Around (instead of “Along”) the Coast

Day Five (Part two) – Carmel to Cambria with a Slight Detour

I had promised Joan Coastal Redwoods and by golly we were going to find some. (Yes. Yes. We had seen countless giant sequoias, biggest trees on the planet. But Joan wanted to see the tallest. These are two very different species; and the Coastal Redwoods do not grow in Sequoia National Park… or Yosemite.) I had done some homework. And so,  we drove south on Route 1 and took a sharp left onto Coast Road, headed for  Andrew Molera State Park. We were surprised to see…on this incredibly narrow, steep windy road…that people live up here. Instantly, we had left the sunny coast behind and were driving through the deep shadows of  super-tall trees , between steep embankments where roots the size of saplings protruded from damp dark earth.  And of course these were the Coastal Redwoods we wanted to see. But from here, on a road that seemed to cut right through the hillside, we couldn’t see much of the trees—just their exposed roots, and the bases of their tall brownish red trunks soaring toward the mass of foliage above us that just about blotted out sun. We passed a dozen or so quirky houses, some accessible only via quite treacherous looking bridges over the narrow, but by no means sleepy stream, that skirted  (and had no doubt carved the pathway that became) the road. We climbed and climbed and climbed on a road that twisted and turned . Suddenly: No! It was déjà vu all over again! We emerged into sunshine a to a dry, flat, treeless hilltop… and a sign that said, you guessed it: ROAD CLOSED!

Okay, so we weren’t going to drive into the Coastal Redwood grove in the depth of the park. We had known, before leaving home that because the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge was out of commission, we would not be able to drive down along the beautiful Big Sur (Big South) Coast from Carmel to Cambria. What we found out after the fact, was that it wasn’t just the bridge on HWY 1 that was closed. The parks themselves were closed because the heavy February rains had brought flooding that compounded fire damage; more than 130,000 acres burned the previous summer, destroying the forest and the hillside root systems that hold soil in place during rainstorms. We were philosophical. Obviously, the stands of trees we had just driven through were all Coastal Redwoods; we would retrace our steps and Joan would get out of the car, climb up an embankment and touch one of those trees…which is what she wanted to do. That’s what we did. That’s what she did. And we have a picture to prove it!

But there was no way to compensate for the fact that we could not drive the beautiful Big Sur Coast. Instead, we had to backtrack on Highway 1 all the way to Monterey, head east to pick up Highway 101, which we would stay o all the way to Paso Robles. From there we would pick up Route 46 and head west again, to the Coast. Thus a two-hour drive was converted to a three-hour drive, alongside then over the Santa Lucia Mountains and south through the Salinas Valley. So now we were traveling “America’s Salad Bowl.”

The scenery was similar here to what we had seen just the day before yesterday (but different int he details): more vast swaths of farmland—fields of lettuce, tomatoes, spinach, and not just salad ingredients but strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower and more. Wine grapes and flowers, too. But this was definitely not a scenic roadway. The 101 highway was all business—multiple-lanes, lots of trucks. It quickly became obvious that an agricultural valley was not all fields. For crops need to be transported, packaged, and (often processed first) then shipped out. So lots of massive, mysterious, industrial structures. Everything from olive oil bottling plants to breweries. And lots of trucks.

Once we turned up into the hills we found Route 46  far more scenic. Just a two-lane road, not a highway. For a while, both sides of the road were lined with vineyards and wineries…tasting rooms. But we did not stop. We were on a mission! This region apparently was ideal, apparently, for ranching. Vast swaths of pastureland were lined with miles of fences, interrupted here and there with gates onto dirt roads that disappeared over hilltops along the horizon. I’ve clicked around a little bit to see what else we unknowingly passed along this road (its official name is  Eric  Seastrand Memorial Highway). There’s Stromsoe Studios, where Randy Stromsoe, a classically trained metalsmith creates fine art,  Rocky Creek Cellars a family operated winery. And Jack Creek Farms, run by the same family of creative entrepreneurs for five generations: way more than a farmstand, it’s a place where visitors can stroll through gardens, view displays of antique farm equipment, pick their own berries… or pumpkins… in season, and more, much more. Interesting to note that the some of the biggest stretches of open land on the map are the most elusive when it comes to online searches. Childers Ranch Is one; this is a place that breeds award-winning American Quarter Horse. Dellaganna Ranch & Cattle Company is another. Some stunning photos of black angus cattle on its Facebook Page. It’s one of those places with a gate to a roadway that disappears over a distant hilltop. I guess that says it all.

At last, we reached Highway 1… headed north and checked into Fog Catcher Inn, a favorite place of ours. Run by Pacifica Hotels; of course I had to pick up their brochure which describes its string of similar properties along the California Coast from San Francisco to San Diego (including one right here in Manhattan Beach) –old motels and hotels tastefully updated–clean, bright, comfortable, and reasonably priced. Also essential: A Welcome Map compliments of FogCatcher Inn, which I’ve only just now unfolded to reveal a glossy 8 ½ by 11 summary of the town of Cambria, some Things to Do and information about the Hearst Castle; it unfolds a couple of times to an expansive 11 x 34 -inch  spread of small advertisements,  including one for Madeline’s, our restaurant of choice for tomorrow night, other eateries, inns, and shops. A centerfold  map shows what’s where from  Ragged Point on the north (Gateway to Big Sur), Cambria’s two villages West, and East,  Tin City, the Fiscalini Ranch, and tiny Harmony (population 18), and of course the magnet that draws most visitors to this place along the Coast: The Hearst Castle at San Simeon. An arrow points to “Paso Robles and Wine Country” beyond the Santa Lucia mountains (via Rte 46) which is where we just came from (and other interesting places where we did not stop). Oh, dear, there are enough interesting places here, and everywhere, to keep a curious traveler traveling forever. But we were limited to seven days. We would be here for just two nights. With a pre-set agenda. The Castle was our priority. We walked up to Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill for our dinner.

Paper collection for Day Five: Only three very lightweight items: Just an ounce and a half.

Important note: Despite what it might look like in the photo above, we did not knock down the ROAD CLOSED barrier on the right.