We toured Hearst Castle, saw lots of elephant seals and drove up some very rugged and beautiful coastline - but didn't get very far.
02.28.2008 - 02.28.2008 64 °F
We are camped at Plaskett Creek Campground about 40 miles north of Hearst Castle - very poor internet signal out here, we're pretty far out on the coast. So I'll try to update the blog to the extent I have a signal... If not, will catch up tomorrow or ???
...or March 1st? Great signal again finally, but the flip side is we're back close to big cities (SF now), and the traffic and congestion that goes with that. Definitely a mixed blessing...
Anyway, back to our tour of Hearst Castle Thursday.
Thursday, we woke up in San Simeon State Park to bluejays. Mom had lots of fun feeding them some old bread and trying to use my camera to get pictures of them (not too successfully I'm afraid). Our tour started at 10:20, so we were able to sleep in a bit and take a nice, relaxing ride up to the Visitor's Center. Mom always has more pep in the morning, so was ready to go once we got parked.
There are only a maximum of four people on the handicapped accessable tours, so we had a really private tour. The other couple on the tour was from Pittsburgh and had as upbeat an attitude as Mom. The first bus goes the five miles from the Visitors Center to the castle. I sat in back so I could try to get some pictures from the bus - not too successfully, but a few came out OK. This is view of the castle from that trip. Notice all the tree's on the hill? They weren't there originally, WRH (William Randolph Hearst, the man who had the 'castle' built) wanted tree's on his hillside, so had 70,000 mature tree's planted around the hilltop. The hill was mostly rock however, so his workers had to dynamite holes for the trees.
When we got to the top of the hill, we transferred from the bus to an electric cart (like a golf cart, but a little bigger). We also picked up our guide, Terry, who first took us to the inside swimming pool:
OK - that's not just any old swimming pool. It's called the 'Roman Pool' and is ten feet deep throughout the main pool (the alcove pool is not as deep). The small, round balcony in the center is a diving platform.
Next we rode up to a patio area near one of the guest houses, Casa del Mar. This gives you an idea of the view available from Hearst Castle, it is located at an elevation of 1,600 feet, but only about 5 miles from the coast, so it's a pretty steep incline.
Here is a view of Casa del Mar itself. While it was designed and used as a Guest House, it has 5,875 sq feet. WRH and his wife also lived here until the main house (Casa Grande) was complete enough to live in (hard to say completed, since it became a work in progress as long as WRH was alive).
Surprisingly, they do allow photography - but no flashes. So you can get an idea of how opulant these 'homes' are inside, but most of my inside shots are pretty dark. This is the living room in Casa del Mar, lots of gold leaf and the walls were covered in red velvet.
A word of caution if you ever try to stay at Hearst Castle (not currently on the list of tour options), the beds are not very big! WRH actually built the Castle partly to house his antiques, he'd been collecting them for most of his life. The beds are mostly old European and are smaller then modern beds. This is the main bedroom in Casa del Mar - may have even been WRH's bed while he was living there, I'm not sure.
After leaving Casa del Mar, we walked past some of the outside artwork. Many of these are priceless, in the early 1900's many Europeans needed money and were glad to sell their old antique collections to American's such as WRH for cold, hard cash. The thumbnail on the left is "The Three Graces", the right - the four statues of Sekhmet, the lion-faced Egyption goddesss of battle (the one on the right is on loan to the state capital). The latter are the oldest pieces of art at Hearst Castle at about 3,400 years old. (Thumbnails, click to enlarge)
We also got our first close up glimpse of the front of Hearst Castle from the courtyard. The reinforced concrete building is covered with three inch thick Utah limestone (except for unfinished sections in the back). The bell towers used to play, but the bells are considered too old and fragile now.
Our tour started in the back of the house however, so we got back in the cart and continued on towards the back. Here are views of the side (left) and back (right) of the house. This isn't too shabby for a back door, 24 caret gold leaf and all.
We started inside the kitchen (not on most entry level tours, the accessible tour mixes some of the rooms seen on other tours, which suited me fine - sometimes I prefer to see how the old kitchens were set up.) WRH had some of the first electric refrigerators installed. Since electricity wasn't available in this area until the late 1930's, WRH had a generating station built for his Castle. He was so proud to be one of the earliest mansions with electricity, most of the lightbulbs were left open (not covered or hidden behind glass fixtures as we do today).
Outside the kitchen was a very large staging area, with a large stainless steel table in the center that could either be cooled or heated depending on what type of dish was being prepared. The sink handles in there were gold plated, even though the room was probably used only by the staff. From there, we proceeded to the dining room. Several large tapestries hung there as well as in other rooms of the Casa Grande. There are about 20 in total from the 1500's Belgium. The table has a few place settings as it would have looked in WRH's day - complete with paper napkins, Ketchup and Mustard. Eastern Rich would have been aghast, but WRH wanted to give the impression that he was just a miner's son at heart - either that or he liked ketchup & mustard, I'm not sure.
