The Getty Center in Los Angeles

The Getty Center, Los Angeles

Driven from a desire to make their growing collections and programs accessible to more people, in 1983 the J. Paul Getty Trust purchased more than 700 acres in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains. Selecting Richard Meier as architect for the Getty Center project plans evolved for a six-building campus that would bring together their programs and provide an architectural landmark for L.A.

Electric tram ascends upward to the Getty Center.
Electric tram ride up to the Getty Center.

Visiting the Getty Center is an experience that engages all the senses, and the excitement begins with the electric tram ride from the parking garage up to the hilltop campus. The brief ride is a visual treat with unfolding vistas of the campus above and the cityscape below.

The open expanse of the Getty Center’s Arrival Plaza is welcoming – full of sunlight, nature and art – and grand at the same time. Art, architecture, and gardens beckon you forward.

The Center’s main buildings rise along two intersecting ridges, providing an amazing vantage point from which to view the city of Los Angeles, Santa Monica and San Gabriel mountains, and the Pacific Ocean.

Click to see panorama of Getty Center.
Click to see panorama of Getty Center.
Woven Gold: Tapestries of Louis XIV
Woven Gold: Tapestries of Louis XIV

The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Center houses European paintings, drawings, sculpture, illuminated manuscripts, decorative arts, and photography from its beginnings to the present.

From the start, the Getty Center was imagined as a place in which gardens, and other outdoor spaces would be as integral to its overall character as the architecture. The exuberant gardens among the formal buildings bring the Center to life. Various plantings cast interesting shadows, bring fragrance to the scene, and add color to the palette of beige buildings.

The desert garden on the south promontory of the Center, a hot and arid zone, is unexpected. The plants are common in Southern California, but the composition of cactus, aloe, and succulents is exceptional. By using efficient irrigation techniques and more drought-tolerant plants the Getty has been able to cut water use by more than 30 percent.

Desert garden, Getty Center, Los Angeles
The desert garden on the south promontory of the Center.

The Central Garden is the creation of Robert Irwin, who called it “a sculpture in the form of a garden aspiring to be art.” Visitors descend into the garden along a zigzagging walkway. Underfoot, coursing down a rocky bed, a stream interrupted by waterfalls flows. The stream, whose sound varies at each crossing of the path, finally cascades over a stepped stone wall into a reflecting pool with a maze of 400 azalea plants.

Rocky stream in Central Garden, Getty Center
Stream flows along a rocky bed in the Central Garden…
A flowering maze of azaleas in the Central Garden.
… then cascades into a flowering maze of azaleas.

One of my favorite features of the Central Garden are the parasols of bent industrial-steel bars overflowing with fuchsia bougainvillea. I love the inventiveness and whimsy in Robert Irwin’s Central Garden design – a living masterpiece.

Industrial steel parasols bursting with fuchsia bougainvillea.
Industrial steel parasols bursting with fuchsia bougainvillea.

There are plenty of places to eat, from elegant dining in the Restaurant, to casual meals, coffee, and snacks. And several shops… the Main Store is found just inside the Museum Entrance Hall and offers the widest offering of books, gifts, apparel, stationery, and jewelry, along with a selection of children’s books and toys.

We are enjoying our souvenir, Seeing the Getty Center and Gardens, a visual tour of the Center with beautiful color photographs, and enjoy lending it to friends who have yet to experience the Center.

The Center is open daily except for Monday. Admission is free; parking is $15 per car.

Joshua Tree National Park

Sculpture at Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center
Cool metal sculpture at the Oasis Visitor Center in Joshua Tree National Park.

Crisp winter air and clear skies shape the day as we make our way to the Oasis Visitor Center in Twentynine Palms, CA. Our first trip to this area and Joshua Tree National Park, we are eager to begin our exploration. A helpful and informed ranger at the Visitor Center guides us on what to see and do during our 5 hour visit. We follow his suggestions and drive up to Keys View, then do two loop trails – Barker Dam and Hidden Valley.

Landscape, Joshua Tree National Park
Austere landscape as we make our way into the park.
The famed Joshua Tree of the Mojave Desert.
Wild armed Joshua Tree of the Mojave Desert.

Joshua Tree National Park is immense, covering nearly 800,000 acres. Two deserts, two large ecosystems primarily determined by elevation, come together in the park – “high” and “low” desert. Below 3,000 feet, the Colorado Desert (part of the Sonoran Desert), occupying the eastern half of the park, is dominated by the abundant creosote bush.

The Mojave Desert, higher in elevation, slightly cooler, and wetter, is the special habitat of the Joshua tree, extensive stands of which occur throughout the western half of the park. According to legend, Mormon pioneers considered the limbs of the Joshua trees to resemble the upstretched arms of Joshua leading them to the promised land.

Looking for a place to park and eat our picnic lunch we spot some massive boulders. Reading the map/guide we learn the park encompasses some of the most interesting geologic displays found in California’s deserts. Rugged mountains of twisted rock and exposed granite monoliths bear witness to the tremendous earth forces that shaped and formed this land.

Stacked boulders beg to be explored.
Stacked boulders beg to be explored.
Life survives in crevice of boulders.
Life survives in crevice of boulders.

Turns out these rock piles began underground eons ago as a result of volcanic activity. Magma rose from deep within the earth. As it rose it intruded the overlying rock. As the granite cooled and crystallized underground, cracks/joints formed horizontally and vertically. The granite continued to uplift, where it came into contact with groundwater. Chemical weathering caused by groundwater worked on the angular granite blocks, widening cracks and rounding edges. Over time the surface soil eroded, revealing heaps of monzogranite scattered across the landscape.

