Category Archives: Family

Lake Tahoe

We were home for a week after arriving back from Arizona, before embarking on another journey.  This time, we headed for Northern California. First stop was the Sequoia National Park en route to Lake Tahoe.

IMG_3718The Sequoia National Park comprises of over 600 square miles of forest, scenic meadows and mountain peaks.  But the real attraction for us, was to see some of the largest trees in the world, specifically, the giant sequoia tree which are apparently unique to California and Oregon.

???????????????????????????????The jewel in the Sequoia National Forest is the ‘General Sherman,’ widely regarded as the tallest living tree at present.  Standing an impressive 275 feet (84 meters), General Sherman also boasts a trunk diameter of 36 feet (11 meters).  Comparatively, in New Zealand, we have giant kauri trees, our largest and most well-known native tree. The kauri are mainly found in the subtropical northern part of the North Island, of which the largest of them is known as ‘Tane Mahuta,” (translated from Maori as “lord of the forest”).  Tane Mahuta stands at over 168 feet (over 51 meters), with a trunk diameter of over 45 feet (14 metrers).

IMG_3814After a couple of hours in the Sequoia National Park (I know, a couple of hours in the park just doesn’t do it justice), we headed north for Lake Tahoe.  Along the eastern side of central California, is the Nevada Sierra mountain range.  Densely forested and featuring  rugged, impressive mountains, the ‘High Sierras’ contain some of the most popular destinations in the U.S, of which, Lake Tahoe is one.

IMG_3750We were blessed to be given the use of a cabin for a few nights by a neighbor.  The cabin was situated on the Truckee river, which runs along the northwest side of Lake Tahoe.  At over 6,000 feet above sea level, Lake Tahoe is beautiful body of water, surrounded by pine trees, and is the highest lake of it’s size in the U.S.  Tahoe is a very popular tourist destination and past events such as the 1960 winter olympics has increased it’s popularity as a resort.

One of the key attractions for Denise was the actual Ponderosa Ranch.  Situated near the northeast shore of the lake, where portions of the TV show, ‘Bonanza‘ was filmed.  Sadly, the ranch was bought by a local property developer in 2004 and was subsequently closed to the public.  A high fence now conceals most of the ranch, so we couldn’t take clear shots of the famous Cartwright house.



Film Crew on the set of Bonanza at Ponderosa Ranch, Tahoe in the early 1960’s.




The closest shot we could get of Ponderosa Ranch. The Cartwright family home is mostly obscured by the trees.



IMG_3834Other highlights of our few days in Tahoe was the impressive view overlooking Emerald Bay and the gondola at Heavenly village.  We also took a day out to visit Virginia City – a historic gold mining town in Nevada, which was initially prosperous in the 1860’s.  Much of Virginia City has been carefully preserved, so when you visit, you literally feel as though you are stepping back in time.  With over 100 historic buildings, complete with the furnishings of the time and the original  boardwalks, the town bustles with activity.  We took a tour through an actual old gold mine that is accessed in the back of the Ponderosa Saloon.


The Grand Canyon

It has been an amazing trip through the Arizona desert.  We took a day out from our time in Sedona, to make the two-hour drive northwest to the Grand Canyon.

IMG_3582Vast.  Perhaps the best way to describe the Grand Canyon.  Like most things, pictures do not and cannot do the Grand Canyon justice.  Standing at the edge of the rim, you are immediately struck by the sheer immensity and magnificence of it.  The creative power of God in full display.

Arguably, Arizona’s premier and most distinguishable landmark, next to Sedona, the Grand Canyon is a stunning 277 miles long, and more than a mile deep.  The Colorado River snaking in a southwest direction on the canyon floor.

IMG_2548There are two main entrances from which to view the Grand Canyon: the South Rim and the North Rim.  We entered the Canyon via the South Rim, and from Mather Point, essentially because of it’s proximity to the Grand Canyon Village and the visitor center.

