Sunday, December 7, 2014

A little bit of everything

  It's time to catch you up, dear reader.

  So much has been going on, I haven't had time to post any of it. So, for the purposes of consolidation and brevity, here's a brief recap!

A few weeks ago, my lovely fiancée and I had some engagement photos shot. We still haven't decided which ones we're going to use (told you it's been busy!) but we got a lot of good ones. We shot at the very famous Vasquez Rocks, which has appeared in many tv shows and films, most famously in the original Star Trek series. We didn't re-enact any Kirk vs. Gorn fights, unfortunately.

  Of course, because we're both big goofy children, we did a lot of really... different shots.

  We also had a visit from my mom a couple weeks ago (as you can see in that LOVELY opening photo at the top of this blog)! It was a short weekend visit, but we packed a lot in. We hit Santa Monica pier, went shopping in Chinatown, ate a lot of great food, and had a lot of laughs. I took the opportunity at Santa Monica Pier to get in some real photography.

  You can see the rest of the images I shot by clicking HERE.

  We had a fantastic Thanksgiving at the home of our friends Rasheed and Sasha, and a bunch of people from church. Laughs, loves, and a table with so much food on it, it nearly collapsed. Unfortunately, they haven't sent me any of the pictures taken, so I have nothing to show you. So, I guess I can make up whatever I want.

  I rode a horse inside the house, and ate an entire three-layer chocolate cake. Then, I put on a jetpack and flew home. Seriously. It was awesome.
  We were also SO VERY HAPPY to welcome back our friend Jalin a couple weeks ago. She had been performing on a cruise ship for the past billion months. That lucky girl got to sail everywhere in the world, it seemed, all the while delighting audiences with her vocal talents. We went out to the Saddle Ranch in Universal City and drank ourselves nearly into oblivion. That other guy in the pic is our crazy waiter. That thing he's holding is a gigantic cotton candy.

  Then, just this past weekend, we went down to San Diego and saw a production of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." It was really quite charming, and a great way to start the Christmas season.

 Christmas in California is a bit odd, though, because even now, we're still wearing short sleeves during the day. It doesn't really FEEL like Christmas here, but we can certainly drum up the spirit. Next on the to-do list is getting our tree!

  Hope you're all having a wonderful holiday season, and I wish you all the blessings you can stand.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Full Scream Ahead

  Halloween on The Queen Mary? The famously haunted old ship? YES! Sounds awesome! And it was.


As it does every year, apparently, The Queen Mary had a big ol' blowout on All Hallows Eve, including a thing called "Dark Harbor" that features a bunch of scary mazes, costumed characters, food, and a general carnival atmosphere. On board the ship herself, the usual amenities remained, such as several ghost tours. My fiancée thought it would be really cool for us to experience these things this year, and I was naturally game.
  We didn't do Dark Harbor, opting instead to enjoy the tours and then dinner at the swanky Sir Winston's restaurant near the aft of the ship. I think it was a good choice, as it would have been way too much to try to cram into one evening. It did look like fun, though, so maybe we'll give it a go next year. Maybe just not on ACTUAL Halloween. Here's why:

