Friday, October 28, 2016

Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate: Madagascar Sambirano

Here I have the last of a couple of chocolate gifts that came to me from Utah. This one is another chocolate bar, and it is also from a California company, Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate. This company seems familiar but I know I've never tried their products before. Adam Dick and Dustin Taylor started the factory six years ago in Eureka, California, where they make their chocolate from the bean; they add only organic cocoa and organic cane sugar. The chocolate bar that I have is their Madagascar Sambirano.

More good signs are there in the packaging. The cream paper and black ink illustrations of boats give it an old world feel. I love the way the foil is wrapped, with an envelope shape. The chocolate is set at a different angle in the foil so that it brings up images of diamond shapes when you unwrap it. And the chocolate bar's mold is the most intricate one I have ever seen. Look at the fine details of that pattern and how small all of those shapes are. It's beautiful. There are certainly plenty of tiny air bubbles in the surface because of how small and fine the pattern's cuts are, but that isn't at all a problem.

Now it's time to mention the one downside, which is not a fault of the company: this chocolate bar's best by date was back in April. That's the thing about fine chocolate in little, random shops: not everyone chooses to buy it instead of caramels or lollipops or cheaper chocolate or whatever else is there. So it sits waiting on the shelf much longer than it should have to. Consequently, the original shine of the chocolate is completely gone because of how old it is, so I have no way to judge the quality of that, unfortunately.

The color is rather light with a reddish tone. This is a 72% cacao content chocolate, by the way. Its aroma is deep but not bitter.

Now the question of whether or not all the good signs are accurate predictions for the chocolate itself.

The taste is slightly bitter at first and there is a slightly dusty texture in the beginning. Then these fade and I forget they were ever there. Everything starts simultaneously to mellow and deepen. Sweet and fruity flavors emerge; the light almost-bitterness of citrus floats toward the top while the base flavor remains rich and solid. This chocolate, in fact, tastes more like citrus than any other that I can think of tasting--not, of course, like orange-flavored chocolate but simply like chocolate with citrus flavor notes. The finish is a friendly and mild goodbye.

My opinion: it's very nice.

And then I looked at the Dick Taylor online page for this chocolate bar and found that it won Gold at the Academy of Chocolate Awards this year. So it is apparent that my opinion does not belong to me alone: this chocolate has certainly received positive attention if it won Gold.

If you were wondering, here are the flavor notes that they provide online: aroma - molasses, flavor - orange/raisin, finish - toast. I did get the main flavor, and I would say that the rest make sense, even if I didn't specifically pick them up (I'm the first to admit that I never can name a collection of flavor notes, which is why I've made up my own way to describe chocolate.)

I admit that, even though I loved the packaging here and the chocolate bar's mold was so unique, I worried that the chocolate wouldn't live up to the implied quality. So I'm happy to report that it did live up to that high standard. I would definitely try more from this company if I ever come across them again.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Top Disney Animated Films

I've been thinking of Disney so much lately, that I'm going to take a moment to list the best of Disney's animated, feature length films--and explain why I consider these the best. I'm putting them in the order they were released rather than ranking them.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) - Walt Disney felt like the studio would never again be able to do what it did with Snow White, and in a way, he was right. This, however, isn't to say that Disney would never again make great movies--it's just an immense compliment to what they did do with this film. This film is pretty much perfect, and remains so nearly 80 years later. Something of the 1930's film style permeates it, emphasizing the fairy tale darkness and softening out the romance (by which I refer to the style of romance, rather than specifically love romance) into something swirly, thematic, and poetic. Memorable characters, great songs, beautiful animation, and well-crafted sequences and pacing make this film a true classic.

Fantasia (1940) - The film that threatened to ruin Disney animation because its costs ran so ridiculously high, Fantasia became something unique and incredible, a true piece of art--to some of us. I realize that it's one of those movies that not everyone can sit through, but I find it the most fascinating combination of visual and auditory art. The details of how everything is woven together just amaze me.

Beauty and the Beast (1991) - Basically I consider Snow White the best Disney animated film from back when and Beauty and the Beast the best one from today--but that shows my age because Beauty and the Beast is no longer a new film. Still, it's in the top five of most people's lists and I often hear it named as number one, as well. Once again, great pacing, characters and songs. As far as animation goes, the style falls between the muddy look of 1980's animation and the clearer coloration of the 90's (which ended up leading to the weird look of early computer animation). So you sometimes have less defined, more obscured backgrounds with clear and crisp characters--and that creates a recognizable visual style. Like Snow White, this is a love story that isn't really a love story when you think about it (I think I'll do another post later on to describe with I mean with that).

