Thursday, October 26, 2017

(Mis)adventure at El Scorpion Canyon


  That peak in the background doesn't look too challenging, does it? Yeah, I didn't think so, either. I was mistaken.

  So, yesterday, I had two different doctor's appointments in the West Hills area, with a space of four hours between. Rather than drive all the way home and then all the way back again, I decided to find something to do in the area. I looked at movie theatres, but nothing I wanted to see was showing at the right time. There were malls, but... meh.
  Nearby, though, there were trails and hiking opportunities! One such opportunity was El Scorpion Canyon. According to my hasty bit of research, there was a cave on one of the hillsides there. Sold! The only problem with my plan was that it was going to be in excess of 100 degrees. Not the best for hiking. I remembered, though, that I had hiked in 118 degree temps in Death Valley and been okay. Just had to take it slow and watch the water intake. No problem.
 So, after my first appointment was over, I made my way to the trailhead, parked, put on some sunscreen, and grabbed my camera gear.
  The first part of the trail was only a mild incline. Heat wasn't too bad. Shortly, the trail dipped into a small creekbed, and then rose up on the hill. Here, there was the choice to take the long part of the loop that circled around and crossed over the entire ridge, or attack the main peak directly. I decided for the frontal assault, and began to make my way up the hillside.
  At first, it wasn't too bad. The heat started draining me a bit, and there was absolutely NO shade on the hill. As the trail went on, it became steeper and steeper, and I found myself stopping more often. I was good about water, and thought I was making progress.
  Closer to the peak, the trail became very steep and rocky, and at a couple points, I was literally climbing boulders. The exertion became quite difficult, and I was really getting winded. Every rest break, I seemed to feel worse. A slight bit of nausea set in. There was no relief from the heat when I would stop to catch my breath. Slow as I made my way, it was definitely taking a toll.
  After climbing over what I thought was the last set of boulders, I could finally see the summit. It was so close that I could have thrown a rock and hit it. However, the rest of the short distance up was almost vertical. I was feeling pretty poor, and could feel the first symptoms of heat exhaustion coming on. Rather than press on and risk a heat stroke, I decided I had better turn back and try another day when the heat index was lower.

The turnaround point
 
Unfortunately, my plan had been to take the less severe trail down after the summit. I couldn't do that now, so I would have to climb back down this steep, loose trail in this overheated state. Water started to run low.
  Climbing back down one set of boulders, I reached out for a good handhold and immediately regretted my choice. I had stuck my hand into a thriving bee colony.


 Obviously angry at my intrusion, they swarmed out and began to cloud the air. I couldn't run, or even move fast to get away from them, because I was on a near vertical rock face. I took a couple of stings on my hand and my back, but it wasn't too bad. Nothing at all like my famous wasp encounter, which you can relive by clicking HERE if you like.
  Eventually, I made it down, of course, and my energy was spent. As I dropped into the creekbed again, I thought "This will be where the mountain lion attacks me." Luckily, they mostly come out at night.
  Back at the Jeep, air conditioning blasting, I was kinda bummed. I had never turned back on a summit before. This wasn't at ALL a tall peak. The steep ascent combined with the very high heat was just too much to overcome. I'll have a better plan next time, and I still need to see that cave.


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Saturday, September 30, 2017

All Dressed Up with Somewhere to Go

 

  Well, it's that time of year again! My favorite of all holidays: Halloween.

  Last year, we celebrated by going to Mickey's Halloween Party at Disneyland, but we didn't dress up. I should expand on that by saying I didn't think we should dress up, because I thought only the kids and a few adults would get in on the fun. Boy was I wrong. So, this year, we went all in.

  For the last few weeks, we've been getting our costumes ready. I had a lot of gear to track down and work on, and I had a lot of fun with it. We decided to go as Captain America (WWII version) and his best gal, Agent Peggy Carter.

