Fall Colors – Part One

October has arrived, and the fall colors are just starting to peak in much of the United States. Over the next two weeks, I’ll be taking in some of what Tennessee has to offer in this regard. Meanwhile, I thought I’d share some of my fall color photo captures from a few other corners of the world.

If you’re curious, these were shot using three different cameras, a Nikon DSLR and two not-quite-pocket-sized Canon Powershot cameras. I typically use “P” mode if the light is cooperating, but will switch to “Manual” for trickier shots, or if I’m using a tripod.

Santa Monica Mountains

Fall colors arrive late in LA, usually around Thanksgiving, and usually peak just before Christmas. You won’t see a lot of orange leaves, but we do have yellows and reds. They don’t overwhelm like I imagine New England’s fall foliage might, but they add nice shadings to a oft-parched landscape.

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The Backbone Trail of Southern California

For this hiking-related entry, I decided to write about an epic, multi-day hike across the spine – or “backbone” – of the mountain range in which I have spent the most time. During the twelve years I lived in Los Angeles, I spent many a weekend day exploring LA and Ventura Counties’ literally hundreds of hiking trails. Three transverse mountain ranges pass through LA, and my favorite trails to hike are in the Santa Monica Mountains. These mountains follow the coast (more east-west than north-south in SoCal), cross the 405 Freeway to comprise the Hollywood Hills, and end at Griffith Park, one of the world’s largest urban green spaces.

SMMNRA sign

The Backbone Trail is a 65-mile hike that takes you from the highlands of star-studded Pacific Palisades, into the hills above Malibu and the canyons beyond, ending at Point Mugu State Park in Ventura County. Along the way, the trail ascends and descends over 11,000 vertical feet, passing through five Mediterranean ecosystems and past geological and cultural treasures. The trail passes two Inspiration Points, at least two split rocks, and is a short scramble from the highest point in the range. Best of all? The highest point is just 3,111 feet above sea level, so cold weather is seldom much of a factor. This is one trail that is actually better when hiking during the fall-winter-spring off-season than during the scorching summer months. Are you ready to give it a try?

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My (Not Quite) Coast-to-Coast Trip Report

I have been living in Gringolandia for a month now, and the Mexico City chapter of my life is over. This reality only fully set in a few days ago, and I’m filled with mixed emotions. Alas, it is what it is.

My return to the U.S. began in Los Angeles, where I spent a few days running errands – monetary and such – and catching up with friends I hadn’t seen in almost two years. I even made it to the beach! From LA, I cleaned out my storage space, loaded everything onto a U-Haul, and drove cross-country to my new home in eastern Tennessee.

The journey went without incident, but it had some logistical challenges and cost more than I expected. As such, I thought you’d appreciate a brief write-up, Loyal Reader. Hopefully it’ll provide some insight should you ever have to make a similar move yourself.

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Rebounding Nicely

Almost two months ago I posted about the devastating Springs Fire, which seemingly destroyed much of the western flank of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. You can find my original post here.

I will keep this short. I simply wanted to update any concerned Loyal Readers that – for the most part – the area seems to be rebounding nicely. According to local park rangers, all trails have been reopened, and a volunteer “work weekend” helped put the finishing touches on any trail work projects. This is terrific news, of course, which goes without saying. Even more terrific, however, is the speed with which the debris was cleared, the damage assessed, and the trails rebuilt. Quite a contrast when compared to the Station Fire (July 2009) devastation of the nearby San Gabriel Mountains. The burn area was of similar size, but several trail closures are still in affect four years later. (In all fairness, the San Gabriel Wilderness features more rugged terrain.)

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By Special Request: Comparing Mexico City with Los Angeles

I was asked by my friend Chris to compare differences between Los Angeles – my old home – and Mexico City – my new home. A worthy challenge, and an honor – my first blog request!  (Alas, it took me so long to write this up that Chris – a longtime LA resident – finally just came down here to see for himself. Better late than never?)

