Homer's Travels: March 2007

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #11: Cozy Dell Trail

The Cozy Dell trail is a 3.6 mile there-and-back hike. I have done part of this trail before, hitting a couple of caches on the trail. This time I was going to do the whole trail and hit a new cache that was not there the first time I did the hike.

The Trail starts at the 33 Highway and starts going up the hill immediately. The trail switchbacks its way up about 825 ft. I thought I was in better shape but this climb took a lot out of me. I think the problem is that I always start off too fast. I need to pace myself better at the beginning. Another problem was that I had a very light breakfast and my energy level was a little low this morning. I made it to the cache, "A Cozy Little Nook", and placed the Arizona State Geocoin in the cache. I finished up with the cache and got it re-hid before some muggles (non-geocachers) showed up. I started back up the trail and turned a corner and came across an ammo can sitting in plain sight next to the trail. I figured this was a cache so I took it and hid it quick before the muggles got there. I came back later on and verified that not only was it a geocache ( "A Cozy Drink of Water") but I was the first to find it. Well, this isn't totally true as someone wrote in the log. It appears to have been a muggle who didn't re-hide it properly. I took an FTF button (FTF = First To Find).

Further up the trail I came across a shrine to Bob. Bob looked like a fun, outdoorsy, guy. The shrine was topped off with a ceramic tile made from a photo of Bob in his biking gear. I'm sure he's cycling in a better place now.

I continued up the trail and was totally out of breath once I got to the top of the trail. I sat on a pile of stones and admired the view of the Ojai Valley. I then continued down the trail, heading downhill until the trail intercepted the Pratt/Foothill trail. This was where I was supposed to turn around. The description of this hike had said a 4 mile round trip but the turn around point was at the 1.8 mile point. I decided to keep on going until I reached 2 mile mark before turning around. I turned left, walked on a little ways until the Foothill Trail split from the Pratt Trail. I turned right and followed the Foothill trail up the hill. This looked like a great trail as it was flanked with oak trees that curved over the trail forming a tunnel. It looked cool. I reached the 2 mile point and decided to head back since I knew I had to go back up hill and I was feeling it.

I made my way back. I stopped and rested at the end of the Cozy Dell Trail. I decided to continue on after I flicked a tick off my pant leg. I started up the hill. I saw what looked like a large, fuzzy red ant. The insect was about 3/4 inch long, was fuzzy like a bee, and looked like an ant. I think it was probably a wasp known as a Velvet Ant. It reminds me of the zompopos that came out every May in Guatemala. The zompopos would come out in May, lived alone in holes, were about an inch long, and looked like a huge ant. They were not fuzzy like what I saw on the trail but they looked similar. The children, me included, wrestled zompopos. When two zompopos were put together they would wrestle and sometimes a leg or two would be lost. This was a little cruel but kids can be cruel at times. We just thought it was cool. I have never seen a Velvet Ant before. I only saw one live one today. I also saw a dead one on the trail. Unfortunately none of the pictures I took of it came out.

Another strange thing I saw along the trail were areas that appeared to be clear cut. All the brush was broken, not cut, near the ground and scattered on the ground. Several areas along the path were cleared this way. I followed one path along one of the clearings. I think it looked like a firebreak clearing but there was not evidence of fire in the area and leaving all the dead brush in the clearing sort of defeats the purpose of a firebreak. Another little mystery.

This was a nice hike. I got a little pink from the sun. I may have to start wearing sunscreen. I will also need to eat a good breakfast before I head out. The hike, with my detours, ended up being 4.42 miles. Some pictures here.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Rhino Cache

A few of my recent hikes have been on National Park land. Geocaches are forbidden in National Parks and, if found, are sometimes considered trash and the hider may receive a littering ticket in the mail. Paramount Ranch is located in National Park land so there were no caches along the trails but I still wanted to do a cache so I found a nearby micro-cache called the Rhino Cache. The cache was about a mile or so from the Paramount Ranch parking lot. It is called the rhino cache because of the metal rhinoceros standing in the nearby horse pasture. Why is there a life-size rusty metal rhinoceros in the pasture under the tree? Probably because he likes the shade. Anyway, it must be one of those weird things people do sometimes.

The cache was a tiny pill container with rocks glued to the lid. The container was hid at the base of a street sign amongst the rocks. I parked down the road a ways and walked back. When I found it I realized that the container was too small to have a writing instrument (and I didn't have one with me) so I took the cache back to the car, found a pen, signed the log, and then drove back to the hiding location to re-hide the cache.

I like caches that take you places you would have never gone and show you things that you would never have seen. I would never had known about Mr. Rhinoceros if it hadn't been for the cache.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Book: Peter Peterson's Running On Empty

My latest read, "Running on Empty" was a romp into the nightmare world of entitlement funding or, more accurately, lack of funding. Peter Peterson, a former Republican Secretary of Commerce, takes a very even handed approach to pointing the finger at both The Democrats, Republicans, and everyone in between. The book suggests that if nothing is done soon, the retirement of the Baby Boom generation will bankrupt the nation because of the tidal wave of demand on the Social Security and Medicare system. Peterson paints a really scary picture of what may happen. The younger generations will either have to pay exorbitant payroll taxes or benefits will have to slashed or both. He backs up this horror story with statistics, demographics, and cold hard facts. It is hard to argue with the material in the book ... well maybe not for someone more knowledgeable in government program finances than I. Knowing what I do know, I tend to agree with Peterson's conclusions.

The book ends with two chapters - one that suggest how we can avoid this fate of financial ruin and another that is a letter to the younger generations. This was refreshing since most doomsday books rarely have realistic solutions. They just toss out the bomb and hope someone else will fix it. Peterson actually suggests realistic solutions. Let's just hope we all wake up and get our act together soon.