  Since we didn't have a big vacation this year, like we planned, we decided to make this a bigger trip for ourselves by staying overnight at the park's Grand Californian Hotel. We'd get to the park early in the morning, roam California Adventure (DCA) until check-in, then get our costumes on and head into Disneyland for the evening's festivites. We also snagged a dinner reservation at Blue Bayou (inside Pirates of the Caribbean).

  This was the first year that DCA went full on Halloween mode, and it was pretty epic. As expected, Radiator Springs was the most decked out.

Mater as "Van-pire"

  Mater's Junkyard Jamboree was made over into Mater's Graveyard JamBOOree, which was really cute. We were cracking up at the music during the ride, which featured songs like "One Geared, One Horned, Driving Purple Fender Bender," and "Monster Truck Mash." (video by disneygeek.com)


  The whole area was adorned with all kinds of car themed Halloween gags, including this "zombie car," that smoked every once in a while and tried to start up.


  There was also an amazing Headless Horseman statue over on Buena Vista street. When it was dusk, all the streetlamps lit up in the park and the Horseman's pumpkin head started glowing from within. His horse's eyes lit up as well, and steam billowed out of his nose. It was really creepy!


  A little after two, we were able to check into our hotel and start getting ready. It took nearly a full hour to kit up. On our way through security to get back into the park, I was told I couldn't wear my helmet in. I was pretty upset, as it was an integral part of the costume and I had worked really hard on it. We were already late for our reservations, so the wife went on, and I went back to the hotel to drop off my helmet.

  I didn't catch back up with her for quite a while, because when I finally got into Disneyland, there was a parade going, and no way around or through it. Total blockage. I had to take a very long and crazy route to eventually make my way around (and catch a sanctioned parade crossing) to Frontierland. Then, I booked it over to New Orleans Square, and finally made it to the Blue Bayou.

  The food, as expected, was delicious, and they worked around our allergies with ease. Our waitress was really accommodating and super nice. The table next to us, dressed up like Muppets, exchanged compliments with us on our costumes.

Seated right on the water, looking into Pirates of the Caribbean

 Then, we hit Disneyland with both barrels. We tricked, we treated, we rode rides. Things only got better and better as night fell. It was, however, in the mid 80's, and I was DYING of heat in my leather jacket. Everywhere we went, though, people were in love with our costumes. There was just a lot of creativity on display EVERYWHERE. I loved it.

Haunted Mansion ballroom with giant gingerbread house on the table

Part of the Dia de los Muertos area of Frontierland

Pirates of the Caribbean, of course

The very fogged-in New Orleans Square

Haunted Mansion's Sally

Happy Haunts in the Haunted Mansion
 
Then it was time for the parade. We staked out a good spot on main street and waited about 45 minutes. It was fantastic, as usual.

The Headless Horseman opens the parade

Then came Mickey and Minnie

The Mayor of Halloweentown

Vampires from Halloweentown

Doctor Facilier

The Evil Queen

  This year, we were able to enjoy the fireworks show as well. Last year, probably due to wind conditions, it didn't go. WOW. It was really, really phenomenal.



  We hit a few more "Treat Trails," rode the Haunted Mansion again, and then packed it in for the night. My feet and neck were killing me, and I was soaked in sweat. The wife had some hellacious blisters going on her feet. It was all so worth it, though. We had an absolute ball.


  The next morning, we had a tasty breakfast (again with a very accommodating chef) at the Storytellers Cafe. I had never been there, but the wife had, and she knew what to expect. Characters! They walked around inside the restaurant, interacting with guests, and they were hilarious. Chip, Dale, Pluto, and Brother Bear were all there. We laughed so much our faces hurt.



  And just like that, it was time to come home. Short, but sweet. Can't wait til next year!!


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Saturday, September 23, 2017

Desert views


  Ever since I took the drone out for its inaugural flight, I've been itching to get out with it again. Due to a very hectic schedule, I haven't been able to do that for a few weeks. Yesterday was finally the day!

