A Travellerspoint blog

3 State Lines & 2 Time Zones for Santa Fe

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On our second day on the road, we traveled from Holbrook, Arizona (which is 90 miles east of Flagstaff), through the entire state of New Mexico and reached our destination for the night, Amarillo, Texas, at 11:30 p.m. It was a long day on the road, but we made one very important detour. We specifically drove an hour out of our way in order to spend part of the afternoon in Santa Fe, and oh my goodness, it was so worth it!

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After parking near the lovely Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, we found a nice restaurant called Tia's Cocina where we grabbed a late lunch. We had tacos, guacamole & chips and Mexican hot chocolate, all of which were delicious. It was so nice to relax while eating good food on the patio, especially after driving several hours from Arizona.

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After lunch, we walked to the Governor's Palace where local artists sell their renowned handcrafted jewelry. Even the most budget-conscious individual would have a difficult time walking away without at least one turquoise necklace or silver bracelet for one's self and/or friends. I bought for myself a multi-colored pendant with copper and another necklace pendant for my sister with turquoise and a silver swirl design.

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It is not just the jewelry that makes Santa Fe a true gem. The beauty is in the details, which are exuded in the city's stunning Southwest-style architecture and prominent fine art. The murals, the small churches and the art galleries - I loved what I saw as we explored the area. After a couple hours of admiring Santa Fe's beauty, it started pouring rain, which made it pleasantly cool, but it also meant that it was time to go back to the car and continue on our journey eastward. Now that I have had a taste of Santa Fe, I have a feeling I definitely will want to return for a longer visit!

Posted by rachwells 19:28 Comments (0)

From San Diego to Holbrook, Arizona

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My summer in L.A. ended, so it was time for...yes, another road trip! First, I drove by myself from L.A. to San Diego. I must admit, I felt nervous in the days leading up to this journey. I have spent quite a bit of time in California over the years, but I hardly ever drive out here. L.A. is notorious for its freeways and traffic, after all. Luckily, a wave of calm came over me as I headed out, and the drive actually ended up being really fun. Even better: I recognized the roads in San Diego (where I literally had never driven before!) and found my destination without having to use my GPS!

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After a few fun and restful days in San Diego, my cousin and I drove eastbound on I-8 ("the 8") on our way to Texas. Looking at the GPS, I could not believe how close in proximity the road is to Mexico. Really, all you have to do is look out the passenger window of your car, and that is what you are looking at a few miles away in the distance. In fact, at one point, there was an exit off the freeway to go to Mexico - it just looked like any other interstate exit, which kind of blew my mind. We just stayed on I-8 throughout the California desert and into Arizona, where we headed northbound once we got close to Phoenix.

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And then, we passed what has become one of my favorite cities that I have seen while on the road this summer: Flagstaff. Before this summer, I assumed that most of Arizona would be desert, but it turns out, Flagstaff has lovely tall trees and the mountains in the distance - much more reminiscent of a small town in Colorado. (P.S., I definitely want to come back to Flagstaff for a longer visit sometime in the future!) This time, it was raining, but also partially sunny as we drove towards the city on I-17. In perfect timing, we noticed a double rainbow in the sky as we were approaching our exit to head eastbound on I-40. Earlier in the summer, I was driving westbound on this road toward L.A., and now this time, I was heading towards Albuquerque, eventually back to Dallas. Luckily, I feel like I really can't go wrong heading either direction because I love both places!

Why did we drive up to I-40 instead of just continuing eastbound on I-8 and I-10? You'll find out why in the next blog post....

Posted by rachwells 13:21 Comments (0)

Home for the Afternoon in Whittier

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The Surreal Journey
As I rode the Metro Local Line 270 bus from Norwalk into Santa Fe Springs and then into much more familiar territory, I felt a confusing combination of emotions: nostalgia, dread and excitement. I lived in this place for four years as a student at Whittier College, and it was some of the funnest, most formative years of my life. The last time I visited Whittier was four-and-a-half years ago, so I really wanted to see it again. Yet, I also feared that I might get sad seeing the place in person, especially since my current summer experience in L.A. is nearing its end.

When I disembarked near the intersection of Painter & Philadelphia, I started walking around the perimeter of the school, and I realized that it actually did not feel strange to be there. I felt comforted because I was home - not where I currently live, but a place where a thousand very fond memories always will reside within me. I started remembering what it was like to be 20 years old, on my own for the first time, excited, determined and unafraid to take on the whole world; at my core, that is who I still am today, and it is nice to be reminded of that.

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Where Is Whittier?
When I tell people that I used to live in Whittier, California and attended Whittier College, some people are not sure where it is, especially L.A. locals, surprisingly. The moment of recognition usually comes after they ask, "Isn't that where Richard Nixon went to school?" I reply that, yes, this is where our 37th U.S. President attended college. A friendly small town at heart, Whittier is located 12 miles from the huge city of Los Angeles. The town (and the college) was founded by a group of Quakers and named after poet John Greenleaf Whittier. Although Whittier is not known as a top-of-mind tourist attraction in L.A.., it is a neat place to visit, and it was a great place to live during college.

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Walking Around Familiar Territory
During my current afternoon visit to Whittier, I had lunch at the California Grill, where I used to dine with family when they came to see me during college. Next, I walked a few blocks to Uptown Whittier, which is the "main street" center of the town. There are a couple banks and two well-known coffee chains along Greenleaf Ave, but mostly the road has a number of local restaurants and shops. Even while I was in college, some of the smaller shops would close after a few months or year, and others would take their place.

