Urban Oasis: Los Angeles – The Getty Center

There is more to L.A. than movie stars, the scene, shopping and beaches.  There are many cultural and outdoor activities to enjoy, as well.  Why not combine them both – which is exactly what I did on my last trip, spending a few hours at The Getty Center.

The Getty is located on a hilltop in the heart of West L.A.’s Santa Monica Mountains, easily accessible off the 405.  Admission is free!  Parking is $15.  There is a designated Uber pick-up/drop-off zone.  From the parking area, take the tram up the hill to the main entrance.  There were several school groups on line for the tram when I arrived, so instead of waiting, I walked.  It’s a nice, but long walk uphill.

The Getty is art, architecture and gardens comprised of several modern buildings, open courtyards and panoramic views.

Just walking the grounds outside will easily take an hour or two.  Be sure to climb the outside stairs of the buildings for new vistas around every turn.

The buildings were constructed from Travertine stone, imported from Italy.

Okay, now you can go inside… on display are european and american paintings, sculpture and photography.  The Getty has a couple different dining options, including coffee carts, an informal cafeteria and formal restaurant.

Or just relax outside and soak in the day…

 

 

Urban Oasis: Atlanta – Lullwater Preserve @ Emory University

Tucked away in the heart of Atlanta’s Emory University campus is the urban oasis, Lullwater Preserve.  This recreational area with wooded trails and scenic lake is for the benefit and enjoyment of Emory’s students, staff and faculty.

Main access can be found off Clifton Road at the entrance to the President’s house. However, this is a footpath entrance only – no cars.  Park in one of the nearby Emory garages and walk over.

The trail itself varies between paved, dirt and woodchips.  The wooded “Hill Loop” section runs along the Clairmont Campus, then intersects with the park-like “Lake Loop”.  Total distance of the trails is nearly 3 miles.

It’s a beautiful and serene setting to meditate, study or just relax.

At the far end near Peachtree Creek, there is a suspension bridge and waterfalls.

This trail is a great way to get outside and enjoy nature!

Day Trips: Atlanta – Stone Mountain Park

With out of town guests, there’s always the question of things to do to make their visit to Atlanta enjoyable.  For my active friends, hiking is always a great idea.  In the couple years I’ve lived here, I never actually made it out to Stone Mountain Park – primarily because I thought it was a tourist trap geared towards kids.  Granted, there are some touristy aspects of the park. However, given the supposed great views of the city, I decided to chance it for a hike to the top.

Just a short drive outside the city, we arrived through the West Gate from the village of Stone Mountain.  After paying a $15 daily parking fee, we parked at the entrance to the “walk-up trail”. At the base is a visitors museum (with bathrooms!) that I would recommend popping into. There are some interesting displays & a video that gives you a brief background on the giant rock. Then you know what you’re walking on, and can look for markings in the rock beds that are a clue to its formation. The trail is a 1-mile fairly steep hike that begins a bit more moderately with lots of trees.

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As you go higher, the trees dissipate and the trail steepens. I’ll admit, it was pretty darn steep, even for those of us in good shape! An alternative to hiking up is taking a cable car to the top – but where’s the challenge in that! In the very last portion, it’s so steep that there’s a steel railing built into the rock.

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Once at the top, there are plenty of spots to find some shade & rest for a picnic (& a little fun, too!)

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There is a little concession building at the top, as well.  But, after all the fresh air & exercise, I’m not sure who wants this stuff!!?? So don’t forget to pack some healthy snacks & lots of water!

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On the way back down, we diverted about halfway to the Cherokee Trail.  It’s not well marked, and pretty hard to find – but basically – its near the giant clearing about halfway (you’ll know once you’re there).  We thought we’d hit the steepest part… well, not so!  This was a different kind of steep!  The trail leads across the rocks below, which makes for a big ankle workout, folks.

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At the bottom, we crossed over the Stone Mountain Railway tracks, and into a lovely forested path.  So peaceful… but, what’s that sound?  The train!

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You can continue on the Cherokee Trail, which winds around the Park.  Or turn off like we did to the Nature Garden Trail with marked signs indicating surrounding vegetation.  This path winds back to the parking area.

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Overall, a very nice way to spend a few hours in nature with an out of town guest, and not having to go far from city or spend a lot of money.

 

 

Day Trips: Atlanta – Sweetwater Creek State Park

When the weather is nice in Atlanta, without being too humid, it’s the perfect time for a day hike!  While most great hikes are a “hike” to get to outside of the city, not many friends have heard of  Sweetwater Creek State Park.  So, I decided to check it out for myself.