The Lion King (1994) - Ah, here I go showing my age again by including two 90's movies. The thing is, I never knew for sure how much I liked The Lion King until recently. It was just a Disney movie, part of a collective. Lately, though, I've been noticing so much about it. First of all, it's one of the more successful attempts at a leading male character (Aladdin was also successful, I suppose, but Tarzan and Quasimodo and others not so much) in Disney animated films. Second, it shows us something different that still feels familiar. Third, I really appreciate the content and themes referencing nature and respect and respect for nature and the natural order of things. Fourth, that theme is wonderful (I'm not the only one to compare this story to Hamlet): the need to step up to responsibility and to face what you know you need to do, whatever else is going on. And yes, good songs, distinctive animation style, wonderful voice acting, good pacing.

Shouldn't this this be a top five list, rather than only top four? I tried to come up with five films, but the trouble was that these four came quickly and easily to mind, while I had to try and consider what the last one would be. I'm tempted to give it to Sleeping Beauty because I'm rather fond of that movie for the music and the Good vs. Evil theme--but it does have some weak spots. Many people like Peter Pan but that movie was never my favorite. 101 Dalmatians and Lady and the Tramp and Bambi are good but are they top five good? I like The Rescuers and The Black Cauldron because they're dark but do I think they're great instead of just good? The Little Mermaid is a good movie but it doesn't reach the high thematic levels that I've come to expect from Disney movies. I would put Mulan on the list except that I don't like all the comedic bits with the ancestors and Mushu. The Princess and the Frog, Tangled, and Frozen likewise have some good material accompanied by some weak points. So I'm going to stick with my top four as the best overall of Disney animation.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Ahsoka: Enough to Inspire Us All

I was rather disappointed that it took some digging to find this book at Barnes & Noble. Usually the new Star Wars books are up towards the front, or on the tables in the middle of aisles. At least up in the Sci-Fi New Releases section or something. But I looked everywhere I could think of and Ahsoka by E.K. Johnston was nowhere to be found--until I thought to look in the Teen Sci-Fi New Releases and there it was.

I had overlooked or missed the fact that this is considered a YA book (which is why it's published by Disney, but I hadn't been looking at the publisher, just at the release date). So when I released that in the store, I felt cheated. I felt like Ahsoka got the short end of the stick. Here is this character who has become so beloved from her roles first in The Clone Wars and then in Rebels, and she's finally branching out into a new medium with her own book and it's a book that doesn't get the usual bookstore prominence and will possibly therefore not reach as many readers. (Sales of this book seem to have gone pretty well, anyway, but I just had to throw in this reaction that I had.)

The thing is, I don't really get why this is a YA book to begin with. Just because a character is a certain age doesn't mean that has to be the reader's age. Oliver Twist isn't targeted at nine year olds. Anyway, if I'm not mistaken, Ahsoka is about 17 or 18 during this book, so she's basically an adult.

With that said, I'll take a moment here to appreciate the style that E.K. Johnston took. Unlike, ah, certain other books, there is nothing dumbed down or simplified here and yet the language is simple enough for an eleven or twelve year old to read--so there isn't much limitation on who can read this book.

What I also appreciate is the atmosphere of this book. As I've started reading Star Wars books in the last couple of years, I've noticed that some of them are more sci-fi than either the movies or shows are--and that tends to interest me less because it is not what I'm used to loving best about Star Wars. So the books that are more like Ahsoka are the ones that I find I enjoy more. There is more about nature and relationships instead of just technology and politics (certainly the latter two elements are important, too, but I like the former two to have more focus).

Raada was a pleasure to read about. A Star Wars farming planet? I'm in. I can visualize the landscape of that moon, and I can see the fields and the mountains and the people there working to bring in the harvest. And then all of these visual elements come back around to say something about theme, to reflect something about the characters--Ahsoka primarily, of course.

This book takes place about a year after the events of Revenge of the Sith, so it fills in the gap (or part of the gap) between The Clone Wars and Rebels. The book does assume that the reader is familiar with Ahsoka from the former and kind of the latter, too; it also references some of the backstory that Dave Filoni described in the Ahsoka panel at Star Wars Celebration. So it answers some questions about Ahsoka, and that's certainly interesting to read about.

But what is perhaps of more value is the sheer enjoyment I had of this story, both on an entertainment level and a thematic level. This book had great pacing, as far as quieter moments mixed in with action. There is a good balance of personal relationships between characters mixed in with questions about purpose and ethics. Maybe this is where we actually get most YA: there is that theme of identity, of realizing who you are and what you should be doing. This theme is portrayed so well, in fact, that it did affect me on a personal level. It did make me think about where I am and where I could be and what I'm not doing and what I could be doing. Ahsoka, at some point after she came to us all as the girl who was Anakin Skywalker's padawan, became an incredibly inspiring figure. She feels more real than Obi-Wan Kenobi and more centered than Anakin Skywalker, and that makes her the perfect leader and force for good.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Utah Truffles Selection

I've never been to Utah, but someone did recently bring me back a few chocolates from Utah. I've reviewed one chocolate bar already and I have one more after this. Today's subject, though, isn't just from a shop in Utah--it's also from a Utah Company, Utah Truffles to be exact. I have three of them: a Toffee Truffle, a Mint Truffle, and another Toffee Truffle in different packaging.

