Africa VI: Kilimanjaro Machame Route Day 1

I’m very excited to share with you all the details of my Africa (Kenya/Tanzania) trip, and hopefully it helps you plan your own trip, encourages you to visit these places, or at the very least teaches you about another culture in another part of the world. I loved my Africa experience. To catch you up on my trip, check out all my Africa posts:

Africa I: Planning Logistics + Budgets + Immunizations + Clothing/Gear + Getting There
Africa II: Kenya Stop1, Baby Elephants
Africa III: Kenya Giraffes, Karen Blixen and Artcaffe
Africa IV: Arriving in Moshi + The Good Hope School
Africa V: Kilimanjaro Details
Africa VI: Kilimanjaro Machame Route Day 1
Africa VII: Kilimanjaro Machame Route Day 2
Africa VIII: Kilimanjaro Machame Route Day 3
Africa IX: Kilimanjaro Machame Route Day 4
Africa X: Kilimanjaro Machame Route Day 5
Africa XI: Kilimanjaro Machame Route Day 6 and 7


Now that I’ve gone over what to pack, where to stay, and how it all works it’s finally time to start the hike! After breakfast we brought all the luggage we didn’t want to bring on the trek to the hotel storage room, and checked out of the hotel. Around 9:00a we met up with our Zara Tour Guide Bruce and Assistant Guide Thomas in the Springlands Hotel courtyard. Our van was loaded with gear and then we left on our journey!

We made a last minute pitstop at a row of shops where we picked up some goodies (cookies and crackers) and Bruce picked up some snacks. We then continued on our way to the Machame Gate just as it started to rain.


It took about 45 minutes (?) to get to the Machame gate (see gate above). I should note I purposely didn’t bring a watch, as I didn’t want to know the time and wanted to feel free of watches, phones, and electricity for the trek. Once you arrive, you fill out the permit forms and then wait while the permits are processed and your group of porters assemble.


Above, the gate is on the right, then the permit building in the middle (with a restroom) and on the left is the holding area for the climbers waiting for their permits to be processed. My sister had a watch, and noted that it took about 2 hours until the permits were processed and we could start the climb. I sort of didn’t realize it takes this much time, so when you start your day at the hotel, the earlier you leave the earlier you get to start the climb.


While we hung out in the holding area, we met some fellow climbers. It also didn’t occur to me that we would end up seeing these people all along the trail as we climbed. They were all in different groups and with different companies, but you are all on the same trail together and end up motivating each other when times get hard.


This is the view from in the waiting area. You can see far off in the distance all the porters are getting organized while us tourists take “before” pictures.


This is a great rundown of the Machame route (minus the Arrow Glacier trail that splits off). This makes it seem not-so-long, right? Some 3 hour days in there… I can handle that, right? I should note that the 3 hour days are steeper than the 6 hour days. Except for the Barranco Wall… nothing is steeper than that. More on that in my “Day 4” post.


Above, the porters are all gearing up.


The logistics of who-carries-what seems complicated, as there’s so much gear and food to carry and each porter has weight restrictions. I think just for me and Erica, we had a support staff of 10, which is required as part of the permit process. It promises employment for a lot of locals and helps fuel the Tanzanian economy.


I think these were some of our porters (above). It was all a bit of a mystery to us as we were never introduced to the whole gang and since everything was always setup when we arrived at camp, we never saw who-setup-what. Once the permits are processed and ready to go, you walk through that metal gate above, and you’re officially on the Machame Trail.

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We took a last minute “Are we really doing this?!” photo, and then started the trek. Waiting the 2 hours for the permits to be approved was painful because I just sat there panicking. I was anxious to get started and to prove to myself I could do this.


Day 1 is basically 5 hours of jungle, so be prepared for moist air. It’s got interesting plant life and birds. You can see the trail is wide and a bit muddy. The bottom of my pants got pretty dirty but once the mud dries it flakes off. So when I took the photo above I had no clue, but the guy on the right with the gray shorts is actually Earnest our waiter. He was super nice and it’s funny to look back at my photos and recognize porters I met later in the trek.


