I officially drove coast to coast! Or gulf to coast, but let’s not get hung up on technicalities.

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So what did I learn driving across America?

1.) The States are beautiful. I’ve read many accounts of road trips where people say that their main realization is that America is BIG. Even Rachael said it to me. But I honestly didn’t feel that way. If anything, driving took this huge, mysterious mass of land that I’d fly over made it into a real, comprehensible distance. I drove across the map, and it didn’t take that long. It certainly was no Oregon Trail. The main thing that conveyed a sense of distance to me was the change in geography. I went from tropical beaches in Florida, through swamps and bayou in Louisiana, to fields in Texas, plains in New Mexico, desert and mountains and red rock canyons in Arizona, finally to rolling hills and the Pacific Ocean in California. That was beautiful.

IMG_3450 2.) I like driving. When I was little, I couldn’t understand why anyone would ever go on a road trip for pleasure. I hated when my family would drive to Tahoe, and that was only 4 hours. But I loved driving across the country. It was exciting! I was always anticipating where we would go next, and tired from where we had just been, so I didn’t mind hours in the car. I didn’t get bored- when I was driving I was happy to watch the landscape change, and there aren’t many opportunities better than driving through the desert to see just how fast your car can go. (To avoid indictment I don’t think I’ll answer that question ha.) When I was in the passengers seat, I had a great time just being with the other person- talking with Rachael about everything from boys, ballet, and school, to syphilis in african-american males, religion, and our opinions on abortion; eating Twizzlers with my dad and listening to Bob Dylan. The only part I didn’t like was when I thought we were gonna run out of gas and die in the desert. Which brings me to

3.)Always have a half tank of gas. You think there will always be gas stations, but sometimes there won’t. For 80 miles of anxious, nail-biting hell. http://alilake.com/near-death-in-the-desert-and-bats-in-carlsbad-caverns/

4.)NEVER STAY IN A SUPER 8. This is of the utmost importance. Unless you like bed bugs or strange men knocking on your door at night, do not go here. Never, ever.

5.)In fact, don’t even bother with hotels. In New Orleans and San Antonio we used Airbnb, and it was the best. In New Orleans we stayed with these funky hipsters who let us use their rickety bikes to jostle and jolt down Esplanade at night into the French Quarter. It’s one of my favorite memories. In San Antonio we stayed in the dream house I never knew I even dreamed of. It was this huge, two-story spacious Craftsman that we got to ourselves because our hosts were on vacation. We just hung out with their dog, cat, and chickens and played house. Rich people house. Staying in homes instead of hotels made visiting these cities more personal. We were with locals who took the time to make lists of their favorite restaurants, bars, places to see, and things to do. Plus they checked in on us and were so friendly. Our San Antonio hosts even emailed us a list of their favorite things to do in New Orleans because I had mentioned we were going there first. It was great, and we felt totally safe in their homes. After your stay, your hosts rate you and you rate them in return through the Airbnb website, so that other users and hosts have references for future bookings. I’ll definitely be using Airbnb again. https://www.airbnb.com/

Check out where we stayed-

Hipsters with cool art and  a strange bathroom in New Orleans:

https://www.airbnb.com/users/show/988767

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Rachael hated these, but I thought they were awesome.

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Strange poo art hanging over their toilet. I guess it’s like a Rorschach inkblot test, because we were talking about it over beignets (appropriate timing for sure) and Rachael thought it was a uterus, but I thought it was a heart.

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Jesus is watching you.

IMG_3005Dream home in San Antonio

https://www.airbnb.com/users/show/698312

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I really want a blue desk now.

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6.) This is a delicious snack. Taught to me by my sister: rice cake, hummus, avocado, salt and pepper, sriracha.IMG_3873

7.) This is the best song for driving across the South:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gX1EP6mG-E]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hvKyBcCDOB4]

Whenever I hear this I’ll always think of driving with Rachael through the New Mexico night, windows down, hands in the wind, blasting this song and belting it out into the desert air.

