Casa Bonita – It does exist!

Casa Bonita – let the mild times roll!

I can’t believe I hadn’t posted this previously. For this egregious oversight, I apologize profusely. Casa Bonita is located on West Colfax Avenue in Lakewood, CO.

Although a hearty endorsement from Cartman should have swayed me from actually going to this place, I had to see it, once S. John Ross explained it to me. I had to have the Casa Bonita EXPERIENCE. The ‘Taste of Mexico’, as it were.

Casa Bonita – The jailhouse slit of neverending food

And boy, is ‘Mexico’ beige – at least at this place. You have to buy dinner to get in, but you don’t necessarily have to EAT it. The entirety of the fun here is in being able to walk around and get the full sensory overload that is Casa Bonita. The line to simply pay for your meal, and therefore entrance into this bizarre extravaganza makes you feel like you’re waiting for a ride at a theme park.

the diving area

The line then wraps around to a place where you pick up trays and wait for the people behind the small ‘jailhouse food slit’ to birth your unappetizing meal out onto cheap spanish tile delivery counter. Numerous signs warn of hot plates, so I’m assuming that at least twice a night, people burn themselves on the damned things and complain to management.

behind the waterfall – SO HUMID

The scenery is SPECTACULAR. And by spectacular, I mean “Wow. I can’t believe this place is still standing. I guess the building code inspector was off for the last ten years.” There are brief 4 to 5 minute shows every 15 minutes, whether it’s somebody diving, a ‘western gunfight’ or two pirates fighting over a woman in what looks like medieval garb, which was perplexing.

We demanded a table overlooking the waterfall, and it was well worth it. The schedule at the table promised a varied collection of ‘acts’:

Announced Dive
Dive Show…

You get the idea.

inside Black Bart’s Cave

BUT, unfortunately, ‘Gorilla’ was not to be seen during our brief, soapy meal. Actually, it was supposed to be a five minute interlude with a group of people in monkey outfits, which I would really liked to have witnessed – especially if one or all of them ended up in the water, as seemed to happen with each successive mini spectacle. Each of the ‘shows’ ended with at least one or two participants either diving into or being pushed into the water, all to high comedic effect that completely entranced all the little children surrounding us.

Black Bart’s Cave

We braved Black Bart’s Cave, relieved that the night was still young, and the cave did not overflow with the stench of sickness. However, when venturing to the dining spaces behind the waterfall, we were overcome with humidity. It was unsurprising that nobody was sitting back there.

The shows are odd and the ‘actors’ REALLY over-the-top enthusiastic to the point of being almost spastic, but it’s worth a trip at least once in your lifetime, should you find yourself out in Denver, CO.

The main diver is pretty talented, I will say. I kept expecting him to crack his head open on the rocks in the pool be low with the flips he was doing in that small space. The swingy rope that attached to a REALLY sketchy, rickety area in the ceiling kept looking as if it’d snap off and drop into the pool.

All in all, a very worthwhile experience.


Zodiac and The Good Servent (Serpent) Orphanage

The grove in Hiddenbrooke in Vallejo, CA

Last night, drove around in search of The Good Servent (Serpent) Orphanage in Vallejo, CA.

An online source states:

“Never listed in any directories and located at the end of a desolate abandoned road, it remains one of the worst cases of child abuse ever recorded in American history. At the turn of the century, children of the Good Servant Orphanage and Continuation School hailed from all over the world, including the Appalachian Experiment Children. Twelve year old Luther, a third degree burn victim and the reluctant head of the children, leads small groups of his peers as they sneak out at night to find food, completely oblivious to how unforgiving the community can be of those who are “different.” So hideous looking are the small night foragers that the locals soon change the name of the institution from its given moniker, “Good Servant Orphanage” (referring to Christ) to “Good Serpent Orphanage” (referring to the Devil). A deliberately set fire puts a violent end, once and for all, to the sufferings and horrors that were perpetuated upon the young innocents whom society abandoned to the custody of a wicked headmaster, one who posed as a benevolent Christian minister but, in truth, was the very opposite of that — a malevolent Satanist; an evil man who, unfortunately, had the backing of the U.S. government in a twisted quid pro quo.