  I found a great spot off the beaten path near the Red Rock area north of Mojave. It's a geologically fascinating landscape, like something out of science fiction. I got there just after 7:00 so I could have some of that beautiful low-altitude sunlight. It really makes the topography pop in pictures.

  The area I originally wanted to explore, after looking at some maps, turned out to be inaccessible, so I settled for some shots of the immediate area. As you can see in the video below, it did not disappoint!

  After I exhausted my one battery, I decided to explore the roads and see what I could find. And find I did. Amazing landscapes, canyons, rock formations. I even found a hidden spring! It was really strange to find ANY water in this parched environment. I was a little concerned that there might be some predators around that area, napping in caves, so I didn't stick around long.

  I then found a road leading to an area called Black Rock Canyon. Very shortly, the road became extremely narrow, with a huge dropoff on one side. That was about the time I went into full 4WD. The road only got worse from there! And by worse, I mean perfect for my Jeep. Been a while since I've had the opportunity to do some real, honest to goodness four-wheeling.

  Along the "road," I stopped a few times to take pictures of the amazing landscape. At the end of the trail, there was a tall, steep section of solid rock that looked like it might be a continuation, but I couldn't really tell. I grabbed my gear and hiked to the top of it. There, I did indeed find evidence of 4WD traffic. It definitely wasn't impossible, but it really called for a spotter for at least one particular hairy section. I decided that since I was alone, it wasn't worth the risk.

  All in all a very fun day of exploring and photography! Wish I could get out more often to do exactly that. Click RIGHT HERE to go the the video I shot.

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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Up, Up, and AWAY


I flew today.

No, not with my body, with my hands. And a controller. And a drone.

It was awesome.

  Mind you, this new drone of mine has been collecting dust for nearly a month since it showed up on my doorstep. I haven't been able to take it out due to an overly busy and exhausting life. Until today, that is. It was SO worth the wait.
  I had, naturally, familiarized myself with the operation, tech specifics, app, and all that stuff, and I had charged the batteries and powered everything on. I hadn't ever turned the rotors, though, or tested it in any way. Part of me was worried that I would make the 45 minute drive out of town, turn everything on, and it would fly. But fly it did!
  After a short hike to the canyon you see above, I hooked everything up, powered on the controller, the app, and the drone. Pre-flight checks ran and told me I was ready for liftoff. I excitedly powered up the rotors and they whirred to life! With a big smile on my face, I pressed and held the "takeoff" button. The engines revved, and the drone rose swiftly and smoothly into the sky.
  At a modest altitude, it hovered, waiting for my commands. I took a moment to orient myself with the controls, and then ventured out over the canyon.
  I'll let the video do the rest of the speaking. Can't wait to take it out again and do more.



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Saturday, August 5, 2017

Raiders of the Live Performance


  My favorite film of all time, showing at the Hollywood Bowl, with the film score being performed LIVE by the LA Philharmonic? YES PLEASE.
  This awesome performance was an anniversary gift from my lovely wife, and last night was finally the night of the show. The venue was packed, as usual, and it was amazing to be surrounded by so many thousands of people who have such love for this film. Anyone who knows me knows the significance this film played in my life and my artistic and adventuring pursuits.
  Hearing a symphony play ANYTHING live is always a treat, and this didn't disappoint. That being said, I'm going to nitpick a little, here. As a devout John Williams fan, anyone who attempts to conduct/perform his music has some BIG shoes to fill. I'm a purist, by nature, and I know every note, measure, movement, rise, and fall of this score. If I was to be perfectly honest, I'd say this performance was uneven. Sometimes, it was so perfectly spot on, I forgot the music was being played live, and had to shake myself out of the film and look at the performers every once in a while. At other times, I found myself thinking "Oh, that really wasn't good," or "Huh, why does that sound so thin."
  Now, I'm sure that when Williams conducted the London Symphony Orchestra, and laid the original tracks down for all time, he had bigger and better resources. His orchestra was probably bigger, and they also had multiple takes and a LOT more rehearsing to get it just the way we heard it. My biggest complaint here, though, has to be the lack of a choir. The pieces in this film that feature choir, most notably the "The Map Room: Dawn" track, sounded REALLY weak here. It just didn't soar the way it needed to, and that's a shame. Here's the scene (with the original score):



