Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Monkey Ghosts?

It seems we've stumbled onto a bit of a theme here at The Doing Stuff Blog. And that would be Hidden L.A., the secret places we hear about but seldom see. Or, really, never hear about and then don't believe exist when someone brings them up in conversation. The phenomenon is well documented on the aptly named blog, Hidden Los Angeles. Its delectable tagline: Embrace the deep beneath the shallow.

So last week I found a waterfall. Now it was time to find the Old Zoo, which I'd read about in a magazine article. This brings us to Griffith Park, which isn't hiding from anybody. Covering over 4100 acres of land, it's the largest urban wilderness area in the US. But within all that space and among all of the outdoor activities, there are nooks and crannies that go unnoticed. And in one of those nooks, there's rumored to be the relics of Los Angeles's abandoned zoo.

From 1902 to 1965 it was of course just known as THE zoo, but then it closed down (not for intriguing reasons like an escaped lion eating a family). The new sprawling facility opened in a different area of the park and the old animal enclosures were just left behind. This fact surprises me, as most cities don't leave old zoos sitting around, but hey when you've got 4100 acres to play with I guess it's easy to let things slide.

Devin's parents were visiting this weekend, and were up for anything, so it was time to drag them into this quest as well. I prepared by looking up the Old Zoo on Yelp. If I may take a moment to review the Yelp reviewers regarding this topic... I give them one star. Sure, they were all happy to tell me how awesome it was. How it was a great place to bring a joint and/or a camera. But would anyone offer up some insight on its locale? That's a big fat sarcastic, "Noooooo."

Somewhere in one of their sentence fragments, one yelper mentioned it was near the carousel. That was exactly the area of the park where I'd once gotten Devin and I severely lost while searching for our friend's kid's party by the pony rides. (Now I know the pony rides are immediately obvious from the Los Feliz entrance. You live, you learn.)

As we drove through the park, I directed Devin to the carousel.

"Wasn't that where you got us lost?"

Shoot. I was hoping he wouldn't remember. Meanwhile, I'd unconsciously fooled myself into "remembering" that "come to think of it, I did see a bunch of signs for the old zoo while we were snooping around that area looking for the ponies."

We arrived at the carousel and circled around. Of course there were no signs for the Old Zoo. There were no zoo-like structures. And, owing to the miserable rainy weather, there were no people in sight, so I couldn't even ask for a little guidance. Okay, there was one guy cleaning hamster cages on the trunk of his car in the parking lot, but I didn't want to get involved with him.

Now what? We drove along until, whoops, we drove clear out of the park. No matter. We'd just go around and enter again by the Greek Theater. On our way, we saw signs for the Griffith Observatory, so decided to make a stop.

Nothing much to report here. We saw a show at the planetarium and I played around with the panorama setting on my camera.

Okay well that was fun. But everybody knows where to find the observatory. It isn't hidden L.A. and definitely not a haunted zoo!

[Note: No one ever claimed the zoo was haunted, I just started presuming that at some point during the day.]

So we drove back to the carousel area of the park and set out on foot. We walked up a path that quickly dead ended at a heap of dirt. No zoo. Frantic, I turned to the useless yelpers, referring again to their drivel courtesy of the Yelp mobile app.

I found another clue in the form of one yelper's tip that "It's only marked by one brown sign that's easy to miss."

Where is this sign?
What does it say?

We wandered aimlessly through the picnic area for a few minutes before I spotted, in the distance, a brown sign (gasp!) nestled in some plants. In the next ten minutes, there would be three instances where I'd jump up and down, screaming and waving my arms around like a small child at Disney World.

The first instance occurred when I ran across the grass to have a better look at the sign.


Ahead were three paths. Oh, great. But I had a good feeling about one, and volunteered to run up ahead to spare everyone another dead end. (Really I just wanted to run because I couldn't contain my excitement.)

As I got closer, I saw...


We'd found it. The Old Zoo and all its marvelous ruins.

The third instance of stupid elation came when I noticed a ghost right in my field of vision in a picture Devin's mom snapped.


He took one look at it and dismissed it as a rain drop. This from mister "There's an alien base under the Denver Airport."

Okay, it's rain. Obviously it's rain. But that's not the point.

Wanting him to find this all as creepy as I did, I was pleased when up the hill we found...


The cages out front may have once held birds or... worse... monkeys. Little turn-of-the-century monkeys that, without the benefit of modern day laws to protect them, were outfitted in tiny waistcoats and put on display. Now, they haunt the Old Zoo, fishing around in our pockets for change.

