Date Archives June 2016

The World’s Largest Dinosaurs in Cabazon, CA

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It would not be incorrect to say that my blog and thus, my life, is about finding the world’s most disgustingly appealing food and every last damn dinosaur sculpture on the face of the Earth. It may be a slight oversimplification, mainly due to the exclusion of “fart jokes” in that description, but for a sentence with only two descriptors, it’s pretty accurate. Which is why it’s straight up ridiculous that for all the time I’ve spent in southern California, I’d never yet been to visit the largest dinosaurs in the world, the Cabazon dinosaurs. The Cabazon dinosaurs were the dinosaurs of the 1980s, appearing in advertisements, music videos, and (of course) Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

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Apparently the whole shebang was acquired and turned into a creationist museum of sorts, and though to be honest, I didn’t really notice any overt creationism messages, like a statue of Jesus walking among the dinosaurs, in hindsight, some of the displays inside do make more sense within that context. Like, for instance, the sculptures of lions and other modern mammals mixed in with the dinosaurs. Or that the sign out front says “by design, not by chance”, which I thought was just a weird turn of phrase to say they intentionally built the world’s biggest dinosaurs instead of it turning out that way by accident. What I’m saying is, I’m a little slow on the uptake.

Regardless of the message, this place gave me the opportunity to climb up inside a T-Rex’s head for under ten bucks, and that was not an opportunity I intended to miss. Plus, it’s not every day that you can visit a gift shop in a brontosaur belly, and it would be a shame to squander that. What was squandered was my opportunity for a pressed penny, as both of their machines were broken. Why? Whyyyyy?

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In order to climb up inside the T-Rex, you need to purchase admission to the park. You can go into the bronto belly gift shop outside of the park proper, because they don’t want to deny anyone the opportunity to buy a souvenir if they really, really want one. The park itself, while it contains many dinosaurs, is a little janky, in the way that many dinosaur parks are a little janky. Sometimes, the sculpts are a little derpy. Sometimes the paint jobs are funky. Sometimes the proportions are weird in relation to other sculptures. Sometimes they just go ahead and throw in a few lions or komodo dragons or whatever else among the dinos because they were part of some discount bundling deal. Sometimes they put them behind some really sad netting that comes across a little less “Jurassic Park” and a little more “mini golf hazard”. This park had a mix of all of the above.

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cabazon (22 of 56)Now that I think of it, this sculpt is exactly the same as one I saw at the Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center, which begs the question, where are they ordering these dinosaurs from and how do I get one or ten of them for my front and/or backyard?

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cabazon (27 of 56)This one is one of the na’vi dinosaurs visiting from Pandora. Or so I can only assume.

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cabazon (29 of 56)“Oh, hello there. You startled me. I definitely wasn’t using my tiny arms to rifle through some old old timey dino porno.”

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radicalThere was nothing I could do to this photo to make it not look like a completely photoshopped 80’s postcard, so I decided to take it to its logical conclusion.

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The important thing was that I was eventually able to make my way to the mouth of the T-Rex, which was actually somewhat terrifying. At first, there are normal flights of stairs, but as I got up into his neck, the stairs turned into a tight metal spiral staircase with very little in terms of handholds or visibility, especially as I was descending and feeling for the next step with my foot. Then there’s the mouth itself, which wobbles ever so slightly in the wind and/or with my movements and made me wish I’d eaten just a little less for lunch, because I really don’t want the news article about my death to be how my morbid obesity snapped the head off a T-Rex that subsequently rolled into the freeway, killing thirty others. Just as an example. Other notable ways I would prefer not to go include but are not limited to: sending a car off the highway due to some horrendous odor expelled from my body, causing the driver to black out, sinking a cruise ship from a scrape with one of my ragged toenails like it’s an iceberg slicing through air pockets, or somehow ruining commercial space travel for everyone, possibly involving lack of supervision and a giant red button that says “do not push”. Again, just some examples of broad categories of humiliating ways I could go, and certainly not limited to those alone.

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For now, however, Mr. T-Rex’s head remains attached and your highways remain safe. For now.

