Las Vegas, LA and Topanga Dec. 2017

Drew and Cindy stand at the overlook to Woodland Hills and Reseda

I confess… we did nothing in Las Vegas but rent a car. On the last leg of the trip we spent one night in a hotel about 8 miles south of the strip. No gambling, no shows, and the only drinking I did was a Wasatch Ghost Rider White IPA at the hotel bar. Okay, two.

Our ultimate destination was Los Angeles and, preferring road trips, I thought it would be cool to fly into Vegas and drive to LA on route 15.

After 8 or so hours of juggling luggage, walking, waiting at gates, and a plane change in Detroit — with only 4 hours and 45 minutes actually in the air — we landed at 10AM local time in Vegas, rented a car and drove 270-some-odd miles (nearly four more hours) to the LA area.

Tiring to say the least, but it is an absolutely beautiful drive through the Mojave Desert. Mind boggling miles of sand, mountains, Joshua trees, and an interesting spectacle which is the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility.

Route 66 Mustang Monument and Scenery Along I-15 through California.

An interesting aside: interstate 15 intersects Historic Route 66 in Barstow, CA, then again in Hesperia, CA, where it looks like 66 runs concurrent with I-15 until it splits off again just after Cajun Junction. So if you ever make that drive you can enjoy a little side road nostalgia and stop at places like Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch.

The elevation drops about 3,000 feet on the drive from Vegas, and about 2,000 of them happen within about 16 miles as I-15 snakes through the San Gabriel Mountains on down toward Rancho Cucamonga. It’s not exactly a linear process either. Ears popping as we wound down through the mountain pass it became apparent to me where the term “High Desert” comes from.

On top of being travel-weary Cindy had been battling the flu and was well into it, with a nagging cough and chest congestion. My wonderful bout with this fun virus began on the drive from Las Vegas.

Pulling into the hotel after about four hours on the road I had just enough energy left to park the car and bring the luggage up to our room, then I passed out and remained semi-comatose for the next 12 hours, waking enough to shiver, sweat and moan.

Our trip was due to Cindy’s new line of work which involves quite a bit of traveling. I tag along periodically. If you follow Cryptobrewology on Untappd you may have noticed recent check-ins from random locations.

Sadly, due to illness, I was unable to explore the local LA beer scene, which had been my intention. But rest assured I did have a few beers once I started feeling a little better, which usually means when I’m strong enough to walk to the fridge. My beer of choice for recovery was The Dudes CalifornIPA, a refreshing hoppy brew.

While Cindy was busy with work I spent the first couple of days battling this flu thing, hoping for a quick recovery because we had a nice weekend planned in the Malibu area. While recovering I watched marathon reruns of NCIS and, oh yeah, breaking news coverage about the wildfires

The Ventura and LA County Wildfires of 2017

During the drive down from the desert we experienced incredible wind gusts on the highway. At times it was very difficult to keep the car in one lane. Sand devils whirled here and there along the roadside and dust clouds temporarily darkened the scenery before us but the effects were minimal and fleeting, though it did conjure mental images of the Dust Bowl.

Later I learned that these gusts were part of the so-called Santa Ana winds, which I’m sure many if not most of our readers have heard about and may be directly familiar with.

Smoke visible from California Wildfires, Topanga Canyon area.

According to Wikipedia the Santa Ana winds are “extremely dry down-slope winds that originate inland and affect coastal Southern California and northern Baja California. They originate from cool, dry high-pressure air masses in the Great Basin.”

Wind gusts were in excess of 70 to 80 miles per hour near the mountain passes, closer 40 mph near LA where we were located.

These warm, dry winds set the stage for the wildfires that burned over 270,000 acres (more now as I just heard on the news that the Thomas fire is nearing Santa Barbara), over 1,000 homes and structures and prompted the evcacuation of more than 212,000 people in Ventura and LA Counties. You can learn more about the 2017 California wildfires at Wikipedia including the Thomas Fire, which is the largest and still burning as of this writing.