The book was well written and didn't get too bogged down in the numbers. I was pleasantly surprised - this type of book can sometimes drag and feel like your slogging through mud. This one didn't. I only wish the tone of the book wasn't so shrill. Other then that, an interesting read.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Hiking Staff's New Tip

I like my hiking staff. I picked it up during a geocaching hike on the punchbowl trail back in 2003. I've been using it ever since. A good hiking staff helps keep you steady going up and down steep trails and helps you keep your balance during river crossings. A good staff will provide some protection against hostile wildlife, though my staff has never been needed in this capacity. I'm kind of sentimental about my hiking staff - I'm weird that way.

Over time the tip of the staff started to split. I thought about buying a metal table leg tip but I was unable to find anything that would fit the end of the staff. A co-worker of mine makes furniture and I asked him where I could find what I was looking for. After suggesting that I go to a sporting goods store to buy a "real" hiking staff (Blasphemy!!) he suggested repairing it with epoxy. It turned out to be a good idea. I used a piece of PVC pipe over the end of the staff as a mold and filed the pipe with epoxy. After letting it set for about 48 hours, I used a dremel tool to cut the PVC pipe off. It took some elbow grease to pull off the pipe but it turned out great. I thought the epoxy would be rock hard but it turned out to be rubbery. The epoxy acts as a kind of shock absorber. The rubbery tip helps to grip and not slip. The picture is from the Paramount Ranch Hike where I tried the new tip out for the first time - A successful repair.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Wife Wacks Prancing Possum

The wife goes to work after me. After I leave she goes downstairs and watches the morning news. Tuesday morning, a seemingly normal morning, was anything but. Homer looked out the sliding glass door and got really excited. The wife let him out and he promptly ran to the back fence, in the dark, early in the morning, barking his head off. The wife was horrified thinking of the neighbors sleeping next door. For almost 20 minutes she tried to get Homer back in the house. Since it was dark, she couldn't see what was driving Homer crazy. Turns out there was a possum on the back fence. The wife managed to get Homer in the house but he kept barking. She hoped that bringing the dog in would get the possum to leave. She went back out to check and saw that the possum had moved around to the side fence. Worrying that the possum might jump down onto the grill and into the backyard, she looked around for a suitable weapon, she grabbed the pooper scooper ... yes, the pooper scooper ... and started poking at the possum. The possum held on to the fence for its dear life but wouldn't budge. The wife decided to take no prisoners and let the possum know whats what trying again with vigor and forcing the possum off the fence into the hedge. The wife was VICTORIOUS! I am proud of her. The critter didn't return and I'm sure it will think twice before returning to our backyard.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Movies Nights

Back in December we joined Blockbuster.com. I have to say that we are both happy with what we are getting. We watch movies every Friday and Saturday nights - nights where television programming is often poor. We have seen around 25 movies since we started - we have 68+ in our queue. We are catching up with movies that we wouldn't pay $12.50 to see in the theater but would pay $1.25 in our family room. Some of my favorites include:
  • The Motorcycle Diaries: The early story of Ernesto "Che" Guevara. A very interesting and beautiful film. What really got us were a couple of scenes in Peru that we recognized - The cathedral in Cuzco and Machu Piccu.

  • The Station Agent: An interesting movie turning the perception of who's normal on its head. Sometimes the normal people are the odd ones.

  • Stranger Than Fiction: An original comedy of a man whose life is not under his total control - to his benefit.

  • The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada: A rancher takes the INS agent, who murdered his ranch hand, hostage and takes him on a trip to return the ranch hand's body to his homeland.
None of the movies have been disappointing - including Jackass: The Movie I & II. I have been surprised at how I look forward to our movie nights - I never was that interested in watching movies at home before.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #10 - Paramount Ranch

On Saturday I went on a hike at Paramount Ranch. Paramount Ranch, location of a western movie set, is part of the Santa Monica Mountain National Park. The hike started at the old west set. The buildings take you back to the 1800's - right down to the horse s*** in the middle of the street (Horses are permitted on the trails - watch your step). One of the buildings, a small wooden shack, was clad in bark in the front but the side was covered in fake, fiberglass, bark. It looked OK from a distance but not so great up close. I took some pictures before I headed up the Coyote Canyon trail.

This place is a very popular place and there are a multitude of trails, spurs, and side-trails - with nary a smidgen of signage to be found. This caused me a lot on confusion. At the first branch, I thought it was too soon to be my turn-off so I continued straight on the trail. This turned out to be a minor error as I was now on the Overlook Trail. This trail ends in a chain link gate with yellow and red No Trespassing and Private Property signs secured with a heavy chain and padlock. This was kind of a bummer but turning around I was face to face with a beautiful view of the canyon. It turned out that this part of the trail was the most interesting based on the nature I saw. There were oak trees and flowering trees of white and purple. Some stretches of the trail were turning white from all the tiny white petals that were falling from the trees.

I got back to the turn-off and got back on the Coyote Canyon trail. Soon after I was supposed to merge onto the Hacienda trail but I think I took an alternate route that paralleled the actual Hacienda Trail. This turned out to be fortuitous as the trail I was on went through a stand of oak trees and was quite delightfully. I stopped and sat down in the shade of the oaks resting my legs. I looked at my trail map which, by the way, was crap. I figured out where I was and started back on the trail.

I got to the next branch in the trail and this time I made the right decision. I was now on the Backdrop trail. I came across another first for me - a snake. I have seen smaller snakes on trails before but those were less than a foot long. This one was over three feet long and was sunning itself on the path. He stuck his tongue out at me as I watched him. I made sure it wasn't a rattlesnake, took a picture and carefully walked around it. After I passed it, the snake slithered into the brush. Further down the trail I passed a mother and her two daughters riding horses on the trail - unlike the snake, they did not slither into a bush. We exchanged pleasantries and we parted ways, me being more careful where I stepped.

