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Taking a Hike: Personal Challenge, Day 9, (9.25.12)

Thankfully today the weather cooled off a bit.  Unfortunately with the cooler weather comes the winds that always set off my allergies.  I woke up this morning with sinus troubles and by the time I left work, I was doing a pretty good impression of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer.  But I didn’t care that I felt lousy when I left work, I was determined to soldier on with my mission to go somewhere or try something new every day.

Solution: Mucinex!  I stopped at Ralph’s on my way to my next destination and bought up the magic “make my nose stop running” pill.  I packed my new “Made in Detroit” bag (courtesy of my nephew) with extra pills, Kleenex and a large bottle of water.  I was ready to go.  My destination: the JPL hiking trails.

With my previous visits to the Cobb Estate, Suicide Bridge, and Devil’s Gate Dam, I wanted to see what else the Arroyo Seco had to offer.  Every morning and afternoon I drive past the parking lot for these trails on my way to work but I have never stopped.  Some of my students have been down there and they said it was beautiful but creepy.  So I wondered if this had anything to do with the stories I read about JPL and its co-founder, Jack Parsons.

When I arrived at the parking lot (located at the end of Windsor, just North of the 210 Arroyo/Windsor exit), and took in the view of JPL down below, and the Devil’s Gate off to my left in the distance.  There were few cars in the parking lot so it looked like this was going to be a nice peaceful hike.

I crossed the street to the entrance to the hiking path (next to a locked gate).  The path is paved, sunny jaunt with an easy incline.  There wasn’t much shade and lots of mountain bikers flying past but it was a beautiful view.  The mouth of the canyon was a distance down the hill, at the end of the JPL parking lot.  On the way down, there is a large DPW water facility to the right when you reach a fork in the road.  The path to the left goes down to the JPL parking lot and there is a pathway behind one of the fences that will take you streamside.

At the time, I didn’t know that is where the path would lead so I stayed to the right.  After hiking for a few minutes, I could hear the water moving down below, as well as a young child playing in the water with her father and trusty canine companion.  I wanted to find a way down there so I followed the path until I found what I was looking for on the right.  Part of the path down to the stream was a little steep but manageable.

It was absolutely beautiful down by the stream.  It reminded me a bit of my trips through Eaton Canyon, but without all of the shade and crowds of people.  There was even a cute little waterfall just below an area that the young girl was using as a wading pool with her dog as her father watched from the shore.

I followed the path for a little bit, running into very few people.  It was so peaceful and serene.  There was nothing sinister about the place.  I did hear voices from time to time but I figure they were coming from the mountain bikers on the path up above.  I can understand why this place is packed on the weekends.

Though I do have to admit that I was upset about all the litter, graffiti and random dog feces bags hanging from tree branches.  Some people have no respect for nature.

During my streamside hike, I also came across some plants that looked like they could be wild marijuana growing throughout the Arroyo Seco.  I have never seen a real marijuana plant so I have no idea if I was correct.  I took a picture to show it to my friends who are “experts” on this particular subject.  But when I saw them, I thought to myself that there was now a whole new meaning to the sign up by the front gate that tells you the fire danger for the day.  It was set to “High.”

Unfortunately, my allergies were driving me nuts so I thought it would be best if I ended my hike just before the sun would start to set.  On my return trip to my car, I saw more hikers, bikers, and cowboys on their horses entering the trails.  I even ran into my California Sister’s husband who was just starting his nightly bike ride.

When I finally reached my car, I noticed that the parking lot was now packed.  It was a little tricky trying to get out–especially since there was a group of mountain bikers blocking the way to the exit.  It is a good thing I arrived when I did, I beat the crowds.  But I think I will definitely have to put this down as one of my new favorite hiking trails and I can’t wait to go back when my sinuses clear up.  I think I would like to try heading up to one of the campgrounds.

Now as for the so-called Arroyo Seco Triangle legends, I don’t think the trails behind JPL should be included in that twisted bit of urban mythology.  Of course, I haven’t really done much research on the area besides looking up the hiking trails so who knows.  Anything is possible in area with so much history.

If you are interested in hiking these trails, here are two other websites and blogs with more information on the trails:

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A Walk On The Westside: Personal Challenge, Day 8 (9.24.12)

Last Monday, I started my personal challenge of going somewhere or trying something new every day.  I am amazed by all the support I am getting from family, friends, students and even strangers.  Every day some one asks me, “What’s Next?”

Well, today and just for today, my brother is in town from Detroit.  He arrived this afternoon and has his meeting in the morning before he flies back to Detroit.  So I actually got to drag him around and make him try something new as well.

I decided that since he was staying down by LAX then I would find a place down there that we could explore.  I chose Manhattan Beach.  It is a quiet, little beach area just a few miles south of LAX.  You get that small town feel when you notice all of the little shops and restaurants along the streets leading up to the pier.  It’s not all flashy and touristy like Venice Beach or Santa Monica.  It is just a cool place to hang out.

