Friday, February 26, 2010

Scenic State Route 1

The first picture I want to post here is of some vegetation I found as I walked the seashore.Hard to believe such lush foliage can grow in sandy soil!  Yesterday we moved our motor home further north up the coast to the Monterey area. We took the coastal highway, State Route 1. John was a bit unsure about taking our large rig on that road. We even extended our stay an extra day at Morro Bay because of  rain and fog on Wednesday. That was not a good day to travel on a scenic highway!  Yesterday was sunny and warm. And shortly after being on the road I understood why John was concerned. Various sections of  the coastal highway are narrow, steep and winding. Frequently we saw signs warning of the possibility of rock slides. In some areas there were steel mesh nets hung on the cliff walls to hold back falling rocks. At one of these places I did see some big boulders which had  been trapped in the net. It was worth taking any chances, however. The drive was  very scenic with  vistas of  vast ocean expanses and rocky seashores. Rolling green hills came down to the highway as well as deep rocky canyons and towering mountain walls.
On this drive we saw the elephant seals again. I was surprised to see some of them lolling around near the road. They had come up a distance from the beach, fortunately there was a fence to keep them off the highway! Driving further along, we passed through the town of Big Sur and the scenery changed dramatically. Suddenly we were viewing forests of towering redwoods. What an awesome sight!
As we drove closer to our final destination the road seemed to go more inland and we saw large fields of what was advertised on the billboards as artichokes. We were in the "artichoke capital of the world". This is near the town of Salinas which has the reputation of being the "Salad Bowl of the World".  Driving further we came upon signs warning us to watch for pigs on the road (we never saw any,wild or otherwise). And then we came on a town with a very unusual name- Sand City. There were large sand dunes across the highway from that city. Down the road from that town was Sea City. We reached our destination about 5PM. We had been on the coastal highway about 5 hours. We both thought it had been the most scenic trip we had made so far since starting out about a year ago. We thought the Gaspe Peninsula in Canada was quite beautiful but what we saw yesterday sure topped that.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Starfish and Monarch Butterflies

It is hard to believe that California is so heavily populated when one tours its countryside as John and I did yesterday. Much of the area surrounding us is made up of large rolling hills and seashore. An occasional house and/or ranch buildings may dot the landscape.In this immediate locality are many state and municipal parks. We drove to Montana De Oro State Park yesterday. That park, with over 8,000 acres plus seven miles of shoreline, is one of the largest state parks in California. Our goal in going there yesterday was to explore the tide pools. It was fun hiking over the eroded marine terraces on the Bluffs Trail to get to the pools. Over time layers of sedimentary rock have arisen out of the ocean and formed this rocky shoreline.
It was a sunny day with a gorgeous blue sky. We have seen tide pools before, but, when looking into the tide pools here, I am again impressed by all the little life existing in them. We saw lots of hermit crabs and snails moving around in the pools as well as the ever-present sea anemone. Starfish are supposed to be abundant in these tide pools so we looked hard for them, and found a couple.
Even with it being Monday there were quite a few people in the park hiking, biking, and even hang gliding.
From Montana De Oro state park we drove to Pismo state park where a lot of Monarch butterflies are supposed to be hanging out. It is their last stop in their trip from Canada, across the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada range to balmy Pismo Beach. An average of 75,000 come to this location each year. We did not see any massive numbers of them while we were there, apparently most of them have already started to head back north. Several generations of the butterfly are born and die before the trek back is completed.
I  had hopes of snapping a picture of massive numbers of them in flight, but that was not to be. I was able to at least get a shot of a couple of them who sat still  for a few seconds. Most of the time they are actively flitting around!
Yes, there are two butterflies in the pine tree, one is hanging upside down and showing the white underside of his wings. My last picture posted here was taken on our drive back to Murro Bay. It is pretty typical of the scenery which we had been enjoying much of the day.

