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Pyramid Lake, Fort Tejon, Old Sacramento and Cirque du Soleil – 4 December 2016

Part 2 – California/Nevada Road Trip – December 2016

It was always going to be a long drive – from Sherman Oaks in the San Fernando Valley to Sacramento, the state capital of California.  And I had a deadline – I had to arrive at my destination in time to check into my hotel, refresh and change before heading off to a Cirque du Soleil matinée show downtown.  It was the last performance of the show in Sacramento, so there was no room for tardiness.

But I certainly wasn’t going to rush the trip; it was a route I hadn’t driven before with locations I might never get the chance to see again, so there would be sightseeing stops along the way in addition to the usual highway rest breaks.

pyramid lakeThe first stop was at Pyramid Lake and the Vista Del largo Visitors Centre.

Not to be confused with its better-known name-sake in Nevada, California’s Pyramid Lake at Gorman is a reservoir formed by Pyramid Dam on Piru Creek in the eastern San Emigdio Mountains.  It is part of the California State Water Project and is the deepest lake in the system.

Gold was discovered in the area in 1843 just south of where the dam is located today.  The reservoir wasn’t created until 1972-73 and was named for the pyramid-shaped rock carved out by engineers building US route 99 which is located directly in front of the dam.

The view from the visitor centre lookout is spectacular, and on such a clear December day, the water of the lake reflected the deep blue of the California sky.

There were no recreational activities happening at the lake when I was there, just a few sightseers pulling up in their vehicles, making the most of the scenery to stretch their legs after miles of highway.

A little further north on the I-5 was Fort Tejon State Historic Park.  This is a 1850s fort that now offers static and living history exhibits.  One of the rangers on duty suggested I don a handsome military jacket and accompanying head-gear – part of a large collection of costumes used for the living history experiences.  On reflection I probably could have done without the hat – but I loved the jacket!

fort tejonUnfortunately, since this stop was unplanned, my little travel buddy did not have a matching MJ-style military jacket to wear for our photo shoot.  (But he does have one in his rather extensive wardrobe at home!)

The parade ground and its attendant restored buildings and museum, combined with some 400-year-old oak trees, made this another very scenic break in my journey.  The fort is located in Grapevine Canyon, the main route between California’s Central Valley and Southern California.

According to the State Parks website:

The fort was established to protect and control the Indians who were living on the Sebastian Indian Reservation, and to protect both the Indians and white settlers from raids by the Paiutes, Chemeheui, Mojave, and other Indian groups of the desert regions to the south-east. Fort Tejon was first garrisoned by the United States Army on August 10, 1854 and was abandoned ten years later on September 11, 1864.”

After fuel, food and rest stops, we eventually rolled into Sacramento in the golden light of early evening.  The timing was perfect!  And our accommodation – well, that was really special.  The Delta King is a former paddle steamer that has been magnificently restored as a boutique hotel, moored at the wharf in Old Sacramento (the historic part of the capital).

Because of the season, Christmas decorations adorned all the stores and there was a giant Christmas tree on the wharf which was dressed with coloured lights that came on at dusk.  Some places you just know you are going to love as soon as you arrive – and this was certainly true of Old Sacramento.

Still, there was no time for exploring before we were due at the Golden 1 Centre for our Cirque show, Toruk: The First Flight, based on the Avatar movie.  I am a committed Cirque du Soleil fan, a member of the Cirque Club, and go to every show I can – including when travelling.

Originally my journey north from the greater Los Angeles area was to be via Fresno, where I have stayed on at least two occasions previously.  But then I discovered that Cirque’s new show based on the Avatar movie would be in Sacramento at the time of my trip, so I changed my route accordingly.  Besides, I’d never been to the state capital, despite my many trips to California over five decades!

toruk cirqueFortunately the Golden 1 Centre in downtown Sacramento is a short walk from the Old Sacramento waterfront, so I headed off happily to enjoy Cirque’s spectacular show Toruk: The First Flight.

And it WAS spectacular – boasting less acrobatics but more visually stunning light, colour, costume and prop displays than any other Cirque show I’ve seen (which is quite a few of them by now).

I’m used to all photography being banned at Cirque shows, but in this instance we were encouraged to use our mobile phones to download the show app which we were subsequently prompted to use throughout the course of the show.  I could also snap a few non-flash photos, as permitted, including one of the spectacular finale (pictured).

