A Travellerspoint blog

Day 180 - Hearst Castle & Elephant Seals (Photo's Added)

We toured Hearst Castle, saw lots of elephant seals and drove up some very rugged and beautiful coastline - but didn't get very far.

sunny 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.)

Posted by jl98584 20:52 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Day 179 - More Beaches, Butterflies & Birds

We made it to Hearst Castle this afternoon, but the tours were full so we bought tickets for tomorrow morning. So there's not much new today, more butterflies, birds and beaches - but this time rocky ones!

sunny 0 °F

Don't know if you noticed it or not, but my production dropped off the last couple of weeks. Not only was I trying to do my taxes, but also something came up regarding my dad's place (which unfortunately I'm the executrix for). That finally came together today, so other than some cleanup work the next couple of days, I should be able to get back to the trip more fully now.

Today I had to spend part of the day sitting in a Staples parking lot in San Luis Obispo to wrap up some of this business, so we didn't have as much time to sightsee as we might have liked. So we did what we could with the time available.

Yesterday we noticed the Monarch Butterflies at Pismo State Beach tended to prefer the sunshine. So this morning when the sun was shining more directly on the campground, I was cautiously optimistic that we would see the butterflies up close more, not just in the tops of the trees. We weren't disappointed. These were some shots I got just walking over the low dune to the beach:


(No dear cousin, these are not giant butterflies! Keep in mind, I have a 12x optical zoom on the camera, which with some cropping during the edit process, can work like a 20x or more digital zoom. Ho, Ho)

The interpretive trailer was open this morning, so we stopped by to see what we could learn. It turns out they sell Monarch Butterfly stuff, but there are also volunteer nature guides available to answer questions and provide information. It turns out that the winter over season is really just about over, most of the butterflies have already left to return home - could have fooled me! This season, the peak Monarch Butterfly population was about 20,000. They estimate there are only about 1,700 left. The population fluctuates from year to year - the largest being about 230,000!

Arroyo Grande and Pismo State Beach are also famous for sand dunes. People are allowed to bring or rent dune buggy's and drive them over the dunes. But we needed to go take care of that business at Staples (the portable printer I brought with me died), and we'd taken pictures of dunes before - so I skipped that section of the beach, but it sounded like fun

We did take a little time however to walk over to the north beach where we camped before leaving. Mom really liked the funny shaped tree's on the low dune between the campground and the beach.


I walked out in the waves a bit to check them out - they were quite cold! The views were great however.


We also caught this little fellow just as we were leaving the campground - a common animal perhaps, but still cute.


So we reluctantly did finally leave the campground and head to Staples at San Luis Obispo to take care of that business, then got back on the road North to continue our trip. Shortly after passing through San Luis Obispo, we turned off of Hwy 101 again onto Hwy 1, the coast highway. We drove through Morro Bay, which looked quite interesting, but I kept going as it was already fairly late. The coast starts to get more and more rocky up here, but we still passed several state beaches along the way.

As we approached San Simeon, there were some Vista turnouts (no overnight camping) that had splendid overlooks of the rocky coast. I finally gave in and stopped at a couple to enjoy the coast for a few minutes. It really is quite interesting to watch the surf break over the craggy rocks.


We did finally make it to the Hearst Castle Visitor's Center only to find that the tours for today were all sold out. We booked tickets for a tour tomorrow morning (one especially suitable for people with walking difficulties) and headed back to San Simeon State Beach where we'd seen camping signs. Although we didn't get to the Castle today, we had a nifty view of it from Hwy 1 (at 12x zoom again).


Later, as we were driving around the campground we saw this bird. I know the picture is very poor quality, but figured this is a unique enough bird (for us at least), that I'd try posting it. If we see one again, I can try to get a better shot. But this is a Nuttall's Woodpecker, a little smaller than I'd expect for a woodpecker. These are 'common' according to my references, but I don't recall seeing one before.


We found a campsite on a bluff, a long way from the beach but with a peek-a-boo view of the ocean in the distance. Mom and I played a few games of Rummy Cubes and ate. The sun started to go down but we had only a partial view from the RV, so I hiked down a bit to a rocky bluff to get this shot - which seems like such a nice way to wind up the day?



