Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pismo to Morgan Hill

After driving the majestically beautiful California coastal highway, Route 1, we headed again for Pismo beach to log additional miles in the sand. We secured a site at the South Beach campground with direct access from our plot onto the dunes and beach . Our stay here began on the 29th of March through April 10. The two weeks here were very laid back and spent visiting friends, local sights, and of course walking on the beach. The weather continued to be cool and windy, but lots of sun.

Pismo beach sunset

Our batting average for sight seeing during this time period was not so good. We drove up to San Simeon, (Hearst Castle) only to find out you need a reservation to get on one of the tours. We were able to see the movie that gives a quick overview of Hearst’s life and the building of his castle.

Hearst grew up in the lap of luxury, since his father had discovered a fabulously rich silver mine as a young prospector. At age10, Hearst’s mother took him on the tour of Europe that was said to figure strongly in his taste for the priceless European art and architecture that became the focal point later in life when he began to design and build Hearst Castle. Looks like we will need another trip to California in order to view, first hand, this “castle” that overlooks the Pacific.

On one Tuesday, we drove to the nearby town of Guadalupe to visit the Dune Center, hoping for some information on the 500 foot active dune and to see the exhibit of the movie set made for the picture “The Ten Commandments” which was filmed at Oceano Dunes in 1923. Our AAA Tour book listed it to be open “Tuesday through Saturday“, but when we arrived, the sign on the door said “Thursday through Sunday“. Probably winter hours.

We did get to hike the boardwalk at the Oso Flaco Lake Natural Area, which passes a fresh water lake, through willows and plants called “dune scrub vegetation” all the way out to the ocean. The wind that day was ferocious and in many places the dunes had migrated over the planking, trying to recover their rightful territory. Adding to our limited Spanish we were told that “Oso Flaco” means Skinny Bear.

Blowing sand

On our return trip, we saw an animal in the distance, digging under a fence. At first I thought it was a raccoon, but decided it was too big. When he emerged on the other side of the fence from the hole he had dug, we could clearly see the face and body of a badger. Quite an unusual sighting, I’m told.

Disappearing boardwalk

A bit breezy

At the end of our second stay in this area we moved north again to rendezvous with three other couples from Maine. We were to meet up with the Burwells, the Baldwins, and the Andrens at a campground near San Jose.

We had four days before we were expected there so we stopped to visit a restored mission called “Mission Antonio de Padua”. This mission is currently within the boundaries of the Hunter Liggett Army base. Shortly before reaching the mission proper we passed a sprawling hacienda style building that today houses the military administration. The villa was originally designed by Julia Morgan, the architect of San Simeon, and built for William Randolph Hearst at the northern edge of his vast land holdings. He had a road built from his castle, over the San Lucia mountains to this lodge in the woods. Although there was an air strip on the property, he preferred to drive the distance in order to enjoy the beauty of all his land.

Mission San Antonio was the third mission organized in California. It was founded in 1771 and was very prosperous through the early 1830s. The last resident priest died in 1882 and the buildings were left to the mercy of the elements and rapidly became dilapidated. Restoration began in 1948 with the reconstruction of the church. Today, a major portion of the buildings resemble original design and placement. An olive tree, planted in the 1700 still stands at the church entrance, and several grape vines that were part of the first mission stock still survive in the gardens.

Our tour of the mission and grounds was practically a private showing but we learned that the next day was “Mission Days” with period appropriate demonstrations. We decided to stay in the area and return for the event. That night we found a wonderful primitive campsite in the San Padre National Forest. No facilities, but trails meandering off through the green rolling hills that were covered with mature oak trees and acres of wild flowers. We liked it so well we stayed two nights.

Enjoying the campfire

Fields of Lupine

The next day at the Mission, there were volunteers in period costumes demonstration how different types of corn is ground and used for different foods. A volunteer was grinding large white corn kernels into a paste, splashed it with lime juice and made some of it into tortillas.

Others were mixing screened dirt with straw, pressing the muddy mix into forms which would become adobe bricks.

We talked a long time to a woman who described in detail the plants used when dying wool. The vivid red used to color Cardinal’s robes was made from a tiny beetle that infests cactus plants. There were demonstrations on olive curing and oil making, spinning, making jerky, musicians, dancing and many more interesting booths and hands on activities.

Our next stop was at Pinnacles National Monument. We camped there for a night and watched 30 or 40 Turkey Vultures roost in one tall pine tree. The next day we hiked up into the remnants of the volcano which was 8000 feet high in its prime but after weathering away for millions of years it only reaches 3000 feet today. The extinct volcano truly has a split personality. It had the misfortune to be located exactly where the San Andreas fault was born, leaving its western half on the Pacific Plate and its Eastern half on the North American plate. Today the eastern half is 200 miles south of the western piece and continues to migrate at about 1 to 2 centimeters a year.

Machete ridge

Our hike took us along a “balcony” of rock about half way between the peaks and the base, down a switch back trail and into the “talus” caves.

These caves were formed when weathering and earthquake activity caused large boulders to fall and become wedged between the sides of other rocks near the bottom. In most of the caves you can see daylight between the rocks but several sections are totally dark and require a flashlight to negotiate steep drops and sharp turns. Quite an adventure.

Stopping at the Nature center, after our trek, we learned that 16 Condors have been released here in this park and 24 over the Santa Lucia mountains in Big Sur. They carry radio transmitters and the rangers always know where all the birds are, all the time. Today there had been 6 Condors at the campground in the morning. This of course was after we had left for our hike.