Now, seeing the word truffle made me think I'd have to get to these straightaway. Turns out, though, that they have quite the long shelf life: the the best by dates aren't until December and April. In their shiny wrappers, they have a similar look to Godiva's wrapped truffles, but even Godiva's only last about three months (according to their shopkeeper). So I walked in knowing that these weren't going to be "truffles" in the traditional sense if they could have a shelf life of several months.

I'm not entirely sure what is going on with the different packaging. It's possible that they switched styles and one is the old version. Or perhaps the two Toffee Truffles are slightly different. The one in blue says "Made in Utah" while the other two say nothing of the sort. I would think, however, that if one is made in the state, then they all are. The chocolate, however, is Belgian--and I think everyone knows by now that I see no need to import chocolate from Belgium when there is perfectly good chocolate in the U.S. (and usually the chocolate I come across here that's called Belgian is cheap, so I'm always suspicious if the name is used as a draw).

I only took pictures of the other two truffles because the packaged-in-blue one was a little smashed. The visual difference between the two Toffee Truffles was a bit of shaved chocolate on top of the blue one. It also seemed slightly lighter in color: it's pretty watered down chocolate what with added cocoa butter, butter oil, and coconut oil. There is no ganache center to these three truffles: the whole thing is just a creamier version of chocolate.

I suppose, for watered down chocolate, it's alright. It is creamy and there is some flavor to the chocolate. The toffee element is a series of small toffee bits that are big enough to have a texture presence; the effect is similar to the way in which crisped rice is strewn about the chocolate in a Crunch bar. Again, it's alright, but this isn't a truffle.

The other Toffee Truffle is mostly the same. At least, the toffee element is exactly the same. The chocolate is somewhat denser and tastes more like caramel, so the ingredients must be mixed in at slightly different proportions. They're similar enough, though, that I don't have a preference of one over the other.

The Mint Truffle is the weakest of the three. It's the only one with dark chocolate (because mint almost always needs dark chocolate rather than milk), but I'm an advocate of sticking to milk chocolate if you're just making sweet confections: otherwise the dark just feels awkward and halfway and not quite right. This chocolate, however, is light and sweet and watered down enough that it doesn't really taste dark in any way. So that isn't exactly an issue. And the mint, while not exactly fresh-tasting, tastes pretty much exactly like that of a Girl Scouts Thin Mint cookie, especially combined with this chocolate. So if you're a Thin Mint fan, you'll enjoy this chocolate. My issue, though, is with a weird side taste that I'm finding. I don't think it's from the coconut oil because I didn't get it in either of the other two chocolates. So it's either from cheap peppermint or somehow from the chocolate. Whatever the case, it ruins the effect.

It isn't that the packaging here implied fresh and gourmet. It's just that one word: truffle. These aren't truffles, so I really wish they weren't labelled as such. They don't look like truffles and they don't taste like truffles. They're also not fun confections: they're more like grocery store chocolates than confections. They're nice enough as a little something sweet, but the chocolate is either not good enough quality to begin with or watered down too much for these to be anything more than sweets.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Cave Creek Horses

Located at the back of Cave Creek, Spur Cross Stables is just a couple of buildings, from which you can start a horse ride across the desert. An hour? Two? Three? Seven? It's all up to you.

It was so bright out that I couldn't really see the camera screen, so I just snapped pictures hoping that a few would turn out.

Given that none of us had really been on a horse before (at least, not in any way that really counts), we went for the short hour long ride. This turned out to be just the right amount of time. The staff there are helpful in matching you up to the right horse (they're all such good horses) and helping you on/off your horse. They show you how to use the reigns but for the hour long ride, you don't really end up needing to use them: the horses know the drill.

Now, what makes this such a great place to go, even for a beginner, is the location. Cave Creek is one of those "big, rural" towns to begin with, and as I mentioned, Spur Cross is right on the edge. Their longer rides go into the Tonto National Forest Area, but basically the land in this region is classic desert: saguaros, prickly pear, and cholla. The teddy bear cholla are in fact one of my favorite cactus varieties; I always like to watch them when driving through the Anthem area. Given that the horses stay at a slow walk during this ride, you really have a chance to look around and enjoy each bit of scenery that you pass through. Unlike some of the other short horse rides that you might come across, this one goes right into wilderness land.

Other than one house up on a hill (it was built before the the land became national forest) and one view toward the distant city, you won't see a single building during your ride. You actually, therefore, have the chance to imagine yourself back in time. To picture the army wives traveling with their husbands between posts or the cowboys moving from one job to another.

A close-up from our group picture.

Along the way, our guide told us a little about the plants and their uses. She also told some of the local history, about gold mining and the first dude ranch. All very informative and welcome info, especially since it made me realize that I didn't know much (if anything) about Cave Creek's history.

Now let me get back to the horses. My horse was Joker, a retired race horse. We were in the back, and he did love to stop frequently, so I had to keep urging him forward. That did rather add to the experience. I felt grateful that he was crossing all of this terrain for me, and it was amazing to see how much ground we covered even going at a slow pace. No wonder having a horse made such a difference a hundred and some years ago.

