Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Betabel, Monterey, Carmel and Big Sur

"Betabel" is the Spanish word for sugarbeet and that is the name of the campground we're calling home these days. Right smack in the heart of this California "salad bowl" there are dozens of vegetable stands along the roads. Our campground is in San Juan Bautista, California, north of Salinas, south of Gilroy (Garlic Capitol), on US 101.

Betabel RV Park is pleasant and comfortable. Our site has trees on both sides, giving shade throughout the day even though the temperatures haven't been hot enough to worry about it.

I like it here and would stay on longer except that we've already made reservations for the next stop at a campground that is reluctant to make changes.  In a few days we'll be moving along.

Day trips made for more beautiful California coastal sights of which we never tire.  Our car often takes on the look of a rolling dumpster though as we carry the dogs, coolers, bags of food, blankets, extra jackets (you never know when you'll need 'em). The rear compartment is already loaded with bicycles, a dog stroller and a dog bike cart.  Reminds me that I'll need to tackle that job later today...


Locals call this the "bay area" but it actually is the "central coast" and there are lots of sea otters, harbor seals and bottlenose dolphin here.

The Monterey Bay area is along the migratory path of grey and humpback whale and it's another breeding area for elephant seals, but we saw none of these mammals the day we visited.  Certainly nothing could compare to the thousands of elephant seals we'd seen at the San Simeon Rookery.

Monterey Bay
Cannery Row

Novelist John Steinbeck drew inspiration from his life's events around Monterey's Cannery Row where the lowly sardine is honored.

We stopped for an outside patio lunch in Pacific Grove the day of our coastal tour. Wayne's fish tacos were much tastier than my fish and chips, which were, I think, Gorton's from the box with fries cooked in the same oil. Oh well, it happens sometimes. 

The Monterey peninsula drive along Oceanview and Sunset Drives to Spanish Bay brought some nice scenery of rocky shoreline, wildflowers, parks and pretty skies with fog in the distance.

Our attempt to drive around Pebble Beach and perhaps get a glimpse of "The Lone Pine" from 17 Mile Drive was thwarted by a toll booth where we turned around instead of paying the $10 fee they collect from non-resident vehicles.  There's plenty to see without it so we moved along to Carmel.


I don't remember the name of this little Carmel area municipal park/beach but we took Lexie and Ozzie for a little walk here. Ozzie loved running in the sand, even on the leash. Lexie was afraid of the crowds of people, especially the children.

Wayne and Lexie

Lexie and Ozzie are always ready for a picture,
Kelp grows in abundance here, like that we saw in the water from the wharf at Morro Bay. They call it a "kelp forest".  Views from directly above down into pools like the one in the picture below clearly shows why.

A cove in Carmel.
Point Lobos State Reserve was on Wayne's list of places to explore but we were turned away as we had Lexie and Ozzie with us. Dogs are not allowed in this reserve...even if they stay in the car. Dad-gum-it.

Big Sur Coastal Drive

The ride along Cabrillo Highway (CA 1) from Carmel all the way south to San Simeon is known as Big Sur. Local publications call it "The Greatest Meeting of Land and Sea" and I certainly agree. Here are a few pictures...

View of Granite Canyon Bridge (1932) and seashore
Bixby Bridge (1932) and seashore.
Someone died in a car crash off this bridge a few months ago.
Reinforces my fear of bridges and this one was especially difficult for me. 
South of Bixby Bridge, looking back. 
Bixby Bridge, about twelve miles south of Carmel, is one of the world's highest single-span concrete arch bridges.  It is 279 feet high and 714 feet long. Big Sur tourist information says, "Its beauty is matched only by the ocean waves crashing on the rocky coastline below". I'm sure it gets its share of photos taken too.

Point Sur

Point Sur is currently a Coast Guard station but for many years it served as a light station. The last lighthouse keeper family vacated the property in 1974.  A great navigational hazard, Point Sur was without a lighthouse at all until August 1889. 

Point Sur is the rock at the end of the land (far right).
This picture was taken from several miles away.
The U.S.C.G. Station, lighthouse and other buildings can barely been seen here. 