Haunted hallway

  See, the ship was, in fact, haunted. It was haunted by the two assholes that were staying in the cabin directly across from ours. When we checked in at about three o'clock, they were already being incredibly noisy, and were likely already lit up pretty good. This only became a problem when we settled into our cabin for the night, and the noise was still going on at 11:30. I called the ship's security to ask what the quiet hours were, and was told 10:00. I told them about our noisy neighbors, and they sent someone over a few minutes later.
  At 2:00 in the morning, more noise erupted, as an argument started between our horrible neighbors. This time, my fiancée called security, and they again came out to keep the peace. Unfortunately, as soon as they left, the retaliation began. A girl from next door stepped out in the hall and began to yell at us and threaten us and ask why we didn't come out and say something to them ourselves. My girl happily obliged, ripping our door open and yelling "IT IS TWO O'CLOCK IN THE MORNING. SHUT. UP." She was met with contempt and a few insults, so we called security a third time. This time, they told the nice folks that if they didn't calm down, they were going to be booted off the ship. I had fantasies in my head of a plank being walked, and hungry sharks below, but sadly, that didn't come to pass. There was some loud banging around and exaggerated coughing after this, but then they finally, mercifully shut the hell up. Needless to say, our sleep was pretty much zero for the night.
  Aside from that bit of nonsense, we had an excellent time! The haunted tours were pretty cool and scary. We both got a couple of good jumps out of it, and even a few pictures of some creepy areas in the bowels of the old ship. No telling how many of the stories were fact, and how many were fabrication, but it was fun and spooky nonetheless. We heard all about the man who had died in his room unexpectedly, and is said to still haunt it. We were also told of a boiler explosion, and a tremendous loss of life that occurred when the Queen Mary broadsided a smaller ship and sent it to the ocean floor. There was even a story of a crewmember who was caught out in a game of hatchway-chicken and crushed by a hydraulic door.

Hallway to the old first class pool

Creepy old signage

The old first class pool, supposedly haunted by a little girl

The eerie bowels of the ship
Dinner at Sir Winston's was amazing and pretty fancy. It was kinda hilarious to see people dressed in their finest mixed in with people who were dressed in their Halloween costumes. I thought the guy in the Star Trek uniform looked particularly out of place and awesome. One guy even proposed to his girl right there in front of everybody.
  I have to say, to the credit of the Queen Mary staff, they have offered have us back again for another night to make up for the horrible one we had. We will gladly be back to enjoy more of the amazing history of the old gal, and all the charm she offers. Heck, we even had a rainbow to greet us during breakfast. Can't beat it.

Friday, October 31, 2014

A new MINI, Yosemite, and a diamond ring

  What do these three things have in common? One weekend. LAST weekend, in fact.
  It all started on Thursday evening, when my lovely lady picked up her brand new 2015 MINI Cooper and we took it for a spin. What an awesome ride! I was wary at first, being a tall guy, but all 6'2" of me easily fit in both the passenger AND driver seats. And yes, they ARE just as fun to drive as it looked in "The Italian Job."
  Friday, we took the new ride, which we named "Nigel," and headed north to Yosemite National Park. We left around midday, so we didn't get to our hotel, the Yosemite View Lodge, until just after dark.
  The hotel, which I had booked through a fantastic deal on Groupon, was pretty awesome. We couldn't see much of the surroundings, but everything had a very mountainy-lodgey kind of feel.
  Just after we put our things in our room, we headed out to grab dinner. We were stopped short, though, by a large furry animal just outside our door. I only caught a quick glimpse of it, and shoved my girlfriend back inside. As it came into the light, I could see that it was a very large raccoon. It was followed immediately after by a second, equally large raccoon. Not knowing their temperament, I shut the door and watched them through the peephole. They stopped right in front of our door and sat, waiting. We finally figured out that they were pretty docile, and were probably just used to being fed by tourists. We got some video of them from about four feet away, but they seemed really annoyed that we didn't have any treats for them.

