The Integratron & Giant Rock (Landers)

To top off Set of Drifter Doug’s Palm Springs birthday celebration in September of 2011, we made a day-trip detour into Joshua Tree territory to check out the infamous “Integratron.”  The Integra-what, you ask?  We had wondered the exact same thing when we first heard about the mysterious spot from a good friend of ours who relocated to Los Angeles from New York.  He had visited the Integratron previously on recommendation from his East Hampton friends who moved to the California desert several years ago specifically to rescue the unique structure from demolition.  Our friend, who had previously turned us on to the interesting story behind Montauk, NY, advised us that the Integratron was reportedly built using alien technology!  Knowing by now what intrigues your trusty “Set of Drifters,” you can bet a visit to Integratron was right up our alley. 

We headed out from Palm Springs on a Saturday and drove about 40 miles north into terrain that looked quite similar to that of Arizona.  (In other words... terrain dotted with a series of one-horse cowboy towns that had seen better days.)  Finally, after being directed by a simple cardboard sign attached to a signpost, we turned off from the main “desert highway” to the even more deserted dirt road that showcased a white domed structure at its termination.  This was the Integratron.

Conceived by George Van Tassel, a former Aeronautical Engineer who tested aircraft for Lockheed, Douglas and Hughes Aviation, the Integratron is a compact building that, while humble in size, is bursting with high design and an energy that can only be described once visited in person.  According to his records, the data required to construct the edifice was imparted to Van Tassel by Venusians who visited Earth in 1951.  These aliens shared with the engineer not only their own technological expertise, but that of legendary scientists such as Nikola Tesla.  After raising enough funds courtesy of his New Age UFO followers - and buddy Howard Hughes - construction on the Integratron began in 1955.  While the feat ultimately took over 18 years to perfect, the resulting structure was to feature amazing acoustical properties thanks to a scientifically-honed shape that, today, is easily likened to a mini astronomer’s observatory. 

Combining arced pieces of laminated wood with concrete and glass, the precise techniques involved in the Integratron’s construction are said to be conducive to human cellular rejuvenation.  (Perhaps, this boast has just a little to do with the fact that the Integratron is also positioned at a geographic spot of significant magnetic charge.  Yes fellow drifters, like Arizona's majestic Sedona enclave, it’s vortex time!)  The basic principle is this:  Human bodies act as individual “batteries,” and when placed together under a domed ceiling, they expel energy that is sent up the curvature of the dome only to be redirected back down onto the others in the room.  You could almost liken the Integratron to the ultimate rechargeable battery, but without the plug! 

Aside from the fabulous feeling visitors will receive when entering the structure, the most remarkable feature of the Integratron’s design is easily its mind-blowing acoustics.  They allowed members from our group of five to hear each other’s whispers from alternating ends of the circular room a good 20 meters away!  The unique amplification of sound is courtesy of the magnificently arced ceiling that is as stunning to look at as it is to listen to!  “Sound baths” are performed here regularly, and act as relaxing massages for the mind that require the use of no less than seven quartz crystal “singing” bowls of varying sizes.  (They reportedly correspond to the seven chakras.)  Though we missed the weekend’s popular “public sound bath,” we did get the opportunity to experience a similar vibe later in our afternoon visit.  Lying down opposite one another on the floor, we had a “meeting of the minds,” our soft words entering and exiting one another while voiced barely beyond a whisper.  The trippy effect soon attracted others intrigued by the Integratron to join in our hand-stomping, guttural clicking and whistle symphony. 

Elsewhere near the Integration proper, a cantina, “hammock lounge” and courtyard suitable for performance make up a compound that fosters interaction between visitors.  Modern conveniences of home are also available should you want to stay overnight, but make sure you arrange this option ahead of time with the friendly owners.  (We are told the only drawback to staying at the Integratron is that there is no hot water - not necessarily an issue in the summer months when it is so darned hot out here!)

Public “sound baths” are held two weekends per month and are available only on a first come, first served basis.  (We advise arriving early to grab a spot.)  The energizing, once-in-a-lifetime experience can be had for only $10 USD, though private “sound baths” will set you back as much as $60 per person.  Appointments are available Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 AM until 7:00 PM, but weekend slots fill up weeks in advance.  (Note, the Integratron is closed on Mondays.)  We will definitely be making a trip back here at some point to experience an actual “sound bath” in all its glory, and to perhaps stay overnight!  Set of Drifters tip:  Need a unique setting for your next wedding, art project, album recording or retirement party?  Rental options at the Integratron prove the sky is literally the limit!  Check out their website for more information.  

What is that you say?  The mystifying Integratron is not enough of a draw for you to go so far out of your way into the middle of nowhere?  Well then, may we offer to you nearby “Giant Rock?”  The natural landscape found here is among the craziest we have ever seen... and remember, we just got back from a May 2010 trip to Tunisia to view the spots chosen to depict otherworldly “Tatooine” in the Star Wars series! 

Located only a few miles northeast of The Integratron, “Giant Rock” is actually attributed as the spot where George Van Tassel received word from the Venusians to construct the dome!  He had been drawn to the location by an eccentric German miner named Frank Critzer who dug a home for himself underneath the rock and lived there for years!  Those must have been some restless nights for Critzer for “Giant Rock,” with its mass of more than 6,000 sq. feet, has been dubbed the “largest free-standing boulder in the world!”  We don’t doubt it.  The jagged granite beast towers seven stories above anything else on the horizon, though to absorb its enigmatic surroundings, you’ll have to do a little bit of maneuvering!  The multi-forked dirt path toward “Giant Rock” is bumpy and dusty, and perhaps not suitable for all cars.  Still, when accompanied by the Integratron “sound bath” soundtrack, the expedition is entirely awe-inspiring!  We slowly coerced our way through a series of crunchy dips and turns until our faithful car was deposited out onto a flat plain that more resembled a lunar landing site than a desert back road.  The monolithic boulder actually experienced a major fracture about 10 years back and as visitors drive toward it today, they will undoubtedly be blinded by the light that reflects off the gleaming white surface of the split rock.

Aside from its Van Tassel/ alien connections, “Giant Rock” has also been a powerful site for nearby Native American communities for more than a thousand years.  The “split” recorded in the early part of this millennium was seen by local tribe elders as a sign that Mother Earth is not entirely happy with the way we’re handling things! 

Set of Drifters tip: 
This spot is clearly popular for youngin’s looking to get their drink on, and for off-roading dirt bike types.  Don’t be surprised if a number of them zoom by during your visit.  You would be wise to get out of their way since it did not appear they cared one way or another what might be in their way! 

Set of Drifters video:  Check out our YouTube channel for video from this event!