After the ride is the time to take two carrots out of the saddlebag to give to your horse as a thank you. We all walked away talking about how wonderful our horses were: "Joker did this" and "Johnson was so nice" and so on. I'm used to seeing horses, up close or from a distance, from the highway or around the neighborhood. But I wasn't used to spending such quality time with one horse. So this was a really great introduction to horses on a more personal level. Joker, you're the best.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Writing Adventures: Part 12

Click here to read Part 11.

Black Tree

Officially, my book has been out for about three months now. So it's been making its way into readers' hands (or tablets, if they opt for digital). I also have plans to do a series of photo posts showing some of the locations I wrote about, in case anyone wants a visual for them. I won't be posting those here, though, so you'll have to check up on to find those.

The Manuscript in Progress

My first work on this book was strangely organized. I started out writing the beginning bits in order, and then I let it sit for a while. Now I'm moving into what you might call the "agitated additions." This is the phase where I'll have a sentence float into my head that I have to write down because I know it'll end up leading to a whole scene. Sometimes as soon as I go to bed I have to reach for my phone to type something in, or even get up for a notebook to write something out. This period of the process is less peaceful but also yields some of the best results of it all. So I am getting excited again about this book now that I'm starting to put more focus into it once more.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Twenty-Four Blackbirds: 75% Cedeno

Three years ago, I stumbled on the Santa Barbara, California company Twenty-Four Blackbirds while trying their Madagascar bar. Now someone has brought me from a little shop in Utah the Cedeno bar. Given how much I enjoyed the Madagascar bar (click here to read that review), I've been excited to try this new one. It has the same natural packaging, just with a slightly different design on the front of the brown paper. It's also in the same tiny 14 gram size, perfect for when you just need chocolate for right now.

I couldn't think of having heard of Cedeno chocolate before, so it made sense to learn that Cedeno is the name of the family who own the farm where the cocoa beans to make this chocolate were grown. The farm is in Santo Domingo in Ecuador, and while I've certainly had chocolate sourced from there, it does seem to be one of the less common sources.

Now, the best by date on here is September 2016, so I should have gotten to it sooner; I was just taking something of a break after all of the chocolate I brought back from Santa Fe. Still, we're not too far past September and the chocolate doesn't yet look or feel old, though it's true that it doesn't look as perfect as that Madagascar bar did.

This chocolate begins with a deep flavor, what I call brownie darkness, the flavor of heavy chocolate cake. It tastes of silver and blue, and it's ever so slightly dustier in texture than what I remember from my last encounter with Twenty-Four Blackbirds. The flavor mainly becomes mellow, almost Christmasy or wintry in some way; perhaps it reminds me of mint or of spices. Both texture and flavor become richer and thicker as the chocolate melts; this point is full-bodied, finishing with a nice warm aftertaste that gives just a hint of spice. The overall effect of this chocolate is a flavor that doesn't change and yet a flavor that does intangibly develop into its own type of taste journey.

From what I wrote last time, I'd say that I do still prefer the Madagascar to the Cedeno. The flavor profile here is simpler. Twenty-Four Blackbirds, on their website, describes it this way: "lightly sweet floral notes upfront, followed by a rich and deep cocoa flavor, that finishes with notes of walnut and almond." Warm and inviting. So it's certainly still a nice little chocolate.

Twenty-Four Blackbirds, especially with this small bar size, satisfies a certain chocolate need. Simple and nicely done.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Tonto Natural Bridge

Arizona has such a diversity of landscapes. If you drive one hour in one direction, you'll hit saguaros. An hour in a different direction and you'll hit the forest. Open plains here, mountains there. Red rocks here, white rocks there. Purple dirt and brown dirt. Sand and clay and gravel and marsh. It's all here. In fact, there is so much to look at and so many destinations that there are so many I haven't seen.

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park was such a place. It's just south of the town of Pine (where I used to sometimes go during summer to get out of the heat, maybe go to an antique store and get an ice cream). That means that it's also a little north of Payson, which is northeast of the Phoenix area (so if you're coming from Phoenix, it'll take you about two hours). Basically it's a little to the right of the center of the state, within the Tonto National Forest.

As you're driving in this area, you're in the midst of many pine trees. This is the road that you want to try and avoid driving at night because elk often run across the road, which can of course be very dangerous. The turnoff from the 260 is small and you have to drive a few minutes to get to the park. Be warned that part of this road goes down a steep section beside something of a cliff edge.

A view from above all the trails.

At one point, the park was a homestead, claimed by David Gowan in 1877. The gift shop is a historic building that was built later, in the 1900's; there you can view a couple of pictures and other items from families who lived on the site. Driving straight in, there are various parking sections scattered around grassy areas with picnic tables. This little valley is beautiful. Steep cliffs looming above you on one side but lots of open space where you are. It isn't entirely unlike the space around Slide Rock State Park. We had our picnic lunch first; the October weather was beautiful.