We walked down to the pier and watching the surfers attempting to ride the waves on this extremely warm, officially Fall, day.  I couldn’t get over how clear the water was, compared to Santa Monica.  Out of all the beaches in Southern California, Santa Monica is the one I frequent the most but I have a feeling that is about to change now that I have discovered the serenity of Manhattan Beach.  There were no crazy crowds or street performers lurking in every corner of the pier.  And down at the end, there was an admission by donation aquarium filled with sea creatures found in Santa Monica Bay.  Many of the fish were caught by fisherman off the pier.  The people of the aquarium have nursed them back to health and will release them back into the wild.  I have to say, it was pretty cool to see the large eels, starfish, bass, sting rays, and even sharks that could be found in our coastal waters.

As we reached the end of the pier and started to turn back, we both stood in awe of the amazing houses on the coastline.  We debated as to whether or not they were massive single family homes or condos.  We both agreed that no matter what they were, they were awesome.  We decided that on our way back to the car, we would stroll down the boardwalk and get a closer look at some of these beautiful beachfront homes.

Aside from the pier, I had found a few restaurants that I thought we could try in Manhattan Beach but my brother had other plans.  He hadn’t been out to play tourist in Los Angeles since my college graduation back in 2000.  He wanted to see the street performers and cheesy souvenir shops in Venice Beach and then work our way up to the Santa Monica Pier and Third Street Promenade.

So we arrived in Venice, parked in the first lot we found (bad choice since it wasn’t worth the $10 paid in parking fees).  And when we made out way down to the Venice Beach boardwalk, we were both stunned.  I hadn’t been down here in years and boy has it changed . . . for the worse.  It looks like this is where the Occupy LA movement went to die.  There is still the famed Muscle Beach area where we say some scary looking gentleman walking around in Speedos–one carrying his boombox and the other drinking something out of a giant horn.  Then we noticed the first medical marijuana stand.  I thought it was funny so I took a picture.  We saw one of the cheesy souvenir shops  and then we were approached by people in doctor’s scrubs with a large marijuana plant symbol.  They offered to exam us and get us our medical marijuana card for the low price of $40.  As I looked further down the boardwalk, I noticed the “doctors” and medical marijuana places appeared every 10-15 feet, with bong and hookah stores in between.  This area used to be a lot like Hollywood Blvd and now it is just a scary waste of parking fees.  We both agreed it was time to move on.  I managed to get one picture of the sunset before we were back in the car and heading north toward Santa Monica.

Again, my brother hadn’t been here in years but he was impressed by the newly renovated Santa Monica Place mall area.  They had the kind of stores that he likes ranging from Sketchers to Louis Vutton.  Then we walked down the Promenade (with a stop at the Lucky Brand store) before heading down to the Pier.  This would be our final destination for the evening.

We decided we would go for the campy themed restaurant known as Bubba Gump Shrimp Company.  The best part was that they had a bar where we could watch Monday night football–Packers Vs. Seahawks.  (Turned out to be a game that everyone in the bar would be talking about, especially the final play where it was debatable as to whether or not the Seahawks really scored that final touchdown to win the game of if it was interference).  We have both been to a Bubba Gump restaurant before but we agreed to try something new.  We ordered the Cajun Shrimp (which my brother ate and really liked) and the Stuffed Crab Mushrooms (AMAZING) for appetizers.  Then we both ordered the house favorite, Captain’s Fish and Chips.  So it was good food during an interesting football game after some adventurous beach exploration (and people watching).

Overall, we had a good time and we both got the chance to visit a new place and try new things.  I wish our visit could have been longer but I enjoyed the time I did get to spend with my big brother.  And next time he comes out to visit, we decided we would continue with the theme of trying something new and explore new places, possibly the Malibu Coast.

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It’s Terrifying to Try Something New & Face Your Fears: Personal Challenge, Day 7 (9.23.12)

I have managed to make it through a week of going somewhere or trying something new every day.  So I guess it is only fitting on the 7th day, I return to one of my favorite places in Southern California and face something that has terrified me for years, The Hollywood Tower of Terror ride at Disney California Adventure.

My friends and I have annual passes to the Disneyland resort so we go there together once a month.  We usually stick to the safer rides, like The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Ariel’s Undersea Adventure and now Radiator Springs Racers in Carsland.  Occasionally we will go on the more daring roller coaster rides (though some in the group refuse to go on those rides and will wait for those of us who are thrill seekers) like Space Mountain, California’s Screamin’, Goofy’s Flight School, Indiana Jones and Matterhorn.  But in all the years of visiting DLR, we never even thought about attempting the Hollywood Tower of Terror.

But while on this quest to try new things and overcome my fears, I requested Hollywood Tower of Terror.  The majority of the group decided to wait out the ride while myself and three of my male companions decided we would step into the Twilight Zone’s Tower of Terror.