  The next morning, we were finally able to see the glorious views all around us. Our balcony overlooked the river, which was surrounded on all sides by tall, steep mountains covered in pine trees. The morning sun was just breaking the treetops, bathing them in golden light. It was a beautiful way to start the day.
  After a quick breakfast, we hopped in Nigel and headed into the park proper. I will never be able to adequately explain to you, dear reader, the beauty of Yosemite. No words, no pictures can do it justice. It simply has to be experienced. Seen, smelled, felt. It's truly like no other place I've been, and I've been to a lot of places. Even though we went there in the dry season, where many of the park's glorious waterfalls had been reduced to mere trickles, the sight of those towering monoliths of stone rising out of the forest is something I'll never forget. Our necks were sore from looking up all day.
  We spent the day visiting many of the famous sites in Yosemite Valley- Bridalveil Falls, El Capitan, Half Dome. Many, many pictures were taken. The weather was just about perfect all day, until some clouds moved in on us about mid-afternoon. Even then, it was just windbreaker weather.
  Our last jaunt of the day was up the trail to see Vernal Falls. It was steep going, and my recent knee problems slowed us down a bit. In fact, by the time we made it to the footbridge, we decided to turn back, as we were beginning to lose the light.
  Close to the bottom of the trail, as were were crossing the Happy Isles bridge, I stopped to take a picture, and told my girlfriend that something about the bridge reminded me of Paris, where we had shared our first kiss. I elaborated, presenting her with a card that had the French phrase "A ma vie de coer entier" written on it. I asked if she knew what it meant, and gave her a minute to try to translate.
  I finally let her off the hook, and told her it meant "For all my life, my whole heart," and then I got down on one knee.
  I said a lot of things, unrehearsed, and so unfortunately, I don't remember a lot. I do know that the last thing I said was "Will you do me the honor of being my wife?" and then presented her with a ring that I had been carrying in my bag. She said she would be honored to be my wife, and just like that, we became fiancées.
  We had a wonderful dinner back at the lodge that night, and enjoyed a great hot tub soak. The next day, we got up, had an amazing breakfast, grabbed a couple of souvenirs, and headed out. The drive was much more beautiful, since we were doing it in the daytime, and even afforded us a short stop in the town of Mariposa to grab lunch and do some shopping.
  All in all, it was a HUGE weekend, packed with amazing sights, sounds, and love. It just doesn't get any better than that. Now is the beginning of our life together, and we couldn't be happier.
  All the pictures from our trip can be seen by clicking THIS LINK TO FLICKR.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Life After Death

  What do 545 miles, 117 degrees, and 16 hours have in common? My trip to Death Valley. Click HERE for ALL my photos from the trip. This article only contains a couple of boring sign pics.
  First of all, don't be like me. I did a number of foolish things on this whirlwind trip to the lowest, hottest point in the United States. My methods certainly aren't for everyone. Surprisingly, Death Valley National Park is a MUCH bigger place than I thought.
  Friday morning, I left Palmdale for the easternmost portion of Death Valley- a five hour drive. I had my routes and stops all planned out meticulously, and had packed plenty of water, provisions, and yes, sunscreen. It was a long drive, as is usually the case with the beginnings of trips. The excitement of actually GETTING THERE tends to make me really impatient.
  Finally, just before noon, I crossed the border with Nevada, and found the beginning of the Titus Canyon trailhead. The trail climbs for several miles before descending down into one of the park's most spectacular canyons. The road is pretty rough and washboardy in the beginning, and then becomes a high-clearance only 4x4 road. It wasn't as bad as I was expecting, but I certainly wouldn't try taking a car over it.

  After those first few miles, the scenery becomes quite amazing. Huge towers of rock jut out of the landscape amidst soils of every color of the rainbow. I'm not exaggerating here- there was red, brown, tan, white, yellow, green, and blue. It was a very vivid and fantastic landscape.
  At the highest point on the trail, the long-ago abandoned town of Leadfield rusts and decays in the sun. It was a mining boom town that only lasted from 1926-1927. I can't imagine living out in that Godforsaken place. Those people must have been pretty tough. There was a sign here warning about open mines, and all the dangers therein. "Stay Out, Stay Alive," was the slogan. Naturally, I hunted down one of these mines and checked it out for myself.
  It's after that, though, that the trail REALLY becomes amazing. It drops down and follows a very deep and very narrow canyon that photos just don't do justice. It simply has to be seen to be believed. If you undertake a trip to Death Valley, and you have a 4x4, I highly recommend it.
  I made my way down to Furnace Creek next to pay the entrance fee to the park, gas up, and replenish my ice supply. The thermometer outside the ranger station displayed a balmy 117 degrees. The hottest temp I've ever experienced was 120, so I didn't break my record. Once things get up in this range, it's really pretty difficult to feel any distinction from 110 and up.
  Badwater Basin was my next stop. It's probably the most visited site in the park, and there were about forty tourists there. Amazingly, I didn't hear one word of English. Could it be that only foreigners are crazy enough to come here in the summer? Possibly. This is the lowest point in the park, and in the United States, at 282 feet below sea level. They were even kind enough to post a huge sign on the side of the mountain that simply read "Sea Level." Surreal. The ground in the basin is a chunky collage of shapes that resemble dirty snow. As with most other stops, it didn't pay to be outside your vehicle for very long, but I did walk out there quite a fair distance.
  I took three short side trips next. The first was Natural Bridge. I was the only one there, and there was a huge red stop sign posted warning of "Extreme Heat Danger." It said that hiking this trail was not advised after 10am. My watch read 2:45. Close enough.