There were so many things I had loosely planned for my two free days near LA while Cindy was working, but the blazing fires and my illness put a damper on that. A week before our trip I had such grand ideas. I’ll risk embarrassment and tell you some highlights on my list, which reads a bit like a teenager’s Hollywood site-seeing plan.

Drive by Rob Zombie’s house (I even found where Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons live), do a selfie at the Brady Bunch house (really?), do a selfie at the Hollywood Sign (we did that), drive through “the valley” just because, Rodeo Drive, Sunset Boulevard, Mulholland Drive, go to Universal City. Visit every filming location from my favorite 80s movies filmed in or near LA. Yeah. Sounds easy enough.

Look, you can peruse a map all you want but once you get to “LA” you realize how vast it really is. Stuff ain’t just down the block. Hollywood, North Hollywood, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, The Valley…

That old phrase holds true, there are only so many things you can do in a day. Even less when you’re located nearly an hour drive from any of those things, and still less when you feel like a train ran over your head. And then there were those fires.

Zoned out on cold medicine I sat glued to the television watching live coverage of the wildfires, wondering if we should bother heading farther west after Cindy’s work was complete.

We had plans to spend the weekend at the Topanga Canyon Inn Bed & Breakfast, a beautiful retreat located in the hills near Malibu, but tense live-action news reports about the widespread devastation of the wildfires brought apocalyptic visions to mind and Topanga became a wasteland bathed in acrid smoke. I mean, what else was I supposed to think? It was all right there on TV!

With Cindy’s asthma and residual cough from her cold there was no way I would put her in that situation. But it wasn’t just about the smoke. Harsh winds blew embers from one area to the next setting off fires wherever they landed. Homes in the middle of neighborhoods were set ablaze when airborne embers landed on the roofs.

My worst fear was getting caught in a wildfire and being trapped with no way out. The closest fire to Topanga was what officials called the “Skirball Fire”, which started along 405 near the intersection with Mulholland Drive. About 7 or 8 miles, as the crow flies, east of our final destination. It had potential to spread west and that’s what I wanted to avoid.

We discussed the plan on Wednesday night over dinner and were very close to pulling the plug on the rest of our trip. We figured it would be safer to just drive back to Las Vegas and spend two extra nights in a hotel there, maybe visit the strip and have some fun. But we decided to monitor the situation and see how things played out.

The following day I had the web browser on my iPad pointed at AirNow.gov, monitoring the fire map and air quality. Probably a bad idea because it just added to my worry. I continued watching the “breaking news” too.

To make matters worse, when I went downstairs for a snack the guy at the front desk ducked into a utility room and came back with two dust masks when he heard I was heading farther west of LA. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought things were dangerously smokey on the other side of town. Things were beginning to look pretty bleak.

Smoke from the Thomas Fire visible from the Top of Topanga Overlook

Smoke from the Thomas Fire is visible in the upper left of this photo taken from the Top of Topanga Overlook near Mulholland Drive.

I decided to get some facts from people in-the-know, and called the B&B to check on air quality. After a few rings the owner picked up and cheerily responded to my inquiry, “oh, the weather is great!”

Next I called the Reel Inn, a nice seafood place near Malibu, to check on conditions. A polite employee was more than helpful, informing me that there was some smoke drifting overhead the day before but now the skies were clear and the air was clean, though it was a little windy.

Thanking him I hung up the phone and tapped the button on the remote control to unmute the TV. Local news coverage of the wildfires continued, and as I sat ther it dawned on me that I had become a kind of shut-in; paranoid and worried about being caught in this disaster like the poor people I was seeing on TV.

Families had lost homes, firefighters were battling fierce blazes and as of this writing one firefighter and one civilian have died as a result of these wildfires.