I don't know if it's just me, but I found the park map of the trails a little confusing at first. So I'm just going to describe them all. The first trail we went on was the shortest one, and I do recommend it for first. It's the Waterfall Trail, basically just some steps build into the cliffside/mountainside going down to a small waterfall. It's a lovely trickle, full of green with some caves behind it; a secret surprise that you would never know was there if you hadn't seen it.

A view standing in front of the waterfall.

The other three trails all lead to the same place, the Natural Bridge itself. So while for the Waterfall Trail, you climb back up the way you came, with the other three trails you'll probably go up a different trail from the one you came down--unless you don't go under the bridge (we'll get to that part later). We didn't go on the Pine Creek Trail; that one is the longest at half a mile. It just runs along the creek, so I'm going to say that it isn't strictly necessary unless you want to go on all the trails and take your time enjoying all the scenery. Just be advised that they aren't kidding when they emphasize that these trails are strenuous: the steepness and the rocks do that. If you're in good health and reasonably fit, you'll be fine, but it is all more tiring than longer, flatter trails that I've been on in other places. And I went in Fall, not Summer.

The second trail we went on was the Anna Mae Trail. This one has a rather short but steep decline toward the creek; there's some loose gravel in places, so you have to be careful of your footing. Once we reached the creek, I thought that was the end of the trail until someone pointed out a tiny arrow on a rock pointing, basically, toward the creek. Here's where you have the option to turn around and go back up or climb over the creek's rocks to get to the bridge.

Note the man with the red backpack at the bottom for scale.

If you're climbing on the rocks, do bring hiking shoes. The rest of my group had tennis shoes, and I was much better off with my Keens; they really do have a better grip (for clothing, try and avoid shorts and I recommend sturdy pants like jeans instead of thin sports leggings). After walking just a small bit, we came into view of the bridge. The bridge is made of travertine. It's stone that has grown until it connects the two cliffsides, forming an outdoor cave underneath. And it's huge, believed the largest natural travertine bridge in the world: 183 feet high, forming a tunnel that's 400 feet long and 150 feet at its widest point. When you first set eyes on it, it's truly amazing, especially because there is nothing leading up to it. Sure, the area around it is beautiful, but it's nothing like this huge tunnel. It truly is an outdoor cave, with all of those wavy, flowing shapes in the stone that make up the inside of caves. All the beauty of a cave but in broad daylight: how awesome is that?

Zoomed in picture of me in about the same spot as the person in black in the above picture.

As we began approaching the bridge, we ran into people coming to it from the Pine Creek Trail; this is where the two meet. And after we walked under the bridge, we walked straight into the Gowan Trail (which we walked up, but more on that later). The thing is, I wouldn't recommend that everyone go all the way under the bridge. You can maybe go partly in just for the fun of it and for some pictures. But it can be dangerous under there and difficult to get through. If you have children under ten, for sure don't do it. If you have children under 14, consider not doing it. If you have a fear of heights, you're probably better off on the trails next to those cliff edges than under the bridge. If you didn't bring the proper shoes (closed hiking or tennis shoes), do not do it. If you're not semi-fit, don't do it.

Inside the tunnel.

Have I scared you enough? I only say all of this because I had no warning. I read some reviews of the park online beforehand so I would know what to expect, but no one really specified what trails they did or didn't go on. So when we went, we didn't really know what was ahead and we just sort of followed the crowds.

A pool of water in the tunnel.

There were plenty of people going under the bridge, so many that I'm kind of surprised more accidents don't happen. There was a park ranger about halfway under the bridge, keeping an eye on everything. He had to yell two or three times while we were there to keep people from going parts of the rocks that they shouldn't. And he's probably also there to start calling in help if anyone does get injured. But remember, this bridge is 400 feet long. He can't guide everyone along and you can't ask him questions until you're right next to him simply because the space is too big. The first time he yelled at someone, it took us a moment to even realize the basics of what he was saying. ("Yelled at" is a harsh phrase: I don't mean to imply that he was rude--he certainly wasn't. He was just there to help keep people safe.)

The top of the bridge is big enough to be called a ceiling.

Remember that tiny arrow pointing to the creek, which led to the bridge? There are more of these tiny arrows underneath the bridge to mark the way. The problem is, I didn't see any of them; I just heard people mention them. There were plenty of people there, so mostly we just followed everyone else. There is an infamous "corner" that kept replaying in my head for the rest of the day. Going around this corner, you have to place your feet carefully on a slippery boulder while clinging onto the boulder above it. Clinging there and wondering if my feet would hold, I did wonder what I was doing there putting myself at such risk. Once you climb along the rock, you have to half sit down and edge yourself down an angled rock. Now, I've had some confusion about this corner: for a moment, I thought someone said that there was a different route. But now I'm pretty sure that it was part of the route. I don't know which I prefer: to think that I went through an unnecessary risk or to think that that corner was part of the route. Either way, just make sure you try and look where you're going to make sure that it's the best route and try to look for those tiny arrows pointing the way. In most cases, the best route is obvious, but there are a couple of exceptions. There is a lot to look at in the cave, but try and also keep an eye out to see the routes that other people are (successfully, not rebelliously) taking.