Before I comment on the differences – of which there are several – I want to point out a few similarities as well. You probably already know that of LA’s roughly 40% Hispanic population, the majority is of Mexican descent. Most of those Mexican-Americans will, if asked, claim to have at least one living relative in Mexico City. As such, “Mexican” food in LA is often similar to what you’ll find on offer in your typical Mexico City restaurant. Sure, no one eats chapulines in LA – and nor do people eat burritos in Mexico City – but tacos al pastor at a low-budget Van Nuys taquería, for instance, are identical to the same-named dish at half-a-dozen quick-service restaurants in my own Mexico City neighborhood. Mole, a delectable spicy chocolate sauce that can adorn baked chicken or turkey, is a regional specialty that comes from Puebla, just two hours from Mexico City by road. I have enjoyed it in both LA and Mexico City (not to mention Puebla), and I couldn’t tell the difference.

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One of My Favorite Places in the World: Sycamore Canyon

I love hiking, wildlife, and natural beauty. As such, I was saddened, ten days or so ago, to learn that one of my favorite places in the world, the western corridor of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, was essentially going up in smoke, as an early-season wildfire – most likely caused by a carelessly-discarded cigarette, the dry Santa Ana Winds, and above-average temperatures – swept through the mountains.

If you don’t know the area of which I speak, the Santa Monica Mountains extend roughly 60 miles from east to west. They bisect Los Angeles in two – the famous Hollywood Hills are actually the Santa Monica Mountains – but most of the range runs along the Pacific Coast, from Santa Monica to Point Mugu, west of Malibu. A 65-mile hiking, biking, and equestrian trail, appropriately-named the Backbone Trail, traverses the most rugged “spine” of the mountains, passing film sites and archaeological ruins en route. The Chumash Indians called these mountains home as far back as 7,000 years ago, and shared the land with mountain lions, bobcats, and red foxes, all of whom roam free.

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Sense and Sensibility

I love Mexico City more with each passing day. This afternoon I had an errand to run that happened to take me to my favorite neighborhood, Coyoacán. It was a glorious, sunny day and, with my errand done and my stomach growling, I popped into a small bistro for a bite to eat. A common lunchtime option is “el Menú del Día,” which essentially includes an appetizer, soup, entrée, dessert, and water for a fixed price. A gringo with simple tastes, I opted for the “Chicken Menu” and was pleasantly surprised when I was served bruschetta, lentil soup, chicken croquettes with rice, carrots, and cucumbers in yogurt sauce, steamed zucchini, flavored water, and a very interesting postre of figs adorned with chopped nuts and dipped in chocolate sauce. Not bad for 100 pesos (about USD $8.50).

After lunch, I felt especially sated, and took a leisurely stroll back to the metro, noticing for the first time several charming restaurants and coffee shops that I had probably walked past a dozen times before. The other day I observed, in my own neighborhood, a shrub that was trimmed in the shape of an osito (bear cub). Why had I never noticed this before? I am starting, finally, to notice the little things, things I was oblivious to. I am starting, at long last, to actually understand Spanish when spoken to me. Not always – not even half the time – but often enough that when I ask the speaker to repeat what he or she just said, it is muy claro the second time. Living here has agreed with me so much that my senses have, I think, become refined with time.  

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Looking Forward and Back – Part One

Happy New Year! I hope your Christmakwanzaakuh was special, and I likewise hope you spent New Year’s Eve with someone special. As you may know, Loyal Reader, I spent my Christmas and New Year’s Eve holidays with family in Tennessee, and only just returned home to Mexico City yesterday evening.

The days between Christmas and New Year’s should be spent relaxing, of course, but should also include some reflection on the past 365 days, and on what you hope the next 365 will bring. Between hearty servings of zesty goulash, thin spaghetti, tender turkey, and light-as-a-feather mashed potatoes, (the turkey baked to perfection by my sister, who, as it turns out, is one helluva good cook) I did just that. I do just that every year, in fact, but I don’t always learn much. It’s time to pay closer attention.

2012 highlights and lowlights

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