December 1, 2010

10.11.18-10.11.27 .... Central California Road Trip

Sally and I wanted to try an ambitious road trip this Thanksgiving and see some new territory. This will be the longest post of the year by far - it was the longest road trip of the year!

So after some carefully checking of weather forecasts, we left Thursday night, November 18th - destination - somewhere in California! We wanted to see some sequoias or redwoods, maybe the seacoast or some desert areas or views of the Sierras from Highway 395 near Lone Pine.

A quick chronological summary - then some pictures!

Note that in some cases the mileage represents lots of side sightseeing excursions - not the shortest distance between these towns.

Night Zero: 205 miles. Erie, Colorado to Rifle, Colorado via I-70.

Day 1: Rifle, Colorado to Barstow, California via I-70, then I-15. Our longest drive day ever. 722 miles! Barstow is the first decent (that's being kind) overnight stop after passing Las Vegas and entering California. The alternative would have been to stay in St. George, Utah - but we felt fresh and pushed on through the desert night.

Day 2: 250 miles. Barstow to Paso Robles. We drove from the Mojave Desert across oak-covered hills, then west across the rich agricultural lands of the southern Central Valley. Paso Robles is not far from the coast in a wine vineyard area.

Day 3: 60 miles. Paso Robles to Morro Bay. From Paso Robles we drove to Pismo Beach for our first ever look at the Pacific Ocean and saw wonderful Monarch butterflies, then we drove a short distance up the coast to see Morro Bay where we overnighted.

Day 4: 120 miles. Morro Bay to Big Sur. Driving the dramatic Pacific Coast Highway 1. At Big Sur, the landscape changes dramatically and briefly to a rain forest with redwoods.

Day 5: 30 miles. Big Sur to Carmel. Continuing our drive up Highway 1 in foggy, rainy weather, we stopped at the fantastic Point Lobos State Reserve which we had virtually to ourselves in the rain. Then a few miles to Carmel for lunch and a walk around, found a motel - booked for the night - and returned to Point Lobos for afternoon photos.

Day 6: 220 miles. Carmel to Exeter. Our last day on the coast, we spent all morning at Point Lobos, then a big drive east and south across the Central Valley to the little town of Exeter which was near Sequoia National Park which we planned to see the next day. Exeter is in a rich fruit and nut growing area - orange trees everywhere.

Day 7: 160 miles. Exeter to Tehachapi. Since the weather forecast was ominous for day 10 (Sunday) this was going to have to be the last day of sightseeing - now we needed to get all the way home on day 9! Drove into Sequoia National Park to see some giant trees - going from orange groves to snowy roads needing tire chains in just a few miles! Then a long drive south down the Central Valley to edge of the Mojave Desert, arriving at Tehachapi just after dark. We felt the road to Barstow was just too problematic to manage in the dark.

Day 8: 650 miles. Tehachapi, California to Green River, Utah. A huge driving day - we really needed to get to Green River (a very isolated location) in order to make the last day a reasonable one - to cross Vail Pass early enough in the day to avoid the Saturday ski traffic.

Day 9: 370 miles. Green River, Utah to Erie, Colorado. Good weather and a prompt morning departure, let us get home with lots of daylight to spare. Maddie the cat was SO glad to see us!

On Day 1, We saw a beautiful mural inside a Maverick gas station near St. George, Utah.

Day 2. Traveling on Highway 58 near Keene, California we saw a very pretty area of oak tree covered hills. Only a few minutes ago we were on the edge of the bleak Mojave Desert.

Day 3. Be sure to click the photo to view this larger. Monarch Butterflies cluster for the winter in a tiny grove of huge sweet-smelling eucalyptus trees at Pismo Beach State Park. Very easy to see and admire. Volunteer naturalists give talks and help the crowds of visitors appreciate this remarkable annual event. This was one of the highlights of our trip. I've seen many monarch butterflies, but never more than one or two a day. There were hundreds! A telephoto zoom lens really helps for photography as the big clusters are at least 20 feet overhead. I used a 70-300mm. An 80-400mm would have been even better.

Day 3. Morro Bay is an interesting place with big surf, amazing huge Morro Rock, a big ugly power plant and is apparently one of the few places one can view sea otters from a reasonably close distance. Your only chance of a good photo is to be patient, use the most powerful lens you have, and hope they swim reasonably close. The otter photo is a substantially cropped photo using a zoom lens at the 300mm setting. I'd go there again to spend a couple of days watching the sea otters. We saw otters at Point Lobos, but they were MUCH further away - just tiny dots.