8.) Sometimes it’s a small world, sometimes it’s a big world. Appreciate the old and the new. <3

 

Because it’s what all the cool kids do when they’re left alone on a Friday night. At 9pm.strip club1Jumbo’s Clown Room is really more burlesque exotic dancing. They strip, but it’s only down to their underwear. I write about it in http://alilake.com/stefons-guide-to-la/ . But the next night there were repercussions. Well, honesty is the best policy. Even if you have to confess while hiding your head under a couch pillow. True friends accept you for who you are and also want to go to strip clubs. Plus they give you ones to throw on the stage.

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Going to the Getty Museum is like visiting the home of a billionaire evil mastermind. Which makes sense, at least the billionaire part, because in 1982 it became the richest museum in the world, inheriting $1.2 billion from Getty himself (In 2011 the endowment was estimated at $5.6 billion.). At the time it was what the New York Times called a “small and mediocre collection of ancient and European art.” The museum’s windfall begged the question whether any sum of money could bring a museum coming so late to the game to a world-class standard, considering that so many of the great works of art were already claimed by other museums. Well I’m in no position to evaluate that- I’m no art expert, and I didn’t make it through the entire museum. But I can tell you it’s been lauded for its post-Renaissance decorative arts and the expanding photography selection, and complimented for its improving contemporary art collection, and I can give you a glimpse at what I saw.

To reach the Bond villain’s complex, you must first park underground and take a tram up the hill. Everything is white, which, in a pleasant surprise, serves only to provide a clean line to draw your eye to the dramatic architecture, contrasted against the background of panoramic views of the hills, ocean, and city,  instead of making it feel abrasively stark or hospital-sterile.

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When you reach the top you are greeted by volunteers happy to direct you up the stairs to the visitor’s center for a map. Both are much needed, because this place is huge and the layout is not immediately apparent.

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IMG_1594 IMG_1598The visitor’s center is an indoor-outdoor type room, with an entire wall open to the air. Walking through, you reach a courtyard ringed by the collection buildings.

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I knew what I wanted to see, so I went straight to the West Pavilion for “Art After 1800”.

The ground floor is European sculptures and decorate arts. Here I warmed up my sophisticated art evaluation skills by thinking such cultured thoughts as,

“Damn, that’s a large vase. Or is it an urn? What the hell do you call that?”

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And, “generous of this man to model on the toilet.”

IMG_1611From there I ascended and got the good stuff. Famous Degas, Renoir, Monet, Pissarro, Sisley, and Cezanne are concentrated in one room.

I was most excited to see Irises (Van Gogh). It’s always awe-inspiring to see paintings you’ve been looking at in books for years. It’s a pleasure to be able to examine them up close, see the brush stokes and all the different colors.

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Wheatstacks (Monet) was the same deal.

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IMG_1624This bather has possibly never taken a bath before…

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Been there.

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Rouen Cathedral, Facade (Morning Affect)- Monet

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More depression.

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There’s been a terrible understanding. I asked for her booty on a platter.

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Possibly more depression, possibly mean muggin.

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From the collections there are balconies from which you can admire the view. I immediately got lost trying to return to… anything recognizable, but that’s why I grabbed the map.

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From my vantage point I spied the sunken Central Garden, which I made it my next point to investigate. 

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This was a very cool set up for a ramp.

IMG_1700At garden level, I became obsessed with these flower-tree trellises.

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A stream winds down through trees to drop off a waterfall into a floating maze of azaleas. 

IMG_1711IMG_1709IMG_1705  The azalea maze is ringed by specialty gardens.  A path through them continues the maze effect. IMG_1715IMG_1717IMG_1720IMG_1724  Exhausted and in need of some sustenance (chocolate chip cookies thankfully sold on site), I climbed the stream path towards the tram out. The last notable thing I must show you is this waterfall-pool thing, which I think must give me the best impression of being inside a vase that I will ever get. IMG_1739

Sarah and I went to see the Watts Towers, something I had read about online, but as of yet had not convinced any of my friends to go see with me. My sell of, “Uh they’re these towers…” wasn’t very convincing. However, Sarah was game to go check them out, so we could find out exactly what they were.

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When we got there, we were like, “this is a little ghetto.” It’s obviously a poor neighborhood. Dogs just roamed loose around the park.