Only a 20-30 minute drive west of the city, Sweetwater is easily accessible via I-20 West. The creek opens up into the reservoir, which is the big lake that you pass by before the entrance to the park. There is parking, a boat dock, and picnic tables.  Further down is an official entrance to the park, with a gatehouse that charges $5 per car. Continue along the road to the very end, and you’ll arrive at the Visitor’s Center.  The Center’s knowledgeable park rangers can provide maps & advice on the trails.  The park is located on the grounds of the old 19th-century mill town called New Manchester which met its demise during the Civil War.

The red trail is the shortest and easiest, at 1-mile each way.  Same way in & same way out, along the river.  It’s also the most scenic, taking you down to the section of river with rapids where the old mill is located.  The white trail is a 5-mile loop that continues where the red trail leaves off along the southern section of the river rapids, and loops back through open meadows & wooded areas.  The yellow trail is mainly on the other side of the river from the red & white trails.  It is a steeper 3-mile trek through the hardwood forests.

Starting from the visitor’s center, the red trail’s path is easy and winds down to the flat part of the river. There were people fishing & boating here.  A portion of this part is wooden boardwalk, with viewpoints to pull off the main trail & get a better view of the river.  I paused, enjoying the view….

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….until I saw this & continued quickly along my way.

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Once you reach the old mill, there’s a wooden staircase that leads down to the river.  Hang a right & continue – this is the red trail along the rocky river path!  Here the water starts to rush against the large boulders resting across the waterway.  Kids, adults & dogs alike venture out.  A hop, skip, & jump across the rocks comes naturally here.

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The red trail continues along the river, even when it looks like there’s no path to traverse – look for the red paint & go for it!

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At the end of the red trail, I hopped over to the white trail to loop back where I came from whilst taking a different route. Look for the wooden staircase to lead the way.

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Once into the canopied forest, the dirt trail winds up & away from the river.  It’s easy to get lost in your thoughts up there, but pay attention to your path!  You don’t want to run across this guy, like I did…

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Yes, there seems to be a recurring theme of snakes on this journey. I’m not happy about it either.

The white trail eventually dead ends back into the red trail at the old mill location.  Time to find a nice rock for a picnic lunch!!

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Yellowstone – an American Safari (Part II)

Yellowstone Day Two:  Today we went up the western side of the park, branching off to the left at West Thumb.  Heading out early, we made a beeline to Old Faithful before the larger crowds moved in.  The majority of the world’s active geysers are in the Upper Geyser Basin along the Firehole River, where Old Faithful is found.  Geysers and hot springs are formed as a result of heated magma underground which superheats rain water once it seeps below the surface.  The hot water then rises to the surface through underground cracks.  Temperatures can exceed 199 degrees Fahrenheit.

Watching the eruption of Old Faithful is a park tradition and the most popular tourist attraction there, so it gets packed with people.  The geyser (currently) goes off approximately every 90 minutes.

Nice wooden bench seating on the boardwalk surrounding Old Faithful Geyser…

The viewpoint for Old Faithful is located just outside the Old Faithful Inn, which makes for nice accommodations or a nice rest stop along the route.  The Inn provides both a quick-serve cafe and full-service restaurant.

Just as important as seeing Old Faithful erupt early in the morning is getting out on the boardwalk trail to the rest of the Upper Geyser Basin.  The walk to Morning Glory Pool (the end of the trail) is approximately 2.5 miles roundtrip from the Inn, and well worth it.  It is an easy trail, partially paved, partially wooden boardwalk.  If you’re here in the summer, it’s hot.  Bring an umbrella and don’t be afraid to be “that person” that walks around under an umbrella in the sun.  You will thank me.

Converting my scarf into a sun shade…

Take the paved trail from the Inn’s parking lot to the left, towards Castle Geyser.  As the park service will warn you, DO NOT wander off the marked trails.  The week we were there, a young man ventured off the path and fell into a hot spring and died.  But have no fear, as long as you stay on the marked trails, you will be just fine.

At Castle Geyser, take the wooden boardwalk to the right.

Castle Geyser’s large cone is a sign of old age, where water deposits have built up over thousands of years.  Because of these silica deposits, it has turned the area into a thermal desert, killing trees and turning them white.

Continue along the boardwalk, past many varied thermal features, staying to the left on the other side of the Firehole River.  Crested Pool is almost constantly boiling which prevents bacterial growth resulting in the clear blue water:

And, our namesake, Belgian Pool:

Chromatic Pool:

Stopping for a rest along the way…

More thermal desert…  The vivid colors in and around thermal features are created by microscopic organisms, which survive and thrive in environments toxic to us.  These organisms have been revolutionary in scientific research and are still being studied.

At Grotto Geyser (in the distance below), turn right to get back onto the paved trail.

A longtime favorite of park visitors, Morning Glory Pool is the prize at the end of the path.