From a high point on the trail I heard some vans and cars driving in the park. They pulled up to a grassy knoll and started setting up canopies and moving equipment around. It looks like they were setting up for a movie/television/commercial shoot of some kind. I couldn't identify who they were but I did notice one thing - while most of the people were in work clothes, there were two women dressed in identical bright yellow dresses. The women looked out of place. I presume they are the ones getting filmed/photographed. I thought about getting a closer look but I didn't want to intrude.

Further along the trail I reached another decision point. There was a large stack of stones, known as a cairn, at the intersection of two trails. I decided to turn right. I think that was a bad decision because I expect I cut off 1/2 to 3/4 miles off the hike. The trail I took headed back towards the western set. I followed the path around until I recognized that I was about to go around in circles. I was right back to the place I had stopped and rested. I turned around, looked at the map a little closer, and made my way back to where I screwed up and headed in the other direction. This took me back to the trailhead.

At the western set people were putting up signs and stuff. An American-Israeli benefit walk was going to take place later in the day. I was lucky I came early because I would not have been able to take pictures with all the people and signs around.

Overall, this hike was about 3.86 miles by my GPS. It was supposed to be 4 miles so I do think I accidentally shortened the hike even with my canyon overlook detour. The confusion kind of detracted from my hiking experience. Next time I am going to see if I can find a better trail map. I do seem to complain a lot when I write about my hikes but I do enjoy hiking and I did enjoy this one as well. Pictures of the wild west set and the trail are here.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Yo ... Mama!

I went for a hike today (more on that later) and on the way home I stopped to get a bite to eat. While I was headed to the nearest Subway, I saw this sign. Did they know what it meant or did they just not care?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Installment #14: Lake Cornelia, Cancun, and Mexico City 2003

Our next vacation was a mixture of family reunion, anniversary party, birthday party, and Mexican Vacation.

The trip started with a flight to Omaha, NE. We picked up a rental car and drove to Lake Cornelia, IA where the wife's parents have a lake house. They hold a family reunion here every fourth of July. In 2003 they were also celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, the wife's aunt's 40th wedding anniversary, the wife's brother's 25th wedding anniversary, and my 40th Birthday. We had a great time. The wife's family are great partiers and always enjoy having a good time with friends and family. Along with all the food, drink, and cake ( I ate 12 pieces of cake in 24 hours- YUMM - and I didn't get sick!), we participated in the fourth of July boat parade. The party kept going for several days. There was only a brief interruption due to a tornado warning.

During some downtime, I borrowed my father-in-law's car and went geocaching. The cache, "Down of the Farm", was located near a farm fence. I took a Spongebob Squarepants zipper pull that hangs from my car's rear view mirror today. I waved "Hi" at the farmer feeding his cattle before a returned to the lake house.

Eventually we had to leave the party and drive back to Omaha to catch our flight to Cancun.

We arrived it Cancun and the first thing we hit was a gauntlet of people wanting to "help" us. We naively listened to one and ended up agreeing to visit the hotel he was representing with the agreement that we would get two free tours - one to Chichen Itza and one to Tulum. The next day we were picked up and given a tour of the hotel and were fed a free breakfast. We were not impressed. The time-share cost was too high. They turn up the heat but we resisted and we ended up getting out of there with two tour tickets by lunch time. If I can help it, I will never do that again.

We spent the rest of the first day soaking in the bathtub-warm water of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico and browsing the nearby shops

The next day we went to a nearby store where we caught the bus for our Chichen Itza tour. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. The bus was comfortable and clean. We arrived at Chichen Itza where we toured the ruins with a guide. The tour, unfortunately, was interrupted by rain. We cowered under a thatch roof waiting for the rain to stop and listened while our guide told us about Mayan history. Eventually we said to heck with it and went out in the rain to climb the Temple of Kukulcan which dominates the site. The rain did let up a little while we finished our tour. Climbing up and down the pyramid resulted in a wife with sore leg muscles. Unfortunately I missed going inside the pyramid. I now have a reason to go back.

After Chichen Itza our bus stopped at a local restaurant where we ate at a buffet and watched dancers. Here is where I made the "Big Mistake." I ate a salad. This would come back to haunt me later this trip.

After eating we headed back to Cancun. On the way there we stopped at a cenote, a large sinkhole full of water. Cenotes were sources of fresh water for the Maya. The place was gorgeous with sunlight filtering in amongst the tree roots. People were swimming in the pool. I tried to take pictures but the lack of sufficient light resulted in blurry pictures.

By the time we got back to the hotel it was pouring. Since the rain didn't look like it was going to let up, we called room service and ordered a couple of pretty good burgers. The next morning we found a piece of paper stuck under our door saying that we should worry about the hurricane. Hurricane!?! What hurricane?!? Hurricane Claudette!! Well actually tropical storm Claudette. You would have thought that they would have warned us before it hit instead of after the fact. We ended up missing our free Tulum trip because of the rain. Another reason to return. Some Cancun pictures here.

The rain eventually let up and we decided to do a geocache in a Mayan ruin not too far from the hotel. One cool thing about the ruins was that it was infested with iguanas. Hundreds. They were hissing at us as we walked through the area. I got to the coordinates and looked, looked, and looked but could not find it. Unfortunately I had left the clue sheet back in the hotel room. When we got back I found out that the GPS coordinates were not the location of the cache but a starting point. If I had had the clue I would have found it. Darn it!! I was so disappointed in myself that I stopped geocaching for eight months afterward.