Reaching the end of the tunnel and leaving behind the danger zone.

Okay, I'm done with all the warnings of caution and descriptions of scary rocks. Sure, there are one or two places that can be difficult to get through (especially if you're short like me and your legs just don't reach as far), but the less risky risks are kind of fun. (Just whatever you do, don't jump--that's how accidents happen. Firm footing at all times.)

The waterfall, looking out from the tunnel.

And it's beautiful under the bridge; it really is an amazing experience if you do it. All of the different types of rocks and the pools of water keep your eyes (and your camera) moving. As you approach the end of the tunnel, water starts splashing from the ceiling. It isn't a lot but you will without question get some drops. And then you see why: there's a waterfall on the other end of the bridge. Signs all warn not to go under the waterfall and there are barriers to keep you away (the "path" is to the left of it coming in this direction). But you're still pretty close to it, right beside it. Sure, it isn't as full of a waterfall as some, but the view you can get of it makes it just as spectacular.

Note the man in red for scale.

Here you reach the observation deck, which is at the end of the Gowan Trail. There's a long bench or two here, but they fill up quickly. So I sat on the steps for a minute to have water and almonds and to recover from the climbing (probably more mentally than physically). You can stay on this deck for a long time given that there is so much to look at.

Looking back into the tunnel. The people are too small to even see.

So. I said we went back up using the Gowan Trail. This one is tamer I think than the Anna Mae Trail: the path seemed wider and less gravelly, so it's less dangerous in that regard. But at 2200 feet versus 500, it's also four times the size, composed mainly of stairs with some flatter inclines mixed in. Keep in mind that this can be tiring after other hiking--but there is enough space along the way to stop as often as you might need to. This trail has a different view from the others. As you're starting up, you can still turn back and get a good view of the waterfall side of the bridge. Soon, though, all you can see are the hillsides and the trees. Still nice, just a little different from the trails on the other side.

The waterfall from the outside--it appears bigger and thicker in person.

There are four viewpoints if you can't go on the trails, and they do offer a decent view of the bridge. So it is possible to visit the park just to have a picnic, maybe play on the grass, and look down from the viewpoints. If you want to keep hiking to a minimum, go on the Anna Mae Trail because it's the shortest (other than the Waterfall Trail), walk just slightly in over the creek to take pictures on the edge of the bridge, and then go back up on the same trail. If you want to do a little more, also go down the Gowan Trail and back up again. The Pine Creek Trail sounds nice if you want to take your time going on all the trails. The Waterfall Trail is short enough that it's worth it if you're good with stairs. Once again, I do urge caution with going under the bridge. If you do decide to go under, remember that you can start with either the Pine Creek or Anna Mae and then ascend using the Gowan Trail, or vice versa.

The bare rock in the middle of the picture is the top of the bridge.

It's truly a wondrous bridge, and I can't believe I had never been to see it before. It's right up there with the Petrified Forest and Sunset Crater and all of those great spots in the state, even if the park is fairly small in comparison. One final note: while the estimated times for each trail might be an exaggeration for a lot of people, don't assume you can finish quickly. And while the park closes at 5, admission and trails do close at 4 because they have to make sure everyone is out at the end of the day. So plan for that.

October truly is hiking month out here. Don't let it pass you by. And don't forget to bring water and food with you.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Disneyland Tag Questions

I'm back with more Disney questions, this time centered around the parks. Click here to read my first post of questions and answers.

1) Which Disney Parks have you visited? - Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. In other words, only the Anaheim parks.

2) What is your earliest Disney park memory? - This is hard to say because I grew up in California until I was eight and would often still visit the L.A. area afterward to visit family, so I was always familiar with going to Disneyland. One of my earliest memories is an image of the ballroom in the Haunted Mansion: it's such a memorable scene. I also remember going to the park with my cousins and other family one time; we all waited in line for Pirates of the Caribbean together but about four of us walked right through the boat to the exit instead of going on the ride because we didn't like that one. So I suppose the earlier memory would be going there with my dad and brother. We had one of those huge lollipops in a bag; we would break off pieces of it to eat. But when we went on Pirates, we forgot it on the seat. This was my first ride on Pirates; my dad told me it was like Small World, but I thought that the drops were terrifying plunges straight down into darkness. Hence my later shunning of the ride (until I was around twelve, that is).

3) Which is your favorite park? - Disneyland, of course. DCA is only nice for half a day at a time but Disneyland is exceptional.

4) Which on-site hotel have you stayed at? - The Disneyland Hotel, courtesy of a family member. We were there for a party at Goofy's Kitchen, but since my birthday was around the same time, my family also had a small dinner of our own the next day at Steakhouse 55 (both restaurants, by the way, are at the hotel). I was really ecstatic about staying on-site: it's a fully immersive experience.