IMG_2543Starting from Mather Point, we walked the well-marked trail along the rim, parts were fenced, and other sections, astonishingly, were not.  In fact, it was quite frightening how close you could get to the steep walls that descended all the way down to the canyon floor, and even more frightening to see some visitors virtually dangle themselves over the edge.  On one occasion,  we had to walk the kids away from the edge for fear of a person disappearing over the side due to two overly daring visitors.

IMG_3586Free bus shuttles regularly ran back and forth between the visitor center and certain points along the South Rim.  This made getting around the Canyon much easier and also meant that a lot of walking was not  necessary.  A final stop at the Grand Canyon Village to browse through the souvenirs completed our time at the National Park, and in the doing so, another ‘bucket list’ item was checked off.

IMG_3595On the drive home, we grabbed some lunch at Cracker Barrel, an southern-themed restaurant and gift store chain that is not in California, but one that our American friends often raved about.  We now know why – lunch was great and the store was both captivating and interesting.


IMG_2541In the middle of the Arizona desert is a truly spectacular oasis, comprising of stunning canyons and amazing red rock formations.  To reach Sedona after leaving the Hoover Dam involved eight hours of driving, but the scenery was worth it once we arrived.  Sedona is an astonishingly breathtaking place, where the landscape is absolutely incredible.  Words simply cannot describe how amazing Sedona is.

img_1435The town itself is quite vibrant, where many of the stores are art-orientated, but is also very much focussed on tourism.  There is much to see here and do in Sedona, whereby the town offers a fantastic blend of interesting stores to browse through, while also catering for the visitor that is more responsive to outdoor activities, such as hiking, jeep tours, and mountain biking.

Much of the town looks fairly recent (the town was incorporated in 1988), and has been constructed in such a manner, that the buildings complement their landscape.

IMG_3561One morning, we drove 20 miles to the small town of Jerome, a ghost town perched 5000 feet up on a hill and which looks out over the Verde Valley. Once a historic copper mining town, Jerome is now a tourist and artist community, with a small population.  Sections of the town was destroyed by fire in the late 1890’s, but many were rebuilt shortly after.  These buildings, which are now over a hundred years old, are still there and have not changed much since.

Cathedral_RockThe afternoon was spent at Oak Creek Canyon, a stunning 16-mile gorge, containing streams, waterfalls and waterholes, where we could enjoy the water (however, beware the slippery rocks as you cross parts of the creek to the swimming area), and the red rocks scenery.  Along the creek and within the canyon, there are many campgrounds, picnic areas and other natural features, such as sliding rocks, that ensure a fun day out.

The Hoover Dam

IMG_3537After a very busy semester for us all, we eagerly anticipated some time off this summer as a family, and also looked forward to Denise’s parents visiting us from New Zealand for six weeks.  We decided to take this opportunity to view some of the country, and hit the road.

IMG_3522The first road trip saw us drive to Las Vegas, then to Sedona in Arizona, and back to Los Angeles.  A mere 1500 mile round-trip, which if it was at all possible, would be like driving from Wellington to Sydney and beyond.  We only covered parts of three states (California, Nevada, and Arizona), but it was enough to get a sense of the absolute vastness of this country.

After a whistle stop in Las Vegas for one night, whereby we were accompanied with the Burling family, we headed Southeast toward Sedona, stopping off just 35 miles along the way to see the very impressive Hoover Dam.

IMG_3525The Hoover Dam is a massive structure that forms part of the border between the states of Nevada and Arizona, and sits upon the Colorado river.  Built in the 1930’s, the Hoover Dam is considered to be the largest dam in the world, providing much of the power and water to the Southwest of the United States, which is largely an arid desert climate.  We soon discovered exactly how dry it was as we drove through it!

For $US11, we parked the car, and spent hours walking across the dam, further gaining an appreciation of it’s immensity and size, as well as being able to view the spectacular highway bridge that stretches across the Colorado river.