The next day we flew to Mexico City. We wandered near the hotel looking through the nearby market place. The wife was interested in something in a booth but we decided to think about it and I told the shop owner that we would be back on Wednesday. Unfortunately, my Spanish was very rusty and I think I said something like: "I would return on the Shits." That is ironic since that is when the salad decided to attack - The Mayan Trots ... Montezuma's Revenge ... you get the picture. I spent most of the rest of the day in the hotel room resting. Eventually we went to a nearby pharmacy and all I have to say is "Imodium is my friend!"

The next day (I was still feeling a little down in the dumps so we had a late start) we eventually took a taxi to Diego Rivera's house. Diego Rivera was married to Frida Kahlo, a famous Mexican artist. We ate at a nearby restaurant - good food, we were a little too casual for the place, though - before walking to the house and toured the modern style home/museum. We then took a taxi to the Frida Kahlo house and toured her house. Some of you may recognize Frida from the movie of the same name. Even though I wasn't feeling that great I still enjoyed the day.

The next day we signed up for a tour to Teotihuacan. On the way the tour stopped at Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine. This was an unexpected bonus. The wife bought a rosary. We then left the city and headed to Teotihuacan. The temples were impressive. The Pyramid del Sol - one of the largest pyramids in the world. We climb up to the top ans surveyed the entire complex. All in all - Cool! I liked it.

On the way back we stopped at an Onyx factory. I should have bought something there. There was a lot of cool things though they were a little overpriced.

The next day was spent in Chapultepec Park. We walked to the park from our hotel. We toured the castle and the anthropological museum. It was a nice day. We probably shouldn't have walked though since the wife was still sore from climbing the Chichen Itza and Teotihuacan pyramids.

Our last day we took a taxi to the Cathedral and toured the area including the extensive street market. The cathedral is slowly sinking. A large plumb bob hangs from the ceiling showing how much the cathedral is leaning. We met up with a friend from the wife's old job there and had lunch in a nearby restaurant that had been recommended highly. The food was pretty good even though I'm not too keen on Mexican cuisine.

More pictures of Mexico City here.

Another great vacation. Someday we will have to return to finish Cancun.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Saint Patrick's Day - Guys - Alone

The wife and the "J" are at a Secondary Education Convention down in Anaheim this weekend so it's just me and the Homer-Dog. What this means is that I am being lazy, not doing my chores, watching Mythbusters and Battlestar Galactica (STARBUCK!!!!), listening to This American Life, and generally goofing off. I will regret this later.

The wife and the "J" (A good Irish girl, ya know) who think today and tomorrow will be boring will be celebrating St. Patty's day in the hotel bar.

I have to say that the house feels awfully empty when the wife is away.

Hiking Ventura County #9 - The Grotto

I really liked this hike. It was a short hike - only 2.6 miles by my GPS - but the final destination - The Grotto - was awesome. The trail starts at the Circle X Ranch ranger station in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Now, this is what I call a Down-Up hike. The trailhead is higher in elevation than the turnaround point. I prefer Up-Down hikes because, even though down can be hard on the knees and feet, it uses a lot less energy so you have all your energy to get to the destination and you need less energy getting back to the trailhead. A Down-Up trail usually ends up with me running out of steam before I get back to the car. Fortunately, as I said, this was a short trail and had no problem getting back up to the top.

The trail took you down into a canyon to a creek which had a trickle of water in it. Then the trail turned rocky and I started rock hopping. The rocks got bigger and bigger until 'boulder' was too small of a word to describe them. These rocks, the size of an average family room, were jumbled between the sharp and rather narrow walls of the canyon. I came across a log and I thought about walking across it but the thought of the wife chewing me out for doing such a risky and stupid thing made me reconsider.

As I rock hopped, I heard the sound of water. I make my way to a hole between the boulders and looked down 10 to 20 feet to a pool of water. You could heard small waterfalls and water dripping. The amount of water was impressive when you think of how little water was in the creek. I had to get down there so I made my way further down until I was able to see the pool. It was not reachable as the gap between the stones was too narrow. I was a little disappointed but that evaporated after I saw what was next.

I moved further down the rock path and I came across a really cool cavern. The cavern was shallow and roughly 'U' shaped. I made my way to one of the entrances and saw the dripping water. A large three trunked tree was growing over the cavern and its roots were dangling down from the roof. Water ran down the roots and fell like rain into the pool below. I made my way to the other entrance of the cave. The wall slanted into the water and I was able to skootch on my butt until I could get a better view inside the cave. There was a spot of light on the water from a small hole in the roof (I later found the hole near the tree trunk). I got a clear view of the roots and the small waterfall that fed water into the pool. I also saw a first for me in California - a toad ... or maybe a frog. There were a couple sunning themselves on the slanted wall. While I had seen plenty of lizards, this was the first toad/frog that I had seen here.

I continued down the little further but decided that I should head back. It was getting warm and the way back up the trail was going to be hot and sweaty. I got back to the car and decided to drive Yerba Buena Road to see where it lead. Yerba Buena road is a winding mountain road lined by rocky mountains, horse ranches, and beautiful views. A very nice drive. Every time I drive one of the roads through the Santa Monica Mountains, I am always surprised at what I find there. I forget that there is so much nature so close to civilization. On the way to the PCH I drove into a valley. In the valley I saw a strange sight - three huge dish antenna. I have no idea what they are. Probably something harmless like cable TV or something.

I really liked the hike. I felt good when I got home. I may have to go back if we get more rain. I imagine it would be spectacular with more water in the creek. A few more pictures here.

