Day 47: More from the Land of Enchantment

May 30, 2009


DAY 47: Beverly Hills, California
Miles traveled: 6,905
States visited: 20
Weather: 75, sunny

I’m still in L.A. More from here next week. For now, it’s time to unload some leftover photos from New Mexico.

It never rained but there were stormy skies over southern New Mexico.


Bees like the cactus.


New Mexico has the best welcome sign I’ve seen so far.


I ate at the No-Whiner Diner one night. Note their bizarre closing time of 7:50.


I climb rocks.


The Arby’s in Roswell welcomes aliens.


Day 45: I think Kathy Griffin almost ran me over

May 28, 2009


DAY 45: Hollywood Hills, California
Miles traveled: 6,893
States visited: 20
Weather: 72, sunny

Let me tell you about my wildly unsuccessful efforts to see celebrities over the past two days.

In recent years, I’ve been growing more interested in celebrity culture. I think it’s because I’ve traveled so much now. When I see the sections in People or Us magazine where they show pictures of celebrities out and about, I can usually say, “I’ve been to that place!” So now I’m obsessed with bumping into famous people. But it never happens.

Yesterday I made a concerted effort to find celebrities in L.A. I did my research and discovered that the best time to see them is mid-morning on weekdays. So I went to a handful of places that celebrities frequent. First up was Runyon Canyon, a park that runs from West Hollywood up to the Hollywood Hills. This is a park where you can take your dog off the leash. It is absolutely overrun with celebrities. Or at least that’s what I hear. That wasn’t the case yesterday. But I did get a nice hour-long workout walking through the park. The view from up there was cool. Smog alert!


After that, I walked through the Hollywood Hills. I did some cyberstalking to locate the addresses of a handful of celebrities who live near the park. The site is great for this. They don’t give you the actual address, but they show you an aerial view of the house. From there, a bit of work is required: Choose one of the maps that appears. Copy the latitude & longitude coordinates. Open Enter those coordinates. Zoom way in as far as you can. You should then be able to see the street name & possibly the street address you are seeking.

If not, you can always try Google searches, the California property management site, or the Real Estalker (

From Runyon Canyon, I walked down towards the area where Kathy Griffin and Pete Wentz reside. The road was narrow and windy, and clearly not meant for pedestrians, so my presence was quite conspicuous, but I soldiered on. At one point a car pulled alongside and one of the passengers said to me, “Are you lost?” I thought they were residents who were mad that I was trespassing in their precious neighborhood, so I began formulating an angry response in my head, along the lines of, “No, I’m not lost. This is a public street and I have a right to be here!” But then they repeated themselves. It turns out they were lost and they thought I was a resident. They were asking me for directions. So then I had to pretend I lived there. “Uh, yeah, Nichols Canyon Road is over that way. Take care!”

As I turned down Kathy Griffin’s street, a woman in a black SUV raced past me. I looked over and I think it may have been Kathy herself. It was a lady with sunglasses and her hair pulled back. I took down the license plate and decided I’d check it out later. But to do a license plate lookup in the state of California, the fee is $29. So I suppose I’ll never know if it was her. (Unless someone happens to recognize California license # CBDX963.)

I made my way to Kathy’s house and took a snapshot. (No sign of the SUV.)


Then it was on to Jack Nicholson’s house. Jack’s house is too far back from the street, so I can only impress you with this shot of his mailbox and recycling bin.


Next I proceeded to the West Hollywood Whole Foods and then the Target and Best Buy, three major celeb hotspots. Nada.

I went to the Baja Fresh on Fairfax and Sunset. Nada. (Except a delicious veggie burrito for $5.95.)

My efforts to see celebrities are largely hampered by one major fact: I don’t watch that many movies. Therefore, I’m probably seeing celebs all over the place and not realizing it. In fact, our first day in L.A., we were in the car and I saw another driver and thought, ‘Hmmm, she looks famous.’ Not 2 minutes later, at a red light, someone from neighboring vehicle got out and knocked on her window and said hi. So she was famous after all. But I couldn’t tell you her name.