The Integratron - 2477 Belfield Boulevard, Landers, CA  92285, (760) 364-3126,

Giant Rock - about three miles northeast of the Integratron (ask the owners for a map), Landers, CA  92285

Winchester Mystery House (San Jose)

Located in the Northern California city of San Jose, the infamous Winchester Mystery House has eluded your Set of Drifters for many moons.  Finally, on our way back home from a weekend trip to San Francisco in January 2012, we managed to carve out enough time for a brief visit to the haven of bizarre architecture.

After completing directions for the roughly 45-minute drive from SF, we were actually quite surprised to find the intriguing manse exposed so prominently on a main road.  I guess we imagined any “Mystery House” would be tucked away high on a hill, not accessible only a mile away from the bustling 101 Freeway!  In retrospect, it makes perfect sense.  The more modern development that has sprouted up around the Historical Monument is most likely the answer to the hundreds of thousands of tourists who flock to this attraction each year.

For those of you who don’t know the story of the Winchester Mystery House, it goes something like this:  Sarah Winchester, the sole heir to the William Winchester rifle fortune, was living on the East Coast at the time of her husband’s passing in 1881.  After visiting with her psychic, Sarah was informed that the souls of the people who had been killed by Winchester guns were (understandably) angry.  To appease them, it was revealed to Sarah that she must move across the country to California and began construction on a house that would never be finished.  Apparently, in order to confuse the souls’ negative energy so that they could finally attain eternal life, Sarah would have to transition the preliminary construction of the house into a series of never-ending renovations!   (And yes, my friends, renovation continues to this day, even long after Sarah’s demise in 1922!)

Aside from the never-ending corridors that join up over 160 rooms, what makes this place so interesting is Sarah’s unnerving attention to detail.  As you can probably already surmise, Mrs. Winchester was quite superstitious, with lucky number 13 being her favorite.  You can see the number correspond to almost everything in the house, from panel divisions in a pane of glass to the number of rises in a typical staircase.  Even the chandeliers of Sarah’s house have been customized to include a 13th arm!  (Set of Drifters tip:  The loon was also fond of spiderwebs, and you’ll see the motif replicated throughout each of the four floors!)

Since our tour group was relatively small, we found it difficult to sneak off-the-cuff photos inside the mansion.  Still, the information provided about the many machinations of the eerie dwelling will keep any guest more than interested.  Be on the lookout for doors and window shutters in the “Séance Room” that open onto nothing, false-front cabinets and, in some cases, stairwells that go nowhere but up to the ceiling.  These were just some of the architectural tricks Sarah used to ensure that her house was never quite finished!

One of our favorite stories involving Sarah’s faith in the “unknown” unraveled shortly after the treacherous earthquake of 1906 trapped Mrs. Winchester inside her bedroom.  Taking it as a sign from God that she no longer work on that part of her house, Sarah simply asked her construction staff to shut down the entire front section and start work on a completely new wing!

Mrs. Winchester’s small army of servitude included a number of permanent woodworkers, plumbers and other contractors who were on hand to carry out the latest of Mrs. Winchester’s architectural whims!  (Rumors suggest that anyone questioning Sarah’s often-superfluous designs would be immediately removed from their employment.  Ouch!)  It was a bit hard to fathom that any one single person would need so many people working for them around the clock, but if the interiors of the Winchester Mystery House are any indication, these workers were rarely taking it easy!  Set of Drifters tip:  While touring the mansion, be on the lookout for some rather impressive Tiffany-glass stained windows and that cool Lincrusta-Walton “wallpaper” fashioned from thin sheets of wood!

The Winchester Mystery House currently offers two different tours.  The Mansion Tour ($30 USD for adults and $20 USD for children aged 6-12) is comprised solely of a walk through the house, while the Grand Estate Tour offers those interested with a “behind-the-scenes” look at the on-going restoration of the classic Queen Anne Victorian architecture . This option is slightly more expensive at $35 USD for adults and $30 for children.  Photos are not permitted inside the house no matter which tour you are on, so we recommend the shorter trek, partnered with a self-guided tour through the gardens.  Here, pre-recorded messages from “former” employees of Mrs. Winchester share more of the macabre maven’s idiosyncrasies.

The Winchester Mystery House is open 8:00 AM until 5:00 PM with extended hours until 6:00 PM in the spring and until 7:00 PM in the summer.  Ultimately, we would love to come back and take one of their “flashlight tours” by night!  These occur every Friday the 13th, and also on Halloween.  Just remember, don’t forget your death certificate!  Whoops - wrong place and ride!

Set of Drifters video:  Check out our YouTube channel for video from this event!

Winchester Mystery House - 525 South Winchester Boulevard, San Jose, CA  95128, (408) 247-2101

Unarias Academy of Science (El Cajon)

Living in Southern California certainly has its advantages.  There is so much on offer and it is very easy to go for a short drive and feel like you have journeyed somewhere thousands of miles away.  And if you’re lucky, you might even find a place that takes you out of the world as you know it!

The Unarius Academy of Science is located in a suburb of San Diego called El Cajon.  For all of you not in the know, the Unarius “New World Teaching Center” has existed since the late 1950’s, founded by Ruth and Ernest Norman as a non-profit organization dedicated to the New Age philosophy of reincarnation coupled with an understanding that our planet exists to be nurtured by fellow “Space Brothers.”  Whether you believe in UFO’s or not, the folks behind UNARIUS (Universal Articulate Inter-dimensional Understanding of Science) have created something truly unique, and totally up our alley!

The Unarians specialize in dressing up their swirl of cozy New Age ideas in audacious visuals and heaping doses of pomp.  Throughout the years, they have published over 1,000 books and have created hundreds of different television programs that are often aired late at night on Public Access Television in the United States.

Their late 1970’s film The Arrival has achieved a very large following amongst believers and other Sci-Fi buffs thanks to its colorful fantasy visuals that, at the time, incorporated state-of-the-art technology.  Archangel “Uriel” (represented so often in books and film by the late Ruth Norman) is known for her wildly spangled outfits and bouffant wigs of every spacey shape and color!  Note:  Unarius does not refer to itself as being any one religion, nor do they discredit any of them.  Instead, the incorporate each religion, and the teachers behind them, into their science-based philosophies, referring to each school of belief as "cycles."  And thus, on the precipice of a new decade in December of 2009, we ventured down to El Cajon to check out their
interplanetary view on living!

Taking a tour of the Unarius Academy’s groovy spectacles is encouraged by the friendly volunteers who are usually on hand, though visits by appointment are preferred.  One of our favorite pieces was the "Future City” diorama, a large blinking 3-D map that represents what Earth will look like once it receives enlightenment from extraterrestrials of 33 other planets in our brotherhood!   (Apparently monuments from the future will resemble lipstick cases and antique brooches!)