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The International Banana Museum in Mecca, CA

 

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Shimmering on the edge of the desert like a yellow mirage is the International Banana Museum, home to the Guinness-verified world’s largest collection of banana and banana-adjacent paraphernalia. A sign on the outside of their door informed me that their entry fee is a dollar, unless you intend to purchase food, in which case the fee is waived. Having just come from the blistering heat of Salvation Mountain (new suggested slogan: feel the fires of hell before you get there, sinners!), there was no way I was going to forgo the delight of a frozen banana. Unfortunately, since I didn’t have cash, this meant that after I made my selection, the banana museum folks had to write up an invoice which I then paid with my card at the liquor store next door, where I got to wait in line behind a charming gentleman who had no qualms about discussing his plans for Mother’s Day, or rather his lack of them, as he so elegantly put it “I ain’t doin’ shit, she ain’t my mama, I ain’t come out her cooch.” Thank you for the clarification about the circumstances of your birth and the reminder to carry more cash, guy. Thanks for that. What I’m saying is, it was a long, cultured, revelatory five minutes in line, where I had ample moments for reflection about both my life and my choices, and the circumstances that brought me to be waiting in that line at that moment.

The banana museum itself was, well, bananas. But you can’t say it with the American, Gwen Stefani b-a-n-a-n-a-s accent, it’s one of those things that really has to be expressed with the posh British accent. The museum was bananas. Bahnahnahs.

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It delights me that I’ve now been to two banana museums, neither of which are in an area where bananas would grow. I was surprised at how little overlap there seemed to be between the International Banana Museum’s collection and Banana Antiques–the IBM  has a lot more modern banana stuff and eschewed some of the older, slightly (maybe more than slightly, to be honest) racist banana collectibles, which I appreciated. Just because advertisers used shitty and gross ways to market a product about which you are enthusiastic doesn’t mean those shitty and gross things need to themselves be collected and commemorated. It demonstrates that even the world’s largest collection can be curated in such a way that it doesn’t need to hurt people. Because who wants to hurt someone unnecessarily? That’d just be bananas.

There’s so much banana stuff in the International Banana Museum that it’s hard to focus on it all. Figurines. Plushies. Keychains. Advertisements. Art. Home decor. News. Snacks. It all eventually blends together into one giant, yellow, bulging banana in the middle of the desert. Or maybe that’s just the heat talking. GO BANANA. And eat ’em while we’ve got ’em–the banana we know and love is likely to be gone within the next ten to twenty years. The world’s largest banana collection in the desert will presumably remain.

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banana museum (19 of 41)Ring ring ring ring ring ring ring…

banana museum (20 of 41)…BANANA PHONE

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banana museum (36 of 41)I don’t care how old this thing is, I would eat it. If reincarnation is a thing, then I am definitely Elvis, because both sequins and deep fried peanut butter foods are counted among my greatest joys.

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Spotted on the Roadside: If the fangs don’t get you, the tetanus will

 

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Installed in 2013, this rattlesnake tops the scales at 800 1200 a lot of pounds and more than twenty feet long (when stretched out, I presume, it seemed maybe ten feet tall when standing next to it). You have no idea how badly I wanted to climb on and take a picture of me riding this snake, perhaps twirling a hat around like a cowboy…or if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably actually do have a pretty good idea. Respect for the artist and the town kept my boots on the ground, because, you know, not everything needs to serve my selfish impulses. This rattlesnake was commissioned by an anonymous donor as a gift for the town, and created by artist Ricardo Breceda, who has a number of sculptures not far away in Borrego Springs, which I meant to go see this trip but it just didn’t happen. Next time!

Spotted on Old Hwy 80 in Jacumba Hot Springs, CA*

 

 

*not visible on Google Maps as it was installed after the last time the road was mapped. You can see how close Jacumba Hot Springs is to the border, though. Close enough that I got one of those “Welcome to Mexico!” text messages from my carrier.