The only celeb hotspot I haven’t checked out is Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, which is only a couple of blocks from where I’m staying. The thought of sitting around in the emergency room for a couple hours pretending to wait for someone while surreptitiously scouring the room for recognizable faces kind of turns me off. But if that’s what it takes to see someone famous before I leave this city, I’ll do it!


At this point I’d settle for a cast member from The Real World. Is Puck still around?

Day 43: L.A. has some really good yogurt

May 26, 2009


DAY 43: Hollywood, California
Miles traveled: 6,881
States visited: 20
Weather: 68, cool

I’m in Los Angeles. On the Hollywood/Beverly Hills border, to be exact. I’ll be here for the next two weeks.

For those who haven’t been following along, my friend Jason flew to Austin and accompanied me on the last leg of the trip. Now I’m staying at his place for a couple weeks before I begin the third leg of the adventure, a solo journey up the west coast towards Vancouver.

The photo above is a couple years old, from my last trip to L.A. See, I’ve barely left the house since I’ve been here. I’ve spent the past two days sitting around doing absolutely nothing, and it’s been fantastic. The time to relax and decompress was greatly needed. On this journey, I’m always having to think about where I’m headed next, where I’ll stay, and so on. It’s nice to have some time to clear my head and have absolutely no obligations.

About the only place I’ve gone so far is Toppings, a self-serve yogurt place that is my new favorite place on the planet. It’s 39 cents an ounce, so you can eat as much or as little as you like. I got a mixture of peanut butter and cookies & cream yogurts with toffee and reese’s pieces on top. I will probably be at this place every single day while I’m in L.A., even if it means skipping lunch so I can fit this into my budget.

And I walked by the place where Madonna goes (or used to go) for her Kabbalah studies.


I’ll continue to blog over the next two weeks. It will be a mixture of retrospective posts – I have a ton of good pictures that haven’t been published yet – and stories about my time here in L.A. Eventually I’ll visit the beach and check out the nightlife. I’m also planning to do some urban hiking and celebrity stalking while in town.

And finally, feel free to spread the word about this blog to as many people as you like. I’ve been very disappointed that I’m not getting any hits from Google searches. Apparently, Google and WordPress don’t like each other. I think the blog is a good read and more eyes need to see it!

Day 41: Ghosts and death (valley)

May 24, 2009


DAY 41: Death Valley, California
Miles traveled: 6,868
States visited: 20 (just added: California)
Weather: 104, comfy

One thing I really wanted to do on this trip was see a ghost town. It turns out there are no ghost towns like you see in Old West movies, where the entire town is still intact and tumbleweed is blowing around. Most so-called ghost towns in America consist of only 2 or 3 remaining buildings.

But west of Las Vegas in the mountains is Rhyolite, a ghost town with about a dozen buildings that still stand. This city existed from 1905-1920, when production in the nearby mines fell and residents went elsewhere. The buildings that remain are about 100 years old.


Here’s the view from inside the old schoolhouse, looking out at the jewelry store and the bank.


The old jail is still there too.


Sadly, we didn’t actually see any ghosts or have a The-Hills-Have-Eyes kind of experience. The weird thing is we could still pick up the Vegas radio station in Rhyolite, so there we were driving through this serene, abandoned ghost town, yet Ryan Seacrest was coming through our speakers. Seacrest is so powerful, he even reaches ghost towns – there is no stopping that man.

After Rhyolite, we headed to Death Valley. I was really excited because I wanted to experience at least one day with +100 degree temperatures. Death Valley actually has campgrounds, though after April they’re not manned – camping is first-come first-serve, and you’re on your own. We arrived at 8 pm and parked in the Furnace Creek campground. We didn’t realize it then, but later research revealed that the temperature at the time was 101.