Monday, February 22, 2010

On the beach at Morro Dunes

The above picture is of the entrance to our current rv park. Off to the left of the little lighthouse is a pink gladiola  which I have been admiring. Yesterday,Saturday, we took a boat ride in the harbor of Morro Bay. Below is another view of Morro rock which I took from the boat (the picture I posted a few days back of the rock was taken near where our home is parked). Morro rock is one of a chain of ancient volcanic peaks which have been dubbed the Nine Sisters. The peaks stretch from San Luis Obispo to the Pacific.
 Today,Sunday,  John worked on getting our taxes done so I spent some time walking on the beach. There are many varieties of gulls around, but I have also seen some sandpipers and many long-billed curlew. The sandpipers are really cute in how they scurry around the beach. They almost move too fast to be seen! I did get a close-up shot of a curlew.
 Currently the harbor is being dredged to remove excess sand. Today, in the area of the beach I was walking, that sand and water was being pumped out. That explained the presence of big black pipes along the shoreline! In the picture of the dunes below you can see that black pipe.
Dumping all that sand and water on the beach does make for a mucky mess- I found that out when I accidentally stepped into it. There was a bulldozer nearby working to spread the sand and water over a wider area of the beach.Hopefully the beach will be better to walk on tomorrow! The sun is also to make its appearance then.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

San Luis Obispo

 This town was founded as a mission in 1772. It grew into a full-fledged town with the completion of the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1894. It was the fifth mission of the 21 founded by Father Serra. Interestingly enough, he chose to build a mission in this area because of the presence of bears. He thought that they would be a source of meat for the mission. There is a fountain right outside of the entrance to the mission which pays tribute to the wildlife and the Mission Chumash Indian that "instilled a spirit and love to the area"(quote is taken from a plaque on the fountain).

 By the time the Mexican government ruled the territory many of the Indians in the mission had been decimated by disease. Not willing to put any money into a failing mission the Mexican government sold it. Various rooms then served as a jail and courthouse. Later, as with many of the missions, the American government gave it back to the Catholic church. Since then this mission has served as a parish church for San Luis Obispo. Over time the city has gradually grown up around it. After we toured the mission John and I took the river walk into the heart of the shopping district. The walk winds along the San Luis Creek and is fairly short in length.
 John does extensive reading before we tour any locality to make sure we do not miss anything. While walking the streets of San Luis Obispo we came upon a building with one of its outside walls plastered with chewing gum.  We paused a minute to look and ponder its significance. I thought of taking a picture, but we then decided that it was just too yucky to think about any further. Turns out that John had slipped up in getting all the low-down on this town. We had passed up Bubblegum Alley without getting a picture! The bubble gum collection had started just after WWII as a San Luis Obispo High graduating event. Some say it started as a tradition between the local high school and Cal Poly University in the 1950s. Whatever its origin, this alley represents tradition and fame, however disgusting it may be to look at. Driving out of town John suddenly decided we should take a side trip to the town of Arroyo Grande.  This beautiful little town has a rope bridge constructed during the 1870s. The Swinging Bridge can still be used by pedestrians today. It was used to bridge the gap between the town's two sections which grew on opposite sides of the river.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Elephant Seals Viewing Site

We took so many pictures at Hearst Castle that I thought it necessary to show a couple more before moving on. The first picture shows some of the the garden design with its terraces and walkways.

Another picture is of the entrance to one of the guest houses. It does look like the type of  homes we saw when we were in southern Spain, but quite more elaborately decorated.
 Our guide for the tour of the Hearst Castle suggested that we drive about four miles north of the castle to look at the elephant seals.  It was not hard to find that particular beach because many people and cars were swarming around that area. There is a viewing platform overlooking this beach from which the seals can be seen. This is a good time to observe the seals because winter is the seal's important time to birth and breed. We saw the pups nursing and the papas doing their courting. It was a noisy place with many different sounds coming from the seals. The adult male has a hollow holler, to me it almost sounded like he is gargling.
 From the pups and females there were a lot of snorts and squawks. The females tended to bunch together and then fuss because they were being crowded.
With all that tension going on there seemed to be a lot of sand flipping, which can be a sign of stress. It was all quite an awesome and fascinating sight. It was also a bit smelly. There were carcasses of some pups who did not survive. Sea gulls seemed to enjoy attacking that meat. John did get a good picture of an adult male. They can weight up to two tons or more.The adult male has an impressive dangling nose- the proboscis that gives elephant seals their name. I think that the female next to him did not appreciate his presence!