As a person who is afraid of heights and even more afraid of falling, this was a heart pounding experiment, especially when my friends who were sitting out the ride talked about how much they hated the ride and that “plunging” feeling.  But being the only female with a group of guys, I tried to laugh off my fears.  I joked with the elevator operator and one of my guy friends about how the warning signs show two people buckled in their seat holding hands.  I asked if that was mandatory so playing along, my friend said he would hold my hand.  I don’t think he was quite prepared for the death grip that I had on his hand for the entire ride.  And to give you a sense of exactly how I was feeling during this elevator plunge of a ride (up and down 13 stories), just take a look at our picture.  Ironically, we were sitting in row 6 (The front row to the left–I’m in the red tank top and only female on that side).

Even though the ride was nerve-wracking and a heart-pounding thrill ride to face my fears, I would do it again.  I just have to make sure that I eat after the ride and not before the ride.

Spending an Eternity in Hollywood: Personal Challenge, Day 6 (9.22.12)

Main sign located on Santa Monica Blvd.

Today I decided I would journey to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.  I have always wanted to go there but never took the opportunity to do so until now.

As it turned out, there is a program called Cinespia where they screen films in the cemetery.  Tonight, Cinespia was screening the one and only horror film that actually terrifies me, The Exorcist.  I was actually considering that this might be my chance to get past my Catholic fears of being possessed and attempt to watch a film that caused me to sleep on the floor in my parents’ bedroom for months when I was in the sixth grade.  (I had a bed like Regan’s).  I haven’t seen the movie since.  Now that I am older and wiser, I could probably handle it.  But alas, the showing was completely sold out so I had to settle for just roaming around the cemetery during the daylight hours.

When I first got there, I really had no idea who was buried there or where to even start looking.  So I just wandered around until I made my way to the Garden of Legends.  Johnny Ramone, Hattie McDaniel, Jayne Mansfield and Cecille B DeMille can be found in this area (as well as many others that I am not as familiar with).  But to the south of the Garden of Legends, you will find the stunning grave of Douglas Fairbanks.  (You can also see a memorial to the Wizard of Oz’s Toto under a tree on the path to the east of the Fairbanks garden.

After I left this area, I wandered around, enjoying the peaceful, serene setting and hoping I would find other names I would recognize but I was unsuccessful.  I started to think that there were more Armenians buried here than celebrities (cemetery is located to the west of Little Armenia).  Actually, I couldn’t get over some of the elaborate Armenian grave sites.  Some of them were truly stunning.

But in the 90 degree heat, I was tired of wandering around and not finding any other celebrity resting places (though I did find a beautiful Buddhist area).  I noticed that on the west side of the entrance, there was a flowers and gift shop, and vending machine to purchase water.  I made my way over there and I went into the gift shop.  They had a few t-shirts, a map of the celebrity graves for $5, a commemorative Hollywood Forever Cemetery book for $20, and numerous books on tourist sites in Hollywood.  I should have stopped here first–and I recommend that anyone else planning on visiting Hollywood Forever, the map is a must!!!

So now I was able to go back to the different areas to find the graves I missed, like that of Vampira, Griffith J. Griffith, Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer, and countless others.

Unfortunately, I had purchased my map too late in the day.  The grave sites that I really wanted to see were located in the mausoleums that were locked up at 2pm.  So I wasn’t able to see Rudolph Valentino, Bugsy Siegel or Estelle Getty.  But now that I own a map, I am definitely returning to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery at a later date.

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A Dam Gateway to Hell?: Personal Challenge, Day Five (9.21.12)

Today I decided to explore another place that I pass every day on my way home from work, the Devil’s Gate Dam in Pasadena.  I know there are tons of urban legends surrounding this particular area but per usual, I refuse to do any concrete research before visiting the area.  I don’t want to taint my experience.

First of all, I had a hard time figuring out exactly how I could get to the Devil’s Gate Dam.  There is no real park or parking lot, at least one that I could find.  One of the website directories, I think it was home locator or something like that, that sent me to a dead-end street.  Then another site sent me to Hahamongna Watershed Park.  When I arrived there, All I saw was a string of picnic tables. I was hungry and convinced I was in the wrong place so I decided to head home to eat and look up specific directions on how to get to Devil’s Gate Dam.

As fate would have it, I was in the right place without even knowing it.  Hahamongna Watershed Park is the correct location for visiting the Devil’s Gate Dam.  I parked all the way at the end (the last parking area before the round-about).  I honestly had no clue where to go.. There were no signs marking the trails.  No maps.  I could see several different trails but i figured it would be best to just head toward the 210 freeway–Devil’s Gate in parallel to the freeway.