Another exhibit depicted a large Tesla coil that, when plugged in, featured some pretty cool miniature lightening effects similar to what you might have found in the “blacklight” section of Spencer’s Gifts back in the ‘80s!  Doug grooved on the “Cosmic Generator” and the “Frequencies of Flame” set which showed the path that one must pass through on their journey to self-knowledge... or something like that.  Of course, the best part of our tour was a special trip into "Atlantis,” a secret room that featured not only a series of colorful murals, but a charming bust of the Archangel Uriel herself!

The Unarius Academy also features a store that is chock full with an array of books, videos and DVD’s, as well as cool “starship” pins and other Unarius wares.  We especially enjoyed browsing through the photo album that boasted the amazing costumes and sets from decades of psychodramas put on by the Unarias team.  What a hoot!

Classes from the Unarius Academy on past lives, reincarnation, etc. are available from the center, but you can also check them out online if you live too far away!
  Set of Drifters tip:  Be on the lookout for the Unarians’ groovy Cadillac which can often be seen driving around town - complete with a mock UFO attached to the roof!  Happy new decade Space Brothers, take us away now!

Unarias Academy of Science - 145 South Magnolia Avenue,  El Cajon, CA  92020, (800) 475-7062 or (619) 444-7062

Disneyland (Anaheim)

As you may have read in our “travel ethos,” places that attract hordes and hordes of other tourists are usually nowhere near the top of our “Favorite Places” list.  And yet, we absolutely love Disneyland, and more recently, its adjoining park Disney’s California Adventure.  So what gives?  In short, it’s Disney’s uncanny ability to blend the retro kitsch of decades past with intriguing new rides and modifications that assure the park’s relevance year after year.  Add in an unparalleled attention to detail and cleanliness, Walt Disney’s ever-present obsession with “Good vs. Evil,” a little bit of “pixie dust magic,” and you’ve got the makings for an incredibly fun-filled day.

Collectively, your Set of Drifters have probably checked out the “Happiest Place on Earth” at least 30-40 times, covering just about any time of the year.  In fact, one of the things that makes Disneyland such a candidate for repeat visits is the fact that it changes, quite drastically, from one season to the next.  This is perhaps most obvious in the Fall when back-to-back holidays help transform the Southern California destination into a spirited mélange of Halloween and Christmas.  (Set of Drifters tip:  If you visit in December, be on the lookout for dancing human “snowflakes.”  They’re hilarious.  Of course, in addition to their many other “how-did-they-do-that?” feats, Disneyland Imagineers have also recently found a way to make “real” snow fall inside the Magic Kingdom multiple times each night!)

While everyone has their favorite Disneyland ride, any glance at those long queues will suggest your “favorite” is shared by thousands of others as well.  As for your “Set of Drifters,” you’ll most likely find us braving the crowds for The Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Pirates of the Caribbean, It’s a Small World, and especially, Space Mountain or the Matterhorn.  (Set of Drifters tip:  A recent renovation of the Matterhorn’s bobsleds has both sped up the cars, and eliminated that awkward need to sit touching the person in front or back of you, unless you like that sort of thing.)  That being said, we’re open to checking out just about anything Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure have on offer, especially now that the latter has opened up their kitschy new “Cars Land.”

Of course, if you’ve arrived on a particularly busy day - like we have on more than a few occasions, we offer you a few suggestions that should help make the most of your rather expensive visit.  And thus, without further adieu, we offer the Set of Drifters Disneyland/ California Adventure DO’s & DON’T’s...  “Permane ser sentados, por favor...”

DON’T panic!  Even if the park is swarming with people, chances are good that you’ll still get to see most everything you’ve come for.

DO arrive early.  Disneyland opens most days at 8:00 AM.  Though it’s not always easy battling Los Angeles traffic, if you can wake up early enough to get a head start on your Disney day, you’ll be one-up on thousands of others who roll in around 10:00 or 11:00 AM.  As soon as you enter the park, head on over to the most popular rides like Space Mountain or Splash Mountain, both conveniently located at opposite ends of the park.

DO use FAST PASS.  This system is (mostly) genius and allows you to get vouchers that help you legally “cut” in line at certain intervals throughout the day.  Newer or revamped attractions like Star Tours may be so busy that the only way you’ll get to see them is by using FAST PASS.  FAST PASS tickets do not cost you anything extra, and are available for most big attractions.  They are distributed per person approximately every 1 and ½ hours depending on your first FP retrieval.  Though it will require you to canvas the park back and forth a number of times, use FAST PASS as much as possible to maximize your ridership, particularly for “top attractions” that may ultimately disappoint you in the end.  (Indiana Jones comes to mind).  Come on, a little exercise never hurt anyone!

DO opt for “Single Rides” when all else fails.  On our most recent visit in August of 2012, even the FAST PASS wait for the Radiator Springs Racers Ride (inside California Adventure’s new Cars Land) was too insufferable to muster.  Instead, our party of four hopped into the “Single Rider” line, where after only 40 minutes, all of us got to enjoy the innovative thrill hours before others who wouldn’t bear to be apart for more than five minutes!

DON’T get kicked out.  Booze is not permitted inside Disneyland, so unless you want to be extradited from the park like Set of Drifter Brady was in the summer of 1996, leave that 6-pack of Corona at home!  If you must have a little tipple - and believe us, on crowded summer days, you absolutely will - just head on out to “Downtown Disney” where any number of restaurant/ bars await you.  We like the Uva Bar for tasty drinks and bar snacks, as well as Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen!  Just remember to have your hand stamped on your way out from the park, so you can head back in after hammering away a few rounds of “Purple Haze Punch.”  (Set of Drifters tip:  Of course, if you are park-hopping into Disney’s California Adventure for the day, multiple outlets will serve you alcohol here.  They even have a "Napa VAlley"-esque Winery in tap, or barrel as they case may be!)

DO ride on the Jungle Cruise and see the “Enchanted Tiki Room.”  Adventureland is Set of Drifter Brady’s favorite part of Disneyland, though ironically, not for the rides.  How many times can you really sit through those corny “Jungle Cruise” jokes?  Well, if long lines are keeping you away from some of the bigger attractions, Adventureland is the perfect place to bide your time.  The Jungle Cruise never seems to be more than a 15-minute wait - and the Enchanted Tiki Room, in all its retro-goodness, is the perfect place to rest your weary feet for a spell!  (Set of Drifters tip:  If night has fallen and you cannot move through the park thanks to some damned parade, why not try the Jungle Cruise by dark?  We promise you that it’s an entirely different experience.)