Friday, February 19, 2010

William Hearst Castle

A fog horn awoke me this morning, for a minute I thought we were back in Canada where we heard that sound often. I do not expect the weather to be all that great this weekend what with rain coming in this afternoon. Yesterday we took one of the five tours offered at this castle and saw only a very small part of the grounds and estate. Unfortunately, because of the fog, our vision was somewhat  limited of the beautiful countryside surrounding what Hearst called his "Enchanted Hill". That is evident in this picture John took of the Casa Grande, or the main building.
The facade of the Casa Grande was inspired by the Santa Maria la Mayor cathedral in Rhonda Spain. William Hearst toured Europe extensively as a young boy and fell in love with the castles, art and culture which he saw there. His Dad, George Hearst, made his millions as a miner and with his fortunes bought up large portions of land in California. Out of all his land holdings his only son William loved the land which was situated on a crest of the Santa Lucia mountains overlooking the Pacific Ocean. That is where he built his dream castle which became popularly known as San Simeon. He and his architect Julia Morgan collaborated for  27 years on its construction, starting in 1919. The estate eventually came to include the Casa Grande, three guest houses, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, gardens, tennis courts, even an exotic zoo. Below is a picture of the Neptune pool, which was created from various pieces of his vast art collection.
William Hearst received from his father the San Francisco Examiner and after that further enlarged his publishing empire by purchasing other newspapers and magazines. He then expanded into newsreel and movie productions, even forging an alliance with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for about eleven years. Consequently the guest list at his ranch in the 1920s and 1930s included a  fairly impressive group of people which included European royalty, journalists, aviators, politicians, Hollywood celebrities and athletes. Besides wining and dining them well, he also offered such activities as swimming,tennis and billiards. He even had a theater room to run movies. Below is his indoor Roman swimming pool of which every surface is a mosaic of hammered gold and delicate Venetian glass tiles.
One last picture here is of the Refectory, or dining room. It is decorated with vivid Italian racing banners, tapestries, and numerous silver pieces. I think this estate tops anything else we have seen on our travels!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Morro Bay Harbor

We are now parked a bit north of San Luis Obispo in the town of Morro Bay. We left Buelleton with the sun shinning quite brightly on us. Consequently we were quite surprised to be greeted with a thick fog when we drove into the rv park here in Morro Bay. The park is within walking distance of the ocean, so maybe we should not be surprised that it is socked in by fog. It did not seem as thick when we drove into the town of Murro Bay. The town has a population of 10,00 people. Here is a picture of the town looking toward it from the rv park.

We were pleasantly surprised to find out that Morro Bay does have a Lutheran church where we could attend Ash Wednesday services. Pastor Berg and the congregation of Calvary Lutheran were quite welcoming to us. The large rock pictured below can be seen from where we are parked. It seemed fitting to come within such close proximity to it at the beginning of the Lenten season- a sure reminder that Christ is the rock of our salvation! The 576 foot guard stands watch over Morro Bay Harbor. Some have dubbed it "The Gibralter of the Pacific".
From the late 1800's Morro Rock had been used as a source of materials for breakwaters throughout the state. The years of quarrying have forever changed the shape of the monolith, and yet it still covers 50 acres at its base. Fortunately in 1968, after extensive citizen effort, it was declared a State Historical Landmark. It is now a refuge for the Peregrine Falcon and climbing on the rock itself is illegal.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Santa Rosa Park