Friday, March 16, 2007

This American Life - Live At Royce Hall

OK, it's time to post about This American Life. What a great night. We got to Royce Hall a little early. We were going to meet the "J" in front. Now, the "J" made a little faux pax the night before when she told the wife she was looking forward to seeing Garrison Keillor - the host of Prairie Home Companion -the problem is we were seeing This American Life hosted by Ira Glass instead. Oh well, an honest mistake - didn't stop us from having a laugh at her expense.

When the doors opened we went in and looked at the swag. T-Shirts and posters were procured while we waited for the inner doors into the all to be opened. The picture on the top of this post is the pictogram logo on the shirt I bought (I scanned my t-shirt). I was very slow and didn't realize what it meant until the Altar Boy enlighten me. I have always been a little slow with these type of puzzles. I dumped our treasures in the car before we took our seats. The "J" hadn't made it yet and we all wondered where she was. We read the flyers that were handed out at the door and were very excited with who was going to appear in this episode. The wife and altar boy were very excited about the guest band OK GO. Yes, OK GO. Did I tell you that OK GO was th guest band? OK GO!!!! Once again, I was stumped until the wife mentioned their treadmill video. I knew the video but not the name of the band. I have got to get out more.

There was a line on the flyer that seemed to apply to the "J". It said: "If you've been dragged here by a friend, a date, or a coworker and you've never heard our radio show and only have the foggiest notion of who the hell we are, you are in for a very strange evening indeed. Good luck to you. You are a good person and a good sport."

The lights dimmed OK GO (!!) did their first song and Ira Glass made his entrance. He looks a lot different in person. After doing his usual radio show introduction: "Each week we choose a theme and put together different kinds of stories on that theme...." The Altar Boy does a great Ira Glass. Ira started the show with a story, illustrated by a cartoon on a large screen over the stage, about some kids who made a fake television camera from a box and toilet paper tubes and how this eventually changed how they saw their world. It was a little strange having a visual to accompany the audio we were all familiar with. The show had three acts with a bonus fourth act for the live audience.

Act one was performed by Sarah Vowell. Sarah talked about the portrayal of thanksgiving on television. Sarah, a short, rather mousy writer and radio personality, has this deadpan way of delivery which makes what she says that much more funnier. She talked about Bewitched, Happy Days, The Simpsons, and other twisted views of the Thanksgiving holiday. Very funny stuff.

Act two was performed by John Hodgman. For those who do not know John, he is the PC guy on the Apple commercials. The guy is also a writer and a contributor to This American Life and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He talked about how becoming a TV personality changed his life. The funniest part was when he was recognized entering the Apple store in SOHO. It was hilarious. We were all laughing.

Act three was about the new This American Life television show. This was the extra act exclusively for the live audience. Ira and Chris Wilcha (the show's director) talked about the show. Chris mention he did not want to be known as the guy who ruined This American Life. They showed clips of the show including outtakes. This was followed by a 10 minute promotional video - a very funny promotional video - featuring a D&D playing teenage boy who says he will never fall in love and compared sex with pillaging a village (Ira asked him if his was the village or the pillager - HA). Ira asked the audience what they thought of the show mentioning that a fan in Chicago had yelled "Judas!" The Royce Hall crowd were more supportive. Myself ... I'm not sure. The show is on Showtime which I don't have access to so I'll have to wait for the DVD.

Act four was performed by Dan Savage. Dan writes a newspaper sex column. He talked about his straight son (Dan is gay) and how he is fighting to prevent his son from being exposed to bad heterosexual stereotypes on TV. He was funny.

OK GO (I did mention they were there, right?) played a song between each act. At the end of the show they did this great dance that was straight out of a cheerleading competition.

As we left the hall, the "J" caught up with us. She had gotten lost on the way and didn't have money for the parking so she missing about half of the show but she really liked it anyway. The usher sat her in the handicap seat .... I will e-mail the episode to her on Monday. By the way, the episode will air on the 17th of March. It sounds like it will be an amalgam of all the tour's shows. Not all of the acts we saw will actually appear in this week's episode.

It was a great show. We all had a great time and enjoyed every bit of it. I hope to be able to do this again sometime.

P.S. There was another Fiona Apple sighting in Royce Hall - She must have season tickets.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #8 - Rattlesnake Canyon

The Altar Boy is on his way home and it is time for me to catch up on my posting. Last Sunday, 11 March, while the wife and Altar Boy were watching whales, I did a hike in Rattlesnake Canyon in the hills overlooking Santa Barbara. The day was very hot so I packed a lot of water. I had five geocaches in my GPS and I was ready to go. The hike follows Rattlesnake Creek and weaves in and out of the shade of the trees. I liked this hike. The scenery was nice and it wasn't too crowded. Even though it is named Rattlesnake Canyon, I did not see any snakes. A few pictures here. Here are some caches I did along the trail:

  1. "The Barking Brook": This was small cache hidden on the ground near a tree. My GPS was all over the place so I was searching all over the place until the container caught my eye.

  2. "The Way to Gibraltar": This was another easy one. I left the Skeleton Key travel bug and picked up the Arizona State geocoin.

  3. "Come Away For Awhile.... ": To get to this one I started up a small steep trail that climbed up the side of the canyon. The trail eventually came out to a road and a cliff wall. I decided to walk up the road that leads to a Benedictine Monastery. Up the road a trail branched off and went up the top of a ridge where I found a couple of benches and a cross. The views were amazing and the islands were clearly visible in the distance. I found the cache nearby and headed back down to the main canyon trail.

  4. "Sneaky Creekins": This cache had not been found for a long time. I looked and looked but couldn't find it. I wore myself out climbing up and down near the creek with no luck. I expect it is not there anymore. I wasted way to much time looking.