“This historically accurate novel serves to explain much of the paranormal occurrences in the Vallejo area. To this day, the violent young souls of the Good Serpent Orphanage are often seen in the area of the old Borges Ranch, terrorizing anyone unfortunate enough to cross their paths after dark, making it one of the most haunted locales in northern California.

“The exact location of this place is unknown but is in the Vallejo, Ca area.”

The orphanage itself seems to have been torn down and replaced with a moderately sized, well heeled community full of golfers, apparently. While driving down the road towards the community, I spotted an enormous grove of eucalyptus trees in a field of amber rolling hills off to the right.

As we drove by, I heard multiple clicking sounds, so after we made a quick run through the development, my friend parked and I got out of the truck and walked over to the sidewalk by the trees. The slope going down to them was too dangerous to try to navigate without long pants and hiking boots, so I just stood and listened to the grove itself. I kept seeing shapes flit around within it while the sound of childrens’ laughter rang in my head. There was nothing menacing about the presence in the grove, and I got the rather strong feeling that this was where the spirits stayed now that there was a large population of urbanly upward people living down the road.

We hit several of the Zodiac sites in the area afterwards.

Blue Springs Park – the site where the Zodiac killed Darlene Ferrin and Mike Mageau

“I want to report a murder. If you will go one mile east on Columbus Parkway you will find kids in a brown car. They were shot with a nine millimeter Luger. I also killed those kids last year. Goodbye.”

First, we drove to Blue Rock Springs Park – the site where the Zodiac killer opened fire on Darlene Ferrin and Mike Mageau. I believe we parked in the actual spot where the two were killed. The park itself is full of peacocks and they were noisily calling out while I walked around the large eucalyptus trees next to the spot, then over to the pond to the left.

“Dear Editor – This is the murderer of the 2 teenagers last Christmass [sic] at Lake Herman & the girl on the 4th of July … To prove I killed them I shall state some facts which only I & the police know …”

Lake Herman Road – the Zodiac site where David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen were slain

Next stop was Lake Herman road, where the Zodiac killed David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen. It’s just a few minutes away from Grizzly Island Wildlife Area, where we also tried to drive out to the various WWII and Korean ships stored in the pacific harbor. The site is surrounded by hills with tall, yellow grass. When I got out of the car, I heard the echoes of a woman pleading and crying (mind’s eye kinda stuff again, this sort of thing again is easily distinguishable from present, living people). I asked her where her date was, and she said he’d left a long time ago. We had a brief conversation and I did what I could to help her break her ties to that area so she could move on.

After the failed attempt to get out to see the ships from the shoreline (LOTS of very official NO Trespassing signs had us turning back), we then decided to get dinner and head back home.

Good night of adventures. 🙂

daytripping on the weekend – a devil of a mountain and a haunted house

Early saturday morning, I headed out for Mount Diablo, a mountain supposedly sacred to the Miwok and Ohlone Native American peoples of California. I’m all about vortexes and sacred places and I’d wanted to check it out while I was here, so I headed on down to Mount Diablo State Park. I will say that almost the entire way up the mountain itself is lousy with bicyclists with very nasty attitudes. The bicyclists in this area in general are fairly aggressive, and as with other bicyclists in other states, they don’t bother following traffic signs/lights or posted speed signs.

While threading my way up the two lane road, every time I passed a cyclist another one would appear as if out of nowhere, hurtling towards me – either cursing or giving me the finger. It really soured the experience. I did try my best to give the bikes room, but they were all over the place, and all over the lane. Some of the ones coming towards me were even over the yellow line. It was pretty awful. The view from a few hundred feet from the ranger station is gorgeous, however. It’s worth a trip, if you don’t have a vehicle that overheats easily from going two miles an hour behind bicycles that are doing their best to head up the switchbacks.