This path is one way in – one way out.  Rather than taking the turnoff back towards the boardwalk route, we stayed on the paved trail the whole way back for a change of scenery (and slightly faster route back).

Leaving the Old Faithful area and heading north, you will pass several other Basin areas, including Biscuit Basin with Sapphire Pool:

We skipped Grand Prismatic Spring because of the crowds.  Continuing north along the Firehole River are lots of nice turnouts for a picnic.

Just before getting to Madison, there is a turnoff for Firehole Canyon Drive.  This one-way road takes you to Firehole Falls.

Be sure to stop at the end of the driveway before leaving for a nice little trail that takes you closer to the water.

Look – even mom & dad climbed out to the rocks!

Yellowstone – an American Safari (Part I)

Continuing north from Grand Tetons is the south entrance to Yellowstone National Park.  Created by an act of Congress in 1872, it is America’s First National Park.  The National Park Service was created in 1916 – so this year is their 100th anniversary celebration.

The entrance fee is $30/vehicle for 7 days, or you can combine it with a Grand Tetons pass for $50 total.  Unfortunately, the Park Service does not distinguish entrance lines between those with “paid passes” and those that “need to pay”.  Needless to say, the lines don’t move very fast.  Best bet is to arrive early.  Expect to spend 15 minutes to an hour to get through the gate.

Picked the wrong line… This biker had on so much leather that it took him 10 minutes to get his wallet out of his back pocket.

Yellowstone Day One:  We went up the eastern side of the park, branching off to the right at West Thumb.  There is no need to stop in West Thumb, but if you need a rest stop, Grant Village is a large rest area with a visitors center, lodging, cafeteria, restrooms and benches for a picnic lunch.

Continuing along Yellowstone Lake towards Lake Village.

And a pit stop at the lovely Lake Yellowstone Hotel.

Continuing into Hayden Valley, we saw so many buffalo in this area.  Be careful, because they aren’t afraid of cars!  They tend to stop traffic for a while.

Hayden Valley contains the largest group of free ranging bison in the world!

Did you get near my baby?  I’m gonna start a fight & kick up some dust!

We also spotted a herd of elk just over this ridge, but were careful not to get too close.

Next up is Canyon Village and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone along the Yellowstone River.

From the South Rim Drive, head to Artist Point for a view of the Lower Falls…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next to the North Rim Drive…

View of the river and Lower Falls from Lookout Point…

View of the wooden boardwalk down to Red Rock Point…

 

View from Upper Falls Viewpoint showing the Brink of the Upper Falls viewing platform (notice the people at the top right).

Brink of the Upper Falls trail & viewpoint…

 

Serenity Found: Grand Tetons National Park

Driving north from Jackson Hole is the magnificent Teton Mountain Range.  Hang a left after passing the airport at “Moose Junction”.  There, you’ll find the southern entrance to Grand Tetons National Park ($30/vehicle for 7 days).

We stayed two nights at Signal Mountain Lodge, which is a central location within the park.  It is a beautiful property on Jackson Lake, with individual cabins, a restaurant with a view, camping and boating.

Our cabin at Signal Mountain was so cute!  This is a triplex unit, with ours on the far right.

View from the room:

Plenty of room to spread out & make yourself at home, with a gas fireplace, bar area, coffee maker, fridge and microwave.  No TV though.  And no WIFI.  Who brought the Scrabble!!  This is a Deluxe Country Room.

Just south of Signal Mountain is the second largest glacially-carved lake in the Tetons, Jenny Lake.  Some of the best hiking trails in the area, boating and swimming points – and Jenny Lake Lodge – are located there.  Unfortunately, the shuttle boat to the Inspiration Point trailhead was closed at the time of our visit.  Alternatively, you can walk the Jenny Lake Trail around the south end to the other side, roughly 2.4 miles each way.

The one-way drive through the Scenic Loop to Jenny Lake Overlook is serene & the perfect place to contemplate life for a moment.

Heading north from Signal Mountain is Jackson Lake Lodge, a very large, traditional looking lodge with great restaurants, shops and panoramic views of Jackson Lake and the Teton Range.

The tourists were going a lil nuts with their “photo-shoot”.

Leading from the back patio of the Jackson Lake Lodge is an easy hiking trail up the hill to a scenic viewpoint.

Just a bit further north from Jackson Lake is Colter Bay Village and Marina.  This is a great place to rent a kayak or canoe, with nice calm waters.

Now headed towards Yellowstone National Park, a must-stop viewpoint for a photo-op is located at Oxbow Bend Turnout.

We stayed one night in Flagg Ranch.  It’s located on the far northern end of Grand Tetons, with easy access to Yellowstone’s south entrance.

