Friday, August 19, 2016

California June 2016 A Change in Plans...because it was hot AND we can do it Laguna Seca Raceway outside Monterey

As we started on the one and a half hour journey to the next scheduled stop, Ponderosa Campground in Big Sur, I began looking at our plans for the next week. We were going to stay at Ponderosa and explore the southern region of Big Sur and then spend 4 more days right outside Monterey where we could explore up there. The weather forecast for the coastal area for the upcoming week looked great with warm/cool days and cool nights. Then I checked the forecast for the Ponderosa campground and it was over 100F/ 38C (!) everyday and Ponderosa campground had no electricity hook up. This meant that our plans for driving and exploring were going to have to change. We could not leave Cadbury in the coach with those temperatures even if we took Phoenix in the car with us. I looked at the forecast for our next campground, Chaparral Campground at Laguna Seca Recreation Area and it would be in the 70s. I quickly called them to see if they had any spots open and was assured they did. The sites were first come first serve and we’d be getting there by noon and had a good chance of getting one for the 4 days before our reservation and might even be able to get into the same site. I then called Ponderosa and cancelled our reservations and 2 minutes later we passed the exit we would have taken had plans not changed. What a sense of relief it was. We hit only one snag on the way because our route took us to an entrance ramp that was closed for road repairs. Luckily all we had to do was turn around and GPS rerouted us. 

The hill to the campground was steep (16% grade) and as we crested the first part I saw a huge sign announcing this to be the Mazda Raceway. Surely we must be in the wrong place I said and Don said no, he’d read that there was a raceway here. WHAT(?!) was I thinking? Comfortable temperatures are one thing but did we want the screech of tires rounding corners and the rumble of engines piercing the air? We stopped at the entrance gate and the volunteers assured us that there would be no races during the time we were there (now a week) as well as saying that we’d been assigned to a spot that was on the far side away from the track where we would not hear the noise of the track but be treated to beautiful sunsets. There was “however a shooting range below” but “there isn’t a lot of noise.” After a bit of a glitch when the volunteer came back out and asked for the credit card I knew I’d given him and my having to enter the booth to help him look for it and finding that it had slipped out of his hand into a box full of recycled paper, we were on our way to the site which we could have for the entire week. BUT, we didn’t fit. Wedged up right next to the next site, because there was a tree on one side, we could get our slides out, but not the awning, and realized that when the people who’d reserved the adjoining site arrived, our slides would abut. We really could not see staying in it. We’d seen plenty of empty spots and most were not marked “Reserved.” I drove around the loop and just below our assigned site saw an unreserved, much more private one which also had trees to provide shade during the day. Since we’d have electricity at this campground we didn’t have to worry about enough sun and all the sites had water. A quick call down to the office to verify that we could change and we set up in what was a really lovely spot. Although we could see the track now, there were (other than a driving school for a few hours on the Saturday) no noises coming from it. The shooting range was not very active and from time to time we’d hear a few “pop pop pops” and that was it. We were no longer perched on the edge where we would be able to sit and watch the sunset but it was a very short walk and the sunsets, moonsets and sunrise colors were spectacular and varied. Some mornings the valley would be thick with fog as if a pitcher of cream had been poured into it, others the entire area was in fog creating a weird and wonderful sunrise, one day and others the sky was clear and crisp. Sunsets were colorful and cast their colors all over the valley.

The sunsets did not disappoint.  From fiery clouds which left the ... bright with the colors of fire,

and cast pinks, purples and blues in their reflection

sunset was a lovely time to walk the pets. But, the most beautiful, I felt, were the mornings, with crisp cool air, the birds awakening and fog sometimes with a setting moon on one side and rising sun on the other.

Sunrise is my time with Phoenix to greet the day, even though she is now pretty much blind, and the first morning with the setting moon and clouds that looked like someone had poured a pitcher of cream into the valley,

had me enthralled.

They lifted quickly as the sun rose higher.