  5. "SnakeLedge Snowman": This cache was supposed to be very difficult. I started up the creek rock hopping my way towards the cache. I followed the signal up a side wash and came within 390 ft. At this point I was totally exhausted. I had turned a moderate trail into a strenuous one. It was getting late and I decided that I didn't have the energy or time to reach the cache. I headed back down the wash and came across a trail that connected back with the main trail. If I had used this trail instead of rock hopping, I probably would have had enough energy to get to the cache site. Maybe someday I will return and get this cache.
The hike was supposed to be 3.5 miles but I ended up doing only 2.5 miles. I think I actually didn't complete the entire hike because of the detour I took to the last cache. Even though is was a short hike, the rock hopping really took a lot out of me. I like to rock hop - it's really fun and challenging - but it is also tiring.

The next hike is The Grotto. This one is actually in Ventura County - imagine that.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Entertaining the Altar Boy - Day 4 And 5

Here's a review of Tuesday and Wednesday's boffo activities. On Tuesday morning we headed north for lunch and a couple of Missions. We stopped at Cold Spring Tavern. This place was originally a stagecoach waypoint and in the 40's became a tavern. The place is cool! When you walk through the half-door you walk into the 19th century. The staff was friendly and the menu varied. There was everything from buffalo burgers, venison sausage, chili, and regular burgers and fries. The place is a real biker bar that is crowded on the weekends but wasn't too bad during the week. After eating we asked if the store next door was open or not. It was and the waitress told us to go on over, come back with what we wanted, and we would pay for it all. It's nice to be trusted. We took some pictures before heading for Solvang.

In Solvang we visited the Santa Inez mission. After a quick tour we drove on to Lompoc to visit mission La Purisima. I've already posted about these missions and nothing really new happened here so I won't write about it. We did enjoy the visits though.

After two mission we decided that we deserved Ice Cream. We drove into downtown Lompoc and started looking. At a stop light, the wife saw a pregnant woman, and who knows more about ice cream cravings then a pregnant woman, so the wife rolled the window down and, sure enough, she gave us directions to the nearest Baskin-Robbins. After satiating our need we drove back home. The wife and the altar boy took naps on the way and I napped once we got home.

An hour after we got home we got a call from the "J". She was calling to see if we were home yet because she was in the driveway. After a beer we all loaded up in my car and went out to eat at BJ's Restaurant & Brew House. We had a good time and had more good food. We decided, once again, that we deserved Ice Cream so we ordered a couple of Pizookies.

That was pretty much the end of the day. We watched some American Idol and hit the hay.

On day 5, the altar boy was on his own as the wife and I had to go back to work (ugh). We gave him directions to the beach and the Reagan Library. He went to both and threw in the San Fernando Mission - location of Bob Hope's grave. It sounds like he had a full and fun day. Tonight we went to Pirates since we haven't eaten there enough this week - The altar boy has eaten breakfast, lunch, and dinner at Pirates.

The altar boy will be leaving tomorrow. We had a great time and he is welcome to visit anytime.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Entertaining the Altar Boy -Day 3 And Day 4

I was hoping to post about each day at the end of the day. This was a great plan until last night. We got home at midnight and frankly I was to tired to post anything. I will try to summarize what happened last night and tell you what we are planning to do today.

Yesterday's preview post was accurate. We had a late start because the Altar Boy didn't get up until 10:30-ish. We had lunch at Pirates before heading south on the PCH. What a gorgeous day to drive along the ocean. The skies were incredibly blue and the air was warm.

Our first stop was the La Brea Tar Pits and the Page museum. There are usually volunteers in the museum who sit in a fishbowl like room cleaning and cataloging bones. Monday was their day off so the room was empty. The same was true with the active excavation #91. Even with the closed exhibits, it was still interesting. A few pictures here.

After the pits we made our way to Olvera Street. We ran into the same problem there - things were either closed or closing. We walked through the shops and did a little side trip to Union Station (The Altar Boy and all male members of his family are obsessed with trains). Again, we enjoyed it enough.

By now it was getting close to dinner time so we headed to Canter's and ate some grub. The food was magnificent as usual. No disappointment here. We were going to buy t-shirts (I seem to be collecting T-Shirts - this hobby sort of creeped up on me) but they were out of my size. We will be back I'm sure and I'll eventually get one.

After a satisfying meal we went to the beautiful UCLA campus. We were there a little early
and the event parking attendants weren't out yet so we drove around trying to find out where to park until they finally arrived. Stupid me took a turn bad and ended up scraping/denting my front bumper - D'OH! We walked around campus a little bit until the show started. The campus is incredibly beautiful. The architecture and landscaping are gorgeous. They opened the doors to Royce Hall at about 7:30. For now I will only say that the show was spectacular. The show was so good it deserves its own post so I will post about it later this week. I will say that the show met and exceeded all our expectations.

Now, for Day #4. We will start with lunch at the Cold Spring Tavern before Mission hopping to the Santa Inez and Purisima missions. The day will end with dinner out with the "J" - not sure where yet.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Entertaining the Altar Boy - Day 3 - Preview

Day three is a biggun'. I am not sure I will be able to post about what all we did tonight so I will post this preview and try to fill in the what actually happened in a later post. We start out with our usual lazy morning before going on the road to Los Angeles. It's going to be another sunny day and we will drive down the pacific coast highway on our way to the city.

Our first stop are the La Brea Tar Pits and the associated Page museum.

After the museum we will head for Olvera street for a little shopping and walking.

After Olvera street it will be time time for some diner (or supper for some of you) so we will head for Canter's Deli, where you are server by old Jewish ladys. The food is always great and the atmosphere alway a little strange.