Knott’s Berry Farm

IMG_2955With Maddy’s birthday this week and Victoria’s recent 15th birthday, Denise and I planned to surprise the girls with a trip to Knott’s Berry Farm to celebrate their respective birthdays.  So, yesterday morning, we woke the girls up relatively early and informed them we were going out for “a walk.”  A  short while later, and after a quick stop at Macca’s for some breakfast, we embarked on the one hour drive south to Orange County.  Our destination was still unbeknownst to the girls.

IMG_3041Once we pulled into the park, the game was up and huge smiles adorned the girls faces.  We actually couldn’t have picked a more perfect day, as being a school day, the lines were short, almost all the rides were open, and the weather was typically beautiful.

IMG_3025The park, based in Buena Park, California, started in humble circumstances in the 1930’s.  Walter and Cordelia Knott began selling fried chicken and such was the popularity, people used to line up outside their door.  Wanting to entertain the waiting customers, Walter built old-west themed attractions.  From there the park expanded to where it now has over 165 rides and attractions.

IMG_3023We really had a great time.  It seemed less hectic that other parks, there were more rest areas and there was a greater variety of attractions.  The park is essentially divided into six differently themed areas spread over approximately 150 acres, which is all very comfortably walkable.  The rides we enjoyed the most were the Ghost-Rider, the Xcelerator, the Silver Bullet and the Stagecoach ride.  But just walking around the Old-west themed attractions was equally fun.  The day ended in fantastic fashion, where in the open-air Wagon-camp theater, we watched the live Western stunt show.  This was my personal favorite part of the day, and one which we all enjoyed immensely.

IMG_3058We are thankful that we could celebrate the birthday’s of our girls at Knott’s Berry Farm.  They are precious to us and a much welcomed gift from God.  They are growing fast, and continue to be a blessing to us.
May God continue to bless our daughters richly.


Vasquez Rocks

IMG_2732When it comes to visiting movie locations in Southern California, there is perhaps no site that has appeared in more movies than the Vasquez Rocks.  Famous for featuring in such classic TV shows such as Bonanza and Star Trek, as well as many movies, we have keen to visit this site for quite some time.  In the weekend, we took an afternoon out to visit this well-known park.




The most recognizable rock today.

star trek tv




The same location as seen in a Star Trek episode from 1967.





Another shot of the same rock.





The same location as seen in the 1997 movie “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.”


IMG_2799Located just twenty minutes from our house, the Vasquez Rocks Park, which was amazingly accessible and easy to get around,  made for a great family outing.  Whether you wanted a gentle hike around the fascinating rock formations, or a more challenging workout by climbing the natural structures, there is something for everyone in this scenic area.

IMG_2787We were eager to climb the rocks, many of which jutted out of the earth at a forty-five degree angle.  Once we got to the top of the most famous rock, we were afforded beautiful views around the park and beyond.  Definitely one of our favorites places to visit.

Malibu Getaway

Malibu is one of our favorite spots in California.  It is a strip of 21 miles of prime Pacific coastline at the top end of the Santa Monica Bay, which is known for it’s ocean scenery, beautiful beaches, not to mention being home to many of the Hollywood movie stars and personalities.

Last weekend, Denise and I were blessed to spend a few days in Malibu, which was made possible by a family who generously let out their guest house to seminary couples.  This allowed us to escape to the beach for a few days, to relax and have some uninterrupted time together.  Naturally, I took my school work with the best intentions of getting a lot of work done, especially at this end of the semester, but once we arrived, my study was pushed aside for the sake of spending some quality time with Denise.

We grabbed some lunch at the Paradise Cove Beach Cafe, then spent the rest of the afternoon walking a few miles along the beautiful coastline.  Paradise Cove is a great spot to spend the day, which explains why the location has been featured in many movies, TV shows and commercials.  After a restful afternoon, we indulged in a little reminder of home by having fish and chips for dinner at Malibu Seafood.  Actually, the fish and chips weren’t bad and were definitely the best we have had in the U.S. thus far.

