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Postcards from Travel Near and Far by Jia-Rui


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93546, Mammoth Lakes

The slopes, as captured by the Hipstamatic Roboto Glitter lens

Dear ——–,

I didn’t expect to be skiing at Mammoth Memorial Day weekend, but an errant storm dumped more than half a foot of snow the week before. We couldn’t resist. My first trip down Scotty’s Run was like getting on a bullet train. I flew down the hardened slick as fast as my legs could handle. Bryan demo’ed a Never Summer Premier snowboard because it was on sale, but he said its added length still didn’t prevent wobbly turns. At lunch, we met up with Gay, Jim, their kids and their friends.We headed out en masse and hacked our way through slushy chop. The sun had basically melted everything after noon. Some people had clearly given up and were playing ping pong and volleyball in the snow. I saw at least a dozen people skiing in shorts. Afterwards, Gay and Jim invited us over to their condo for dinner, which was very sweet. They cooked up pork tenderloin and sausages. We brought ice cream and pie. The Big Dipper shone bright as we drove back to the hotel.

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92328, Death Valley

Zabriskie Point at sunset

On our way out of the Furnace Creek Ranch, I bought ice cream and remarked on the furnace-like, 100-degree heat. The guy behind the cash register said we were lucky; it was usually about 120 degrees this time of year. I stopped by Zabriskie Point on the way home and saw the fluted sandstone Badlands catch the golden glow of the evening light. It’s amazing that a place known for miningĀ  borax, a mineral left over from seasonal flooding, became such a tourist destination either. Death Valley’s borax helped make “modern living” comfortable with its contribution to detergents and cosmetics, but the land itself is so remote and unforgiving. Death Valley is the hottest, driest, lowest place in the U.S., which makes it almost unearthly in its strangeness. Water has nowhere to go and simply sits until it evaporates. Heat crouches on its haunches. Hills that would have been eroded elsewhere simply expose themselves. This place is pretty unapologetic. Everyone and everything that manages to live here has earned that right.


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92328, Death Valley

One of Racetrack Playa's famous moving rocks

Dear ——–,

The rocks move here. That’s how “Racetrack Playa,” a flat, dry lakebed in Death Valley, got its name. No one has seen the rocks actually move. Scientists think the wind pushes them when the ground is wet. Flash floods wash down the mountains and pave channels with pebbles in a pattern they call “desert asphalt.” Water that collects on the playa evaporates as it gets warmer, leaving light-colored salts and clays behind. The lakebed cracks in a hexagonal pattern that reminds me of the way basalt cooled atĀ Devil’s Postpile. One end of the playa was baked solid, but the other end was still a little damp. It had apparently rained about a week or so before. Little green plants were climbing out of the cracks. On nearby hillsides, orange poppies, fuschia prickly pear blossoms and lavender mojave aster were still hanging on in the 100-degree heat. This trip made me think how tenacious life is, somehow finding a toehold in such a harsh environment. People can barely survive here — there is a place named Starvation Canyon — but these plants somehow manage to return, year after year.


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90013, Downtown Los Angeles

These were only the semi-exotic sausages

Dear ——–,

Ja-Shin and Jeff were the real daredevils on our trip to Wurstkuche, a foodie beer garden in the Arts District of downtown Los Angeles. They pronounced the rattlesnake sausage good eating, but wrinkled their noses while pondering the alligator. I tried a forkful and said, “It tastes a little of the sea.” It was highly spiced, but pungent. It took several good swigs of cider to wash the taste out of my mouth. Call me chicken, but I was a lot happier with the less exotic mango-jalapeno wiener and the double-dipped fries with chipotle ketchup. I think there’s a reason certain foods aren’t that popular. Wurstkuche was a great place to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon, though. The servers were friendly and patrons shared long tables covered in brown paper. Everybody lingered. It was definitely Bryan’s kind of place — he’ll never get tired of sausage, mustard and beer. Outside, I realized I’d eaten at a cafe down the block and picked up an oversized photo from a printer nearby. Los Angeles can feel pretty disjointed because you’re usually driving from point to point, so it was nice to connect the dots.


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90069, West Hollywood

Halos perform at the Troubadour

Dear ——–,

After welcoming Dave and Tessa back to California with dinner at Blair’s in Silverlake on Saturday, we headed over to the Troubadour, the historic stage where acts like Joni Mitchell and the Pointer Sisters made their debut. Halos, a band from Orange County, didn’t disappoint. They blasted the audience with expressive, fuzzy guitar and jumped on top of the monitor wedges at the end of the show to prove their rock credentials. Bryan recorded and mixed the Halos album a few months ago, but we were pretty impressed at their live show chops. I’m glad they’re coming into their own. They got onto KROQ’s Locals Only show a week or so ago and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they’ll get regular play on the station. We’ve teased Dan, the lead singer who is in his early 20s, about being too young to sport a beard, so it was funny to see last night that all his friends have beards, too.


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93401, San Luis Obispo

Rows of pinot noir

Dear ——–,

(This postcard is, admittedly, arriving late. Apologies.)

In our room at the Apple Farm, a rose-patterned armchair sat in front of rose-patterned wallpaper, next to the canopy bed with rose-patterned valences. I can’t say I seek out quaint country inns, but the audacious density of prints was impressive. As I looked at the ceramic roses on the knobs of the cabinets, I got to thinking about how natural it would be for people who are at home all the time to want to embroider the couch cushions and put their favorite patterns on every object in their living space. While modernists might think this decoration fussy, it could say to others, “This home is loved.” Perhaps that’s why modernists love clean lines — they don’t have to take the time to embellish it. On our way out of San Luis Obispo, Leah arranged for everyone to go wine tasting in the Edna Valley. We drove past rows of neatly arranged vines of pinot noir grapes and stopped at Chamisal Vineyards. Bryan took a liking to their crisp Stainless Chardonnay, which is aged in stainless steel rather than oak and tastes brighter and tarter than the vanilla-hued, popcorn-finish chardonnays that are aged in oak. Later that afternoon we couldn’t resist stopping by Summerland and stocking up on some more pinot noir.


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93514, Buttermilk Country

Wildflowers in bloom in the Sierras

Dear ——–,

It was over 60 degrees at the base of Mammoth Mountain on Saturday and overnight, the melt completely froze over. Bryan had a hard time on the slick on a snowboard, but my Stockli skis felt like ice skates and I zipped down Cornice Bowl as fast as my legs could handle. I’ve never tried skiing in May, but we got a good three and a half hours on the mountain this morning before the ice turned slushy. Then we went in search of wildflowers in Buttermilk Country, just west of Bishop. The pink cherry-blossom-like blooms of the desert peach and sprightly edelweiss greeted us as we drove in on a bumpy dirt road. We weren’t exactly wearing the right clothes — Bryan was still wearing snow pants and I had wool-lined boots on — but we couldn’t resist going on a little hike up to the rounded boulders particular to this area. Few people make it up to the Sierras during the shoulder season, but we got to savor both winter and spring.