Saturday, July 20, 2013

Summer O' Fun

After the lackluster summer of 2012, I vowed to never again waste another summer tied to my desk during the longest days of the year. We're now midway through summer 2013, and I'm proud to say - mission accomplished! While there have still been days when I've worked overtime, this has become more the exception than the rule. I may finally be figuring out this work/life balance thing after all. 

Anyway, I had big plans for today, but an excruciating headache and horrible traffic on the 5 due to the fire have caused me to rethink my plans. Not to worry - I had plenty to do at home as it was. Nonetheless, it gave me plenty of time to reflect on how grateful I have been to have had the fun I've had this summer thus far, and plan to have for the rest of the summer. 

This summer has been jam-packed with travel, visitors, and friends near and far. I have been so lucky to see so many of my friends and family this year (especially since most of them live so far away). Here's a bit of what I've been up to:

My summer (which I always say unofficially begins with Memorial Day weekend) began with a vacation to Albuquerque, my favorite "hometown" and where many of my best friends still live. I met my friend from Florida there, and we had a fabulous time exploring New Mexico and visiting some of its many beautiful churches. Each time I visit makes it harder to leave, but at least I know I'm always welcome if I ever decide to return. 

Just 4 short days after I returned to California, I found myself boarding a red-eye flight across the country to Washington, DC. It was my first visit, and hope it won't be my last. It was so much fun! I got to visit friends (old and new), explore many of the historic buildings and monuments, and I got some work education credits done! Hurray! I'm still sorting through pictures, but you can see a couple of my posts about the Arlington Cemetery, the monuments (at day and at night), and more on the links here. Future posts about the Library of Congress and the Capitol building to come!

My mom and my brother drove out to California to drop my niece off for a couple of weeks in June. It had been nearly a year since mom had been out here, and a few months since my brother moved away, so I was incredibly excited to see them. They were only here for 4 days, but we packed in a lot! First, we drove up to San Francisco for the day for a quick driving tour of the city by the bay (with better weather than we could have hoped for!). Then, we headed south to the city of Angels for a visit to Venice Beach, Hollywood, and Olvera Street. These visits are always too short, but I'm glad they got to see everything they wanted to see. Blogs about those visits to come soon!

Having my niece visit me is always a treat. She's growing up fast so I know these moments are fleeting. We stayed very busy during her two short weeks here. While we really enjoyed the valley, we had more fun playing in LA. We spent one weekend stalking filming locations and visiting Griffith Observatory with a colleague who was about to move away. We spent her last weekend visiting studios (Universal and Warner Brothers) and enjoying the warm (read: hot) weather. Our road trip to take her back to New Mexico was quite an adventure, and I miss her even though she just left. Can't wait for her to stay again next summer.

I mentioned my road trip to New Mexico, and gave you a preview of that adventure on another blog post. Driving across 4 states and back in 6 days was exhausting, but fun. It was also great visiting family while I was home - I miss them so much! My brother (pictured above) turns 29 tomorrow, and my nephew turns 1 on Tuesday. The things we miss when we move from home... sigh.

With just 6 weeks until Labor Day (my unofficial end of summer), I still have time to check off a few more items from my summer to-do list. I know it's pretty ambitious, but I'd really like to do the following before this summer fades into fall:
  • Visit the gardens at the Huntington Library in Pasadena
  • Go to a spa for a mini spa day (anyone know of any good deals?)
  • See the latest exhibit at the FIDM museum
  • Watch a baseball game. Seriously, it shouldn't be this hard finding someone to go with me!
  • Go to the beach (need to find a dog friendly one that doesn't suck)
  • Ride a boat... to somewhere. I hear Catalina Island is nice...
  • Watch a movie in the Cinerama Dome
  • Check off a few of my film location stalking wish lists
Let's see how many more of these I can check off in the next six weeks. Nothing's impossible, right?

Until next time...