Perched on the crest of the Little San Bernardino Mountains, Keys View provides stunning panoramic views of the Coachella Valley from an elevation of 5185 feet. The southwest side of the ridge drops nearly a mile in elevation into the Coachella Valley. The San Andreas Fault, stretching 700 miles from the Gulf of California to the Mendocino Coast north of San Francisco, runs through the valley.

Panoramic at Keys View
Panoramic at Keys View

Driving down from Keys View we head to Barker Dam to walk the 1.3 mile loop trail. Built around 1900 to hold water for cattle and mining use, the dam today forms a small rain-fed reservoir used by park wildlife.

watering hole

watering hole man, Barker Dam Trail, Joshua Tree

Respite from the sun as it recedes behind the rocks.
Respite from the sun as it recedes behind the rocks.

Near the end of the trail right before you head back to the parking lot there is sign for the petroglyphs. The main area of the petroglyphs are right behind the sign in a big rock that appears to have a part cut out of it.

petroglyph, barker dam trail, joshua tree

petroglyph, barker dam trail, joshua tree

petroglyph, barker dam trail, joshua tree

bird_new As our day draws to a close, we head to Hidden Valley. A short, mile-long interpretive trail through an area rich with history, wildlife, and rock climbers.

Back in the early 20th century, the area around Joshua Tree got a lot more rain than it does these days. Before the land was protected in 1936, ranchers and prospectors tried to make a living in the region, and one of the most colorful was a man named William Keys. Keys built the nearby Desert Queen Ranch. He blasted his way through Joshua Tree boulders to let his cattle graze on the untouched grassland in Hidden Valley and made improvements to Barker Dam.

Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree, CA

Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree, CA

The current climate is much drier and the pastures have mostly vanished, but this short and easy hike into Hidden Valley will give you a nice glimpse at some of the region’s plants and animals.

Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree, CA

Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree, CA

Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree, CA

Located just two hours east of Los Angeles, Joshua Tree National Park is a desert getaway that boasts some of the most dramatic scenery in southern California. From the weird and wonderful Mojave Desert to the vast and stark Sonoran Desert. Joshua Tree: The Complete Guide shows readers the park’s highlights and hidden gems. Fascinating chapters on the region’s history, geology, ecology, archaeology and wildlife reveal the story behind the scenery. Gorgeous color photos showcase the park’s namesake Joshua trees. Detailed maps reveal over 20 of the park’s best hikes. An indispensable travel guide for outdoor enthusiasts and travelers on a budget.

The Best U.S. Beaches

Coronado Beach in San Diego, CA

This is the 22nd year for the Top 10 Best Beaches list, created by Dr. Beach, also known as Stephen Leatherman, director of Florida International University’s Laboratory for Coastal Research in Miami.

Coronado Beach in San Diego won first place this year. It has great sand, the warmest water on the west coast, and the iconic Hotel del Coronado (the backdrop for the Marilyn Monroe movie “Some Like It Hot”). Coronado beach has fine, hard-packed sand which makes it great for beach walking, and the beach is a luxurious 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) long. According to Dr. Beach it is popular for swimmers, surfers, sunbathers and beachcombers –  its flatness makes it awesome for skim boarding, and the minerals in the sand create a silvery sheen.

The top 10 beaches of 2012:

1. Coronado Beach, San Diego, Calif.
2. Kahanamoku Beach, Waikiki, Oahu, Hawaii
3. Main Beach, East Hampton, N.Y.
4. St. George Island State Park, Florida Panhandle
5. Hamoa Beach, Maui, Hawaii
6. Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Mass.
7. Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, Oahu, Hawaii
8. Cape Florida State Park, Key Biscayne, Fla.
9. Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island, S.C.
10. Cape Hatteras, Outer Banks, N.C.

Dr. Beach uses 50 criteria for ranking beach quality along the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific coasts. Some of the considerations include sand softness, frequency of rip currents, size of waves, wildlife, water temperature, views and vistas, the presence of oil and tar balls, whether it’s overcrowded, public safety, and well-kept grounds.

Bring along National Geographic’s Field Guide to the Water’s Edge and learn the basic science of shorelines. Read about the three ocean coastlines – Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Pacific; estuaries and wetlands; lakes, including the Great Lakes; and rivers, from the great Mississippi and Columbia to backyard streams. Identification guides and interesting information on plants, animals, shells, and other curiosities to be found along each water’s edge go with photographs and illustrations.

The book’s introductory section provides a thorough overview of the basic science of shorelines: how water interacts with land to form beaches; how various kinds of shorelines formed; why large waves are necessary to form beaches; how floods and fast-moving water alters river shorelines; how the gravitational pull of the moon and sun cause the tides; why the oceans have tides but the Great Lakes don’t; how tides affect rivers far inland; the effects of latitude and climate on the formation of shorelines, including variations in plants and animals.

Have fun and please remember to wear sunscreen.

Marinita Cantina

Marinita's Cantina in Marin County, California

New Zealand bound from San Francisco, we spent a few nights in Marin County visiting family.  Marinitas was suggested by my brother-in-law for dinner and what a treat. Jay calls it pan-latin fusion cuisine inspired by traditional Mexican dishes… works for me. Loved the “Plato vegetariano” (chile relleno stuffed with grilled corn and queso oaxaca, quinoa pilaf, chard with raja crema, sauteed trumpet mushrooms and chipotle glazed butternut squash – yummm!), Pork Tinga, and the Bistec Argentina.  A lively energy greats you at the door, is held by the waiters and makes for a deliciously fun outing.