So I followed a dirt path, jumped over horse created road apples, and eventually wound up at a paved road.  I had no idea if I was headed in the right direction.  And I was the only one on the path so I couldn’t even ask a local if they knew how to get to the Dam.  I decided I would just follow the paved road and see where it would take me.  It was a good thing I did because it took me exactly where I wanted to go.  After crossing over an old, rusty bridge (of course that would lead to a place called Devil’s Gate Dam), I arrived at the beginning of the Flint Wash Bridge.  To my left, I could see what used to be the wash area but it was all dried.  You could see a staircase that went from the bottom of the wash up to the top of the bridge.  In the distance, I noticed these strange obelisks, in the dried up wash bed.  I wonder why obelisks?  I made my way across the bridge and half way across, I noticed that the wash and JPL were to my left so I crossed over to see what was to my right.  When I looked down, I realized it was the Devil’s Gate Dam.  The Flint Wash Bridge is the top of the Devil’s Gate Dam.  I was above my destination and I had no idea where I needed to go next in order to get a picture of the front of the Dam, a view many see from the 210 freeway to the south.  I finished crossing the bridge and saw the sign for the “Devil’s Gate Dam.”  To the north, there were trails leading to JPL but I looked to the south, the area where I wanted to go and all I saw as a tunnel.  The tunnel, under Oak Grove Drive, took me to a fenced off area with another Devil’s Gate sign and a locked staircase that lead down to the Dam.  I couldn’t actually see the Dam but to my left, I saw a steep rocky path that would take be down to the bottom of the Arroyo Seco Riverbed and hopefully to an area where I could see the front of the Devil’s Gate Dam.

I took a deep breath and started to make my way down the steep rocky path.  There was no guard rail so one little slip on these rocks and I would be free-falling down the cliff to my right.  My heart was pounding.  I was terrified of falling.  I inched my way down, occasionally slipping a little on the rocks.  I kept telling myself this was a bad idea but I had already started my descent and it was too late to turn back.  On my way down, in the distance, I noticed these strange ropes hanging amongst the trees.  It almost looked like a hanging tree that they used to talk about in the history books; the kind of hanging trees used by the KKK for lynching.  I kept chanting, “this is a bad idea,” over and over until I finally reached the bottom path where I had spotted a few men jogging earlier.  The men were coming from an area to the right so I thought perhaps that would take me to the front of Devil’s Gate.  There was a clearing ahead and before me I saw this large wooden structure (there was a warning sign on it but I was too freaked out to approach it and read it).  This was the structure I had seen in the distance with the dangling ropes.  The ropes were actually attached to what appeared to be swings.  And in the front of the structure was a dangling symbol of some sort.  I will have to see if I can figure out what the symbol meant but my gut tells me it probably has something to do with the occult.  I got the chills looking at the structure and just wanted to get away from it.  So I continued on the path but it led to the riverbed.  Not wanting to cross slippery rocks, I turned around and tried to see where the path would take me–the same direction in which the other joggers were headed.

The first thing I noticed was a wooden plank placed as a makeshift bridge to go over a small pond.  I crossed the plank and suddenly noticed a small structure to my left.  I looked like a small wooden fort.  I decided it wasn’t wise to inspect it and see who was living there.  So I continued on the path where I saw a few more joggers and bike riders, all male.  I managed to find a spot along the riverbed where I could catch a glimpse of the Dam but it wasn’t the camera angle I wanted.  My instincts told me that this wasn’t the right direction.  I needed to go back up to the bridge.

The hike back up to the bridge was more terrifying than the hike down.  I wasn’t wearing the right shoes to be climbing up slippery rocks and soft dirt.  I did my bet to sprint and hop up the cliff as fast as I could.  I was too afraid of slipping on one of the rocks and sliding down the cliff.  I had never been so happy to see a barbed wire fence before in my life but when I reached the top of the path, I was ecstatic.  The sun was setting and it was starting to get dark.  The graffiti before me expressed the way I felt.  It was an arrow pointing to the tunnel under Oak Grove Drive and it said “Hide. Live.”  That is exactly what I wanted to do so I ran through the tunnel.

I sat down on the walkway along the Flint Wash Bridge.  After calming myself down and catching my breath, I realized there was a beautiful view of the sunset before me.  Any fears I had washed away with the beauty of the skyline before me.  I decided it was time to hike back to my car so I started back across the bridge.  To my left, I noticed that there was another tunnel under Oak Grove Drive.  I decided that I might as well check it out while I was there, then I will hike back to my car.

I made my way through the tunnel and when I reached the end, my heart started to pound.  This was the view I was looking for, the front of Devil’s Gate Dam.  It had this dark and sinister feel, the polar opposite of what I had experienced on the other side of the tunnel with the majestic sunset.  I took a few pictures through the fence before I noticed another tunnel area that offered an even better view of the Dam.  I stood there for a few seconds before I ducked down into the small tunnel area.  It was an uneasy feeling so I just snapped a picture of the Dam and got out of there as fast as I could.  My heart pounded as I ran through the tunnel but I instantly relaxed once I saw the pink clouds in the sky over the San Gabriel Mountains.  This was the light, the beauty at the end of this dark and sinister tunnel.

So on the north side of the Flint Wash Bridge, you have the beautiful wilderness with JPL and the San Gabriel Mountains in the distance.  It is a feast for the eyes and the sunset view with the bridge is the perfect setting for a romantic moment in a movie.  But when you turn to the south side and make your way through the dark tunnels, you enter a world that would provide inspiration for Hitchcock and Stephen King with its dark, suspenseful and intensely dramatic undertones.