--- Becks

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Moonlight Sonata

I love taking and giving tours. I like learning about new things, and learning new trivia about things I already know about. In another lifetime, I would love to own a tour company, and spend my life sharing the fun stuff I learn about in my travels. Until that time, however, I must continue sharing my fun adventures here. One of my favorite (and least favorite) things about sharing things via blog, however, is that pictures rarely capture of the beauty of the places I've been. I wish I could take everyone with me everywhere so they could see these places with their own eyes! Alas, I am forced to share my perspective with digital pictures from my low-rent camera. It's not a bad camera, but it's far from professional. Sigh.  

So why go into this tirade about pictures and my camera? Well, one of the most exciting things I did during my trip to Washington, DC last month was take a moonlight tour. The tour, appropriately called Monuments by Moonlight, was arranged by the industry association I was traveling with, and was a steal at $15/person. It took us around DC to visit many of the famed monuments, memorials, and building that are best viewed in the dark of night. Along the way, we learned fun facts about the famed locations, including ghost stories, political gossip, and more. It was a lot of fun! That being said, taking pictures at night with a point-and-shoot camera is a bit of a challenge. I did catch a few good ones, though, and thought I'd share them here.

We started our tour at our hotel, winding our way to Capitol Hill to catch the Capitol at dusk. The Capitol building was one of my favorite buildings in all of DC, second really only to the Library of Congress. The architecture is stunning, and the tour guide was correct - it really is best viewed in the pink glow of dusk. There is a lot to talk about when describing the Capitol building, but I'll leave that for another post (with more pictures).

The second stop on our whirlwind tour was at the National World War II Memorial. As impressive as this memorial was during the day, I was still amazed by it at night! The World War II Memorial is located at the end of the Reflection Pool that lies ahead of the Lincoln Memorial. It is also directly across the street from the Washington Monument. The picture above was the view I had as I left the bus. The sky was still light, but the sun had set... isn't this gorgeous?

As I walked down into the World War II Memorial itself, I found that the fountain and the 56 columns were all illuminated for the night. There are no words for how beautiful and peaceful this was... 

Not far away in the distance, we could easily view the Jefferson Memorial. Located directly south of the White House, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial was constructed in 1943 to honor our nation's third president (the bronze statue of Jefferson held within was not added until years later). Our 32nd President, Franklin Roosevelt, selected Jefferson to be honored with the monument, and also selected the winning architectural submission, laid the cornerstone, and dedicated it on the 200th anniversary of Jefferson's birth. The site of the monument was subject to huge debate at the time - it required the removal of several cherry blossom trees that had been given to the city by the citizens of Tokyo just a few decades before. We were supposed to visit the monument, but our driver got lost in a detour and I never made it to the site. I will definitely include it in my next visit - I would love to see it up close!

From the World War II Memorial, we headed towards the Korean War Memorial. The emotion I described in my last post about this memorial was amplified in the dark of night. The 19 soldier statues seemed to almost appear up from the ground like ghosts... their hollow eyes seemingly coming to life. It was incredibly moving.

The images in the high gloss granite walls, however, seemingly disappeared under the cloak of night. Only when others took pictures could you see the thousands of faces emerge from the wall - each one a ghost of a different era. When visitors looked at the faces with a flashlight at night, it was their face that appeared to be more ghostlike. It was a very interesting phenomena. The tour guide pointed out one face of note in particular I had not noticed in my previous visit (not pictured above) - the face of Alan Alda, an actor from the television show M.A.S.H. Alan helped spearhead the fundraising for the memorial, and is prominently etched on to the wall. (I took a picture, but sadly, it came out really blurry.) 

From the Korean War Memorial, we headed uphill to the Lincoln Memorial. While I thought this was a beautiful monument in the daylight, at night it was simply stunning! Hundreds of people gathered in front of the monument with their cameras, many of them with tripods. The light is vibrant, but still difficult to capture with even the best of cameras. I took several pictures, settling on the above to share with you. 

The interior of the Lincoln Memorial, in my opinion, should only ever be viewed at night. The inscriptions seemed to carry more weight, more importance, under the glow of the soft spotlights. Lincoln looked more regal too - I really liked how the inscription above his head appeared almost like a halo or crown in this picture. I can see why so many people flock to this monument. It's truly inspiring, and gives me hope that we'll one day overcome the challenges of today.

