LA Weekend – Part 2

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Having spent a fabulous day exploring Santa Monica and Malibu and soaking up the sunshine, it was a little different to wake up to storm and flash flood warnings. I guess it doesn’t often rain in LA. It was fairly windy but armed with a waterproof jacket we set off to walk around the main downtown area. We stumbled upon the end of the world bookstore, selling new and used books and spent ages browsing. It felt a bit Harry Potter-esque. Afterwards we walked around the market and found a lovely coffee shop before heading onto Hollywood.

I’m not sure what I expected, Hollywood I guess is a very diluted version of Gatlinburg, only with less neon, but a similar feel. It was fun to see the walk of fame, and some well known buildings. LA traffic is fairly busy and most the drivers are crazy so that was interesting. It was a bit like being in London again, only instead of narrow twisty roads there were 6+ lane highways! And lots of palm trees.

Afterwards we drove up to the Griffith observatory, admiring the view and catching a star show. This was great and despite being a bit cold after the sun goes down, the view of LA lit up was really something. It was also fun to see the ‘Hollywood’ sign, although I didn’t manage to get a decent picture.

For our final day before heading home we drove around Mulholland drive admiring big mansions and houses on stilts that looked impossible. Although there were other areas in the valley that looked fun to explore we ended up going to Venice beach, as beach and ice cream! Here there is a pretty wooden fishing pier and crazy ‘muscle’ beach paraphernalia. I enjoyed walking around the small canal walkway that is tucked just behind the beach front. Someone decided they wanted to recreate a mini Venice, it wasn’t quite the same, but the little bridges were adorable and it felt miles away from the crazieness of muscle beach just minutes away.

This was really a whistle stop tour of LA, but great fun to see some interesting places. It already feels like a long time ago now as I sit watching the snow out the window. The kitties were very pleased to have their family all complete again mind. And I do enjoy kitty snuggles.

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LA – Weekend trip Part 1

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As it’s fairly chilly and snowy here at the moment, I was quite keen to have a fun weekend away. Even better was the prospect of exploring a place I’d never been. So as LA is only 1.5 hrs away by plane I jetted off to see Hollywood, eat ice cream and catch up with friends.

I’m still pleasantly surprised how quick and easy it is to jet off to California for a long weekend. It took me a little while to work out what to cram into my hand luggage as I’ve forgotten what temperatures above 10 degrees feels like! I hadn’t visited LA before and had a few places I was keen to visit. The only thing I know is that it is a large sprawling city, 2nd biggest in the US in fact, that it is full of Hollywood people and it has access to some fabulous beaches.

We have previously visited some of the pacific coast highway when we visited San Francisco last year. So when I arrived on Saturday, the beach was top of my list. Having got my bearings of the vastness of LA we headed up the pacific coast highway to stop at Santa Monica. I loved walking around the main downtown area, which had small streets, vibrant shops and great cafes. We stumbled across a market selling strawberries. That’s right in season strawberries in January. The mind boggles.

We ventured to the pier, and walked along the broad walk gazing at the carousel and admiring the many performers scattered along. It was lovely to sit in the sunshine and seep up lots of vitamin D. We then found an English imports shop where I purchased some Cherry Bakewells and some Malteasers. This was excellent, and then next door was an actual authentic Irish pub serving proper fish and chips, and a cheeseboard with English cheese, pork pies and Branston pickle.

Having filled myself up with yummy foods we ventured onwards to Malibu. This coastline is especially pretty and we stopped at the beach to enjoy a brief walk, the sunset and some amazing ice cream from a local creamery. All in all for the first day LA is pretty awesome!

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Not so pink Sand dunes

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A little while back when we were road tripping south to all the national parks, we camped in a quiet little spot that happened to be next to the Coral pink sand dunes. After a great nights sleep we thought we were go visit as we had some spare time and they were right on our doorstep. The sand dunes are a state park, over here there are national parks, state parks, national monuments, and some others categorised differently to confuse us. I believe its all to do with the relative need to preserve a place and central funding.