Porters far off in the distance. They carry so much on their backs and heads and still way out-run us up the mountain. I can’t imagine how many times they’ve climbed this mountain.


About 2 hours (?) in we passed this outhouse above. Thankfully I was able to hold it most days along the trail. Who knew they’d have outhouses?


There was interesting plant life in this portion of the climb. Thomas and Bruce told us about several of the plants.


Up we go! Thomas and Bruce are in the photo above.



This photo above gives you a sense of the steepness at time during day 1. It’s also slippery, but the trail is clearly marked and even has “steps” built in.


We went slowly to take many photos, so we arrived to camp later than I hoped. Above we signed in at the Machame Hut which is our home for the night.


When we arrived our tents were setup and snacks were waiting in the food tent. Our sleeping tent is the round one by the tree and our triangular food tent is to the left of our sleeping tent. Our bathroom tent is hidden off in the trees. You can see we were in thick fog, which made everything damp. This had me a little down, as all my clothes felt wet and it was only day 1. The dampness added a chill to the air as well. We got setup in our tents next, as once the sun sets, it’s hard to change clothes (too chilly) and organize our sleeping bags in the dark. They also give us a hot water bowl and soap at the start and end of each day to do a little sponge bath.


Above is our food tent, and Guide Bruce checking on things.


Inside our food tent there was hot water and yummy cookies and popcorn waiting for us. The popcorn was so delicious and Erica and I looked forward to that at the end of most hiking days. You can see our table also has lots of condiments on it that went with us to each campsite.


Dinner time! Since it’s dark, we eat by candlelight. For dinner we have a first course of hot soup and bread.


For the main course we had some pasta, veggies, and potatoes. For dessert we had fresh fruit. All the meals were very large like this and very tasty. Since I’m a vegetarian and Erica doesn’t eat eggs or cheese, we were a challenge for the chef, but he did an excellent job making meals Erica and I could both eat. There was always SO much food.

After dinner Erica and I played cards via candlelight while drinking hot cocoa. Bruce stopped by to chat about the next days climb. Tomorrow would be a shorter distance but would have some steep sections. After day 1 of hiking I was feeling more confident and ready to do this!

Do This Today: Happy 98th Birthday National Park Service!

I’m still organizing and figuring out how best to share my Africa trip with you… those posts are coming soon, I swear. And there will be many posts, but think of it as a first hand guide to making a trip to Africa. I’ll go over travel logistics, money, what to pack, who to tip, etc. It’ll be a handy guide to anyone even considering a trip to East Africa.


Now on to today- it’s the National Park Service’s 98th birthday! That’s huge! The Sierra Club posted this awesome “subway map” of our National Parks. How many have you been to? Visiting 1 by the end of 2014 seems like a good goal- I hope to hit several. In honor of it’s birthday, check out THIS website or THIS website and make a donation. Look through photos and see how lucky we are to have these parks in our own country. Check out the full map on THIS page to see what historical parks/sites are near you. Maybe you could hit one up this weekend.

Secret Stair Walk #42: Pacific Palisades – Giant Steps

— My goal was to finish all the walks in the book, “Secret Stairs, A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of LA” by Charles Flemming. I only had about 10 walks left when I pushed it to the back burner. One of my 2014 resolutions is to finally share those last walks with you. —

Time for the LAST Secret Stair Walk!! I’ve been wanting to share this will you for weeks, but between weekend activities and work/mid week adventures I’ve not been able to fully focus on writing this post. For the last secret stair walk my good friend Grace joined me and we were warned by my book that this was a monster step walk.


The walk begins high up in the hills about Sunset in Pacific Palisades. On our way to the trek we pass giant homes in a beautiful neighborhood. Once we find street parking we loop through a few small streets until we reach a dead end and the road becomes a trail.


