Back. And Better.

My love has been tested.

Los Angeles, meet your match. New Zealand.

En Route to Rob Roy Glacier, Wanaka

I’ve returned to the cold, cruel arms of my homeland and post-partum vacation depression doesn’t begin to describe the emptiness that echoes through my heart.  Three weeks in Aotearoa has left me forever changed, and now, in the dry desert of Los Angeles, my addiction to adventure has a new and unquenchable thirst.

And with beauty like this, how can you blame me?

Rakaia Gorge

Routeburn Track

Views of Mt. Cook near Lake Tekapo

Crater Lakes, Tongariro Crossing

Milford Sound, Fjordland National Park

Oh, and I jumped out of a plane.

This trip has changed me for the better. It’ll change the blog for better. 2011’s gonna fill your web browser with some truly tempting trips, so I hope you’ll forgive me for my brief leave of absence and stay tuned for more.

Getting Out of LA: Devil’s Punchbowl

When it comes to weekday routines and adventures around the city I’m a staunch westside homebody. I scoff when someone mentions a drive to Downtown and snarl at the thought of a Friday night in Hollywood. Yet when the weekend comes and traffic subsides ever so slightly, my perspective does a 180 and my bones ache to get the hell out of my comfort zone. As I continue to hike my ass off in preparation for New Zealand, on Saturday I found myself rolling down Pearblossom Highway on the road to Devil’s Punchbowl Park.

With good company and a pleasant soundtrack, the 90-minute drive zipped by and we landed in the surreal suburbia of Palmdale. Further up a windy road we passed a sea of Joshua Trees, finally driving closer to the snowy base of Angeles National Forest.

The parking lot was nearly full but the whole place was a beautiful kind of quiet empty. We started with a 1 mile loop track to the bottom of the Devil’s Punchbowl, a small eruption of geological awesome, with jagged sandstone formations uniquely pancaked after a millennia of converging fault lines.

Devil’s Punchbowl

Great Outdoors: The Only Real Workout

I’ve joined a gym for the first time in my life. Even worse, I’m kind of addicted. But when the weekend comes calling with warm days and cloudless skies, there’s only one place you’ll find me breaking a sweat…and that’s on a hike.

The easy breezy trails of Malibu that I once enjoyed so much just don’t cut it anymore. I need mileage. So we set our sights on Sycamore Canyon, an 11-mile loop in the mountains and grassland between Thousand Oaks and Malibu.

This spot offers a little bit of everything, with some people geared up for the long haul, and others choosing a shorter walk to a very rewarding waterfall.

Wildlife was everywhere here, though we had the unfortunate luck of spotting the remains of a chicken, headless and very out of it’s native environs.

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The City Looks Small from Echo Mountain

This past Saturday I abandoned my normal weekend habits and was up at 7am, preparing myself for a long overdue trek through the mountains of Altadena.

For the last couple of years I’ve been a huge fan of the LA-based outdoorsy website Modern Hiker. Along with an incredibly comprehensive list of local hikes, the author includes a special page with a very spot-on lineup, “The Best Hikes in Los Angeles”. I’ve been on a mission to try them all, and this time it was for Echo Mountain in the lower San Gabriels.

Let me start by saying…I’m out shape. Many apologies did I have to breathlessly wheeze out to my athletically-inclined comrade as the entirely uphill journey required I make constant rest breaks. It was shameful. But we did make it to the top, finally, and the sight was (literally) breathtaking. The entirely grid of the city lay before us in miniature.

But we came for more than county-wide views and sore legs: at the top of the mountain lay the awesome remains of a 1900’s-era resort and railway, the perfect rest stop for lunch and some exploration.

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Weekending: Hit the Beach!

What a whirlwind of weather we’ve had here in Los Angeles. Just two days ago I was chugging hot tea and piling on blankets, and now they’re predicting a summery weekend in the 70’s. Let’s cherish this brief respite from cold, because for all I know it’ll be hailing by Monday.

In the wee days of 2011, my sister and I took a weekend adventure down the PCH to Malibu. The sun was high in the sky, ringed with wispy white clouds and there was the kind of chill in the air that makes for perfect adventuring. The beaches were empty and called out our names, but we had another mission in mind. Malibu Seafood fish & chips. Nom.

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Adventures in Arcadia: Din Tai Fung

I’m not afraid to go to great lengths when it comes to scoring an awesome meal. Hour-long wait times, even longer drives, sketchy neighborhoods, you name it. When it comes to a delicious meal I’m ready to conquer all. And with the onslaught of coughing and congestion, it wasn’t difficult to decide which restaurant to try next. Arcadia, here I come!

A good friend with great taste first told me about the wonder of Taiwanese dumpling house Din Tai Fung. When my buddy asked again about a special Saturday lunch I jumped at the chance. So what is it that makes their dim sum so special?

These are soup dumplings! Dip it in sauce, place it in your spoon, take a teeny bite to let out some steam, and slurp. that sucker. up. Words can’t describe the juicy warming goodness of their pork dumplings. I think I ate 10 of them. We also sampled shrimp and pork (above), but solo pork is their winner. Every table had 1 or several steamy containers filled with ‘em.

After a long wait, and a long (and satisfying meal), we took off for boba around the corner. We stumbled upon some unexpected awesomeness, that brought back fond memories of my trip to Japan:

Cutesy toys! Evil claw machines! A entire room dedicated to the addicting pastime. If you happen to stop for dumpling, make sure to waste a little more money here.

