Posted in Exploration, Life, Personal Challenge, Southern California, Tourism, Travel

Descanso Gardens: Personal Challenge, Day 70 (11.30.12)

Descanso Gardens is another one of my sanctuaries.  They have been making a lot of improvements, including an art gallery and new urban garden areas up by the Boddy house.  The exhibits change out but they are always linked to the Gardens.  This is a great place to get away, hike, take in some art, and enjoy the fresh air.

Check out these photos of the Art Gallery by the Boddy House, the new garden areas, the living walls, and the view:

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Posted in Exploration, Life, Personal Challenge, Photography, Southern California, Sports, Tourism, Travel, Universe, Writing

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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Posted in Exploration, Life, movies, Personal Challenge, Photography, Southern California, Spirituality, Tourism, Travel, Universe, Writing

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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Posted in Exploration, Life, Personal Challenge, Photography, Southern California, Spirituality, Tourism, Travel

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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Posted in Family, Life, Spirituality, Universe

Eaton Canyon Baptism

Yesterday, my mom arrived in Cali for a week visit.  We decided that since the weather was so nice today, we would go for a hike.  This was my mom’s first “mountain” hike.  So we paired up with my California sister and her mom and headed off to Eaton Canyon.  We decided to do the hike up to the waterfall (along with tons of other people).  Since it rained yesterday, the water levels were up, making for an interesting trek.

It started off fairly easy but on our second pass over the stream, my mom lost her footing on one of the rocks we were using as a bridge and she fell into the ankle-deep water.  I tried to catch her but wound up landing right beside her in the water.  My California sister started laughing at us and said “you have now been baptised by the Eaton Canyon waters.”  Little did we know how this simple comical moment would turn into a cosmic (or karmic) joke.

As we continued to hike up the canyon, my mom told stories of my childhood and all of my many quirks–one being how much trouble I would get into with the nuns who ran my catechism classes.  We talked and talked as my California sister and her Mom still used the rock bridges to forge the stream–while my mother and I opted to just walk through the water (our feet and pants were soaked already).  I continuously made jokes about how the waters “cleansed my soul”–if only I knew what was coming.

So we made our way up to the waterfall, took pictures and started our trek back.  At some point, I wound up being the leader of our little hiking group.  We came to a point where there was a rather large traffic jam of people trying to get across the stream.  I just made my way through the water with my mom close behind.  I was looking down into the stream, trying to avoid some of the deeper pockets of water so I wasn’t aware of what I was about to bump into once I reached the other side of the stream.  I was just about to step onto the shore when I looked up and immediately froze, causing my mom to bump into my back.  Right in front of me, standing upon a rock above, I gazed upon two Nuns.  Hiking nuns dressed in full habit garb, carrying a walking stick in one hand and a rosary in another.  I am sure that my face turned sheet white.

This is my life!  I can’t even make this kind of stuff up.  My heart started pounding and I immediately averted my eyes from the women I often referred to as “Sister Mary Holy Water.”  I suddenly turned into the young girl who would always get disapproving looks from the nuns for asking too many questions.  I ran up the shore and up the trail as fast as I could.  I could hear my mom and California sister laughing somewhere behind me.  I just started booking it as fast as I could.  But in my haste, with my eyes on the ground, I managed to miss four more nuns headed in my direction.  Four nuns that I literally ran right into, causing my California sister to burst out in a fit of laughter.  I had no escape this time.  I just stood there, frozen, with my back against the mountain.  I only remember seeing a flash of black and white followed by a parade of wooden rosaries.  I had an instant flashback to my days of sitting in a corner saying a bunch of “Hail Mary” and “Our Father” prayers as I made my way around my own communion rosary.  I stood there as my California sister walked past me, still laughing, saying “this never happens to anyone else but you.”

Her mother agreed.  They have been hiking Eaton Canyon all their lives and never have they seen hiking nuns.  And not just any hiking nuns, hiking nuns in full habit and dress.  This was my first time hiking up to the waterfall, I was joking about being baptised and then I run into six nuns.  Seriously?

It’s like the time I was joking about the Mormons when driving into Salt Lake City and then my truck broke down in the middle of the Salt Flats, leaving me stranded for five hours.  I had no choice but to return to Salt Lake City and actually stay there, delaying my trip to Reno by a day.  You think I would have learned my lesson back then.

The Universe has this way of playing Cosmic jokes on me.  Someone up there was having a mighty good laugh at me today.  Nice April Fool’s Day prank on me, Universe.  I know my California sister enjoyed it immensely.