Murphy’s Ranch Trail is a 3.4 mile loop located in the Pacific Palisades. This hike is in a pretty central area, located just shortly off of where the 405 meets Sunset Blvd. Parking is simple, as the trail begins in a residential area. Currently, there is a lot of construction going on where the trail begins, so you won’t miss it if you look for the construction. Luckily, this trail features my favorite aspect of hiking- you go up on the way in and down on the way back! It’s great to start a hike going uphill, as you are more pumped and ready to get moving. The more you walk, the more tired you get, so I always find it ideal for the trail to be going downhill on the way back. This trail fits that mold perfectly.
Murphy’s Ranch Trail is ideal for those looking to see some beautiful natural sights while also getting a little urban-ruin exploration on. As you reach the highest part of your trail on the journey in, you can choose to keep going forward and down or down a large set of stairs that descend down the side of the mountain. I chose to go down the stairs and loop back around and gradually up on the loop. You can choose to do it either way.
As you reach the bottom of the stairs, you have entered the land of Herr Schmidt, Winona and Norman Stephens, and their followers. Those individuals listed above were Nazi sympathizers who built this refuge as a place to wait for the Americans to fall and be overtaken by the Nazis during World War II. Instead, the ranch was raided and closed in 1941 by US officials. When you make a left at the bottom of these stairs, the unpaved road will take you around to the old power building that has been well boarded up. It’s pretty fun to look around at the graffiti that has been placed all over the abandoned building, and you can also climb up the back side (where the hill makes it easy for you to climb on the ruin) to take a photo from up on top of the structure.
As you continue through the woods (and the path gets much more narrow), you come across the remains of a building that is now just a chimney, followed by the old stables. The stables are also covered in graffiti, and the building is half standing and half fallen. However, it’s standing enough for you to be able to see where each stable was. It’s a pretty cool spot for those who love ruins.
From there, you continue up a gradual incline until the path reaches the top of the steps that lead down to the building. From there, it’s a gradual decline down to the entrance of the trail. I highly enjoyed this hike, and I think you will, too.
The hike to Deep Creek Hot Springs is a MUST for those who are itching for adventure. However, it is absolutely not for the faint of heart. Deep Creek Hot Springs is located about 2 hours away from Los Angeles. It is roughly a 5-mile hike in- and-out, however, the trek in is deceitfully simple if you go the conventional way. You find yourself mesmerized by beautiful desert scenery and mountains as you walk down trails along the edge of this dusty location. The beautiful valley that you stand high above distracts you as you continue down for about 2.5 miles. The gradual decline in the path (and then very steep decline at the end of the trail to the hot springs) makes this trip seem effortless and quick.
Then, as you approach the hot springs at the bottom of the mountain, a paradise appears in a clearing of trees. You see a beautiful body of water that isn’t quite big enough to be a lake, but it’s much larger than most creeks that I’ve seen. As you step into the clear water, you see little fish and tad poles move around your legs to avoid your step. This water is, surprisingly, very warm. Welcome to the hot springs!
As you pass the shallow water, you can go to the opposite side of the hot springs to the rocks. These rocks serve as pools that hold more of the hot springs. There are many different caverns that serve as little “hot tubs,” holding all different temperatures of water. The hottest pool is supposed to be 110 degrees. There are some that are much cooler, however, and the creek around the pools is the perfect swimming temperature. It feels like a luke-warm bath.
For those that enjoy action, you can jump off rocks into the waters of the creek. We swam, laid out in the natural springs, and soaked in the amazing scenery that this hidden spot had to offer.
I bet you forgot about having to go back 2.5 miles after your amazing soak, huh? Most people do. The people who tackle this trail regularly know that you need to save almost ALL of your water for your trek back in the desert heat after enjoying your time in the warm water. I’m telling you now… if you go, please save A LOT of water for your way back. Unlike your gentle trip down, the entire way back from the hot springs is up hill. It’s 2.5 miles up. Most of the trail is on a slight incline; however the beginning and end of the trail are very dramatic climbs. If you are out of shape, you will not be able to easily make this trail back. So please be advised: have a lot of water and pace yourself or you will have a hard trip back.
Perhaps soon, I will tell you all how our friend almost died going on this trip with us. Stay tuned for that story.
But, if you’re used to hiking on rough terrain, I highly recommend this beautiful place.