So now that I am safe and sound in my own home, it is time to do my research and see if I can find out why an area can go from romanticized beauty to horror movie setting.  Stay tuned.

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This Place Used To Be A Zoo: Personal Challenge, Day Four, (9.20.12)

Today, I decided I would check out the old Los Angeles Zoo, located in Griffith Park.  My students gave me the idea.  They are loving my new personal challenge to go somewhere new everyday.  It is now a ritual when they walk into class to ask me what about my daily excursion plans.  Some of my students even made lists with ideas.  Many had “The Old Zoo” in Griffith Park on their lists.  They said they have heard stories about hauntings and weird occurances.

So just like the previous locations, I Googled the address and directions but refused to read any of the stories or legends until after my visit.  So after work, I headed down to Griffith Park.  When I got there, I realized that I have never really explored this famous park.  I went to the Observatory once in college with my friend Matt, an LA native.  And I have been to the Griffith Park Travel Town a few times but that was it.  So I thought it would be best to stop at the Ranger Station to get a map and ask directions so I wouldn’t get lost.

It turns out that the Old Zoo is very close to the Ranger Station (and Merry-Go-Round).  I followed the Ranger’s directions and parked in the “Old Zoo” picnic area parking lot.  This is when strange things started to happen.  As I made my way to the path, I heard someone yell “Miss B.”  One of my students ran up to me.  It turns out they were having a county track meet through the park . . . through the Merry-Go-Round area . . . and through the “Old Zoo.”  Hundreds of teenagers, coaches and cheering parents every where.  It was like the Universe was playing another cosmic joke on me.

I had just spent my day with loud teenagers.  I used these solo expeditions as a way of achieving peace and quiet after a daily grind that left me with ringing ears from all the chatter, giggling, and drama that is wrapped up in the world of the American teenager.  So things were not working out exactly as planned.  But I wasn’t going to give up on my plans and made my way up to the “Old Zoo.”

Though I do have to admit it was comical, and a bit ironic, to see the teenagers hanging out in the old animal cages while waiting for their races.  It there weren’t legal issues with taking pictures of minors without parental consent, I could have had a field day with the caged teenager metaphor.

Thankfully, the teenagers were only lingering in the front part of the Zoo.  Once I made my way up through the entrance, I was by myself.  The abandoned Zoo was mine for exploring.  Unfortunately, there really wasn’t that much to explore.  There were abandoned cages and animal “sancutaries.”  There was a building, tagged with graffitti.  But overall, it felt like a walk through area at Universal Studios, the kind that would just give you a glimpse into another world.  It wasn’t long before you had made your way through the area and reached one of the many Griffith Park hiking trails.

It is an interesting place to visit but I wasn’t getting any paranormal feelings.  It is an abandoned Zoo, vandalized and left in a state of Urban decay.  It would be a great place for a photo shoot.  And if you love hiking, I would highly recommend it.  Just bring bug spray because the flies, gnats, and mosquitoes are bothersome, at least they were for me.

When I returned home, I decided to look into the history of the abandoned zoo.  In 1913, the city of Los Angeles moved the zoo from the area that is currently known as Lincoln Park to Griffith Park.  They wanted a more natural setting for the animals so they chose a ravine in the park located next to the area where the Merry-Go-Round now sits.  There were plans to raise $10,000 for the construction of the new zoo but fundraising efforts stalled and they were left with only $2,000.  With low funding, the animals were kept in stockades, welded wires encircling groups of trees.  Within a few years, they were able to add an aviary, bear pits, and cages but it still wasn’t the kind of zoo one would imagine for Los Angeles.

There were so many problems with the poorly funded, free admission, Los Angeles Zoo.  They couldn’t afford to have their own Vet on staff so many of the animals became ill or contracted highly contagious diseases.  There were also issues with the sewage system.  In 1916, the Health Department almost shut down the zoo because sewage was seeping into the LA River.  And it kept getting worse.  During World War I, the Los Angeles City Council decided to withdraw their authorization for the zoo to feed beef to the meat-eating animals.  They tried to switch to an alternate meat source but the majority of the meat-eating animals died.  In 1923, the city park commissioners drew attention to the poor conditions of the zoo and predicted that if things didn’t approve, it would soon be closed and the animals housed there would be “disposed.”

Somehow, the zoo managed to survive and in the mid-1930s, it was renovated and expanded as a Works Progress Administration project.  With the free admission, the newly renovated Los Angeles Zoo drew large crowds, as well as heavy criticism.  By the 1950s, “zoo-bashing” became a political norm.  Everyone talked about abandoning or moving the zoo to a better setting where a zoo could be built that would be adequate for a city with the size and population of Los Angeles.  The LA Daily News even called the Griffith Park zoo “an inadequate, ugly, poorly designed and under-financed collection of beat-up cages.”  In May 1958, Angelenos voted and approved an $8 million bond to build a new “World Zoo.”  In the fall of 1964, a ground-breaking ceremony was held for the new city-run Greater Los Angeles Zoo, located at the site of the Roosevelt Golf Course at the northeast end of Griffith Park.  The old Zoo officially closed in 1965 but it is still used today as a site for the filming of movies and TV shows.