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Here’s what we learned: Simon Rodia was an Italian who immigrated to America at the beginning of the 20th century. Working as a cement worker and tile setter, in 1917 he purchased this triangle-shaped lot in LA. For 33 years Rodia worked in his free time to construct the Watts Towers, what he called “Nuestro Pueblo” (Our Town). Nuestro Pueblo comprises 17 interconnected structures: 3 main towers (98 ft, 97 ft, 55 ft) and 14 spires. Most of the Towers’ framework is made from scrap rebar. Rodia would bend the steel using the nearby railroad tracks as a makeshift vise. He used no scaffolding, machine equipment, welds, etc., only simple tools, pipe fitter pliers, and  window-washer’s belt and buckle. And yet the tallest tower contains the longest slender reenforced concrete column in the world. Rodia would build each tower by digging a shallow trench, filling it with cement, and embedding four upright columns. As the towers grew, he encircled the support beams with rungs, which he would then climb ladder-style to attach the next rung, decreasing the diameter with each one until the tower finished at a narrow point. He solidified the joints using wire mesh and mortar. For stability he built more than 150 flying buttresses. When the city subjected the towers to a stress test, the crane applying the force broke before any towers did.

‘ “At a hundred percent load — ten thousand pounds — Goldstone[a former aerospace engineer]’s instruments showed a horizontal deflection of the tower amounting to only one and a quarter inches,” the New Yorker reported. “The only perceptible effect on the tower was that one sliver of concrete or mosaic tinkled to the deck.” ‘

[Rodia on his towers.]

rodia watts towers

Rodia would then cover the iron bars in mesh, coat them with hand-mixed cement, and decorate using an eclectic assortment of found objects: shells, rocks, glass, tile, porcelain, bed frames, bottles, and scrap metal. In search of material, Rodia would walk nearly 20 miles down the Pacific Electric Railway right of way. Sometimes neighborhood children would bring pieces of broken glass and pottery to Rodia, but most of his material was damaged pieces from nearby Malibu Pottery or California Clay Products Company. Green glass came from recognizable soda bottles from the ’30s to ’50s: 7 Up, Squirt, Bubble Up, and Canada Dry. Blue glass was from milk of magnesia bottles. Designs in the mortar were hand drawn; flower-like imprints were made with a faucet handle.

Asked why he built Nuestro Pueblo, Simon Rodia answered, “I wanted to do something big and I did it.” Speculators credit inspiration to the festival towers of Nola, Italy, and the Pique Assiette mosaic style Rodia would have seen in his native country.

nola

[http://www.crossingitaly.net/travel/776/nola%E2%80%99s-lily-festival-festa-dei-gigli/]

The towers are now seen as an example of prodigious Naive Art, or Urban Folk Art, but at the time they caused suspicion from his neighbors. Rumors that the towers were antennae for communicating with enemy Japanese or contained buried treasure lead to repeated vandalism. In 1955, tired of the community’s abuse, Rodia deeded the property to a neighbor and retired to Martinez, California. Rodia never returned. He died a decade later.

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Walking around the Watts Towers conjured images of a mosaic fantasy land. Whimsical and romantic, it seemed something far more likely to be found dreamed up in a Disney fairytale than in South Los Angeles between Inglewood and Compton. We were too late for a tour, but I wish I could have entered the towers- to literally stand within a man’s dream, brought to life by only his persistance, ingenuity, and two hands. Watts Towers is a hidden jewel within Los Angeles, well worthy of a visit.

Tours of the Watts Towers of Simon Rodia

Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. and Sundays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

General Admission: $7.00; Seniors and Youth 13-17 years: $3.00; Children 12 and younger: FREE

Twenty visitors per tour. All tours are conducted by docents and are on a first-come, first-served basis. No tours on rainy days. Smoking, eating, or drinking inside or near the Towers fenced area is prohibited. Admission fees, days, and times are subject to change without notice. Public tours begin at 11:00 a.m. on Thursdays and Fridays when there is a pre-scheduled Visiting School Workshop.

