backs of houses. I’m sure the views from the homes are great, but the average Joe can not only not get to the beach, he can’t even see the ocean. And although Malibu’s beaches are all officially ‘open to the public’, beach access is limited and well hidden thus keeping Malibu a secluded and private city; which is why the stars are there.

As I drove further up the coast, I came to the realization that I was not only not going to see Jennifer Anniston walking her dog on the beach, but I wasn’t even going to get to walk on the beach myself.  As I turned around and headed south for home, I remembered why I never really was a beach person.

 

 

Nashville Notes

by Bob Sparrow

Nash notesFollowing are mynoteNOTESnotefrom a recent trip to country music’s mecca, Nashville, Tennessee.

Thursday – Time: 10:00 am – Flew out of LAX to Nashville

3:00 pm – Arrived in Nashville, took Uber to the Hilton Doubletree downtown

3:05 pm – Swept out underwear and headed out and remembered that we were hungry.

3:15 pm – Stopped at B.B. King’s for roasted chicken and collard greens. – the best ever!

4:30 pm – Headed out to explore ‘The District’

‘The District’ is a region bordered by the Cumberland River and 4th Avenue on the north and hats & boots south, and Shelby Street and Church Street on the east and west; Broadway runs roughly down the middle. There is a large footbridge across the Cumberland that takes pedestrians over to Nissan Stadium where the NFL Tennessee Titans play. ‘The District’ was originally called the ‘Art District’, but now mostly features the art of the pour, as it is full of bars, saloons and honky-tonks – I guess those are three names for the same thing, but mostly that’s all there is, well, that and lots of places to buy cowboy hats and boots; there is also the Johnny Cash and George Jones Museum. Didn’t see much art. Back to the bars, saloons and honky-tonks – they are all filled with live music, starting in the morning and going until . . . not sure, couldn’t stay up that late!

7:30 – Went into the Benchmark Bar and ran into some guys from IBM all decked out in their shiny new cowboy boots and hats; they looked like . . . guys from IBM trying not to look like guys from IBM!

Time: Not sure. Just cruised from bar to bar, each one with great live music that made you wonder, how did this guy or girl or group not make it, they are amazing?!! Surprised at how inexpensive drinks are – this is good . . . and bad!

Printer's AlleyStill unsure of the time: Strolled over to Printer’s Alley

‘Printers Alley’ was originally home to a thriving publishing industry. The area had two large newspapers, ten print shops, and thirteen publishers. In the 1940s it became a nightclub and entertainment district; sale of liquor for on premise consumption was illegal throughout Tennessee, but restaurants and clubs in ‘the alley’ served liquor anyway, often claiming it had been “brown bagged” (brought in by customers). Law enforcement agencies normally looked the other way on such sales. Liquor sales in restaurants were finally legalized in 1968. 1968!!!!

It honestly has lost some of its vibe, but still has some classic watering holes.

Martini

Chocolate Martinis

Time: Much later: Crawled back to the hotel, but needed just one more drink before bedtime – a Chocolate Martini.

Friday – it’s only Friday?! That was quite a Thursday! Slept in due to possible hang over. Don’t think they actually have mornings in Nashville – all days just start around noon.

Time: afternoon – walked over to Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant. Had BBQ pork (melts in your mouth), onion rings, Caesar salad – most delicious lunch ever! Food here is just terrific!

Hit some shops and the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, but wanted to rest up for the concert this evening, so headed back to hotel and on the way bought a ‘Goo Goo Cluster’ – a candy bar created in Nashville and a local favorite.

Blake Shelton

Linda, Blake & Dana

7:00ish – Walked to the Bridgestone Arena to attend the Blake Shelton concert. The opening act was Chris Janson, who, like most of the entertainment seen in Nashville was outstanding! Blake put on a great performance in which he sang all his hit songs, interfaced with the audience and had a great back-up band. The word on the street was that Gwen Stefani was in town, and perhaps was going to make a surprise cameo appearance, but not to be.

After concert – what else, visited more bars.

Time: about 1:00 a.m. – Remembered we missed dinner, so headed to Merchants, one of only places that didn’t have music, and it was sort of a relief to have a little peace and quiet. After dinner, back to the hotel and opted for the Chocolate Chip cookies instead of the Chocolate Martini. Livers were thankful.

Saturday – Slept in – what a surprise!  What, it’s only Saturday?!!

GOO2

Grand Ole Opry

Time: 1:30 – ‘Backstage Tour’ of the Grand Ole Opry. Tour included videos of Blake Shelton and Charles Esten, (the character of Deacon Claybourne on the TV series ‘Nashville’); very fun and interesting. Also visited the Gaylord Opryland Hotel – magnificent.

Those who watch the TV series ‘Nashville’ will understand that a trip to Nashville is not complete until you visit the Blue Bird Café. Even though it is small and in an out-of-town strip center, it is a legendary venue that has given some of country music’s biggest stars their start; such as Keith Urban, Taylor Swift and Garth Brooks to name a few with whom you might be familiar. Because it holds only about 100 people, tickets are extremely hard to get. But they offer about 20 seats on a first-come-first-serve basis.

Blue bird

Blue Bird Cafe

Time: 3:30 – After about a 30-minute Uber ride from our hotel, we got to the Blue Bird Café and got in line; doors open at 5:30. Looks like we’ll get in. Met two girls from New Jersey, Sherry and Sarah, with whom we shared some chips and a few ‘boxes-o-wine’ while waiting in line. They became our new best friends for the evening.

Time: 5:30, we’re in! Just being inside is an amazing experience when you think about all the stars that have been on this ‘stage in the round’ at the center of the café. It is never a rowdy crowd here, as patrons are expected to remain fairly quiet and listen to the singer-songwriters performing. Lots of songs about love gone bad, not a surprise at a country venue. Great experience!