The next day, Denise and I went for a bike ride (guided by our kind host) along the very scenic Westward Beach Road which runs at the base of sea cliffs. At the end of the road, we parked our bikes, hiked up Point Dume and took in the wonderful views which were afforded to us.  On the way home, we stopped by Zuma Canyon Orchids, where we were kindly given a guided tour of the property and the operation by owner George Vasquez, who is essentially the ‘supplier to the stars’.  George mentioned that we had just missed Janes Leeves, to which I quipped that George should call her up and tell her she left some plants behind in an attempt to get her to come back. We also saw pots owned by Maria Shriver, the Beckhams, the Ramsays and many others who had ordered orchids from George.

The orchids were beautiful and even though the people who worked with the orchids were obviously very talented in orchid arrangement, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the creative genius of our awesome God, by which, much like the scenery along the coast, His glory really is being constantly displayed in His creation.

Denise and I are very grateful to have spent a few restful days in Malibu, courtesy of the generosity of the Ryan family.  We highly recommend this experince to every seminary couple and are already planning to go again some time in the new year.

Venice Beach

Denise and the girls are travelling to Lake Tahoe tomorrow, so we decided to take a family afternoon out at the beach.  We had not yet been to the famous Venice Beach, which is only a forty-five minute drive from our house, so after church, we headed there.

Venice Beach is famous for many reasons. One such reason is the bodybuilding era of the early 1970’s where people such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and many other famous bodybuilders used to regularly work out at the area known as ‘Muscle Beach Venice’.

We arrived at Venice beach but once we saw the twenty-five dollar charge to park near the beach, we decided a walk would be nice, so we drove a few miles away from the beach until we found a free park on the side of the road.  This took some time as Venice beach is obviously a popular place to spend Sunday afternoon as there were cars and people everywhere.  Almost every possible parking space was taken and many more were trying to find a space to park.

After grabbing some lunch at the beach and taking in some outdoor basketball, we walked a few miles up and down the Ocean Front Walk, which was interesting.  The atmosphere was definitely carnival-like and packed with a broad variety of stores, street performers, artists and musicians.  While the experience was interesting, there were some elements along the promenade that made my girls a little uncomfortable.  One such element was the existence of several ‘clinics’ where you could legally buy marijuana for medicinal purposes.  From what I could understand, you would visit one of the clinics, pay a fee to get a consultation with one of the Venice Beach marijuana doctors in order to get approval to buy some marijuana as treatment for whatever ailment or chronic condition you might have.  Like I said, some of what we saw was interesting.

After taking in the sights along the Ocean Front Walk, we spent some time on the beach before heading home.

Magic Mountain

Earlier, I wrote briefly about my recent ‘battle’ with New Testament Greek grammar.  Before I took this class, I promised my girls we would go to Magic Mountain after the class was done to celebrate. So, two days after Gladiator Greek was finished, I took my girls and two of their cousins to Magic Mountain.

Magic Mountain is a predominately roller coaster theme park located in Valencia, CA, a very handy five mile drive from our house.  By all accounts, it has the most roller coasters out of any park in the world.  Some of the rides are of the very extreme variety, so if you are into fast and down-right frightening thrill rides, then Magic Mountain is the place for you.  Certainly, the roller coasters at Magic Mountain elicit superlatives, such as: fastest, tallest, biggest and freakiest.

We chose a good late afternoon/evening because even though the day was still warm (approx 100 degrees Fahrenheit), the local schools had just returned back from their summer break which meant that the park was not crowded and the lines were minimal.  Having said that, I am a bit indifferent about very short lines as while I don’t like to wait an hour for a ride, the waiting allows an enforced break between rides.

