Saturday, November 20, 2010

Travels with the Frenchies - Two Missions – San Diego Alcala & Mission San Luis Rey, Los Angeles, Magic Mountain, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks – August 19th to August 23, 2010

We checked out of the Mission Bay Motel on Wednesday morning to follow the signs to visit the Mission San Diego de Alcala, one of the beautiful California missions established by Fra. Junipero Serra in July of 1796. It is the first and oldest in the 650 mile long chain of California missions. 

The Facade of Mission San Diego de Alcala

The Mission was originally located closer to what became Old Town San Diego, but was moved several years after it was established to its present location farther inland due to continual harassment of the Native Americans living in the area by the Spanish soldiers.

Inside the Mission Church

The Mission had a checkered history that included raids by Native Americans - one of the raids caused a major fire that destroyed the buildings. The site was rebuilt, after the raids, into a defensive quadrangle. 

Mission Courtyard Behind the Belfrey

The Mission was secularized then sold to private owners during the early 1830’s. This brought about major neglect and ruin of the Mission. 

The oldest pepper tree in California

St. Francis of Assisi

The Mission was used by the US Army from 1850 to 1862 with the main church being used as the stable.  The Mission was returned to the Catholic Church in 1862, but restoration did not begin until 1934, when only the façade of the mission was still standing. 
Katy, Me, Nicholas & Mathieu

Currently, archeological work continues to give new insights into the function of the early buildings and ideas of how the occupants of the Mission lived during the Mission’s early years.  The Mission San Diego de Alcala is now an active Catholic parish.

After touring the first Mission in California, we continued up the Pacific Coast to the small, seaside city of Oceanside. Oceanside is the closest town to Camp Pendleton Marine Base, home of the 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions.

A few miles inland from the downtown area of Oceanside is the valley location of the Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, named after King Louis IX of France. 

Mission San Luis Rey de Francia

Mission San Luis Rey was the 18th mission founded in California by the Spanish and it quickly became the largest and most populous Mission of the entire chain of Missions. 

Retreat Center Courtyard Gate

The Mission was located midway between Mission San Diego de Alcala and Mission San Juan Capistrano.  The Mission was founded by Fr. Fermin Lausen in 1798.

Stone in Mission SLR Cemetery

We stopped for our lunch at picnic tables near the water fountain in front of the Mission before touring the buildings and small museum.

We then continued up the Pacific Coast following the route of the El Camino Real – The Royal Highway used by the Spanish in New Spain during the Mission Era.  We passed through San Juan Capistrano, Ca where the earth quake shattered remains of the great stone church at Mission San Juan Capistrano are located.

We checked into “Hollywood’s Best Motel,” a small place just off Hollywood Boulevard that was close enough to go to the Walk of Fame with all the stars and names of celebrities in the sidewalk. We quickly cleaned up for a dinner rendezvous with my sister, Vicki and her husband, Marc Davis, at Palermo Ristorante Italian in the Los Feliz District of Los Angeles. 

Vicki works with the production company for the TV soap opera, “General Hospital.” On their last tour in 2008, the Frenchies were given a complete tour of the studio and technical areas used for producing the TV show.
Vicki & Marc, Daniel & Katy at Palermo Ristorante

Vicki’s responsibilities include ordering food and catering for the production team for location and late night shooting sessions – Ristorante Palermo is one of the main vendors for these events. Tony Palermo, owner of the Ristorante, was a gracious host to our party. The food was extraordinary!

If you are ever in Los Angeles, I encourage you to plan a dinner at Ristorante Palermo. 
Early the next morning, we went to find the Hollywood sign. After a quick search on the Internet, we found the route to get as close as possible to the sign from Hollywood ending up in a cul-de-sac high on the hills above Hollywood. 

The sign itself is off limits to everyone. It has heavy fencing and security cameras to prevent vandalism and trespassing.
The sign from Griffith Observatory

We then went to visit the Griffith’s Observatory in Griffith Park. Unfortunately, we arrived about 45 minutes early and had to wait in the rising heat until the observatory opened. 

Griffith Observatory
A Foucoult Pendulum
Nicholas had been reading the French translation of Umberto Ecco’s book, “Foucoult’s Pendulum” during the journey, so it was appropriate that we started our visit to the Observatory by viewing the gigantic Foucoult Pendulum just inside the entry.   
This large pendulum swings back and forth in an unchanging straight line as the planet Earth rotates under it. Little wooden pegs are set under the pendulum, slowly they are knocked over one by one as the earth moves them under the pendulum to be knocked over. One of the pegs has already been knocked over in this photo.

The building was thronged with schoolchildren, day campers from Los Angeles and many European tourists.  The interactive exhibits about astronomy and the planets inside the Observatory are all entertaining and informative. There is a planetarium theater inside the Observatory. There is an admission fee for the planetarium shows.

The Observatory has excellent – but smog obscured – views of Los Angeles and of the Hollywood sign. 

View of Los Angeles and Hollywood (and smog)

There is a sun dial in front of the Observatory that was accurate to the minute!  The orbits of planets are laid out on the sidewalk in front which gave a good example of the immensity of our solar system.