Box of wine

Linda, Sherry, Sarah with Box-O-Wine

Time: Later – we head back to the bars of Broadway and eventually staggered home

Sunday – slept in! Fortunately the flight home didn’t leave until mid-afternoon, so head back to BB Kings for lunch – brisket, green beans, mashed potatoes; pulled pork, mac & cheese – gonna miss this southern cooking!

8:00 p.m. – Landed at LAX

After reading this, if you’re thinking you’d really like to go to Nashville – me too!  No, I’ve never been, and this vicarious vacationer didn’t lie in my opening statement, these are my notes from a recent trip, but the trip was given to Linda and Dana as a Christmas gift from son-in-law/husband, Joe Borrelli. They both said, “Best Christmas gift ever!”

 

 

 

 

Say What? You Went Where?

by Bob Sparrow

blood_v_cripsAs you regular readers know, I love to travel, but I can’t hike in places like the Andes or the Himalayans every year. Nevertheless, I was feeling a bit of cabin fever (You know how this harsh California weather can keep you housebound all winter), and perhaps a bit ‘blog-challenged’, so I started looking for someplace to go, someplace local, someplace neither you nor I have been before.

I pulled out my map as I recalled some of my experiences from previous ‘local’ excursions, i.e. being thrown off the beach at Nixon’s Western White House, being freaked out by a paranormal experience on the Queen Mary and being ripped off by a phony fortune teller at Venice Beach, to name a few. OK, maybe they weren’t all great experiences, but they were experiences and they were local! Now I was looking for someplace really ‘different’, someplace ‘locally foreign’, if there is such a thing. Then I saw it, starring up at me from my map . . . South Central Los Angeles. No, I wasn’t back at the local Yardhouse being over-served on foreign beer! I thought, why not do a trip into the toughest part of LA, it could be a great experience . . . or you could never hear from me again; either way, it’s an adventure.

Depending on the kind of adventure I was looking for, I could either drive there during the day, or wait until the evening. I thought I wouldn’t get the full flavor unless I went in at night, but I also was really interested in surviving the experience. I’m sure if I left it up to you readers, you’d have me go late a night with $100 bills hanging out of my pockets. So I planned to leave Saturday morning.

watts riots

Watts Riot

I wanted to hit as many of the famous, or infamous ‘landmarks’ as I could, you know, the places where I was sure to find placards reading, ‘Kodak Moment’, signifying great photo opportunities. I actually called some places I found on-line that offered tours of the area, but none of them responded to email or phone inquiries. In fact, truth be told, none of them looked like they were still in business – not a good sign.

My ‘South Central’ map indicated a number of ‘must see’ locations: the site of the Watts Riots (1965), the neighborhoods where crack cocaine became an epidemic (1980s), sites of the Rodney King beating (1991) and where the riots broke out with the subsequent reading of the verdict of the officers involved in the beating (1992), and of course the hangout for the notorious rival gangs, the Crips (late ‘60s) and the Bloods (early ‘70s).

At this point I was beginning to wonder if Disneyland might have been a better choice – I know it would have been a safer one, but undaunted, I plotted my route through South Central on my map and, after checking to make sure my insurance (both car and life) was current, I put on some Snoop Dog and motored north to South Central.

graffiti

Peeps from the ‘hood

scientology

Church of Scientology

It was an unusually warm winter day in southern California and I could see a hazy outline of the downtown Los Angeles skyline in the distance as I exited the freeway and entered ‘the hood’. I noticed that most of the shops, which were liquor stores and check cashing places, had bars on their windows (we don’t see a lot of that in Orange County); I noticed a good number of street people wheeling all of their earthly belongings in a grocery cart. Along the sidewalks I saw lots of clothes hanging from rope lines and didn’t know if these were items being sold or laundry being dried. As I traveled north on Vernon Avenue there were a number of churches, none more magnificent looking than the Church of Scientology, which looked like it was dropped in from a Beverly Hills neighborhood. I wondered as I drove by if that was Tom Cruise out in front waving people into the building. I drove by some old major crack houses (No, I didn’t stop, I’ve been clean for four days!) and then passed the corner of Florence and Normandie, which was the site of the Rodney King verdict riots. Next on my left was Manual Arts High School; it was built in 1910 and was only Los Angeles’ third high school at the time. There was a high chainlink fence around it – not sure if they were keeping people in or out.  I turned on Martin Luther King Boulevard and drove past the Los Angeles Coliseum adjacent to the incongruous location of the private institution of the University of Southern California.  Instead of having ‘Fight On’ as their slogan, it seems like it should be ‘Drive On’ or perhaps ‘Drive By’.  I then headed south on South Central Avenue and drove by the old Black Panthers Headquarters, it didn’t look like any meetings were in session, so I didn’t stop. After several miles of graffiti-filled buildings and walls, I began to work my way over to  Avalon and 116th Street which is where the Watts Riots started in 1965, causing 34 deaths, 1,032 injuries, 3,438 arrests, and over $40 million in property damage.  As I headed back to the freeway on my way outwatts towers of the hood, I drove by the iconic Watts Towers (right).

The whole trip took me about three hours and I traveled a total of about 90 miles and never saw another white person the entire trip – the demographic is made up almost exclusively of Hispanics and Blacks, while Whites and Asians make up about 1% each.

OK, to be honest, it really didn’t compare to getting away on a mountain trail with pine-scented air, but it was really interesting to take a deeper dive into the history of South Central Los Angeles and to actually cruise the streets. Unfortunately, given recent events, ‘South Central’ seems to be a clarion for the failure on all sides of race relations.

Yeah, maybe Disneyland next time.