Not the U2 album, the other one: Joshua Tree

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I could feel the judgement in her eyes even though she was too polite to express her exact thoughts. The national parks employee had just helpfully marked a driving route of Joshua Tree on my map and asked if we needed any suggestions for hiking or other activities. “Nope!” “But there are just a few short–” “Nope!” I wanted to tell her that it wasn’t that I was lazy and underprepared, because while both of those things are true, neither has ever prevented me from getting out there before; I don’t really consider it a hike unless there’s a possibility of imminent death. However, I was also smack in the middle of an enormous day trip and simply didn’t have the time to really flirt with disaster in my usual fashion. Then again, maybe I’m growing up a little: before you enter the park, they make it very clear that people have died there from preventable accidents–things like not having enough water or food, so I backtracked just a bit before the entrance, gassed up the car, and bought important survival necessities like two flavors of gatorade and chips with the guacamole baked right inside so I wouldn’t have to expend any energy on dipping. My obituary certainly isn’t going to bemoan, “If only she had dipped a little less gratuitously” unless, of course, they are talking about the decades-long buildup of nacho cheese that is even now slowly coating all of my arterial pathways, waiting for the right time to strike.

Joshua Tree is gorgeous, with a wild beauty you might not even know was there, based on the area outside of the park. Thanks to a number of pull-out areas and parking lots, I was able to get out and wander around a bit even without tackling one of the proper hiking trails or attempting any bouldering. Since it was still spring, I got to enjoy spotting all kinds of teeny-tiny wildflowers blooming in the desert–not the riotous lush swaths of color you get elsewhere, but delicate clusters of petals wavering under the winds and blazing sun. I would like to go back and explore more thoroughly when I have the time–I should probably plan ahead and bring at least two bags of those chips.

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joshua tree (23 of 36)Thankfully, it was not hot enough when I visited for bees to try to drink the water from my eyes or I definitely would have thrown myself off a cliff. Which is a thing they do, and fuck that, fuck that, fuck that.

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joshua tree (19 of 36)The view of the San Andreas Fault/Coachella Valley

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joshua tree (27 of 36)This parking lot was full so I can only assume that you get stabbed in the Hall of Horrors and someone comes and tows the cars away at night.

joshua tree (28 of 36)The world’s tallest Joshua tree.

joshua tree (29 of 36)Skull rock!

joshua tree (30 of 36)It looks a bit less skull-y from this angle, to be honest. Not even worth the effort of picking its nose.

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REPENT!! at Salvation Mountain

 

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In the desert, on the fringes of society, people can get a little…squirrely. The heat plays tricks on the mind. And on the outskirts of the Salton Sea, the situation is even more dire. The Salton Sea was supposed to be a resort town, and experienced some small success in that area, but due to the pollution of the water, increased salinity, and subsequent fish die-off, the whole area reeks of dead fish. The “sand” on the shoreline is ground up fish bones. Entire communities have been abandoned, and the problem is only set to become worse as the water continues to evaporate and more of the seabed is exposed to the air. Nearby, a campground called “Slab City” with no water, sewer, electricity, or garbage pickup is full of people who have been outcast or want nothing to do with the rest of society. Mounds of trash swept around every corner and cardboard signs with messages like “get the fuck out” and “this is what you’ve done to me” don’t encourage one to tarry overlong. And it’s here that Leonard Knight built Salvation Mountain.

Salvation Mountain as it stands today is actually the second one Knight built, the first one crumbling into rubble. Knight took this as an opportunity to rebuild with “more smarts”. More smarts, and more paint: before his passing, he estimated he’s used more than 100,000 gallons building and maintaining the mountain. In his wake, the mountain is maintained by others, lest the scorching desert sun and winds bleach and wipe the entire work away.