The Christmas lights were flashing in multiple colours as I walked back through the old town to the Delta King which was a welcoming sight, bedecked in her night lights.  After an eagerly anticipated dinner in the Pilot House bistro on board, it was time for us weary travelers to ‘hit the hay’ and happily look forward to exploring our surroundings the following day.

delta king2

Kerry Hennigan
July 2017

Further information:

15267826_10208027200612980_484552269868132657_nPyramid Lake and Visitor Centre: http://www.water.ca.gov/recreation/locations/pyramid/pyramidvisitors.cfm

Fort Tejon State History Park: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=585

Old Sacramento: http://oldsacramento.com/

Cirque du Soleil’s Toruk – The First Flight:  https://www.cirquedusoleil.com/toruk

 

 

 

Britain’s ancient landscape as painter’s muse at Salisbury Museum – Museum Crush

Source: Britain’s ancient landscape as painter’s muse at Salisbury Museum – Museum Crush

Forest Lawn, the Rose Bowl, Shambala, Vasquez Rocks and Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana – 2 & 3 December 2016

Part 1 – California/Nevada Road Trip – December 2016

In 2016 I undertook a three-week solo road trip covering parts of Southern and Central California and Nevada in the pre-Christmas weeks of December.  The route was planned for the usual ‘Michaeling’ (i.e. Michael Jackson-related) opportunities and to take in new or seldom-visited locales.  The result was a holiday that was both exhausting and incredibly satisfying.

15259499_10208012343641565_3165428888215488673_oIt began with a visit to Forest Lawn, fresh from LAX after I’d collected my rental car. Here I ordered flowers for Michael for Christmas, and bought a small bouquet to leave by the entrance of Holly Terrace with the tributes of other visiting fans.  I took photos, paid my respects at Michael’s earthly resting place and spent some minutes in quiet meditation and contemplation before taking in an exhibition at the Forest Lawn Museum.

The exhibition featured some artworks – paintings and sculpture – by Eyvind Earle who provided the concept art for Disney’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’ animated feature, which I had been enamoured of as a child.  I still have a copy of the vinyl soundtrack LP, and the movie has only recently been reissued on DVD.  Thank goodness – because my VHS copy is unplayable due to many years of viewing!

I was surprised – and pleased – to discover that photography with a mobile phone was permitted in the museum, whereas previously there had been a total prohibition on picture-taking.  So, I tucked my big camera away in my bag and happily snapped away guilt-free with my phone.

15289063_10208011160411985_2176085410641540710_oFrom Forest Lawn it was a relatively short hop to the Rose Bowl Stadium, which, as all Michael Jackson fans will know, was the location for the Super Bowl XXVII game where Michael performed his landmark half-time show.

The date was 31 January 1993 and the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Buffalo Bills 52-17, not that many people remember that.  The stat that made the history books was for the TV ratings of the half time show, when Michael’s mini concert boasted more viewers than either half of the actual game.  He also started the trend for the appearance of big name artists at the Super Bowl and set a performance standard that others have been attempting to top ever since. (1)

Although no appearance fees are paid to Super Bowl halftime performers, in 1993 the NFL and sponsor Frito-Lay agreed to donate $100,000 to Michael’s Heal the World Foundation, as well as providing airtime promoting an appeal for the foundation’s Heal L.A. campaign.  The campaign – a pre-curser to the Heal LA student charitable group co-founded by Michael’s eldest son Prince at Loyola Marymount University in 2016 – aimed to provide health care, drug education, and mentorship for Los Angeles youth, particularly children affected by the aftermath of the 1992 Los Angeles riots. (2)

I’m not sure why I haven’t been to the Rose Bowl before… but this was definitely the year to tick that off my ‘wish list’.

Arriving in LA just prior to the first weekend in December also enabled me to attend Parents Day at Tippi Hedren’s Shambala Preserve for big cats in Acton, Ca. on the first Saturday of the month.  Michael Jackson’s tiger Sabu, formerly of the Neverland Zoo, had turned 18 years of age on 20 November 2016.  As his sponsor, who has visited him every year commencing 2011, I didn’t want 2016 to close without seeing him again.

Tippi herself lives at Shambala and is usually there on Parents Days to give us all a warm greeting and to sit and chat and have photographs taken with us.  This year though the windy weather kept her inside for the sake of her health.  But the rest of us toured the compounds and enjoyed the big cats being fed their treats by the animal crew before we retired lakeside for our potluck lunch.

sabu-2-dec-2016    sabu-dec-2016

Sabu was no longer where I had always seen him previously – in the enclosure he’d shared with his sister Thriller (who died of lung cancer in 2012).  Now he was next door, so photographic angles were a little different from what I was used to.  But, thanks to having a zoom lens on my camera, I was satisfied with the results (see two of my images above).

More importantly, of course, was Sabu’s apparent good health despite his maturity.

Not far from Shambala lies the scenic area of Vasquez Rocks, a popular movie location and the place where the scenes in Michael’s ‘Black or White’ video featuring the Native American dancers were filmed.  I came here last year in October, but filming at the base of the rocks prevented me from getting to the other side – the spot where Michael danced.  This year I simply drove through the rocks to the car park on the far side and walked back through, photographing everything as I went.

