Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Hearst and Denali

One of the reasons I began this trip so many days in advance of the conference was that, in addition to the novel research, I wanted to do a few things in California that I might not be able to schedule, now that Debra has returned to Texas. While she was in Malibu, we made several California trips a year. But, in all those trips, there were a few things I never got to do, like check on San Andreas Lake, or visit the Hearst Castle. Traveling with other people means adjusting your priorities to match. So, after driving the 120, and seeing the San Andreas lake, I drove the last stretch of highway 1 that I had missed.

In previous trips, Mary Ann and I had traveled the coast road from Seattle to San Diego, with one exception. Due to scheduling, we had never taken the section from San Francisco to Monterrey. It was always more important to get on a faster highway to meet some deadline in L.A. So this time, I took it.

The traffic was heavy, and while scenic, it wasn't anything more dramatic than what we had viewed on other sections. There was a nice photogenic lighthouse, and there were lots of windsurfers of various technologies, but if I had to do it again, I just might skip this section.

South was the Big Sur section of the highway, and I won't willingly bypass those high cliffs and long sea vistas. However, this time, the summer traffic was horrible. I was almost ready to chalk this time up as a failed experience, but daylight ran out and I found a nice section of cliff and parked for the night. Once the light went away, and the traffic dwindled, the charm of the place came back. The fog rolled in and I listened to the surf crashing below.

And then the seals called. I hopped up, grabbed my night-vision binoculars and, carefully, went to the edge of the cliff. I scanned the water below, but I couldn't see them. But, there was another sight that kept me watching. The surf crashing on the rocks growed. It was quite distinctive in the night-vision, but once I let my eyes dark-adapt, I could see it well enough without them. Luminescent plankton, I've been told. In any case, it was an entrancing sight.

Dawn came, with thick fog, and I drove on south to the Whale Watcher's Cafe. I had to park there until they opened, but I had a nice omelette and a chat with the gas station attendant. This place, from time to time, has the highest priced gas in the nation. Today, it was $4.09. We talked about how people reacted and he gave me a couple of examples. From the motorcyclist who bought $10 of gas and wanted to file a complaint, to the Englishman who put 56 gallons in his RV with a smile, and then tipped the attendant $10. Personally, I had filled up earlier, not wanting an empty tank so far from any other station. I just like to check the pump price for entertainment value.

Farther on south was another item on my list, the Hearst Castle. I had seen the movie Citizen Kane back in my early twenties and had always wanted to tour the real life estate that had been portrayed in the movie.

However, I stopped first at the Elephant Seal viewpoint. They are my favorites. This time of year the massive solitrary males were out in the surf, bellowing their calls that could be heard for a mile or so. The females were in packs on beaches a half-mile or so away. I watched and listened while I made a call home to check in with Mary Ann.

After that, I drove up to the Hearst Castle, now a California State park. I didn't even get out of the car. All that Big Sur traffic from yesterday, and more still from down south, had all arrived here, and I knew that I would have no luck taking a tour this time. What's sad was that the fog had turned into low clouds, and even in the parking lot, I could see nothing of the castle itself, just the fancy modern visitor center. It reminded me of our trip to Alaska, when we went to Mt. Mackinley National Park and although we were there for days, we never saw the largest mountain in North America, called Denali, because it was constantly shrouded in clouds.

So, I came back to the viewpoint and am quite content to watch the surf, and the seals. Hearst Castle can wait for another day.

1 comment:

Chris Nystrom said...

That is cool. I would love to visit Hearst Castle.