Las Pozas is an unbelievable playground for adults. It was created by the mind of art patron and poet Edward James who searched for the best land he could find to create his wonderland. He discovered the mountains in San Luis Potosí and knew that he had found the perfect location. With the help of a local Mexican man who bought the land for the British art patron, Las Pozas was initiated. In the past, the gardens featured beautiful orchids and exotic animals. After they were destroyed in a great frost in 1962, the surrealist sculptures began construction, and they stole the show. By the time James passed away in the 1980s, over 36 surrealist sculptures stood tall over the trees of his land. This is the Las Pozas that we know today.
Arriving in Las Pozas, you enter into a jungle-like environment up in the hills of the Sierra Madre. As you enter the garden, all around you is greenery and plant life. (Joking around my friend and I dubbed this “Jurrassic Park, Mexico.”) “The Stairway to Heaven” greets you to your left as you head towards a circular structure that leads you down a path to the rest of this wonderland. This is, perhaps, the most beautiful structure featuring many circular stairways all leading to one very small platform on top of it.
As you pass it and enter through the circular sculpture, the structures climb higher and higher up the mountainside, featuring stories-high concrete stairs, flats, and formations that peak out over the tree tops. The best part about this experience is that you can play on any of them.
As I climbed and balanced on the structures, the hardest part for me was knowing that the stairs had no railings. We’d be climbing stairs high above the greenery that circled around structures with nothing on either side, and the fear of heights within myself would peak on the narrow stairways. If you fall, it is likely that you might not live to tell the tale. But, as everyone says, the best things in life exist on the other side of fear. Conquering that fear to come out above the trees and waterfall of the jungle of San Luis Potosi was the best thing about my trip to Mexico. There is one structure in particular near the top of the mountain that overlooks the waterfall and all of the garden and trees. You can sit up there and listen to the rustling of the trees and here the splashing of the waterfall. There, you can find true nirvana. That was worth everything. If you like adventure, playing, and exploration, absolutely find that tiny spot in the mountains of San Luis Potosí, and you will be in Heaven.
If you live in Southern California, a day trip (or a weekend trip) is a must-do to visit Sequoia National Park. Spread out wide across from King’s Canyon National park and conveniently 3 ½ to 4 hours from Los Angeles is Sequoia, featuring miles of hiking trails, streams, cascades, wild life, caves, and the most impressive trees you will ever see. When you arrive, plan to drive roughly 18 miles from the entrance (where you pay your drive-on fee of $30) to make it to the Giant Forest. (If you plan on visiting more than twice in a year, think about getting the season pass for $50. It pays for itself in two trips!) If you’re going to see anything in Sequoia, the Giant Forest is the most important. The Giant Forest Hike is only 0.8 miles in and out, but it can be harder going back as it is on an incline. You begin walking into the woods and find yourself surrounded by redwoods with the largest bases you have ever seen. These sequoia trees have stood tall for roughly 3,000 years. Their height is nowhere near as impressive as their width. Their bases are, as I laughingly described them, very “girthy.” At the center of the sequoias is the main attraction of this section of the park: The General Sherman Tree, the largest known living single stem tree on Earth, taking up 52,500 cubit feet in volume. It is estimated to weigh 4.189 million pounds, and it isn’t even hard to speculate why. When you see this tree, you will feel so humbled to exist on this earth.
The other trail I highly recommend in Sequoia is Moro Rock. Moro Rock is a dome-shaped granite formation that a trail has been cut into for climbing to the most amazingly scenic summit, overlooking the Great Western Divide and most of the park. While it’s a very high, very steep climb up stairs carved into the structure, it is worth enduring to see the top. At the top of the rock, there are railings around you in a flat, narrow walkway so that you can experience this majestic view, looking down into the greens and waters of the valley from high above the tops of the mountains. This view, and the beautiful rock path, make Moro Rock a must-see at Sequoia.
While I couldn’t do it all at once, I made sure to return to Sequoia to finish out the “must-sees” list.
On my list to tell you about at Sequoia next time: Crystal Cave and the Tokopah Valley trail to the Topokah Waterfall at Sequoia! Stay tuned!
Puebla is a very artistic, hip city slightly south of Mexico City. It is a fun, modern place to be. Though it is updated and gorgeously modern, the old side of town features antique Spanish architecture still entwined perfectly within the new.
Our hotel, the Puebla de Antano Hotel, was a beautiful, five-star, classy place. The Spanish architecture featured a glass ceiling falling gently over the beautiful artwork and newly-painted walls. When it rained, they called this ceiling a “waterfall” as liquid gently cascaded like a waterfall down it.