Being a weekend, and great weather for hiking, climbing, biking and whatever other outdoor activities take one’s fancy, there were plenty of folks about enjoying the spectacular scenery.  A couple of guys were flying a drone over the rocks to get aerial shots, and there was even a fashion shoot in progress against the dramatic sandstone backdrop.

15369047_10208019237173899_2044835975682944359_oVasquez Rocks has a fascinating geographical and anthropological history, and if you have time, I recommend following some of the trails using the free leaflet from the Visitor Centre and reading about the Tataviam Indians who lived here from approx 200 BC to the late 1700s AD – the beginning of the Spanish period in California. (3)

In his Handbook of Indians of California (1925) Alfred Louis Kroeber wrote:
“They cannot have been numerous. Taken to San Fernando or San Buenaventura missions, they dwindled rapidly, and the few survivors seem to have been so thrown in and intermarried with people of other speech that their own language became extinct in a couple of generations.” (4)

These Native Americans weren’t like the familiar Plains Indians we saw dancing with Michael here at Vasquez Rocks.  In that instance the Rocks were standing in for an archetypal Wild West backdrop as they have done in many Hollywood westerns of yesteryear.  Only this ‘wild west’ location is just approximately 50 miles from downtown LA.

On the way back to the San Fernando Valley and our hotel, an premature exit from the freeway prompted a visit to the Historic Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana in Mission Hills, founded in 1797. (5)  It is a beautiful property (as you can see from the photo at the top of this story) with an extensive museum which is worth exploring.  In the mid-late 70s and 80s I made a point of visiting any of the historic missions that were within reach of my travels, but had never been to San Fernando Rey until now.

The legacy of the missions in terms of the local Native American tribes is understandably controversial.  The fate of the aforementioned Tataviam being just one example of dispossession, relocation and decline/loss of cultural identity or actual extinction.

15355684_10208019439218950_630511458181414996_n

Nevertheless, there were a couple of delightful surprises in store for us here… a Sweet Sixteen ceremony taking place in the mission church, and in one of the museum rooms, the old organ (on the left in the photo opposite) that was used in the classic black and white comedy movie ‘The Ghost Breakers’ (1940) starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard. (6)

Willie Best is wonderful in this film as Hope’s black manservant – a role that would definitely be considered demeaning and insensitive these days, and an example of how, historically, black actors were often typecast in dumb sidekick roles, secondary to the lead actors.  But, despite these failings, Best’s performance is a testament to his considerable comedic acting skills.  (He has the best lines in the film!)

Having arrived back at our temporary ‘home base’ of Sherman Oaks, it was time to pack in preparation for our early departure next day.  It was also time for any final photos to be taken of our surroundings – which, not coincidentally, happened to be the hotel where Kent Twitchell’s ‘Smooth Criminal’ mural of Michael Jackson was proposed to be installed. (7)

15230813_10208011185452611_3082354158303144322_nThe Courtyard by Marriott at Sherman Oaks has comfortable beds, friendly staff and a nice cafe where I got delicious, inexpensive meals on both nights of our stay here.  There are local stores within walking distance, and the Sherman Oaks Galleria is just one block away.

But that will have to wait for another visit, some other year.  After two days of busy activity, I was ready to head north – to Sacramento and California’s ‘Mother Lode’ country, where more adventures awaited my miniature travel companion and I.

Story and Photos by Kerry Hennigan
April 2017

Sources:

(1) http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-02-06/business/ct-biz-0206-rosenthal–20110206_1_super-halftime-party-doritos-zaptime-halftime-show

(2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Bowl_XXVII

(3) http://www.scvhistory.com/scvhistory/vasquez011574glenn.htm

(4) Alfred Louis Kroeber, Handbook of the Indians of California (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1925) pp. 613-614.

(5) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mission_San_Fernando_Rey_de_Espana

(6) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0032520/

(7) http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-michael-jackson-mural-at-museum-of-the-san-fernando-valley-20150618-story.html

 

 

 

Stone Sentinels of Salisbury Plain: Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral – June 2010

It was the day after the Summer Solstice and the field next to Stonehenge was still full of the camps of New Age Druids who had been present for the rising of the sun the morning before. There was even a Druid wedding ceremony underway in the car park when our tour group emerged from its bus.

Stonehenge, and the plain on which it is located, has seen the passage of history for over four millennia. What it consists of now is just the remnants of a large ceremonial centre come celestial calendar which appears to have attracted visitors from as far afield as the Mediterranean.

Evolving over centuries of usage by the ancient Britons of the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, Stonehenge reached its apogee in approximately 1930 BC – 1600 BC before falling into gradual disuse and decline.