Miles Driven - 67, Cumulative - 17,387
Camped at San Simeon State Beach, Woodburn Campground (Primative)

Provisions Procured - Monarch Butterfly stuff at the Trailer at Pismo State Beach

Posted by jl98584 20:36 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (3)

Day 178 - Mission, Butterflies and a Beach

We stayed in the Solvang area to visit Mission Santa Ines, had lunch at Anderson's Pea Soup, then drove north to Pismo State Beach and found out Monarch Butterflies overwinter here!

sunny 72 °F

The forecasters were right, the weather today was beautiful.

We got a late start, partly because we'd stayed at state parks for a few nights - so I really needed to do some housekeeping on the RV, Empty Tanks, Fill Tanks, get tires checked, vacuum, etc. (Of course, the fact that Mom & I had to visit the hot tub this morning before we left the RV Campground had nothing to do with our late start).

Anyway, we headed back towards Solvang because on the far side of the town is an old Spanish Mission. This one is Mission Santa Ines (Ines is the Spanish word for Agnes).


It was founded in 1804 and is the last Mission they set up in Southern California. It was originally very large, about 350 feet long on each side in the shape of a square (or almost square rectangle). The church is still used for services, in fact we had to alter our tour somewhat to accomidate a mass they were starting shortly.


The yard inside the Mission was originally used for many things, including some gardens, making adobe bricks and roof tiles, cutting lumber and whatever chores were needed. Today, this is maintained as an ornamental garden. It was very pleasant however and had both orange and lemon trees (with ripe fruit).


After we visited the Mission, we stopped by the Ostrich farm. Mom had hoped to buy an ostrich egg, but the farm was closed. However, the ostriches were still quite visible from the road, so Mom was happy to settle for a picture.


Even though we'd only done a couple of things, it was already lunch (probably because of the hot tub...) so before we left Buellton, we stopped for lunch at Anderson's Pea Soup. The soup was delicious of course, but somehow I forgot to take any pictures except for this one of Mom. An exterior shot would have been nice, or even one of my soup - but it just didn't occur to me.


Anyway, with our bellies filled up - and the gas tank also fueled up, we got back on Hwy 101 and continued North. Because of the recent rains, the famous golden hills of California were a beautiful green, with live oaks and rolling hills. Love the scenery of a CA Springtime (although technically it's still winter).


We also saw several hawks - I was able to restrain myself for awhile, but how can I not upload a shot of two together?


We also passed quite a few very lovely horse pastures, more cattle ranches, and more strawberry fields. We are starting to see more vineyards in this area - in fact Solvang seems to have as many wine tasting shops as motels (and they have a lot of those). I skipped the wine tasting in Solvang, for the most part we select activities both Mom and I enjoy - and she is not a wine drinker. However, I enjoy an occasional glass and decided to stop at the Leaitta Winery we passed and try some good old California wine tasting. I don't know if it was me or the weather, but for the most part I didn't care as much for their wines as for the Washington wines (maybe I'm just more familiar with them?), but I did find an orange desert wine I liked. I also loved the views.


When we got near Arroyo Grande, I decided to turn off again for the brown sign - Pismo State Beach. OK, we've seen several beaches already that had camping, why not try for one more? The trouble began when we found out there are three different camping areas. The one in the middle is a little like WA - you can actually drive out onto the beach - but you have to be a little careful not to drive on soft sand and not to park too close to the water since there is no marker where the high tide ends! But the camping would have only cost us $8/night - so I was all in favor of this one. (Also, we'd be right on the water, if we didn't get too close to it.)

Mom didn't like the idea of washing away with the tide and argued strongly for one of the other more developed campgrounds. I agreed to at least check one of them out and find out how much it cost. The north campground was $18/night, so Mom agreed to go back to the first one. However by then I'd found out that Pismo State Beach is the largest Monarch Grove on the CA Coast - where Monarch Butterflies overwinter - and the grove is in the north campground! Also, we found a site just a short dune away from the beach (maybe 100 yards from the water?). So again, I overruled her and we stayed at the north campground.