From here we moved on to Morgan Hill to spend the next four days with the four Maine families who all happen to be in California at the same time. The Burwells were there already, the Baldwins flew in to San Francisco, and the Andrens drove up from Ventura where they were enjoying their new granddaughter Karina.

Our reunion included a tour of a local winery, Clos LaChance. The tour was interesting, especially watching the bottling process.

This winery has its own portable bottling facility. They not only bottle their own vintages, but can move the equipment to other vineyards to package their wine.

Since we were on a full fledge “tour” we got to drink our wine out in the vineyard while we enjoyed the sunshine and gained insight into growing grapes.

After a visit to the gift shop our guide showed us the Bocce court and we amused ourselves with a round or two, making up our own rules when we did not understand the written directions.

On the 19the we packed our camper and headed east, planning to be home by May 1 or sooner. I have a feeling it will be sooner since our horses are headed toward the barn, and you know what that means.

On the second day of travel we were crossing Nevada through what is called the high desert. We were very surprised to be driving through about 6 inches of snow that had fallen the night before. The roads were clear but all the hills were painted white. Strange to see snow in the desert.

We stopped at a town called Lovelock to get gas and I remembered reading about this town in some magazine. They have started a tradition of encouraging lovers to put a lock on the chains that are located at the county court house and throw away the key. Since it only began in 2006, I was amazed at how many locks had already accumulated. A woman in the park said it had been in the 70’s the day before, and everyone was shocked at seeing the snow in the morning.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Route 1, Mendocino to Big Sur

From Crescent City down to Eureka, Route 1 passes in and out of Redwood National and State Parks which manage and preserve the many groves of Coastal Redwoods. South of Eureka, the main road dips inland a bit.

One tiny town we passed through called Weott, had an interesting history. Back in 1964 they had 32 inches of rain in three days along with a warm spell that cause an early snow melt in the mountains. A 33 foot post at an intersection marked the height the water reached when the rain stopped. No new buildings at this site!

When the road returns to the coast slightly above Fort Bragg and Mendocino we stopped for the night. This area posts signs to beware of crossing elk herds. We were still surprised when we saw groups of them directly on the side of the road. At one spot the females were jumping into a horse pasture to share new green grass with the grazing horses. The males occupied a field across the road and apparently had full bellies.

Mendocino is a small village perched on the edge of the ocean, harboring many art galleries and a superb Botanical Garden. The Magnolia trees and many of the Rhododendrons from their large collection were in bloom but I can only imagine what colors would be available in another month or two. Various trails wander here and there throughout the grounds. Half the acreage is fenced off to exclude deer from munching down the plants, but the western section, out to the ocean, allows wild things free range.

Magnolia Trees

Wild Flowers at the edge of Mendocino Botanical Garden

After two weeks of gray rain and windy chill while descending down the northern coast, we veered inland after Mendocino, on a route that promised numerous vineyards and wine tasting venues and most importantly, warmer temperatures.

At this time of year, this countryside has lush green rolling hills with miles of vineyards just beginning to show tiny ears of growth on the vines, and sporadic patches of California‘s famous wild yellow poppies.

We made a few wine stops then decided to by-pass San Francisco, and head for Morgan Hill, just outside of San Jose. We spent four days here where it was sunny and warm, getting dried out and toasted, and visiting again with the Burwells

One of the days we took a picnic and drove into the foothills, reaching Robert Coe Ranch State Park. It is hard to believe there once was a thriving cattle ranch here since the hills are so steep the cows must have had two short and two long legs to graze here. This State Park is the second largest in the State, covering more than 85,000 acres. During a severe forest fire last fall, over 40,000 acres burned and is now being monitored to assess the recovery process.

When we left Morgan Hill, we headed for the coastal route again, beginning with the famous 17 mile drive in Monterey. The area known as Pebble Beach is within the Del Monte Forrest. This acreage was purchased in 1880 by the owners of the Del Monte Hotel. The forest land is often described as “the greatest meeting of land and water in the world” The slim road parallels the rocky curving coast line, passing some of the six world famous golf courses tucked in along the route as well as a community of multi-million dollar homes.

Along the road stopping opportunities are provided at the many outstanding sights such as Bird Rock, where countless sea birds and sea lions perch, (great smell); Cypress Point Lookout where hundreds of harbor seals give birth in April and May; Lone Cypress , the landmark linked to Monterey that has been on its rock perch for over 250 years; plus mesmerizing views of the rough Pacific can be seen from every curve in the road.

Sun Bathers

Lone Cypress - 250 years old

We skipped the shopping opportunities in Carmel by the Sea and moved south on Route 1 which extends for 90 miles between Monterey and San Simeon (Hearst Castle). We stopped in the village of Big Sur, camping at a Riverside campground that called out to be missed, Ugh.
The next morning we hung out in a local bakery with great coffee and apple danish until the Henry Miller Library opened at 11:00.

We spent the rest of the morning at the Henry Miller Library. I can't believe we did not take any pictures. It is an inspiring spot fronted with a garden full of eclectic art and Chinese lanterns strung atop a small amphitheatre used for summer performances. The building is a small house owned by Miller's long time friend Emile White, who originally created the Library after Miller's death in 1980.

The property is now run by Big Sur Land Trust with the purpose of promoting the works of Miller and to serve as a cultural and artistic resource for the area. We browsed through the art and books for several hours and left feeling upbeat and optimistic. A great stop.

South of Big Sur the road along this part of the coast took 15 years to completion in 1937. This bridge is 1932 vintage.

Looking back from a viewpoint

Lots of hidden beaches along the road without access