  I won't kid you. Although the incline wasn't that severe, it was difficult hiking in those extremes. The terrain was amazing, though, and I snapped quite a few pictures. The arch was just okay. Maybe the far more beautiful arches of Utah have me spoiled. Regardless, it was worth the hike, and coming back was substantially easier.
Next up was the Devil's Golf Course. This area is basically a rougher section of Badwater Basin. Here, the ground is even more torn up and chunky, and the large dirty snowballs are about the size of beanbag chairs. The most amazing thing is how this unique landscape seems to stretch on forever under the unrelenting sun.
  Next, I hit Artist's Drive. This is basically a small one-way road that takes the driver into some of the foothills. Here, there are even more concentrated sections of colored sand and stone. One such area is called, appropriately, Artist's Palette. It's amazing that nature would squeeze all those colors in together and yet have them clearly separated. Wonders and more wonders.
  It was, by this time, quite late in the day, and I was holding to my schedule quite well. It was exhausting constantly being on the move, and battling the heat. This is what I meant earlier when I said, "Don't be like me." I fairly RUSHED through the park, and although I was there all day, I still skipped a lot. Do yourself a favor: see less, or stay longer.
  My sunset destination was the dunes at Mesquite Flat. I figured that the low angle of the sun would accentuate the dunes and their ripples, and boy was I right. I packed extra beverages, and hiked quite far out into the neverending sand slopes. As the sun began to sink behind the mountains, the dunes took on a golden hue, and the surrounding hills, a bright pinkish-purple. It was the perfect ending to an amazing day.
   Although I saw everything I set out to, I drastically underestimated the beauty and absolute individuality of this place. It was like being on another planet. Because of this, and because it was a full 16 hour day by the time I made it home, I was a little disoriented. I felt like it couldn't have all happened in one day. I felt like I'd been away for a week at least. Despite my constant chugging of water and other beverages, I still came home dehydrated. The shower I had late that night was one of the best ever, I think, and I slept like I was in a coma.
  If you can stand the heat, I highly recommend a visit to Death Valley National Park.

  Oh, and don't forget to go look at all my pics!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Ocean Adventures