As you exited the hotel, the Puebla Cathedral was right in front of you with beautiful colored lights dancing off it at night. We walked into the plaza next to the Cathedral to find a little park filled with class, style, and tons of little cafes. Puebla was the only place we visited in Mexico that had pizza and pasta. It was nice to see the strong variety of food around on top of all the shops.
Just outside of Puebla was the Great Pyramid of Cholula! Cholula is marked in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest pyramid to exist in the world. It is also marked as the largest monument constructed anywhere. What is left of the structure doesn’t seem like much now, but it’s because a large hill had formed over it after centuries had passed, and the Spanish built a cathedral on top of the hill. So it looks like a large cathedral on a hill, but you’d be surprised to find that the pyramid still exists beneath. Tunnels under the interior of the hill hide in a maze for you to play in. Tourists can visit parts of the tunnels within the hill, and it is absolutely worth it to do so.
Next to the towering hill, where the tunnels let out, are ruins of the outside city of the temple for you to see. This part of the structure has been excavated for tourists to enjoy. There are sacrificial altars, remains of statues, and the large steps to the base of the old structure- the only real part of the pyramid still to be seen. If you feel the need to hike up onto the hill to see the glorious church, I highly recommend that, as well. What an adventure we had in Puebla!
Guanajuato is an intricate city built into the side of a great hill. It’s colorful, bright, and cultural with a massive theatre, classy little parks, and little shops and knick-knacks everywhere. The road system twists in and out of the hills in a way where you can tell they are in what used to be the canals of the city. The old bricks and stones of the canals tell a great story of what used to be.
Must-sees within the city are the Teatro Juarez, towering over the masses with gorgeous statues and innate detail, El Callejon del Beso, featuring a dark love story, and the mummies of Guanajuato.
The mummies of Guanajuato go back to a cholera outbreak around Guanajuato during the 1830s. After some time, a burial tax was decided upon, and those families that could not pay the tax would have their ancestral bodies dug up. To the surprise of those pulling the bodies from the ground, the corpses had been naturally mummified due to the minerals in the area of Guanajuato. Rumors have it that people began bribing the workers to see the bodies, and, over time, the mummy museum was born. There have been monster movies made about these bodies based on the scared and terrifying looking faces on some of the mummies. Rumors came around that the bodies that didn’t have horrified faces were distorted to have them to bring in more tourists. There are babies, women, men, those who died tragically, and even a mummified fetus. It’s not for the weak of constitution, but it is something fantastic to see.
Guanajuato is a beautiful city built into the hills, and it is somewhere I highly recommend that you check out.
For the outdoor-loving adventurers of the world, Grutas Tolantongo is a must see! It is the most mesmerizing place. Hidden in the side of a mountain and overlooking its mighty valley and river bed within it, is Grutas Tolantongo, a natural hot-springs resort and park. Grutas Tolantongo is hidden away in the mountains of Hidalgo, but it’s worth the trip out into the country side.
Tolantongo features two sections- one having Las Pozitas, pools, and zip lining and the other having the waterfall and natural hot spring-caverns within the waterfall. The river flows through both areas. To get from one area to another is a hike (slightly more than 2km), which is great for those ready for outdoor exercise and fun! However, a bus is there to take you back to the other side of the resort if you’d rather not walk. But if you’re down for the hike, the trails are vibrantly green and magical.
The Pozitas, the pools built into the side of the canyon, were what brought us to Tolantongo, but the waterfall and the natural pool within it are what stole the show when we got there. As you approach the waterfall, it’s heavy flow of water cascades down from one of the largest mountains you have ever seen. The closer you get to the bottom of the waterfall, the more you realize that tucked away under the falls is one giant pool. You continue forward where you can wander inside into the natural pool. The little hide-away has water cascading from the ceiling and a few other various places from above. You can sit under it and have the water massage your shoulders or just sit back and watch others enjoy it. From there, there are caverns to swim in to see the natural formations of the cave, if you are brave enough to swim through the dark waters without any light. A great adventure, it is!
The river is naturally calm and lightly flowing with sections divided by rocks so you can enjoy your own little warm pool within the river.
And the Pozitas. They were beautiful. They were what brought us there, after all. Water cascades from one pool down into the next from the lightly flowing and trickling water above- each pool getting cooler as it flows down to the bottom pool. Those pools, standing in such a serene location overlooking the canyon, you have to see to believe. They are a great place to hide away and relax. There are many sets of them, but the ones half-way down the mountain were the best to experience. They were a hike down the trail, but it was well worth it for the exclusion.
