Friday, April 20, 2018

A day for the birds...uh, squirrels

When I left Reno, NV this morning, it was chilly...mid-30s. And, it stayed in the mid-40s as I traveled north on Interstate 80. As I continued north on US 95, the temps warmed into the mid-50s. I stopped for lunch at a rest stop in Orovado. I had a nice view of the snow topped mountains...that's Santa Rosa Peak on the left and Paradise Peak on the right.

Adjacent to the rest area was acres and acres of native grasslands. And, there were dozens and dozens...and I would imagine hundreds...of ground squirrels frolicking in the fields. It was hard to get pictures because they moved around quite a bit, even while they were feeding.

When I arrived at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, OR, the temps were in the mid-60s...perfect weather. I picked up a few brochures at the visitor center and noticed there were many ground squirrels in the lawn. I'm pretty sure they were Belding's ground squirrels, and I'm also pretty sure those were the same type of squirrels near the rest area.

I didn't see many birds in the pond near the visitor center, so I decided to try my luck elsewhere in the refuge. I drove to the Buena Vista Ponds and up to the overlook. The view was very picturesque, but too far away to see the waterfowl.

As I was leaving the overlook, a bit of movement caught my eye. A small lizard ran from rock to rock, but rather than run completely away, hung around to look at me. A little bit of Googling told me this was a common side-blotched lizard.

With time running short, I decided to try my luck driving along the auto tour route through the ponds, but I saw mostly Canada geese and American coots. Too common and rather unexciting. I was happy to see a pair of Northern Shovelers, though. They get their name from their oversized upper bill, which they use to filter out food from the water.

And, so ends my road trip adventures. Kind of anti-climatic if you ask me. But, I might post one more time with pics that didn't make it into previous blog entries. Until next road trip...

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Donner Experience

When I left my pit stop at Merced, CA this morning and headed north, I got caught in a traffic backup due to an accident on the highway. After bearing with it for about 15 minutes, I asked my GPS to find another route to Modesto and got off at the next exit. I did a little shopping at a nice specialty food store called Rodin's Ranch Farmers' Market, then continued on to Truckee, CA. Rather than travel on the interstate over Donner Pass, I elected to take the scenic route on Old Donner Pass Road. There was still snow on the ground, which made for very pretty pictures. I stopped at a viewpoint and looked up at Donner Peak and down at Donner Lake.

Behind me was School Rock...but not School of Rock. Afterward, I drove over the Donner Summit Bridge, originally built in 1925 and restored in 1995.

Down in the town of Truckee, I visited the Donner Memorial State Park Visitor Center. The last time I dropped by the site back in 2008, there was only the memorial statue present. The visitor center has exhibits that tell the story of the ill-fated Donner Party which became trapped at the pass by winter conditions. There were some examples of relics found at the original camp sites, including this tiny salt dish.

Of the 87 people in the group, 48 survived...some by resorting to cannibalism. If you want to read the definitive guide to the Donner Party story, I highly recommend the book, Ordeal By Hunger written by George R. Stewart. I got a used paperback back when I was in college, and I still have it! While I was taking photos of the memorial statue representing the pioneers who made the trek through the Sierra Nevadas, I noticed some golden mantled ground squirrels running around. I took a pic of one particularly well fed specimen.

Tomorrow is my last official day of my road least the sightseeing part of it. The weather forecast looks perfect for some bird watching! Afterwards, I'll be spending a couple of days with family before heading back to Bellingham.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Where squirrels abound

I said goodbye to Los Angeles this morning and headed north to Bakersfield. After a steakburger and frozen custard lunch at Freddie's, I headed over to the town's California Living Museum (CALM).  I last visited this small zoo back in 2010, but I don't remember it much. This living museum features native California flora and fauna...that's plants and animals...and serves as an educational and conservation facility. I was particularly fascinated with the mountain lions and the zoo grounds were teeming with wild California ground squirrels. I witnessed a cute interaction between a young rabbit and a juvenile squirrel.

There was a cute porcupine sleeping in a tiny tree and a very impressive display of the various types of rattlesnakes. I hope I never get such an up close look outside of a zoo!

There was a small owl sharing an enclosure with tortoises and a lone roadrunner. And, when I walked up to the mule deer, one came over to see if I had any treats. At least I THINK that's why it gave me the look.

Tomorrow, I continue my slow drive north and cooler temps. I'll be heading over the mountains like another infamous group did back in the mid 1800s...but chose winter time to do it!

A Blast at the Bang

Like last Sunday, I had a late return to my hotel, so no blog last night. I'm catching up now. I didn't have the best sleep on the Queen Mary Monday night. First, when it came time to hit the sack, I was reminded that the ship has thin walls. I could hear my next door neighbor's conversation for a good half hour before they either clammed up or I fell asleep. Then, I woke up around 5:00 am to a rather chilly room. Unbeknownst to me, the two porthole windows weren't completely secure and a cold night's wind made it's way in. I checked my travel alarm clock and it said 65 degrees. Since my thin bed covers weren't effective, I put on socks and changed to long sleeves and went back to sleep.  My change in attire was good enough for two more hours of quality sleep.

