Monday, November 12, 2018

WATCHING THE STARS at the GRIFFITH OBSERVATORY, Los Angeles, CA

Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles, CA
The Griffith Observatory sits high on a hill above the city of Los Angeles, its white walls and domed roofs visible from miles away. It is the ideal place to get a panoramic view of the city and to watch and learn about the stars–the real ones, not the movie variety.
City view from the Promenade Walkway of the Observatory
The Griffith Observatory in Griffith Park is one of the premier public observatories in the world. Griffith J. Griffith wanted the public to have the opportunity to look through a telescope, which he felt might broaden human perspective. Mounted in the copper-clad domes on either end of the building, the Zeiss and solar telescopes are free to the public every day and night the sky is clear.
Jennifer and me, in front of the Observatory. The Griffith Observatory opened to the public on May 14, 1935
When my daughter Jennifer was in high school and college, she worked as a guide at the Observatory. She was in town last summer with her family, so we decided to spend an afternoon there.
Astronomer's Monument and Sun Dial on plaza in front of the Observatory
Traffic and parking are always a challenge near the Observatory, so we parked along the road near the Greek Theater. We then ate a picnic lunch on the grass before heading up the hill, about a mile’s walk. One can also get to the top by riding one of the free shuttle buses that stop across the road from the Greek Theater.
Foucault's Pendulum
Just inside the main door of the Observatory is Foucault’s pendulum, a heavy ball that swings in an arc following the Earth’s rotation. It is a favorite exhibit at the Observatory. Visitors crowd around the railing around the pit, waiting to see the ball knock over a peg every few minutes.
The 240-pound brass ball moves back and forth on a 40-foot steel cable suspended from the dome. At Los Angeles' latitude, it takes 42 hours for the pendulum to complete a circle as the earth beneath it rotates. The movement is visually represented by small wooden dowels that are knocked over one at a time by a pointer on the bottom of the ball.
Tesla Coil
Another favorite Observatory exhibit is the Tesla coil. When it turns on, giant flashes of light explode as electricity flows into the air of the chamber.
During our visit we looked at dozens of other exhibits as well, learning about the sun, moon, planets and things astronomical. We ended our stay with a live show in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium, settling into the comfortable reclining seats for the show. (Tickets for the shows can only be purchased at the Observatory on the day of the show.)
It was a great family outing and opportunity for our grandchildren to see where their mother had worked when she was just a little older than they are now.
Admission to the Griffith Observatory and Grounds is FREE. For more information click HERE.
North Doors of the Observatory

Monday, November 5, 2018

SUN MOON LAKE, TAIWAN: Hiking, Temples, and the Beauty of Nature

View from Longfeng Temple, Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan
On our recent trip to Taiwan, our last night was spent at Sun Moon Lake, located in the mountains about two hours from the coastal city of Taichung. This beautiful alpine lake (altitude 2,545 feet) is surrounded by thick green forest and majestic mountains. It is part of a National Scenic Area and a popular vacation spot.
 Sun Moon Lake. Ci'en Pagoda, on a hill overlooking the lake, was built by late President Chiang Kai-shek in 1971 in memory of his mother.
We traveled to Sun Moon Lake by taxi from Taichung, passing through a series of long tunnels as we climbed from the level plain along Taiwan's west coast through the hills and valleys in the center of the island. (Taiwan is a long island, with a line of steep mountains down the center as its spine.)
View of the lake and bikeway from our seventh floor room at the Sun Moon Lake Hotel.

Street light along the coast road in Sun Moon Lake. The east side of the lake resembles a sun while the west side resembles a moon, hence the name.
After checking into our hotel, we took a walk along the bikeway/walkway.

Reflector on the walkway around the lake
The 29 km scenic bikeway goes all around the lake and we were passed by people on bikes of all sorts–electric, tandem, and 10-speed with families carrying children in baby seats.  (We could have rented bikes at our hotel, but we preferred to walk.)
This bridge is popular for wedding photos.
Our destination was the new modern Xiangshan Visitor Center, which happened to have a bonsai show that week. The low, organically designed building blends harmoniously into the landscape and provides an overlook of the lake and is surrounded by broad reflecting pools enhancing the view.
Bonsai plant in front of the Xiangshan Visitor Center
The Visitor Center also has a small museum with exhibits about the Bunun culture, the local indigenous people. Living on both sides of the Central Mountain Range, Bunun people were known to be one of the “high-mountain tribes.” Singing and dancing are an important part of the Bunun culture. Pestle music is performed by a number of people wielding wooden pestles and involves the rhythmic pounding of the pestles against stone slabs.
Traditional Bunun clothing
The next morning, before we left, we walked to LongfengTemple close to our hotel. At sunset the evening before and at sunrise we had listened to the temple bell ring and echo over the water.
Longfeng Temple
At this temple and the one we visited earlier in our visit to Taiwan in Sanxia, (near Taipei) every single surface was decorated with dragons, birds, animals, people, flowers and more. It was hard to stop taking pictures.
Bird and plant decorations at Longfeng Temple
We then took a short hike on the trail leading to Mount Maolin and the Tea Research and Extension Station.
Tea plantation. With similar latitude and growing conditions to India's Assam tea farms, the area around Sun Moon Lake has become the main base for the cultivation of Assam tea in Taiwan.
We had brought our binoculars, but we saw surprisingly few birds considering the lush forest all around the lake. However, we did see a lot of butterflies. (Taiwan is famous for its wealth of tropical butterflies, once collected and exported by the ton. Now they are protected as a natural resource.)
Junonia orithya butterfly
Then it was time to leave. A taxi took us directly to the airport in Taipei for our flight back to Los Angeles. One day wasn’t really enough to fully explore Sun Moon Lake, but it gave us a taste of Taiwan’s rich natural beauty.