February 28, 2016

Photo Essay: Birding the Channel Islands

It had taken me so long to get to any of the Channel Islands (other than Catalina), that once I did, I couldn't wait to get back.

Sure, I'd love another overnight volunteer trip like the one to Santa Rosa back in October, but those opportunities can be few and far between.

So I paid my way to get back, by buying a ticket on a daylong birding trip with Island Packers.

I'd never been on a boat for that long—four hours before docking, and another three hours on the way back—or with so many serious birders, their long lenses swinging and the pages of their field guides flipping against the downwind.

As for myself, although I love birds, I was there for the entire experience—which, to my delight, included spouting gray whales and lots of dolphins.

Of course, there were plenty of gulls and brown pelicans this time of year, in this pelagic zone of the Pacific Ocean.

But, land ho! The islands! The arch of Anacapa!

The ancient volcanic eruptions and land forms birthed out of the San Andreas Fault!

At the eastern end of Anacapa Island, there's a light that was the last built by the Coast Guard's United States Lighthouse Service on the West Coast, in 1932.

It still acts as an active beacon, though it wasn't able to prevent a small plane crash near the island in 2000.

The birds seem to like it there at Cathedral Cove. As our boat passed by, a whole bunch of brown boobies were perched there.

Perhaps the highlight of the trip—well, at least for the birders—was the spotting of a single blue-footed booby, perhaps astray from an influx of them that came up from warmer waters farther south back in 2013.

In truth, there were tons of birds sighted on our trip, their species and common names being called out...

...from loons to grebes to shearwaters, terns, jaegers, rhinoceros auklets, and cormorants.

We even saw a couple of peregrine falcons and nesting golden eagles.

At high ocean levels, with the melting polar ice caps, Anacapa is actually three islets that, true to its name, appear almost as a mirage. But it's shallow down there, and underneath the water, there's a land bridge. You just can't see it now.

The recent rains and the abundant fog has got the islands fertile with greenery...

...which makes good nesting for the brown pelicans this time of year.

On Anacapa, there's a nice outcropping of giant coreopsis, a bright yellow "tree sunflower" that peaks on a couple of the Channel Islands between January and March, which you can see even from the sea.

There are so many birds out there, they don't even have time—or room—to scatter with our oncoming vessel...

...though a few get spooked by all the shouting and the announcements over the PA system, so they would dive down and stay underwater until we passed.

If it's at all difficult to spot the birds with binoculars, as the sea swells and little crests of waves distract the eye, imagine how hard it is to photograph them without the aid of magnification, and with a surging seasickness.

But sometimes, nature gives you these little gifts. Birds like this snowy egret have grown accustomed to the presence of humans and their boats and sometimes come for a visit in hopes of a snack.

Stay tuned for photos from our stop ashore at Santa Cruz Island, including a sighting of the island scrub-jay (a close relative of the mainland western scrub-jay)—which is only found on this one island, which makes it the smallest range of any bird species in North America.

Related Posts:
An Island Calling
Photo Essay: Up and Into Catalina's Wild Interior
Photo Essay: Invasive Plants, Parasitic Birds, and Giant Stinging Nettle at Prado Wetlands
Basking in the Gloom at Bolsa Chica Wetlands

February 26, 2016

All Signs Point to Hollywood at Nick Metropolis (Updated for 2019)

Update 6/23/19 9:55 PM PT: Nick Metropolis closed its LaBrea location on 6/11/19. Visit Nick Metropolis at its new location, 1846 West Adams Blvd., Los Angeles CA 90018.

I remember somewhere downtown on Houston Street in New York City, there used to be this place on the corner that was basically just a junk pile of old signs, except I think they were all for sale.

I never stopped in to visit, partially because it was usually nighttime if I was down in that neighborhood, and I was therefore on a mission.

But I also think I knew I'd be inclined to spend money I didn't have on pieces of pop culture that I didn't need...but, in the moment, would want desperately.

I think that's why Nick Metropolis* Collectibles on LaBrea [Ed: Now on West Adams Blvd.] caught my eye.

Especially because if I'm ever in this area, it's generally daytime.

While in New York, one man's trash might be another man's treasure... Hollywood, you can make a business out of anything.

Any discarded piece of signage, point of sale merchandising, retail display, or whatever can be repurposed as a prop for a movie...

...and sold or rented out for an easy buck.

And whereas some of LA's neon signage has been scooped up by non-profits like the Museum of Neon Art and Valley Relics, the backlit plastic lettering of Starbucks and whatnot ends up here.

Maybe one day these things will be considered "historically significant"...

...but for now, they're just waiting for some prop master or set designer to pick them out of the crowd.

It's set up like a boneyard, but this isn't really where household items and bric-a-brac go to die.

Rather, it's life after death for old seats from stadiums and movie theaters...

...disembodied heads...

...with their blank stares...

...and the archaeological relics of our commercial culture.

Even if you're not in the movie biz...

...and not in the market for miscellany...'s kind of fun to walk through the corner lot...