Din Tai Fung

Farewell Desert: The Final Frontier

I’m back to the daily grind after a weekend filled with tissues, cough drops and classic movie marathons. Yep, I finally caught my yearly winter cold. While I pass the next few hours swaddled in my Snuggie, personal heater ablaze, join me as I muse over better days. Vacation days.

We’ll have to backpedal a bit here, because I’ve been blogging about my New Years weekend in the desert for over a week now, and as much as I should get on with 2011 adventures…there’s a few more mentionables that I simply can’t forget.

With the sun glowing on the horizon of the Salton Sea, we left behind the colors of Salvation Mountain for another dirt road just a few miles away in Calipatria. Besides farmland, a prison, and lack of a proper paving company, this “seaside” community hosts an odd geological attraction bubbling up in an empty dirt lot surrounded by nothingness. Geothermal mudpots.

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Sin and Salvation by the Salton Sea

We drove through an endless expanse of brown and barren before reaching the quiet town of Niland. There’s a rugged diner here, and a Mexican restaurant across the highway. That’s about it. In the distance, a band of green glows against an otherwise monochromatic landscape - fertile farms that keep this neighborhood alive. So what the hell am I doing here, far from home in the middle of a desert nowhere?

Leonard Knight’s Salvation Mountain.

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Funny People, Awesome Art

Don’t let your Friday fall flat. Spice things up tonight with a little bit of culture and comedy, thanks to Gallery 1988. Their latest show, “Is This Thing On?” opens tonight and features works by dozen of local artists, with each paying tribute to a different comedian. And a painting I’m especially excited to see? My sister’s homage to Pee-wee Herman. Go on, get excited:

Opening reception tonight at 7pm. Show up on time, it’s expected to be crowded.

Gallery 1988

Adventures of Epic Epicness: The Salton Sea

Standing in muck on the edge of California’s largest lake, it takes some convincing to believe this eerie expanse of blue was once a destination for tourists and desert dwellers alike. In it’s present state the resorts, vacation homes and pleasure seekers of the Salton Sea are long gone, with little more than death and decay remaining on the shore.

The town of Bombay Beach looks like something out of a horror film. We walked with our eyes on the ground, taking care to step around the hundreds of fish skeletons that littered the small section of beach. We saw the remains of a newly-fallen seabird, and another that was barely identifiable, swallowed by algae and sludge. Salt has eaten up everything here, and the evidence is both cruel and beautiful.

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Adventures of Epic Epicness: San Jacinto Snow Day

Normally if you ask me how I’d spent my New Years day, after a late night of celebratory boozing…my answer would include marathon slumber, lots of aspirin and a greasy cheeseburger or two. But this year I found myself out of bed at 9am, bundling up against a frigid Palm Springs morning…to see some snow.

Rising 8,500 feet above the desert floor, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is totally worth a morning’s hangover. The spectacular 8-minute ride drops you at the top of San Jacinto State Park, and thanks to a wet winter, 3 feet of glorious white powder covered the entire mountain landscape.

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Adventures of Epic Epicness: Cabazon Dinosaurs

So the New Year is finally here, and I wanna get things started right. As always, I’ve got my list of the old standbys - the typical resolutions that usually get me to buckle down on good habits for all of…oh, a week. But for once in my life the most important goal is one I intend to keep - to up the ante for some seriously amazing adventures in 2011. And unlike dieting or ditching bad habits, I even got started a day early.

The Giant Dinosaurs of Cabazon are an oddball desert landmark, made famous (in my opinion) by Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. Straddled by outlet shopping and Casino Morongo, it’s a random roadside attraction that’s easy to miss when speeding down the 60 Freeway. But I had a resolution to fulfill, so this time we stopped to check it out.

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A Year in Awesome: Top 10 Adventures of 2010, Part 2

Though I’ve already hung my 2011 “Kittens” calendar, the memories of the past year will live on forever. So our countdown continues…

5. Winery Weekend in Santa Ynez

How could a maiden voyage into wine country not make a top 10 list? My weekend in Santa Ynez was nothing short of bliss. From the picture-perfect pastoral landscapes to the epic Peter Gabriel soundtrack, the only mistake I made was not going back for a second trip. Absolutely lush-ous.

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A Year in Awesome: Top 10 Adventures of 2010, Part 1

With little more than a blink of an eye, we find ourselves yet again on the precipice of another year’s end, this time 2010. January 1st looms ever so close, and around this time it’s an annual tradition to look back on the last twelve months and reflect.

Thanks to the start of a certain blog, the Year of the Tiger has been a jam, full of fond memories, weird wanderings and plenty of mileage on the odometer. Without further ado, I present my own cummulation of the year’s best: Let’s Do Something Awesome’s Top 10 Adventures of 2010.

10. Rainy Day Hiking in Sturtevant Falls

Normally this Alta Dena hike is a huge weekend destination for nature-loving locals, filling to capacity at an insanely early hour. But on a random Monday off, with the city veiled in mist? We shared the trail in the company of deer and dewdrops. Magical.

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It’s Trivia Night.

My skills in random knowledge may be slightly lacking, but it’s always a good time when the evening ends in a Hall & Oates dance party. A big drunken thanks to King Trivia and Ye Olde King’s Head for hosting an excellent evening.

Find the nearest trivia night near you.