  For the second weekend in a row now, I've been lucky enough to get some much needed down time! This time, instead of desert, it was ocean waves, sea air, and boats.
  Friday, we were supposed to catch a boat out of Marina Del Rey to do some whale watching. Due to horrible (read: pretty standard) LA traffic, we missed our boat. It was a rough start to the day, and incredibly disappointing. We decided to drive out to the PCH anyway, and just see what kind of trouble we could drum up.
  Around Malibu, I remembered years ago going to a really scenic part of the beach called Point Dume. Actually, I remembered only that it was "Point something" or "something Point." With a little good fortune, we actually found it, and hiked down the moderately tall seaside cliffs to the rocky shore.
  We spent a good couple hours here, taking pictures of the surfers, the waves, and the gorgeous scenery before moving on. The remainder of the day was spent eating tasty seafood, cruising the PCH up to Ventura, and just enjoying.
  Saturday morning, we were able to make our re-booked boat out of Marina Del Rey. The weather was beautiful, and the water was fairly calm. It was really nice just being out on the ocean, and feeling the sea spray on our faces as the Matt Walsh bounced through the surf.
  We were informed that the chance of seeing whales is pretty random, and some days there just aren't any around.
  Soon, though, we ran into our first sea life of the day- a pod of dolphins! They were leaping out of the water, crossing in front of our boat, and just generally being playful. It was incredible to see them in such large numbers. About fifteen minutes later, we saw a big group of sea lions, and they seemed equally happy to be out frolicking in the ocean. No whales, though. For a good long while after that, in fact, there was nothing but water.
  When we hit about the halfway point on our trip out, I knew we'd be heading back soon, and I began to worry that we wouldn't get a glimpse of any of the large sea beasts.
  Just then, the captain of the boat called out that they had spotted a whale almost directly ahead. Everybody was naturally very excited, and crowded to the bow.
  What at first seemed disappointingly far away soon got much, much closer. The back of the first blue whale breached the surface, and mist sprayed out of the blowhole. It was the first time I'd ever seen a whale in person, and it was thrilling. Within minutes, our boat was surrounded by about five blue whales, who had come to this particular area to feed.
  After hanging out silently with the whales for a good fifteen minutes, we headed back to port. Along the way, our dolphin friends returned, this time in even greater numbers, jumping and splashing all around the boat. The crew was pretty thrilled, and told us that we had been extremely fortunate to see that many whales in one place, and that it was very rare for these tours. I guess our bad-luck traffic from the day before hadn't been so bad after all?
  All in all, it was a great weekend, and something I would highly recommend if you find yourself presented with the opportunity.

You can click HERE to see all of the weekend's pictures.

Friday, August 29, 2014

(Red) Rock Star

  Under the ever increasing weight of work- computers, phones, emails, noise- I decided it was time to commune with nature this weekend. It had been far too long.
  Grabbing my trusty Jeep and my trusty girlfriend and my sometimes trusty camera gear, I headed out just after sunrise this morning to a place I'd never been before. About an hour north of here is Red Rock Canyon State Park, which I found on a map purely by accident. I was just looking to see how far north of town I'd have to go to get into some mountains or forests, and there it was. I was intrigued by the name, having spent a moderate amount of time four-wheeling in Utah's beautiful red rock country.
  Indeed, this location did not disappoint. We only explored one very small area of the park, but it was enough. As you will see, beautiful photos were captured, much sweat was excreted, and a modest peak was summited. It was a very satisfying, much needed escape. Strangely, I didn't know how close by Death Valley was, either. An adventure for another time.

You can click here to see all my photos.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Watching over you while you sleep

  Angels are everywhere.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Independence Day aboard the Queen Mary

  Well, here we are, five days past the 4th of July, and I’m just now getting around to posting about what a great holiday it was! My girl and I were lucky enough this year to get to spend the day in Long Beach, aboard the famed RMS Queen Mary, which is permanently moored there.
  I read up on the ship the night before, and I’m glad I did. It really made me appreciate the history, and gave me even more of a feeling of stepping into the past than I already would have had. I won’t go into the complete history here (that’s what Wikipedia is for, folks), but suffice it to say, the Queen Mary has quite an interesting past. I had also heard about some of the “ghost stories” making the rounds, but I found all that to just be tourist rubbish meant to drum up more ticket sales. I got no kind of creepy vibe from the ship whatsoever. (Click any pic for fullsize)

The Grand Lady

  It was a beautiful day in Long Beach, temps in the mid 70’s, with a nice breeze coming off the water. Our first stop was the self-guided tour of the innards of the ship, beginning with the engine room. Because there’s no air conditioning, or even air movement per se, I found the temps inside fairly uncomfortable, and began to sweat profusely. It didn’t rob me of enjoying the experience, though, and it was amazing to see all the controls, dials and levers still in place next to the massive engines. I imagine it was MUCH hotter down here when the ship was operational, for those unfortunate men tasked with keeping things running.

Engine Room gauges

More Engine Room

Hard to port!