Honestly, I found the whole place creepy. The entire area around the Salton Sea feels like a post-apocalyptic wasteland. I already knew I didn’t want to go digging around in what remained of people’s homes at Bombay Beach–I’m no urban explorer. I feel ghoulish going to estate sales, picking through the leftovers of someone’s life, and the prospect of playing modern archaeologist felt worse. Some people still do live in the area, so to tramp through taking photos marveling at the decay and how anyone could live there while vacationing from a good life seemed like grody behavior I didn’t want to engage in. I didn’t know what Slab City was before I drove through it, and after realizing it looked like the sort of place where people wouldn’t think twice about claiming your water, Dune style, I got out and didn’t feel a pressing need to return. And Salvation Mountain? Salvation Mountain feels like nothing so much as the site of a mass cult suicide. The trucks with flattened tires, emblazoned with the word REPENT in two foot tall letters atop what appear to be cages. Rusted out equipment with the word “Jesus” written over and over and over again on them.  And even though the entirety is covered with colorful paint, inside and out, you never forget that you’re walking on and in someone’s art project that crumbled to rubble before, that underneath that bright facade, it all is mud and straw and sticks, and that the whole purpose of the thing might be to bring you into the arms of the lord all the sooner should a load-bearing branch be nudged just so or if you slip on the melting stairs of the yellow brick road. I suppose every time they get someone to pray that they don’t die on site is a small success in connecting that person to the lord, if only for a moment. As for me, I decided not to stick around for any sermons on the mount.

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Spotted on the Roadside: The World’s Largest Paper Cup

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Originally constructed to promote the Sweetheart paper cup manufacturing plant, the world’s largest paper cup now sits beside a furniture liquidator without even so much as a sign to tell the world of the wonder they’re witnessing. At least now I have a photo for reference when I make a hand gesture at the movie theater to tell the employees that I want a diet coke “this big”*.

 

*To clarify, at the movie theater, this size is known as a small, so maybe Riverside doesn’t have the world’s largest paper cup after all.

Spotted on E Citrus St in Riverside, CA

Tios Tacos in Riverside, CA

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“Are we there yet? Did we pass it?” “I’m pretty sure this is one of those places you can’t miss.” I was right. Tio’s Tacos is enormous, spanning the better part of a block in two directions, and would be almost impossible to miss even if you weren’t looking for it. It was actually harder to find the restaurant itself among all of the art installations than it was to find Tio’s Tacos in all of Riverside’s downtown.

A sign on the property informed us: “Martin Sanchez is a proud Mexican immigrant from Sahayo, a small town in the state of Michoacan. He is grateful for this country, the United States of America, which he now considers his own and to which he arrived at a very young age with lots of dreams, and just like many other immigrants who have seen in the U.S. the hope of a better tomrorow. The poverty which he lived in during his childhood gave him the idea of finding a use for the things that have been utilized, and in this country considered useless, then discarded. Although for him and many that come from poor countries, these items are considered treasures; with his ingenuity and creativity, he has rescued them and given them new life. Come and taste the delicious flavor of our traditional & real Mexican cuisine, while you enjoy and appreciate one acre of amazing and beautiful gardens, created entirely from recycled items, waste material, and junk. See for yourself how the genius and profound creativity of Mr. Martin Sanchez, owner of Tio’s Tacos #1, has transformed them into beautiful pieces of art.”

This artist’s statement almost makes me a little tear-y for a number of reasons. I take for granted all of the things that I have access to every day of my life by virtue of being born here, and all the things I discard for whatever reason. I get frustrated with American politics and the state of things and forget sometimes that others can see it as a beacon of hope and opportunity, not just the world’s chest pounding policeman. It makes me extra embarrassed and sad that one of the candidates for the highest office in the land is seriously proposing building a wall to keep out people who want to contribute to the American melting pot, who do view America as that beacon of hope. It’s not Mr. Sanchez’s job to teach me perspective, but I’m glad he gave it to me nonetheless. His artwork reminded me of that of another outsider artist I visited some time back, RichArt, who also made all of his work from repurposed materials.

There was so much to see that even though it was threatening to sprinkle, I wanted to eat outside on the patio to take more of it in while I ate–because frankly, I don’t think it’s possible for me to go to a Mexican restaurant and not eat something, even if it’s just a snack. Jason and I ended up splitting a carne asada taco and an al pastor taco, both of which were so delicious I wanted to weep a little…or was that the rain? I also bought an agua fresca and laughed when the flavor I chose turned out to be their “detox” flavor. Mint, cucumber, and lemon without a whole bunch of added sugar sounded great to me already, there was no need to try and market it as weight loss water. The only detox I’m interested in is the Taco Cleanse…and not that BS taco cleanse where you eat crummy vegan tacos, but a taco cleanse that involves eating al pastor until either I die or I just plain don’t want to eat it anymore. Casa Bonita, you have a serious contender for the most exciting Mexican restaurant in the world…and the food at this one is good. BE TOLD.