But before setting up the RV, we parked near the Monarch Grove and I did my best to take pictures. It was late in the afternoon and the butterflies, while abundant, were mostly in the tops of some very tall Eucalyptus trees - where it was still sunny & warm. Butterflies are even harder to capture with a zoom lense then birds! Although I had to delete a bunch of worthless shots, I got a couple to at least show what they look like. (Note, eucaluptus trees do not have orange flowers)


Later, Mom also saw one land in the sand near us while we were enjoying the evening at the beach.


Mom was a little easier to 'capture' on the beach, at least she doesn't fly away before I can aim the camera!


There weren't enough clouds for a really spectacular sunset, but the craggy tree's made an interesting contrast with the evening sky, so I took pictures anyway.



Miles Driven - 62, Cumulative - $17,320
Camped at Pismo State Beach, North Campground ($18)

Provisions Secured: Gas $23.93 for 7.364 gallons at 127,157 miles
...Propane $11.92 for 3.2 gallons at Flying Flags RV Campground
...Lunch $20.xx at Anderson's Pea Soup + gift shop...
...Albertsons, misc groceries and cash
...Two bottles of Orange Desert Wine from Laeitta Winery

Posted by jl98584 22:48 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

Day 177 - Santa Barbara & Solvang

We continue heading North on Hwy 1 and Hwy 101 today, through lots of beautiful scenery and some dangerous hillsides.

sunny 63 °F

This morning, I found out that the name of the state beach we camped at was Thornhill Broome Beach, which isn't even shown on our maps and atlas. It also seemed that the waves weren't quite as big as last night. They weren't. It turns out that yesterday's storm had caused unusually high waves all along this section of the California Coast. The ones where we were had washed up water and debries all the way to the road in some sections (not by our RV, but at other sites).


It's probably good we didn't know how high the water got as we probably would have left for higher ground. However, we got through the night just fine and woke up to some more beautiful beach scenery. This is a shot of the bluff just to our north. The cut between the rocks is for Hwy 1. When we drove through it, quite a few people had parked, hoping to catch a glimpse of the whales that migrate through here this time of year. We had also watched for them some, but haven't been fortunate enough to spot any yet.


It was still fairly cool, but I figured it was about time at least one of us got our feet into the Pacific Ocean, afterall, we've been driving along it since Saturday. Mom also decided it was about time a picture of me got into the blog - a rare occurance since she left her camera behind in Miami (& I'm too lazy to mess with tripods unless absolutely necessary).


Again, I wanted to try to make some progress today - but we also both wanted to start doing a little more sightseeing. So today, we tried to find a little balance between the two. We pulled off in Oxnard when we saw workers out harvesting strawberries in February. I guess that's the normal season for down here - but seems awfully early to me (I get mine up in WA in July I think).


We also passed orchards with ripe lemons all over the trees and some sort of crops under some sort of structure that looked like beans or raspberries. We have a bit of a beef with Oxnard however, I pulled off because they had signs for Tourist Information, but after driving around in circles a little, I finally went in one of the businesses where the tourist info was supposed to be only to find it had been moved - but they hadn't moved the signs! Oh well, guess they should just rename the signs - "Tourist Misinformation" for now.

But we got to Hwy 101 eventually and continued North on it. It has cute little signs to remind you that this was once the famed 'El Camino Real' - the route the Spanish explorers and missionaries took in the 1700's and 1800's when California was a Spanish territory. (Mom also likes the pretty, yellow mustard flowers behind the sign.)


A few miles up the road I pulled off when I saw a homemade sign advertising Avocodo's at 4 for a Dollar! But, as we pulled off, we also saw this big sign:


It turns out we had stumbled into La Conchita. This little town, population 338 in 2000, was in the national news in 2005 when a massive mudslide destroyed 13 homes and killed 10 people. The slide occurred in part of the area of another big (but less deadly) mudslide in 1995. Geologists have since declared the entire area to be unstable and, while the town claims there had never been a mudslide prior to 1995 (in the history of the town that is), the geologists say there have been slides here for thousands of year, some much bigger than the two recent ones. Looking at the hillside, I'd have to agree that it doesn't look like a very safe place to live.


But the folks still there don't want to move and probably couldn't sell their homes anyway, so it's still a town. The highway sign wasn't lying - a local vendor had set up a fruit stand out of his van and had lots of local fruit. Most were very reasonable prices, the avocodo's were big and cheap - only the strawberries were too steep for my budget - so we stocked up and got back on the highway (and away from that nasty hillside).