The front of the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, CA

Tired already from all the attitude I was getting from the cyclists, I just headed back down and out to San Jose – to the Winchester Mystery House.

The sprawling residence is a well known landmark in Northern California. Once the home of Sarah Winchester, the widow of William Wirt Winchester (the treasurer of the of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company), it’s an enormous estate with doors that open to the outside and staircases to nowhere.

Winchester Mystery House historical marker

As the story goes, Mrs. Winchester was apparently worried that the spirits killed by “The Gun that Won the West” would exact their vengeance upon her, and so on the advice of a psychic from Boston she traveled to California and began continuous construction on an unfinished Farm House that lasted 38 years – until the day of her death. There are parts of the house where you can see that the laborers simply dropped their tools and walked off the job when they realized that they would be receiving no further paychecks to continue construction on the mansion. There are still nails sticking out of these parts – the workers hadn’t bothered tapping them in, and the place has been preserved as best as possible in the original condition.

Front of the Winchester Mystery House

The number 13 is featured predominantly throughout the structure – multiple rooms have 13 windows, some stain glass windows have 13 elements in them that stand out to the viewer, drains have 13 holes in the, etc.. There are a great many gorgeous stained glass windows that were placed poorly; they’re either just in front of another wall that was erected by workers, or were simply placed on the wrong part of the house to get the kind of exposure that would make them shine. It’s interesting to note that every Friday the 13th and Halloween, the staff turns all the lights out and conducts flashlight tours through the mansion. Unfortunately, I’m not going to be in town for July Friday the 13, so I won’t be able to do this, but would really love to sometime in the future.

One of the reasons that the structure has remained as intact as it has throughout the years is that it’s predominantly constructed out of redwood. Elaborate painted wall textures cover the wood (it’s said that Sarah didn’t like the look of it), and I was surprised to see an actual biohazard symbol repeated in the pattern of the wallcovering in the bedroom that Sarah died in. Apparently no tour guide had noticed it before I pointed it out to them, which is a little bizarre. Sadly, I have no pictures of the inside of the mansion – they don’t allow photos once you’re inside.

The tour of the main house takes you through all of the finished rooms, some not so finished, but there is no original furniture throughout the building. Sarah apparently bequeathed it all to her niece.

As to spiritual presence within the house itself, from what I felt/’saw’ (I say ‘saw’ because my experience of the other side comes in either flashes or images in my mind’s eye – things that are clearly distinguishable from people standing right in front of me) throughout the tour, there are still spirits kickin’ around inside.

– In one of the parlors, I saw a couple of people sitting and listening to a woman playing the piano.
– In one of the elevators, the brief image of woman pounded on the plexiglass separating the elevator from the house. I asked the guide if anybody had ever died in any of the elevators, but he didn’t know.
– In the South Conservatory there was this oppressive feeling that initially tried to drive me to my knees, but it eased up. There wasn’t really a feeling of malice to it – just STRENGTH. It was almost like a spiritual arm wrestling contest. Once I stumbled, it let up. Funky.
– In the seance room, there were multiple feelings of excitement and interest, but I couldn’t really get a bead on anything specific. It was almost like being at a party where everybody was talking, but I couldn’t focus on a single conversation.

The tour through the house takes about an hour or so, and there’s a break between that and the Garden/Behind the Scenes tour, for which I was very grateful. It was supposed to get up to 100 that day, so I went out to the van and got my water and my floppy beige ‘explorer hat’. The sun was brutal as we walked around the grounds, and there were several points throughout the tour where we needed to wear these little generic plastic ‘construction helmets’. They didn’t really fit very well and most of them were broken, but they were somewhat functional. They were mostly for avoiding getting cracked on the head and knocked out by the pipes in the basement. We got to see the boiler, the coal chute and the steam tunnels, as well as the stables (I get the feeling that something violent had happened there, though – I kept seeing quick flashes of two people struggling, but couldn’t clearly make out what was going on).

Here are the pics I was able to take on the Behind the Scenes tour.