The foggy mornings seemed to come on a cycle and 2 days later it was more widely dispersed

with the light peeking through.

But the most incredible morning was when we were totally fogged in and the sun and fog combined to create an almost magical world.

The one big concern, at first, was the water. When we’d entered they had told us that the water was not safe to drink but we could wash with it. We didn’t question it so when I ran over to the supermarket that first evening I picked up some bottle drinking water. It was lucky I did because the next morning as I stood rinsing out some pots the water stopped. I told Don, who suggested I check the spigot. No water there either. I decided that there must be some problem but perhaps it was just our site and Phoenix needed to walk so I’d wait. It was only 6am after all. As I walked her I saw 2 women I’d spoken with the previous evening and once again we were all walking our dogs. They, too, said they had no water. I also tried the water in the bathrooms and the pipes were dry. What I couldn’t understand was that we had not been warned about this so figured it was unplanned. We would find out before long that the water for our campground (there are 3 in the area) was off because of a leak in the storage tank and they had no idea when it would be fixed. However, the two campgrounds on the other side of the track had water and working showers and we were free to use them and fill jugs. So that’s what we did, thankful we already had drinking water. Since our intent was not to sit around but to explore the area I filled some jugs, did the dishes and we went out to drive to Big Sur. The water would not be on that evening but came on at some point the next day while we were in Monterey. It would not be a problem again and by the end of the week we barely remembered it had been.

So, there we were on the beautiful Monterey peninsula. Our first desire was to see the coastline and the best way to do that was to drive the iconic Rte 1 south. We were about 15 minutes inland but as soon as we got to the coast we began to marvel at the beauty. The air was cooler because of the brisk wind but the skies were gloriously blue with only a bit of haze off shore. The Pacific was a brilliant deep azure and the waves smashing into the huge cliffs and rocks along the shore turned to sparkling white bursts of foam. Meadows of low lying bright yellow flowers stretched down along to the edge of the cliffs and birds wheeled overhead. Rte 1 has a number of pull outs where motorists can stop to take a better look at the view. Predictably there were couples taking selfies at every one of them. We stopped at each one. The first one, at Monterey Beach we were able to walk a bit to the beach where the sand was the coarsest I have ever felt. It felt more like a very fine gravel than sand but was beautiful. We stopped at another with wide beautiful views from atop a cliff and I, already wrapped in a turtleneck long sleeve shirt AND heavy sweatshirt, went back to the car to get my scarf when I came upon a young man in shorts and shirtless. I laughed at our differences and it turned out he was a Scot. He, and his sister and parents-all dressed more like I than he- who then joined us were on a 3 week tour of California and he was determined to “get a tan.” I laughed because while he said he found it “warm” the goosebumps covering his torso told another story. We had a nice half hour conversation with them, one more to add to the best part to me of our travels: meeting people. California seems to have a very large number of northern Europeans-Brits, French and Germans-visiting during the summer and virtually all of them are seeing San Francisco, Monterey,Los Angeles, at least one, if not more, National Parks and... Las Vegas. As one German remarked to us-”it is just so unlike reality we have to at least experience it.”

When we got to Big Sur it was time for lunch and we stopped and ate at Maiden Publick House and then turned to head back north. In hindsight I think we could, and should, have continued south from there as the beauty does not seem to end and it is difficult to get enough, never mind too much of it.  (As I write this now, at the end of July there is a huge fire raging in that area and I wonder how much of what we saw is now burned.) On the way back we stopped to walk around the area surrounding the Bixby Bridge-that well known bridge from pictures of the Big Sur roadway. Opened in 1932 along with the Garrapata Creek Bridge, it is the iconic view that is reproduced on postcards, bumper stickers and any number of tourist items from the area. Only the view of the Lone Cypress seems to surpass it in occurrence.