From what I've read, shipwrecks were uncommon at Point Sur but a few were lost there. While shipwrecks resulted in the loss of life and revenue, they were a somewhat bittersweet happening for Big Sur coastal inhabitants.  Shipwrecked cargo floated eventually to the shoreline bringing much needed supplies. Big Sur was not an easily accessible place, after all.

Perhaps the most spectacular wreck here was in February 1935. The aircraft carrying airship U.S.S. Macon crashed from wind shear in a storm. Fortunately, of the 83 persons aboard, all but two were rescued.

The day of our trip we didn't even know about the Lighthouse, Coast Guard Station or the history of this piece of land.  I looked it up online later that evening. The Point Sur website is worth checking for the details and a video.

Big Sur: The Greatest Meeting of Land and Sea

Highway 1, the Cabrillo Highway along this stretch of coast is designated an American National Scenic Byway. The Santa Lucia Mountains drop dramatically into the Pacific providing spectacular vistas.

Our ride that day took us almost 30 miles south along the coast. Then, without warning, we found ourselves deep in California Redwoods and the town of Big Sur.  Not much there... but it is truly an outdoorsman's paradise.

Redwoods along the roadside in Big Sur (the town) 

Santa Lucia Mountain 

Making Friends 

This weird looking school bus was parked at a turn-around spot just north of the town of Big Sur. The couple in the photo had also stopped here and we joked with them about which of us should buy it.

I never even asked their name but we enjoyed a nice conversation and learned they are on holiday from Cornwall in the UK. They said California's coastal weather was much like what they have at home. They are traveling south to many of the same places we've been on this trip (yes, recommended they give a stop in at Morro Bay).  Their flight back to England will leave from Las Vegas. Hope they don't pick up a flu bug there like we managed to do.

I broke my rule about not taking a second photo in case someone's eyes were closed. 
And with "goodbyes" to these anonymous new friends, we turned the car northward and headed back to the campground.

Another day we visited Santa Cruz which didn't "move" us and then the tiny town of Capitola which we did like but didn't photograph, unfortunately.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Salinas Valley: Salad Bowl of the World!

So we left Morro Bay and continued our northward travel.  From the coast we took CA 41 east to Atascadero. There we returned to US 101 where we traveled through one of California's most productive agricultural regions, the Salinas Valley.  The John Steinbeck's story Of Mice and Men, among others, was set here with the valley itself providing the story backdrop.

Strawberries being picked

Under the canopy: Raspberries
In the field: Some type of young leafy green

As I've noted other times, particularly as we've traveled in the great southwest, I am amazed at the enormity of agricultural -- not just the fields, but the ancillary services that make up this whole food growing process.

This is a beautiful place -- we've clearly escaped parched southern California.  I love seeing the straight rows of crops going for great distances as we drive by.


I think these are berries (black or rasps)

Promoters of the Salinas Valley region refer to as "The Salad Bowl of the World" because the greatest majority of salad greens consumed in the United States come from this area.  We passed enormous fields of broccoli, cauliflower, celery, spinach, lettuce, artichoke and tomatoes. Other things too, but I couldn't recognize them.

We passed a hand painted vegetable stand sign advertising 7 grapefruit or 7 avocado or 7 artichoke for $1. We should have stopped but couldn't.  It's not easy to stop this 45,000 pound, 65 foot train.

There were also great fields of raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and many, miles of beautiful hillside grapevines.

I get hungry just thinking of this place.... 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Great Electrical Scare

Our visit to Morro Bay lasted ten days.  There were about three unseasonably hot days and with meager 30 amp campground power service, we were happy to see cool temperatures return.  The local seafood had been delightful and I enjoyed walking down the street to the farmers market held every Saturday afternoon. Morro Bay is on my list of good places to visit for sure.

A few frightful minutes were had on Sunday afternoon when an electrical problem developed in the power lines above where we walked the dogs -- just outside the campground gate.  I felt a buzzing in my hair and looked up to see a blue electrical charge running along a power line.  The charge reached the point of blaze and then a thunderous boom occurred.  Someone said that was St. Elmo's Fire..... Within seconds, it all started again and then over and over and over.