Today was my last day in Los Angeles, and I was going out with a blast... The Big Bang Theory live taping! Since I had some time in the morning, I spent it at the Los Angeles Police Museum. I had last visited this place ten years ago, and I was glad to see they had added to their exhibits.

The museum is located in what was formerly the Highland Park Police Station. There were exhibits on jail facilities, vehicles, uniforms and badges.

In addition, there were three exhibits on three infamous crimes that took place in the Los Angeles area. The Patricia Hearst kidnapping and battle with the Symbionese Liberation Army, the Onion Field murder case, and the Hollywood bank robbery shootout.

After lunch at Shake Shack, I checked into my hotel early, then headed over to Warner Brothers Studios for The Big Bang Theory taping. When I arrived at the parking structure, I saw a huge group of people waiting to get into the Ellen Show taping. So far, I have been unsuccessful getting a ticket to that show. Instead, I joined about thirty people already in line for TBBT. Half of them had solid tickets and the other half were there on standby. I made quick friends with two individuals at the end of the line...a Jamaican lady who currently lives in Boston and a guy from North Carolina originally from Mexico.

When the Ellen Show attendees vacated the waiting area in the parking garage, TBBT people took their place. I was in the first group escorted into the studio and to the soundstage where the show was taped. As we waited to enter the building, I suddenly heard someone say, "How is everyone doing? Thank you for coming!" I turned to my left, and who should be standing there but actor Jerry O'Connell! I was surprised and thrilled! I said, "Nice to meet you!" as he shook my hand! If it wasn't exciting enough to just be there, this was icing on the cake! Jerry would be guest starring on the show as Sheldon's brother, George.

Inside the soundstage, I sat next to my Jamaican friend. As the audience seating area filled up, we wondered if our NC friend on standby would make it in.  And...he did! There was a stand up comedian guy there to entertain the attendees. He had people doing silly games for cast photos and candy. Before filming started, the main cast members were introduced. As the actors performed, the audience was expected to provide the laugh track. It was wonderful seeing them doing their lines...and sometimes making mistakes. The attendees were given a snack...cold pizza and water. It took about three hours to film what would be about a 20 minute show. After it was all over, the cast and guest stars came out for a curtain call to wild applause. I had a great time, and it was a fitting end to a memorable week in southern California. Tomorrow, I start the slow drive back up to Washington.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Relaxing with the fishes...and the lorikeets!

Today, I decided to take a more low key approach to my day. Since I was heading down to Long Beach anyway to spend the night on the Queen Mary, I decided to do something leisurely and relaxing. It had been four years since I last visited the Aquarium of the Pacific, and I felt the urge to experience it again. Actually, I was really looking forward to feeding the lorikeets again. Yes, of all the animals at the aquarium, I love the Lorikeet Forest. After purchasing a cup of nectar...the sign at the booth said the birds are "Very Hungry"...I entered the bird enclosure. You're supposed to let the birds decide where and when to feed, but it didn't take long for a lorikeet to hop on my hand. It was soon joined by a second bird, after crawling up my shirt onto my shoulder and sitting on my head!

Needless to say, I had so much fun feeding the birds, I went back and got a second cup of nectar to have even more fun! Like the first time, I had two birds sitting on my arm arguing over the nectar. But, this time, only one bird won out.

Of course, I also enjoyed the many sea life exhibits at the aquarium. My favorites included the different types of jellyfish, colorful tropical fish, sea otters and bat rays...yes, I touched the bat rays! Oh, and the puffins were cute, too!

After a couple of hours at the aquarium, I was ready to check into my accommodations for the night.  I had two wonderful stays at the Queen Mary Hotel in the past, and it wasn't hard to decide to replicate those memories. This time around, I upgraded from the standard stateroom and booked a mini suite. The website said that the upper class staterooms were all different, and I was very pleased with mine. Two televisions, one in a separate sitting room and the always nice fridge. I don't really need the two bathrooms, but I'm not complaining!

Tomorrow is my last day in Los Angeles and I'll be going out with a bang, so to speak. A Big Bang. It will be another late night, so no blogging tomorrow night. But, I promise to catch up the next day! Stay tuned...

Survival Sunday: Fighting words

I'm doing this blog post the following day because I had a rather late night having fun. Sunday morning, it didn't take me long to drive from Hawthorne to Burbank. But, then again, it wasn't a work day in Los Angeles. My destination of the morning was the Martial Arts History Museum.

This little museum has exhibits on the culture and history of martial arts in China, Japan, Korea, Philippines, Thailand and Hawaii. In addition, there is also mention of anime...Japanese animated movies...and motion pictures and TV shows with martial arts themes. Below, you see Chinese weapons, Japanese samurai armor and a shield from the film, Mortal Kombat. And yes, that's the headband of Daniel-san from the movie The Karate Kid.