The next day we headed for town and the first stop was the Visitor Center where we picked up lots of literature about the area.  Then it was time for a walk past the Dennis the Menace Park and then along the Monterey Bay Park beach and harbor.  There were kayakers taking lessons while others paddled around, sailboats racing and heeling in the winds and a sailing school camp out in the water while families with young children played in the surf and sand.  Being both a wimp and a snob about swimming water (pity the child who grows up in Caribbean waters-we seem unable to adjust to water that is not crystal clear and warm!) I still love to watch children, shivering and covered with goose bumps unable to resist jumping into the surf and paddling about until the final call from Mom to “get out now!”

It had been only short time since we'd been at the ocean's edge but it was great to be back.

Along the sidewalk was a memorial and to a street person, a vet, who'd died.

A crossing sign for kayakers returning...I wonder if in thousands of years from now these will be thought to be petroglyphs.

Everyone enjoys the water

a sweet collection

Sailing and kayaking lessons

This guy is a Nam vet who cleans the waterfront.  He takes donations, we gave hi a small one but was a crack up talking about a whole world of subjects.

Our walk then took us out on Municipal Wharf which was lined with moored fishing boats and small restaurants on one side and fishermen on the other. Overhead casting is not allowed but many of them have become very adept at being able to get the line to fly way out into the water and many of them had pails filled with flopping fish. While I stood watching them I noticed an otter, lying on her back and enjoying a freshly caught crab. With the crab resting on her belly she tore off each piece, enjoyed the delicacy and then tossed the shell aside as she reached for another piece. A seal played around the boats at anchor popping his head up and then diving and swimming to pop up again in a new spot. The catch there was fresh anchovies, for which the area is known, and although I had planned to buy some for dinner it ended up being one of those things we put off until we were leaving and then forgot. 

We watched this otter for a long time as she floated around eating the crab she'd caught.  She'd pull off a piece, eat it and then toss the shell into the water.

There were flowers all along the harbor

We headed over to the excellent and interesting Monterey Museum and then our stroll took us down Fisherman Wharf which was less exciting since it consists mainly of stores and restaurants. However, we stopped to sample clam chowder, which is thicker and, to my mind, not as tasty as the New England version and then I got an ice cream cone because something about sun and blue skies and strolling around seems to bring a craving as soon as I see someone licking a cone. Headed out along the bay walk again we stopped to talk to a young couple with an adorable little daughter. We ended up talking for the better part of an hour. Joachim and Monica are from Munich and had been traveling for almost 6 weeks in an RV with the beautiful and charming, and only 9 month old, Annemarie. They had covered a lot of ground but had no plans for where to stay that night so we told them about Laguna Seca. They made it in very late that night and were out exploring again the next day but we caught up with them on their second and last evening and had a wonderful time.

One of my favorite flowers, Agapanthus is all over California!

Even with food in his mouth this Stellar Jay had a lot to say to the other birds

A gathering of "old guys" (yeah, our age) this group of "woodie" enthusiasts from all over California were here to honor one of their group who'd died this year.  They all surfed together off Santa Cruz in the 60s.  Some of the cars had the original parts, one had been modernized but he drive from Texas.

Cadbury does not like me to make the bed when it's chilly because he can burrow under the cover and snuggle in.  I am happy to cooperate for as long as possible.

After a long drive one day and “town time” the next, we decided to go kayaking at the Elkhorn Slough (pronounced slew) just north of us, near Watsonville. I had not been kayaking in many months and it was nice to get back out on the water again, although, truth be told, I spend as much time taking pictures of views and wildlife as I do paddling. There were a few birds along the way and a playful river otter who would dive the instant I raised my camera no matter how far away I was. She (I decided it had to be a she) finally put on a show for me as I had about given up and was paddling back. Train tracks run right alongside the slough and a freight had rumbled by as we unloaded the kayaks and then an Amtrak passenger train passed by as we were paddling. On the way back we stopped in Moss Landing to mail a package and then ate a delicious lunch at Phil’s Snack Shack. Clouds and cool had set in as we drove back so we headed back to the campground rather than looking for another paddling site nearer the ocean.

