Sunday, October 13, 2013

Rocky Mountain High

Oh, how I miss my mountains! I grew up in a small town near the New Mexico/Colorado state line. My childhood weekends were spent driving and hiking through the southwestern Colorado mountains, and growing up I never thought there would come a day when I wouldn't live within a drivable distance to them. Alas, move away I did, but my love for the mountains never changed. Luckily, my family still lives there so I get to visit my beloved Rocky Mountains almost every time I visit home. 

Every Fourth of July for as long as I can remember, my family packs up into a couple of cars and takes what we call "the loop." This is a daylong drive that takes us from Durango, Colorado through Cortez - Rico - Telluride - Ouray before circling back down through Silverton and ending back in Durango. It's an absolutely gorgeous drive, but one that really takes a lot out of you if you don't get an early start. This year, we were a little pressed for time so we settled for the shorter drive to Ouray and back. 

Our first stop was in my favorite little one house town, Silverton. This small town was established in 1874 as a mining camp for the several silver mines that were scattered around the nearby mountains. It's one of the highest towns in the United States, sitting at just over 9,300 feet above sea level.

The nearby mines have been long abandoned, but Silverton still attracts people from all over the world because of its connection to the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. In operation since 1881, the narrow gauge originally functioned to deliver supplies to the miners in Silverton while transporting the minerals and silver from the mines back down to the more cosmopolitan Durango. While it has always served to some extent as a passenger train, these days it almost solely serves to take tourists and locals for a scenic trip through the beautiful mountains. We were lucky to arrive just as the trains were departing, which gave my young nieces a thrill! It also cleared the town out for us - no waiting in line for lunch for this family! Yay!

Speaking of lunch, how perfect is this menu? You know you're near my hometown when you find references to green chile, elk, and buffalo all on one page! YUM! It's one of the few restaurants in town, and definitely my mother's favorite. My dad is less enthused (I think he just misses his sopapillas). ; )

One fun fact - Silverton becomes very desolate in the winter months. The highway is usually impassable, rendering its residents sometimes stranded until the snow melts or is cleared. Olympic gold medalist, Shaun White, took advantage of the fresh powder and isolation by making Silverton his home as he prepared for the 2010 Winter Olympics (for which he took home the gold). Pretty cool claim to fame, little Silverton. You can read more about Shaun's secret half-pipe and watch the video here.

More to come about my day trip to the mountains!

Until next time ---

--- Becks

Saturday, October 12, 2013

California Girls - Part Two

If one word could be used to describe my niece's last weekend in California, it would be STUDIOS! The kid loves the movie business as much as her dorky auntie does, and was beyond excited that we were going to Universal Studios that weekend. She was even more excited to learn we would also stop by Warner Brothers and Walt Disney Studios (albeit just the outside) during that day too. It's so much fun to see things that bring this kid so much joy!

My favorite part of Universal Studios is hands down the studio/backlot tour. Now, if we're going to be picky, I'd much rather go on the Warner Brother's studio tour but considering that Universal offered us both the tour and rides for my niece, I settled for the latter. Niece wasn't much for taking pictures that day (and I can't believe she wore the same outfit!), but no matter - we still had fun. 

While most of the tour includes visiting various current and old film locations, the park has done a great job showing off its movie magic prowess. While I was sad to learn that the old King Kong set was destroyed by a fire, the new King Kong in 3D site was incredible! It was by far my favorite part of the day. The special effects are amazing, although I still miss the original King Kong puppet myself.

Niece didn't really know about many of the films mentioned during the tour (GOD, I'm old!), but she was super stoked to see that the set from How the Grinch Stole Christmas was still there. She was amazed out how small it was, especially when compared to how big it had appeared on screen. Unfortunately, niece wasn't really up for taking pictures so although we had fun on the other rides, we didn't take a lot of pictures that day.

Once we had our fill of Universal, we headed east into Burbank to check out the famous Warner Brothers Studios! We didn't have time to take the tour, but niece really wanted to see it anyway. Warner Brothers Studios, built in 1926 by First National Pictures, has been the home of thousands of movies and television shows. I went on this tour a couple of years ago, and loved the history and the set designs. Today, it is still a working studio that has a huge footprint in Burbank. I've heard no two tours are the same, so I hope to get to go again one day.

My niece was really excited to see the water tower. As any good kid from the 90s remembers (and many of their children now know), the Warner Brothers water tower is home to the Animaniacs - also known as Yakko, Wakko, and Dot! Unfortunately, they seemed to be hiding on this particularly cloudy afternoon ; ) You can visit the gates of Warner Brothers studios (which features ample free street parking) if you go to 3495 Warner Blvd. (Warning: This parking is all 2-hour parking only. Do not park on the street for the VIP Tour.)