We just could not leave this area until we tasted the wine products of this area. The movie Sideways has some scenes located on the Santa Rosa road so that was the road we took. We passed by the ostrich farm mentioned in the movie. By the way, there are also llama, alpaca, and miniature pony farms in this valley of the Santa Ynez mountains. The Santa Rosa road has been described in some travel brochures as "bucolic". Below is a common scene on this road. That is cattle on the hillside.
 We did our wine tasting at the Alma Rosa winery, one of the oldest wineries in the area.
No, this is not a joke. Remember I said "one of the oldest"?  The building is certainly not like the wine tasting rooms we saw Sunday- those are more modern and classier. However, we did taste some fine wine at the Alma Rosa. And without the crowds, the staff was able to give us the needed time to understand their different wines. In the movie Miles shows some wine snobbery by describing a wine as having "citrus,strawberry, the faintest soupcon of asparagus and just a flutter of a nutty edam cheese" We can do him one better; we tasted a wine yesterday which the winery describes the essence as being one of "beet roots meets cola".  John and I have a long way to go in learning the science of wine tasting! We did see the movie Sideways again last evening and it is not one we would encourage you to go out and rent. It is typical Hollywood fare, but does have great scenes of the countryside and  good discussions on wine tasting. We ended our afternoon at the Nojoqui Falls County Park. Usually the falls have little to no water flowing over the gorge, but it has rained recently and consequently the falls were awesome to view.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Santa Barbara Wine Country

We started our day Sunday in worship services at the above church, Bethania Lutheran in Solvang. The Danish Lutherans who settled in this town erected this church in 1928. They built the structure by following a photograph of a typical rural church in Denmark. Also, in keeping with the traditions of their homeland, they hung a fully rigged model ship from the ceiling in the nave. It is symbolic of a haven of safety across the waters of life.After church we dined at the Solvang Restaurant in town. A scene from the movie Sideways was filmed there. Actually, in the whole area where we have been touring around in the past few days there have been at least 18 locations that were used for scenes in that movie. A.J. Spurs is another restaurant  in the area where a scene for that movie was shot.
The movie Sideways is a story of Miles (played by Paul Giamatti) and Jack (played by Thomas Haden Church) who go on a wine tasting road trip salute to Jack's final days as a bachelor. The Santa Barbara Wine Country has at least 70 wine tasting room and wineries. I read in the Santa Ynez Valley News this past week that the locals are not too happy with the fact that those places have been increasing in their community. On our drive through the countryside after dinner we saw fields after fields of vineyards. We had no idea which wineries to stop at so we picked a couple places which Miles and Jack chose, all located on Foxen Canyon road. They were the Fess Parker and the Foxen wineries. It seems that the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah are the main grape varietals in this wine country. We certainly picked the wrong day- wine tasting was nearly  impossible because of the many people out. It was Valentines day as well as being a long holiday week-end! We did not even bother wine tasting but just purchased a couple of bottles of wine and left at the Fess Parker wine tasting room. Even if stopping at the wineries was a bust we did enjoy our drive through the scenic countryside. My last picture here is of the Days Inn located in the town of Buellton. It also was a site in the movie Sideways. John and I have seen that movie but certainly want to see it again after having been in this area.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Santa Barbara California

