Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Walking in the City - Griffith Park, Los Angeles

Think of Los Angeles and the image it conjures might be of a sprawl of urban neighborhoods dissected by boulevards such as Hollywood, Sunset and Santa Monica, and congested multi-lane highways. But it is also home to Griffith Park, one of the largest urban wilderness parks in the United States.

I'd never managed to visit the park on previous trips to Los Angeles, but when I discovered the park was a mere hour's stroll from the Silver Lake neighborhood that my daughter lives in, it seemed the perfect opportunity to visit. Our walk took us along pleasant residential streets of the Los Feliz neighborhood lined with Jacaranda trees in full bloom. Needless to say, we didn't pass too many other walkers.

The park is named after a Welshman, Colonel Griffith J. Griffith, who made a fortune from gold mine speculation in California and bought a large parcel of land north of the oldest section of Los Angeles in 1882. In 1896 he donated almost five square miles of the land to the people of Los Angeles as a Christmas gift with a proviso that "It must be made a place of recreation and rest for the masses, as a resort for the rank file, for the plain people." He believed it was his obligation "to make Los Angeles a happier, cleaner, and finer city."

He had big plans for the park including an amphitheater and an observatory. When he died in 1919 he left a trust fund which enabled his dreams to be realized. The Greek Theater was completed in 1930 and the Griffith Observatory and Hall of Science in 1935.

Following further donations of land and city purchases, the park is now over 4,000 acres of natural wilderness and landscaped parkland. Set in the Santa Monica Mountain range and with elevations of up to 1,625 feet above sea level, the park offers not only magnificent views of the surrounding city but provides a wonderful respite from the hustle and bustle of city life.

We entered the park at the southern perimeter, where the Boy Scout Trail takes you up to the Griffith Observatory. It may be less than a mile walk, but it's all uphill.

Luckily, the path zigzags rather than goes straight up which does make the walk a lot easier.

Unfortunately, the early morning smog meant that the skyscrapers of Downtown Los Angeles were almost invisible in the distance. 

But you can certainly see for miles. We got a good glimpse of how big the park actually is. 

The observatory is an impressive sight. It offers exhibits, telescopes, and shows in the planetarium 

Our walk up the trail was relatively quiet, with only a few other hikers making the trek, but the observatory is a popular stop on tours so the plaza out front proved to be a lot busier, even though the observatory itself was not yet open. 

A monument to James Dean sits on the plaza. Key scenes from ''Rebel without a Cause" were filmed at the observatory, the success of the movie bringing it positive international recognition.

For our return, we took the West Observatory Trail which offered a view of one of Los Angeles' most famous signs.  Shame the sun had yet to appear!

At the end of the trail. we discovered a delightful cafe, The Trails. I can personally vouch that their homemade apple pie is yummy!

Then it was time for a gentle stroll along Fern Dell Trail, which meanders alongside a stream surrounded by lush tropical vegetation.  It was hard to believe we were still in LA.

We didn't have time to spend more than a morning in the park but with many more trails to explore and the option for horse-riding, the park would definitely be on my list of places to revisit on return trips to the city.

Mel writes contemporary fiction with a twist of mystery and suspense. Her latest novel in the Detective Rigby series "Old Habits Die Hard" will be released on June 21st, 2019. 
For more information about her books visit her website, or sign up for her newsletter at  

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Walking in the City - New York's Christmas Lights

One of my favorite Christmas traditions is taking a stroll around mid-town Manhattan to check out the holiday lights and window displays. 

Sixth Avenue is always a good place to start as the forecourts of the office buildings provide the perfect stage for gigantic versions of traditional decorations. 

Sadly, this year one of the city's iconic store displays is missing as the Lord & Taylor store on 5th Avenue is closing down. Instead of delightful depictions of fairy tales or children's literary characters the windows are covered in red posters announcing the closing. I'm sure there must have been many disappointed visitors as the store was the first to feature animated holiday displays and has regularly attracted visitors from all over the world. 

Fortunately, there are other stores with spectacular window displays, including those of Bergdorf Goodman. The amount of detail is astonishing, with each window color coordinated to the holiday treats represented. 


Licorice Carousel

Gingerbread goodies

chocolate delight

Further down Fifth Avenue, the building housing Tiffany's is suitably adorned with sparkling ornamentation.

And the Peninsula Hotel on 5th Avenue and 55th Street has eye-catching decorations on its canopy. 

