The Big Sur Coast
Today dawned damp and foggy at Half Moon Bay. We were camped in the Half Moon Bay State Park Campground, and when we first arrived we laughed and said, no way would we need to worry about a reservation here in winter. Wrong! When we returned from our drinks last night at the Distillery, the campground was almost completely full. I am so glad that we had a reservation.
In spite of the full sites, the campground was delightfully quiet, and we slept well. I got up at 5 to use up the last of my battery to write last night’s post, and by 7 we had a bit of leftover coffee heated up in a pan to suffice until our morning coffee get together at Peet’s Coffee with another of Mo’s long time friends from her days living in this part of California.
Bonnie and Dick have lived in El Granada, just north of Half Moon bay, for 44 years. We had a great time chatting over good coffee and laughing together about old times. It is always wonderful when you can get together with great friends from years past.
After our morning visit, we drove back up the coast to Montara, where Mo had her ranchette for many years. She and her friend Carol boarded horses, had chickens, ducks, rabbits and worms and Mo as usual spent a lot of time remodeling and repairing the barns, fences and the house. A little bit of history, she bought the house in the early 70’s for 170,000 and today it is on the market for 2.5 million. We wanted to see how it looked.
When Mo lived there, the view to the ocean was wide open, but in the last couple of decades since she sold it, the trees have been allowed to grow and there is no more view. In addition, it seems that the current owners (the same ones who bought it from Mo) love privacy, and have let all the hedges grow tall and thick. It seemed terribly claustrophobic. Mo is a great one for keeping the plants under control, and sometimes we disagree about what should be hacked back and what should go free. I would agree 100 percent with Mo that the charm of the place was so hidden by shrubbery that neither of us would want to live there.
Still, it was fun to see it. As we drove around the back corner of the property, a young man was working on a wood pile of old eucalyptus, and asked what we were doing. He was born and raised right there in the house next door and he remembered Mo. He told us lots of stories about the local neighbors, many who had passed, and surprisingly many more who were still living right there in the same neighborhood. It was fun seeing the ranch and talking with the young man.
We then drove back south to Moss Beach and checked out the house that Mo first bought when she moved to the coast. It was on a very steep hill, originally built on stilts and now is almost completely hidden by more shrubs and trees. Mo was very grateful to no longer being navigating all those steep hills along the east side of Highway 1.
Returning to the rig in time to check out before noon, we had very little to do. Nights with no hookups are so pleasant the next morning. No electric, no water, no sewer, nothing to do except raise the jacks and pull in the slide. We were on the road by 11:30, in time to watch the damp fog lift and see the sunshine lighting up the ocean as we traveled south on Highway 1 toward Santa Cruz. I drove, so again no photos. I am always best driving in the early part of the day, leaving the long afternoons to Mo. The traffic was reasonably light, and the views opened up beautifully.
Big Dipper Roller Coaster at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk in 2004
Santa Cruz was a bit busier with heavy traffic, and Highway 1 meanders through town from stop light to stop light before continuing south toward Monterey. We have visited Santa Cruz and Monterey many times in the past, and had no desire to stop. The Boardwalk in Santa Cruz is fun, and I have photos of me in the front car of the roller coaster, memories of getting in trouble for having a beer on the beach as we took our previous dog Molly for a walk, and oohing and ahhing at all the cute little cottages in Capitola. I bought many a skein of yarn at the great yarn shop in town, and we watched a moon rise over the bay on a dark Saturday night. Good memories and no need to try to repeat them on this sunny morning.
Campsite in Monterey Family Camp in 2012
Continuing toward Monterey, we had even more memories of camping at the military family camp in that city. We laughed about how crowded it was and about how tiny and uneven our site was. 15 years ago we visited Monterey, enjoying the wharf, the shops and great food. We did an historical town tour on that southern journey, once again, no need to repeat that experience as well.
We simply had fun as we drove around the bay, remembering strawberries in Watsonville and artichokes in Castroville and a day wandering the lovely streets of Carmel.
On this day, we were simply trying to find another nice beach for Mattie, and several miles south of Monterey, we finally found a pullout next to a beautiful beach with room for parking. Monastery Beach was gorgeous with turquoise water up close fading to deep blue on the horizon. The sand was clean and the beach was small, but there weren’t many people walking. Once out of the rig with the dog we found out why.
The sand was tiny gravel sized pebbles, and our feet sank in deeply with each step, a bit like walking on little bitty marbles. Not easy. We finally sat down to enjoy the waves and the view, and even Mattie wasn’t very excited about running around in that sand. She was huffing and puffing as well after a few rounds. Lunch in the rig watching the waves through the door was perfect, and I said we had better enjoy the warm sun. My memory of the campgrounds around Big Sur was filled with huge old trees and lots of shade.
