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Desert Companion

Travel: So much more than the Rose Bowl

Huntington Library

A little too far for a day trip, but perfect for a weekend getaway, Pasadena, Calif. is often overlooked as a destination except on New Year’s Day. But there’s far more to this fair city than the Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl.

Pasadena City Hall is a good place to begin exploring. You might recognize its impressive Mediterranean façade — it’s been showcased in dozens of advertisements and feature films over the years. Photographers flock here at sunset to capture the raking light reflecting off the ornate iron stair rails, mission tiles and lush subtropical landscaping.

Head west on Colorado Boulevard. This is also historic Route 66, so consider finding a convertible and cruise the Mother Road in style through “Old Town,” a trendy district packed with excellent eateries, interesting shops and hip night spots. At the corner of Colorado and Orange Grove, best known for its role as the kickoff point for the Rose Parade, you’ll find the Norton Simon Museum, home to what has been called one of the finest private collections of art ever assembled. The art begins before you go inside: Rodin’s “Burghers of Calais” are on hand to welcome you at the entrance. Inside, stroll past paintings and sculptures by all the household names — Rembrandt, Rubens, Monet, Degas, Picasso, Kandinsky, Matisse — as well as works from early periods and a large collection of Asian art. The sculpture garden has works by Henry Moore, Rodin and others. You can take a break at the café and watch the sun dance on the lily pads in the pond.

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As you head south, keep an eye peeled for a fork in the road. We’re talking a real fork — silver and with four tines — at the corner of Pasadena and St. John Avenues. Touted as “the largest fork west of the Mississippi,” it’s the much-photographed work of two local artists. While you’re in the area, check out Arlington Garden, a little-known public park recently developed on the site of an old estate. Fragments from the old mansion have been incorporated into walkways and terraces or turned into planters and rock gardens. Enjoy a beguiling array of the native and exotic flowers, shrubs and trees that thrive in Pasadena’s temperate climate.

Drive east through one of Pasadena’s iconic residential neighborhoods into the community of San Marino. You’ll soon arrive at the world-renowned Huntington Library, home of an incredible collection of manuscripts and rare books, including a Gutenberg Bible and the Ellesmere Chaucer. The art galleries house an impressive collection of European and American art, including Lawrence’s “Pinkie” and Gainsborough’s “The Blue Boy.” Autumn is a lovely time for a walk through the Huntington’s legendary botanical gardens, which include everything from cactus and succulents to roses and culinary herbs. (I-15 to I-210 and return) — Mark Sedenquist

Turtlehead PeakTurtlehead Peak

Among seasoned Red Rock hikers, a check mark next to Turtlehead Peak is so ubiquitous that it has become the standard against which other hikes are judged. Most of Turtlehead’s 2,000-foot climb is up a steep gully covered in broken limestone shards called “scree.” The hard-earned payoff is unobstructed views of Red Rock and Las Vegas. Slips and scrapes are common, but remember that outdoors maxim: “It’s not a hike until there’s blood.” Level: difficult. — Alan Gegax

A rock cathedral — and Old West flavor

Three hours north of Las Vegas, just off Highway 93, is a hidden gem few Southern Nevadans ever see: Cathedral Gorge State Park. Nevada has no finer outdoor exploring than Cathedral Gorge, where a cliff of eroding bentonite clay has created a natural playground. Between a series of narrow slots are countless pillars and spires that give the gorge its gothic appearance. The most famous slot, called “Moon Caves,” has visitors crawl on their bellies through a natural tunnel to explore the depths beyond.

Cathedral Gorge State Park

To round out the adventure, take a side trip to the historic town of Pioche, where the hillsides are littered with antique remnants of major mining operations. Pioche still has an Old West feel, complete with Main Street saloons. Be sure to check out the “Million Dollar Courthouse,” a building that exemplifies the unchecked corruption and waste found all too often in government. Construction began in 1871 at a price of $26,000. Nearly a million dollars later, the courthouse was finally paid off in 1937 — four years after the building was condemned. — A.G.

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