Sadly, the rain was really pouring down by this point and the others were eager to head back to the car. I resisted, until my camera was getting soaked.

Stay tuned for part II, when I make my way back to the Old Zoo for further explorations.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Search For The Hidden Waterfall

Shortly after Devin and I moved to Pasadena, we had the following conversation:

Devin: I read online there's supposed to be a waterfall around here. Back in the mountains.
Me: Yeah?
Devin: Yeah.
Me: That's cool.
Devin: Yeah.

And that was that.

Cut to Super Bowl Sunday, we're having a party, and my friend Tara enters the kitchen while I'm whipping up a pitcher of margaritas.

Tara: So I was just talking to Devin and he mentioned there's some waterfall around here.
Me: Oh yeah. I forgot about that.
Tara: We should check it out some time.
Me: Agreed.

A little backstory here. While I'm not, and never was, what you'd call "outdoorsy," growing up I did enjoy hiking the trails along the waterfalls and gorges of nearby Ithaca. I think it was a combination of the misty air and the fun of clambering around on rocks that drew me in. It'd been years and years since I'd done this, so I got a little microthrill at the thought of something similar in my own backyard.

And because 2011 is the year I don't get lazy and forget about stuff, I decided not to put off The Search For The Hidden Waterfall any longer. So on Saturday, Tara and I got dolled up in our best hiking attire, I asked Seamus the dog "Do you wanna go to the park?! Do you wanna go to the park?!" about 10 times in a high pitched voice until he went bananas, and then we made the drive to Eaton Canyon, home of the alleged waterfall.

The park was alarmingly close to my house. Maybe even close enough to walk to if I was ever feeling super adventurous. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

As we left the parking lot and made our way to the park entrance we looked for signs or a map... how would we know which way to go?

Hey hows about we follow this crowd?

We'd (mostly Tara) read on Yelp that the hike required much sloshing through water and maneuvering over makeshift bridges at trail crossings. I didn't expect the first such instance to be at the absolute start of the trail.

Seamus was all, "Yeah I don't do stepping stones." Too bad. Be a good boy and come with me.

We don't have a picture of this first attempt, but imagine me, balancing on that wobbly log in the pic here, holding up traffic, nearly knocking a small child into the water, arguing with a severely irritated woman (btw who wears lipstick on a hike?), all while Seamus stands between my legs, refusing to budge.

Eventually I just yanked the leash and dragged him to the other side. Back on dry land, we set out for the first leg of the journey, which was hot and sunny and uneventful.

After about fifteen minutes we encountered a fork in the trail. Up ahead, a bridge. Down below, a mystery. "I think Yelp said to go under the bridge for the waterfall," Tara announced. Two passersby nodded in agreement. How helpful. The low road it is!

Soon we found the stream again, the scenery improved, and the hike got more hikey.

Along the way we found evidence of the waterfall ahead, in the form of mini waterfalls.

Seamus did not like where this was going.

Sure enough we'd entered the wet sneakers portion of the hike. I was all about fearlessly leaping from rock to rock. The stream was only about one foot deep and not exactly white water rapids.

Most of the other dogs on the trail were elated to splash around and get their paws wet. But Seamus is a special dog. He doesn't like new things, and this was just too much of a departure from his usual Saturday spent digging in the backyard. So when confronted with a crossing, he did a lot of stopping and starting, a lot of wobbling and whining. And being tethered to him made for an absurd experience.

All the while, Tara, unencumbered by an eighty-pound furry crybaby, traipsed across the rocks with the greatest of ease.
After what was starting to feel like several hours, I grew worried we'd never find the Hidden Waterfall. We just seemed to be getting deeper and deeper into the canyon.

Yet reassurance came in the form of oncoming hikers, who looked as though they were on their way back from a swim.

Then at one point I heard the unmistakeable sound of a waterfall, we rounded the bend and...

TA - DA!

The temperature dropped about ten degrees and I felt the familiar mist in the air. I debated wading around in the pool, but instead we sat and rested for a short while, relieved not only to have made it, but to discover the waterfall was actually worth the trek.

Then there was nowhere to go but back again. Luckily Seamus had warmed up to the notion of wading, and I could at least get him to walk through the water if he didn't want to climb the rocks.

