December 31, 2015

Photo Essay: Top Posts of 2015

To be honest, my most popular posts, pretty much any time I check, are a couple of years old now: my photo essays of the abandoned Rancho Los Amigos and George Air Force Base. I don't think anybody else is really documenting those places, so I'm one of the only resources out there for someone who's interested.

Sometimes, it pays to stand out.

Of course, I think I'm being predictable when I go snooping around yet another pile of crumbling ruins, but I guess I've carved out a niche for myself. The thing is, there are so many other things in this world that I'm interested in, so I can't spend all my time on the dark side.

But still, posts about urban exploration and relics and ruins tend to be pretty popular, as you can see by my Top Posts of 2015 below, ranked by number of views. They're not necessarily the best-written or best-photographed posts, but they certainly interested people the most.

Photo Essay: Into the Abyss of Downtown LA's Underground Tunnels

Photo Essay: Goodbye to a Goodyear Blimp

Photo Essay: A 1911 Historic Mansion, Defaced and Defiled

Photo Essay: Upon the Revitalization of the Red-Tagged Rialto Theatre

Photo Essay: Fox Theatre Fullerton, 90 Years Old and Starting Over

Keep Street Art on the Street

Photo Essay: Surviving the Apocalypse at Oat Mountain's Nike Missile Site

Daddy's Girl

I've got more than 30 posts in draft mode that I've started to write and haven't finished yet, so I can promise I've got some good stuff already planned for this blog in 2016.

Thanks for sticking with me.

Happy New Year.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Top Posts of 2014
Photo Essay: Top Posts of 2013
Photo Essay: Top Posts of 2012

Photo Essay: The Marching Bands of the Rose Parade, 2016

It gets so busy before and after the annual Rose Parade that the Tournament of Roses' house, the Wrigley Mansion, closes to the public between August and Febuary. The design and decoration of the parade floats alone take just about a year.

That's because the Rose Parade isn't just some parade on New Year's Day, followed by some college football game at the Rose Bowl.

And this parade features more than those floats that are festooned with fresh flowers.

There are the horses—which show off their skills at the annual Equestfest—and then there are the bands that come from high schools all over the world to march in the parade and to perform an exhibition at Bandfest.

Bandfest kind of feels like a football game without the sports. Upon arrival at the Robinson football stadium at Pasadena City College, you get your own drum and stick, like you might at a World Cup soccer match in Brazil.

And it is as much a visual spectacle as it is a musical one...

...watching all those kids lining up in their matching outfits...

...marching out onto the field in their formations...

...playing their instruments and performing choreography...

...under the guidance of a whistle-blowing director.

Every year, the PCC Tournament of Roses Honor Band & Herald Trumpets open the Bandfest show...

...with their flag-waving and baton-twirling.

The rest of the bands each get one slot across the two-day event, and they're only allowed to come for the Rose Parade every four years.

What sets them apart from each other is not only the colors of their uniforms (like sports team players)...

...but what they play and how they play.

The LAUSD All District High School Honor Band plays it hard...

...nailing every note...

...and marching as though their lives depended on it.

You can tell a lot about these bands by the music they choose, too—whether it's "Don't Stop Believin'" by the Saratoga High School Marching Band and Color Guard...

...or "Oklahoma!" (from the musical of the same name) by the Jenks High School Trojan Pride from Jenks, OK.

Of course, the musical selection can really lend itself to some creative choreography...

...which is good, because everyone in a marching band is a de facto dancer.

The Trojan Pride's routine was so complicated, they needed three times as many directors as any other, facing from the front and back sides of the field.

No wonder they collapsed at the end.

The Franklin Regional High School Panther Band from Pennsylvania relied on pop culture references, giant props, and familiar 80s tunes like "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" and "Walking on Sunshine" to get the crowd on their feet...

...while the band from Toho High School in Nagoya, Japan performed stoically and traditionally (with the exception of adding a singer in a kimono). It was impressive even if you only consider that they don't have a football field to practice on in their homeland.

If all marching bands seem to blend in together, then the Centro Escolar José María Morelos y Pavón – Aguilas Doradas Marching Band from Puebla, Mexico is certainly the antidote to that.

They performed their cantantes mexicanas amidst swirling Mexican flags, under the protection of their gold-colored gladiator helmets, as the sun began to set.

All that hard work certainly paid off, at least this year. It's nice to end the year on a high note for once.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Horses of the Rose Parade
Photo Essay: The Floats of the Rose Parade, 2015
Photo Essay: The House of Chewing Gum and Roses

December 28, 2015

Photo Essay: The Native Groves of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

I have such a different batch of friends out here in California than I did back in New York, when I was closer to college friends and entrenched in the music industry.

Out here, we all seem to be docents...or naturalists...or historians...or photographers / writers / directors / actors...or all of the above, and other sorts of multi-hyphenates.

This is the land of kindred spirits.

Of course, you can't always find each other, if you're driving the freeways inside your little bubble, visiting libraries and museums and historic sites on your own, like I do.

Fortunately, my trip to Santa Rosa Island gave me the opportunity to add a couple more likeminded California folks to my arsenal—and whereas on the East Coast, you would promise to hang out and then would never see each other again, we've already bucked the trend. A couple of weeks ago, I drove a couple of hours up to Santa Barbara to hang out with a couple of my fellow Channel Islands volunteers.

One of them happens to be a new docent at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, and he invited us to come take his tour.

It's not the biggest botanic garden I've ever visited, nor the most ornamental, but it's really scenic—from the meadow (where the wildflowers grow in the spring and visitors hold private events)... the boulders that have rolled all the way down from the nearby mountains (including the garden's centerpiece, the Blaksley Boulder).

The focus here in Santa Barbara is making it a native garden...

...taking you on a journey through California (like with the silver-branched Aesculus californica) rather than around the world.

This of course, means a quick jaunt through the desert...

...featuring plants so drought-tolerant, they may appear dead—but they're sure to resurrect with some water.

There's plenty of life here at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, even on the precipice of winter.

One of its most remarkable features is the Redwood Forest...

...where you can amble under the shade of towering sequoias (native to Northern California)—the oldest one dating back to 1926.

They were planted along the path of the Mission Creek, so named because it provided a water source for the Santa Barbara mission, about a mile and a half downstream, via an aqueduct.

The Mission Dam on the creek is a real marvel. The Franciscan padres used a Chumash Indian labor force to build it in the early 1800s, and although it's no longer being actively used as a dam, this historic landmark is still standing with no modern reinforcements.

There are other stone ruins of the aqueduct farther downstream from the dam...

...and a preserved portion of the zanja which carried water down to the padres at the mission.

Not everything at the garden has survived nearly as well as the dam—like the 1941 Campbell Bridge that crosses the creek, which had been rebuilt in 1988 and then destroyed by the Jesusita Fire in 2009.

The fire scorched a good portion of the gardens plants and trees...

...but most of them were able to rebound within a year or two...

...and come back more lush and greener than ever—such is the fate of California natives constantly subjected to wildfire conditions.

Also thriving at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden are a variety of oaks—the common coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia, or encinos), as well as scrub oaks, the deciduous California Black Oak, and the exceedingly uncommon (and evergreen) island oak, generally found elsewhere only on the Channel Islands.

Just be sure to stay away from the poison oak when you visit. Although, conveniently, the garden also features the natural antidote plant to poison oak, mugwort, which frequently grows right next to it.

Thanks to Alan for the lovely interpretive walk!

Related Posts:
More Than Apples: Oak Glen's Native Garden
Photo Essay: Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden, UCLA
Photo Essay: Los Angeles Arboretum