Saturday, April 08, 2006

Carrizo Plain to Lucia, the long way 'round

Campsite on a ridge high above the Pacific, near Lucia, California. Fog is just rolling in.

Camped on a ridge in Los Padres National Forest, high above the Pacific, a few miles off the Nacimiento-Ferguson Road. It's a flat clearing on a stony promontory. Fog surrounds me and blankets the forest below, but above, a waxing gibbous moon shines brightly.

Before sunset, and the fog, only a stream in the canyon below, a few birds and distant jets could be heard. Now, only the occasional jets above. All else is quiet.

The ocean is about 2,000 feet below


Up this morning at 6:30 after an uncomfortable, restless night on the Carrizo Plain. Two ravens sounded the alarm. Looked out to see them at their nest, what looked like a heap of large twigs, on a nearby power pole. It was cold! Tried to wait for the sun to bring some warmth, but I heard a couple of vehicles pass and I didn’t want to be discovered by rangers. (I was not in a designated campground.)

Packed up the dew-covered tent and crawled out of the brush before anyone else happened by. The road is in good shape, with little washboard or dust. Stopped to take photos of a landscape with no trace of humans.

Carrizo Plain

Out in one of my favorite places, the Carrizo Plain, California

There are indeed places you can go in California and still be alone! Well, almost.
A young ranger approached in his pick-up. He asked me to move to the side of the road when stopping. “I know this is a low-traffic area," he said "but people don’t tend to pay attention in low-traffic areas.” (I wondered what research had supported that statement.)

Carrizo Plain (with motorcycle dutifully moved to the side of the heavily-traveled road)

At California Valley, I turned west toward Santa Margarita. Exquisite country - the best of the best! How wonderful it would be to own a small vineyard here and work the land. (The only problem is, there are too many vineyards! Not the only problem, really. There's a little question of money too.)

Reaching U.S. 101, I "deviated" south to San Luis Obispo simply to visit the "Apple Farm Restaurant". They have perhaps the best strawberry waffle you’re going to find anywhere! Fresh strawberries and whipped cream, real maple syrup, great homemade sausage and good coffee. It's worth the usually-modest wait to be seated.

The restaurant's very well-run. Today, in exchange for filling out the customer survey, they're handing out free fresh-baked cookies! In the bathroom, a sign explains that they recycle the hotel's laundry water to flush toilets. Impressive.

Returned to Santa Margarita to see if I could find the "Santa Margarita Ranch" that Robert Mondavi developed and farmed. The vineyard was widely acknowledged as an environmentally-responsible (as much as agriculture can be) project. I found it along the road to Santa Margarita Lake, in a gorgeous valley. Pulled up to the vineyard's vehicle shop, but no one was around to talk to. Went to the end of the road to see the lake. It's a not very attractive artificial lake.

Near Santa Margarita, California, the valley oaks are just leafing out

As I drive this country, I feel wonderfully free to explore, yet not so free to stop. Everything's okay, as long as you "keep moving". The gates and fences and "no trespassing" signs reinforce the perception. If you're not a property-owner, you are really nothing. (What a rare feeling of freedom, out on the fenceless plains of Argentina, even if they were private lands!)

I feel displaced. And the only way to overcome this is to become a property owner. Of course, this is the "American Dream". Home ownership. A place you won't be forced to vacate. We don't really talk about those for whom the American dream is unattainable. For many, there is no place to really call home. These are the truly disenfranchised.

Refueled in Paso Robles. The "weekend warriors" were out in force, crowds of Harleys on 101 today. A group was taking a break at the station. There is a "meeting" up in San Jose, I'm told. A guy on a Japanese "crotch rocket" decided to show off, running alongside his bike and revving the engine, then jumping on as it headed out into traffic. ("Get me out of this place!")

At Bradley, I took the Jolon Road turn-off and drove northwest toward Fort Hunter-Liggett (formerly Camp). There was a bicycle rally taking place along this (I thought remote) road. More vineyard country. Big operations. Scheid Vineyards appears to be one of the biggest out here. It's not one I'm familiar with, but obviously a supplier to major wineries.

Reached the Fort Hunter-Liggett boundary. The last time I was here, there was no gate. Now a barricaded, guarded gate controls access to the land. There was a small line-up of vehicles. I heard the guard ask for current license, registration and insurance. ("Would one of three work?") There's no way they were going to let me in. My new registration is in a box of mail in Santa Rosa, and my insurance has long ago lapsed.

When it was my turn, I asked if this road goes through to Lucia on Highway 1. She said Highway 1 is closed due to slides. So it was a moot point. "Plan B" became: take another of my favorite roads from Greenfield to Arroyo Seco, through Carmel Valley to Carmel and the Coast Highway. Up the road in Santa Lucia, I stopped at the entrance to Delicato’s sprawling vineyard. There was a sign to the “Purchasing Shop”. Tempted to go see just what a "Purchasing Shop" is, but...I didn't.

In Greenfield, a billboard advertised "Niño Homes at Arroyo Seco - 5 miles." "Oh, no! They've started to develop Arroyo Seco!" Arroyo Seco is a dramatic river canyon in the Coast Range. The riverbed has carved through the valley floor, and now meanders between sheer mesa-like cliffs.

At the entrance to the canyon, a cluster of custom homes sit on a barren mountainside. I guess the shopping center will come later. Up the valley, there are many vineyards on the bench where pastures used to be.

Carmel Valley is as beautiful as ever. Things are slow to change there. Turned left at Highway 1, curious how far south along the coast I might get, before being turned back by a landslide.

Carved into steep, rocky cliffs, hundreds of feet above the Pacific, it takes an enormous effort to keep Highway 1 open. There clearly have been many slides this winter. Beneath unstable mountainsides, it requires a lot of guts, or a complete fool to operate the heavy equipment clearing this roadway.

Refueled in Big Sur and asked an attendant about the road ahead. He said the highway is open. ("So the 150-mile detour wasn't really necessary? Well, the Army wasn't going to let me cut through Hunter-Liggett anyway.")

South of Big Sur, near Lucia, California. The last time I saw the Pacific was near Max's "Luminojos" in Chile.

South of Lucia, I turned inland. This road, which crosses the Coast Range to Hunter-Liggett, is now paved. Not quite the same "adventure" it once was. But at the crest of the mountains, high above the ocean, trails take off north and south. Motorcycles aren’t permitted on the north trail, so I turned south.

Crawled along the ridge-top trail, maneuvering across ruts and wash-outs, up and down steep rocky slopes. It was, finally, a little challenge. About 5 miles south, I came to a nice, flat pullout. Normally, I wouldn't camp in such an "obvious" spot, but there was clearly no one around. Set up the tent, then cooked some Thai noodles. The fog swept up the coastal canyons and hovered all around. Nothing to do but get in the tent. It quickly turned damp and cold.


priscilla said...

Where are you going now?

timtraveler said...

Oh, wherever I end up, I guess.