Our next stop in Burbank was my niece's favorite - Walt Disney Studios! Located at 2303 West Alameda, the gates to Walt Disney Studios feature a grand cartoony palm entrance with Mickey-topped gates. A little known fun fact is that if you look closely, you can see that Snow White's seven dwarves hold up the building behind my niece. It is super cute. Built in 1940, Walt Disney Studios is one of the few that doesn't offer public tours, but I can see why. I see people standing outside these gates all the time trying to get a peek at the magic of Disney!

My niece was a huge Disney fan a few years ago, and often talked about one day being a star on one of their family friendly shows. When I noticed the Disney themed shuttle stop just outside the gate, I told her she might as well get used to it for when she becomes famous one day! She loved it, and thought it was cool to be standing where Disney employees often stand to catch the shuttle.

Although my niece's visit to the Golden State was short, we packed in a lot of fun. I look forward to next summer when she makes her way out for another visit. Well, I gotta run. Lots more blogging to catch up on - I promise!

Until next time...

--- Becks

California Girls - Part One

My oldest niece comes to visit me at least once each year, and she usually stays for a couple of weeks during the summer. My horrific work schedule during the summer of 2012, however, didn't permit that to happen so I promised her we would find a way for her to stay with me in 2013. She just turned 13, and has become so much fun! 

My niece has had a really tough life, but you'd never know it. She's smart, capable, and extremely talented. And she LOVES California - possibly even more than I do! Before moving to CA, I took her and my mom out to Los Angeles for my niece's birthday, and she's vowed ever since to live here one day. Knowing her, I'm sure she will! That kid has a ton of determination. My dog loved having her here, and the two of them enjoyed our daily walks around the neighborhood (pictured above).

When asked what she wanted to do while she was here, my niece didn't skip a beat and immediately asked to go to Hollywood! Despite coming out many times before, she had never seen the Griffith Observatory or the Hollywood sign up close. My colleague joined us and we went off on an adventure to Lala Land. 

Our first stop on the tour was breakfast at my favorite place - Bea Bea's in Burbank, CA. They have the BEST French Toast I have ever had in my life. Seriously. And my niece had heard that it was the favorite of some of her favorite Disney stars, so we figured it wouldn't hurt to try it again. SO GOOD. And they have a Gluten Free menu, so I can come here with some of my celiac friends! Yay!

Our next stop was the famous Griffith Observatory in Griffith Park. Constructed in 1933 on top of Mount Hollywood, the Griffith Observatory is arguably the most famous observatory in the United States. It has been featured in over 30 televisions shows and more than 20 movies - the most famous of these being Rebel Without a Cause, starring James Dean. The observatory hosts various science and space exhibits, and is the home of an antique Tesla coil! I love going to the observatory, and enjoyed watching my niece visit it for the first time.

Our next stop that day was at the famous Hollywood sign. The Hollywood Sign is the most famous landmark in Hollywood, and one of the most famous in the entire world. It has a long, storied history that includes drama, scandal, and even death! It is also a huge symbol of hope, fame, and dreams, and is the first place many wannabe and soon-to-be stars visit when they visit the City of Angels. Niece was SO excited to see this up close - we took about a dozen pictures here alone. : ) (Disclaimer: The official Hollywood Sign website will not give you the best/closest view location on their "where to see the sign" page. I put the address for the true "best view" on an earlier blog post that you can see here.)

While winding our way over Mount Lee (where the Hollywood Sign actually sits), we made our way to Burbank to visit this blogger's other favorite view - the Universal Studios backlot. Knowing that I planned to take my niece there the very next weekend, I thought it would be fun to give her a preview here before telling her we were going. She thought it was really neat. This is another spot I've already blogged about (see here), and I'm sure I'll take many other friends as they make their way out to CA for a visit. It's just so cool. (Another big shout-out to Lindsay Blake for cluing me in to this little gem!)

Our last stop of the day wasn't really for my niece - it was more for my colleague and me. We became huge fans of The Client List after meeting Ms. Jennifer Love Hewitt herself while waiting get our nails done at a salon in Burbank, and we were super excited to find that my new friend Lindsay had blogged about some of the filming locations on her blog. Although set in Sugar Land, TX (a suburb of my former city, Houston), the filming for most of the show takes place all the way in California. For those of you had seen the finale, you may already know the fate of The Rub... so imagine our surprise to see it not only still standing, but still set up like the actual store! Although it is actually the offices of Calvert Studios, a lot of the interior and exterior appeared exactly as it does on the show. It - was - so - cool!

Well, I have more picture to share, but this post is getting long. Another blog to immediately follow!

Until next time ---

--- Becks