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The Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center in Riverside, CA

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Thanks to an unfortunate traffic incident (Traffic? In California? On a Friday afternoon? Nah!), I arrived at the Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center a scant thirty minutes before they closed for the day. I booked it into their information desk/gift shop area to inquire about purchasing two adult admission tickets, and was pleased to learn that in the Jurupa Mountains, discovery comes free of charge. I was a little less pleased when the employee recommended that I check out their museum and another chimed in with “You can’t, I already closed it up for today because I didn’t think anyone else was coming.” Your psychic abilities leave much to be desired, sir. And evidently unlocking the door was a bridge too far. It’s fine, the grounds themselves contained more than thirty minutes of discovery possibilities, so I got cracking.

In addition to the closed museum, the Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center spans nine acres, acting as a botanical garden, nursery, turtle zoo, and chock full of something that lured me to their gates: dinosaur sculptures. Everywhere, all kinds. The website proclaimed that they have “over ten” dinosaur sculptures, and I was going to do my damndest to see how many I could find.

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jurupa (36 of 36)One. One metal T-Rex having fun.

jurupa (34 of 36)Two. A styracosaurus welcomes you to the land of discovery.

jurupa (2 of 36)Three.  A cross between an allosaurus and a shar-pei.

jurupa (4 of 36)Four. What appears to be a pointing Abraham Lincoln riding a triceratops, which is something I would have assumed I’d remember him being famous for doing in history class, so I guess we know which brain cells the alcohol attacked first.

jurupa (10 of 36)Five. A two-wheeled trike bike.

jurupa (12 of 36)Six. This character reminded me the most of the dinosaurs at Dinosaur World.

jurupa (8 of 36)Seven. A boy and the triceratops he’s clearly outgrown.

jurupa (13 of 36)Eight. A skeletal apatosaurus.

jurupa (24 of 36)Nine. My favorite, hands down. Look at its adorable colorful boxiness!

jurupa (29 of 36)Ten. The rarely seen and presumed mythological honeybuckasaurus, who only darts to the bathroom when he thinks he isn’t being observed.

jurupa (19 of 36)Eleven.  Tail for daaaaaaays.

jurupa (26 of 36)Twelve. A Corythosaurus? Maybe?

jurupa (22 of 36)Thirteen and fourteen, with a bit of eleven in there. Dino convention.

jurupa (25 of 36)Fifteen. Some manner of angry duck-billed dinosaur.

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jurupa (27 of 36)Sixteen. The polka dot or modclothasaurus.

jurupa (30 of 36)Seventeen and eighteen. Prime position for a Prattkeeping photo if anyone were still doing those.

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I think it may be time to update their website with a new dinosaur count, because even at eighteen, I’m pretty sure I didn’t see them all. Plus “over fifteen” or “almost twenty” sounds far more impressive than “over ten”. There were multiple areas that were closed off without a guide, I never made it into the turtle area, and nine acres is a lot of ground to cover in thirty minutes, even for two highly motivated adults. There were so many non-dinosaur related things to see as well, and as someone who has ooh-d and aaah-d and killed many a plant, this place was right up my alley. What I’m saying is, I wouldn’t object if my local nursery started filling up with dinosaur sculptures to get me in there a little more often.

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Spotted on the Roadside: Coyote’s Flying Saucer Retrievals and Repair Service in Jacumba Hot Springs, CA

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The truth may or may not be out there, but Coyote not only wants to believe: he’s ready to take action and lend a helping hand if need be. Situated right outside the desert view tower, Coyote’s collection of saucers and little green men beckons passersby to pull over and contemplate the final frontier. Although Coyote wasn’t there when I dropped by, I have heard that he and his saucers are a regular fixture at Burning Man, where he gives people UFO rides across the playa. In other news, I really, really want a flying saucer ATV to put around the neighborhood with. Just because.