This is a view of the beautiful city of Santa Barbara looking out over the city toward the ocean. Many of the buildings are whitewashed and have red-tiled roofs. We took this picture from the clock tower of the county courthouse. In 1925 a great earthquake ruined much of the city. A bold new courthouse was proposed to inspire the city to rebuild in the dramatic Mediterranean style. The courthouse itself is an architectural wonder and in 20005 was recognized as a National Historic Landmark. It is a fine example of Spanish-Moorish architecture. There are specially designed windows, staircases and balconies. Paintings and brilliant tiles adorn the stairways and walls.The entrance is graced with a Roman-style arch. We were encouraged by the staff to look at the second floor. Here, in the assembly room, large murals depict the history of the county. I wanted to take the stairs down from there, and, as I started down the circular stairway, I found myself outside and descending into a beautiful garden area.
The picture here of a corner of the courthouse shows the clock tower and stairway that opens to the outside. The wonderful smell of that blooming saucer magnolia greeted me as I walked into this garden setting. The plants of the courthouse comprise an outstanding collection of palms and exotic plants from around the world. I am sure there was a lot we missed in touring both the courthouse and the gardens. We should have planned ahead and taken a guided tour. We did take a guided tour at the mission of Santa Barbara.
This is not the original church. The first several buildings were built of adobe, each larger than the other. After the earthquake of 1812 the present church was built. This one was built to withstand earthquakes. It is believed that a master mason  from Mexico was hired to build it. He used drawings form a building erected at the time of the Roman Empire as his guide. Consequently the church is neoclassical in style. Its decorative devises and features were considered appropriate for a temple dedicated to a goddess. The " female" architectural attributes was fitting as this church is dedicated to Santa Barbara. It was completed in 1820. This information was given to us by our Mary, our guide for the tour of the mission. This mission is one of the best preserved of all the missions. It has the original living quarters of the missionaries. In the rooms are some wonderful collections of pottery, baskets and tools used by the Chumash Indians, the first residents of this mission. The church's carved wooden railings, decorative motifs on the ceilings and walls are also very reflective of the native's culture, which for me made it quite an awesome church. Below is a picture of Christ and  Mary Magdalene which is located at the rear of the church. Those two figures impressed me, they seemed so lifelike and Mary is portrayed as a wealthy woman adorned with jewelry.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

La Purisima Mission State Historic Park

This historic site is located near the city of Lompoc. Between 1788 and 1812 the original mission was located on an earthquake fault( where the city of Lumpoc currently is located) and destroyed by an earthquake in 1812. The present mission was moved three miles north and continued for another 20 years until the Mexicans took the land from Spain.
By 1846 little remained of the mission and in the ensuing years it had many owners. In 1934 the mission was donated to the state by the Catholic church. It was the Civilian Conservation Corps (working with the National Park Service and the state) that made the La Purisima Mission the most complete mission restoration project. The mission is a huge complex complete with gardens and animal pens. We could see that it has been well kept up. If we had wanted to do so, there are hiking paths we could have taken up into the nearby hills. Unfortunately there is no shade on those paths so they did  not look too inviting under the afternoon sun. What is sad about this mission is that its future is uncertain. The Governor of California wants to sell it to a private concern (there is plenty of land here to put in a hotel and golf course,heaven forbid). The other rumor I heard is that the Catholic church may buy it back. The last picture I have posted here is of the Indian lavanderia.
There is  a center fountain which, in the 1800s, held filtered water for drinking and cooking. Excess water flowed into two lavenderias which the Indians used for bathing and washing clothes. The Europeans at the mission did not believe in frequent bathing and thought it strange that the Indians did!

Lompoc, California

There is one more street scene of Slovang which I want to post here before leaving that town. It gives the flavor of the Danish influence on area,as seen in this mural on a store's wall.
 Now on to the town of Lumpoc which is located about twenty miles from our home. This town is noted for its numerous murals. We did not even have to search for them. Initially we drove through the center of town and thought we had seen the majority of them. We stopped to make some purchases at a farmer's market and I saw  more murals down a side street. I kept walking and a local resident pointed out others to me. Some have been painted in recent years and others were so old they have started fading. One very large mural caught my eye. It had pictures of the ocean floor with men who were doing some kind of mining. Reading the plaque next to the mural I discovered that the mural celebrated the town's 100 years of diatomaceous mining. John reads very issue of  National Geographic, seems to know everything, so I asked him what was diatomaceous mining. It is the mining of what use to be on the ocean floor, as microscopic marine shells. The final product has many uses;  it can be made into a polishing substance, used in beverage production, and also has a value in medicine. The murals of the town covered other aspects of the town's history as well as scenes of the Santa Ynez Valley in which the town is is located.
Here is a couple of the murals which I saw.
By the way, that is not a real artist on the ladder, he is painted on  the wall. Sissy's cafe is the real deal. We did not stop to eat there, but it is a well known eatery in Lompoc.