...which is chuck cram full of stuff, hanging overhead and sticking out underfoot.

Sometimes items are posed together to help attract attention to them...

...and sometimes they seem to have lost all hope and given up.

Although these "collectibles" are a commercial endeavor for Nick, sometimes you can find some treasures out on a sidewalk table marked "Free" for friends and family and neighbors. But because everything has some purpose in Hollywood, all the free stuff has probably been snatched up already by someone else by the time you get there.

But who knows? Maybe you'll find something you never knew you needed or even wanted.

But once you've seen it, maybe you just have to have it.

Fortunately, I walked away with empty hands and a full wallet...this time.

*no relation to the American physicist who died in 1999

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Neon Boneyard, Vegas
Photo Essay: Relics from The Valley

February 24, 2016

Dear Los Angeles, from Frank Gehry

Photo taken inside the Resnick Pavilion at LACMA on 2/23/16

Dear Los Angeles

We met many years ago when we were both young and we had stars in our eyes and we wanted to make a beautiful oasis, a beautiful place. There weren't a lot of rules, there weren't a lot of spotlights and there weren't a lot of people watching. There was a lot of freedom for a creative person to explore ideas, make things. Anywhere else in the world I would have had difficulty taking the route that you afforded me.

So now we are all grown up and we have a mature group of creative professionals joining us that believe in your uniqueness. Together we all want to help, to address our collective experience and some of the challenges still confronting us.

We've been good partners and we are stronger for it. Lets continue taking care of each other.

Frank Gehry

Related Post:

Standing in the Rain Without Getting Wet (Updated for 2024)

[Last updated 2/10/24—"Rain Room" was on display at LACMA in Los Angeles until January 22, 2017. It has now found a permanent home with Sharjah Art Foundation in the United Arab Emirates.]

I thought that the whole point of the "Rain Room" art installation was to stand in the rain without getting wet.

February 23, 2016

Photo Essay: A Tunnel Walk Into LA's First Museum

I first visited the Southwest Museum of the American Indian (as it was then called) back in 2012—when I realized that there wasn't much to see there, except for the building itself.

Most of its collection of Native American art and artifacts had been moved over to The Autry museum, or put into storage.

At least back then, the Hopi Trail was open so you could meander your way to the top of the hill through the gardens...

...especially because the historic "tunnel" entrance was closed.

The museum itself hasn't been open much since The Autry took over its operations in 2003, but even on Saturdays when the galleries up the hill have been open...

... the tunnel entrance (known as the "Maya Portal," whose design was based on the Casa de Monjas at the Chichen-Itza historic site in the Mexican state of Yucatán) generally has not.

But now, the tunnel—originally built into the hillside below the museum in 1920 for pedestrian access—has reopened, though only temporarily.

It's all for a gallery show appropriately called "Tunnel Entrance"... which each of the tunnel's 20 niches along its 224 feet of length are outfitted with sculptural pieces...

...that feel like items left behind by a Blue Man Group training workshop.

But of course the tunnel should open for art's sake, since it was art that originally adorned those niches.

Between 1920 and 1942, the art that resided here was a series of papier-mâché dioramas...

...that depicted various scenes of Native American cultures from North to South America.

It was a fitting way to enter a museum devoted to telling the story of the American Indian...

...but the tunnel became leaky during a wet winter season ...

...and so The Autry scooped up the dioramas were sent them into storage...

...perhaps never to be seen again.

The "Historic Southwest Museum" (which I guess is what they're calling it now) is considered LA's first museum...

...known as "The Getty" of its time—the "Museum on the Hill."

It was co-founded in 1914 by Charles Lummis—an eccentric, a wanderer, and a newsman who'd walked from Ohio to LA to become an editor of the LA Times.

The bulk of the artifacts in the collection were his, acquired throughout the American Southwest and South America... a time when no one much cared to put that sort of thing in a museum.

Today, although the galleries aren't much to speak of, the museum continues a mission of archaeology...

...and also houses a research library.

Unfortunately, most people probably only know of the Southwest Museum as something they see off of the 110 Freeway—a place to drive past but not necessarily walk into.

When it was originally dug out of the hillside, the tunnel entrance (and its elevator) made it a lot easier to get to the museum; but the Hopi Trail, when it was open, allowed those who could to "climb to knowledge."

Just over a year ago, the National Trust for Historic Preservation launched a campaign in support of the Southwest Museum, which it considers "underutilized" despite its historical significance and landmark status. The fact is, it's more or less been closed for over 10 years, and most people don't even know that it's open for a few hours on Saturdays.

It has the architectural pedigree of much more famous and much more utilized buildings in LA, having been designed by the same architects as The Bradbury Building, the Wilshire Ebell, and the Automobile Club of Southern California headquarters in West Adams—all of which can be enjoyed by the public in some way or another, and not from afar.

The tunnel art exhibit is open this week and then...who knows?

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Antelope Valley Indian Museum, Built into a Butte
Photo Essay: Lummis' House, Built of a River Bed