  The other odd thing I noticed was that some of the dialogue had been redubbed. For instance, when Indy jumps in Jock's seaplane near the beginning of the film, and starts to freak out about the "big snake in the plane," all of Jock's dialogue has been revoiced. Later, when Sallah and Indy are discussing the markings on the Staff of Ra headpiece, Sallah's "Perhaps a man I know can help us," line has been revoiced. Additionally, some of the background elements in certain scenes are missing. The entire Cairo marketplace section sounds oddly quiet, and the song the crew is singing as they dig for the Well of the Souls has been entirely removed. All you heard was picks and shovels hitting dirt. The only explanation I can come up with for all these dub-overs and missing elements is that they were sharing a track with the musical score, and were removed when the score was stripped out for this presentation.
  But please don't mistake my nitpicking for disappointment. This was a fantastic performance, and a really fun and unique way to see the film presented. If you get the opportunity and you're a fan of this film, I would highly recommend it.
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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Taking a dive


   What you see above is a "before and after" comparison of some color correction I recently did on some old dive footage from 2009. At the time I shot it, I didn't have the proper lens covering to filter out the massive amount of blue at that depth. I figured that I could correct any color issues when I put it into the computer.
   That proved MUCH more difficult than I had imagined. At the time, I had very little experience with color correction. I didn't know how to read scopes, and I didn't have access to any decent color grading software. So, I did the best I could and forgot about it.
   Since then, I've learned a LOT about grading, and I learned to read scopes. I'm still not a master grader by any means, but I do all right. Recently, I was reading about a different method to grade underwater footage specifically, since it poses its own set of problems. Reading that article made me think of this footage, so I decided it was time to revisit. What a difference it made!
   So I cut together footage from my dives on Rapa Nui and the Great Barrier Reef, respectively. You'll notice the extremely clear waters of Rapa Nui look much different than the more turbulent and silty waters of the reef. Had I to do it all over again, it would have been great to have some sort of gyro or stabilizer on the camera. It's really hard to swim and hold a camera steady at the same time.
   Anyway, I've upload the four minute long edit of these two dives on YouTube. You can find it by clicking HERE.
   Enjoy!


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Monday, July 3, 2017

Trona Pinnacles


  I've been trying to get up to Trona Pinnacles ever since I heard about it a couple years ago. It's not that far away (about 3 hours north of here), but I just never seemed to fit the trip in anywhere. Lately, I'd been looking for a good "day trip," and on Friday, which I had off, this one fit the bill.
  The catch was that I wanted to get there early enough to get that good low-angle morning light. Sunrise would have been ideal, but that would have meant leaving at about 2:50 in the morning. JUST a touch too early for this old man. So, I opted to leave at 4:00 instead. Timing was actually quite perfect.
  The area had been averaging about 120 degrees during peak heat of the day lately, so going very early had the added bonus of cooler temps. When I rolled into the area at about 7:15, it was only 80 degrees. Quite pleasant.
  The drive in was nothing remarkable, and the dirt road one takes to get into the park proper was VERY washboarded and rough. The park seemed to be really well maintained, though, and even had toilets! Roads were clearly marked, and the pinnacles themselves were a sight to behold.
  When I parked, and stepped out to do a little exploring, not only was I struck by the immense size of these spires (photos don't do them justice), I was also taken aback by how still and quiet the air was. Not a soul for miles and miles. I really felt like I had landed on another planet. Probably why so many science fiction movies have shot here!
  I only spent about an hour exploring and shooting photos, due to a pressing appointment back home. You can see the shots I grabbed by clicking HERE. Clicking on any photo will biggify them.
  Anyway, if you're ever in southern California and you're around the area, drop in on Trona Pinnacles. Pretty cool place.