Contrary to the belief fostered by early antiquarians, there is no historic evidence of Druidic ritual practices having been conducted at the man-made structure. Their preference was for oak groves deemed sacred to the gods. However, that doesn’t stop their modern-day counterparts from turning up in the hundreds for the traditional seasonal occasions.

Regular visitors can book tours to enter the stone circle at dawn or sunset at certain times of the year. Our visit though was in the early afternoon, after lunch and a tour of Salisbury Cathedral.

Salisbury is the perfect introduction for overseas visitors to the picture post-card English country town. The landscape is gloriously rural and undulating, dotted with livestock and adorned by thatched cottages.

13925183_10207155014848881_5643580624770200806_n
Old Sarum (c) Kerry Hennigan 2010

Just outside the town is Old Sarum, an archaeological site that dates back to pre-Roman Britain. The Romans took over the hill-top location for their own fortress, and in later ages the first Salisbury Cathedral was built within the walls of the settlement. Due to the instability of the ground on which the Cathedral foundations were built, a new Salisbury Cathedral replaced it.

This is the Cathedral constructed of massive stone blocks, which visitors (and the faithful) flock to today – a stunning medieval structure surrounded by a serene expanse of open space dotted with shade trees – Salisbury Close.

 

13876227_10207155016688927_7231882827016323030_n
Salisbury Cathedral (c) Kerry Hennigan 2010

Within the actual church there are many wonders to behold – soaring stained glass windows of myriad colours, towering columns, the great vaulted ceiling high overhead.

There is a medieval clock in a glass case, the pennants of ancient regiments adorning the walls, many burial crypts of historically notable figures, and, in the Chapter House, the best surviving copy of the Magna Carter in existence.

For those seeking a quiet place within the vast Cathedral for personal prayer and reflection, at the time of our visit the Chapel of St Michael the Archangel was signposted as being specifically reserved for this purpose.

Back out in the streets of the town, we could be forgiven for thinking we had walked in on a scene from the famous Midsomer Murders TV series. That was what Salisbury looked like to this Antipodean visitor. I expected to see Inspector Barnaby hop out of an unmarked police car and go into one of the quaint shops or pubs to investigate yet another mysterious death on his patch. Midsomer is fiction, of course, but Salisbury has the right appearance to induce flights of fancy in the first-time visitor.

However, these creative imaginings were quickly dispelled by the delicious smells of our pub lunch at one of the historic old inns. There is nothing like a good feed to bring you back willingly to the here and now. It was after tucking into our traditional roast, fish and chips or seasonal vegetable pot pie (followed by apple crumble for dessert) that we continued on in our coach to Stonehenge. The first glimpse of it on the plain just off the modern highway is unforgettable.

13902614_10207155024209115_1690515903040034800_n
The inner circle (c) Kerry Hennigan 2010

In addition to the Stonehenge monument itself, walking trails in the area wind amongst ancient burial mounds (burrows) that dot the surrounding hillsides. It is an amazing landscape for the amateur archaeologist and history enthusiast.

Of course, experts in the field have long explored the mysteries of Stonehenge and Salisbury Plain, and new discoveries continue to be made. Reinvestigation of old ones also reveals new information about the place and the people who came here – some travelling vast distances in the process.

Even without access to the inner circle of the stone temple, by walking the path around Stonehenge, you can get surprisingly close to the giant stone blocks. A low fence suggests rather than prevents access to the circle, and this is certainly no impediment to taking unobstructed photographs of the monument – and plenty of them, from every possible angle.

13934588_10207155020329018_1143273169819943887_n
The Heel Stone (c) Kerry Hennigan 2010

Sitting back by the roadway, all by itself, but seemingly pointing towards the main structure is the Heel Stone, which has been known by various names throughout Stonehenge’s later (i.e. recorded) history. This is as far as the path goes before being stopped by the boundary fence that borders the A334. But from here you get a good view back at the ring of standing stones.

It’s a lot to take in, and there is no peace and quiet to be found in the visitor centre or gift shop, which are full of fellow customers. Better to find a quiet spot at the top of the walk and sit down to contemplate one of ancient Britain’s most famous enigmas.

Take a deep breath and inhale the stuff of legends… they don’t come much bigger than Stonehenge, whatever its original purpose (or multi-purpose) may have been.

Story and photos by Kerry Hennigan

13925017_10207155045089637_3808278975091509059_n

This article was originally written for publication in my brother’s on-line magazine ‘Travelscene International’ which sadly no longer exists. I found the draft buried in a folder of documents on my work computer and, since my fascination with Stonehenge still remains (I returned for another visit in October 2012 – see photo of little MJ with the monuent, above) as do my memories of Salisbury and its magnificent cathedral, I decided to polish it up and publish it as a Note on Facebook. Now it has been transferred to WordPress for easier access by a wider audience.  I hope you enjoy it.

Kerry Hennigan
11 February 2017

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