The views in this canyon are incredible. Once we pass through the neighborhood it becomes more of a hiking path with cliffs and incredible views.


Up we go!


This path leads to the Rustic Canyon entrance of Topanga State Park.


Higher and higher! I know what you’re thinking- how is this a secret stair walk? It’s more of a hike! You’ll see….


Eventually on your left youll pass this break in the fence. This is where our stair climb will end, but it gives you a view into the canyon and the estate built by Winona Stephens in the 1930’s. Folklore says that Stephens was convinced by a Nazi-sypathizer named Schmidt into investing her fortune and land into creating a self-sustaining compound so that they would be ready in the event of Hitler taking over America. At one point all the land in the photos below were part of this compound which included water tanks, diesel fuel tanks, generators and living quarters. This compound fell into disarray when Schmidt was arrested for being a Nazi Spy during World War II. Eventually the property was deeded to the state and is now a frequently visited spot by urban explorers, stair lovers, and graffiti artists.


Stair Time!!!


This stair climb begins by dropping down to the bottom of the canyon. Looming in our minds is the eventual climb back up the canyon walls.


This climb s covered in graffiti and littered with trash, so be careful with each step.


This empty water tower is after the first big descent, but then lower you must go!






At last we make it to the canyon floor.


This is where we really see the compound remains… and all the graffiti.


Every inch of this structure is covered in graffiti and the floors are covered in empty paint cans.

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Bath tub!


There are many trails and loops at the bottom of the canyon, and after we’ve had our fill we head to the last set of stairs that take you from the canyon floor back to the top of the trail. This is the largest known staircase in Los Angeles with 531 steps.


Time for the monster!


We had to snap a photo to celebrate the last staircase. And yes, it is one continuous staircase with only a few larger steps that act as landings. You’ll probably have to rest a few times going up, and the higher you go the more impressive the canyon views.


We did it! Celebrating at the top of the climb!


That’s all folks! That’s the end of my Secret Stair book. It’s a relief to have it completed as it is an accomplishment, but Im sad to know I’ve completed all the walks. It’s been an amazing challenge that’s gotten me to explore neighborhoods I otherwise would have no reason to see. It’s opened my eyes to LA, gotten me outside on a sunny Sunday, and it’s given me countless hours of free fun. I also want to thank everyone who’s joined me on the walks. And to those of you who’ve told me you bought the book, do the walks. You’ll have a good time, I promise.

Secret Stair Walk #11: Downtown Los Angeles

— My goal was to finish all the walks in the book, “Secret Stairs, A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of LA” by Charles Flemming. I only had about 10 walks left when I pushed it to the back burner. One of my 2014 resolutions is to finally share those last walks with you. —

Time for another Secret Stair walk and we are getting close to the end of the book. This downtown LA walk was a really fun way to spend a Sunday. My friend Jamie and I carpooled downtown on this beautiful weekend morning.


We started at Grand Central Market, but didn’t grab breakfast. We decided a celebratory meal was in order at the end of the walk instead of the beginning.


Since I was last downtown the Market has had some upgrades done. For example there’s a craft bar for kids, a cool coffee shop, and of course…


The EGGSLUT stall! It’s no longer just a food truck, and it’s worth the wait in the long line. Trust me.


After a walk through the market we continued on the stair walk. Angels Flight is currently being fixed, but that’s no worries since we were in it for the exercise.


At the top of Angels Flight is Grand Plaza with shops and outdoor seating. In the summer this is where Grand Performances holds it’s free events. I HIGHLY recommend visiting this plaza and also seeing one of the free shows. Bring some grapes, cheese and a blanket to sit under the stars and enjoy a free show.

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Downtown murals.


Downtown LA has amazing sculptures all over the place.


This is taken by the public Library at the top of the steps.


This is the front of the library entrance.

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Sculptures, sculptures, sculptures…

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There are so many bridges and walkways downtown with incredible views. Also I had no idea Los Angeles had it’s own World Trade Center.