I gathered Lexie and Ozzie into my arms and took the long way back to the coach. The electrical sizzles and booms kept coming. A crowd gathered to watch and among them I saw Wayne who had heard the sound and gone to look for us.  The sizzling and booming kept on until the power company arrived, shut down power and made the repair -- 2-3 hours I think it took.


The worst of it all, however, was the effect this incident had on Ozzie, who is easily frighted by sound.  The remaining seven days of our stay, Ozzie simply would not return to that area.  Doing "doggie business" became a bit of a problem as he would only go among the campers -- a practice not appreciated by others, I'm sure, even though we promptly "scooped the poop".

We won't likely forget that event for quite awhile.

Awww, I can't post a picture of Ozzie and not post a picture of sweet Lexie....

Lexie is terrified of people but was not disturbed by the electrical scare. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Hearst Castle at San Simeon: La Cuesta Encantada

Enchanted Hill 

A visit to the unbelievably ornate Hearst Castle was our agenda item today. Its construction is one of the most ambitious architectural endeavors in American history. The castle is located at San Simeon, about 25 minutes north of Morro Bay on California Highway 1, Cabrillo Highway. We've allowed four hours for the drive, tour, grounds visit and the movie that's included in the ticket price of $25 per person.

Entry from Cabrillo Highway (CA 1)
The story of Hearst Castle reaches back to 1865, when George Hearst, father of newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst, purchased 48,000 acres of California coastline ranch land. A self-made millionaire, George Hearst bought the land with wealth he acquired by mining California silver as a young man.

View of the Hearst Castle from far, far below. 

George Hearst died in 1891 and his wife, Phoebe died in 1919, leaving the property to their only child, William Randolph Hearst. Hearst Ranch had grown to more than 250,000 acres by that time. For most of his life, W.R. Hearst enjoyed camping excursions on this central California coastal hilltop.  In his late 50's though, he began to dream of a way to create a more comfortable, permanent retreat.

Wayne at Casa Grande
68,500 square feet, 38 bedrooms
...So in the 1920's, Hearst began a twenty-eight year collaboration with a San Francisco architect to begin construction of a home.  By 1947, twenty-eight years after it was begun, Hearst and his architect, Julia Morgan had built La Cuesta Encantada—Spanish for “Enchanted Hill.” Later, the home would come to be known as Hearst Castle. There would be 165 rooms with nearly 130 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways. Despite all that was built here though, the project was never completed... probably never would have been even if William Randolph Hearst had lived beyond the time of his death in 1951.

That's me standing outside the main house.
Pacific Ocean in the far background. 

Everything at La Cuesta Encantada, The Ranch, Camp Hill, Hearst Castle, of whatever you call it, was built to the specification of William Randolph Hearst. His goal was to showcase his massive art collection and share his good life with  friends, most of whom were Hollywood elite, politicians and sports figures.  It is certainly unique, inside and out. 

Wayne just before we went inside for our tour.

The Hearst Corporation donated  La Cuesta Encantada to the State of California in 1957 and it is now a state historical monument with tours available to the general public.

We opted for the "Grand Rooms" tour to see the opulent social rooms used by Hearst and his guests. This was the recommended starting place for "first timers".

Assembly Room

In this room guests would gather before dinner for cocktails and social time.  W.R. Hearst was a stickler for using time wisely, demanding that guests socialize and enjoy time spent on the ranch.

The Assembly Room ceiling and enormous tapestries. 
Hearst frowned upon sleeping late and insisted all guests be involved in what he called the property's "amusements". During the early evening gatherings, guests exchanged accounts of their day's adventures.

Fireplace and social gathering area

Refectory (Dining Room)

The Hearst Castle dining room name, "Refectory" comes from the term for monastery dining halls. Its high windows, bright silk banners, and gleaming silver candlesticks convey the atmosphere of a church from the middle age.

At Hearst Castle, if it looks lik  real gold, it is real gold. If it looks like real silver, it is real silver.
The huge candle holders are everywhere.