As is always the way, the trip back felt like it took about a third of the time, and before long we were back to where we'd started. Just before we reached the parking lot, a shoeless gypsy child tried to lure us off the path, toward his village, under the pretense that he'd lost his father. Or, at least that's what my imagination would have me believe. In reality we tried to help this scared looking kid who, it turns out, was just some dope who was only about ten yards away from his dozen siblings and totally disinterested mother. There's my good deed for the year.

The hike took up a full afternoon, so it's definitely suited for something to do sporadically or to occupy visitors, rather than replacing the reliability of a quick trip around Runyon Canyon. Then again, we never did see what happens if you walk on the bridge instead of under it...

I guess another adventure awaits us!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

To Seattle... and Beyond!

The Vacation Equation goes a little something like:

Free Time + Money = Travel

Right? But as we all know, free time and money rarely overlap in a blessed eclipse. It's usually something like:

2 Days + 25 Loads Of Laundry = Weekend

Rent + Utility Bills + Completely Unfair Parking Ticket + Dear God Why Is The Verizon Bill So High = Whole Paycheck

And this explains why, in the 7 years between my college semester abroad and our honeymoon, I'd taken zero vacations.

While on said honeymoon, I recall many moments when, bathed in sunlight and half in the bag from morning mai tais, I'd look over to Devin and gurgle, "We should do this more often."

Yes, yes we should.

And then we didn't. We returned home to our routines and yet another year flew by with my luggage gathering dust. Determined not to continue with this disappointing trend, I decided it was time to book a flight to someplace. Why not Seattle? I'd only been meaning to visit my friend Courtney and her husband Matt for... oh.. 6 years. And now, as a bonus, she had a baby for me to meet.

So one morning in late October, Devin and I woke up at some terrible hour to take the early flight from LA to Seattle, flying Virgin America for the first time. I hate to admit I can be won over by purple cabin lighting and shiny white plastic seat backs, but, yeah it was like flying in a spaceship. Weeee!

Once we landed, we took a bus from the airport to Court's house. We're not frequent bus riders, so our getting on the correct bus was something to celebrate. As our hosts were at work, we let ourselves into their home, snooped through their personal effects, regrouped and then set out to explore downtown Seattle.

Again, we successfully landed the right bus and made our way to the tourist traps. We spent some time meandering about in the public market, where an endless line up of attractive hippy-types offered samples of apples and pears.

After lunching on clam chowder, fried fish sandwiches, and beer, we were about ready for a nap. But just in the nick of time, Courtney got out of work to meet up with us and breathe some new life into our trip. Hopeless tourist portion was over. Now it was time for some locals to show us around.

I should mention that because I'm as prolific a photographer as I am a traveler, I have a limited amount of photos to document the trip. And because they were all taken by Courtney, she's not in any of them. Whoops.

One of my favorite things to do in a new place is to drive and walk around for hours on end. Fortunately, our hosts were happy to oblige and we toured various neighborhoods and landmarks.

Here we are at Gas Works Park, a recreation area made on the site of a crude oil and natural gas manufacturing plant.

It was situated right on the edge of the water. Some cool things about this - sea planes just dive right in and land here, though when they're incoming it feels as though they might totally miss their marks and crash. Also, there are floating homes lining the shores. Matt pointed out which one he thought was the house in Sleepless In Seattle.

If you look just beyond the ham in the foreground of this picture here, you'll see some of the floating homes.

We also checked out Ballard Locks, where underwater viewing stations let you check out the salmon trying desperately to swim up stream.

It made me sad to think that after all this struggle they're just going to mate and die. Sort of symbolic of our own journeys as people. Huh? Am I bumming you out or what?

How about we just play with some puppets in the gift shop?

At the end of our busy day it was time to unwind at the Elliot Bay Brewery in Matt & Courtney's neighborhood, West Seattle. Here, I was allowed to hold baby Leo after my first beer (but before my next three glasses of white wine). I think he liked me.

Before flying back to LA, we stopped by the Experience Music Project, a music museum. In the center of the whole thing was this installation of hundreds and hundreds of guitars, with mechanical arms that plucked and strummed the strings to perform a live song.

In another exhibit, guests are invited to step into a recording booth, pick up guitars and drum sticks, and make up their own songs. This picture is the perfect visual representation of what our song sounded like.

I was sad to wrap up the trip after only two days. But I think it did its job of reminding me that the only thing really standing in the way of a vacation isn't time or money, it's my own initiative. Lesson learned. I don't want to miss out on the good stuff any more!