DO take chances.  If all else fails and the queues are just too grandiose for your crew to endure, why not investigate the lesser-known attractions that you usually by-pass time and time again?  On a recent visit, this even meant a return to the classic Michael Jackson 3D short film Captain EO!  Another Christmas, with the park rammed with miscreants who should have been out holiday shopping, we managed to experience the rarely-seen Native American village (on a trip around the "Rivers of America"), the “underground” caves of Tom Sawyer Island, and even the bizarre "Fiddle Show" at the Golden Horseshoe Revue.  The latter was nothing less than a rootin' tootin', toe-tapping, hee-hawing good time!  (“I’m dreaming of a... white trash hick Christmas.).

DON’T be afraid of the Haunted Mansion.  Seriously.  But DO check it out during the Fall when it gets its annual “Nightmare Before Christmas” makeover.

DO plan ahead if you want to eat at the Blue Bayou.  Reservations for this iconic, and expensive, New Orleans-themed eating spot are very hard to come by.  (Truth be told, the Blue Bayou is often booked out days in advance.)  Nevertheless, if eating lunch “inside” the Pirates of the Caribbean is your thang, make this your very first stop of the day.  There is a slight chance you may get a table outside of peak lunch or dinner hours.  Another option with a similar vibe is Cafe Orleans.  The food here is pretty darn tasty, and at prices considerably lower than the Blue Bayou.

DO check out the Disneyana store on Main Street, USA.  This is the only Disneyland shop we never miss, as it’s the best place to find great books, DVD’s and reproduction prints of attractions that have since gone by the wayside.  If you’re lucky, you might even find some merch featuring SHAG’s recent Anniversary renderings of the Enchanted Tiki Room and Haunted Mansion!

DON’T bother with Toon Town, unless you, uh, like that sorta thing.

Disneyland is open every day of the year, however park hours change almost daily.  You really need to confer with their website to plan your visit.  As of February 2012, 1-day/ 1-park tickets were going for a whopping $80 USD for adults and $74 USD for children (aged 3 to 9).  Park-hopper tickets, which also get you into Disney’s California Adventure across the way, will set you back $125 USD for adults and $99 USD for children.  (Ouch!)  Keep in mind that parking in the Disneyland garage is at an additional cost, making this a very expensive sojourn.  Access usually costs around $15 USD per car, though on one visit, we actually got out of the fee when our friend faked a cry and stated that she had traveled all the way across the country, but had only budgeted for the price of the entrance ticket!

Disneyland - 1313 South Disneyland Drive, Anaheim, CA  92802, (714) 999-4565

day-trip to Santa Catalina Island

For those who live in the city of Los Angeles, a day-trip to the elusive Santa Catalina Island is often dubbed as one of the city’s “hidden gems!”  Ironically, thanks to the relative ease in daily transport to and from the island, Catalina is not so elusive after all... nor is it really much of a “gem,” unless you enjoy surrounding yourself with hordes of other tourists vying for a spot on one of the many chartered cruises of the harbor.  Still, for those looking to escape the rat race for a day, you could do a lot worse.  After completing the almost two hour ride from Marina Del Rey to the port city of Avalon, visitors will undoubtedly feel far removed from the hub-bub of LA, and oddly, civilization in general! 

As soon as we hopped off our boat in Avalon on a trip to the island in August of 2010, we could see the place had potential, yet on such a cloudy day, it did not show through right away.  Boats in the cluttered harbor cozied up to the local floating gas station, all with the aim of ferrying around the minions of tourists who ascend upon "the rock" each and every day.

The beginnings of the touristy Catalina that we enjoy today began in 1887 when developer James Lick purchased the island for a sum of $200,000 USD.  (The land had previously been occupied by Native Americans, smugglers and other seafaring creatures for over 7,000 years!)  William Wrigley, Jr., of chewing gum fame, arrived on the scene in the early part of the 20th century and infused the island with added dough in hopes of further promoting tourism.  His contribution certainly helped to put Catalina on the map.  Today, the island attracts over 1 million visitors each year, many of whom plunk down hard-earned cash on the touristy goodies, sumptuous cinnamon rolls and sugary candy belts proffered along the port city’s main thoroughfare.  And while Catalina certainly thrives off tourism, a year-round population of 3,696 also help to keep “the rock” afloat financially.   (85% of the island’s residents live in Avalon.) 

One of Wrigley’s most lauded additions was the majestic Sugarloaf Casino and dancefloor.  Sadly, the space proved not large enough for the unexpected influx of tourists and was razed in 1928.  The lovely Art Deco "Catalina Casino" took its place in 1929, and has acted as a landmark of the island ever since.  The attractive building houses not only a theater on the ground floor, but also the "world's largest circular dancefloor" on the top.  We had hoped to tour the legendary space, but the whopping ticket cost of $36.00 USD per adult kept us at bay, literally.

Instead, after a yum-yum seafood-heavy lunch at Armstrong’s, we opted for a glass-bottomed boat ride around the cove of Catalina’s harbor!  The seaweed and kelp forests below attracted minions of fish, though none as interesting as the ones showcased on the odd laminated menus available on-board.  While in the end it was somewhat of a lackluster experience, we did find some humor in feeding the fish via a series of weird holes that joined the deck of our vessel with the sea below.  

Our trusty boat later stopped at a natural breakwater frequented by a clan of pelicans, and their plentiful defecations.  It was then that the sun finally started to poke out from the clouds, suddenly electrifying both Avalon’s skyline and the many tourists on-board.  Returning back to Avalon, we briskly accomplished some shopping, and a cocktail or two, and then headed back toward the harbor where our friend Sarah checked out a cave that was really only a false front!  Nearby, the rest of our crew spotted a “garibaldi,” one of the rare orange fish that eluded us earlier on the glass-bottom boat.  It seemed that our adventure was just heating up, and yet, ultimately it was time to hit the water and return back to civilization. 

The boat ride back was really special as it gave us the opportunity to closely pass by an incredible ship sailing its way back to “the rock” for the evening.  Of course, the sailboat was just the appetizer for a hole pod of dolphins that met up with us later on in the trek.  There must have been at least 50 of these beauties following us, jumping up and out of the water on both sides of the ship.  A buoy of seals rounded out the cinematic journey back to Los Angeles that somewhat overshadowed our entire day on Catalina!

The Catalina / Marina del Rey Flyer departs at 9:00 AM from the harbor of Marina del Rey with return trips offered from Avalon at 5:00 PM and the port of Two Harbors at 4:00 PM.  Prices are $89 USD for adult round-trip passage and $69 USD for children.  Check their website for current schedule and updated seasonal closures as the ferry does not run every day of the week! 

Since Catalina limits car usage to locals only, rental “golf cars” are available within walking distance of Avalon Harbor.  Costs are high at $40 USD/ hour for a four-passenger cart, and $60 USD/ hour for a six-passenger cart.  Two-hour minimum rentals are common, and many outfits accept cash only! 