The Westin.


I’m afraid of heights, so taking this photo scared the beets outta’ me.


Indoor stairs count as stairs on this urban stair walk.


I told Jamie to pose like I was taking an action shot of her running. I think this is hilarious. Also, this hotel has a running track as one whole level of this attrium. That’s pretty cool. The whole floor is dedicated to work out spaces.


Back outside we explored more urban oasis’s hidden in the city.

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We went down to to the Walt Disney Hall and looped around the back of the building.


This art piece is behind the buidling. It’s made of broken porcelain plates.



We looped back to Grand Plaza by the Moca. We had to stop in and browse the gift shop.

We made our way back to Grand Central Market where we ate at the Egg Slut stall. It was amazing. So delicious. Jamie and I agreed this was such a great day. The weather was perfect for playing outside and it’s always fun finding new little gems downtown. I highly recommend it!

Secret Stair Walk #10: Happy Valley and Montecito Heights

— My goal was to finish all the walks in the book, “Secret Stairs, A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of LA” by Charles Flemming. I only had about 10 walks left when I pushed it to the back burner. One of my 2014 resolutions is to finally share those last walks with you. —

It’s FINALLY Saturday, and I’m in weekend zen mode while trying to fight off the start of a cold. I’ve got a candle lit, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark is on my tv (I’ve never seen it!), I’ve just slept in a little and now I’ve got the pleasure of sharing a Secret Stair walk with you.

This next walk is #10 in my book, and was extremely unique. It took me to the neighborhood of Montecito Heights, which I’ve never explored before.


It begins in an area with a mixture of low income housing and apartment buildings.


Tiny motorcycle with sidecar…  Amazing.


These short steps lead to a little park just off the main road. This private area was also a midday love nest for teens, so I adjusted my route to avoid catching people in compromising positions.


Back along the trek we started to head up into the hills. This walk had many adorable yapping dogs like this cutie above.


… Higher and higher up and down rolling hills.


High up on the hillside, the views were smoggy. It’s crazy to think how close to downtown this neighborhood is and yet there were times the homes became spread out and very rural. In fact at time the roads became dirt and only wide enough for 1 car.

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This loop is a 3.7 mile trek with lots of staircases. It was a great workout.


At the top of the next big hill, the views were incredible.


And at the top of that hill the road became dirt again. There were actually houses off this road. Here we are just a few miles from downtown LA and there are dirt roads and…


TUMBLEWEEDS! Actual tumbleweeds (and many of them at that) were rolling all around me.


The road was so bumpy it was hard to walk on it so I imagine cars have difficulty on this steep hillside.


Another cute white fluffy doggie.


The houses were very sparse up on this hillside, and several looked more like squatters using the land. I saw so many old dumped cars that looked like they were rehabbed to be like a room for tenants. It was a really strange place to be. Especially given the amazing views, you would think this land would be worth millions, and yet the properties looked like sheds with outdoor fire pits as kitchens, and cars used as bedrooms.


As I looped back down the hillside, more signs of traditional living popped up.

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I turned a corner and got this view of a relatively bare hillside with odd looking massive concrete homes lining the edge of the hill. All of the homes have fallen into disrepair and yet the incredible views these homes have… I just don’t get it?

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After looping back to the main road, I was met with signs of life other than doggies. This mural is near a local school.


As I was crossing to end the loop and get back to my car, this lovely bird sat for a while on the crosswalk button I needed to hit. Also, don’t you love the texture on that wall?

Well, that’s the end of this loop. I hope you’re all enjoying your Saturday. Why not get out there this weekend and do some Secret Stair walks?

Secret Stair Walk#5: Mt. Washington

— My goal was to finish all the walks in the book, “Secret Stairs, A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of LA” by Charles Flemming. I only had about 10 walks left when I pushed it to the back burner. One of my 2014 resolutions is to finally share those last walks with you. —

Sadly, Im no longer in the funemployment game, so my Secret Stair walking days are now reserved for weekends only. Thankfully I have a handful that I still need to tell you about. This next walk is Secret Stair Walk #5: Mt. Washington.