Call 213.847.4646 for more information about the Watts Towers Arts Center-Charles Mingus Youth Arts Center Campus events, classes, and about our Visiting Schools Program and Large Group Tour arrangements.

http://www.wattstowers.org/

Simon_Rodia 35mm negative

For my second graffiti adventure I took along my friend Sarah. We went to 203 S Garey St: the middle of Little Tokyo, the Arts District, and Skid Row. There was more graffiti than our eyes could hold…

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Running of the bulls, cave painting style.

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We met one of the graffiti artists that worked on this wall! But more on that later…

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Reminds me of Edward Scissorhands.

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It’s funny if you imagine the old man sniffing up the girl’s umbrella.

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A violent rendition of Pocahontas’s Colors of the Wind.

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Three-eyed Gerber Baby monster

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“Turn back around and fix it, you love him.”

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Tie graffiti, the new yarn bombing?

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JFK doesn’t approve.

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We didn’t understand this one.

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Shadow graffiti! Very clever.

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HOTEA? AETOH? Hot tea?

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We also found these two items of contention:

Hobo igloo or art?

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Preventing wildfires or lighting up? Also, wildfires… in LA…?

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[title pic by Julie Lake]

My sister and I went graffiti exploring. I don’t think I need to write much for this post; the general message is that LA is beautiful.

Around 7th & Mateo

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Around Melrose & Martel

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The Traffic Snackiff is an essential part of any rush hour routine. You know the routine- get in your car, drive about six inches, angrily shout at other drivers, look around aimlessly, complain about how tired your clutch ankle is getting with all the stop and go. And then… HUNGRY.

Because rush-hour tends to coincide with dinner time. You’ll be happily motoring along (yeah right, what a joke), and then like a cobra, starvation will strike. It creeps up stealthily until all of a sudden  you can no longer speak, no longer think, can hardly support your head to observe that you’re was going nowhere, you are so ravenous.

That’s why I came up with Traffic Snackiff, the (what are we on now, Taco Bell?) fifth meal of the day.

There are a lot of donut shops in LA, and an inordinately high concentration of bizarre donut-something else hybrids. I’m talking donuts and fried chicken, donuts and sandwiches. Well all the places I stopped invariably seemed to be donuts and crack cocaine. But starvation is a harsh mistress. Neither sleet, nor snow (both common in LA summers), nor tweaking junkie outside, could deter me from pulling over to get my traffic snackiff: old-fashioned chocolate glazed donut and chocolate milk.

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Yum, people. Yum.

Now when when your mind starts to clear as your hunger slowly fades, and the angry buzzing in your ears dissipates to be replaced by a lazy sugar smile on your face, you may hear conversations occurring around you of the type like, “I’m telling you man, it’s fine. I’ve never done time.”

At this point it’s time to go.

But that’s just part of Traffic Snackiff’s charm. Now not only are you no longer hungry, satisfied with delicious chocolatey comfort in your stomach, now you are also happy to be in your car, back on the road, driving away from whatever nefarious den you just exited.

Traffic Snackiff™

 

Some of the places I went in LA seemed more like something out of an  SNL skit than real life…

If you’re looking for a place to stock up on supplies for your lates witch’s brew, I have just the place for you. Guarded by three large dogs, Necromance is your one-stop shop for anything fucking creepy. Located in East-West Hollywood, this store has everything: freeze-dried bats, squirrel-feet necklaces, scorpion lollipops, human vertebrae, tortoise shells, armadillo/badger limbs, and complete snake skeletons. Need some light to read by? Don’t forget to check out their lamps made out of deer forelegs. l

Necromance, 7220 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA  http://www.necromance.com/

 

Need a date with a bearded dude? Or, alternatively, like music? Brave a hallway of judgemental hipster eyes to enter Amoeba Records, the world’s largest independent record store. Come in dressed in your beatnik costume with prepared “cool” affect to browse thousands of records and pretend you know what you’re looking at. Then think to yourself, “I don’t need this shit, I have Spotify.”