If you do decide to go, I HIGHLY recommend that you take BOTH the mansion tour and the Behind the Scenes tour. Well worth it, in my opinion. The tour guides were very friendly and were fantastic with the presentation of historical information.

From the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Coastline

I left Denver on a wednesday evening, pushing to get to Moab, UT as quickly as possible. I wanted to be able to see the tall red walls of the canyons early in the morning, before the sun became a raging desert beast with the sole intent of wrecking me. I’m pretty heat sensitive, so during the summer I tend to stay indoors a great deal. This whole running about when it’s bloody hot outside is still sort of new to me. I stayed on I-70 through the Rockies, still captivated by how beautiful and overwhelming they are. Their towering presence loomed overhead as I followed the winding road throughout canyons and over the tops of mountains.

I saw several ski areas peppered along the sides of various mountains before driving through Vale. I kept expecting Julie Andrews to pop out from behind the bushes to croon various songs from the Sound of Music. Vale is filled with Alpine style houses, both large and small. Just a really beautiful setting. Hell, it almost made me want to come back to go skiing at some point, and I loathe skiing. I was also reminded of the yodeling guy from the Price is Right as I drove through.

Welcome to Utah!

I was about an hour away from Moab when I stopped for the night at a highway “Welcome to Utah!” stop. Light hills and colorful buttes greeted me in the morning. Desert hills as far as the eye could see, with the Rockies off in the distance. Most of the dirt was off-white, with ribbons of color running through the surrounding buttes.

Along the road through Arches National Park in Utah

The drive out to Moab was fine until I turned off I 70 onto 191. There was a surprising amount of construction on the road, starting with a major holdup on the offramp. After sitting for 15 minutes, waiting for the lady with the STOP sign to wave me on, I was finally able to turn onto the road itself, encountering patches of road that were being resurfaced. After a quick stop in Moab for breakfast, it was on to Arches National Park. Once past ranger station in the canyon, Arches Entrance Road winds up and along the side of the canyon. The vistas are spectacular; tall red peaks, mixed with a variety of other colors.

There are lots of places along the road where you can pull a single car over to the side of the road and check out the view. The first actual pullover with parking spaces, has a hiking trial that snakes down and through a canyon with spires of red rock and small balanced rock formations at the tops of the canyon walls. The second pullover features an egg shaped rock seemingly precariously balanced on a rock spire. To your left of the spire you can see the ‘windows’, fair shaped holes in stone, carved out by the elements.

Balancing Rock – Arches National Park, Utah

The last point along the road that I visited was the famous Delicate Arch. This is the arch that’s proudly displayed on the Welcome to Utah signs at the various rest stops along the highway and on the state’s license plates. There are two separate parking areas to either view or to hike to the arch. The first one has VERY few parking spaces, and the hike directly out to the arch itself is about a mile and a half. It was already getting supremely hot out, so I just drove out to the viewpoint. Even the walk up to the viewpoint itself was taxing, but I got to see little ant sized people walking around the arch that looked as if it was several miles away. It’s worth noting that there are bathrooms at both parking locations, for which I was surpremely grateful.

Green tinted hills – Arches National Park – Utah

The surrounding hills have veins of minerals that have a greenish tint to them, and no plants grow in these areas. I believe that these are deposits of serpentine, but I’m not quite sure.

I then headed back down to the car and pressed on to my second destination, Zion National Park in southwestern Utah, a little over 6 hours away. While I was about an hour and a half away from Goblin Valley State Park as I drove along I-70, I didn’t really have the time to take a detour to see it. I did, however, drive through the San Rafael Reef Swell, a place with these enormous peaks of rock that jut diagonally out of the earth at dramatic angles. The Swell itself looks a bit unearthly, and apparently parts of the Swell resemble Mars.