Part of me felt bad about wanting to have a good weekend while other people were losing their homes and otherwise suffering due to this disaster, but we had made the plans. Regardless of how the “Breaking News” worried me I had eye-witnesses of my own telling me the coastal mountains and canyons were as beautiful as ever. And they were. But first, feeling a bit better physically and more optimistic, we had to get a dose of LA.

Head for the Hollywood Hills

We decided to do a drive-about and at least let our tires touch the pavement of some cool spots. Actually we got out of the car for a quick trek by the Hollywood Sign, took a selfie, then got the hell out of there because there’s really only so much time you want to spend around other tourists.

To be honest, driving through the hills and taking in the views is better than snapping selfies at every LA hotspot. Some views from the winding roads through the Hollywood hills are absolutely breathtaking.

After a fun rollercoaster-style ride through the hills — during which Cindy had to brace herself more than once with door handle and console to remain upright in the passenger seat — we headed back down to the Hollywood section of LA for lunch.

We parked near the Capitol Records building, a pretty cool looking piece of vintage architecture. Completed in 1956 it houses business and executive offices as well as world famous Capitol Studios and echo chambers located 20′ below ground. Now that I know all of this I’m kicking myself in the ass for not stopping by and inquiring about some kind of tour. Next time.

Here’s a funny thing. We were so caught up walking in LA, you know, taking in the scene along Hollywood Boulevard, that we forgot to look down and didn’t even notice we were treading on a famed Hollywood attraction.

During a quick pause for a photo-opp Cindy glanced down and said, “Hey, look!” We were standing on Johnny Cash’s Star on the Walk of Fame. Seriously, what are the chances?

Hollywood Sign, Hollywood Boulevard, Capitol Records Building, Johnny Cash star on the Walk of Fame. Trejos Cantina.

Our chosen destination for lunch was Trejo’s Cantina. If you’re ever in LA it is well worth a stop, and you might even get lucky enough to see Danny Trejo sitting at the bar doing a little PR. We didn’t get that lucky, but we did have a great lunch.

Trejo’s Cantina in LA is a cool little place, great food and beer selection. YES, I said beer! This is Cryptobrewology.com after all. I think I checked in from Trejo’s on Untappd. I had a Madewest Pale Ale, good brew.

Trejo owns other places around the LA area including two other Cantina locations, one in Pasadena and a brand new Cantina in Woodland Hills; Trejo’s Tacos on La Brea, Trejo’s Coffee and Donuts on Santa Monica Boulevard, and Trejo’s Tacos at USC Village.

Food and a brew at Trejos Cantina, LA. Great place a bite to eat and a couple of brews.

After a beer and some tasty tacos we strolled back to the car and wound our way through West Hollywood toward the coast. In order to say we had at least “been there” we drove down Sunset Boulevard (really just another congested street in LA), made our way over to Rodeo Drive (pretty neat vibe driving through there), sat at a traffic light and watched some tourists taking selfies at multiple angles in front of the Beverly Hills sign.

Then we turned on the navigation and headed for the hills of Malibu! Topanga to be specific but Malibu is right down the street really. Kind of.

Oh, you cannot not make a little side stop at the Santa Monica Pier. It is a spectacle to behold, and the view toward Malibu is darn pretty.

Santa Monica Pier and a view toward Malibu, CA.

We left LA and turned onto the Pacific Coast Highway. It’s a pretty drive along the coast toward Malibu. After fifteen or so minutes we turned onto Topanga Canyon Boulevard.

To say that driving through the canyons of Malibu is cool is a massive understatement. It is unbelievable!

As we drove through the canyons we were in awe of the rugged landscape, extreme sweeping turns and high slopes along the roadway. The narrow road snakes through the canyon like a river. Cindy drove and I just watched the scenery zip by.

The sandstone terrain and stone conglomerate (some volcanic I believe) along the roadway reminded me of old westerns and TV shows I recall from 70s.

In fact M*A*S*H, was filmed primarily at Malibu Creek State Park, which is very near where we had dinner during our second night in Topanga.