 

Spotted on In-Ko-Pah Park Rd in Jacumba, CA

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Desert View Tower in Jacumba Hot Springs, CA

 

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In 1923, Bert Vaughn believed this corner of California was destined for big things: namely, that it was going to become a border crossing area. So, in anticipation of the future economic boom, he bought the whole damn town and set himself to the task of increasing his personal fortunes. One of the ways he sought to do so was by building a roadside attraction as a “monument to the pioneers”, though mostly it was to advertise his bar. Although the town’s border crossing dreams never came to fruition, the roadside attraction did: the desert view tower. Constructed from the wooden remains of an old plank road running over the sand, the tower has seen some updates since then–the lower circular portion was added in 1950 when it changed hands. From that point forward, the tower has remained much the same, even as ownership changed, and is now a California historical monument.

As I approached the tower entrance, I spotted a dog flopped across the stairs, basking in the sun. I didn’t want to startle it by stepping over it, so I tried making some noise to wake it up. The dog could not have been less interested in the prospect of waking up, so I carefully stepped around it and went inside, where I found another super chill dog flopped out on a couch. I don’t know what exactly is in the water of these Jacumba hot springs to make these dogs not even care who the heck is stepping into their abode, but they should definitely bottle and sell it as I happen to know a small dog who could use a little chilling out.

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For a pittance per person ($6.50,  or the cost of one regrettable drive through meal), I got access to the tower itself as well as the at-my-own-risk boulder park next door. Cheap thrills! I singlemindedly climbed all the stairs, ignoring the ephemera on each floor in favor of seeing the view first. After four flights of stairs, there’s a large viewing area, and the option of ascending a much narrower set of wooden stairs with room for one or two people at the very top, and I climbed this as well, cramming ahead of Jason who mostly got a view of my butt. The view was a bit better on the larger platform below, or at least I felt safer looking in all directions without worrying that I’d put a leg through the stairs while distracted, or be knocked off the stairs entirely by the wind. A sign on the gate says that they close the tower when wind speeds hit 110 mph so on the day I visited, it must have been below that threshold, but it was still strong enough that if I faced the wind and opened my mouth, the wind would breathe for me, saving a little mileage on my lungs. (I’m trying to keep them supple and youthful for all of those marathons I won’t be running and/or for when I inevitably run into an organs dealer in a back alley, I would hate for him to get a terrible price on the black market because of all of that time I spent carelessly breathing, the nerve.)

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On the way back down the stairs, I checked out the dust-covered doodads and geegaws lining the cases, but as there was precious little information about any of it to place it in context, I moved on rather quickly, having no patience for the “What inspired them to put this dragon figurine next to this string of christmas lights and Himalayan salt lamp?” guessing game.

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Back outside, it was time to take my life into my hands at the boulder park. On my way in, I encountered a British couple outfitted in safari hats, who excitedly asked me how I’d heard about this place (as they were the only other people I’d seen there, and the reverse was presumably true for them), which sounded a bit like “Oi! This place is brilliant! ‘Ow’d you hear it about, then? Chip chip cheerio, time for a spot of tea!”. You may think this isn’t an accurate transcription of the conversation, but I guarantee they will tell their friends they ran into some Americans who told them that “like, oh my god, I like, totally read about it on the internet or something dumb like that, it’s so dumb, everyone is so dumb” so this cultural conversational mistranslation goes both ways.

The boulder park was constructed during the 1930s, when out of work engineer Merle Ratcliff carved effigies in the stone for the supposed wage of a dollar and a jug of wine a day. That day rate seems suspect to me, but I do like a good legend, so I’ll let it slide. Either way, Merle was an industrious worker, and his carvings are generally whimsical and have stood the test of time. It was seriously fun to clamber over all of these boulders–I felt like I was getting away with something, that someone would pop their head out of the tower and yell “Hey you, get down from there!” No yell ever came, and I happily jumped from boulder to boulder, ducked under others, squeezed through narrow passageways, and warmed myself on a rock like a fat rattlesnake. Thankfully no actual rattlesnakes, fat or otherwise, made an appearance, or there would have been a brand new boulder in my pants.

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desert view tower (14 of 31)Olaf is seriously pissed about something. Maybe about being, uh, frozen in stone. This is a stupid series of jokes, I should let it go.

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