During my current visit, I was glad to see that a number of my favorite spots were still there. After lunch, I went to Mimo's, a coffeeshop/restaurant where some of my classes used to meet during college (which was always a fantastic idea). I got a cappuccino fudge shake and relaxed on the outside patio while reading a book and listening to the jazz music playing over the speakers. After my mandatory Mimo's break, I continued walking along Greenleaf Ave, where I saw the Golden Triangle (great Thai food), the Whittier Village Cinema (where I used to go to the movies with friends) and Rocky Cola Cafe (1950s diner), among other memorable favorites of mine. The more that I saw the town, I realized that, yes, Whittier is still here. Although a few things had changed, it mostly looked exactly as I remembered, which was comforting to see so much familiarity after all of the traveling to new places that I've done in the past couple months.

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See You Next Time, Not Goodbye
I hate goodbyes, including saying farewell to places. At the moment of departure, I feel my chest tighten, and I worry that I will never visit there again. This time, I felt calm and at peace. I have no idea when I will visit Whittier the next time. A couple years? A couple decades? (Hopefully not the latter.) Regardless, after today, I now know that I will be fine and that I can always come back to visit my honorary "home town" in California.

Posted by rachwells 13:31 Comments (1)

Cold War Artifacts in Culver City

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When I think about history museums, I usually expect to see artifacts from hundreds or thousands of years ago. But how do you commemorate significant time periods and events that happened fairly recently, within our own lifetime?

I was born in the mid-1980s, so I have no personal recollections of the Cold War, the tearing down of the Berlin Wall or the reunification of Germany. Also, when I was in school, our history classes usually ran out of time at the end of the semester and ended up cramming the last 20-30 years of "recent events" or not-quite-yet "history" into the last day of class. Thus, when I heard about the Wende Museum, which preserves artifacts from the Cold War and serves as an educational/research resource on the subject, I felt intrigued to check it out and to learn more about the topic.

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The museum offers free, guided tours on Fridays at 11:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., so I decided to take advantage of the opportunity. So here are a few highlights of what I saw and learned:

The word "wende" in German means "turning point," which is a recurring theme of the museum and of the end of the Cold War, itself. Looking at the museum's collection of paintings, statues, periodicals, and actual street signs from the famous Checkpoint Charlie, you really get a sense of what life was like during that time period and how the circumstances led to change.

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One particular display in the the museum really impressed me: There was an enlarged, black & white photo from the 1970s taken from a watchtower in East Berlin overlooking Checkpoint Charlie and into West Berlin. The large photo took up one wall panel, which had barbed wire on it. In other words, you really felt like you were in an East Berlin watchtower looking out at "the other side". I thought that was pretty cool - being able to demonstrate perspective, not just having a one-paragraph description next to a small photo, as you often see at other museums.

Here are a couple other interesting things to check out: There is a current exhibit running through November 2013 called Music of the Imagination: Jazz Behind the Iron Curtain. Oh yes, and there is a piece of the Berlin Wall outside of the entrance to the museum.

Speaking of the Berlin Wall...

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Along Wilshire Blvd in Mid-City L.A. (across the street from the L.A. County Museum of Art), there is a 10-panel stretch of the Berlin Wall, which is the longest outside of Berlin. Actually, there is an interesting story behind the Wende Museum's The Wall Project, which installed this display in 2009 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Yes, I did go see the display during a recent separate outing, and it was a little bit surreal to see it up close in person.

Overall, I enjoyed visiting the Wende Museum and seeing the Berlin Wall display along Wilshire Blvd. As I looked around both sites, I thought about how the end of the Cold War happened fairly recently, particularly if you think about history in the bigger, longer term picture. Yet, some time has passed since it happened, and as the years go on, it will be interesting to see how artifacts from this time period are displayed and remembered in the distant future.

Posted by rachwells 00:15 Comments (0)

Pre-History on Wilshire Blvd: the La Brea Tar Pits

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Los Angeles is a modern day urban oasis, but just east of prissy Beverly Hills, you can see - and distinctly smell - a preserved piece of the Ice Age. The La Brea Tar Pits once consumed into the asphalt numerous species including dire wolves, saber-toothed cats and coyotes. Nowadays, you can visit the tar pits in Hancock Park, which is also nearby other tourist attractions like the L.A. County Museum of Art, The Grove and the Farmers Market.

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Scientists have excavated the remains of the species found in the tar pits and put them on display at the on-site Page Museum, which also serves as a research facility. You are not going to find dinosaurs here, but you will learn a lot about the climate, terrain and species that inhabited the Los Angeles Basin long before modern day civilization. It is hard to imagine Los Angeles any other way than its contemporary facade. Yet, even the City of Angels comes from humble beginnings.

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Be sure to check out "The Fishbowl Lab" in the museum, where you will see scientists actively studying artifacts through microscopes. You literally can walk up to the panoramic glass window, say hi to the scientists and watch them working. Next to The Fishbowl Lab, you also can see behind the glass a peek of the archives.

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The rest of The Page Museum has other neat exhibits as well. I got a kick out of both the mammoth and the sloth & saber-toothed cat displays, where modern day technology enables recreations of these creatures to show visitors how they sound, sway back & forth and even fight with each other. I also particularly enjoyed at the displays of the skeletal remains of the birds, which were fun to photograph because of the interesting angles of the bones.

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At the tar pits themselves, you can look through the wire fence and see the bubbles of tar rising to the surface. In a few other areas of the park, you will find traffic cones covered in the dark, sticky substance. I also recommend walking over to Pit 91, where a Viewing Station allows you to see what a real-life excavation site looks like.

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After exploring both the museum and the tar pits, I looked around the rest of Hancock Park, amazed how history and modern amenities co-exist in this busy section of L.A. Every place has its own unique story and origin, and I am glad that I got to learn more about L.A.'s ancient history.

Posted by rachwells 00:46 Comments (1)

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