Exploring Trona Pinnacles, a Natural National Landmark Near Ridgecrest, CA

If the other-worldly landscape of Trona Pinnacles seems strangely familiar to you that’s because it’s been the setting of many films, including Battlestar GalacticaStar Trek V: The Final Frontier, Disney’s Dinosaur, The Gate II, Lost in Space, and Planet of the Apes and numerous car commercials.

 

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This unique geological landscape in the California Desert Conservation Area consists of more than 500 tufa spires, some as high as 140 feet, that rise from the bed of the Searles Dry Lake Basin. Composed primarily of calcium carbonate (tufa) from deep beneath the lake, the pinnacles vary in size and shape from squat and thick to tall and thin. The tufa here date back 10,000 to 100,000 years ago, forming over 3 ice ages. There are distinct in their age and elevation and are referred to as the northern group (youngest), middle group (110 spires and highest tower), and southern group (200 formations and up to 100k old). If you’ve been to Mono Lake, you’ve seen more recent formations. The expanse of desert in every direction and the stark mountain ranges on either side create a dramatic landscape.

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trona cave

Trona native
Ran into a local

You can drive around the area or hike around it. Temps are triple digit in the summer so be prepared.

Getting there: ~ 20.0 miles east of Ridgecrest. Via a 5 mile BLM dirt road (RM143), usually accessible to 2-wheel drive cars, that leaves SR 178, about 7.7 miles east of the intersection of SR 178 and the Trona-Red Mountain Road. Note: The road may be closed after heavy rains.

Note: This is BLM territory so camping in this barren, impossibly hot, desert landscape is free. It’s also a great spot for offroading & ATVs.

Not sure I’d drive hours to see it, if it’s on the way as it was on my way back from my Mt. Whitney adventure, it’s worth it.

Exploring Kyoto’s Nishiki Market, a feast for foodies and shoppers alike.

Most would agree that a trip to Kyoto isn’t complete unless you visit the Nishiki Market. Known to locals as “Kyoto’s Pantry”, the traditional, four-centuries-old Nishiki Food Market is a feast for the senses. The narrow, five block long shopping street is jam-packed with exotic (to the Westerner) items and approximately 130 food stands and restaurants. Bring your appetite to try something new for an unforgettable foodie experience. There are plenty of opportunities to taste samples or to buy snacks as you explore. Expect to be elbow to elbow with a big crowd of locals and tourists alike.

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History

The origins of the market date back to around 1310 when it was established as a wholesale fish district. Over time, it evolved into the bustling kaleidoscope of colorful stalls, shops and restaurants that it is today.

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Getting There

Less than a five minute walk from Shijo Station on the Karasuma Subway Line (4 minutes, ~$2 from Kyoto Station) or via Karasuma or Kawaramachi Stations on the Hankyu Line. The market is parallel to Shijo Avenue, one block north of Shijo Avenue in downtown Kyoto

Other Top Things to Do in Kyoto

Explore the historic Arashiyama District

Visit the magnificent Kiyomizudera temple and Old Kyoto’s Higashiyama District

Go back to the ancient time of shoguns Nijo Castle

Go take a hike up Mt. Inari under 10 thousand Torii gates at Fushimi Inari Shinto Shrine

Get away from it all in the nearby hamlets of Kibune and Kurama

Dinosaurs, Mastodons and Saber-Tooth Tigers —oh my! Galletta Meadows Field Trip, Anza Borrego.

Thanks to the owner of Galleta Meadows Estate, Dennis Avery, there’s an incredible al fresco metal art sculpture exhibition to be discovered in Anza Borrego. Over 130 metal sculptures created by artist/welder Ricardo Breceda seem to appear out of nowhere in the barren, dramatic landscape. With a little imagination, you’re transported to the prehistoric times of dinosaurs, mastodons and saber-tooth tigers.

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The exhibition spans about 10 square miles. Many of the sculptures can be seen from the road; others require some driving, hiking or mountain biking in on sandy roads. Some are in clusters, others quite spread out. You never now what kind of creature you’ll encounter next. Highlights include a giant scorpion, a 350 foot-long sea dragon and so many more. I’ll leave you to discover the rest yourself. My favorites, as you can tell, were the prehistoric sculptures.

It’s definitely worth seeing and no doubt a blast for the kids.

Getting there: Take the S22 into Anza Borrego and cruise the valley looking at both sides of the road. (If you want a guided map for the sculptures, you can pick one up at the visitor center in town.)

 

 

Exploring the Historic Arashiyama District, a Kyoto “Must do”

Whether you explore the historic Arashiyama District by foot, bike, boat, rickshaw or all of the above—it’s a Kyoto must do. Along the lovely scenic paths are temples, shrines, a bamboo forest, artisan shops and restaurants. Read on to discover the top 3 things to do in the area.