5) What is your favorite Disney holiday photo? - The Christmas tree? I must admit: I've never taken a picture of myself or any other friend or family member in front of the tree. But the one time when I went during Christmas, I did take a picture of the tree itself.

6) Which is your favorite castle? - Disneyland because, in many ways, it's the only one I know. But from pictures, I'm quite fond of the castle at Disneyland Paris. It has so much detail and yet keeps to the fantasy feel and look (Disney World's castle, for instance, looks too flat in color, too much like a real castle).

7) What is your favorite land/area? - Probably New Orleans Square. It's such a small space but there's so much to look at and so many little nooks and shops to wander through in between going on rides. This space also has a great view of the Rivers of America, despite the water technically belonging to Frontierland.

8) What is your all-time favorite ride? - Splash Mountain is the one I usually name. I like the combination of a story and lots of scenes and characters with a light thrill ride; it's what you would call the best of both worlds. Indiana Jones has that, too, right (and that one is a great ride as well), but Splash Mountain adds a nice little theme and message to it all. It's a very complete ride.

9) Most underrated ride? - Mad Tea Party. I'm not the best at spinning (it's best when there's someone else with me who can do most of the muscle work for me), but I do love to try and make these teacups spin as fast as possible. I never quite manage to get dizzy (despite the fact that other people get dizzy without even spinning the cups), but close enough. And I am rather fond of tea.

10) Most overrated ride? - Small World. Sorry, as a Disneyland enthusiast, I feel like I should be one of the defenders of this ride, but I just can't get behind it. I don't overly mind the song, and the building is very nice. But the dolls look cheap and temporary to me, the sets too much like someone cut them out of paper. I don't feel like I'm reentering childhood with this ride; I just feel like it's a ride with a good concept that just hasn't lasted in quality.

11) Favorite show/parade - 50th Anniversary Fireworks (Remember Dreams Come True). I had the chance to see these at least three times, possibly more. The 50th Anniversary was an exciting and beautiful celebration, and the fireworks show was a true celebration of all that Disneyland is and was. The way in which the types of fireworks (their shapes and colors and movements) went with the music just blew my mind.

12) Do you enjoy meeting characters? - Not exactly. I don't always like the interactive parts about Disneyland, even though I know that this is one of the things that makes Disneyland so special. It's just that I don't know what to say or do around characters and I have a history of feeling awkward in any type of situation like this. But lately I've been watching Disneyland content on YouTube, so I've been getting an appreciation for all that the characters do. They're very dedicated and skilled. So maybe in the future I'll be less hesitant.

13) What characters have you met and which are your favorites? - Mickey Mouse at his house, of course. At Goofy's Kitchen, I met Goofy, Pluto, Alice, and Aladdin. If I've met others, I don't remember if, and likely there weren't too many when I was younger because I think my whole family has never really been that interested in meeting characters--except for Mickey. Mickey Mouse is classic, and I do like to watch clips of the Mad Hatter around the park.

14) What is your favorite restaurant? - The Blue Bayou for atmosphere. But for a more regular restaurant, French Market has some good dishes and can also have great atmosphere. Last time I was there, the band was up and they had a singer there, so it made for a nice break from walking around and also a good place to spend our last meal at the park for the trip.

15) What are your Disney traditions? - Let's see, I always enter at the left gate. A mint julep and some beignets have turned into my favorite snack to get. Most often, I go on Indiana Jones first. Wherever the location is, I usually watch the fireworks because you can see them from so many different places; it was awesome watching them one time while riding Thunder Mountain.

16) What is your most fond park memory? - This is hard to say, so I'll just go with a certain season: the 50th Anniversary. As I mentioned, I had the chance to visit the park more than a couple of times during this celebration, one time during Christmastime. So it was a very magical time, enjoying all the extra details while spending time with family.

17) What is your favorite thing that you bought in the parks? - I don't usually do much shopping at the parks themselves; instead, I do my shopping at World of Disney in Downtown Disney the night before. And my souvenirs are usually pins. So I'll have to choose an item from World of Disney: Disneyland: Then, Now, and Forever, which was on sale during the 50th Anniversary. It was my first Disneyland book and made for a great introduction, plus it has lots of pictures of bygone things from the park that I had previously only read about.

18) Describe your dream Disneyland holiday. - Someday I would want to get about a five day pass for the Anaheim parks and stay at one of the hotels for the whole time, possibly splitting the time between the Disneyland Hotel and the Grand Californian. This way, I would have time to enjoy the hotels: their pools and restaurants and various rooms. And I would also be able to enjoy the parks at leisure, to see shows I don't usually make time for, to go to sit-down restaurants instead of just going for the quicker things. A full Disney week.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Disney Tag Questions

I've been watching some Disneyland channels on YouTube lately and I came across these questions on Subway Mouse's channel. Even though this isn't a YouTube video, I still felt like answering them because this is my blog so I can do whatever I want with it. In answering these questions, I'm basically sticking to animated movies because it would be too much content to bring in live action, as well.