We then toured some other rooms in the main mansion, including the living room, billards room and theater. I took pictures and some are tolerable, but probably not worth uploading (dark, etc.). WRH collected entire ceilings from estates in Spain & elsewhere and had them installed at the Castle. In front of the main entryway is a tile floor from a Roman villa. While there are a lot of pieces from his collections on display, it's a rather eclectic display - religious and pagen mixed together for example. There is also a large, two mantle stone fireplace from a French Chateau in the Living Room. What's interesting about it is how he bought it - at an auction bidding against J. D. Rockefeller. Even though JDR was much wealthier then WRH, Hearst outbid him to get the fireplace. Year's later, JDR mentioned to WRH that he had way overpaid for the fireplace. WRH replied to the affect that perhaps this was so, but the fireplace was sitting in his living room. This says a lot about WRH's personality, when he wanted something he went after it, and was willing to spend whatever it took.
After we left the main house (Casa Grande), we drove down towards the Neptune Pool. Unfortunately, they were working on the patio that allowed the electric carts to drive up to the pool and since we were on the accessable tour, the tour guide wasn't about to have us walk, so we had to skip this. This is the only thing I regret, it was the one place I really wanted to see at Hearst Castle (we do have postcards). It is an impressive place and I'm glad we went, but I'm not sure I feel any need to go back. It's not as bad as the Breakers in RI, at least WRH loved the place he'd built and enjoyed spending time there - but it's just not my style? Mom says she thinks about the same thing.
So we ate lunch there (not that good, but we enjoyed throwing scraps to the crows), then headed back out on the road.
About three miles north at Piedras Blancas Beach, we found Elephant Seals. They only come ashore for a few months out of the year to form colonies, breed and molt. The rest of the year they are at see feeding. The adult male can weigh over two tons and dive as deep as 5,000 feet in search of food. The peak season for viewing seals in this area was a month or so ago, but there were still plenty around when we stopped by.
We did see a couple of seals coming up out of the water. They move quite awkwardly on land and seem to have to stop often to rest - move a few feet, rest a few minutes, move again.
One unusual behavior (for us, a common behavior for Elephant Seals) is that once on the beach they often flip sand over their bodies. This helps keep them cool and protected from direct sunlight. We saw several of the animals doing this.
Another common behavier is for them to stay together in a family group, called a Harem. In this one, the large bull is on the top left. There are several adult females and some juveniles also in the group. The adult females head back to sea about a month after giving birth, leaving the juveniles to learn to swim and feed on their own. The seals aren't usually this thin, this is nearing the end of their time ashore and they will shortly need to return to the sea to feed.
We also saw some pup's still nursing. The young seals nurse for about a month and gain weight rapidly before being abandoned by their mothers. Weaned pups are referred to as "weaners" and remain behind teaching themselves how to swim after the last of the adults return to sea sometime in March.
Once again, we just got lucky. If we'd done a little research and known the Elephant Seals were here and only until about the end of February - we probably would have scheduled the trip just to make sure we saw them! But planned or not, we did get to see them and it was well worth it - even if a bit past the peak season.
By this time it was starting to get late in the afternoon and we'd only driven 3 miles! We did head up north some and had some beautiful vista's. This may not be one of the four 'corners' of the lower 48, but I thought it would still be a good time for a 'you were there' picture.
We found a National Park campground at Plaskett Creek. After finding a spot and registering, we decided to head across the street to Sand Dollar Beach (the campground registration fee also covered entrance to the beach). Interesting place, the coastal brochure said this was the largest expanse of sandy beach in this part of California. However, there was very little sand there, it was mostly rocks. I thought it might be due to the tide - but went back again in the morning and still it was mostly rocks. The most likely reason is that the recent storms washed much of the sand away. Nature will probably rebuild the sandy beach over time, storms wash it away, waves bring it back.
Mom and I both hiked a short way to the overlook.
In case you're wondering, one of our objectives for California was to drive quite a bit of the coastal highway. I was born and raised in California, mostly the San Francisco bay area and so am somewhat familiar with some of the sightseeing to be done up here - but hadn't spent much time on the coast and very little, if any, on the scenic coastal highway. So we're doing it now, hope you don't get too tired of scenery shots! So anyway, I hiked on down to what's left of the beach and got some more 'scenic' shots of the coast, surf and some interesting rock stacks left behind by another visitor.
Miles Driven - 39, Cumulative - 17,426
Camped at Plasket Creek NP, about 1/2 way between San Simeon and Monterrey, CA
Provisions Secured - $40 - two tours of Hearst Castle plus about $22 for lunch and $45 at the gift shop (ugh), $26.00 for 5 gallons of gas at $5.19/gal! (A locally renouned gas gouger - but no gas for then next 60 miles so they can get by with it.)