Big Sur Camp Trip

A three-day camping trip south to Morro Bay, San Simeon, and Cambria, this past week with the wife, to get a good look at the Big Sur coast while the days are still sunny and bright. The first day we experienced unusually heavy wind. The meteorologist we follow in Monterey said the isobars would be stacking up close to each other, which causes these radical pressure gradients, resulting in strong wind. We stopped several times while driving south to take in long views of the white-capped sea and plunging cliffs. Driving the camper in this kind of wind made me nervous when going around sharp curves. Who knows what strong gust might pick up the whole rig and scoot it over a few feet? Especially when these mountainous lanes are so narrow, with very little wiggle room and giant motor homes coming in the opposite direction.

We arrived in Morro in the late afternoon as the sun was lowering near Morro Rock. I have never seen this kind of crazy wind inside the boat harbor.

Outside, to the north, on the open coast, many times, but not in here. But I don’t go to Morro often enough, so I am sure this iconic coastal village receives as much pounding as the rest of the coast. We ate dinner–grilled fish and chips–in one of the old-time restaurants along the north end of the dock. The fish was fresh and locally caught, we were told, and quite tasty. We would be camping that night in the mountains near Hearst Castle, and were reluctant to return north to our camp spot because of the chill of this strong wind.

Just before dark we pulled into our spot and discovered that we had picked an area with good shelter from the elements. The wife went to bed early, the wind and the drive doing her in for the day, while I sat out under evening stars with my portable campfire. From here, when all is dark, I can see the Milky Way so clearly.

Up early, cooking breakfast and walking around the campground, the morning quickly warmed when the sun came up over the Santa Lucia Mountains, and no wind. We would be driving north, back home, today, once again through the Big Sur coast. It is such a familiar ritual to view this special place on earth, where these vertical cliffs drop for what must be a thousand feet. We stop once beneath Hearst Castle at San Simeon to watch a herd of zebras come close to the highway and pose for curious tourists who have also pulled over and whipped out their cameras. For a few moments I cannot help but feel that I am on safari on a far away continent.

We do not go visit the castle every time we come down this coast. The Hearst family donated William’s castle to the state of California many years ago, such that it is now part of the California state park system. They charge some $25 for each of the several tours. We spent our extra money this time on dinner on the waterfront, so perhaps next time we will take the castle tour once again. It is quite a spectacle. Hearst was one of the richest and most influential people in the world and enjoyed showing off. The indoor golden swimming pool may be the most opulent touch to the castle, but the art treasures and antique European furniture that decorates the massive rooms is something one cannot see anywhere else in America.

We spotted several flocks of wild turkeys along San Simeon Creek Road, as we drove up into the low mountains near the castle. The dry grass of autumn provided them with no place to hide from our view, as we watched them run and try to disappear from our sight. On up the main highway we had seen a herd of elk just the day before, perhaps a hundred of them, but today they had wandered from our view.

We had assumed that they would be waiting along the road for us to come admire them, but we got that notion all wrong.

In the mid-afternoon we pulled into Big Sur State Park and found a camping spot on the edge of a thick grove of redwood trees. We cooked, had an evening fire, and listened to the sounds of the forest. The river that customarily comes raging through here has nearly gone dry. The drought of last winter has yet to be broken, so the flows we expect are currently only trickles.

I had a bad case of indigestion that evening and was without my antacid tablets, so I stayed awake most of the night with such an angry stomach. I had wandered off my vegetarian regiment by eating a barbecued steak. What a mistake!  I felt like I had swallowed a gallon of battery acid. At 3 AM I sat out under the stars and studied more of the Milky Way, when I really could have used that time for sleeping.

The last leg of our trip, before returning home to Santa Cruz county, was a quick tour of the Monterey Peninsula, including a drive through Carmel, Pacific Grove, Cannery Row, and Monterey. We stopped on Point Pinos in Pacific Grove for an hour or two, so that I could get in a power nap and so that we could cook and eat, as my wild stomach was now settling down and inquiring about food.

We could see smoke mixed in with fog on the Monterey Bay and wondered if a fire had broken out in the Santa Cruz Mountains. We would learn later, however, that the smoke had drifted here from over a hundred miles away, from a hay fire near Sacramento. The fire was only ten acres in size. Burning hay must produce a lot of smoke.

In another hour we were home, and wishing the trip had been longer. The next time we retrace this route it will all look different. That’s what makes us want to keep coming back.

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