I couldn’t find any real urban legends linked to this specific site, except a few about haunted animals roaming the area at night (they were probably real animals).  Griffith Park itself is shrouded in numerous Urban Legends, myths and curses.  But that I will leave for another day.

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WordPress Daily Post “Post A Day” Challenge

Just this week, I discovered the WordPress Daily Post blog.  Lately, I have had this awakening where I realized that I haven’t really been living my life for me.  I have been waiting for . . . I have no idea what I was really waiting for but the waiting period is over.  I am going to live my life the way I want to and start doing all the things on my “To Do” list.  On Monday, September 17th, I actually decided to challenge myself.  For the next 365 days, I want to do something new everyday.  On Monday, I started my challenge by going to “The Haunted Forest.”  On Tuesday, I decided to walk across the Colorado Street Bridge, aka Suicide Bridge.  Then today, Wednesday, I decided to explore the area under the Colorado Street Bridge and then return to the bridge at night to explore both areas after the sun set.

So for me, discovering the WordPress Daily Post turned out to be a cosmic gift.  So I am going to take part in their “post a day” challenge in congruence with my own daily personal challenge.  But by trying something new everyday, I should have no problem finding something to write about on a daily basis.

So  I’m off.  Three days down, 362 left to go.

**I started writing this post around 11:30pm on Wednesday, September 19th but it was after midnight when it posted because my computer froze.  But I am still going to count this as my September 19th posting.

“Trolling” The Suicide Bridge: Personal Challenge, Day Three (9.19.12)

After my journey across the Colorado Street Bridge, I arrived at home, eager to do some research into this beautiful, historical bridge with a sinister reputation.

The Colorado Street Bridge was built in 1913 and it spans 1,467 feet at an elevation of 150 feet over the Arroyo Seco Riverbed (and LA River), linking east Los Angeles to Pasadena and other eastern cities.  While crossing this architectural masterpiece of art, the traveler is given a majestic view of the San Gabriel Mountains.  It is also a part of the original Route 66.  On February 12, 1981, the Colorado Street Bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

When you are there, you can’t help but stare in awe at the beauty of this curved bridge that was the tallest bridge of its time.  But how could such beauty be tainted with the nickname of “Suicide Bridge”?

It turns out that well over 100 people have chosen this particular spot as the ideal location for putting an end to their troubles by plunging into the wilderness, and concrete, 150 feet below.  The first documented suicide at the Colorado Street Bridge took place on November 16, 1919.  An additional 95 took their lives by jumping off the bridge from 1919 to 1937, at the height of the Great Depression.

One of the more infamous suicides occurred on May 1, 1937.  Myrtle Ward, a 22 year-old mother from El Sereno, threw her 3 year-old daughter, Jean Pykkonen, off the bridge before jumping herself.  The young girl, Jean, landed in the thick tree branches and managed to survive while her mother perished.

The City of Pasadena tried everything it could to deter tormented souls from ending their lives at the Colorado Street “Suicide” Bridge.  According to the 1978 book “Southern California: An Island on the Land” by Carey McWilliams, the city spent $20,000 a year to staff the bridge with police detail,  In 1989, when the bridge was closed for seismic renovations, the city had a chance to improve upon their predicament.  When the bridge reopened in 1993, a suicide barrier was added to the railing, creating a combined height of 8 feet.  This barrier has helped reduce the number of jumpers but it didn’t deter them completely.  It is estimated that over the past decade or so, 10 percent of all suicides that take place in Pasadena occur at the Colorado Street Bridge.  In fact, last November, a former student from the high school where I teach took his own life by jumping off the bridge at the young age of 25.

When I was there, I was surprised that people are still finding ways to get past the 8 foot barrier, rod iron and spiked at the top.  I was too scared to even lean close to the railings.  You have to be really desperate to even try to climb that barrier, in my humble opinion.  I think it actually takes a certain bravery to just look over the edge.  Too bad these poor souls couldn’t turn that bravery around and use it to survive their own troubles.

So with all of these deaths, it is no wonder that this area has a tainted history filled with ghostly urban legends.  In fact, the tales go all the way back to the construction of the bridge.  Legend has it that during the construction, a worker fell into the concrete mixture.  His workers couldn’t retrieve him so he is now entombed, forever haunting the bridge that holds his skeletal remains.  Of course, this legend has already been debunked.  What really happened was that during construction, part of the bridge collapsed and three workers plunged into the Arroyo Seco Riverbed.  One of the workers died instantly, another died at the hospital and the third survived but with severe injuries.  All bodies were recovered.

Another legend involves Myrtle Ward, the woman who threw her daughter off the bridge before jumping.  It is said that she roams the bridge, searching for her daughter.  There are also accounts of a woman in a long flowing robe who climbs upon one of the parapets (aka lookouts), leaps off the edge and vanishes into the darkness.  Others have claimed to see to a man with rimmed glasses wandering around the bridge.  Many think he is the construction worker who lost his life when the bridge collapsed during construction.  Many report strange sounds, echoes, and mists.

