Night 20: Big Sur

Trip Start Jun 20, 2012
1
23
31
Trip End Jul 18, 2012


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Where I stayed
San Simeon Beach State Park

Flag of United States  , California
Monday, July 9, 2012

We drove about 140 miles today diwn CA-1. Today was cool, calm, and mostly sunny wit patches of fog here and there. The waves picked up in intensity as night fell. Night also brought cold air.

I cannot believe we are still in California and that it has been twenty nights across America. I could do this faster, but it feels good to savor America, especially the faraway Pacific coast. I am guilty for leaving so much responsibility at home, but we have a hard year coming and a good adventure is good for the spirit.

Today I had no plan so I allowed us to get distracted by the beauty and nature of Monterey County. We drove to the municipal wharf, which is an active commercial fishing port. From the long pier we could see otters and saw sea lions relaxing and barking away on anything they could get onto from the water, including yachts, bouys, and dingeys. The fishing operations were full of half asleep fishermen. We saw the boats out last night in the bay shining their lights into the water. The fish attract a whole bunch if gulls and brown pelicans to the wharf. They stood there, half if them seemed unable to fly. They were wrapped in fishing line, hooked, and a couple were a bloody mess. They stood there with their empty eyes. This must be what my sister did all day in Key West. She sent me photos of amputated legs and put many pelicans to sleep. At the end if the wharf, sea lions battled it out for the best spots in the harbor, barking up a storm.

We drove off to spot our otter friend from last night and to see the napping pile of harbor seals still I'm the spot we found them. We drove up the coastal road, passing the mansions of the super rich. We did not pay the superrich $10 for the honor of driving down their 17 Mile Drive, past the Pebble Beach's line cypress, a tree that is actually trademarked. You are legally not allowed to photograph it. Disgusting how people try to bank on nature, something that belongs to all of us. Maybe I've been listening to too much Woodie Guthrie.

We drove down to Carmel and visited the 300 year old Spanish mission in town. It was founded by Junipero Serra, who lived in a simple stark cell, but who dominated the region. After him came the Californios, Spanish ranchers and hacienda owners. It is a forgotten world mostly, but at the mission it came alive.

The signs on the wall basically warned people that should an earthquake occur the mission building would probably collapse. We passed through the parish gift shop and entered a small yard that led to the basilica. The old-fashioned Spanish church was given basilica status when Pope John Paul II visited not too long ago.

The church was full of smoke-covered paintings and Indian-made carvings of the saints. A huge portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe hung on the wall reminding me that this was once Mexico. There was even a raised lectern and various side chapels for the adoration of saints and the Eucharist. The adobe walls were painted to look ornate and the old wooden crucifix was as gory as the Spanish could muster. The floor was the burial place of Spanish governors and priests.

Outside the church, you enter another bigger courtyard which houses the diocese offices, a parochial school, and museum exhibits of the art and artifacts found in the mission. The yard houses a spectacular garden. One artifact in the museum is Fr. Serra's tomb, an ornate box upon which he is depicted sleeping in statue form with the California bear sleeping at his foot like a puppy might. I was amazed by everything I saw. The ghosts of the past were everywhere.

We went to Carmel (Clint Eastwood was mayor here once.) and somehow found a burger place we could afford. The burgers were wonderful and much needed. From here we planned various routes home and settled on one that would pass the Mojave. That meant, oh shucks, we would have to drive another 90 miles down the famously beautiful coast of Big Sur. Big Sur is the mountainous coastline that separates San Francisco from Los Angeles. God, in his wisdom, made the coast too mountainous in between for houses. If it hadn't been, I am sure the entire coast would be filled with cities and suburbs.

We drove down the Big Sur Highway to Point Lobos State Reserve, a spit of rocky land named for the sea lions that live there. The Spanish Californios called them "sea wolves." Once again, the fee was too much, but the beauty and perfection of the place had me quickly forget the money.

Lobos is a crayon box of colors. The flowers, the rocks, the sea. Every color is represented somewhere. It is no wonder that artists were among the first to enjoy this place and to work for its protection. 

At the end of the point are rocks covered with harbor seals. Further out, barking in the distance on the rocks, are more sea lions than one could count. They were piled on top of each other. The big bulls were standing proudly, head up in the air. Sea lions swam around in the water beneath, one making eye contact with me before slipping back unto the kelp.

Andrew enjoyed climbing all over the conglomerate rock formations, which provided hand and foot support. Most if the rock was reddish sandstone. Red aquatic plants and a cornucopia of flowers covered the rocks. Across the way was another peninsula that held up a beautiful cypress grove.

At another point an old whalers' cottage was preserved. Lucky people who owned wet suits were diving here. I brought my flippers, but would have hypothermia after a few minutes without a wetsuit.

The Big Sur Highway (CA-1) winds up and down 800 foot tall bluffs with sweeping views of the ocean. If it wasn't 50 degrees, the van would certainly overheat. Every corner the view got better. 

After an hour and a half of driving through paradise, the land flattened out a bit. As we were driving I noticed huge shapes on the beach. As we got closer I was astounded to see that the shapes were the hulking bodies of molting elephant seals. There were close to sixty of them snorting and huffing. Some wore faces of perfect contentment laying in the Big Sur sun, ocassionslly itching themselves with a fin. Another comfort to them seemed to be throwing sand on themselves. The big males bellowed, their long noses flapping, their breath making steam in the cool air.

I have only seen these prehistoric beasts once before during their mating time in winter. I was on a cliff hundreds of feet above them. This time I was only about six feet above them seaparated by a fence. Their blobs of bodies hide powerful muscles. They are very fast on land. I was as excited as a little boy to see wonderful animals like these, the size of cars.

8 miles to the south is the Hearst estate with its surrounding longhorn ranch. They were closed and we carried on to camp for the night in another overpriced California State Park, San Simeon. It was a cold, but pleasant night. We ate at the campsite and were just under the bridge from a lonely beach and under every star. There was no moon for most if the night.    
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