After Canter's, we will make our way to the UCLA campus to enjoy an evening with Ira Glass and This American Life. We will be meeting up with the "J" who is taking the Matron-Of-Honor's ticket and joining us tonight. I'm sure the live taping will take up a whole post by itself.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Entertaining the Altar Boy - Day 2

Day two started of with the Wife and the Altar Boy going to mass and me going grocery shopping (I know, shame on me for not going to mass with them). After mass we met up at Pirates Grub n Grog to have some breakfast.

After breakfast we split up again - the wife and altar boy going to do the Whale Watching thing and me heading to Rattlesnake Canyon to hike. On the way to the hike I stopped by the "J" 's place to drop of her This American Life ticket and a map to the venue (Royce Hall, UCLA).

The wife and the altar boy enjoyed their boat ride. The weather was perfect - warm breezes with temperatures in the 80's. They saw some whales, dolphin, dead seals, and an overturned kayak. The kayak was brought on board and turned over to the Coast Guard. After the boat ride, they went to the infamous Rudder Room to have a beer. The Rudder Room is a seedy bar on beach where all sorts of people collide. 20 Minutes later fists began colliding and the wife said "Lets get out of here." Nice Place. Both the wife an the altar boy were both exhausted after their day of water, sun, and fisticuffs.

My day was good too. My hike wore me out. More juicy details later this week when I post another Hiking Ventura County post.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Entertaining the Altar Boy - Day 1

Today was day 1 of entertaining the Altar Boy. We slept in, which felt really good, before heading Ventura way. A perfect day - started out a little hazy but was warm enough for shorts and sandals.

First stop was lunch at In-N-Out Burger. We all enjoyed the yummy burgers and fries. We then headed to downtown Ventura. We walked down to the Ventura Pier before heading to the San Buenaventura Mission. A quick tour of the mission was followed by a shop walk which ended at Ben and Jerry's for some ice cream.

The Altar Boy is getting along great with Homer. He's spent a lot of time throwing the ball in the back yard.

This evening we had steaks on the grill, mashed taters, and green beans - Midwestern Grub.

Throughout the day there was a non-stop gab session covering topics ranging from religion, politics, catholic high school education, the war on terror, genealogy, and dating. No doubt this will continue for the next few days.

Tomorrow, Mass, breakfast at Pirates, and whale watching.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Alter ... Altar ...

O.K. I have been spell blind for most of my life and it took the Godson to point out that it's Altar, not Alter. I will try to be better but I think the misspellings and bad grammar give Homer's Travels that rustic charm.

Some Stuff To Do With The Altar Boy - And One To Do Without Him

This post is just a little preview of what we'll be doing over the next few days - They will be busy. Due to circumstances beyond our control, the Matron of Honor can not make it but the Altar Boy is on his way. The next few days are filled with downtown Ventura, Whale Watching, This American Life, and a couple Missions. I will post about most of this. The only thing I won't be doing with the wife and the Altar Boy is whale watching on Sunday (I've done it a couple times before and decided to bow out this time - I'm sure they will see a record number of whales) . Instead, I am planning to hike Rattlesnake Canyon up by Santa Barbara. There are a few caches there that I am planning to do. I am told that the name of the canyon is a little deceiving and that there are no more rattlesnakes there than in any other place in California. We'll see.

We are looking forward to entertaining the Altar Boy and having a good time. It's going to be fun.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Caching On The Way Back

I did a few caches on the way back from the Aliso Canyon hike . All of the caches were roadside grabs along Stagecoach Road. The road was built in the 1860s by Chinese labor to allow people to travel by stagecoach from Santa Barbara over the San Marcos Pass. Later the Cold Spring Arch Bridge was built bypassing a portion of this scenic road. There are several caches along this overlooked road. Some were clever hides:
  1. "Porc U Pin Cache (aka Chip n' Dale's Larder)": This was a clever hide. The container was embedded in a log that looked like a tree stump. The placement had something to be desired as it was a little obvious. It should have been placed near other stumps. Still, cool never the less.

  2. "Dale N' Chip (aka Tweedledum) ": This was a small altoid tin with a pine cone glued to the lid. It was hidden in a hollow part of a large tree. I picked up some ants while I looked at the cache. A few made it as far as the car before I found them crawling on me.

  3. "The Forgotten Road": Another small cache hidden near once once was an entrance to a road. The road is long forgotten and overgrown. I placed the chaosmanor's Golden State - Gold #2 geocoin in this cache. The container was small but the coin fit nicely.

  4. "George Washington Rock":
    A larger cache full of cool stuff. I took the Skeleton Key travel bug and left a Round Tuit, a Bendy Cow, and a Green Plastic Soldier in its place. There is a good view of the bridge from this cache site along with a monument to the bridge itself.

  5. "Bridge View": This was a micro cache attached to a stone. The rock looked really natural and I would have found it if I hadn't tried to kick the rock. The view of the bridge from this vantage point is spectacular.
There was another cache that I wanted to visit but was unable to do it. It was located close to the Cold Spring Tavern which was really (I mean really) crowded on Sunday. The tavern is a biker bar and bikes (hogs) , cars, and trucks filled the small parking lot and lined Stagecoach Road to each side of the tavern. The tavern, built in 1886, was originally a way station for the stagecoach travelers crossing the San Marcos Pass. We'll have to stop here sometime for lunch.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #7: Aliso Canyon Loop

OK, this is the seventh installment of the increasingly misnamed Hiking Ventura County series. The Aliso Canyon loop is in Santa Barbara county. The trail is on the way to Lake Cachuma in the Los Padres National Forest. I have driven this road several times and had wondered if there were trails in the wilderness surrounding the lake. The description of the hike said that an Adventure Pass was necessary to park at the trailhead so I stopped at the ranger station to buy one. Unfortunately, the station was closed so I backtracked a mile or so to the Paradise campground where some grandpa living in a trailer sold me an Adventure Pass. I headed back towards the trailhead passing some wild turkeys along the road. The trail starts in Sage Hill campground. Most of the place was closed. I forded the Santa Inez River (I did say WHEE! as I did so but it didn't have the funtasticness that it had when the wife and the J were in the car). As I arrived to the parking lot, I noticed that there was a trailer and ... they sold Adventure Passes there. Oh well, I didn't have to backtrack after all - a brief waste of time but I was in no hurry.

