Monday, August 1, 2011

Spinning On Our Heels, So Far Away From Real

Let’s say that this trip is like a relay race on Field Day in elementary school. If that’s the case, then today I touched the cone on the far end of the field, so that I could turn around and complete the lap. Except instead of a field it was… well, I guess a field, just a really big one… that my car ran across. And instead of a cone, it was the Pacific Ocean.

Getting up earlier today, I did laundry and grabbed the hotel’s free hot breakfast (I missed it yesterday because their signs were all wrong. Wasn’t going to take that chance again when there was bacon on the line.). From there, it was off towards San Francisco, in the most circuitous way possible. First, I’d drive to a point near San Luis Obispo – 120 miles away from last night’s hotel, and 200 more from San Francisco. But doing it this way allowed me to take the Pacific Coast Highway all the way up for the next 200 miles. Call it the mother of all scenic routes.

The extra hours in the car and extra cost in gas were definitely worth it, though. Instead of 2 hours of Fuzzy Hills, I spent 4 hours with the Pacific Ocean, which I hadn’t seen in over 10 years, just out my driver’s side window.

I first hit the coast near Morro Bay. My first goal was to dip my feet into the ocean, before going any further (I also knew that once the shoreline became dominated by hundreds of feet of cliffs further north, this would be come increasingly difficult). So I found a quiet alcove with some jagged rock features and waded in. I was surprised at how cold it was, for almost-August and for a point that far south. I got over that quickly, though. I’d come over 5,000 miles to get to the Pacific and I was going to bask in it for a while.

I couldn’t’ tell if the tide was going in or out (and by the evening I still couldn’t tell if it had come in or out), but it must have been fairly low because there were a few tide pools around. Except, they weren’t very good tide pools because nothing creepy was living in them. I know that the west coast has very few seashells, but I had expected to see something other than seaweed and flies around. I can’t complain though – no large animals means nothing to nibble on my feet, thus allowing me to stand there without fear of being eaten by a jellyfish. I also picked a good alcove, because seemingly wherever I pointed the camera, good things happened. This would become a theme throughout the day.

Heading back to the parking area, I noticed a stork-like bird fly into a tree. Then I realized that there were dozens of these stork-like birds in that tree. At first I thought it was weird, and then I immediately got Sesame Street's “There Are Chickens in the Trees” stuck in my head. Still not sure what they were doing up there…

As I continued on, the scenery became more and more dramatic. The road became windier and rose above the water, long before I expected it to, near Big Sur.

Everywhere, the cliffs were blanketed in wildflowers. It was amazing that this area, with no state or federal protection in place, had a greater amount and variety of wildflowers than any of the parks I have visited so far.

That was basically the story of the afternoon – cliffs, sea, and flowers. I attempted a detour away from that (not because I was tired of it, but because the detour was there and so was I), to Monterey's 17-Mile Drive. Following the signs, the red line on the road, and Copina Jr., I thought I had all the bases covered. However, after the 3rd of 17 viewpoints, I managed to get lost and exit out of the designated area back into the general population. Since I wasn’t all that impressed with the first few stops anyway, and since I don’t play golf or have all that many golf-playing friends to have impressed by hopping a fence onto the Pebble Beach course just to say I was there, I decided to bag it and head back to Highway 1. I also had an eye on the clock and knew I’d have to get through the next few miles of boring ugly road before returning to hugging the coast, all within an hour, if I was to have a decent shot of getting a picture of the sun setting over the ocean – something that’s impossible back where I’m from (Paine’s Creek is over a bay, thank you very much).

Eventually, once the road turned back north and the sun was once again positioned over the water, I started looking for a spot. Eventually I found a short trail that led to the edge of a relatively short cliff (only a hundred feet or so straight down). Again, completely covered in wildflowers. When I got near the edge, I looked around and realized that no matter what I pointed the camera at, in this light at this location, it was guaranteed to look great. I took a couple pictures of nothing just to prove it:

See what I mean? After taking some pictures of the flowers and the seagulls that were making all manner of un-seagull-like noises, it was time to focus on the main event. A half hour later, I walked away with this:

However, upon review of the very last pictures I took just as the sun was dipping under the horizon, I noticed what appear to be streaks of green just above the sun. I’ve uploaded this one in its original high resolution for verification. Did I see a green flash?

After sunset, I just plugged my destination for the evening into Copina Jr. No more scenic routes, just get me to a bed please. Turns out, she kept me on Highway 1 all the way into and through San Francisco. I had strategically booked a hotel north of the city so that I had an excuse to cross the Golden Gate Bridge early and often. So tonight I crossed it for the first time (in the dark, so no picture). Cross that one off the bucket list.

Tomorrow is a packed day. Alcatraz in the morning, meeting my cousin for dinner (I know! Who knew my family made it all the way out here?), and the Giants game in the evening. I still haven’t decided if it would be better to wear the Mets or Red Sox hat for that. I do know that I’ll be wearing long pants, because it’s cold out here!

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