1) Favorite Character - Mickey Mouse. Classic.

2) Favorite Princess - Belle. Because she has brown hair and eyes and she reads.

3) Favorite Heroine - Mulan because it took a lot of heroism to go on the journey that she chose; she acted physically and mentally in order to do what she thought was right to save her father.

4) Favorite Prince - Prince Philip because he's classy and yet has a sense of humor, he talks to his horse, he says all of those things to his father about how he should be able to marry the girl he loves even if she's a peasant because "it's the fourteenth century," and he goes on a heroic quest of good against evil in order to save Aurora.

5) Favorite Hero - Prince Philip, for the aforementioned reasons about his quest of good against evil.

6) Favorite Animal - Crocodile from Peter Pan and Siamese cats from The Lady in the Tramp. The silly characters, that is.

7) Favorite Sidekick - Hyenas from The Lion King. More silliness here. I don't favor a particular one; I just like how they talk among themselves and to other characters.

8) Favorite Villain - Scar. I had a hard time thinking about this one because, while I enjoy watching the villains when they're onscreen, I've never felt like I have a favorite or even one that I really like. But when I thought of Scar, I knew it had to be him: he's a compelling character. Suave and truly evil, with that wonderful voice.

9) Favorite Original Character (Minnie, Mickey, Goofy, etc.) - Mickey Mouse because he started it all (well, sort of).

10) Favorite Love Song - "Once Upon a Dream" and "One Song." It's hard to say which I like more. They're both romantic in a classy way.

11) Favorite Song - I'm going to have to repeat with "Once Upon a Dream."

12) Favorite Villain Song - "Be Prepared." Now I begin to notice the Lion King preference.

13) Least Favorite Song - Probably all the songs I'm not thinking of. So I'll go with "The Dwarfs' Washing Song" because it's my least favorite sequence in the practically perfect Snow White.

14) Favorite Kiss - Snow White because it's a plot element and also something about theme.

15) The First Movie You Saw - The Lion King. In theaters, that is. I don't know what amount of Disney I might have seen before this. I was about two at the time and apparently my whole family loved the movie so much that we went to see it again (pretty unheard of for us to see something twice back then).

16) Favorite Classic - Sleeping Beauty. I'm taking "classic" to mean during Walt's lifetime. I should probably say Snow White because I think it's one of, if not the best of Disney animated films. But I have this fondest for Sleeping Beauty. The beautiful music, the artistry, and the straightforward good versus evil plot.

17) Song that always gets stuck in your head - "Once Upon a Dream" because it's a great song. "Fantasmic" and "Zip a Dee Doo Dah" from the park because they're both catchy tunes.

18) Favorite Pixar Film - Toy Story because I can almost pretend that it's Disney instead of Pixar (I don't overly care for Pixar).

19) Least Favorite Pixar Film - Inside Out. I heard all of these wonderful things about it and it won the Oscar and then I watched it and thought that it was mostly boring and juvenile. Sure, it had a couple of stellar moments, but overall I didn't enjoy it.

20) Favorite Sequel - Mulan 2. I've only seen it once so far, but it was entertaining and had a good look at its theme.

21) Overrated Movie - Aladdin. Everyone in my generation seems to love this movie, and I've always been the one who doesn't get it. Maybe because I don't think I have any memories at all of watching it as a child. Watching it as an adult, I thought it was less than perfect--but I'l have to give it another chance.

22) Underrated Movie - The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Similar situation: barely any memories of watching it as a child but when I watched it as an adult, I thought it was great. Great theme, good songs, and a unique approach to characters.

23) Movie that makes you laugh -  Lady and the Tramp because it reminds me of how silly pet owners are for putting up with everything that our dogs, cats, and other animals do to us and our homes. It really hits the mark and remains quite realistic despite how old the movie now is.

24) Movie that Makes You Cry - The Lion King. I guess. Because it probably has one of the saddest Disney animated moments.

25) The Saddest Scene from Your Favorite Movie - I don't know what my favorite movie would be, so I'll just go with Beauty and the Beast. The scene is when the Beast sends Belle's father away. I just remember this as being a very dark moment: it's in the dungeon, it's nighttime, and there really isn't anything soft or nice about this moment.

26) Saddest Death - Mufasa. Bambi's mother is a close second. Those Disney orphans.

27) Favorite Quote - I have no idea. So I'll say "Remember who you are" from The Lion King since I've been talking about that movie so much. It's a good reminder to not give up on values and to not run away from what you know you need to do. Somehow it also speaks to the sense of community that is so strong in that film.

28) Favorite Theme Park - Disneyland. Of course.

29) Favorite Theme Attraction - Splash Mountain because it combines story and thrills.

30) Favorite Theme Park Show - Fireworks because you can watch them from almost anywhere in the park, even from some of the rides.