However, the majority of the stories seem to involve hauntings underneath the bridge, in the Arroyo Seco Riverbed hiking trails and LA River.  So I decided that my challenge for the day would be a journey under the bridge.  I went there after work but quickly realized this wasn’t area for work attire.  I took a few pictures with my phone before heading home to change.  Tennis shoes or hiking shoes are a must for this area.

I decided to return after the sun had set and explore the area during a time when others have claimed to have experienced the unexplainable.  Apparently I am not the same person who thought about exploring this area at night.  I ran into a few guys who were also taking pictures of the underbelly of the Suicide Bridge.  They had taken pictures in the area several times but never endured any personal paranormal phenomenon in the area.  And we didn’t experience anything that night.  The only weird thing that happened was a homeless man who is living under the bridge came up to us and told us he didn’t want his picture taken.  When we agreed, he thanked us, bowed and jogged off into the darkness.

So with no personal experience to write about as a Suicide Bridge Troll, I decided to go back to the top of the bridge and get some pictures.  Maybe I would see the woman in the robe or Myrtle Ward or the construction worker.  At the very least, I figured I could get some cool pictures of the Crescent Moon over the bridge.

Once again, I parked in the little area on Grand and made my way to the bridge, armed with my camera and a monopod (my tripod broke the other day so this was all I had on a moment’s notice.  I highly recommend using a tripod but a monopod was better than attempting handheld night photography).  I had a blast taking pictures and playing with angles.  I loved the challenge of trying to get pictures of the moon and working with the lights and the cars (going way too fast).

But once again, nothing that could be considered a paranormal personal experience occurred.  The day before, I had the weird thing happen with the blackbirds.  This time, I was getting weird lighting effects when I took pictures with my phone.  But I blame that on the fact that it is an automatic camera.  Thankfully, I brought my regular DSLR so I could manually control my settings.  I didn’t get any weird lighting issues with the DSLR.

And the only weird thing that happened that night was it appeared a man proposed to his girlfriend on the bridge.  They were both dressed up, dancing and kissing.  They were dressed in contemporary clothes and I managed to get a picture of them so I am pretty sure they are real human beings and not the lost tortured souls rumored to haunt this bridge.  But I still can’t get over that I possibly witnessed an engagement.  Who proposes on a Suicide Bridge?

Anyways, after I felt like I had gotten all the pictures I was going to get, I headed home.  It was a school night so I couldn’t stay until the “witching hour,” aka 3am, when it is said that the spirits roam the earth.  So I will probably have to go back someday.  Actually, I need to go back once I replace my tripod so I can get better pictures.

But I think for now, it is time to move on to another adventure but leave this on my “To Do” list as a place to revisit.  In the meantime, I will post some of the pictures that I took with my phone and some of the unedited pictures that I took with my DSLR (just remember I was using a monopod on a winding bridge so they are not as clear as I would have liked).

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Daily Post Writing Challenge: A Letter To My Former Self

Hey Kelly,

I am taking part in a writing challenge from WordPress’ Daily Post. The challenge is to use the Post via Email tool and to write the post as if you are writing an actual email. So I decided I would write to you, my former self–a young woman who always hid behind the written word.

As your future self, I want to warn you of your habits of expressing yourself only through writing. You have this bad habit of holding in your real feelings until you explode through a written, verbal regurgitation that tends to make matters worse. I understand your fears. You are afraid of rejection and getting hurt. But the problem with email is that you don’t know if the other person even read your heartfelt diatribe, if they interpreted it with its true meanings and feelings (teasing and flirting doesn’t always come across in email), and you will never know how they feel if they decide not to respond. With verbal communication, yes, it is scary but at least you get responses right away, ending the "what is he thinking" loop that plays in your head. And no matter how scared you are to express yourself live (or even in-person), always remind yourself that what is the worse that can happen–you will lose something you never even had?

You started this habit of expressing yourself, especially in matters of the heart, at a young age. You used to write notes to the guys you cared for in Middle School and High School but then with the addition of email in college, your bad habit soared. In college, with Big, you used email to tell him how you felt. Then the one time you stored up enough courage to tell him in person what you wanted, he gave you what you thought was a rejection–thus causing you to further hone your written communication skills.

You are a writer. You have a college degree in the subject to prove it. It should be a skill, not a crutch. One in-person rejection (your interpretation, not his) and another one on the phone and you developed what Big would probably call "long ass email" syndrome.

This is going to be a very hard habit for you to break. Through therapy, meditation, and a lot of soul-searching, you are going to do your best to get over your fears. But your daily interactions with teenagers who conduct the majority of their communications through technology–texting, tweeting, Instagram and the like–is going to make this one of the most difficult challenges of your life. But remember, you are from a different generation. A generation where your parents made you get your own phone line so you could talk to your friends for hours. Go back to your roots and work on your Verbal communication skills (and do your very best to convince your teenagers to do the same). Stop using your pen (or keyboard) as a sword, a weapon to fight off your fear demons, and do your part to help stop a future of tech zombies who would rather text the person sitting on the other side of the table instead of having an actual conversation with them. Remember, the benefits of an actual verbal conversation is instant feedback and responses. I mean isn’t that why you go to "talk" therapy? This will improve our future–and end all the misunderstandings that have occurred via email.