Following out tour around the Lincoln Memorial, we headed down towards the Vietnam Memorial. Of all the memorials, that is the only not worth going to at night. It is lit, but the lighting is very dim and make it nearly impossible to see the monument. Likewise, the sets of statues that flank either end of the monument are difficult to see. 

The last picture I took of the evening was the above picture of the Washington Monument. As I mentioned in my last post, the monument is currently undergoing repair due to damage it incurred during an earthquake in 2011. I'm not sure if the scaffolding affected the lighting much as I never saw it pre-scaffolding, but the pictures I've seen of the memorial after they added additional lighting are spectacular! Another thing I want to go back and visit during my next trip back east. 

If you're ever in DC, make sure to book one of the many moonlight tours. It was definitely worth the money, and I would have gladly paid more for a longer tour. Hope you enjoyed the pictures!

Until next time...

--- Becks

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Monumental Art

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I was recently given the opportunity to visit Washington, DC for a conference for work. I was selected since I serve on the board for the local professional association, but it was still a welcome surprise! One of my best friends lives in the area, and she graciously gave me a tour of some of the city's most popular attractions while I was there. One thing that was on my "must visit" list were the nation's national monuments. 

The above pictured bridge, while not a monument, was the gateway for our informal tour. This beautiful bridge is much younger than it appears. Constructed in 1932, the Arlington Memorial Bridge links Arlington, VA to Washington, DC across the famed Potomac River. The eastern entrance is flanked by two golden Art of War statues, and the bridge itself is decorated with various statues depicting similar themes of bravery and sacrifice. It's stunning!

Our first actual stop on our monumental tour (ha!) was the Lincoln Memorial. This famous monument was completed in 1922 in honor of our nation's 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. The large Greek temple inspired building houses a 19 foot statue of the honored president himself (who, if standing, would measure a full 28 feet). One of the most popular monuments on the lawn, the building is supported by 36 Doric columns - one for each of the states unionized at the time of Lincoln's presidency. Each state is further inscribed on the building directly above the columns, along with the dates that the state entered the union. The names of the other 48 states (not including Alaska or Hawaii) was added later in the attic above the frieze. 

The Lincoln Memorial has become a popular place for tourists, activists, and filmmakers alike. Most famously, the site is known for being the site of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's "I Have A Dream" speech, heard by an audience of approximate 250,000 on August 28, 1963 at the March for Jobs and Freedom during the Civil Rights movement. While I knew about the event, I had no idea the exact spot was marked on the steps leading up to the monument. Luckily, a friendly National Park Service worker pointed it out to my friend and me. Of course, we just had to take our picture standing there! Such an amazing feeling.

From the Lincoln Memorial, we headed down to visit the Korean War Veterans Memorial. As the granddaughter of a proud Korean War Veteran (Purple Heart), I was incredibly excited to see this memorial. I fiercely fought back tears as we entered the site - oh, how I wish I had been able to take my grandfather here during his lifetime! The relatively young memorial was dedicated in 1995 by President Clinton. The 19 statues pictured above reflect on the black granite immediately south, representing the 38th parallel (or the pre-Korean War boundary between North and South Korea). All branches of the armed forces are represented by the statues.

Sandblasted on the adjacent black granite are faces from over 2,500 pictures of actual people who served during the war. The granite was given a high gloss that serves two purposes - to reflect the 19 soldier statues, mimicking 38 soldiers to represent the 38th parallel, and also to allow visitors to get a glimpse of their own faces as they look into the faces of the men and women who served in the war. When a tour guide told me this during my night tour, it completely changed my perspective on this memorial... but more on that in another post. Overall, I think it was a great memorial to the men and women who fought in the Korean War - I know my grandfather would have been very proud. 

Directly across the reflecting pond stands the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. This large, solemn memorial was dedicated in 1982, and was designed by a young architect student (Maya Lin) as part of a national contest. Her design was meant to resemble a gash or large wound in the earth, showing the gravity of the tremendous loss of over 58,000 soldiers to the war. The names of soldiers who perished in the war are etched into the dark, high gloss granite, again allowing visitors to see themselves in the reflection of the gloss as they read the names of the deceased. Again, a moving concept as you reflect on the high cost of war.