I decided to camp out under the stars. There is no grass in Death Valley, just rocks, so I laid a blanket on top of one of the metal picnic tables and settled in. I haven’t stared at the stars in years so it was great. It was incredibly windy, but the wind was hot, so it was comfortable. Midway through the night, I bolted up, awakened by the loud howling of several coyotes. This is something that doesn’t happen everyday! The coyotes were probably miles away, but it sounded like they were right around the corner (and approaching fast), so I decided to move into the van for the rest of the night, lest they mistake me for a rabbit.


The next day, I checked out some of the sights at Death Valley, like the Badwater basin. With an elevation of 282 feet below sea level, it’s the lowest point in the Western hemisphere. This is the spot where it gets to 120 degrees everyday in the summer. Yet, amazingly, there was a bit of water. Among all the dried salt clusters, there is a small saltwater pond. Not much lives there except for some snails, who don’t mind that the water is five times saltier than the ocean.


While standing in the -282 feet basin, you can look across and see Telescope Peak, which has an elevation of 11,049 feet. It’s stunning that these two land forms are right next to each other. Telescope Peak even still has snow on it.


The trip to Death Valley was fun and the temperatures weren’t even that bad. Nice try, Death Valley, but I mock your 104 degrees in my winter clothes.


Day 39: I’m not addicted to blackjack – I’m addicted to sitting in a semi-circle

May 22, 2009


DAY 39: Las Vegas, Nevada
Miles traveled: 6,260
States visited: 19
Weather: 96, sunny

Las Vegas is a ridiculous city. Every hotel has dozens of slots machines and roulette tables – even the Super 8. This was my first experience gambling and because I’m such a high roller, I decided to spend $10 on the penny and nickel slots.

The first stop was the MGM Grand. They have lions inside this casino.


I started by playing $5 at the Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve slot machine. Within minutes, I had made a cool 39 cents profit.


I lost a few bucks on the Press Your Luck game. But I got it back on a slot machine called the Little Green Man. Ultimately I lost the $10 but I got to gamble for a few hours so it was fun. I was wise to set a spending limit so as not to bankrupt myself. I can see how people could easily become addicted to gambling.


Jason was winning like crazy. He put a dollar in one of the penny slots and a few minutes later had turned it into $57. On the same machine that I absolutely could not win at. This is why I’m not a gambler. It would be way too frustrating.


There are billboard trucks in Vegas that do nothing more than drive around the streets to advertise whatever is on their billboard, like the Wayne Brady comedy show at the Venetian. There are also temp workers everywhere handing out flyers for escort services – if you’re interested, their phone number is 696-9696. Sin City definitely lives up to its name.


I resisted the urge to get hitched while in town.


Driving in Las Vegas is pure misery. Every single road in Las Vegas is under construction. And you have to sit at every intersection for what feels like forever. And the van was too big to fit in most parking garages so we had to park in some casino lot a mile away to get to the Vegas strip. There isn’t much public transportation to speak of. I could never stand living here.

Las Vegas is the one major American city that I always used to tell people I had no desire to see. And now that I’ve been here, I can pretty much guarantee I’ll never be back. This is a useless city.

Up next on my travel adventure itinerary: Going back to Cali!

Day 38: Hopi sandwiches and Mormon pizza

May 21, 2009


DAY 38: Ute, Nevada
Miles traveled: 6,196
States visited: 19 (just added: Utah, Nevada)
Weather: 93, sunny

Driving through the desert was interesting. We drove through several Indian areas, including a Navajo forest and a Hopi reservation which covers a huge section of northeast Arizona. Most of these were pretty depressing, since they contained dilapidated trailers and crumbling houses. In the town of Tuba City, we went into the Subway. There were at least 40 people there and we were the only non-Native Americans. I was rude and took a picture:


Fortunately, the $5 footlong deal still exists even in Hopi territory. Score!