Soon after we arrived at Santa Barbara, which has a special place in Mom's heart. Her brother and mother both lived there at different times and she has fond memories of visiting them and walking on Stern's Wharf out by the beach and marina. Even though we'd both been to Santa Barbara before, I figured it was something we ought to do again, and a typical CA Coast stop for a trip such as this. The beach was quite beautiful, and even though it was still cool, the surfers didn't seem to mind.


Mom seemed to really be enjoying the sunshine, meeting people and talking about our trip. I walked a bit further to take some pictures and she struck up quite a little conversation with these girls from the local college.


This was right by the famous dolphin statue at the entrance to Sterns Wharf, sort of the middle of the beach and downtown area.


We walked out most of the way on Sterns Wharf. Mom bought a Santa Barbara sweatshirt and postcards. I got a refridgerator magnet and squashed a penny. We also ate lunch at one of the cafe's on the Wharf - good food, but I ate too much. One of the shopowners we talked to said the wharf had been closed yesterday due to the rough surf - up to 25' waves!


From the wharf, I had a closer view of the Marina to the north. I was really surprised when a surfer appeared on one the the waves alongside the marina - it looked too close to the rock jetty to me, but he seemed to know what he was doing I guess. Other than that, it looked a lot like the marina's back home.


Here are a couple more shots of the beach and town, lovely place to visit but I couldn't afford to live there!


So we headed back to the RV and made our way back to El Camino Real to head north again. We tried a couple more times to stop at some beaches, but being unwilling to fork over $9 just to even stop for a few minutes, we mostly just kept driving. Mom got one shot of a railroad bridge we had to drive under to get to the gate and find out we couldn't afford the beach...


I also pulled over to take a couple of pictures of the scenery. With all the rain they've had this winter, the state is very green and beautiful. This part of Hwy 101 is one of the most scenic, you drive through ranches and still along the coast, my favorite part so far. At Gaviota, the Highway turns inland and through some very rocky terrain - including a tunnel we had to navigate.


We drove away from the cost for a short distance and finally made it to Solvang. This is a small town that was founded by Danish educators in 1911 to escape the midwest winters. It was a fairly normal town until the 1950's or '60's when a developer started building some things to look more 'Danish'. The idea caught on and now this is quite the little Danish Tourist Mecca (town). It's nicely done and quite pleasant to walk through, although by this time Mom was quite exhausted. We bought some pastries and a few small things, then decided to call it a day.


BTW - Ronald Reagan's ranch, the 'Western White House', is only about six miles from Solvang.

Anyway, we drove back about four miles to Hwy 101 where I had seen an RV park. The rates weren't too unreasonable and we've settled in for the night. I went ahead and did the laundry (Mom is just too tired) so we could get an early start tomorrow. We may go back up towards Solvang, there is a Mission nearby we might check out as well as an Ostrich farm Mom though looked interesting.


Miles Driven - 103, Cumulative - 17,258
Camped at Flying Flags RV Resort and Campground, Bueliton, CA

Provisions Obtained - Gas $39.65 for 12.167 gallons at 127,057
Lunch at Char West Fish & Chips, Sterns Wharf, Santa Barbara
Danish Pastries at Solvang

Wildlife Observed:
Hawk in Oxnard (I did take a picture, didn't upload tho)
Brown Pelicans, seagulls, pigeons, coots and other birds, Beach at Santa Barbara

Posted by jl98584 21:46 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (2)

Day 176 - Calif Coastal Hwy, Birds and Beaches

It rained most of the morning, but we drove on anyway - north along the Coastal Highway, along Beaches, through towns, then more Beaches. We also found a new bird (for us).

storm 60 °F

Weather forecasters must be getting better. I remember the weather forecast almost as a joke when I was a kid - but most of this trip the forecasts have been dead on. Last week, they said it would rain Friday, be decent Saturday and rain Sunday. Bingo - rained Friday, nice yesterday, then started raining again last night. This morning Mom got up all fired up to go check out the beach. She quickly found out it wasn't quite as much fun when it was wet.