Outside the entrance to the Rockefeller Center, enormous toy soldiers stand guard.

Across the street, the annual light show on the front of the Saks building is so popular that huge crowds gather on the sidewalk, making it almost impossible to walk on that section of the street. After shuffling forward for several minutes, I gave up trying to get across the road and retreated to the relative calm of Sixth Avenue. It wasn't quite the route I'd planned to take back to Grand Central but it was certainly quicker! 
Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Mel writes contemporary fiction with a twist of mystery and suspense. For more information about her books visit her website, or sign up for her newsletter at  

Monday, August 20, 2018

Cross Country Adventure - Day 15 - Joshua Tree to Los Angeles

 Day 15. We'd driven more than 4,000 miles through 14 states and had just one more National Park to visit and 132 miles to drive before we would arrive at our final destination in Los Angeles. Apart from a tornado scare on the second day, the trip had gone without a hitch. Unfortunately, our luck didn't quite hold.

On that last morning as we were parked at a gas station while I went to stock up our water supplies, a guy in a van parked next to us managed to clip our car as he reversed out. He immediately took full responsibility (possibly because my daughter was standing on the nearby sidewalk and witnessed the accident), but by the time we'd exchanged insurance details, he'd been on the phone to his insurance company, and we'd spoken to the car rental company who insisted we got a police report  which meant we had to wait for Highway Patrol to turn up, half the morning was gone.

Still, it could have been a lot worse, so it was with some relief we eventually got on our way to Joshua Tree National Park, famous for its strange looking plants. 

The park boundaries include part of two deserts, the Mojave and the Colorado. The western half of the park is the Mojave Desert with elevations above 3,000 feet. This is where the Joshua Tree thrives. 

The Joshua Tree is neither tree nor cactus but is a Yucca, part of the lily family. It was named by Mormon Pioneers who thought it looked like Joshua beckoning them to the promised land. 
The trees grow in interesting shapes and sizes.

some are tall and upright

some like to lean a little

And some can't seem to decide which way they should grow!

The jagged line up the solid rock is a climb called A cheap way to die!
I was surprised to learn that Joshua Tree National Park is popular with climbers. Saddle Rock provides a number of routes of varying difficulty, including one with the somewhat off-putting name of  'A cheap way to die.'   

The road through this part of the park takes you past Jumbo Rocks, where huge boulders scattered over the landscape provide scope for the imagination. 

This one is known as Skull Rock. 

Another plant in this part of the desert is the Mohave Yucca. This particular one was not that tall, but even these can grow to 16 feet tall.  

The eastern half of the park's elevation is less than 3,000 feet above sea level and is within the Colorado Desert.  As the road crosses from the Mojave to the Colorado Desert the Cholla Cactus Garden comes into view. Not only do the plants look weird but it's not wise to get too close as they have a tendency to attach themselves to passersby and the spines can be very painful to remove!

There's a reason they are called Jumping Cholla 

There literally are hundreds of these plants in patches. Marked trails wind between them so you can safely get a closer look.

Another odd looking plant is the Ocotillo, which is common to the Colorado Desert. They may look like a bush, but can grow up to 20 feet tall! Sometimes the plant will be brown and look like a bunch of dry sticks, but if there is sufficient moisture, tiny leaves grow from the stems turning the plant green. In the spring red flowers blossom from the ends of the branches - that must be quite a sight.  

Ocotillo with leaves

All too soon it was time to leave the park and start the final stretch of our drive on Route 10, which conveniently links to the southern exit of the park. It's a popular road and soon we were just one of many cars heading to LA. Sadly, no one got out of their car to dance like they did at the beginning of La La Land!

With all this traffic, this must be LA!

And finally, the sign that confirmed our fabulous road trip was almost over. No, not the Hollywood sign in the hills, but the road sign to Western Ave where our weekend accommodation awaited us at the delightful Coral Sands Motel. 

Mel writes contemporary fiction with a twist of mystery and suspense. For more information about her books visit her website, or sign up for her newsletter at  

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Cross Country Adventure - Day 14 - Flagstaff, AZ to Joshua Tree, California

 Day 14 was to be our last full day on the road before we reached Los Angeles, a day of driving through the desert, across miles and miles of uninhabited countryside. We'd planned a couple of rest stops but weren't expecting too much in the way of sights along the way, until on a whim, we decided to change our route for the latter part of the journey. With additional stop-offs the six-hour drive took us eleven hours to complete but it was well worth it.

