Friday, August 31, 2012

Once in a Blue Moon - 29 August 2012

With two full moons this month it was a Blue Moon month and thus an appropriate month to end our eleven year odyssey.  We decided that retracing our steps to Hearst Castle was not sensible so headed out to the coast to educate ourselves about the Spanish Mission heritage along this coast.

Out first stop was thus La Purisma Mission State Park, one of about 50 missions that the Spanish Catholic church established along El Camino Real up this coast, this one being the 11th one established.  As elsewhere in the world, the missions were secularised and then abandoned and this one was restored in the 30s as part of Roosevelt's plan to get people working after the depression. As such it was California's largest CCC project.

In 1493 Pope Alexander VI granted Spain "all the firm lands and islands, found or to be found" west of the Azores.  This was terribly generous of him, since they were not his to give away, but power does that to people - I guess.

Just a little further down the coast is Solvang, a "replica" Danish village where the architecture is quite out of keeping with the climate, but kitsch and quaint nevertheless.

Back on the road we were back in market garden territory all the way to Santa Barbara where we detoured to visit the magnificent Courthouse, built in 1929 and in an architectural style much more in keeping with the climate and surroundings.
Santa Barbara beachfront looked inviting as we drove along past the palms and bouganvillea but we had a few more miles of market gardens, vineyards and parched hills to get through before we could rest for the night within easy reach of Los Angeles.

The next morning it was all go to get our belongings, which had expanded to fill the space available, back into the suitcases so that we could return the rental by 12 noon, to avoid another day's charge.

After that it was 12 hours to spend in scintillating LAX Airport waiting for a 14-hour flight. Oh, the joys of travel.

279 miles to LAX, total trip 7571.

Monterey Bay - 28 August 2012

The focus for today was the Monterey Bay Aquarium; we realised we would need a reasonable time to see this world class facility but woefully underestimated what a fantastic place it is.  The entrance fee $US39.50 is a bit of a clue, but having seen it we did not feel that we had been overcharged.

We could easily have spent more than the four hours we did as so many of the displays are quite mesmerising and there is so much detail to see in every tank and display that it was not possible to take it all in.

When an aquarium can sport 3-story high kelp forest tank and an "open sea" tank with an absolutely huge unbroken glass viewing window, you know you are in for a treat.  It is fantastically well geared for families with displays where you can touch sea-life that you could find in rock pools.

One current feature was the jellyfish display with some they claimed were a world-first time that they has ever been displayed.  Watching tanks and tanks of all sizes of jellyfish was simply addictive.

The other current feature was seahorses and the range of shapes and sizes were amazing.  We were especially captivated by the Leafy Seadragons that looked just like bits of seaweed floating about.

But, we could not stay all day so we rode the free trolley to historic downtown Monterey and wandered from the historic centre down and around Fisherman's Wharf then caught the trolley back to the expensive parking lot.

Just over the peninsula is the Pebble Beach area, home of numerous golf courses, in cluing the famous Pebble Beach course, home of the US Open a number of times.  To see this area you pay $US9.75 to drive along the "17 Mile Drive". originally set out in 1888 for the horse-drawn fraternity,
this now draws a steady stream of the motorised fraternity who pay their toll to gawk at the expensive real-estate, look at the views and take a stroll through "The Lodge" to see the 18th Green  of the Peeble Beach Golf Course;  we did all three.

While in the area we went down to Carmel Beach and had a picnic tea on the sand and drove back through the obviously very chic and expensive shopping centre full of galleries and expensive clothes shops.

From here we had to back-track a bit to get on Hwy 101 to head south to Santa Margarita, our destination for the night.  We should have taken the coastal road as we intended to visit Hearst Castle en-route but unfortunately we spent too much time in the Monterey area and there was no time for another activity in the day.

The drive down Hwy 101 was interesting in that the road was in the centre of a broad totally flat valley that was acres and acres of market gardens. A little further south when the terrain was not quite so flat, the vineyards took over until we dropped into another flat valley where it was market gardens again.  The fleets of ex-school buses that must be used to ferry workers to the fields showed what a labour intensive undertaking it is providing fresh vegetables on this scale.

191 miles today, total trip 7292. States: California

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

San Francisco in a day - 27 August 2012

Leaving Petaluma our first introduction to San Francisco was commuter traffic on the motorway heading into the city but fortunately we had two occupants in the car so could use the HOV Lane to make slightly faster progress onto the Golden Gate Bridge.

Pulling off at the first exit once across the historic span we stopped at the information centre to see the displays and take the requisite photos since the fog had just lifted leaving the bridge resplendent in full sunlight for us and all the other happy snappy tourists.

Photos taken; info boards read; facts noted: opened 1937, longest span, highest towers, 27572 strands per cable etc; we moved on.  By lucky web searching we had discovered that a BART station on our way out to the south had 5-hour free parking so we headed for that, by-passing the city traffic and found the second to last park available.