Finally- if you are there, go zip-lining. It’s very affordable and very surreal to go flying above the canyon and river. Grutas Tolantongo is an amazing place for any world traveled to experience.
Let’s talk about Blarney Castle. The full name of the property is “Blarney Castle and Gardens,” and with quite a good reason. The gardens of Blarney are, perhaps, more charming than the castle, itself. But more to that in a second.
Blarney Castle is, perhaps, the most famous castle in Ireland. It was absolutely the most magical place I have visited thus far in my travels. Blarney transported me back hundreds of years ago to the 1500s, when the castle was flourishing. Entering the lands felt like wandering into a portal that transported you back in time.
As we began our walk into the grounds of Blarney, we could see the castle off in the distance.
We approached the castle while following a path through a few trees, fields, and gardens. As we approached, the main castle keep and tower were standing strongly above us. What made Blarney Castle so special was, despite its age, the entire structure was, more-or-less, intact. The main floors/ceilings of the great hall had long since been gone, but the small passages and rooms to the sides of the main hall (such as the kitchen, battle areas, and more) were still completely together. We travelled through the kitchen, the little lady’s room, the banquet hall, the family room, and even passed the murder hole. (We got a good laugh out of a father trying to explain to his son what the murder hole was for. If you don’t know, it’s where they would dump hot oil onto intruders from above if they made it passed the front door). As we made our way around, we could see fireplaces up above us on the walls where a floor once stood that no longer existed. As we head around and up the twisted staircase for what seemed to go on for years, we found ourselves on a path to the top to find the Blarney Stone. Once you we reached the very top of the building, there was a walkway around the perimeter. At the center of the far wall was the Blarney Stone. To kiss the stone, you lay on the ground and lean back (much farther than you think you need to) upside-down while holding onto a rail. There was a man positioned there to help, as people used to kill themselves trying to kiss this infamous stone. Once we kissed the stone, we made our way down to the grounds.
The grounds at Blarney were just as magical as the castle, itself, if not more-so. As we walked out of the castle, the poison garden greeted us and showed us the poisoned plants of the area. We heard that it was used to teach the inhabitants of the castle what to and what not to touch around the area. From there, a path through the woods was laid out before us. First, we followed the trees to a pond that had a beautiful waterfall before us. This was the water gardens. Heading around the land back on top of the waterfall, we followed the path to the Witch’s stone and the Wishing Steps. The Witch’s cave told a story where a witch was imprisoned into a stone (which looks like a witch, so it’s easy to see how the story came to be). Legend has it that she is cursed into the stone but is free at night to wander, where she comes out and moves into a nearby cave (built under a tree and complete with an unexplained ancient chimney supposedly built by druids) to conduct her magic. The cave was positioned beautifully in the roots of his tree, and was cozy enough for one person to live. At the foot of all of this, the Wishing Steps stoop firmly built. Rumor has it, if you closed your eyes and focused on a wish, if you made it all the way down the steps with your eyes closed, the wish would come true. From there, we followed the wooden paths and found Druid Stones positioned in a perfect circle on the grounds. From there, we explored the dungeons of the castle. The dungeons were torturously small. To proceed to the back of the dungeons, you had to crawl on your hands and knees through darkness. It let out into a tiny back area with a very dark energy.
From there, we proceeded back towards the entrance of the land. For those wishing to visit Blarney, maps are offered online. The property is extremely large but well worth a full-day journey if you have that to offer it. There’s even a café and coffee shop attached to the property. It is well worth the adventure if you are willing to answer that call.
I was inspired to visit the Rock of Dunamase (an amazingly beautiful castle laid in ruins along the Irish countryside) while watching Leap Year with Amy Adams, as it is featured in that movie. I know, it’s slightly lame, but the structure just looked so beautiful on the big screen. Despite some GPS issues, as the castle doesn’t have an address that leads you directly to it, we saw it in the distance- a beautiful spray of ruins up on a hill. At that point, it was easy to follow the roads in the general direction to make it there. We arrived at a small, beautiful old church at the base of the hill where we could find parking. From there, we walked up the massive hill around the winding path to the ruins.
Unlike any of the other castles that we visited, Dunamase was completely in ruins. While the base of a few towers and rooms were scattered around, there were chunks of the structure spread all around the tall hill, with some looking as if they were about to slide down to the ground below. Despite its appearance in the movie Leap Year (which included a lot of CG), there was no second story anywhere. You could wind up the staircase that they supposedly walked through (which wasn’t exactly a staircase) to a ledge within the structure. It was actually a really fun and easy place to climb along the rocks.