Set of Drifters tip:  Catalina Island is much bigger than it looks, and if thrill-seekers can manage an escape from the port city of Avalon, they will be rewarded with many other attractions more akin to a “hidden gem” status.  The island’s official website is completely thorough, highlighting a seemingly endless list of activities we did not have time to encounter.  And thus, for a more enjoyable visit to Catalina, we recommend staying overnight!  Nobody likes to feel rushed, and the added hours may allow for a drive to see the island’s famed “wild buffalo” population, or at the very least, the opportunity to experience the “downtown Avalon nightlife.”  (See “sips” for more information.) 

Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce - 1 Green Pleasure Pier, Avalon, Santa Catalina Island, CA  90704, (310) 510-0500,

Catalina / Marina Del Rey Flyer - 13737 Fiji Way, Marina Del Rey, CA  90292, (310) 305-7250,

Armstrong’s - 306 Crescent Avenue (overlooking the water on Avalon Bay), Avalon, Santa Catalina Island, CA  90704, (310) 510-0113,

hiking at Humber Park (Idyllwild)

The hills are alive with the sound of... Red-breasted Sapsuckers.

Who knew Idyllwild was such a hotbed of hiking activity?  Well, apparently many.  In fact, the general area is a stop-off point on the Pacific Crest Trail which runs 2,663 miles along the highest points of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges miles from the US border with Mexico all the way up to Canada!  Spend any afternoon in town and you will undoubtedly catch weary, sweating trekkers passing through for a quick bite or, hopefully, a shower.

But even if you aren’t a die-hard adventurer like these long-term steppers, there are still plenty of wonderful opportunities for day-trip jaunts in and around the area worthy of your time - and not just for the exercise and peace of mind.

One of the unique things about this area that makes it so different from other nearby mountaintop destinations (Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear come to mind) is the fact that mammoth San Jacinto Mountain is located in the middle of the Sonoran, jutting up from the desert floor of Palm Springs almost as if a vertical wall.  Thanks to this geography, the vegetation found through Idyllwild is a unique mix of lowland succulents and high altitude conifers.  With dirt heavily comprised of sand particles, you’re bound to find as many yucca trees during your expedition as Juniper pines.  And this dichotomy makes traversing through the craggy paths of Idyllwild a wonderful opportunity for those looking to check off rare species from their bird, fauna or botany-watch lists.

Perhaps the best place in town to catch a trail is from Humber Park, located in the shadow of mighty Tahquitz (or “Lily”) Rock at the end of Fern Valley Road.  We had our hearts set on the “Devil’s Slide Trail” (3E05), which takes pilgrims on a 2.5 mile steep incline up to Saddle Junction.  From here, those well-equipped for overnight camping can head onto Wellman’s Divide, and eventually the peak of San Jacinto that, on the other side, hooks up with the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (see “Palm Springs” for more information).

Since Devil’s Slide had been categorized as “Intermediate” and we had only saved half a day for the task (after downing a few beers at the Mile High Cafe - see "eats"), we decided to scale back and enjoy the Ernie Maxwell Trail (3E07) instead.  This is an easy 2.5 scenic hike (one-way) that whisks you along a southern ridge at 6,100 ft. - though only changes in elevation about 700 feet altogether.  This journey supposedly can wrap you back around into town, though we chose a spot about an hour and a half in and turned back to get back to our car.  Set of Drifters tip:  Expect some pretty impressive “Alpine-esque” views, a dazzling array of plant and tree species - and enough sun-drenching to make you wish you’d brought a wider-brimmed hat!  (Supposedly only 20% of the trail is without shade, though we beg to differ; it felt more like 45% to us.)

The aptly named “Suicide Rock is another popular nearby hike-to-point, most notably for rock climbers.  While we can’t really recommend this particular adventure since we did not make the short drive out to Pine Cove to check out the Deer Springs trailhead, we hear parking is much easier here than at Humber Park.

And speaking of which...

To hike “Devil’s Slide” or the Ernie Maxwell Trail from Humber Park, you will first need to obtain an “Adventure Pass” for your car from any number of outlets in town.  Costing only $5 USD/ day, we purchased our windshield placard from the Fern Valley Emporium, an antique must-shop very close to Humber Park (see "goodies").  You will absolutely not want to forget this step, as fines are a hefty $60 USD if you do.  An additional permit is required to enter the San Jacinto Wilderness on the “Devil’s Slide” trail.  You can find more information on this, as well as overnight camping regulations, in the website link provided below.  Set of Drifters tip:  Don’t forget to call the Idyllwild Ranger Station for current weather and trail conditions.  We imagine a rainstorm would make much of this area difficult to say the least!

P.S.  Don’t forget the water!!!  The best (read: only) spot in town to stock up on supplies is the aptly-named Village Market.  You’ll find pretty much everything you’ll need here, though in limited quantities.  May need to switch out your favorite brand for the weekend.

Humber Park (trailhead for Devil’s Slide and Ernie Maxwell trails) - located at the end of Fern Valley Drive (accessible via North Circle Drive/ South Circle Drive), Idyllwild-Pine Cove, CA  92549, (909) 382-2921,

Suicide Rock trailhead - located off of Highway 243 at Deer Springs Road, Idyllwild-Pine Cove, CA  92549,

Village Market - 26000 California Highway 243, Idyllwild-Pine Cove, CA  92549, (951) 659-3800

Danish Days Festival (Solvang)

Looking for the perfectly unique and weird day-trip to spice up your weekend?  Why not relish in the Scandinavian cultural artifice that is Solvang, a small central Californian town located in the beautiful Santa Ynez valley that is set to celebrate its 100th birthday this year!  Gift shops featuring everything from traditional costumes to high end crystal vases vie for attention with low-rent souvenir shops that seem better suited for San Francisco's Pier 39!  Of course, our favorite spot was the “scary doll store,” a toy shop busting at the seams with frightening and/ or inappropriate porcelain creations.  Maybe it’s just us, but displaying a toy depiction of Josephine Baker’s "Banana Dance" in your child’s room is perhaps not such a good idea!  Upping the worrisome ante were the raggediest Anne and Andy we had ever seen; nightmares to follow.  But of course our favorite doll had to be the highly detailed Little Boy Blue who appeared to have just crapped his pants!   Perhaps he had downed too much candy from the cutesy-poo fudge kitchen next door!

Little known fact, Set of Drifter Doug is actually of Scandinavian descent!  Therefore, it should be of no surprise that while in Solvang we did a little food shopping at one its sophisticated markets.  There are a number of them in town selling everything from Swedish jams to Norwegian lefse.  We opted for a few packages of those little syrupy waffle cookies.  Yummm...

