The Coast Highway

Trip Start Jan 01, 2012
Trip End Jan 18, 2012

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Flag of United States  , California
Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Stopped at a gas station about half way through what is shaping up to be the most beautiful ride I have ever been on. We started out this morning in Palmdale, in what is known as the high desert. As we cruised down Highway 14 it was mid-morning and the sun angled in lighting up the ruddy beige mountainsides. Descending into the valley trees became more numerous and the landscape shifted from beige to green. We jogged up Highway 5 then merged east onto Highway 128, skirting along the north edge of the San Fernando Valley. Coasting down the valley with mountains on either side, we rolled slowly downward toward the Pacific Ocean. The rich valley bottoms are filled with orchards, tree farms and vineyards.

Suddenly, as we rounded a bend into Ventura the ocean stretched out before us. I pulled off the highway onto California Road and cut down a little street that led right up to the ocean. It was jam packed with cars, surfers piling out and suiting up. On the news last night we had heard there was a big swell coming in, and apparently these folks had heard it too. The cold water was full of bobbing surfboards, awaiting the next set of waves. The beach stretched off in a gentle curve to the north and a boardwalk reached out into the ocean on the left.

Back in the car, we started our journey up the coast on The Coast Highway (aka Highway 1). The variety of trees was stunning, especially in contrast to the barren (but beautiful) desert of this morning. Hillsides and mountainsides to our right, the stretch of steep land to our left between us and the ocean, and even the median at places—all absolutely filled with trees. Tall eucalyptus with their milky white smooth trunks arcing up toward their delicate leaved branches, the occasional palm tree thrusting out of the surrounding foliage, soaring cypress trees grey-barked and thick-trunked, pine trees of all varieties providing a deep green backdrop for it all, oaks standing out for their lack of leaves in the winter, grey moss draped from their grey branches, and some sort of Dr. Seuss-esque trees with their spindly and randomly jutting branches looking like overgrown bonsai masterpieces. [Disclaimer: I’m not a botanist, so I’m probably mis-identifying a lot of these trees, and didn’t have time to research tree species on Wikipedia to confirm.]

After not too long, we had to leave the ocean for a bit and cut inland up Highway 154, a two lane road winding through the mountains. Cutting through the mountainsides and with bridges spanning deep gorges below. We stopped at an overlook where we could see the ocean again in the distance, a gap in the mountain range to the west affording us a spectacular view. Getting back on the road Lake Cachuma ran along the inland side of the highway, with tall grasses along its marshy shores billowing in the wind. Now we’re back on 101 heading north and the coast is just a few miles ahead, time to put my laptop down and enjoy the view.

A few hours later, settled in the hotel in Pacific Grove and finishing up this post...

The rest of the day’s drive up the Coast Highway was incredible. After we passed Hearst Castle the coast was defined by steep bluffs plunging down to the crashing surf below, with huge boulders / islands scattered just off the coast. There was a layer of mist about fifty feet above the water that was a near-constant feature during our drive today. The road itself was an engineering marvel, wrapped in a series of hairpin turns hugging impossibly steep bluffs. At times the road was no more than fifty feet above the water below, but it was typically much higher and sometimes rose to about four hundred feet.

Just before sunset we stopped at Nepenthe in Big Sur. The sunset was one of the best I’ve ever seen, no hyperbole at all. There was a cloud bank out over the ocean and the sun was initially hidden behind it, turning it a light purple. As the sun dipped below this bank it lit up the ocean and the mist above it. I don’t know why I’m even trying to describe it as words can in no way do it justice. All in all, an incredible drive and the sunset was the icing on the day’s cake.
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Carol on

Wow! Thank you so much for all the details, it's like I'm there again!

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