The rides at Magic Mountain are classified by ‘thrill’, so we warmed up on a couple of the ‘moderate thrill’ rides before jumping on the ‘maximum thrill’ rides. We started on ‘Ninja’ before heading to ‘Colossus’ and ‘Goliath’, which features a 255 feet drop and several steep banking turns. Next was ‘Scream!’, a maximum-thrill ride which has seven inversions at a very fast pace.  We then headed to the DC Comics area (my favorite comics brand as a kid, as I found Marvel just too far-reaching) and onto ‘Batman’ which had several steep banking turns and five inversions.  Next was ‘Riddler’s Revenge’ which features six upside-down turns – but in the standing position.

All the time we were at the park, I checked on the health of the kids and encouraged them to let me know if they wanted to sit a ride out.  While my concern for them was genuine, at this point of the day, it was also under the guise of my own self-preservation and dignity.

We then moved on to two of the easier paced rides, ‘Gold Rusher’ and ‘Jet Stream’, before ending the day with ‘Superman’ and ‘Tatsu’.  ‘Superman’ was a very short ride but quite thrilling as we were suddenly thrust backwards over 100 miles per hour then up a height of 415 feet, and back down again.  To get an idea, check out this video.  All the kids were nervous about this ride, but enjoyed it immensely.

As we were driving to the park, my nephew Caleb was apprehensive and excited at the same time.  He commented that the day at Magic Mountain was either going to be the best day of his life or the worst day of his life.  In the end, it turned out to be close to one of his best days and I am glad that my girls could share the day with him and Erin.  It was a fun day out, but very exhausting.

A Week in San Francisco – Part Deux

Alcatraz Island was perhaps the highlight of our week in San Francisco.  I’m quite certain that prior to 1963, the year the penitentiary was closed, Alcatraz was not a popular destination, but today, it is one of the biggest attractions in the San Francisco area.  Over the years, much has been said about the lives of the inmates in Alcatraz.  The movies that have been made and the stories of the various escape attempts have all added to the legend and mystique that is Alcatraz.

One of the great things about the trip to Alcatraz, was that even though there is only one operator, there are multiple sailings each day, so once we got there, we were free to spend as much time as we wanted, then catch any one of the various sailings back to the mainland.  We opted for the earliest ferry in order for us to make the most of the day.  The weather was beautiful so we had a nice, slow cruise across the bay to the island.

It was a thrill to finally set foot on ‘The Rock’.  It served as a federal maximum security prison from 1934 until it’s closure in 1963 due the age of the buildings and also a change in philosophy in the way prisoners were handled, i.e from punishment to rehabilitation.  Alcatraz housed some of the most notorious criminals of the day, including a certain Al Capone but perhaps the most famous prisoners were the one’s who escaped in 1962: Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers. The story of the escape is captured well in this Clint Eastwood movie, but it was thrilling to see the actual cells in which they lived and the holes that the men dug to get out.  Very cool!

The walk around the cell house was greatly enhanced by the audio tour.  With our own listening device and headphones, we were guided through a fascinating tour of the cell house, narrated by actual former inmates and wardens.  The Alcatraz experience was really brought to life.  We highly recommend this.
However, one of the things that struck me, was the size of the cells – a very small 5 x 9 feet!

When he got back to the mainland, we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf.  Pier 39 is a bustling area of shops and activity. It really does take a whole afternoon to make your way around and it is  fascinating to visit.

On our final day, we were hoping to visit some of the gardens around the city, such as the Golden Gate Gardens, the Botanical Gardens, the Japanese Tea Garden and Muir Woods, but they all cost $7 for each person to enter.  Instead of paying $30 for the privilege of looking at trees and flowers at each garden, we decided to head back across the Golden Gate Bridge and drive to Mill Valley, which is a thriving artistic community about 14 miles north of the city.

On the way there, we visited the very eclectic and psychedelic Haight-Ashbury district which was known for it’s hippie culture and rock’n’roll lifetsyle in the late 1960’s.  In fact, well-known artists such as Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead all resided, and I guess partied hard, in this area.

Relaxing in Mill Valley for the afternoon was a fantastic way to finish our short stay in San Francisco.  The next day, we spent 8 hours traveling back L.A. via the very scenic 101 freeway.