This was the perfect location to be at sunset. The sun was rolling down into the grassy fields off in the distance, and the entire area seemed to glow a beautiful orange and yellow. It was the most magical sunset that I have ever seen. There was a window ledge in the base of the main building where you could sit and watch the sun fall behind the fields and over the church at the base of the hill. It was an ethereal experience.
Though not as mainstream or touristy as the rest of the Irish Castles, the Rock of Dunamase is most definitely a place to see.
The story of The Phantom of the Opera has always interested me since I was young. It originated from a book by Gaston Leroux, who supposedly swore on his deathbed that the story was true. People have spent their lives studying the Opera Garnier, where the story occurred, trying to prove the truth behind it. Regardless, it brings a lot of people out to the Opera Garnier each year. My husband and I were no exception.
During our trip to Paris, I made sure to schedule an after-hours tour of the Opera Garnier so we could experience the exceptional beauty of the building without hundreds of tourists circling around us. We arrived early, so we were able to sit outside of the great structure and listen to a street musician as we awaited our tour. The names and busts of many famous musicians sat up high on the building of the opera, carved out of stone, and gold statues decorated the roof. We arrived as the building was being closed for the day and made our way in through the downstairs entrance hall. We met our tour guide shortly after, and she took us around the building. We learned that Charles Garnier was not a known architect when he designed the Opera. In fact, he more-or-less accidentally won a contest that gave him the title to create the Opera. Because of this, he hid many of his personal signatures around the place so people would know without a doubt that the Palais was his design. The most famous and easy to spot is his own bust that he placed at the top of the ceiling in the grand foyer. His face is in the design on one end, and his wife’s is on the design opposite of his own. He made sure that the people who came would know his face.
As we made our way up the famous Grand Staircase, we were shown a step where the marble had been broken. It seemed to have been broken by some kind of impact. The rumors and stories that have been passed down about that step all revolve around someone falling through the roof and down onto the stairs. (The history and stories that came from this place, alone, were worth attending to tour for.)
Once we made our way into the auditorium, we were blown away by the beautiful red seats and the enormous (and also quite famous) chandelier that hung over our heads. Our guide was quick to point out which box was Box 5, the famous box of the Opera Ghost a.k.a. The Phantom. She began to explain the social traditions of going to the opera back in that time, and that was perhaps the most interesting thing that I learned on our trip. You see, back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, going to the opera was purely a social affair. You either owned a box or a seat, which meant that you attended almost every show, or you rented for the night. Seat owners went out for each performance dressed to the nines. You could go up the grand staircase so you could show off your new outfits to everyone. Those who rented a seat for the night were not important and had to go up the back stairwells, where they couldn’t be seen. As a fun gesture, the seats still have labels on them saying which was an owned seat and which was a rented seat, though that isn’t something that is done anymore.
The boxes were, of course, for the wealthy. And, funny enough, the best seats in the house were in the boxes right next to the stage. Though it was hard to see the stage from there (and impossible with some seats), everyone could see you! That was the point of coming out to the Opera! To be seen! And, if you didn’t feel like being seen, you had a partition you could pull up to hide yourself. There were lounge rooms for dinner behind each box, so sometimes you wouldn’t be out in your own box at all. And, to top it all off, everyone talked during the show. It was normal for everyone to come out and socialize, so silence wasn’t really a thing that happened during a performance. Very interesting.
Finally, she talked about how the ceiling was replaced above the chandelier, and it was easy to tell. The style of the art up there did not match the rest of the Opera in any way. She had grown accustomed to it. We weren’t so sure about it. It was a little too modern to fit with the style of the rest of the building.
We then moved to the Grand Foyer where she pointed out the golden busts of Charles Garnier and his wife that I mentioned before. This was the most beautiful room of the opera by far. The ceiling was painted exquisitely in gold colors, and there were many chandeliers draping down. There was a dark fireplace at the end of the hall, as well. It was gorgeous.
Upon leaving, I could understand very easily why the Opera Ghost would make such a place his home. If you haven’t read The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, I highly recommend it. Even better- see the Andrew Lloyd Webber adaptation on Broadway. But, above all, if you get the chance to see the Opera Garnier in person, I highly recommend doing so! It is a magical place glowing with history.