Road Trip Days 5 & 6 – Sea, Studios, and Stars

The Mojave Desert is home to the largest forest of Joshua trees in the world
The Mojave Desert is home to the largest forest of Joshua trees in the world.

On Wednesday, we left the comfort of our rooms at the Grandview Resort in Las Vegas for the open road once again. We were headed about 4-5 hours west to the mega-metropolis that is L.A. With high hopes and anxious with expectation we took to the road snapping pictures of the Mojave Desert (that holds the largest Joshua Tree forest in the world) as we went. We gleefully entertained thoughts of wading in the ocean waters and seeing the sights of Hollywood, the Sunset Strip, Venice Beach, the Santa Monica Pier, and maybe a celebrity or two.

Fisherman's rods set off the end of the Santa Monica pier
Fisherman's rods set off the end of the Santa Monica pier

After driving through the picturesque desert and mountains east of the city, we arrived in L.A. on Wednesday afternoon. The first place we visited was Santa Monica Beach and pier. We walked through the warm sand down to the water, which was ice cold of course. Thank goodness we expected this. A tiny crab promptly got caught on the toe of my son’s sandal sending him into a brief tizzy to get the “bug” out of his sandal. A lesson for my son on his first ocean beach visit – yes, critters live in the sand.

We went down to the Santa Monica pier with its merry-go-round, Ferris Wheel, assorted other amusement park rides, street performers, fishermen, vendors hawking everything from rocks to “I Love L.A. T-shirts, and other characters. A friend once told me that once I went to the Caribbean that the waters off the coast of California would hold no attraction for me anymore. She was right. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great things about California and I really liked the San Diego/La Jolla area, but that green, murky water is just not comparable to the crystal clear blue of the Caribbean. Still, a beach is a beach and any time spent under the warm sun on a beach is a good time as far as I’m concerned.

We then hit Hollywood Boulevard. We walked up and down a few blocks of the Walk of Fame near Grauman’s Chinese theater. The rich history of the theater and its surrounding area was palpable in the air.

I took pictures of things like the Grauman Theater, the handprints of the original Star Trek crew, Joan Crawford, and Michael Jackson at the theater, and the stars of Ray Harryhausen (not sure anyone would recognize his name these days), Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, and Aretha Franklin.

Griffith Observatory

The last thing we did on Wednesday was to search for a place to get a good picture of the Hollywood sign. We ended up in Griffith Park at the observatory of the same name. Given all the smog I wondered how long it had been since the observatory had been operational. Upon closer inspection, it seems that the observatory is now allowing the telescopes to be used for public viewing. Even with all this viewing power at our disposal, we were still too far away for my son to get the picture he wanted so when we came across a park ranger we asked if there was any way we could get a better picture. He obliged and we were off on our quest for the perfect picture of the Hollywood sign. It took us about 45 minutes to travel about two miles to the short trail that led to a hilltop with a great view of the sign. L.A. traffic is (very dramatic pause) interesting. Fun fact, each letter of the Hollywood sign has an adoptive “A” list caretaker. I’m told this list includes Alice Cooper and Hugh Hefner.

As darkness descended we went to our hotel room to get some shuteye before our tour of Paramount Studios and the drive back to Vegas. We awoke early on day two in L.A. to make a quick side trip to Venice Beach. We were there before the street vendors had even begun to think about setting up shop. As we made our way down to the water I saw other people already up and at ‘em, roller blading, biking, walking, running, jogging, and doing yoga on the beach. Once settled on our spot we stared out in silence at the water, each of us wrapped up in our own thoughts for a few moments and then we were off for our studio tour.

Our tour guide was Taylor. Taylor kind of looked like a bad imitation of George Michael in his Wham! days and had nearly perfect annunciation and diction. I suppose maybe that comes in handy if you’re a page at Paramount Studios. It turns out that the pages at Paramount do not have scripts. It seems they are encouraged to do their own research and come up with their own version of the tour. I have to admit, even though I’m no stranger to a staged setting it was kind of strange seeing streetlights with electrical plugs and the magnitude of some of their sets was amazing. I took two

Inside one of the New York set buildings the contrast between the old wood structure saved from the fire and the new steel construction can be seen

favorite stories from this tour. One was the story of how William Shatner single handedly saved part of the New York City outdoor set in nothing but his Star Trek uniform top and his boxers. Grabbing a fire hose, he shouted orders to others on the scene and began fighting the fire himself. The second was learning how the parting of the Red Sea was done in the Ten Commandments (I have a special affinity for the golden age of cinema). The pool area that was used for the sea is now a parking lot but is still emptied of cars from time to time for ocean and water scenes that can be filmed against the giant sky mural at one end. Although the story of how Michael Keaton climbed the water tower on a dare to prove that he wasn’t afraid of heights only to find that he truly was once he was at the top and had to be brought down by the fire department, runs a close third. We didn’t see much in the way of celebrities, but we did catch a glimpse of some of the cast of the TV show Glee. I respected studio rules and refrained from taking pictures. Hey, I’m not the paparrazi.

Once our tour was done we grabbed some lunch and then, with our whirlwind two days in L.A. over, we were on the road again on our way back to Vegas. By this point we are all getting a little homesick. I checked in with our house/pet sitter and she said she wanted to steal our pets because they are so sweet and loving. With a pang in my heart for Jasmine, our dog, and Gracie, our cat, I texted her back thanking her and politely telling her she’d have to find her own cat and dog.

Next stop Vegas, and a Cirque Du Soleil Show called “Ka”. Also, keep your eyes peeled in the coming weeks for expansions on some of my vacation entries. I feel like we’ve been doing so much that I haven’t given some things enough attention and others have received no attention at all.

How do you vacation? Do you like to do lots of stuff and see everything or are you an all-inclusive type that likes to stay on a resort lounging by the pool, soaking up the sun, and maybe a little liquor?

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