Trip Start Nov 11, 2004
17Trip End Dec 02, 2004
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Had a bit of an interesting detour just outside of Carmel Mission when the State Park officials at Point Lobos State Reserve told me (and others) that Highway 1 was closed for a bit due to landslides. So, I doubled back along a road that took me up into the Carmel Highlands, then I was able to waggle my way back down again to Highway 1 (also known as the Cabrillo Highway).
It was a lovely bright sunny day and as I continued my trip down the Big Sur section of Highway 1 to San Luis Obispo (an official National Scenic Byway) again I marveled at the geology and the play of sun against the land and sea scapes. Often when there was a "pullout", I would do so and snap a few more shots of ocean and land, sky, mist and sea stacks. It was a beautiful drive. I was also watching the cliff sides rather carefully as now, made aware of landslides, I noticed every stone on the road and wondered if it was a harbinger of a bigger slide to come.
Not far down the highway, I came to the Bixby Creek Bridge. It is a “reinforced concrete open-spandrel arch” bridge, is 714 feet long, over 280 feet high and designed to hold more than six times it’s intended load. Prior to being opened in 1932, (per wikepedia) residents of the Big Sur area were virtually cut off during winter due to the often impassable Old Coast Road that led 11 miles (18 km) inland.
For the next long while, I swerved in and out of curves and around impossible bends. From time to time I even almost felt car-sick and had to pull over. For most of this time the road was RIGHT on the edge of the cliffs and in places you could see parts where the roadbed had slid away and the highway had been moved back from the parts that led directly to the sea: not for the faint of heart, for sure.
By lunch time I was pretty ready for a meal and pulled in to the community of Gorda or Gorda Springs. It really only consists of a gas station, motel and restaurant and is about the only thing going within a few miles. While it has a lovely location; otherwise, it is a real bust.
While they seated me soon enough, it took an absolute age to get a menu, coffee, etc. The server wiped the table with a dirty cloth (someone else’s spill on it), I had to send some of the cutlery back for clean, had to remind the server what I’d ordered (a sandwich) and it took over an hour to come. On the other hand, people watching was interesting – why not – did have anything else to do. It took them so long to take my money I almost left without paying. Unless they’ve tidied themselves up, I’m not sure I’d go here again.
I continued down the road (more curves, impossible bends, edges of cliffs for another pace of time. As I wrote up this portion of my blog (April 11, 2012), I noticed on Google Earth, evidence of a large landslide which came down about April 14, 2011. Unless they’ve changed it, you can see this on Google Earth (shot taken May, 27, 2011) just past Gorda Springs Resort and Whaleboat Rock. Even if Google Earth has updated their information, the following blog notes this and that the highway remained closed (re-routed) until June 7, 2011. http://blogbigsur.wordpress.com/2011/05/24/caltrans-hwy-1-remains-closed-at-alder-creek-just-north-of-the-montereyslo-county-line-through-mid-june/ ). The perils of living on the California Coast.
More impossible bends and turns. I’d almost had enough of this until suddenly a huge building came into view on the hills to my left. Hearst Castle (per wikepedia) is a National Historic Landmark designed by architect Julia Morgan between 1919 and 1947 for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who died in 1951. In 1957, the Hearst Corporation donated the property to the state of California. Since that time it has been maintained as a state historic park where the estate, and its considerable collection of art and antiques, is open for public tours.
Despite its location far from any urban center, the site attracts about one million visitors per year. I drove up to it but the cost of entry and the remaining time I had in the day argued against taking a trip through it. At the base of the hill was a gathering (I think they call it a rookery) of elephant seals looking for all the world like large slugs on the grey sand beach.
A short time afterwards I drove through a lovely little seaside community of Cambria which, when I come this way again, I will explore further. While it is a touristy town, it seems to me to also offer nice places to stay, interesting restaurants and places to bike, hike and otherwise relax.
About twenty minutes down the road I came to another lovely little place - Cayucos. At one point I had some relatives living there but I think they have all gone now. It offers many photo taking opportunities.
As I left Cayucos, an enormous rock rose out of the ocean and revealed itself to be Morro Rock.
This is (Wikipedia) a 581-foot (177 m) volcanic plug located at the entrance to Morro Bay Harbor. A causeway connects it with the shore, effectively making it a tied island. The area surrounding the base of Morro Rock can be visited. The rock is protected as the Morro Rock State Preserve and is a sacred site to the Chumash native people. Climbing on the rock or disturbing the bird life is forbidden by law. I took photos from many angles but none seem to have done it justice.
Per Wikipedia, I understand that at various times the land from here to about Malibu was, at the time of the Spanish conquest in the 1700s, taken over by the Spanish missionaries who built their sacred sites all up and down the Cabrillo. The Chumash people moved from their villages to the Franciscan missions and their lands later parcelled out to other European settlers as Westward migration grew in the 1800s. The various Chumash bands are, at this time, attempting to gain federal recognition.
The next portion of my drive was about the longest and least interesting I have had in days. It was initially rural but then grew into little suburb communities of larger ones. Through San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria, various cattle ranching communities and into more dry and reddish soil with some irrigated agricultural areas – vineyards and other crops such as strawberries, celery, lettuce, artichoke, peas, etc. I gather there are oil wells in the area but I don’t recall seeing any.
The eucalyptus trees I saw are not native but were originally brought in as a hardwood forest industry: unfortunately, the eucalypt is a very water hungry tree and there is not a lot of water in this area. I believe it was very badly hit in the Great Depression. My impression was that the area is poor with many migrant workers; however, I could be mistaken on this.
It seemed I was driving for hours between Santa Maria and Vandenberg field/Lompoc, my stay for the night. It was hot. It was dry. The side of the road had the occasional sign warning of security concerns this close to the air force base.
Finally I arrived at Lompoc and signed up at the Super 8. I was more than a little concerned to find that they were in the middle of renovating and things were in a total mess. I gather from more recent tripadvisor reviews that things have smartened up a lot.
Unfortunately, I landed in the middle of some kind of an argument between two types of residents and the managers weren't equipped to sort that out There was something of a language barrier which made communicating my needs (including a decent restaurant – just “drive up and down, you’ll find one”) a bit difficult. That said, the folks were nice and very helpful to a wayfaring stranger.
As I recall, I ate at the Blacksmith Steakhouse which, though hearty and very filling, was nothing much to write home about and was rather pricey to boot. ON the other hand, they are an Air Force base community so doubtless the majority of the patrons can afford it.
Where I stayed
Super 8, Lompoc, CA
What I did