No bother, I wanted to get at least past the Los Angeles area by tonight - not that there aren't nice things to see and do down here, but this trip is more about enjoying the rural parts of America, big cities tend to drag us down a bit. So with the rain, we didn't have much incentive to stop. We both wanted to see as much of the coastal highway's as we could however, so we started up Hwy 101. It doesn't go through all the way from San Diego to Los Angeles however, we had to jump on I-5 again to get through Camp Pendleton. It kind of made me appreciate military bases however, at least we drove through rural area's along the coast - not condo's and such. We did see one tank driving along the dirt roads by the freeway however - in the rain.

When we got to Dana Point, we got off I-5 again and took Hwy 1 the rest of the day (except for a detour around LAX). However, until we got past LA and it's suburbs, Hwy 1 was mostly just another urban highway. On occasion we'd see the water, but we also saw a lot of shops, restaurants, hotels and condo's. One thing I had a lot of trouble with was stopping. I couldn't go very fast in the RV if I wanted to - but on very steep, wet pavement sometimes even 20 or 30 mph was too fast to stop sometimes. On at least two occasions, I tried to stop for a yellow light and just started skidding. I had to take my foot off the brake and just honk - hoping the cars waiting to go would hold up, since there was no way I could stop. Fortunately, the other drivers were paying attention (or we just got lucky) and nobody hit us or even came close. Not the way I like to drive however.

We pulled over in Laguna Beach to stock up on some provisions (buy Milk and a few other things). It was a regular supermarket (Albertsons), but the prices were sky high - I suppose they have higher overhead than the stores other areas. I also took a minute to snap this shot on the hillside above the highway. This was typical of the hills along the coast all day - and these hills seem especially vulnerable to erosion and mudslides.


In the interest of making progress, I skipped all the brown signs and didn't bother to look at the list of things to see in the area (now I'm kicking myself just a bit, but we did make progress?). When we drove through Huntington Beach, we saw quite a few oil rigs, both offshore and these. Bit of a change from the usual ritzy stuff.


Just north of the oil fields, I turned off at Bolsa Chico Ecological Reserve, mostly just to take a break from driving. It was still raining, so Mom decided not to get out of the car, but I thought I'd grab the camera just to see what was around. It turns out that this is a great place for bird watching, there are even a few birds out on a stormy day such as today. There were quite a few American Coots swimming around, I don't think I've uploaded a picture of a coot before, so figured it was about time.


I think I have uploaded a picture of a Northern Pintail Duck before, but this was special enough I thought I'd upload it anyway (from Bolsa Chico E.R. this time of course).


There were other ducks in the ponds today, but too far out to get decent pictures. I also saw a Great White Heron, but again too far for a good shot.

But this bird - I don't think I've ever seen before (although in all honesty, I don't think I was noticing much about birds before this trip either). It is an American Avocet, very unusual beak that bends upwards. There were a couple of these in the E.R., so I'm really glad I stopped.


We continued heading north and considered stopping at some of the beaches, but in the cold rain, it wasn't too enticing (also, most seemed to require payment even just to stop for a few minutes). As we drove through LA, Mom kind of wanted to visit the Queen Mary or a Lighthouse she saw on the atlas, but I was bound and determined to get past LA or else. (Or else what, I'm not sure, but I didn't want to try finding a campground in LA). It was somewhat interesting driving through the different parts of towns and seeing how different, yet similar, they could be. A lot of the homes have red tile roofs (not the lighter tiles like we saw in Phoenix). We also drove through an older residential neighborhood near Loyola Marymount University - nice looking homes, mostly from the 1950's or 60's, nothing too fancy. Then we saw one with an 'Open House' sign for only $749,000. I think I'll stay where I'm at (in Shelton, WA that is).

Regarding that little side trip, what happened is that when we got near LAX, I saw a sign saying there was a tunnel up ahead and all trucks or 'vehicles carrying flamable ' stuff were forbidden from using the tunnel. After our little experience with the Boston 'big dig', I figured this applies to RV's with Propane tanks and I had to take a detour around the airport. However, the third leg of the detour wasn't marked (or I missed the last sign?), so I ended up wandering around a little bit - not too bad, I knew we needed to head west, then north - but it was kind of nice driving through a neighborhood rather than just commercial districts.