Day 4. Hearst Castle from the visitor center. We weren't particularly interested in paying $24 each for a tour of this. The hundreds of other tourists on a blustery winter day did NOT share our lack of enthusiasm.

Day 4. North of San Simeon, massive kelp beds are common.

Day 4. One of the nicest views, the Big Creek Bridge is in the distance.

Day 4. The elegant lines of the Rocky Creek Bridge.

Day 4. McWay Falls pours into the ocean. A view from the road's edge. Would be great to spend time making a carefully planned photo. No time for that today!

Day 4. Click to view larger! Someone built a home in an incredible place on a Big Sur cliff!

Day 4. As you enter Big Sur from the south, you will see this bakery/cafe/art gallery/garden/gas station.

Day 4. The little business has an incredible garden of succulents.

Day 4. And a pretty nice outdoor/indoor art gallery.

Day 4. And the most expensive gasoline in the USA.

Day 4. Driving along the California coast along Highway 1 , the Pacific Coast Highway, from Morro Bay to Big Sur. The initial portion from Morro Bay to San Simeon gives hints of the fine vistas still to come. The Hearst Castle is a major tourist attraction, a well marketed monstrosity. We gave that a miss.

North of San Simeon the road turns into a winding visual treat, especially if you are traveling north on a winter afternoon as we were. Several hours of marvelous and world famous views on this incredible (narrow) road. Not for night driving, big vehicles, bad weather or the acrophobic, it is a spectacular drive, a must-see. The best portions are the portions near the famous concrete span bridges. Before the bridges were built in the 1930s, this area was inaccessible.

The hamlet of Big Sur was nestled in a dense redwood grove and seemed dark and damp even during the day. Very different from the sunny, windy coastline we had seen. Lodging was expensive and had been hard to locate. Luckily it was off-season, cold, and damp - probably scared the tourists away. The only evidence of tourism interest were the Loma Vista Big Sur Bakery and Cafe and a few roadside inns/restaurants. The residents like their privacy!

Day 5. We stayed at this old roadside inn in Big Sur. It was built of redwood logs in the 1930s.

Day 5. Behind the inn was a thick carpet of leaves and redwood needles.

Day 5. The Big Sur moisture creates a garden around the red Buddha.

Day 5. Point Lobos entrance station.

Day 5. The start of the Cypress Grove trail.

Day 5. Kevin and Sally on the Cypress Grove trail.

Day 5. A view from the Cypress Grove Trail.

Day 5. Another view from the Cypress Grove Trail.

Day 5. Sally called this a "fairy forest". In the mist,it was magical.

Day 5. Orange lichen in the "fairy forest".

Day 5. Closeup of the orange lichen.

Day 5. The rain stopped in the afternoon and after lunch we returned for more Point Lobos exploration.

Day 5. Sea lions on their rocky home.

Day 5. Surf and sea lions.

Day 5. Sea life: starfish, kelp, and a hungry seal.

Day 5. An egret hunts for a meal.

Day 5. Walking about the quaint and elegant village of Carmel.

Day 5. Even the sidewalk looks impeccable.

Day 5. Fancy shops and galleries everywhere.

Day 5. Nico, the restaurant owner lured us inside with his European accent and polished charisma.

Day 5. A $15 burger and hot chocolate at Nico's cafe.

Day 5. The magic of off-season let us stay here in downtown Carmel for under $100 a night. King bed, fireplace in room, heated pool - what a deal!

Day 5. Big Sur to Carmel. We woke up after a sound sleep in a rustic inn in Big Sur. The morning weather was damp, foggy, and cold with rain expected all day. That's why there was moss everywhere in Big Sur and why the Coastal Redwoods grow there!

The fog along the coast meant no reason to stop and gawk. So we drove briskly ahead to the most anticipated destination of our trip, Point Lobos State Reserve, on of the iconic locations of the nature photography world.

We arrived at Point Lobos just after 9AM in a light rain. Perfect conditions for photography if we could keep rain off lenses! The gloomy rain meant we had this world famous place almost to ourselves. Point Lobos, "Point of the Wolves", is named for the great herds of California Sea Lions that the Spanish explorers called Sea Lions, Sea Wolves). The Sea Lions lounge about on the rocks far from shore. But you can heard their loud barking, bellowing quite clearly.