Once we began the winding climb south from Carmel toward Big Sur, the sun seemed even more brilliant than before. Mo took over driving and suddenly I wanted to stop at every pull out along the road to take photos. I have my big camera with me, but have been so spoiled with the smaller bridge camera (sadly damaged beyond repair by a freak accident last month) that I had forgotten just how heavy and cumbersome the Nikon is. Instead I opted for phone photos. Now and then I’ll pull out the Nikon, but am a bit appalled at how lazy I have become. Phone photos will have to do for now.
One of the last pullouts was especially gorgeous, and as we parked, I saw the first whale spout. We watched for 15 minutes or so and saw more whales than we have ever seen at one time. Some were out about a mile, but others were closer, and once I saw the dark back of a giant gray whale near the surface of the water.
The world's entire population of gray whales (approximately 23,000 individuals) migrates past the Big Sur coastline twice a year. From December to February they're heading south to their calving and breeding grounds in the warm bays of Baja Mexico. On this journey they are somewhat further out from shore. From February to April they return to the north, traveling closer to shore so the new mothers can better protect their young from predating killer whales and sharks. Watching them moving south on their migration was wonderful. I have no idea how many were in the pod, but it had to have been at least 8 based on the spread of the spouts. Thrilling, even from a distance.
I have spent many miles of this trip along the coast thinking about the fact that this iconic highway is known as one of the most beautiful drives in the world. When we rode the Ring of Kerry in Ireland, I tried to remember Big Sur with the famous Irish route. Today, I was mentally thinking about the Ring of Kerry, and the Oregon Coast, and the northern part of Highway 1 along the California Coast. I decided there is no way to compare, each route is magnificent in its own way.
We arrived at Pfeiffer by 3:30, and as I remembered the campground was nestled into a thick deep forest. On a hot summer day the coolness would feel wonderful, but today I was glad that we had taken out time along the coast and enjoyed the winter sun before arriving at our shady camp.
The road through the campground was a bit confusing, and very narrow. Once at our site we had to do some interesting maneuvers to get parked into the spot. I realized that without hookups we could have simply pulled in front ways, but then we would have had to do the maneuvers in the morning to leave on the one way road. With a bit of jockeying, we managed to get settled. Once again we had no hookups, but this time we had planned ahead and had plenty of water and fuel for the quiet night.
We are now sitting in the beautifully dark campground, surrounded at a reasonable distance by a few quiet tent campers. I just turned on the generator. Oops. I always feel so guilty about the generator noise in campgrounds like these, remembering my tent camping days in years past and all those noisy generators. In fairness, ours isn’t really terribly loud, and we will only run it long enough to do a few things like charge up the phones and the computer, make a pot of coffee for morning, and heat up our leftovers for supper in the microwave. It’s good to run the generator every now and then, and we haven’t used it in quite some time now. Mo runs it at home to keep it in good shape, maybe every two or three weeks.
Dinner of leftovers is spectacular, with the delicious chicken fajitas that Mo had at Barbaras Fish Trap yesterday. I have my own enchiladas that I cooked before we left home, still delicious and filling. If I didn’t need to charge the electronics, I could have no doubt heated up our leftovers in a pan, but who wants to do that and then have to clean the pan! No hookups for a couple of nights now isn’t a problem for us, but might not be that much fun for our neighbors. Ah well. Technology wins
As the evening dimmed, we took Mattie for a walk along the lovely Big Sur River and I noticed several huge sycamores throughout the park. In addition to the sycamores, California’s narrow band of coast redwoods reach their southernmost extent at the Big Sur coast. There are several huge trees in the campground nestled in along the river. Some of the ancient sycamores were taller than some of the redwoods. I used the panorama mode of the phone to try to capture their height.
We loved seeing the old stone buildings, tables, and firepits that were built by the CCC back in the 30’s. As in many other wonderful state and national parks throughout the country, the beauty of the work done by these men is inspiring.
I thought it interesting that when I made the reservation at the campground there were very few sites available, and as we drove through there were reserved signs on every single site. Even after dark, less than half the sites were in use. The sites can be reserved online as we did, but I never did see any option for getting into a spot without a reservation.
The drive south to Big Sur and the beautiful dark night in the campground was especially healing for me. As I watched the sea and the whales and the gorgeous wild coastline I felt a shift in my inner thinking. I wrote this somewhere along the Big Sur coast to remind myself.
“I find that as the loss becomes integrated into my life that I am more appreciative. A good cup of coffee tastes wonderful. A glass of cool white wine is savored. The low fog among the rocks on the coast is enjoyed. The smell of the redwoods in camp this morning lingers. Watching the shifting views of ocean, surf, mountains, blue skies appreciated differently. Life is precious.”