We passed through the town of Colorado City, which is right on the border between Arizona and Utah. While driving around looking for someplace to eat, we quickly realized something wasn’t right. All the women and girls wore colored full-body outfits. It seemed that only Mormons lived here. We went into a pizza place called Craigo’s Pizza, and ordered a pizza from the frightened Mormon lady behind the counter. This was seriously the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life. Who knew that Mormons are pizza experts?

My hunch was right – Colorado City is one messed up town. Check out the city’s Wikipedia entry for some juicy info about how the town religious leader expelled the mayor and gave his wife and kids to someone else.

We drove through Utah briefly, stopping only for an oil change. I have nothing more to say about the state for now, but stay tuned – I’ll be visiting Salt Lake City on my way back east.

When I got hungry I snacked on tumbleweed.


Then it was into Nevada and towards Las Vegas. I-5 between Arizona and Nevada had some spectacular scenery. There were huge mountains all around – not as tall as the Grand Canyon, but this view was just as good because the mountains were right on top of us as we drove through.


I’m tired of desert driving. I hate being able to see 30 miles of road ahead of me at all times, it’s boring. I’m staying in Vegas until Thursday. I plan on gambling away my remaining savings. You only live once!

Day 37: There is a canyon, and it is grand

May 20, 2009


DAY 37: Fredonia, Arizona
Miles traveled: 5,906
States visited: 17 (just added: Arizona)
Weather: 75, cool

Jason and I passed into Arizona yesterday and reached elevations of nearly 9,000 feet in the mountains. I had my second snow sighting of this trip. Snow? In Arizona? In May? This meant that a snowball fight was necessary.


Then it was on to the big hole in the ground known as the Grand Canyon. When you visit the canyon, you have to decide if you want to see the North or the South rim. They are only 10 miles apart, but in driving distance, they are 220 miles apart, so you can’t see both unless you have a couple days. We went with the less-crowded North Rim since it was more convenient to our path.

Even though we didn’t get much of a sunset because of cloud cover, the views were cool.


We also saw a rare California condor, sitting on the rocks just 15 feet away from us. The ranger said he’d never seen one that close before.  This thing was huge. It could tear your face off. Wikipedia says there are only 322 of these birds currently alive in the world.


On Tuesday we hiked 2 miles down into the Canyon, which was awesome. Except then we had to hike 2 miles back up. Not so awesome. The trail actually continues 14 miles all the way to the river at the bottom, for those who have more time than us.


We had to stop several times to rest, because hiking up 2 miles at an elevation of 8000 feet is exhausting. But we were motivated by this old lady with gray hair, who was right on our tail the whole time. Every time she started to catch us Jason would say, “Grandma’s coming!” and we high-tailed it. Let the record show we beat her out of the canyon by at least 30 seconds. We rock.

I wasn’t sure when I started this trip that I’d make it to the Grand Canyon, so I’m excited that I did. I have a zillion more pics, which maybe I’ll publish at some point. Next up: Nevada!

Day 35: Somebody stop me before I move to Albuquerque

May 18, 2009


DAY 35: Truth or Consequences, New Mexico
Miles traveled: 5,356
States visited: 16
Weather: 82, sunny and pleasant (finally!)

Albuquerque was an absolute blast. I’m considering moving there. Probably not before Chicago, but maybe afterwards. Let’s count the positives: super-cheap housing, lots of dive bars, sunshine 330 days a year, small amounts of snow in the winter (I need that!), lots of positive energy, a large green movement, locally grown organic food, a vibrant university neighborhood, surprisingly good nightlife, a decent number of good concerts since the city is on the road between Austin and L.A., and lots of nature all around, from the Rio Grande to the nearby mountains. And free health care in the state of New Mexico for all residents!