Point Lobos is very carefully protected and supervised. Even though it means that many great photo vantage points used by great artists of the past are off limits now (guide ropes and paved trails are everywhere), it is still a very satisfying place to visit. Under the right conditions and light, fine photos are still possible. In many places, the trail follows the edges of cliffs, pay close attention to where you put your feet! Six miles of excellent trails, pounding surf, wildlife and birds, twisted cypress trees, and bright orange lichen. It is a very special place, a must see for anyone interested in nature and the outdoors.

Tired of rain, we drove to Carmel for lunch and a walkabout. We even found a reasonably priced inn and then returned for late afternoon light at Point Lobos.

Day 6. We liked Point Lobos so much, we returned for a few hours before leaving the Carmel area. We spotted many Townsend's Warblers on one trail. Fast moving little guys, I was quite fortunate to get 1 good photo.

Day 6. Some of the trails at Point Lobos snake around amazing coves, high above the water.

Day 6. As you drive across the Central Valley, you occasionally find huge fruit stands that are major tourist attractions.

Day 6. Grapes displayed in an old pickup truck.

Day 6. Artichokes.

Day 6. Even fruit packaging was displayed as art.

Day 6. Carmel to Exeter. Mainly a big travel day in order to see Sequoia National Park on Day 7. After a sound sleep at the Carmel Best Western, we decided to visit Point Lobos instead of going to do anything else on the Monterey Peninsula. Had a fine time walking on some different trails that wound around cliffs and coves. We saw beautiful warblers, a seal or two, and many more egrets. Glad we brought binoculars.

Then after buying some sandwiches and gasoline around noon, we drove the shortest way possible, across and down the Central Valley on big highways to our pre-determined destination of Exeter, the nearest Best Western to Sequoia National Park. We arrived at Exeter just at nightfall.

Day 7. Exeter, California murals.

Day 7. A newspaper publishing mural on the side of the newspaper building.

Day 7. The artist glued an actual wrench on the mural to give a 3-D effect.

Day 7. The best mural is probably this amazing orange picking scene.

Day 7. Some detail from above.

Day 7. Heading for the park, the snow-capped peaks can be seen over the citrus grove.

Day 7. The giant sequoias make our car feel as tiny as an ant.

Day 7. The Giant Forest museum beneath the big trees.

Day 7. As we head down the winding road to exit the park, snow-capped rugged peaks are plainly visible.

Day 7. Waking up in Exeter, a small but thriving community in the citrus capital of the Central Valley, we decided to check out the recently done murals that we had heard about on the town's Wikopedia page. They turned out to be quite beautiful. We had the downtown area to ourselves, all shops closed, as it was Thanksgiving day.

After a quick look we headed smartly out of town towards Sequoia National Park, the park entrance about 25 miles from Exeter. We passed orange and lemon groves, olive orchards. Amazingly the snow-capped mountains of the National Park could be seen in the distance. We were going to be in that snow using tire chains in a few hours!

Into the park with the required tire chains (rented-what a hassle) we drove on a dramatically steep paved road with frequent switchbacks and hairpin turns. Soon we were on an icy snow-packed road in an amazing forest of massive sequoias. A very popular place, lots of tourists were doing just like us, even on Thanksgiving. We even saw a skinny bobcat and a fat black bear.

After leaving the park, we drove as far as we could retracing our steps towards Barstow. We were tired of driving at Tehachapi, where we spent Thanksgiving night. Only 2 days left to drive the 1000 miles to home. The sightseeing part of the trip was essentially over.

Day 8. Just south of Tehachapi on the edge of the Mojave Desert are many steep hills covered with wind turbines. Photo made through the window of our fast moving car!

Day 8. In the Mojave, at Kramer Junction is the world's largest solar energy power plant. Built here because this is the sunniest spot in the United States. Another photo from the car.

Day 8. Tehachapi to Green River, Utah. Lots of 80 mph driving across the California and Nevada desert, the corner of Arizona and then into the Utah mountains. Lots of caffeine pushed us to Green River, Utah late at night. We stayed at the River Terrace Inn, good reviews on Trip Advisor. We liked it and highly recommend it for your Green River stopovers. If you road trip in Utah, Green River is in a very strategic spot for overnight stays.

Day 9. River Terrace Inn in Green River, Utah.

Day 9. Green River to Erie, Colorado - home!

No comments:

Post a Comment