Luv, Kel (your present and future self)

The Enchanted “Haunted Forest”: Personal Challenge, Day One (9.17.12)

Recently, my students told me about an area called “The Enchanted Forest” in Pasadena.  (The locals actually call it “The Haunted Forest”).  They had never been there but they had heard stories about how haunted it is.  I have lived in the Pasadena/Altadena area for almost a year now and I had never heard of any local haunted places aside from Suicide Bridge.

So being a curious knowledge seeking Libra, I decided to look into “The Enchanted Forest.”  First step, Google.  I found a few blogs that mentioned that “The Enchanted Forest” (aka Haunted Forest) is actually “The Cobb Estate” in Altadena.  You simply take Lake Ave North until the street ends at the gates of the estate.  There were a few accounts and some YouTube videos about the Cobb Estate but I didn’t bother to read or watch them.  I pass this area on my way home from work so I decided I would just check it out for myself and I didn’t want my own feelings or personal experiences to be corrupted by the stories of others.

So I followed Lake until it ended and I noticed the iron gates on the right.  I parked my car and proceeded to walk toward the gates.  To my left, I heard this loud noise in the bushes.  My heart started to pound as I slowly approached the bush.  I inched forward and almost screamed when a doe (aka deer) jumped out of the bush and ran up the hill toward the estate.  I couldn’t help but laugh at how silly I was being.

I made my way to the gates, took a few pictures with my phone, and checked myself in on Facebook (just in case I went missing and my friends & family needed to know my last location).  I’m guessing the driveway was once majestic but now it is worn and weathered.  There was a smell of sawdust and a scent reminiscent of wood burning in a fireplace.  The grass, brush and trees looked dead.  As I was taking in the scenery, I noticed the locals power hiking their way past me.  There was a weather-beaten sign showing the different trails that would take you up parts of Mt. Lowe.  It kind of reminded me of parts of Eaton Canyon but without the crowds of people.  This was a place where people come after work to hike.  Yeah, the iron gates, random staircases that led nowhere, the worn down drive and signs and the dead foliage do give it an eerie sense of foreboding but if I hadn’t known about the “haunted” claim, I would just think this is a really cool place.  It reminded me of the Nevada ghost towns I used to explore with my friends.  With my stomach growling and my throat begging for water in the unseasonably hot weather, I decided it was time to stop exploring and head home.

Now that I have fed myself and quenched my thirst, I thought it would be a good time to figure out the real story behind the Cobb Estate in Altadena.  According to the Altadena Historical Society, the land was purchased by retired lumber magnate Charles H. Cobb in 1916.  After a few years, Cobb and his wife, Carrie, decided to make this their permanent home and built a house there in 1918.  Carrie passed away in 1934 and Cobb was able to enjoy his lavish estate until his death in 1939.

As a Freemason, Cobb designated his property be left to the Scottish Right Temple.  After a few years, the Masons sold the property and it became a retreat for the Sisters of Saint Joseph.  In 1956, the Marx Brothers purchased the land as an investment, they had no plans of actually living there.  So while the comedic family tried to find projects for developing the land, the area became a hangout for teens and “misfits” who vandalized the area and were often arrested for their misdemeanors.  The once grand and luxurious mansion fell into disarray and was removed in 1959–only the foundation, a few stairways and a wall remain.  The Marx Brothers tried to turn the land into a cemetery but met opposition from the residents.  So in hopes of unloading the land for a housing development, the property went up for auction in 1971.

Then the story turns into something you would see in a Hollywood screenplay.  Bob Barnes, a social studies teacher at John Muir High School, joined with a band of students, led by Senior Maggie Stratton, to raise enough money to buy the property and leave it as wilderness, making it a part of the Angeles National Forest.  They had nine days to raise the money and with the help of a last-minute donation from Virginia Steele Scott, a storied art collector, they bought and preserved the 107 acres of land.  In an article for the Pasadena Star-News, Barnes said that the day after they won the auction, he and Stratton bought a Star’s Map in Hollywood, drove to Groucho Marx’s home, knocked on the door and when he answered in his robe and slippers, they informed him they bought his property and said “thanks.”

Now as I was reading this tale, it sounded like one of triumph and victory, not really the makings of a tale of horror and suspense that Hitchcock would drool over.  So I need to dig deeper and do a little more research.  There has to be a reason why this area is called “The Haunted Forest.”  In the mean time, you can see the pictures I took today and a video I found of a walk-through of the Cobb Estate.

(I just read that the gates were used in the first Phantasm movie–cool!  And there are old abandoned gold mines down in the canyon below the Cobb Estate–I will have to check that out another day.)

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