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Amoeba Music, 6400 West Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA http://www.amoeba.com/

 

Are you Lady Gaga, her impersonator, or a dancer in her music video? LA’s hottest shop to get your outfit is… the store that doesn’t exist on Google Maps. Seriously, I had to do some CSI shit on my computer to see the name of a store across from it in the reflection of a picture I took. So I know it’s located across the street from Explosion (7555 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA). It gets weirder: this store also does not have a door into it. To get in you have to go next door and ask the nice middle eastern man if there’s an entrance. After telling you it’s all custom made, and none of it’s for sale, he’ll let you in through the secret back door (which he then shuts behind you so no one else can see it exists/enter). This mystery shop has everything you need to be a pop star/futuristic super hero: horse-face armor, mohawk made of quartz crystals, horned face-mask, rib-bone collar, spiky cod piece, shoulder pads for days, nefertiti chain veils, and much, much more. Trust me, in these outfits people will respect your personal-space bubble.

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If you looking for a fart machine, the perfect post card for your Mormon lover, Henri Rousseau Art stick-on tattoos, or justification for your chocolate addiction, LA’s best store for anything and everything is Wacko Soap Plant. Located on the outskirts of Little Armenia, Wacko is crammed floor to ceiling with knick-knacks, decoration, and toys, with an art exhibit nestled in the back. Go here if you enjoy browsing cute curiousities. Wacko, 4633 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, CA

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http://soapplant.com/

Finally, LA’s hottest club is Jumbo’s Clown Room. Located on Hollywood Boulevard,this little joint is packed to the brim with enthusiastic dancers and even more enthusiastic patrons. Opened in 1970 and converted to an exotic dance bar in ’82, this bar embodies burlesque without crossing into the vulgarly agressive territory. All different shapes and sizes, tattooed and pierced chicks dance/strip to 80’s hits and rock picked off the club’s jukebox. No actual nudity- the skimpiest they get down to is underwear, which I at least appreciated. Different levels of skill and style range from a duo jazz dancing to footloose, to a serious acrobat pole dancer doing the splits on the ceiling then dropping straight down to catch herself, head inches from the floor, just by the strength of her inner thighs. Goddamn. The crowd goes wild and bills fly onto the stage. No cover charge, so drink well and tip the dancers on stage. (Ps. Courtney Love danced here in the early 90’s. Cool.)l

No pictures allowed, so I found this one online. Jumbo’s Clown Room, 5153 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood, CA http://jumbos.com/

 

 

The first morning we were in Los Angeles, I woke up early and went for a run. Boy was spring in the city looking pretty.

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I love LA because everything is so colorful, from the fences, to the houses, to the fire hydrants, to the walls. Oh, the walls. Graffiti and murals are everywhere. It makes your whole world art. But I have whole posts dedicated to street art to come.

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After my glorious morning run, my father asked me to come with him to look at some outdoor furniture. I looked like this:

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It looked like this:

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Possibly an alien capsule sent from space? Not my thing. But I did get the pleasure of seeing this very awkward use of a “ballerina” in their catalogue.

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Later that night after dinner my sister and her friend convinced my dad to act in a skit where he plays a beat up psychiatrist advising her on anger management. I’ll link to that video once my sister puts it up. But let’s just say I was surprised and impressed by her make-up artistry and his improv acting. It was very strange.

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I picked my dad up from the Flagstaff airport, and off we went. He was in good form, immediately losing his phone (he was sitting on it), and mistakenly trying to go into the girls’ bathroom (I stopped him). Anyway, eventually we rolled up to the El Tovar Hotel in the Grand Canyon.

(Image is an approximation of our actual arrival.)

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The El Tovar opened in 1905 as a first class accommodation for travelers on the Santa Fe railroad, which had finally reached the Grand Canyon. As the card in our room informed us,

“Nothing was spared to make this one of the great hotels of its era. The building was completely equipped with electric lights powered by its own steam generator. Railroad tank cars brought fresh water for the hotel from Del Rio, 120 miles away; fresh fruit and vegetables were grown in greenhouses on the premises. The hotel even had its own dairy.”

Nowadays it’s a destination for thousands of short-pants ruffians like ourselves. It’s right on the edge of the canyon, prime location. Our first order of business was to check out the view.

Woah. It made us a dizzy the first time we looked into the canyon. It’s just so massive and deep, and all the different layers of color funnel your vision down, but you can’t even see to the bottom. Only in a few spots can you glimpse the Colorado River.

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Second order of business was to get some food in us. We sat out on El Tovar’s deck and looked out over the canyon while sipping on tea and munching on vegetarian chili and crab cake sliders. Twas good.