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Saturday, May 20, 2017

Right place, right time


  No, this post isn't about some new helicopter ride at Disneyland or Universal Studios. It has nothing to do with a theme park. It was, instead, a case of being present for a pretty spectacular event, AND being fortunate enough to have my SLR on me at the time.
  I was on my way home from a visit to the beautiful El Matador beach in Malibu, where I had been shooting lots of waves, sea caves, and the like. About halfway home, driving up one of Malibu's many mountainous canyons, I noticed a column of smoke in the sky ahead. As I drove on, it got thicker and thicker. I realized it was almost directly in my path.
  Sure enough, a couple miles ahead, there was the eruptings of chaos. Fire trucks, police cars, big smoke. A wildfire had broken out just off the road, and huge flames were shooting into the air. I pulled over onto the dirt and jumped out with my camera. Two air crews were battling the blaze, flying directly over me, dropping water, then returning to reload.
  I was able to capture just a few shots before the authorities came in and forced the few of us who had gathered to evacuate. The wind was picking up, and we were pretty close to the fire. Just after this, they closed down the entire road through the canyon.
  Nobody was hurt (save for a minor injury to one firefighter's leg from a falling rock) and no structures were destroyed. Congratulations, firefighters, on a job well done.





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Friday, February 10, 2017

Universal acclaim


  By now, readers of this blog are convinced that all I do with my life is go to amusement parks. Not true. I assure you that I also sleep, eat, and spend a great deal of time in endless traffic gridlock. Oh, and sometimes I go to work.

  Once again, this week, though, we took a day to go play. This time, we jaunted around the world of Universal Studios. I hadn't been there since the late 90's, and the wife had only skirted through on her way into the ACTUAL studios. In addition to being amazed at how different the park was these days, we were totally blown away by some of the craftsmanship on display.
  Firstly and absolutely formostly (is that a word?), all praise goes to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Good grief was this an elaborate affair. I had seen pictures, and I had seen commercials on tv, but nothing prepares you for standing in the middle of Hogsmeade. It's so much bigger than you think it's going to be, and the level of detail and clear love for the property is nothing short of amazing. It's like you're right in the middle of the movies.

*Click images to embiggen


  Now, I wasn't one of the bajillion people who read the books, so my only knowledge of places, things, and characters, comes solely from the movies. Even then, my memory is a bit rusty. Nevertheless, it was such a wonderful, and yes, magical, place to explore.
  The first thing we did was get in line to be fitted for a wand at Olivander's Wand Shop. During our long wait, some online research (there's free Wi-Fi all throughout the park) turned up some helpful hints. We read that in the wand shop, only one person per party can be fitted for a wand, likely due to time constraints. The page informed us that our time would be better spent at many other places around Hogsmeade, most especially at Hogwarts Castle, where the big "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey" ride was.
  We jumped out of line, and headed for the castle.


  As I said, I had seen this on TV in commercials for Universal. I though "Oh, that's cute," because clearly they weren't going to build a whole giant castle. Even though it IS a scaled down version, it's still VERY impressive, and manages to fool you into thinking it's bigger than it really is. The effect, is, to repeatedly use the word- magical.
  The queue on any normal day is probably horrendously long, as evidenced by how deep you have to go into the castle/mountain before boarding the ride. WHAT a queue, though! The passage through room after room and corridor after corridor into the bowels of Hogwarts was amazing! The level of care and detail on display blew my mind. Everything from the talking paintings, to well-known artifacts from the stories, to libraries and rooms to tapestries. I almost wanted there to be more of a wait so I could spend time looking at it all in depth. We purposefully picked a Thursday, though, so lines would be short. So, we sort of rushed right along, snapping a few phone pics:


