Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Now-Silent Singing Cowboys and Observing the Grand Observer

Living in SoCal, people always ask "Do you go to Disneyland all the time? You're at the beach every weekend, right? Don't you love going to the theatre, the concerts, the museums.......?" Hmmmmm. Nope! People come from other states to ride the coasters at Six Flags Magic Mountain. It's two miles from our house. Lived here six years, haven't been once.

I love Disneyland and have been there about 30 times in my life. I'm probably good without another visit until there are grandkids to share it with. Since coasters now make me ill (sad because I was a huge fan), Magic Mountain won't be seeing me again. We see the beach a few times a year.

The rest of it? No excuse. None. I'm retired, I can go see stuff! Maybe it was the cooler temps last week, or school being back in, but I starting thinking about being a tourist in my own town (county, region, area). While I have seen much of what there is, there are some great places I haven't seen in decades or ever.

Tuesday was my first outing. Next to the L.A. Zoo, at the edge of Griffith Park, is the Autry National Center of the American West, also known as the Museum of the American West, OR the Western Heritage Museum. Geez - it's not that big!

A delightful museum of many names
I was last there in 1993 so it was sort of like going for the first time. Lately I'm finding more and more things that seem like the first time.... Anyway, it is a short drive, has lots of free parking, is a reasonable $10 admission (several discounts available), and is something I find interesting. 

Arriving just after opening at 10:30 I figured to have the place pretty much to myself, which I did. Except for the three Fourth Grade classes already in the downstairs gathering room :-( There was plenty for me to see upstairs, and they very quickly quieted down as they broke into small groups, each with their own docent. It was delightful to overhear their questions at different exhibits, and to see them mostly engaged in what they were being taught.

I thought this was a good place to start - lots of fun and unique information about the historic old highway
RVing in the 1960's - love the high chair and women in skirts!

From the television show "Route 66"

I spent nearly four hours, including a leisurely (and very good) lunch on the patio. All of the upstairs galleries are changed out twice a year, but I did recognize a few of the permanent exhibits downstairs. There is an extensive collection of western movie memorabilia from the 1940's and 1950's, including a large section on the singing cowboys like Roy Rogers and the museum's namesake, Gene Autry.

Chronology of western moviedom - Wild West Show to Brokeback Mountain

All of the information is very detailed, and offered in a variety of ways: signage, videos, audios, hands-on. There are at least three exhibits that kids can play dress-up, or sit on a "horse", or see themselves riding in a video with movie cowboys. Some of them are not restricted by size, so kids of any age can play :-)


The special exhibit of Native American beadwork is incredible.  The leather of these 150+ year old gloves was nearly worn through, but the beading was still perfect.

I was just as delighted to see that this beautiful tradition is being carried on today, in numerous tribes and traditions. This bag was completed by a young Cherokee woman.  It took her four months. The detail was exquisite.

Necklace of grizzly bear claws - a symbol of great bravery
Fully restored chuckwagon
Army rifle from Wounded Knee - carved with a half moon, the symbol of the warrior who killed the soldier
Large sculpture of Crazy Horse in the outdoor area
Intricate engraving, ivory carvings, detailed leather work - the firearms exhibit is an art gallery
Displays tell the story of the cowboy
Selfie in Chinese mask in one of many play areas

When I was five or six, and living in the desert, my mother drove me to 29 Palms every other Saturday for ballet lessons. On a narrow two-lane road that very few others traveled, we passed by small cabins with no electricity and no source of water. Many were abandoned even back then. Imagine my surprise to find a display about this unique area - and to learn that many have claimed the homesteads and are rebuilding the isolated community. There is one wall of cabin photos, and the new residents are pictured along the back wall. Kind of mixed feelings about finding places from my own past in a museum (already).

A small room detailing a place from my own history

 There were still a couple hours before I could pick Bill up from work (poor guy) so I headed for the Griffith Observatory on the other side of the park. Figured I could catch a quick tour, take some pictures of the L.A. Basin, and see more of Griffith Park. I guess one-out-of-three is better than none.

The drought damage is fairly extensive in this wilderness-inside-the-second-largest-city-in-the-country, known as Griffith Park. Still, it is a beautiful area with lots of trees and places to picnic, hike, bike and play with the kids and dogs. Lots of people were out - especially for a Tuesday afternoon at the end of September. And a whole bunch of them were at the observatory - like parked down the hill for a mile and walking up through the full parking lot to get there! It was crazy. I didn't see any sign of a special event, so maybe it is always that busy now.

I was really there!

So was everybody else!

The grand observer in the very dry hills

Los Angeles skyline through the haze

After catching a few pics from the car (to prove I really did observe it), I headed down the other side to complete the loop. It was a hazy day in the basin (some would say it always is, but I have seen the exceptions), and the downtown skyline looked a bit ghostly as I caught glimpses of it while I descended.