This river otter had the best time washing herself!  She rolled and dove and wiggled, checking her feet from time to time all the while seemingly exalting in her task

17 Mile Drive.  It's the scenic drive that winds through Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove, home to 3 golf courses and multi-million dollar houses, about which I will say nothing, and the iconic Lone Cypress.  We decided that I would drive it and Don would bike it.  Don thought I'd be long ahead of him but how wrong he was!  At each turn there was a view of the ocean, the rocks, the mist, trees, the wildlife... I had to stop and admire or, if there was a turn out, take pictures.  At one point he texted me to see where I was and I was two stops behind him.  He waited for me to catch up and we walked around a bit before he continued and 2 stops on, as I was taking MORE pictures I saw him ride by.  At Pebble Beach we stopped to walk around and have lunch and then load up the bikes.  From there we returned to the campground and the pets. On our return we noticed a couple trying to park their large RV in the spot we’d originally been assigned. It turned out that Richard and Renate are German, had arrived in San Francisco that morning, had waited 3 hours while the RV they rented ( a 28’/8.5m class C-the kind that looks like a rental moving van) had been substituted with a 33’/10m class A-like our MoHo, had just driven down from San Leandro and could not get the automatic jacks/levelers to work. What a way to start their vacation! We helped them get into the spot, showed them how to manually extend the jacks and then after they were all set up we chatted for a short while before they had to get some sleep. It was 6am their time. 

Don riding by

I have never seen such a large impatiens!

Bougainvilla petals littered a pathway

Having done the 17 Mile Drive I told Don I did not want to miss Cannery Row or the aquarium, so we headed there on Saturday. What a disappointment. It was cool and breezy (which turned out to be the good part) and when we arrived and parked we both immediately returned to the car to grab our warm jackets. The walk around the San Carlos Beach Park was nice, if windy, and we watched two classes of Scuba getting in and out of their wetsuits while they shivered. Once again, I was glad for my certification having been earned in the waters off St Croix, USVI. There were some nice gardens and a few interesting sculptures and sailboats off shore but once we started down Cannery Row I kept looking for something historic that had not been converted into yet another chain store/commercial establishment. There was one nice memorial and there were a few plaques with information. But the overwhelming number of "commercial establishments" where one can spend money on everything from the mass produced touristy items (on which only the place name changes) to beautiful art work is too much. Housed in the former canneries, that is about the only historic aspect of the area which swarms with tourists.

Restaurants of every type sit along the street and the views from the ones along the water are gorgeous, even if you pay for it as much as the food. We chose to stop at what turned out to be an excellent little “make your own” pizza shop. You choose the type and size of the crust, all your toppings and pay only for the size. The selection of toppings was wide and diverse and we both loved what we ordered. 

Our stomachs full, we headed to the aquarium which was our intended destination. I was excited to be able to see some of the marine life from this area up close. Since Don is a smoker he was having his post-prandial smoke when we arrived so I got in the long line. As I entered the building though I looked up to see the prices. $49.99 for me and $39.99 for Don? No way! Aside from the fact that I know other aquariums are cheaper, I can always look at pictures and enjoy the brief encounters we have in the wild with whatever creatures we see, our experience here was going to be shared with masses of people, all of us peering into exhibits and tanks and I just could not justify it. It may be an experience not to missed and for those who will never see this marine life otherwise, perhaps it is worthwhile, but not for us. 

We turned around and walked back to the car via the small streets around Cannery Row, lamenting the lack of anything original that would at least give a sense of what the area was like for the thousands of fishermen, canners and others, new immigrants mostly, who worked so hard for so long in this area. Other than a mural (there may be others) the few plaques and one nice memorial fishing boat there was nothing we came upon that gave us a feel for the history, which was a pity. We’ve seen too many small museums in our travels to believe it cannot be done and the commercialism bothered us.

However, within every experience there is something good, something to enjoy, something to learn so the photos I have of that part of our journey reflect what I saw and liked.