Solvang not sounding sweet enough for you yet?  Then wait until mid-September and the village’s famed "Danish Days,” though we assume no liabilities resulting from kitsch overload!  The festival, which is held during the third weekend in September, is clearly the town’s biggest celebration of the year, and on that fateful Sunday afternoon in 2009, we were treated to a variety of competing stimulation.  Locals dressed in traditional Scandinavian garb were everywhere!  (Hhmmm, it's a wonder those red knee-high socks never really caught on stateside!)  Real live musicians provided ethnic tunes from a bandstand while freaky puppeteers performed in head-to-toe lion costumes nearby.

And who could forget that authentic, yet entirely disturbing, Viking tableau which we later dubbed “Little House on the Nordic Prairie?”  It was here that we snapped what could possibly be the best photograph ever of a young teenage girl (or boy?) dressed in ethnic garb that made her/ him look just like Lady Gaga!

But the lunacy did not stop there.  Soon turning the corner was a parade of toddlers singing “It’s A Small World” from a 4-H float poised inside a flatbed truck.  The word “SWINE” blared from a wooden silhouette of a pig that hung from the side of the float as the cheery music piped in from each of the village’s cleverly hidden speakers.  It was an insanely trippy experience indeed.  Yes, Danes do it better!

There is something to be said about Solvang.  Jeg elsker De. (In Norwegian, this means “I love you.”)  And yet, the kitsch had to stop flowing at some point!  (After all, our weekend had already included a a visit to the treasured Madonna Inn further north - see "digs" and "eats.")  On the way home we drove through the lovely Santa Ynez area and stopped off at Lake Cachuma.  Ahhhhh, California rocks!

Set of Drifters tip:
  Don’t bring the family!  When each of your “Set of Drifters” had visited Solvang previously as children, we both experienced knock-out, drag-out fights with our families.  We were worried that there was some sort of bad vibe nexus in town and that we too would get into a fight while visiting.  Luckily, the peculiar Rose Nyland-style goofiness kept any such discontent at bay!

Solvang Chamber of Commerce - 1639 Copenhagen Drive, Solvang, CA  93463, (805) 688-6144

the ruins of Santa’s Village near Lake Arrowhead (Skyforest)

One weekend, while driving along the "Rim of the World" en route to Lake Arrowhead, something strange caught the corner of our eyes.  While we presumed that the Southern California outpost of Santa’s Village amusement park were nearby, we could not be certain until we saw that odd pink icing creeping through the pine trees from a decrepit cupcake-shaped building!

Santa’s Village, originally patterned after a small park in New York called "The North Pole," was the brainchild of one Mr. Putnam Henck, the family of whom helped build the surrounding Skyforest area in the early part of the last century.  The park opened in 1955, just six weeks prior Disneyland​'s historic debut, yet ultimately, things did not go quite as well for the Henck family’s vision.  Due to lack of attendance​, Santa’s Village closed its doors in 1998... and the grounds have been left to rot ever since.

While most of the rides and park sundries were sold at an auction two months after the Santa’s Village closed, other kitschy, colorfully painted elements of the park remain, engulfed now by invading foliage, and undoubtedly, a proliferation of termites!  "The Bumblebee Monorail," easily spotted by the clever little plaster hive that doubles as its entrance, is perhaps the most striking piece of the park that still exists today.  The dismantling and removing of the tracks system and cars would have cost bidders too much to save, and thus it serves as a poignant reminder of the fun and frivolity that once existed here.  On the day we visited the spring thaw was upon us.  A lonely icicle clung to the bottom of one of the old bee cars.  The moment was reminiscent of a Charles Em​ile Bouillevau​x quote, who in 1858 described the temple ruins of Angkor as such:

“There are few things that can stir such melancholy feelings as the sight of places that were once the scene of some glorious or pleasurable event, but which are now deserted."

The grounds today, particularly what was once the parking lot, are used mostly to house deforested timber.  Little pesky flies were buzzing around all over
the place as they lived and worked amongst the chopped wood that revealed many, many years of existence in their rings.  (So that's where our Post-It notes come from!)  With all of the rotting wood and peeling paint, you can imagine Santa’s Village did not smell very pretty.  The tang in the air certainly helped to secure the ruins’ creepy feeling!  Then again, any anxiety that we experienced that afternoon may have had something to do with the fact that we were trespassing on private property!

Yes, kitsch fans and nostalgia addicts, this is what has become of Santa’s Village!  We suspect that in a few more years the place will be fall into a state of complete inaccessible disarray.  If the thought of investigating rundown bittersweet kitsch holds any fascination for you, we recommend you make your trek sooner rather than later!  (Oh, and the rather large pine cones that abound here are pretty cool too!)

This article is completely out of date! Santa's Village has been renovated re-opened, as "Sky Park" in December of 2016! You will still see some of these structures within the new layout, but none of the ruins.

Sky Park at Santa’s Village  - 28950 CA-18, Skyforest, CA  92385, (909) 744-9373

Death Valley National Park

One Saturday, with Doug in Paris filming a video with his band, It decided it might be fun to make a day-trip out of a drive to Death Valley National Park!  Yup, that's right, I traveled a total distance of over 600 miles in one day, by myself.  Perhaps this “getaway” was somewhat poorly planned!  And yet, even with the 10 or so hours of driving, I still managed to squeeze in a full day of sightseeing locations once used to stand-in for Tunisia (which itself was used to stand-in for the desert home planet of Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars series).

Starting out from Los Angeles around 9:30 AM on a sunny day in March of 2010, I first found myself in the small town of Mojave about two hours north via route 14.  The small stretch of land was easily the windiest place I had ever been to.  Though the vintage neon sign of the nearby Bel Air Hotel looked charming enough, this is definitely not a burg I would want to stick around in!  When I got outside to refuel the car, I nearly blew away down the road!  I thought it best to forgo any additional attempts at photographing Mojave once the wind gusts started pelting small droplets of sideways rain onto my camera lens!  (My hair would never be the same again for the rest of the day.)

Back out on the road, interesting sites off the side of the highway kept distracting me from my goal of getting to the park by 1:30 PM.  (Who knew that there was a Red Rock State Park here in California?)  Further up, I switched onto the 395 near Brady’s Mini-Mart (see “essentials” below), and then after another 70 miles or so, took the turn at Olancha towards Death Valley; this is where the fun really began!

Owen’s Lake, the dry white salt bed that gleams in contrast to the tall rocky mountains and blue sky all around, is the first in a series of dramatic scenery opportunities that will provide visitors with equal parts shock and awe!  Overall, the geology of this area is stunning, and affords rich colors that change from one turn to the next!  The view from "Father Crowley Point" is another area that sticks out from memory, with its magenta-hued crags that seem to go on for miles!