The next monument we visited was by far the most humble. Quietly tucked between the trees was a small monument dedicated to DC citizens who fought in World War I. Dedicated by President Hoover in 1931, this was the first war memorial constructed west of the Potomac, and is the only DC-specific monument on the National Mall. Inscribed on the base of this 47 foot monument is the names of each of the 499 DC citizens who lost their lives during World War I. Surprisingly, it is the only monument/memorial dedicated to World War I on the entire mall.

Directly south and in stark contrast to the humble DC World War I monument stands the very large and beautiful National World War II Memorial. Covering an area of just over 7 acres, the World War II Memorial was dedicated in 2004 by then President George W. Bush. The large pool/fountain in the center is surrounded by 56 large columns, one for each state along with DC, the territories of Hawaii and Alaska, the Commonwealth of the Philippines, Puerto Rice, Guam, American Somoa, and the US Virgin Islands. 

Just west of the pool is what is referred to as the Freedom Wall. This impressive wall contains 4,048 stars - one for every 100 soldiers killed during the war. There's a small plaque that tells you this fact, and I gotta tell you - it's immediately humbling. Freedom is not free, and I thank the men and women who serve our country bravely at every opportunity. (Fun fact: While visiting this monument, keep an eye out for graffiti. Two "Kilroy was here" drawings are etched on to the memorial, an acknowledgment of the symbol's importance to the soldiers who fought bravely during the war. More on "Kilroy" can be read here.)

Our next stop was across the street at what is probably my 2nd favorite national monument - the Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial. One amazing fact about this terrific monument is that it is the first memorial to an African American on/near the National Mall, and it was dedicated by the first African American President of the United States (Obama in 2011). While we as a country have a long way to go in the fight for civil rights, I am glad it was constructed and is a truly powerful testament to the civil rights movement. It's construction, however, was not without controversy. Instead of highlighting that here, however, I will just say it is an impressive monument to a truly amazing man. 

To enter the memorial, visitors must pass through a "Mountain of Despair" from which King "emerges" as "Stone of Hope." The mountain is bookended by a crescent of quotes on an inscription wall. Each side contains 7 unique quotes attributed to King (14 total), dated but not put in date order. Many of my favorite quotes of any person are along this wall, and are a tribute to the wisdom that came from King's leadership. Amazing.

Finally, here stands the Washington Monument. At the time of its dedication in 1885, it stood as the tallest structure in the world. It was built to commemorate our nation's first President, George Washington. Until the earthquake of 2011, the monument was open to the public and visitors were permitted to go to observation decks located just below the pyramidion. Sadly, the monument is closed indefinitely due to unspecified damages sustained by the monument during the earthquake. The scaffolding outside the obelisk is actually kind of artful, and it was recently illuminated to showcase it during its repair. Sigh... I wish it had been lit when I visited. Guess I'll have to go back, right? Ha!

While visiting the monuments during the day was a great experience, I also went on a night tour visiting many of the same. For those considering visiting the nations capital, I highly recommend visiting it during both the light of day and the dark of night - the monuments are best viewed in either light. Can't wait to share my night pictures soon!

Until next time...

--- Becks

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Xs and Ys

"The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. " - Saint Augustine

Hello, friends! I have had an extraordinarily busy six weeks. I went from rarely traveling to traveling tons! It has been awesome! I have definitely been living up to my New Year's Resolution - I will not let Summer 2013 turn into another summer being tied to my desk. That being said, I am really glad I'm staying put for the next couple of weeks. I'm exhausted!

While all the traveling has been fun, I am now far behind in updating this blog with my travels. Even as I type this, I sadly do not have time to do a proper blog post. I am still getting caught up on my laundry (having arrived home far later than anticipated last night... sigh). I promise to jump back on my blog this week! Alas, since I am under a time crunch, I thought I'd instead give you a glimpse of what my life on the road looked like last week. I posted these pictures on Twitter as I made my way to New Mexico and back - both as a way of keeping my mom up to date on my progress while driving, and also to share with new friends I have made on Twitter from all over the world. It was fun, but the 140 character limit hardly gave me room to explain what I was taking a picture of. I traveled across 4 states and back over the course of just 6 days, racking up over 1,800 miles on my new car. Insanity - no wonder I'm tired! Without further delay, I hope you enjoy my pics from the road!