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Wow, those strong legs!

Many of the signs are also in English so it’s easy to navigate.

 

You’ll pass through residential areas as well and see people going about their daily routines, sweeping the streets with handmade brooms, tending their gardens, etc.

 

 

I love that the Arashiyama District is very walkable and bikeable with something new to see around every blossom-lined corner. It easy to see why this charming area is one of the most popular sightseeing districts in Kyoto.

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Plan on spending a half or full day here, soaking in the sights, shopping and getting a taste of the culture and cuisine. If you only have time for two quick stops, you’ll want to check out the Bamboo Forest and the Tenryu-ji Zen Temple. If at all possible, make the time for a leisurely explore and include an excursion on the Hozu River. You’ll be glad you did.

 Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

 

 

 

While many say that this bamboo forest is the “star” attraction of the Arashiyama District, I was a bit underwhelmed by it (crowds and a path running through it).

Tenryu-ji Zen Temple One of the Top 5 Zen Temples in Kyoto, this temple has an amazing Zen garden that dates back to the 14 Century. The beautiful garden features a pond that is framed by maple trees, rocks and mountain views. Admission Fee: ~$5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hozu River You can take a short scenic boat ride here or start from nearby Tanba-Kameoka (16K away) and embark on a  leisurely two hour boat ride that takes passengers down the winding Hozu River to Arashiyama. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time, but it sounds like a wonderful experience – self propelled on a rental canoe or escorted.

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20160408_114126 Cheers to another memorable day in Kyoto.

 

Getting there: Take the JR Sagano (also known as JR  San-in) Line from Kyoto station to JR Saga-Arashiyma station.The local and express (or limited) lines are on platforms 32-35. The express makes 3 stops, local makes 6. It approximately a 15 minute ride and costs ~$3.

Looking for other cool things to do in Kyoto? Check out Nijo Castle,Kiyomidera Temple and the Higashiyami Historic District.Visit Fushimi Inari and make the pilgrimage under its 1000 torii gates or take off for the countryside and explore the hamlets of Kibune and Kurama  – perhaps soak in tradition in an onsen (hot springs) while you’re there.

 

Exploring the Goat Canyon Trestle by Mountain Bike, Jacumba, CA

Deep in the heart of the Jacumba Mountains overlooking Carrizo Gorge in Anza Borrego State Park, you’ll find the Goat Canyon Trestle. Getting to the world’s largest curved wooden trestle is like being transported to the wild west of days done by. You’ll traverse dark tunnels in various stages of collapse, dodge rock slides, narrowly avoid precipitous drops into rock canyons, explore abandoned trains and endure the blazing desert sun. If this is your idea of fun, read on. Ok, it’s not that bad. In fact, it’s an easy, flat mtb cruise or a longish flat hike through some very cool (pun intended) desert terrain.

(Video credit and pics I’m in below: Ken Wells)

It’s slow going as there are several points where you have to lift your bike over one obstacle or another. You can’t speed through because you never know what’s around the next corner or if the bottom might drop out in front of you.

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Be alert and cautious all the way out and back. Headlamps are a must for the tunnels, lots of obstacles in there. Workout-wise, it’s easy – safety-wise, it could be considered a bit sketchy.

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As you bike along the railway, sometimes the path is quite narrow with a precipitous drop into the rocky canyon below. A moment of distraction could make for a very bad day. Wouldn’t suggest mountain biking for kids here, unless they are quite skilled and cautious riders.

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Up close, the trestle seems a bit rickety, like a skinny, dilapidated Jenga set.

 

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Background: The trestle was built in 1933, as part of the San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railway, aka “the impossible railroad” that ran through Baja California and Eastern San Diego County and ended in Imperial Valley. Over the years, collapsed tunnels and rock slides plagued the railroad, including the collapse of Tunnel 15, which led to the creation of the trestle. The trestle was constructed of wood (no nails used), rather than metal due to the area’s extreme temperature fluctuations, which can lead to “metal fatigue” / failure and it was designed with a 14 degree angle to offset Goat Canyon’s high winds. By 2008, rail traffic had ceased.  As recently as last year, another tunnel, Number 6, near the trestle collapsed…(Yikes.)

Distance: Roundtrip 10 -14 miles, depending on where you start

Getting there: 8E from San Diego, take the Jacumba Exit

Parking: Park for free in the dirt lot right off the freeway at the Jacumba exit and follow the dirt portion of Carrizo Gorge Road 2 miles towards the DeAnza Spring Resort, the largest “clothing optional” resort in North America. Optionally, pay $5 to park at the resort.  1951 Carrizo Gorge Rd.  There’s a Subway & gas station right off the freeway. You can also grab a bite & beer at the resort after your ride…20180421_102928.jpg

Note: This is the desert, plan accordingly – ample water, sunscreen, hat, etc…

 

Kiyomizudera, Kyoto: Magnificent temple and Higashiyama District excursion

Yes, another temple to put on your list of top 10 things to do in Kyoto. Kiyomizudera is a must see historical monument of ancient Kyoto and an UNESCO World Heritage site. (TripAdvisor rates it as the #3 thing to do in Kyoto.)