San Rafael Reef Swell along I-70 – Utah

I stopped at several canyons along the route, Black Dragon Canyon being the most picturesque. I also stopped at the Salt Wash View Area off of I-70; there’s a wonderfully twisty, dry juniper tree there that had sparse springs of green at the tips of the branches. I ended up having to crash for a few hours in a gas station parking lot when I drove through Richland, UT. I was exhausted and needed a nap, and got about an hour or so of sleep, but the temperatures became unbearably hot in the van and I had to get up and move on.

Black Dragon Canyon – Utah

I ended up arriving near Zion National Park at around 6 or 7pm, but realized that I really wouldn’t have much time to check the place out in the morning. I really needed to get to my destination in Northern California by Sunday afternoon, so I had to beat feet. Figuring that I wanted to get to bed fairly early this time, I pulled into a Pilot gas station in St. George, UT, but it was still 90+ degrees out – even as the sun just beginning to set behind the mountains. It was far too hot to sleep in the van, and after two hours of trying and sweating miserably, I gave up and drove to a Motel 6 for the night. Ah, sleeping in AC 🙂 It’s a good thing.

Here are some of the pictures of the trip through Utah.

I woke up at 5am the next morning, still a little groggy, but just wanting to get through the desert as quickly as possible. Temps in Las Vegas were listed as a high of 108, and it made me pretty nervous about the trip. Got on the road at 5:22am after filling the tank and getting a couple of gallons of water. Yeah, it’s not a trek through the Sahara on foot or anything, but the idea of breaking down in the middle of the Mojave in that heat with no provisions was a little daunting.

Salt Wash View Area I-70 Utah

This being said, the trip itself was nowhere near as bad as I thought it’d be. There were enough restrooms along the way to keep me from having to break out the Go Girl ‘device’. The Mojave is also spectacular. It’s been very interesting to see the differences in terrain and plant life between the various deserts that I’d been through in the last two months or so. There were also a fair number of places to get gas and snacks, if needed, which was reassuring. There were a couple of long abandoned places that looked really interesting, but it was too damned hot for me to want to climb out of the safety of Matilda and explore/investigate them. I was already fairly tired and I didn’t want to overdo it, since I felt that I’d push myself into actual sickness if I did.

Bear Track?

I reached Bakersfield, CA a little after 1pm and decided to get some sleep at another Motel 6. I don’t really care that much about amenities when I’m tired – I just want a bed and air conditioning. Unfortunately, the first room they put me in had an A/C unit that functioned like a really weak fan. It was at least 100 degrees outside, and needless to say, simply a fan wasn’t cutting it. I called down to the front desk, and they transferred me to a room with a working air conditioner. I was finally able to actually nod off around 2pm. At around 6:30pm, I woke up, still just exhausted. I had the option of heading up to the Sequoia National Forest and then finding a truck stop after, but I would’ve gotten there past sunset at that point. I decided to get some dinner and return to the room, to stock up on rest. I’d been pushing myself pretty hard on traveling since Denver. It was completely the right decision to make.

Bright eyed and bushy tailed at 5am again the next day, I got up and got back on the road. The journey to the Sierra National Forest winds through a great many amber colored foothills that start out with sparse trees at first. They’re all deciduous with a smattering of pine here and there until you’re well up into the mountains. Lots of switchbacks had Matilda overheating at one point, and I pulled over and parked for about twenty minutes to give the engine time to cool down. As I walked around the small pulloff area, I noticed what looked an awful lot like a bear track. There were trails of hoofprints throughout the gravel, but that bear track really stood out. I went through a variety of both interesting and gruesome scenarios about the bear coming back while I waited there, but that particular excitement wasn’t mine to experience, apparently. For this, I’m both disappointed and grateful.

Waterfall in the Sequoia Mountains

It took me awhile to actually run across any redwoods, but once I did, I found myself at a ranger station with a small one. The ranger station was closed, thwarting my bathroom plans, so I continued on my journey. There was, however, a very educational guide about what to do if one encountered a mountain lion whilst hiking. Several times throughout the postings at the ranger’s office, hikers were encouraged to hike in a group, and to avoid hiking through the area alone. Ah, exciting 🙂 At a sizeable pulloff on the side of the road, I found a wonderful little mountain stream burbling happily along through rocks and around trees. I walked down into a small island in the middle of the stream and spotted another couple redwoods, mixed in with other coniferous trees. The area had a wonderful resonance and gave me a little energetic boost.