After a quick pizza lunch at the Original Farmer's Market, I checked into my hotel early knowing I wouldn't get in until very late in the evening. That was because I had a very special event to attend. Back at the end of March, I submitted a request for a ticket to the live taping of the TV show Talking Dead. This is the show that airs on Sundays, right after that night's The Walking Dead episode. There was only one Sunday that coincided with my vacation time in Los Angeles, so I hoped I would get lucky. Well, last Friday, I got an email from the ticket site that said I DIDN'T get a ticket. Oh well, I thought...I knew it was a long shot. I mean, they get a LOT of requests for not very many tickets. Imagine my surprise when the next day, I get ANOTHER email from them with the good news...I GOT A TICKET! Needless to say, I was ecstatic! 

When I got to CBS Television City about a hour and a half before check-in time, there were a handful of people already in line. Shortly after I got in line, I was joined by a family of three...a middle aged couple and their teenage daughter. We hit it off immediately, and we chatted about The Walking Dead and other TV related stuff. It really made the time go by faster. Since cameras and phones were not allowed in the studio, the only photo I have is the outside of the building and the entrance area.

After everyone was checked in, there was a brief orientation and explanation of what we would be doing throughout the evening. Then, we were escorted upstairs to the viewing area. There, we watched the season finale episode of The Walking Dead, PLUS the season opener for Fear The Walking Dead. The night was dubbed Survival Sunday to promote both shows and to mark the crossover of a major character from the first show to the other. When we finished viewing the episodes, we were again escorted another level up to the Talking Dead soundstage. From the show website, I already knew the special guests would be Andrew Lincoln (Rick) and Lennie James (Morgan) from TWD, and newcomer Garret Dillahunt and Danay Garcia from FTWD would be there. In addition, show creator and producer Robert Kirkman and producer Scott Gimple would also be present. Before we watched the episodes, I was excited to find out TWD's Jeffery Dean Morgan (Negan) was added to the list of guests. Talking Dead is hosted by the always entertaining Chris Hardwick, and after we were also seated, the TWD actors and the producers filed in. They were greeted enthusiastically by the attendees, myself included. Oh, by the way, Morgan was the crossover character.

For the next hour, Talking Dead was shown for the East Coast, and recorded it to be shown later for the other time zones. If there was a downer moment, the chairs were all on one level, and sitting in the fifth row, it was virtually impossible to see anyone on stage. Yes, there were monitors for us to see the action, but that is almost no different than watching it at home. But, there were moments that you wouldn't see or hear unless you were there. And, nothing can replace the experience of being there with the cast members of your favorite show. It was obvious they love their job and working with each other, and also appreciate the adulation of their fans. When the show was over and everyone was filing out of the soundstage, who should be walking toward me in the opposite direction...Andrew Lincoln! Just before he ducked back into the room, he looked at me...and waved! I was so surprised, the only thing I could do was wave back! I should have...could have...said something to him, but my mind just went blank at that moment. But, it will be a moment I'll never forget!

As customary with attendees of Talking Dead, everyone got a free gift. In this case, it was an exclusive The Walking Dead T-shirt that you can only get at the official store. I can always use a new shirt, especially from one of my favorite shows!

Monday will be kind of a rest day. After spending long hours doing the live TV show tapings, I need to take it slower and catch my breath. Then, one last night of fun before I leave the City of Angels.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Touristy stuff, Cold War and critters

Considering I did very little touristy stuff yesterday, I more than made up for it today. After a restful night at a nice hotel, I spent the morning doing touristy stuff in the heart of Hollywood. I joined the other sightseers checking out the stars on the Walk of Fame, and ogled the hand and footprints of celebrities in front of the TCL Chinese Theatre (originally Grauman's Chinese Theatre). There were a few costumed superheroes looking to make a few bucks posing for pics with the tourists. I was not one of them.

After I got that out of my system, I visited the nearby Museum of Failure. This experimental museum was created by Dr. Samuel West of Sweden to display the many unsuccessful products companies have created over the years. Of the items I viewed, these were my favorites. Colgate makes toothpaste, but who knew they dabbled in frozen meals?

By moving Growing Up Skipper's arm forward, you can make her boobs grow...then shrink when you move the arm back! And, Gerber made jarred food for grown ups? I can see why this idea didn't fly!

I had a tasty lunch from Pink's Hot Dogs...chili dog!...then drove to my second museum of the day. The Wende Museum of the Cold War preserves the artifacts and history of that turbulent time. It was interesting viewing items from behind the Iron, toys and of course, busts of Lenin and Stalin.

With time for one last place to visit, I checked out Star Eco Station in Culver City. This non-profit facility cares for endangered, abandoned and illegally obtained wild animals. Most of the animals can never be released into the wild or adopted out. While on the guided tour, I got to touch a few reptiles, such as tortoise, lizard and snake. There was a cute bobcat and a hyacinth macaw with a featherless breast. The blue parrot's owner died, and it was so sad, it kept pulling out its feathers and they eventually never grew back.

Tomorrow, I have a HUGE day! I'll be attending a live taping of the TV show Talking Dead! I think I'll have time to squeeze in a museum in the morning. It will be the same museum I didn't have time to visit last week. Three more days in the Los Angeles area and the fun keeps on coming!