The "head" of the Hearst's dining table was "wherever I (Hearst) sit", according to our tour guide.  Hearst typically sat at one of the center places and arranged seating of guests around the table.  Those he chose sat close to him, but those he found to be boring were moved farther away.  Some of his favorite and most frequent guests included Cary Grant and Charles Chaplin.

Below, a close-up of the typical place settings, complete with mustard and ketchup bottles -- just the way W.R. Hearst liked it. He is said to have liked the "informality" of it.  Weird given that he liked living in a castle.

Welcome to dinner.

Billiard Room 

The billiard room is decorated with a 15th century Spanish ceiling. The ceiling tiles are hand painted. The tapestry is from the 1500's.


Anyone who knows us, knows Wayne and I are fans of old movies so our visit to see the Hearst Castle Theater was especially interesting. This is where W. R. Hearst and his guests gathered after dinner to watch newsreels and movies.

The theater seats are covered in soft velour with individual arm-rests and an ottoman. There were warming blankets for the guests who wanted them.  Hearst, a fan of dachshunds, had dogs available to sit in the lap of each guest while they watched movies.  At the end of their visit, the guests could take the dog home with them, if they wanted. 

We watched a home movie of Hearst and his guests.
We didn't get to sit in the velour seats.
We sat on a vinyl covered bench in back.

Grounds and Gardens

Tickets to Hearst Castle include visits to the pools, gardens, walkways and views of the grounds.  Once the interior tour is complete, guests are encouraged to roam around outdoors for as long as they like, taking one of the buses back to the visitors center whenever they like. 

The day of our visit was unseasonably warm, but not so hot that that we didn't enjoy being in the sunshine. 

I think there are four residential buildings on the grounds with a plan to have built at least six before W.R. Hearst's death.  I'm not absolutely sure which of the smaller building is which but have tried to identify them in these pictures.

Wayne at Casa Del Monte
2,500 square feet, 4 bedrooms

Casa Del Sol
3,620 square feet, 8 bedrooms

Neptune Pool 

The outdoor pool was designed and enlarged two times by Hearst. It is made of marble and serpentine tile and adorned with fine art.

Looking down into the empty Neptune pool, the ranch and the Pacific Ocean in the far distance.

Neptune Pool had been completely drained for plumbing maintenance and statuary work.

345,000 gallon pool -- empty at this time.
Construction on the Neptune pool began in 1924 and it was completed in 1936 (12 years!)  Three swimming pools were actually built here but each was "thrown out" before this one was finalized.

Aww, no water in the pool...and Wayne wore his swim suit! Bummer.

Wayne stole a kiss from one of the poolside girls. 

Partial view of Casa Grande from the Neptune pool area.

Wayne at Casa Del Mar
5,350 square foot, 8 bedrooms

We never learned the name of this gold statue whose pedestal was shrouded for some kind of restoration.

Tennis Courts 

William Randolph Hearst reportedly told someone that these tennis courts were the "most used amusement" on the property. The courts are sunken and lighted. Wayne is standing outside and above the courts near the center.  A group of glass blocks were installed on the tennis court floor to allow better light to reach the space below.... which is the Roman Pool.

Roman Pool 

This pool was modeled after the baths of ancient Rome. It is completely tiled and is surrounded by statues of gods, goddesses and heroes. The entire facility is under the tennis courts.

One end of the Roman pool.
Center of the Roman pool -- diving platform at left.

Bus Ride

The five mile ride to and from Hearst Castle is only by way of group bus. The view as you travel is narrated by Alex Trebek.  The ride takes 15 minutes each way; begins and ends at the Visitors Center, not far off California Highway 1.

Looking toward the Pacific Ocean from the bus window.

Looking toward the mountain range from the bus window.

All this and I didn't even cover the Hearst private airport, the zoo (world's largest private one), the working cattle ranch, wine cellars or the Hearst / Davies love affair -- all of which are included in the tour.

Hearst Castle Lunch 

I wanted to remember what a $10 hot dog looks like. Room temperature, this delicacy came with "all the trimmings" --  overcooked potato chips, a dill spear and a three-day-old bun.

My Hearst Castle hot dog lunch.

For more about William Randolph Hearst and visiting Hearst Castle, click here.