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Properly fueled, we ventured out to walk the Rim Trail. This is just a paved path that goes along the rim. My dad was mad because it wasn’t more trail-y, but it had some educational merits of its own. There are no rails anywhere, because to rail the whole canyon would  require as much metal to go halfway around the earth, then for every foot of height you’d need another bar of rail, multiplying that amount. Besides, people would climb over it anyway, so the park admitted there was just no point. However, there are plenty of copies of the book Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon, detailing the 550 deaths in the Grand Canyon, on sale everywhere you go to give you ample incentive of your own not to wander too close to the edge.

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Overlapping the Rim Trail, the Trail of Time  is set up to give you a physical metaphor in the distance you walk comparing to the amount of time it took for the Grand Canyon to form. Along the way there are plaques explaining the formation of the different rock layers. Dad helped to further elucidate in his coloquial style, “Look, so there’s where that shit seeped through”.IMG_1411

They’ve also mounted rocks from each layer and era so that you can touch them. Dad insisted we walk along petting each rock. After this first one he paused to analyze the texture and came up with his official scientific observation: “This would make a great granite counter top.”

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One plaque shouted at us that 1.2 billion years were missing from the rock record. Dad muttered to himself, “Goddamn teenagers.”

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Then he made us take this picture where “it will look like we’re falling into the canyon”.IMG_3734 Shortly afterwards he came running up behind me yelling I had to stop. He wanted to show me this ancient geological specimen he had found…IMG_3740

Ie. a piece of the road.

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We finally made it to the end of the Trail of Time and this vista point.

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Dad tripped and almost fell off the cliff taking this picture of me, evoking a shout of “Jesus fucking Christ, Dad!”

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So then we had other people take pictures of us.

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After that we went to fancy dinner back at El Tovar. You could tell it was fancy because their butter is stamped with a crest.

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Also because they had a crumb sweeper. This is someone who comes around after they take away your bread and sweeps away all your crumbs with a little silver comb so that you are aware of how messy an eater you are.

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Honestly, their food was pretty bad. My dad’s celery soup was inedibly salty, they brought him the wrong entree, and though it’s hard to mess up a salad, it just had too many over-powering components to be truly enjoyable. Even their pie was too sweet. Their chefs obviously had heavy hands.

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The next morning we got up early to go on the Cedar Ridge Hike, a Ranger lead hike down the Kaibab trail. I have to reiterate how awesome park rangers are- always so nice, with zillions of helpful and interesting things to tell you. I was particularly comforted by his presence, because everywhere on the trailhead and heading down there are posters detailing all the different ways you can die. I must also give props to their commitment to making visits to the park exceptionally educational, especially when visitors usually show up with no intention of it being so, and environmentally friendly. Nowhere in the canyon will they sell you bottled water, because the bottles end up in landfills or blown into the canyon by the wind. They provide their own water in filling stations along the trails, straight from the Roaring Springs below the North Rim.

Before we started, Dad made me take this picture of him to prove to his personal trainer that he was warming up. So here you go, Craig…

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Then we started down in a group with about 12 other people. It was a little chilly, but just in the way of nice, brisk morning air. Our ranger told us that of all the thousands of people that come visit the canyon each year, only 2 percent actually descend into it. What punks.

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The trail is unpaved, 3 miles round-trip, and descends 1.120 feet. It took us a little under 3 hours, and that was with stopping at the bottom to chill out and snack. It’s somewhat steep and rough going, windy, and it certainly would be possible to fall off the edge and die, but if you hold on to your hat and pay attention to where you put your feet, it’s so much fun! The views were spectacular, exponentially better than you get just walking along the rim. Our ranger told us interesting anecdotes about the building of the trail, some of the plants along it, and the park’s legal battles with Ralph Cameron, an original settler on the canyon.

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The hike up is a bitch, but stop to rest frequently and it’s fine. Excellent father-daughter bonding time. If I come back, I want to do the hike all the way to the bottom of the canyon, where you can stay the night at Phantom Ranch, then hike back up the next day. But that’s for another trip.

We were back on the road. Next stop: Los Angeles.

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