Makes me hungry for Cap'n Crunch

  After working our way through all the pipes and rivets of the engine room and its supporting components, we entered a room where the deck had been cut away, offering a glimpse of the last remaining propeller. It was an eerie sight, for some reason, and kind of reminded me of underwater wrecks. The installation had a couple small lights aimed at the prop, casting a murky sort of green hue on it.

Creepy propeller

  Next, we walked through a few rooms showcasing ship’s amenities. There were items from wartime, when the ship was refitted to ferry troops, photographs of some of the ship’s more famous passengers, dining sets, equipment from the hair salon, and much more.

Typical dining room setup

  After we concluded our tour, we decided to go exploring the currently inhabited parts of the ship. Besides being a museum, the Queen Mary also functions as a hotel. The lobby and promenade were fairly fancy, and I would like to have seen what the cabins look like. I’m told that some of them contain original furnishings, and that you can even see where some passengers have scrawled their names in the bottoms of dresser drawers over the years.
  There were several events going on throughout the day, and various decks were themed according to different decades. One particular ballroom we stepped into was in the midst of a concert by a really decent Beatles cover band.

Beatles ballroom

  We strolled the deck after that, going as far topside as we could. The very highest deck was reserved for VIP access (class wars never change, am I right?) and we didn’t feel it was worth $20 more per person to see one more deck.

Looking toward the bow

  We walked about a quarter-mile away and arrived early for our dinner reservations at a restaurant called “The Reef,” which was pretty good. Nice atmosphere, right next to the waterfront, good drinks. Out in the harbor, we could see people boarding their boats with coolers and supplies, getting ready to watch the big fireworks display later in the evening.
After our lovely meal, we headed back to the Queen Mary and boarded the Scorpion, a cold-war era Soviet sub, moored next to the ocean liner. It was pretty fascinating, and it was our first time aboard a submarine.

The Scorpion

  I expected the sub to be cramped, but that is an understatement. I could barely stand fully upright in most of the vessel, and my shoulders were practically rubbing the bulkheads as we made our way along the inside, passing through several hatches. If you ever go, be sure to wear loose-fitting pants, as crawling through the circular watertight doors can be a bit tricky if you’re not very bendy.

Torpedo launch bay

A torpedo tube

Sub stuff

  We staked out a place to watch the fireworks on the upper deck of the ship pretty early, but almost not early enough. A full two hours ahead of time, most of the deck was already covered with people.
  As the sun went down, the entire harbor filled with boats for the big show, and the deck became ever more crowded.

The harbor

Across the harbor

  Then, finally, it was time for the big show! With various patriotic tunes blasting, the fireworks cut loose directly in front of the ship. It was an amazing display, and the closest I’ve ever been to a big fireworks show (Disneyland excluded).


  As the finale roared and filled the sky with thunderous colors, the crowd cheered, and then it was time to call it a night.
  We were in no hurry, knowing that there would be massive delays debarking, and also a mess of traffic in the parking lots and on the highway. We ended up sneaking on to the topmost deck of the ship, since security was very lax by this point, and saw how “the other half” lived. It was mostly just big ol' drunken dance party.
  All the exhibited areas of the ship were closed, but we were still able to peek into the bridge and the radio room, which was pretty interesting. After poking around for a while, we made our way off the ship and started back for home.
  Although traffic was indeed an absolute NIGHTMARE, we were able to get around it eventually, and it did nothing to spoil an otherwise amazing day in Long Beach.

  Hope everybody had a happy fourth!

Monday, June 9, 2014

The other side

  I'm back!

  After a year-long hiatus from this blog, I decided it was time to return. Why? No particular reason. I still don't feel that I have a lot to write about, but you never know. Every once in a while, I miss this platform as a place to expound upon my thoughts, or review a movie, or plaster up a few images from a photo shoot. Sometimes I just want to rage about something. Sometimes I want to share a recipe- although, now, I have a place for that: Chef Bear, a blog that is entirely about food and cooking. You can find a link to it in the sidebar.
  I'll be tweaking the new look of the blog for a while, I'm sure, but here I am. Welcome back, readers! I'll try to keep it interesting.