Hall of portraits

Dumbledore's office

Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom

Sorting hat

  "Yeah, yeah," you might be saying, "the queue, the queue. What about the RIDE?!?" I believe my thoughts on that were something like "Holy shit!"
  They do warn you outside that if you are susceptible to motion sickness or dizziness, you shouldn't ride. Well, we had heard about that, so we took some Dramamine just in case. Neither of us are terribly susceptible, but it wouldn't hurt. I'm glad we took it.
  It's not a roller coaster, or anything conventional. It's also not one of those Star Tours type rides where you sit in front of a screen and the room moves, making you think you're flying. It's... it's hard to describe. I'd say it's sort of a hybrid between the two. You're strapped into a seat, and it does come off the floor. It does move. It sways, dips, turns, and dives. When you combine this with several different screens, and some animatronics, you get one hell of a ride. You genuinely feel like you're flying. It was exhilarating. We did, however, feel the effects when we stepped off. Shook the old equilibrium up a bit.
  So, we decided to grab lunch at the much recommended Three Broomsticks restaurant there in Hogsmeade. There was quite a line out the door, and I thought we'd be there forever. Amazingly, after a fairly short wait, they had moved enough people through that we were able to put in our order. 


  There were plenty of choices, and they were even able to accommodate our allergy issues with a plate of spare ribs, potatoes, and corn. It was delicious, and the price was surprisingly decent. I would have expected "park food" to be much more costly. Good on you, Universal.

  After we ate, we decided to leave Hogsmeade and go into the rest of the park. We checked out Springfield, the hometown of The Simpsons. It was hilarious and ridiculously accurate to the cartoon.




  Homer harassed me terribly while I tried to pose for pictures with he and Marge. He stood in front of me, walked away from me, made fun of me. It was great. We also saw Sideshow Bob. No sign of Bart or Lisa.
  
  Next up was an attraction that I had REALLY wanted to go into, The Walking Dead. I'm a big fan of the show, but the wife... not so much. She wanted me to go in by myself, but I gently coaxed her into coming in with me.



  Naturally, there were no pictures allowed inside. It's a walk through attraction, and it's brilliantly modeled after different parts of the show. The whole queue takes place in a hospital, which has clearly seen better days. Lights flicker, trash and equipment sit in piles in the corners, and blood stains the floor and walls in several places. 
  You're let into the attraction in groups of about fifteen or so, and you make your way through dimly lit corridors that guide you through woods, warehouse rooms, and other confined spaces. Along the way, walkers, played by real actors, lunge out and try to grab you. It was terrifying and so much fun. It really got the blood pumping!

  To calm ourselves, we went on the famous Backlot Tram Tour next. I used to love this as a kid, because I really wanted to be a filmmaker one day. Getting to see behind the scenes of a real studio backlot was a huge treat. Nowadays, though, having been an actor, and being currently married to one, that special thrill is substantially lessened. Still, it was pretty cool to see locations and vehicles from a few popular shows and movies. Seeing as how I hadn't been back there in almost two decades, though, there were a few surprises.

A fake Ferrari "stunt car" from Magnum PI

Happy to see "flash flood" was still on the tour

A rather gruesome plane crash set from War of the Worlds

The famous Psycho house

  Two things I remembered from my childhood, the "collapsing" bridge and the famous Jaws tank, had both been removed from the tour. They were still there, off to the side, but they weren't mentioned.

  We finished off the day with some coffee and a few photo ops with characters we encountered along the way:

Beetlejuice

Big Frank

Mumms

  And, of course, we couldn't come home without a few trinkets, which all came from Hogsmeade.


Honeydukes

Olivander's Wand Shop

Death Eater wand



  The park was closing as we were walking out, and a large crowd had gathered around Spongebob Squarepants, who was break dancing. I should probably have grabbed a shot of that, but we were too busy trying to get ahead of the exiting masses.


  Outside the turnstyles, we breezed through CityWalk, which was going to be open a couple more hours, stopping only at Sparky's, a candy shop, where I grabbed a big bag of delicious salt water taffy. Sweet way to end an amazing day.

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