This place sure looks nice in pictures online, but it’s a wee bit rustic for me!  There is one restaurant, which… would not be my first choice in dining.  And, one small convenience store.  Other than that, you’re on your own.  The rooms themselves are fine; However, some of them have dirt paths leading to the front door and very little lighting on the exterior.  We made sure to get one with a proper pathway.  Unfortunately, the day we were there was just after some rain, and the mosquitos were out of control.  The Park Service does not spray for mosquitos inside any National Parks, nor does it stock or sell any bug spray.  Um, do you guys watch the news?  Hello… Zika.

Jackson Hole

Jackson Hole is a fun, walkable town with lots of shopping – of both the touristy and more upscale variety – bars and restaurants.  If you are looking for a souvenir, skip the t-shirt and trinket shops, and opt for local galleries filled with local art, photography and indian jewelry.

For breakfast with the locals (my preference while traveling), head a few miles out of town to Nora’s Fish Creek Inn in Wilson.  Nora’s was recommended by a friend who used to live in Jackson for good food at a reasonable price.  While known for their Huevos Rancheros, I got the Breakfast Burrito instead & it was the perfect start to my day.  And wouldn’t you know it, the place was filled with locals.

There are plenty of choices for lunch, but if you are looking for something simple, check out The Bunnery (N. Cache St.) for homestyle sandwiches, salads & soups…

…and Persephone Bakery (on Broadway) for some delicious treats!

For dinner, we opted for The Local (N. Cache St.) on more than one occasion.  It has a regular restaurant menu, as well as a separate lighter (& less expensive) bar menu – including an $8 burger!  The food is delicious, and with a view of the town square, it’s hard to beat.

Every evening at 6:00 pm in the summer, the Jackson Hole Shootout takes place  on the town square re-enacting the days of the Old West gunslingers.  It’s free!  So get to the Northeast corner of the square to get a good spot for viewing.  I ran into this gnarly gang of tough guys on the way over…

To cap off the evening, don’t miss the Silver Dollar Bar inside the Wort Hotel.  The bar takes its name from 2032 un-circulated Silver Dollars inlaid into the bar’s surface.  This bar was once a famous gambling spot in town, and now serves up live music & dancing nightly with a cast of colorful local characters.  Be careful, one might just ask you to dance!

 

The Wild West

Jackson Hole, nestled in the Teton Mountain Range of Wyoming, is a true modern-day meets old-west cowboy town.  The 40-mile long valley is home to many celebrity types with private ranches.  But it wasn’t always this way.  “Jackson’s Hole” was originally named for a fur trader who trapped beaver there in the 1830’s.  I can’t imagine trekking through this terrain in the early 1800’s by horse and wagon.  The topography of the area, encircled by mountains, naturally forms a hole, or valley.

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Historically, Elk migrate to the warmer meadows and wetlands of the valley in the winter to feed.  Competition between elk and cattle for food became so severe in the early 1900’s that the elk herd was facing drastic reduction in numbers.  In 1912, Congress established the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole.  Today, approximately 7,500 elk winter in the refuge.

Elk shed their antlers once a year and grow new ones.  Thousands of racks are collected every year and can be found with many uses.  The focal point of Jackson Hole’s Town Square is its antler arch which has come to symbolize the town.

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Our accommodations here are at the charming Rustic Inn, just a few blocks from the town square.  The Rustic Inn is made up of individual log cabins, but there is nothing rustic about them.  Expect top notch decor and comfort, with an excellent continental breakfast included.

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The property has fire pits and outdoor seating to enjoy, and even a teepee!

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Fjord Life in Flam, Norway

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Flam is a cute little port town located on one end of the majestic Aurlandsfjord, one of two tributaries of the grand Sognefjord. The smaller, narrow Naeroyfjord is a Unesco World Heritage site. Large cruise ships dock in Flam most days between 10 – 5:30.

Of the few hotels in the area, we chose The Flamsbrygga, with a cozy cabin vibe and located right on the water.

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There’s also the slightly more posh and historic Fretheim Hotel, with a nice restaurant.

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With long hours of daylight, from about 4 am til 11 pm, we took the Flamsbana Railway round trip up to Myrdal.  Many people elect to continue from Myrdal onto Voss as part of “Norway in a Nutshell”.

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About halfway up, the train pauses and lets passengers out for a view at the Kjossfossen Waterfall.

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At the top, we reach Myrdal with its few sparse homes.

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The next morning, we take the Naeroyfjord Boat Cruise, which travels from Flam up the Aurlandsfjord to the Naeroyfjord, ending in Gudvangen.

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The boat makes a couple quick stops to pickup/drop off locals and the mail, including the village of Undredaal.

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Continuing up the fjord valley….

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The port town of Gudvangen is at the furthest end of the Naeroyfjord – and the end of the journey.  Passengers catch a luxury bus from here back to Flam (included in round-trip ticket price).

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