Founded in 780, Kiyomizudera (Pure Water Temple)  is an independent Buddhist temple and one of the most celebrated temples in Japan. The magnificent Hondo or main hall is built on a cliff on the eastern hills of Kyoto, halfway up Mt. Otowa on the site of a waterfall (hence the name).The temple is dedicated to the diety, Kannon, and continues to be a pilgrimage site. Kannon is depicted with 11 faces and forty arms, and revered for his mercy and compassion. It is said that Kannon is the embodiment of each person’s “invisible heart of gratitude”.

A message from the temple:

Happiness for all via a greater sense of gratitude for your everyday life.

How’s that for a timeless message that we can all strive to achieve?

The buildings and grounds are breathtaking, but the crowds can be overwhelming. I later learned that it opens at 6AM so it might be that the early risers have the place to themselves then. I imagine experiencing a sunrise here would be enchanting.  That being said, night viewing, while extremely crowded, was undeniably magical.  Three times per year in the spring, summer and autumn, the temple buildings are open  at night and lit so artistically – the effect is extremely dramatic and beautiful. Check schedule for night viewing dates

Main Entrance

Nio-mon, the main entrance (above), was burnt down during civil war (1467-1477) and rebuilt in the 16th century.

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The cliff-side, Hondo was rebuilt in 1633. It features ancient Japanese construction methods and was built entirely without nails (like ancient jenga). It is an impressive architectural wonder. I’m not sure my feature picture captured the massive size and intricacy of the wood construction so here is a picture that does a much better job. Photo Credit: http://www.kiyomizudera.or.jp

Hondo

The views from there to Kyoto city below are quite lovely. (Understatement.)

Dreamy Kyoto Vistas

Note: The main hall is under construction between February 2017 and March 2020 so some viewing areas may be covered, but the building will still be open to visitors.

Hours: Open 6AM, closing  time depends on the season. See schedule. 
Open: 365 days per year
Admission: ~$4

Make a Day or Night of It

If you have time, you’ll want to explore the Higashiyama District itself, it’s one of the city’s best preserved historic districts, just outside the temple grounds. Here you can experience  the charm of old Kyoto. Narrow lanes and traditional architecture transport you back in time. Take it all in as you stroll by quaint shops, cafes and restaurants that have been catering to tourists and temple pilgrims for centuries. Pick up some souvenirs here and stop in for tea, a snack or a meal.

Note: This Higashiyama District closes down early in the evenings, except during light festivals, such as the night viewings at Kiyomizudera so inquire and plan accordingly.

Looking for other cool things to do in Kyoto? Check out Nijo Castle. Ready to get out of the city and into the countryside – maybe take a dip in an onsen (hot springs)? Consider exploring the country hamlets of Kibune and Kurama.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nijo Castle, Kyoto: A magical, historical site to see, especially at night during the Sakura Festival

Put Nijo Castle on your list of the top 10 things to do and see in Kyoto. (While trip Advisor lists it as #40 of things to do, I’d say the evening viewings during the Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Festival in the spring are well worth the visit.)

Visiting the Kyoto residence of Japan’s first shogun circa the Edo Period, you will be transported to another time and palace. Built in 1603, the castle was completed twenty-three years later by his grandson. The castle and its grounds (including picturesque cherry and plum tree orchards) are surrounded by stone walls and moats.

When the Tokugawa Shogunate fell in 1867, Nijo Castle was used as an imperial palace.  Eventually, it was donated to the city as a historical site and opened to the public.

Designated an UNESCO world heritage site, the castle’s buildings are some of the best surviving examples of the Japan’s feudal era palace architecture.

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The 36,000-square-foot Ninomaru Palace consists of five buildings and is built almost entirely of Hinoki cypress, much of which is adorned with gold leaf and elaborate wood carvings.

Interesting fact: The nightingale wood floors of the palace were constructed to squeak as a way of announcing intruders.

During the Sakura Festival in the spring, the castle offers special evening viewings. It mesmerizing to walk under the dozens of cherry trees with their bountiful blossoms dancing in the breeze against the night sky. And the castle, with its moat and fortified walls, is much more impressive glimmering in the moonlight. It’s quite a magical experience.

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Cherry blossom fantasy land. (Well, minus the omnipresent crowds.)