The loop follows a creek for the first two thirds of a mile. Along the way there is an Interpretive Trail. There are markers along this Interpretive Trail that are numbered and labeled with stylized bear prints. Unfortunately, there were no Interpretive Trail pamphlets in the Interpretive Trail pamphlet box at the beginning of the Interpretive Trail so when I arrived at these Interpretive Trail markers, I had no clue as to how to interpret them. Sigh.

There was very little water in the creek. Southern California has been very dry this winter. The lack of rain is good and bad - Good because a normal rainy season would mean that I would not have been able to do many of these hikes - Bad because the creek and rivers are low and the plant growth is dry and brown resulting in dull, drab hikes.

At the end of the Interpretive Trail, the path starts heading up. It was pretty steep but I felt pretty good going up it. I guess all this weekend hiking is finally paying off. Also helping was the fact that the skies were this bluish-gray haze and there was very little sun. There was also a light breeze once you climbed out of the canyon into the muted sunlight to keep you cool. The path continued up to the crest of a ridge. The calm was interrupted by someone in a nearby campground who thought revving his motorcycle sounded nicer then the sounds of nature. Fortunately, he also decided to drive away.

At the top of the ridge I sat on a stone to take in the breeze and drink some water. I also planned how I would tackle the one cache on this hike. The cache, "Oso Lookout (A.K.A. Dam Cache)," was hidden in April 2006 and no one had been able to find it since. There had been two attempts (a third never got up to the top of the ridge). I fully expected to look around and not find it. Well, it took me less then ten minutes to find (Toot Toot - yeah I'm tooting my own horn here). The container was a white plastic container that the hider had painted black but of the last eleven months the paint must have flaked off and the white lid was clearly visible. As I went through the contents and signed the log I noticed that I, in fact, was not the first to find it and that someone had signed the log in August of 2006. Since they did not log the find on the web, I think I can claim First To Find (Yay for me!). I covered the cache with a flat stone to make it less obvious. While I was hunting I did see a snake - it was only four inches long so I wasn't too worried.

After the cache I started heading back down. Of the way I passed a Mother and her two kids riding horses on the trail. We exchanged pleasantries and I started to watch more carefully where I was stepping - the hazards for sharing a trail with horses - POOP. I successfully made it down and back to the car. On the way out of the campground, I saw three deer grazing. I rarely see anything larger then a lizard on my hikes.

I was a little disappointed. The Ventura Star writer had said this was a 3.5 mile hike by my GPS said it had been only 2.9 miles. It did go by a little quick and an extra mile or two would have been nice. Oh well. A few pictures here.

Next week the Matron Of Honor and the Alter Boy are visiting so I won't be hiking. I am sure there will be other things to post about then.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #6: Lizard Paradise Rock Falls

When it was time to choose a new hike, I found two easy hikes in the same park in Thousand Oaks, CA. The Lizard Rock and Paradise Falls trails leave from the same trailhead in Wildwood Park. Looking at the trail maps I realized it would be easy to connect the two loops to make a longer, moderate hike. This hike is another urban hike but it was far enough away from the freeway that I could not hear it.

I arrived at the trailhead at about 9:30 am and started out on the Lizard Rock portion of the hike. The wind was cold but the sun was warm and the skies were cloudless. I took a spur to do a couple of Geocaches. There was another cache on the trail but I misread the map and thought it was on another spur. When I realized what I did, it was too late (i.e. I was too lazy to retrace my steps). After doing a third cache, I passed by some cacti (OUCH!) on my way to Lizard Rock. I climbed up to the top and sat on the Lizard's head and relaxed in the chill sunlight. It felt good. The views were good only being spoiled by the houses ringing the park and the sewage treatment plant barely hidden in wildwood valley.

After taking in the sights I headed down the trail up over Stagecoach Bluff (another cache) and crossed over to the Paradise Falls trail. On the way to Paradise Falls and another cache I came across a Teepee. I looked like a cool place to hang out. I did a cache and stopped by the falls. Indian Creek was running fairly well despite the lack of rain and the falls were flowing well. I love the sound of waterfalls. I got back on the trail and visited an Indian Cave and followed the creek back past one more cache before returning to the trailhead. The total hike was 5.36 miles. More pictures here.

The caches that I did on this hike are:

  1. "At Last": A quick micro cache on a spur off the main trail.

  2. "Box Canyon Cache": Another small quickie in a nearby box canyon.

  3. "Papillion": This was a large ammo can on a ridge on the way to Lizard Rock.

  4. "4x4'n Wildwood": This was a clever hide. The cache was a small container with a washer and a bolt head attached to it. The contained was inserted into a hole in the end of a weather 4x4 piece of wood. It looked like the bolt was screwed into the wood. The bolt head and washer were both rusty an looked like they had been outside for years. Very well done.

  5. "Tru and Narls' Most Horrible Consolation Cache": Another small quickie hidden near the base of a tree.

  6. "ROCK-N-ROLL": A film canister hidden in a fake rock. The rock looked a little fake but it was still a good hide.
This was a pretty good hike and I feel like I am getting stronger. I'm not as tired after the hikes as I was when I started a month ago. The next hike I'm planning to do is the Aliso Valley Loop north of Santa Barbara. I'm looking forward to it since it's not an urban cache.