$3.50 (each) bought us a return BART ride to the city centre which compared to $33 in town was cheap all-day parking, and so we rode the rail to Embarcadero Centre to start our 5-hour whistle-stop tour of San Francisco highlights.

There was a cable-car waiting at the bottom of California St when we exited so we rode that to the top and down the other side as far as Leavenworth St (item 1 ticked) and walked along to look up Filbert - possibly the steepest street (item 2 ticked) and on to Lombard St to look up at the "crookedest street" (item 3 ticked).

Continuing down we arrived at the waterfront and headed left to Ghiradelli Square for a famous ice-cream (item 4 ticked). We then picked of the maritime museum exhibits since we had free entry with our National Park pass (item not on the list) before heading along the waterfront Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39 (items 5 and 6 ticked).
Heading back inland we wandered up the hill and down again to have a good look at the Trans-America tower (item 7 ticked) then headed back up hill to walk through Chinatown (item 8 ticked) and back down to Embarcadero to look at the very different fountain there before catching a train back to Glen Park and our parking lot with 2 minutes left of our 5 hours.

The only memory from Murray's 1984 San Francisco trip that was not re-visited was a fountain that could be walked down into, and which had featured in the film Logan's Run.  A bit of web searching later revealed that this particular fountain was actually in Fort Worth and seen on from Murray's 1987 trip. This may explain why we did not find it in San Francisco! Oh well, you can't remember everything!

The other reason for picking our parking lot was that it was about 100m from a motorway on-ramp and so we were back on the move south in minutes and once again, used the HOV Lane to speed past all the other commuters on motorways that were at times 7 lanes wide.

The commuter traffic was a fixture all the way to Santa Cruz where we exited to check out the coast; inaccessible without paying for State Parks or expensive parking, so we moved on to our campsite.  This was the absolute worst campsite we have stayed at in 38 days across America. Santa Cruz KOA is ridiculously expensive and for this you get a pocket-handkerchief of dirt that is so hard you cannot hammer tent pegs into it: extremely bad value.

135 miles today, total trip 7101.  States: California

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Lost Coast - 26 August 2012

Between Rockport (just above last night's stop at Westport) and Bodega Bay is a section of largely undeveloped and sparsely populated wild coastline, known as The Lost Coast, which Hwy 1 hugs as it twists and turns around the cliffs and bays.

There are a few small towns and only one large city, Fort Bragg which has cheap (for California) petrol, very welcome as we were running out.  After a refuel and coffee stop we began our day with a walk out to Point Cabrillo Lighthouse.
The First Assistant Lighthouse Keeper's house has been restored to the way it would have been when the Lighthouse Station was constructed in 1909.  The station was established after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake damaged a number of lighthouses along the coast leaving this area totally "in the dark".

The house is open to the public and was an enjoyable diversion.  12 of the original 15 buildings at the station remain and most are restored but with different uses now.  The lighthouse which is functional once again, after being retired in 1972, is open as a information centre and gift shop to raise funds for the restoration project.

The next significant settlement down the coast is Mendocino which, again, is proud of its historical buildings and provides a walking map to showcase them.  The interesting difference is the number of towers in the town.
Originally the town was dotted with then, each topped with a windmill to pump water up into the header tanks in the towers.  Only a few remain some, still with water tanks but most have been converted to viewing platforms for looking out to sea.

While looking around Mendocino the morning sea-fog finally lifted leaving us with another brilliantly sunny day to journey on down the coast spotting a wide variety of coastal dwellings.

A particular surprise was to stumble into Russia at Fort Ross  (from "Rossiia").  Originally founded 200 years ago (the celebration was held yesterday) as a trading outpost to supply food to Russian-American Company employees in Alaska and as a hunting post for sea otters, it was "de-commissioned" in 1848 as it was no longer economical.
The site had a number of subsequent owners and uses until it was created as a State Park. Only one original building remains, the others have been reconstructed, or repaired after damage in the 1906 quake, such as the quaint little Russian Orthodox Church.
The Russians established friendly relationships with the local Indians, brought with them some Aleutians from Alaskan, maintained a deterrent threat to the Spanish from the south and never had to fire the cannon situated in the fort's defences. They left of their own accord and the whole time appears to have been entirely peaceful unlike most other colonial outposts established in that era.

Driving south our attention was caught by an amazing building and turning back we discovered that we could drive to it as it was a Chapel open to the public.  The Sea Ranch Chapel is an absolutely stunning piece of design, beautifully executed by local contractors and craftsmen.
It was a gift of two local residents who wanted to provide a non-denominational space for prayer, meditation and spiritual renewal; and simply entering the building lifted the soul, it is so inspiring.

After a few more miles of coastal twists and turns it was time to head inland to Petaluma, just north of San Francisco, our stop for the night.

170 miles today, 6966 total trip. States: California