As I neared Death Valley National Park proper, my trusty little Yaris had to climb some pretty huge mountains.  (The highest range within the park is the Panamint with Telescope Peak its highest point at 11,049 feet!)  Death Valley is the hottest and driest of all National Parks in the United States.  The highest temperature ever recorded in North America was on July 10th, 1913: 134 °F, measured at the present day site of the Furnace Creek Inn.  (Wonder how it got that name!)
Eventually, I made it down off the Panamint range and into the park.  It is recommended that you stop off at the first ranger station to pay your car’s daily fee ($20 USD).  You can drive through the grounds without paying, though one suspects the penalty would be pretty fierce if you were caught without your entrance ticket!

My first stop was the Mesquite Dunes.  Here, shoes are not required, but water certainly is!  The dunes are named for the trees which dot the incredible sand formations that sweep across the Stovepipe Wells Valley.   In February of 1977, George Lucas and his team shot pick-up scenes of the planet "Tatooine" for Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope.  This is one of the locations where R2-D2 waddled away from C-3PO after their escape pod crashed.  (Footage filmed here was matched with other scenes filmed in Le Grand Dunes of Nefta,  Tunisia!)  Due to the gusty winds, the sky was filled with a white dusty fog created by the salt from surrounding dry lake beds.  Visibility was poor to say the least, but at least the high winds made for a comfortable day temperature-wise.  Perhaps it was even a smidgen too cold that day in Death Valley!
Driving down further into the park I next stopped off at the Harmony Borax Works, a cool little spot rich in varying colors and gritty, gnarled textures that were softer than they appeared.  Though steeped in legend, the frenzied search for gold and other precious metals in Death Valley produced few fortunes in the mid-1800’s.  Borax, on the other hand, was discovered in high supply.  Now ranked as the valley's most profitable mineral, the "white gold of the desert" has many every day uses from laundry detergent to vaccines, and even as poison to kill insects!  While the Harmony Borax Works leads to an old mining camp, I did not have time to check it out as I was much too busy snapping photos of the otherworldly formations all around.

Back in the day, teams of twenty mules would be used to caravan minerals from their source.  In fact, a path off of 190E past Zabriskie Point is called "Twenty Mule Team Canyon Road."  I checked it out since it is the very same location where Star Wars characters R2-D2 and C-3PO traveled to Jabba the Hutt's palace in 1983’s Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.  From the onset, Twenty Mule Team Canyon Road does not appear very car-friendly.  In fact, there wasn’t even a sign for it from the road, at least not from the direction I was traveling.  Nevertheless, the One-Way path ended up being pretty solid; any mid-size car should have no problem!

The “road" that C-3PO and R2-D2 ventured on to meet Jabba is actually much more flat now and less impressive after 27 years of erosion.  It sits just to the left of the actual Twenty Mule Team Canyon Road that is almost completely camouflaged in by the sun-baked terrain.  After a few photos, I popped the tripod back into the car to attempt the drive back out to 190E.  The trek was really quite fun, but took a little longer than expected since the winding path took me, much like a video game, up and over hills and under rocks that jut out right above you!  (I cannot imagine large campers taking this route, but they somehow do!?)

Up next, I headed for the turn off for Dante's View.  Sadly, after making the 13 mile drive up the perilous road, the incredible view was almost completely masked yet again by the crazy winds that whipped the valley’s white salt and sand particles into a dense frenzy!  It was not a complete waste of time, as the view of Telescope Peak meeting up with the lowest point below sea level was pretty spectacular.  (It was also used in a composite shot in Star Wars – Episode IV as the surrounding environs of Mos Eisley spaceport.)  Driving back off of Coffin Peak/ Dante's view, there were other amazing sites to see!  I particularly loved the terrain at the junction of Badwater Road and 190E!

As it was now nearing 5:00 PM, I knew it was time to get to “Artist's Palette,” one of the premiere attractions of the park.  (The turn-off for the One-Way road is about 8 miles past Badwater junction.)  As you travel deeper and deeper into the canyon, the mountains open up in front of you and offer quite an impressive display of vibrant colors, the effect of chemical weathering, hydrothermal alteration and oxidation on a number of different metals.  Red, pink and yellow hues are from iron salts, while the greens and blues come from decomposing tuff-derived mica.  Manganese produces the purple colors.  To put it mildly, this place is insane, and draped along the entire façade of the Black Mountains, quite huge!  (Set of Drifters tip:  If you are in a hurry, don't bother stopping off at the first location that attracts tourists.  The main portion of Artist's Palette is more impressive, and comes complete with a parking lot for convenience!)

The canyon of Artist's Palette has many twists and turns, each offering extraordinary vistas.  It is said that the location gives evidence of one of Death Valley's most violently explosive volcanic periods, and while these same colors can be seen throughout other areas of the park, nowhere are they more concentrated than at Artist’s Palette, somewhat of a microcosm of all of the geological forces at work within the region.

Little buzzbomb R2-D2 was taunted at Artist’s Palette by Jawas throwing rocks in the Tatooine opening of Star Wars.  Scenes shot here in Death Valley were intermixed with others filmed at Sidi Bouhlel in Western Tunisia near the city of Tozeur.  Just across from "Artist's Palette" is another Star Wars filming location known as "Sandcrawler Station.”  It is here where a miniature model was used to stand in for the much larger tank-like junk shop that doubled as the Jawa population’s mobile home!

As the sun was setting on Artist's Palette, the colors continued to change and impress.  Geology truly rocks!  (Don't tell anyone, but I took a sample of some really cool green stones for my garden back home!)

After I had my fill of Artoo's canyon, I drove the rest of the way back out of on the One-Way road from Artist's Palette.  A caravan of VERRRY slow drivers in front of me wasted at least 15 minutes of my time!  The sun was setting rather quickly now and I still had one more location to check out!  After turning back onto Badwater Road, I soon saw the unpaved road for “Desolation Canyon” on the right.  (The turn-off was unmarked save for a post that designated it as a hiking location.)  I drove to the roundabout at the end of the gravel road and checked my maps...  To be honest, this was adventure was to be a bit daunting, especially at 6:00 PM in the evening!  Since it was getting so dark, I took a flashlight and some extra water.  (Isn’t this usually how people end up dying, going into an unknown canyon at dusk.  Oh, my parents would have been so proud!)

Desolation Canyon was also used in some scenes for involving Tusken Raiders, but since it was already dusk, I could not be bothered to really line up any of the shots or look at the source photos I had brought.  Desolation Canyon was quite a lovely location and it would have been nice to have seen it by the light of day; none of the photos taken here really turned out as expected, even after making considerable adjustments to the ISO/ shutter speed.

Eventually, I realized nothing good was going to come out of me staying in Death Valley any longer.  At about 6:30 I started back for the very looooong drive to Los Angeles.  (But first I had to find my car parked in the desert in almost complete darkness! HA!)