So, since we had a lot more time than we’d planned we drove down to the Carmel Mission or Mission San Carlos Borroméo del río Carmelo which was Fr. Junipero Serra’s favorite mission. Different again from the other missions we’d visited, this one is right next door to a Catholic school. Visitors enter through the gift shop and may not go into the church while a mass is being said. One had just ended when we entered the courtyard so we toured the church and some of the museum that is connected and then strolled the grounds. That day there was a small organic farmer’s market which I spied through the vestry windows. By the time we got outside and around to it they were packing to leave but I was able to get some squash-one of which the farmer said looked “not fresh enough” so she gave it to me and then picked out another very fresh one. But the real treat were the strawberries. Deep, deep red, sweet and juicy they reminded us how strawberries taste (and should be picked) when perfectly ripe. None of the green-picked, ethylene-gassed fruit with the texture of a soft apple and vague strawberry taste, these were delicious! I ate a few on the way home and shared the rest (although admittedly I probably took 5 for each of another person’s one) with Don, Richard and Renate as we drank crisp, cold wine and sat in the cool shade of the tree trading stories and views. 

The Gift shop has a huge collection of religious items but the crucifixes with and without milagros attached intrigued me.

The courtyard and entrance to the chapel

The interior of the chapel had both naive and elegant decor

I found these prayer candles somehow more moving than the electronic ones at the Mission Basilica in San Juan Capistrano 

There was a small graveyard with many crosses topped with an abalone shell and this one with a small necklace

On our return from Cannery Row and the Carmel Mission,  we joined Richard and Renate, who had wisely taken a day to relax at the campground, for a glass (or glasses) of wine and wonderful conversation. Richard is the son of a decorated American Army officer who stayed in Germany and married his mother. It was incredibly interesting to talk with him about growing up in post WWII Germany and seeing things from both perspectives. I had been reading Ursula Hegi’s excellent Stones in the River, about a fictitious town near Dusseldorf from the 1920s to 1950s and was reminded once again about how differently those years were treated. As I had read, and as Richard said, most of their teachers had been children or served in WWI which had been a great and humiliating defeat for the Germans. These men, as they mostly were, had been compelled to serve during WWII. The suffering throughout the country during that time, their second loss and the horrors that became more and more evident as time passed were too close for them to teach. As Joachim had told us only days before, it would be really only his generation that would face up to and address the ugliness that was so much a part of the story. 

Our other reason for getting back to the campground when we did was to get together with Kate, our old neighbor from Northport, NY. Kate had graduated from high school in 2004, the year after we moved there but in that time she and I had gotten in some “trouble” together and had bonded. She is now married and living in Pasadena and we’d been unable to connect while we were at Agua Dulce so I was thrilled when she texted to say she’d be in Monterey for a day when we were. She arrived and joined us with Richard and Renate and then we continued our reunion in the MoHo until it was time for her to drive home. In addition to meeting people from all over, for me the thrill of seeing people I knew as children who are now adults is not to be bettered. Seeing people like Courtney in Laguna Niguel who I met when she was 6 and now has children of her own who are twice and three times that age and Kate who was starting out her own life and is now a confident, accomplished and fascinating woman fills me with hope and love for this process we call life. We have missed seeing so many of our other friends in California that I suspect we’ll visit again but next time will be off season or we will have planned long enough in advance to have booked campsites for periods long enough to really explore the areas and visit friends. 

The next day was our last but I had suggested to Richard and Renate that rather than driving the behemoth-not to mention setting back up each day- up and down the coast that they rent a car and had offered to drive them to the airport to pick it up and they had gratefully accepted. They were headed to Big Sur after this and then Las Vegas for the 4th of July and we wished them the best of trips. So, we readied the MoHo and then I drove them down to pick up a car, we said our goodbyes and on my return Don loaded the kayaks and we hit the road to Castro Valley and our next campground at Anthony Chabot State Park in the East Hills (outside Oakland) where we’d be able to visit San Francisco.