Casa Blanca at Topanga Canyon Inn, Topanga CA.

We turned off the main road and drove, and drove, and drove, up and up, and up, into the hills just at the edge of Topanga State Park. The Topanga Canyon Inn B&B is located on the right, along a steep narrow road.

Designed and hand-built by owner Warren Roche, the two homes that comprise the inn are in a Spanish villa style with light pastel walls, terra cotta tile floors and mission style barrel roof tiles. They fit the landscape perfectly.

Spaceous rooms and common areas are very intriguing, tastefully decorated and feature paintings by Warren’s wife Elena Roché, and photgraphy by daugher Catherine.

Topanga Canyon Inn Bed and Breakfast.

Ecclectic hand crafted furniture and themed guest rooms create a rustic yet whimsical atmosphere. There are several balconies where guests can step out and enjoy views of the surrounding hills and distant Santa Monica mountains.

With a much needed break at hand Cindy spent a lot of time on the various balconies enjoying some wine and taking in the scenery and ambience.

During breakfast that Saturday, December 9th, we met two couples from Wales and spent some time talking with them. Once he finished cooking Warren joined us to eat breakfast himself and spoke with us about the homes, the local area and his career in the music business he has since retired from.

Warren is a character. Unassuming, down to earth and entertaining. Being a musician I was interested in hearing about his experiences in the music industry. He spent some time sharing his take on the industry then-and-now and spoke about his recording work and touring stints as a trumpet player for some well known arists.

During his session work he recorded for artists like Marvin Gaye, Barry White, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson and many others. He also did some touring work performing lead trumpet for Aretha Franklin and Lou Rawls.

It was nice to have a chance to chat with him, but he had to get on with doing the dishes so we got on with our day…

Hiking in Topanga Canyon

Which included a hike, at least part of the way, up toward Eagle Rock and Topanga Canyon State Park. We were still dealing with coughs and limited respiratory capacity so hiking in dry air up the steep, rugged trails in this western landscape was not the easiest thing to do. Amazing views though, as you can see in the photos posted above and below.

We stopped frequently to take a rest but also to take pictures and just enjoy the view because the trail and terrain, with steep slopes and switchbacks, were such that the view changed every thirty or forty feet.

A view northwest toward the Thomas Fire from Rochemont Dr, Topanga Canyon State Park.

Taken from Rochemont Drive, the view above shows smoke from the distant Thomas Fire to the northwest. Topanga Canyon Inn owner’s namesake road, Rochemont Drive, runs paved a short way from Penny Road then turns into a foot-, or horse-, or cycle-, trail which winds up and onto the hill to join other trails of the Topanga Canyon State Park.

The views from this location are absolutely breathtaking. As I mentioned earlier, our respiratory condition prevented us from hiking too far into the park so after a time we turned and headed back to the inn.

We stayed in the Casa Blanca “Fred and Ginger” Room, furnished with a white Art Deco style vanity and other eclectic furnishings. Fun. We spent a few hours there just relaxing, reading and sipping a beer on the balcony just off of our room. Killing a few hours until dinner.

An Evening at Saddle Peak Lodge

One of the highlights of our trip was “dinner at the hunting lodge”. Rush fans that we are there was no way in hell we’d be that close to a place where our three heroes have dined and not dine there ourselves.

Some of you may know what I am referring to. Excerpts from “Dinner at a Hunting Lodge” appear during the ending credits of Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage documentary, which is available from Amazon Video and Netflix.

The full twelve and a half minute short can be found on the special features disc of the two DVD video release, or you can catch it on YouTube.

Hilarious. Well, Cindy and I think it is. If you’re a fan of this trio like we are you probably get a kick out of it too. The restaurant where this short was filmed is the Saddle Peak Lodge in Calabasas.

Saddle Peak Lodge photos.