Getting out of Death Valley National Park takes more time than coming in as the 17 mile steep grade takes you UPHILL on the way back over the Panimint range.  In order to remain sane as I navigated through the treacherous bends and turns in pitch blackness, I had to pop in a Chelsea Handler book on tape... yes, Chelsea Handler!  It was all pretty harrowing to be honest, especially since I seemed to be the only one on the road (!), but overall it was worth it! 

The day-trip was exhilarating, albeit exhausting.  The Star Wars locations were fun to discover first hand, and a great precursor to the trip to Tunisia we would take just two months later!  For the non-Star Wars fan, Death Valley National Park certainly has many other beautiful and otherworldly secrets to share.  We will certainly be back... yet I think next time, I will insist on staying overnight! 
Set of Drifters tip:  If you are planning on coming to Death Valley to look for Star Wars locations, guard your dossier of images with plastic covers. The wind out here is so violent that any unprotected paper will soon be obliterated!

Death Valley National Park - Highway 190, Death Valley, CA  92328, (760) 786-3200

surfing and skiing all in one day? (Malibu/ Big Bear)

One of the best parts about living in California is being able to explore multiple parts of its diverse geography all in one day.  The steep trip up Palm Springs' Aerial TramWay immediately comes to mind.  The thrilling seven-minute ride shoots trekkers from the very bottom of the desert floor all the way up to an Alpine forest setting where snowshoes await!

Another fun adventure worth cooking up may just be a day of contrasting extreme sports.  Imagine waking up early at sunrise for a bout of fantastic surfing in Malibu, only to end the afternoon snowboarding on the slopes of Big Bear!  In Southern California, it’s technically possible.  Though your Set of Drifters have yet to try surfing beyond a little body-boarding here and there, we have made the short journey to Big Bear for a memorable weekend of early-Spring skiing.  (Set of Drifters tip:  The prices are cheaper toward the end of the season.)

For those of you who have never been to Big Bear, or nearby environs like Lake Arrowhead, we’ll place bets that you, too, will be impressed by its overall wilderness vibe.  Traveling into the mountainous region is like escaping to Colorado, or even the Swiss Alps.  And yet, the mileage on your GPS device proves you’re still only two hours from downtown Los Angeles.

While in Big Bear, we stayed at the Black Forest Lodge (see “digs” below).  Its Swiss/ Bavarian architectural motif was mirrored throughout the small town and immediately reminded Set of Drifter Brady of his childhood in Lake Zurich, Illinois.  Of course, the lake within Big Bear is infinitely larger than the one back in suburban Chicago.  Sitting in the cradle of a series of mountain peaks, the recreational body of water offers views across to Fawnskin.  Not to be confused with the childhood tale of "Donkey Ski​n,” the village hold an annual “Doo-Dah Parade” in July to celebrate the good ole days of the California Gold Rush.

Those interested in skiing or snowboarding have two options in the immediate area, Bear Mountain and Snow Summit.  We chose the latter for its more user-friendly trails.  (After all, it had been 10 years since either of us had hit the slopes!)   But before taking to the lifts, we started our day at the Old Country Inn with a "Hungryman​" breakfast.  (Yes, it’s true. We’re really just mountain men at heart!)  We loved the print of their embroidered seat cushions.  The frontal view of the bucks looked entirely alien!

Once we had finally made it to Snow Summit, and battled through the rental station, it was off to the bunny slopes.  (Check Snow Summit's website for current weather conditions and lift ticket pricing.)  Sadly, the snow was fading fast as it was the second to last weekend of the season!  After a few practice runs, it was time to hit the Intermediates and Black Diamonds!  The cool thing about skiing at Big Bear is that as you get higher and higher up the mountain you can see more and more of the landscape down below.  That amazing view includes the entirely of Big Bear Lake and its surrounding communities!
  After lunch at the mountain-top chalet, it was time for more runs.  If memory serves, our favorites were all found on the Western Ridge.

Later that evening, a fire in the fireplace joined red wine and a box of Cheez-Its as we both soaked our sore muscles in our log cabin hot tub!  Though we eventually made it back outside for a night “out on the town,” there was hardly anything on tap worthy of a report.

On our last morning, we chose an alternate route to get out of town via Lake Arrowhead.  Thanks to the entirely picturesque setting, we ended up stopping nearly every 50 feet to take photos of the pinecone-littered environs.  (And to think, some people actually live here!  The woodsy perimeter of Big Bear Lake is dotted with huge, well-camouflaged mansions throughout​.)  Eventually, we made it to the main road back to Los Angeles where expansive views had us singing Rodgers and Hammerstein tunes!  Ahhh yes, our little red Yaris had never looked cuter than when silhouetted against the white snow of a nearby avalanche!

Set of Drifters tip:  While in town, make sure you keep an eye out for thrift possibilities.  The $4 "Everythin​g-You-Can-Fit-Into-One-Bag" sale at one spot garnered us more than enough Ebayables for awhile!  And don’t miss Scubie’s, if only for a photo out front that ridiculous name!

Snow Summit - 880 Summit Boulevard, Big Bear Lake, CA  92315, (909) 866-5766,

Old Country Inn - 41126 Big Bear Boulevard, Big Bear Lake, CA  92315, (909) 866-5600,

Scubies Yogurt - 41114 Big Bear Boulevard, Big Bear Lake, CA  92315, (909) 866-1575

Corona Del Mar State Beach (Newport Beach)

Heading behind the “Orange Curtain” and looking for a premier beach spot?  (For those of you who don’t live in California, the “Orange Curtain” is a name Angelenos often use to describe the mostly clean and conservative Orange County.  The geographic area that encompasses Anaheim and Fullerton to the north and San Clemente to the south gets a bad rap at times but in all honestly, its beachfront real estate affords some of the best sun and sand in Southern California.  One such stunning locale is Corona Del Mar State Beach.

Located in the swankiest neighborhood of Newport Beach, Corona Del Mar sits below a cliff dotted with some rather impressive manses worthy of a short walking tour if you have the time.  The beach itself is crescent shaped and comes complete with endless silky white sand, barbeque pits, volleyball courts and even a decent cafe (seasonal).  Separated just south of the Newport Harbor by a rock jetty, waves here are large enough for surfers, but still tame enough to coax the average swimmer.  Now that’s our kind of beach - quiet, clean and secluded!

Perhaps one reason larger crowds tend to stay away from Corona Del Mar’s beauty is that parking is not cheap.  We visited in the off season when day rates swelled to $15 USD.  If you are on a budget and are able bodied, we recommend parking on the street along the cliff and then traversing down the stairs to the beach.  Set of Drifters tip:  Slather on that sunscreen.  The ocean breeze is strong here and tricks you into thinking you aren’t getting rays.  You are.  We lollygagged between 11:00 Am and 1:00 PM with minimal protection and got absolutely fried!  

Corona Del Mar State  Beach - 3100 Ocean Boulevard, Newport Beach, CA  92660, (949) 644-3151