The walk begins by the busy intersection of Figueroa and Avenue 45. It starts with congestion but then quickly becomes a quiet neighborhood trek.


I love finding little neighborhood details.


After a steep hill, comes steep staircases. Thankfully, what goes up must come down.


This walk was “pre-rain” so the sky still has a cloudy (cough* smoggy) haze to it.


This old ranch had some fun colorful lighting to jazz it up.


It’s rare you see tile work like this along the driveway.


Reaching the top of the hill, I could barely see the faint outline of the downtown skyline. Grrr smog.


This residential neighborhood opens up at the top of the hill to be a quiet valley without many signs of life.


After the short dusty loop, it becomes a plush neighborhood again. In fact, it leads right to the Self-Relization Center on Mt. Washington which has super pretty gardens open to the public. It’s so relaxing there.

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They keep the gardens so well manicured.

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This is some tile fun on a bridge just past the meditation center.


I passed a few local schools up on Mt. Washington. I imagine the neighbors walking their children here. It must feel so far from LA, because it’s all so peaceful up on the hilltop.


Thankfully, I was not attacked by a dog here.

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Stairs, stairs, stairs…


The faux broken turtle trying to climb the stairs…



I love doors and gate doors are no exception.



Back down to the hustle and bustle of Figueroa.

Happy Friday everyone! I hope you have a busy weekend full of Secret Stair walks!

Secret Stair Walk#9: El Sereno Circles

— My goal was to finish all the walks in the book, “Secret Stairs, A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of LA” by Charles Flemming. I only had about 10 walks left when I pushed it to the back burner. One of my 2014 resolutions is to finally share those last walks with you. —

I’m excited to say that today I’m completing my last Secret Stair walk from my book! It was one of my goals for February and I’ll finish today, just as the month is winding down. Since I’m still back-logged with walks to share with you, I won’t be able telling you about today’s walk until sometime next week. In the meantime, here’s my walk #9: El Sereno Circles.

This walk was pretty short (1.8 miles) and I completed it on February 14 (Valentine’s Day).

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This walk starts along a busy street. Seeing a pay-phone (minus the phone), I had to take a photo.


It’s a short walk, but it’s got stairs! Up I go!


The views are great, unfortunately it was a bit smoggy (classic LA).

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A cat joined me for a stretch of the loop.

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For some reason this Valentine’s Day was filled with so much sky writing. Constant skywriting. I took this photo above to try to line the stairs up as if to say “I heart the secret stairs”.


Texture fun.


This walk has a ton of barking dogs along it, so be prepared for that. As I took this photo of a decorative gate, the dogs on the other side of it went from silent to loudly barking at me.


This staircase is not part of the walk, but it’s funny that the stairs sort of lead to nowhere.


Patterns and texture.


In honor of Valentine’s Day.

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I’ll leave you with this photo above. As I was looping back to my car and waiting at a stoplight, I saw this ad taped to a pole. It seems to be some kind of event where morbidly obese people in scooters slam into cars?? It made me sad, but I felt I should share it, since I am documenting the walk and this was along it. Also, who knew this was a thing?? More importantly, why is this a thing??

Secret Stair Walk#7: Highland Park- Southwest Museum

— My goal was to finish all the walks in the book, “Secret Stairs, A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of LA” by Charles Flemming. I only had about 10 walks left when I pushed it to the back burner. One of my 2014 resolutions is to finally share those last walks with you. —

Most of the walks that I have left to complete are in the Highland Park area, so this next walk is #7: Highland Park-Southwest Museum. It’s a 3.2 mile loop with a fair amount of hills. 


You can see the sky was a bit overcast so the photos aren’t as bright and cheery as they could be on a typical LA day.


This walk had lots of lawn statues which were fun to find. Some were tiny so it was like Where’s Waldo. 