The stream in the Sequoia Mountains

A little while after that, I arrived at the Trail of 100 Giants monument. The sheer size of the trees completely blew my mind. I’d never seen such enormous trucks that tapered as the trees stretched towards the clouds. As a little girl, I remembered seeing photos of a tree with a trunk so large that a hole had to be cut into it so that cars could pass through it. I wanted desperately to see something like that, but sadly I didn’t have to time hit King’s Canyon as well, but do plan on checking it out on my trip back through California when I’m heading south for the winter. I was overwhelmed at the size of the trees, but also overjoyed at the song they sang. The wind through the treetops was almost magical. I felt very small, but protected, in the presence of these giants.

Trail of 100 Giants – “The Sisters”

There was a grove of five redwood trees, almost in a circle, past a large redwood that had fallen over. I started calling them the sisters, and I could hear happy laughter echoing in my head. Standing in the middle of these trees made my heart race as I looked up and around at my surroundings. Tree shadows made everything pleasantly dark, with patches of sunlight here and there along the forest floor. It took my breath away for a moment. I walked the whole loop, then waved goodbye to the trees as I headed back to the car, wishing that I could camp overnight and see them in the morning sunrise. Sadly, I had schedule to maintain.

On my way back down the mountain, I stopped at a little restaurant that had decent BLT’s before powering on down the mountains to Porterville, then across the varied landscape of western California as I headed over to the coast. I passed many different kinds of farms, before encountering a great expanse of amber hills, the Lost Hills, to be exact. The hills were almost bare of any trees or anything other than browning grass, but every once in awhile I could spot one here – one there. As I drove along I was reminded of walking through enormous sand dunes. The area is very aptly named, in my opinion. Almost every hill looks like the last one.

As I crested the final ridge of hills, I got my first view of the ocean after several months of desert and mountains. It was such a welcome, relieving sight. I believe my jaw actually dropped as I pulled over and got out of the car, checking out the panoramic view. Such a rush to see mama ocean again. I eventually popped out onto the Pacific Coast Highway near Cambria, CA and took it all the way up to Big Sur.

The Pacific Coast Highway

The dramatic drops and turns as the road threaded along the edges of the mountains and through the plains were gorgeous, if a little nerve wracking at times. Unfortunately, because I suck at thinking ahead and making reservations at any of the camping/RV sites along the routes I take, there was ‘no room at the inn’, so to speak. Big Sur was all booked up, which shouldn’t be surprising, I suppose. I ended up having to drive the rest of the way up to Carmel, then Monterey.

I dearly wanted to stay in the Motel 6 in Monterey at this point, but it would’ve been $89 a night, and I simply ain’t payin’ that much for Motel 6 quality. I went ahead and drove an additional 1 1/2 hours to the Loves Truck Stop in Santa Nella, CA, but the girls behind the registers kept saying that I needed to pull around back with the rigs for overnight parking. Yeah, right. Screw that. I’m not getting my ass beat for taking up an entire rig spot with an 18 foot conversion van. It ain’t that kinda party. I drove across the street to the TravelCenters of America rest stop instead, where they let me pull into a much more reasonable parking area to crash out in the back of the van for the rest of the night. I woke up at 7am, had a little breakfast, then headed north to Napa.

I got there in time to hang out with my friend, then head out with her to a SCA Fighter Practice cookout with my friend. I then proceeded to rest while consuming delicious tri-tip and desserts while watching men in armor beat on each other with padded sticks in a park downtown. Several redwood tress overlooked the proceedings as well, putting a splendid cap on the weekend.

I’ll be staying with my friend out in Napa, CA until the second weekend in July, when I begin my sojourn up to Oregon. 🙂

Here are the pics from the journey through California.