Our first stop was only an hour out of Flagstaff in Seligman, Arizona.

Seligman was originally a railroad town and then became a popular stop along Route 66. However, when I-40 bypassed the town in 1978, the economic future looked grim. However, the residents of the town were not prepared to let it die and campaigned to convince the State of Arizona to dedicate Route 66 a historic highway.  In the process, Seligman became known as the "Birthplace of Historic Route 66" and is now a popular tourist destination, helped by its location at the beginning of the longest remaining stretch of Route 66 in the U.S.

One of the residents in the forefront of the campaign was Angel Delgadillo, the local barber. His barber shop is still in business and is perhaps the most popular attraction in town!

Walking through town is like walking back into the past. Memorabilia is everywhere. 

Old gas pumps
Old cars line the streets, some in good condition:

Some showing a little more wear and tear:

The Delgadillo Snow Cap is a popular place to eat. The colorful outdoor patio provides welcome shade from the ferocious heat. 

Seligman is popular with coach tours so can seem a little over-run at times. Fortunately for us, the tour coach that was there when we arrived left a few minutes later. 

Our next destination was Kingman, Arizona, which has benefited from being both on Route 66 and the I-40. There is a Route 66 museum, but by this point we felt we'd seen enough of them that we could skip this one. Instead we opted for lunch at Rickety Cricket Brewing.

After lunch the real fun began. Instead of continuing on I-40 to Needles, our original plan, we decided to take Route 66 to Oatman, which is described as "an authentic old western town with burros roaming the streets and gunfights staged on weekends. 

Narrow road leading to 180 degree turn 
The drive from Kingman to Oatman is through Sitegreaves Pass, a twisting, narrow road, with lots of hairpin turns, no guardrails and some scary drop-offs. I was glad my daughter was driving! It's not a road to be rushed, but fortunately, we saw very little traffic. 
Great views - as long as you don't look down!

I'm not sure what I was expecting, but Oatman was a surprise. For one, despite the fact we had hardly seen anyone on the road, there were a lot of visitors!  Made me wonder whether they had all come from the opposite direction.

Oatman post office

The main street in Oatman
It was a stifling hot day. So hot, the burros were even seeking the shade.

The businesses certainly had a western feel to them:

Judy's saloon

There were burros everywhere, including some little ones. They didn't pay much heed to cars. If they wanted to stop and pass the time of day in the middle of the road - well, you just had to wait until they were ready to move on. 

If we needed proof that the heat in Oatman wasn't that unusual, this poster said it all:

I don't know what the temperatures get up to in July in Oatman, but that day it hit 116 degrees! I could easily understand how you could fry an egg on the sidewalk. As soon as we got out of the car we felt we were being roasted!

It was quite a relief to get back in the air-conditioned car. We continued out of town on Route 66 through desert-like landscape until just outside of Lake Havesu City.

The city, with its large lake, is a popular tourist destination, but possibly best known now for the site of the old London Bridge, which was bought in 1968 by Robert P. McCulloch, an entrepreneur and the founder of Lake Havasu City, and rebuilt, block by block, before being rededicated in 1971.  

London Bridge - in Arizona!
The bridge was originally opened in London in 1831. I think the views from it today are probably far prettier than they were in London!

The City of London Pub
A whole British 'experience' is being created near the bridge. There is a fish and chip shop and an English pub. Unfortunately, the pub was closed and the only seating at the fish and chip shop was outside - not an attractive option given the temperature was still well over 100 degrees. 
Back on the road, it wasn't long before we crossed into California and were back in the desert - this time the Mohave Desert. 

We hadn't been back on the road for long when we had to stop at a checkpoint. Given the backseat of the car was piled high with my daughter's belongings, I had visions of us being asked to empty the car so they could check we weren't transporting anything we shouldn't be, but luckily, they just asked us where we were coming from and waved us on when we told them New York. 

After the checkpoint, we saw very little sign of civilization until we got to Twentynine Palms, a town a few miles before Joshua Tree. It was a fun drive though. Route 62 is similar to Route 66 in that, instead of the endless flat miles of the Interstates, the road dips and rises every few hundred yards, like a mini old-fashioned roller coaster. 

Our accommodation for the night was, appropriately enough, at the High Desert Motel, conveniently located on the main road through Joshua Tree. It was a welcome sight after our long day on the road.

Mel writes contemporary fiction with a twist of mystery and suspense. For more information about her books visit her website, or sign up for her newsletter at