On Saturday evening, the last night of our stay in Topanga, we went there for dinner. The drive was about twenty minutes from the inn, on winding roads in the dark, at once a fun and unnerving experience. Unnerving for Cindy, fun for me since I was driving.

Saddle Peak Lodge is a high end restaurant with a rich history that goes back a hundred years or more. Aside from the Rush documentary special feature it has been used as a filming location for classic TV shows and films like Perry Mason, Panic in Year Zero!, as well as The Fast and The Furious (1955), which would later lend it’s title to the modern film franchise of the same name.

Offering a contemporary menu there is still a focus on wild game, which perfectly fits with the hunting lodge theme. The food is expertly prepared and presented by a kitchen staff overseen by Executive Chef Adam Horton.

Rumored to be haunted, the Saddle Peak Lodge certainly has a suitable atmosphere and a colorful enough history to serve as a haven for ghosts. The dark and rambling multi-level lodge is interconnected with unique staircases, passages and room transitions.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, we didn’t see any apparitions. Of course we weren’t really keeping an eye out for ghostly patrons so maybe we just missed them.

Beyond the obvious restaurant ambience, the place blends elements of a hunting lodge, lounge, art gallery and private library.

Around the lodge many pieces of donated taxidermy and artwork can be found, as well as an extensive collection of vintage books. Dim lighting and rich decor combined with relatively low ceilings and multi-level dining creates a cozy feel even in the most open areas.

We had a drink at the bar downstairs first, and then we were seated for dinner in the second floor dining area. We ordered a bottle of wine and enjoyed a nice relaxing dinner, then proceeded up to the whisky lounge for a night cap.

The deck outside at the upper level would provide nice views of the surrounding hills during the day, but it was nighttime so all we could see were twinkling lights from nearby homes.

Back in the lounge I spotted a guitar leaning against the wall. When I asked if patrons were permitted to noodle around with it the bartender happily confirmed, “absolutely!” Then he pointed out the cable and amplifier. I powered up and plugged in.

The action was more than a little high; neck needed adjustment. Clear evidence that no one really took care of the guitar and it was used for little more than a decoration.

I sat for awhile playing what I could, doodled on Sultans of Swing, and a small audience formed. Well, two people really. A husband and wife sat on a sofa across from us and, between riffs, we started talking. I don’t recall their names. Using the house bluetooth speaker located in the corner of the lounge he played some of his recently recorded original material. Pretty good stuff.

While playing that guitar I did entertain the idea of the possibility that, just maybe, Alex Lifeson might have sat down to possibly noodle on maybe the exact same guitar I was holding at that moment. Deffinitely a possibility. We may never know. Surely he would have no doubt commented on the sad condition of the neck.

It was neat to dine in the forksteps of our heroes for a night, and Saddle Peak Lodge is an absolute must if you ever find yourself in that part of the United States and favor particularly fine dining in particularly cool places.

A lovely evening at Saddle Peak Lodge brought our Los Angeles and Topanga trip to a close. We decided then, after our experience at the Topanga Canyon Inn B&B and at the Saddle Peak Lodge, that at some point in the future we will definitely revisit the area to do it again. For a bit longer next time.

View from Top of Topanga Overlook. Woodland Hills and Reseda to the left.

Sunday morning we drove north on 27, stopped at the Top of Topanga Overlook and enjoyed one last breathtaking view of the area before heading out of town. We drove the switchbacks down the hill into the valley, then headed east on 101 past Studio City, Burbank, Pasadena and on over to 15 north back to Las Vegas. So long California. For now.

This was a bittersweet trip. We are very saddened by the devestation caused by the California wildfires, and our thoughts go out to all of those who have been affected. We are glad we decided to stay though. Southern California is a beautiful place for sure.

For current information about the 2017 LA and Ventura County wildfires you can tap or cliock the following links:

Wikipedia: December 2017 Southern California Wildfires
211LA.org
ReadyVenturaCounty.org

2017 LA Wildfires info – Google