In any case we weren’t too sure what to expect from a park of sand dunes, let alone pink ones. We ventured in to find the place to ourselves, and wondered over the sand to a lookout point. Form here you can walk over a small section of sand dunes. They were large and sandy, and with more rocky mountains in the background looked impressive. However they weren’t very pink. Admittedly they were a different orange hue from the usual yellow hue of sand, but pink is still a stretch.

Slightly ruining the air of peace we spotted several golf buggies driving around, as well as some larger buggies in the distance. This seemed to be the main activity, that and mountain lion spotting. Sadly we didn’t see any of those. They must have been in the pink part.

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National Parks – Canyon Lands

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One of the other less known national park is Canyon Lands, South East to Salt Lake City, Canyon Lands sits towards Moab and another more recognisable national park – Arches. We have only visited Canyon Lands briefly and are looking forward to going back and exploring again soon. We visited in the summer when it was still pretty toasty and the days were long.

When we did visit we camped near by – there’s a few BLM campgrounds near the entrance, which are very pretty and reasonably quiet. Having sent up camp we went for a short drive around the upper rim of the park, otherwise known as the island in the sky. Canyon Lands as you may have guessed by its name consists of lots of deep canyons, with the same red rock that is so easy to distinguish in this area. It’s very pretty, the canyons have been carved out by the Green river and Colorado river – the very same responsible for the Grand Canyon further South.

The island in the sky is a large ‘island’ or mesa surrounded by deep canyons. There are some incredible views and rock formations. We stopped at a few view points and small trails and enjoyed watching the sunset over this amazing landscape.

We are looking forward to visiting again once the weather warms up, and exploring the needles area, the false kiva and visiting upheaval domeĀ  a huge crater that nobody quite knows how it was made but most likely by a meteorite.

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National Parks of Utah – Capitol Reef

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Utah has 5 national parks, which is the third most in the USA, with Alaska and California having a few more. I thought I’d give a run down of Utah’s as we have now had chance to visit them.

Most recently we visited Capitol Reef, one of the smaller parks, Capitol reef sits near Arches and Canyonlands – which I’ll write about soon. The drive there is fairly straight forward and you also pass through some small rural communities and old towns that look like you could have stepped into the wild west. the park itself is one of the smaller national parks but it has gorgeous red rocks, some of the deepest reds I’ve seen so far, and several petroglyphs.

Capitol reef was settle by a Mormon community and one point and still has some old houses and a historic orchard. There is also aspects of Fremont culture. We spent some time in the visitor centre and went onto the scenic drive. This had lots of rock formations and stunning landscape. And the end of the drive – it’s along a one way road we went along to the tanks and walked for a while, finding some frozen pools and enjoying the near silence.

One of the most exiting part of Capitol Reef, aside from the many back country walks and places out of reach by car is the ‘wrinkle on the earth’ its a geological feature and is known as the water pocket fold. Unfortunately the scenic drive doesn’t offer any views of this, but there are several walks to overlooks, or a drive in the north in summer. In winter you can see it if you drive off road and have a bit of a walk towards the end.

The main canyon areas flood easily so check the weather before venturing out! we had beautiful clear blue skies, although a storm rolled in after we left and driving back in the snow wasn’t a great deal of fun! Fortunately the mid-west prepared us well for this.

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Winter wildlife spotting

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When some friends visited over thanksgiving they were keen to visit the salty lake that this city is named after. We had driven near it and visited the salt flats but hadn’t yet dipped our toes in the salty water. Mostly because its actually quite hard to get to and it is receding, so from this side there is a lot of squishy mud in the way before you can get to any water.

One of the best places to see the lake is either along the I80 near the old pier Saltair – which is quite busy traffic wise and has ok views, or antelope island. On the north side of the island are a few beaches, although there is still some mud to wade through to reach the water, so this is best done in spring/early summer. Late summer the lake starts to smell!

Antelope Island is however fun to visit, we went in the summer and climbed to the top where there are great views, this would be a fun weekend trip if you wanted to camp or enjoy walking. In winter we drove around the island and spotted lots of wildlife. We saw Bison, a fox, coyotes, deer and antelope. We also enjoyed seeing the mountains and the sunset before heading back for pizza at the pizza pie :-)

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