Driving out of town we decided to check out Chaotic Exotics, an orchid farm we had passed by earlier in the day. It was closing time for the farm, but its owner was still there and let us in to look at  his orchids.  He has 3,000 square feet of 1,000 different kinds of orchids. I inquired about the cost for one plant (John did say he wanted to purchase flowers for me for Valentine's Day). I was informed that the cost ranges from $25.00 all the way up to $1,000.00! After learning further about their care and that one bloom happens about once a year, I decided that I did not want a orchid all that bad. Maybe if I was in a home that was not always on the move it would not be a bad idea! We also stopped at a lavender farm before heading home. Here we learned how the lavender flower is distilled and made into such products as soaps and lotions. A drop of the oil in  bath water will calm a fussy baby, as well as a  stressed-out adult. Now that is a useful product!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Solvang California

Wednesday we moved our home north. We took the coastal highway 101 winding our way among the foothills of Southern California and through the city of Santa Barbara. Suffice it for me to say it was a beautiful drive, not only with the green beauty of the hills, but also with vistas of the ocean. Along the way we saw orchards of citrus fruit and big fields of strawberries. I am thrilled with the rv resort which is presently our home because from our windows we have a great view of the Santa Ynez mountains. Above I have posted a picture of that view. It is a nice break from the big city. Today we drove into the town of Solvang. This town has one of the last missions founded by the Spanish, Santa Ines in 1804. A picture of the mission is posted below.
We spent most of our day seeing the sights of Solvang. It is a very charming town with a European feel to it. It was settled by Danish immigrants who moved from Iowa at the turn of the 20th century. They were determined to keep the art and culture from their homeland, and that influence can still be seen today in Solvang. Consequently the town is very much into honoring Hans Christian Andersen. We found his statue in one of the city parks- that same bust of him can also be found in his museum located in a book store in the town.
Also in the town is a statue of the little mermaid, a character in one of his stories.
There were two little interesting  facts which I picked up regarding Andersen while touring the museum. The first was that in the 1840s he met the singer Jenny Lind and courted her. Unfortunately she viewed him only like a brother. It was his third unrequited love so he ended up a lonely man. Second, in Denmark, papirklip is the folk art of cutting paper pictures. Andersen was skilled in doing it, so was considered not only to be a writer but also an artist. I enjoyed touring the little museum dedicated to him and his work. Reading about how he came to write many of his stories made me want to read his work again so I purchased a small book of some of his writings.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Historic Sites at L.A. Arboretum

In the previous posting I mentioned these falls which are present in the garden. They are quite beautiful with the foliage and flowers around them. One other item I wish to mention here is that I found an avocado tree in the garden.  It is in the evergreen family and can reach eighty feet in height. I am not sure how I thought avocados grew, but I was surprised to know they grew on a tree! Just like in Hawaii when I discovered there was not a pineapple tree (they grow on a plant).  Traveling does have its educational benefits! There is a Queen Anne cottage located in the gardens. Elias Jackson ( a business man owning hotels and the Santa Anita Racetrack) built the cottage in 1881. He built it as a gift for his fourth wife. They mainly used it for entertaining. There is no kitchen in the home, any cooking was done in an adobe building which is located near the house. Major restoration work was done on the cottage in 1951. The house is opened to the public only a few times a year. However it is possible to see a good deal of the interior just by looking in the windows. A picture of the house is posted below. Also in this historic area of the gardens is a coach barn and an old train depot.

The back of the house faces Baldwin Lake, which I wrote about in yesterday's posting. As I was enjoying the view by the lake I noticed a couple of wood ducks sitting on rocks near me. Since they seemed so willing to pose, I snapped a picture of them.
The gardens also have peacocks running around. We had the opportunity to see one male do a courtship dance with his colorful feathers fanned out. The dance amounted to what seemed to be a  intense shivering of his whole body. Of course, once the female peacocks around him strolled away, he stopped his amorous activities. After we left the gardens John wanted to view some snow capped mountains. We headed into the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. Traveling that much further made it a late day for us but it was worth the trip.