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Home-made signs and a lion statue. 


More religious statues… this one is mounted to a log. 


From far back down the hill you could see these steps. I knew there were what was next, so with heavy breathing I climbed up higher and higher. 


Yes, this is a huge super steep hill with many flights of super steep stairs even higher up beyond it. 


But the views from the top of the hill make all the climbing worth while. 

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This was a nice quiet mid-week walk. 


The book points out this shrine in an old garage that’s now open-air. 

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This above is the Southwest Museum. It’s barely ever open to the public (one Saturday a month??) but it does have a library open to people with an appointment. The book made it sound like I could walk through the space, even though it was closed to the public, so I walked through. They were repairing the trail, so I was forced to walk in the way cars would drive in, which had me in a different place from the book. I saw the library had people in it so I tried the door- locked. I knocked, seeing someone at a desk right in front of the glass door. He didn’t acknowledge me. Really? For all they knew I was injured and needed medical attention, but nope- I didn’t have an appointment. Then an older man (security guard?) who didn’t speak english very well insisted that the book was wrong and that I wasn’t even allowed to walk through the public spaces. I find this hard to believe, given that I wasn’t asking to go into the museum but instead walk outside on the public grounds. I have to say- shame on you Southwest Museum. I expected more from this institution and was really let down. So I made my way back down to the road, having to cut out a section of the walk from the book, frustrated. 


I found a way to loop back with the walk and found this upper walkway along Figueroa across from Sycamore Grove Park. It was an oasis of a walkway which separated me from the busy rush of cars speeding by on Figueroa. 


There were apartment buildings and some large old victorians along the path, as well as this second shrine. 


The book recommends checking out this quirky home toward the end of the walk. As I was reading the plaque and taking pictures a man comes out of the house, sees my walking book and offers a great history of the neighborhood. He was very sweet, and renewed my sense of humanity, after my frustrations with the unhelpful people at the Southwest Museum. Thankfully this walk ended on a positive note. 

Secret Stair Walk#8: Highland Park- Highlands

— My goal was to finish all the walks in the book, “Secret Stairs, A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of LA” by Charles Flemming. I only had about 10 walks left when I pushed it to the back burner. One of my 2014 resolutions is to finally share those last walks with you. —

After finishing walk #6, Biz and I drove over to the other side of the neighborhood to do walk #8.

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This was also a pretty quick loop that started flat (see above) and then took us up into the hills.


Creepy ghost head fountain.

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Several of the yards we passed had fun lawn items. Many houses had left over Christmas decorations. The house in the photo below  had these freaky looking robots out in the front yard.


Time for stairs- up, up, up!


The top of the hill offers views of the west.


House number fun.

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We saw this sign at the end of the walk. How cute is that? It’s sad the cat’s lost, but still the drawing is adorable.

This walk was largely residential, which is why this walk book is great. I otherwise wouldn’t have a reason to be trekking through these hills and seeing these views.

Secret Stair Walk#6: Hermon and Highland Park

— My goal was to finish all the walks in the book, “Secret Stairs, A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of LA” by Charles Flemming. I only had about 10 walks left when I pushed it to the back burner. One of my 2014 resolutions is to finally share those last walks with you. —

It’s time for walk #6: Hermon and Highland Park. My good friend Biz joined me for the loop. This was a pretty quick loop, but it was nice to see another side of town.

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I just love these old store fronts and signs. As someone who works in the art department, we often “age” new sets to look old on camera. I think it has me hyperaware of rust and the qualities of aging.

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Along one of the roads were a ton of old vintage cars. That’s not something you see every day.


There’s a snake themed public space along this road. It had a Gaudi-esque flare to it with stone mosaic pathways. It also had a snake theme which made me uncomfortable (I hate snakes).

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After the park we walked over the highway and a “roaring-river”.


We ran into this Wildflowering LA spot.



This was a fast loop, so we combined it with walk#8. That’ll be up next!