Sundial & Mathieu

Accurate to the minute!

We had our lunch in a picnic area in Griffith Park and then took quite a while to cross the city from the Observatory to Santa Monica on Santa Monica Boulevard due to the ferocious traffic on the Westside of this mega-city.  We drove through Beverly Hills and made a quick tour up and back past all the magnificent homes and estates on Rodeo Drive and several other streets in Beverly Hills while on our way.

Santa Monica Beach

When we arrived in Santa Monica, I found a municipal parking garage (much cheaper than private parking garages) then we went out to walk the boulevard.  Santa Monica has several side streets near the ocean front blocked off as pedestrians only. This creates a carnival atmosphere for shoppers and the street performers busking for donations for their performances. The family enjoyed shopping and people watching there.

Street Performer - Santa Monica 

Break Dancer - Santa Monica

We then drove south along Pacific Coast Highway looking for Muscle Beach. I am sure we went past it, but finding parking is a problem, so we did not get to see the big guys and gals with throbbing muscles.  The family did get a chance at Venice Beach to stroll by the beach front businesses and houses for awhile.

Venice Beach - Beach Shops

Our evening ended up in the town of Santa Clarita at the Fairfield Inn which was our home for two nights.
The next morning, the Frenchies went to Magic Mountain Park.  The family had purchased their entry tickets many months before during a special internet sale.  The park has many roller coaster rides they wanted to try.

My roller coaster days are long over, so I remained at the motel to read, watch cable TV and to do our laundry one more time.  I suffered in the summer heat too - the motel's laundry room had no air conditioning vent - keeping the door open just was not enough.

I got a phone call about 5 PM to come back to the entry at Magic Mountain to pick the family up.
I think the sizzling California August heat and the rides totally wore the family out!

The next day we were off to Sequoia National Park going North through the Grapevine and the Central Valley to Visalia where we headed into the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. The air cooled as we climbed higher into the mountains.

We passed through the small town of Three Rivers, our stop for the night but we continued on into Sequoia NP. Soon we were on a narrow road that was undergoing major reconstruction and improvements to the stone guard walls at the edge of the drop offs into the canyons.  Once again our federal stimulus funds hard at work renovating our National Parks and Monuments.

Road construction Sequoia NP

We stopped for lunch just inside the park, above a river.  Daniel hiked down to the river while we were stopped.  Many people were swimming in the river below.
After lunch, we continued climbing and then we entered the Giants Forest – the preserve of the mighty Sequoia Redwood trees. The Frenchies were amazed at the size of the trees, and frankly, so was I! 

Soon, we arrived at the location of the General Sherman sequoia tree – the largest living thing on our planet. 

We parked in a parking lot above the grove of trees where the General Sherman tree is located. I joined the family for the 1.5 mile hike down to the tree and to a lower shuttle bus stop.  For me, the trail was a bit steep, but happily, downhill all the way. 

The General Sherman Tree is the largest living thing – by volume – on Earth. 

The General Sherman Tree

For scale - Magnified view the tree base - Can you find the approximately 11 people in the photo of the entire tree above?

The top of the tree has broken off at 275 feet in height, but it continues to grow in circumference, which is now 103 feet (31 meters) around. The diameter at the base of the tree is 36.5 feet or 11 meters. The estimated weight of the entire tree is 1,385 tons (1,256 metric tons).  It is 2,200 years old, but it is not the oldest tree on earth, that distinction belongs to the one of the Bristlecone pine trees on the backside of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  The largest branch is almost 7 feet (2 meters) in diameter. 

The location of the tree was crucial in allowing it to become so gigantic.

Daniel & Katy among the Giants
Nicholas & Daniel at a tunnel through a fallen giant.

After wandering in the grove of giant trees for an hour or so, we walked on down to the lower parking lot to catch a shuttle bus operated by the park service to return to the upper parking lot.  We then returned to the small town of Three Rivers for the night. 

The following day, Monday, we retraced our route to and through Sequoia National Park. This time the road construction greatly delayed us as the construction crews were at work.  Traffic in both directions was held up for waiting periods of up to an hour to use the one lane of the road that was open.  We stopped for an hour or so at the Giants Grove in Sequoia NP before proceeding into Kings Canyon National Park. 

Katy at a "fire hollowed" tree.

Can you find the 3 Frenchies?

There they are !

The road in Kings Canyon NP winds up and down into very deep wooded valleys. The road requires cautious and slow driving, so we did not proceed as far as the bottom of the main canyon there. 

Kings Canyon National Park

We did stop at a beautiful mountain lake for a while before turning around to leave the park and head for our motel in a small town just outside one of the entrances to Yosemite Valley.

The construction delays and the backtracking in the route caused some irritations for all of us.  I think at this point we were all beginning to look forward to the end of the tour and the constant travel.  Three weeks living with constant motel changes and living out of a suitcase was beginning to wear us down.  Thankfully, we were still all getting along well, but we were all getting tired of the trip.

Thanks for your attention.  I hope you enjoy reading this and seeing my photos.  

Traveler Al 
Next time – Yosemite National Park, Death Valley National Monument, Las Vegas and the end of the tour.

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