Our first night in Albuquerque we found ourselves at this party that was totally unique. People brought their own instruments and made music together. It was a very hippie vibe and a really fun environment to hang out in. I hope I can find this sense of community in whatever city I find myself next. The only bad thing was that I brought vodka and there was nothing to mix it with. Apparently hippies only drink beer. So I sipped water most of the night. Then it was off to downtown, where everybody goes out on the weekends. I was amused to find several clubs with velvet ropes and lines of people waiting to get in – where do they think they are, L.A.?

The Wendy’s here has happy hour – from 2-4 pm everyday, Frostys are half off. Score! They also have a Buffalo Exchange used clothing shop, which had one of the best selections I’ve seen. One awesome new tshirt, $6. Score!

I had no idea the Rio Grande ran all the way north to Albuquerque. I hiked along the shore.


On Saturday, before Albuquerque, we made our trip to White Sands. This is a desert area in southern New Mexico where all the sand is white. It’s gypsum sand, which is rarely found on the earth’s surface because it dissolves in water. But it almost never rains here, so the sand dunes can exist in peace. And we can go there and play around on them. It’s like a giant beach. Without the water. You actually have to carry your own water in here because there are no fountains.


There was little vegetation here, but some plants can exist, along with a handful of animals that have adapted to the environment, like the bleached earless lizard, which has evolved to become white. And earless. We were fortunate to spot a couple of these critters. If you look closely you can make out the lizard’s green tail and white body hiding inside these dead branches.


After White Sands we headed south for a quick stop in Las Cruces, which is only 45 miles from Mexico. Driving north from Las Cruces, we got stopped at a border patrol checkpoint, another first for me. They asked where we were headed, if we were U.S. citizens, and if we owned the vehicle, then let us continue on our way. They didn’t search the van. We could’ve had 5 Mexicans stashed under the bed.


Day 33: Caverns and aliens in New Mexico

May 16, 2009


DAY 33: Artesia, New Mexico
Miles traveled: 5,035
States visited: 16 (just added: New Mexico)
Weather: 93, sporadic showers

Jason and I entered New Mexico last night and headed for Carlsbad Caverns today. The cavern was quite a sight. We hiked down 750 feet into the cavern, past all sorts of rocks, calcium formations, stalagmites and stalactites. The temperature down there is a constant 56 degrees and there is water dripping in various places. It was amazing to see formations that are thousands of years old. There are also tons of bats that live there and come out at night, but we didn’t stay all day to wait for that.



At the entrance to the cavern, you can see for miles and miles.


There wasn’t much vegetation in eastern New Mexico, just cactus, dry grass, and a few flowers. And some brave animal life forms.


After Carlsbad we went north to Roswell. As you might expect, this town is all about aliens.


We went to the UFO Museum & Research Center, which detailed the alleged alien landing in Roswell in 1947. The museum was actually pretty weak. It didn’t do a good job of telling the story. Someone could come in and make this a much more interesting place.


Then we traveled through a town with a summit of 7500 feet. I found that hard to believe, though, because we hadn’t driven up many hills. How could we all of a sudden have arrived at a place higher above sea level than Denver?! I thought we should try to bake a cake using the high elevation recipe, as a way of confirming that we were really that high above sea level, but the opportunity to do so never materialized.


Day 32: Cacti and emu and open road

May 15, 2009


DAY 32: Llano, Texas
Miles traveled: 4,420
States visited: 15
Weather: 95, scorching

Last night we began the journey toward New Mexico by heading 3 hours northwest out of Austin. We traveled down a highway that offered nothing to look at except cattle ranches and cactuses (sorry – cacti.)


Most of the ranches had cows, a few had horses, a couple had donkey and one actually had emu – another new one to add to the list of animals I’ve seen on this journey.


After 90 minutes we reached the town of Llano. This town had a dam on a small river, which a lot of local kids were playing on. If I lived in Llano, I’d probably spend all my time here too.


Tomorrow we enter New Mexico. It will be my first visit to the Mountain Time Zone. I look forward to this historic moment with great anticipation.