In addition to all of the attractions within the park, there are residences as well. Mostly built in the 1950's, the variety of architecture between the old growth trees adds another layer of visual delight for me. There is literally no street parking so it's a drive-through activity by necessity. I could spend hours driving the main, and side, streets just looking at the houses and landscaping. However I chose to avoid the private security being notified of a Jeep "casing the place", and being escorted back to the freeway :-) 

Hundreds of old-growth trees

Old California

So I didn't spend a lot of time enjoying that........which got me back to Burbank to pick up Bill a little early. It didn't seem to bother him :-) and it was a great end to a really great day.

If you're still in your sticks and bricks home, itching to get out there on the road and see all that wonderful stuff - I strongly encourage you to take advantage of the time you have left in your hometown, and go be a tourist!

Next up? The Getty Museum!



  1. It is so true that we don't bother to visit places around where we are. However, we'll travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to see something similar that isn't in our own backyard. Go figure.

    1. There was a couple there who are big fans of old westerns, collect memorabilia, etc. They were having a great time. They live in Colorado, and the museum was their destination!

  2. The museum looks very interesting. The last few times we have visited home, we have visited tourist attractions. They were always there, but we didn't take the time to see them.

    1. It really hit me when someone said "When you come back we can go see ......" I realized I could go see it now :-)

  3. Enjoyed your tour as these are some things I want to take Pete to but so far we have by passed the L.A area. Yep, drive across the country to see attractions but forget about hometown wonders!


    1. Glad you enjoyed it - they do such a good job in their exhibits and galleries :-) It is also an easy off and on from Interstate 5, and has lots of RV-size parking - so it makes a great "passing through" place to visit.

  4. This is really great advice that I didn't take until our first return to our former "home town" when I had nothing to blog about so I did what everyone should see in Charlottesville. It was great fun for me as this looks like it was for you. I love that museum and the fact that Native Americans and not just cowboys are included. The beading always just blows me away. What meticulous and beautiful work. I know I could spend at least a day there playing if I could ever convince myself to get that close to Los Angeles again (I lived in the valley during the early 70's). This is a great post Jodee. I really enjoyed reading it.

    1. Thanks Sherry! Although it's taken me a while to follow suit - I was partially inspired by your posts on the campus where you worked, and what an amazing place it was/is! In the museum's section on the gold rush is a very poignant piece on the horrific impact on the native peoples - and how they had lived with that gold for centuries and never felt compelled to rape the earth for it - powerful stuff.
      Funny, I would not have thought of you in the valley - I got married in Studio City in 1977 :-) Tis a small world indeed.

  5. Great to see you enjoying your own area. We try and do the same thing at least once a month....become tourists in our own area and go out to enjoy what is all around us. Talking with some of the locals after we come home, many times they'll say the same thing you did. "I've lived here for years and never even knew that was there!"

    1. I love that you're doing it on a regular basis! Given the beauty of where you are I imagine it would be easy to just sit on the dock and enjoy that view :-)

  6. It is always amazing how little we explore our own area. We were the same way. Good for you for getting out there and seeing what you may miss when you hit the road.

    I would have really enjoyed this museum. How cool was that photo of the 60's camping group. I remember those high chairs! Someday I am going to observe a Native American doing bead work. I can't imagine how they do it. It is so beautiful. Gee, it would be a little scary seeing something you remember being displayed. Spending the day exploring alone sounds perfect:)

    1. When I read others saying "If we had more time in this area....." I thought "I have time I'm trying to kill right now - I should be using it!"
      There was a small display of the beadwork that you could run your finger over, with the different sizes of seed beads - some were not much larger than the head of a pin so I have no idea how they "thread" it! I'm thinking it's a young person's trade!

  7. What a neat tour! Thanks so much. Right now, you are nice and warm and we are in Casper WY, where it is , of all things, snowing! If this continues into Utah, we may cut short some of our stops to get to the southwest

    1. Wow! I can't believe all the early snow in the north this year. Of course it sounds wonderful to those of us sick of the heat - but I know I'd be of a different mind if I were travelling in it :-)
      Glad you enjoyed the museum, it's a fun place!

  8. I'll have to take a look and see what touristy stuff there is in the Sacramento area. I'm sure I haven't seen it all in the 24 years I've lived here. Better do it now before we hit the road! We did go to the zoo recently and hadn't been there since the kiddos were little.

    1. I worked in Sacramento for years - including flying there every week for the last three years before I retired - and I never got to the Crocker Museum. Always wanted to though :-) If you haven't been to the Crawdad Festival in Isleton, it's always fun! Enjoy while you're there :-)

  9. Such great advice! It's good that you're not so rushed that you can get out and see more of your area before things get more crazy. Because they will. But then the real fun begins. PS. the Crawdad Festival is no more. Ran out of money. What a shame. I always wanted to go.

    1. Bummer! Glad I got to enjoy it at least once!! Yes, it is going to get really crazy after the first of the year with us attempting to juggle the house sale and the MH purchase before Bill retires the end of March - then three big trips planned before the first week of May :-) Getting close :-)))))))