Finally, Hwy 1 went through some sort of morph (we actually had to turn off Hwy 1, then take an onramp onto Hwy 1. Go figure?). We went down and around a bend and started driving between bluffs and beachfront houses into Santa Monica. This is considered a 'Scenic Highway' and a sign said it was 27 miles long (of the 'Scenic Highway' along the Santa Monica Mountains I think.)


I suspected at first that Santa Monica is one house deep for 10 miles, but there is actually a town also. There are just a lot of beachfront homes squeezed between the highway and the beaches. The bluffs come right up to the highway on the other side (northbound), which we were on, and there is usually no room for houses or anything else on that side. In fact, most of this portion of the drive had rock slide warnings (and loose rocks on the road). Santa Monica had some lovely public beachs also, but a $5 charge to park. If it had been a warm, sunny day and we had wanted to stay for awhile, I'd have parked, but since we were just passing through, I kept going. There were several area's where it was legal to park along the side of the highway, but Mom didn't want to walk across the road (and I'd have to advise her against it if she did) and neither of us felt is was worth playing the U-Turn game again, so we just enjoyed the beaches while we drove.

We also passed several state beaches and noticed that they all required a fee to stop there, so finally I decided to at least stop and check how much the fee was. We pulled over at Malibu Creek State Park, which had a ranger station. The sign said the day use fee was $9, but when I asked the young woman at the window about turning around, since I didn't want to pay that much just to stop for a few minutes, she said we could have a complementary pass for 15 minutes. So we finally got to stop at another beach for a few minutes. The creek, and path, runs under bridge for Hwy 1 that has been painted with all sorts of sea life scenes.


We walked under the bridge and enjoyed a few minutes of the waves breaking, surfers actually surfing, and typical beach scenery.


Trying to stay within my 15 minutes however, I had to encourage Mom to start heading back (I think she was enjoying the beach). On the way, we passed a small bird sitting on a branch in the creek. We think it's a flycatcher of some sort, possibly a Black Phoebe? But we're not sure (see how much damage the unknowledgable can do with a reference book).


Malibu Creek SP had camping, it was on the opposite side of the highway from the beaches, but it looked like a nice place. However since it wasn't very late yet - we thought we'd go farther north before pulling over. We did drive a few miles (2 or 3?) farther north, then saw what looked like a large sand dune. I'm not sure dune is the correct term, since it also looked more like an alluvial fan, but made out of sand and rock. (A dune is blown by the wind I think). Mom was really impressed by it so I stopped to take a couple of pictures. What was really odd was that there were some kids about 1/2 way up that had what looked like snow boards - and they were slidding down the sand on their boards. (Not fast). It had to be really rough on their boards - like sandpaper maybe?


So we settled back in the car for a nice long drive, maybe even to Santa Barbara or ???

But wait, are those RV's along the beach just past the 'sand dune'? Check this out - there is another state park across the road where the campsites are right on the beach (not on a 40' bluff above the beach, maybe an 8' rock slope). And there were lots of empty sites (it was raining earlier, but not now). And - the cost started at $20 and kept going down (less for seniors, less even more for disabled - which Mom has the mirror hanger for) - so we only had to pay $5.50 for this. It might be early, but I figured we aren't going to find many places like this to camp! Big waves have been breaking 50' from the rig all afternoon. We both enjoyed just sitting and watching the waves break.


OK - given all the photo's I've uploaded, waves may be a bit much, but they were quite something here so I had to upload a couple?


And finally, Mom found some reasonably dry wood that someone had left by the firepit and got herself a nice little campfire going! I had bought campfire forks just for such an occasion at one of our Wal-marts and Mom had picked up some marshmellows along the way somewhere - so we had quite a nice little campout tonight. No sunset worth photographing, but tasty marshmellows!



Miles Driven - 139, Cumulative 17,055
Camped at Point Mugu SP (I think, they don't have a brochure), CA Coastal Highway

Provisions Secured: a small amount of very expensive groceries

Wildlife Observed: Squirrels, ducks, birds (as listed) as well as many seagulls and pigeons.

Posted by jl98584 21:58 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (2)

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