First picture on the road - taken at a rest stop just across the CA/AZ border. I never tire of a good sunset. 

Stayed in Kingman, AZ after my first 5 hours of the drive. Arrived to find the mountain behind my hotel literally glowing orange from the Dean Peak Fire. Although my hotel stay was lovely, I spent a lot more time than intended in this city (and got a hacking cough from the smoke to prove it). Sigh.

My first stop in New Mexico anytime I make the drive from California is a wonderful rest stop/visitor's center right on the AZ/NM state line. There is a terrific cave just behind the center that I'd always wanted to explore... 
Maybe some day...

The day after I arrived in New Mexico, I drove up with my family into southwestern Colorado to visit Silverton and Ouray. This was my backyard growing up - isn't it stunning?

The biggest touring attraction in the summertime is the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. We arrived for lunch in Silverton, CO just as the train was departing to return to Durango. My four year old niece loved it!

The road from Silverton to Ouray is curvy and treacherous. The speed limit averages 15 MPH, sometimes limited to 10 MPH. The curviest parts of the road are surprisingly not the scariest...

... Instead, most people agree that the cliff grazing drive at the end is the worst. This highway is known as the Million Dollar Highway. This road has incredibly steep cliffs, no guardrails, narrow lanes, and is prone to rock slides. That being said, it is easily one of the most stunning drives in the world!

Have you ever seen anything more spectacular? 
Ouray is known as the Switzerland of America, but I'll blog more about my visit there later. 

We cruised home right at sunset, which is the perfect light to see the farms near my hometown. I loved living in the city, and miss it dearly... but I think I'll always be a little bit country at heart. (Taken near Durango, CO)

I kicked off my drive back to California bright and early yesterday, hoping to get home before sunset. I stopped along the way to check out Shiprock. (Fun Fact: This area was used in the filming for The Lone Ranger - you can even see the Shiprock itself in the trailer for the movie! Fun!)

Shortly after taking pictures at Shiprock, I arrived in Sheep Springs, NM - about an hour from where I would have normally jumped on the freeway to head west to CA. I was met there by a police barricade - Highway 491 had been washed out by the monsoon rains the night before, completely blocking the only road south to Gallup, NM. My only option was to take a detour... about two and a half hours out of my way. These are long, lonely roads, but I'm happy to report that the detour, albeit long and inconvenient, was incredibly beautiful. I was literally able to stop and take this picture in the middle of the road near Navajo, NM - no one else was around! 

When I finally got back on the road, my dog and I had to take a pit stop. We were now 3 hours behind, and had not taken a break. Luckily, the Arizona Welcome Center wasn't far along the road, complete with cute gift shops and beautiful scenery!

Torrential rains greeted us in Flagstaff, Arizona a few hours later, so I took a 30 minute break to let my dog take a walk and to get a bite to eat. The rains let up while we were stopped, which was very welcome indeed 
(taken near Williams, AZ). 

I arrived at the AZ/CA border while it was still hot - my poor dog couldn't even walk to the dirt because the asphalt was too hot! We didn't stop here long, and while I think this was probably the least attractive spot of our entire journey, even this desert rest stop had a beauty all its own (near Needles, CA).

The sun set on the California horizon just as I turned on my final stretch towards home. I was tired, hungry, and insanely thirsty, but I couldn't help and pull over anyway to take this picture of the stunning sunset before me (near Mojave, CA). I know I've used "stunning" a lot in this post, but can you blame me? 

I hope my Twitter friends enjoyed "going along" with me on this trip via pictures, and hope that you enjoyed them too! What more perfect way to celebrate Independence Day than to enjoy the beauty of this country! I am so blessed. And now... I'm off to bed!

Until next time...

--- Becks