You know I have songs stuck in my head...it happens all the time and I usually can't get rid of them for a long time, and then a new song takes the place of the old song and so it goes. We just returned from a two week vacation, a driving vacation to California and Oregon, and I had songs ruminating in my brain all along the way while we drove across the prairies and deserts and mountain passes of the West. We loaded up our car with our luggage and our two dogs, Bo and Bushy, and all of their gear (they bring along as much stuff as our kids used to bring..gosh) and set out on our journey near the end of September. We drove to Fort Stockton, Texas the first day and rested overnight before continuing on the next day to Phoenix. ("By the time I get to Phoenix..." was the song in my head that day but I only sang it aloud one time. I was thinking it a lot though.) We drove across the prairies and badlands of New Mexico and Arizona, seeing the vast wastelands and open countryside, amazed at how much open land there is with fences near the roadsides but nothing on it. If we could move many of those people in our most crowded cities to this vacant land, how much elbow room would they have? Of course, why would they want to live out there in the nothingness unless someone put in some modern conveniences to lure them there?
We passed through Tucson easily and arrived in Phoenix just in time for the evening rush hour. We learned that Arizona does not observe Daylight Savings Time like the rest of us so they are on the same time schedule as California during DST days. So, they were two hours behind Texas and we gained two hours in one day of travel. We fought the rush hour traffic in Phoenix and arrived at our hotel about 6 pm and after taking care of the needs of our furry traveling companions, I found the local El Pollo Loco that was next door to our hotel and brought back a bag of Mexican food to the hotel and we rested again.
The next day we got on the road with Ventura, California as our destination. Ventura is on the west coast just northwest of Los Angeles. It has that cool, comfortable coastal climate so we wanted to reach it that day and enjoy that cool air before heading northward. One has to cross the desert between Phoenix and Los Angeles so we drove as fast as we could (speed limit plus 5) and saw lots of saguaros and Joshua Trees and other cacti that we did not name until finally we reached Indio, California, the first town you come to as you emerge from the desert. We drove on and spotted Palm Springs, Thousand Palms, Palm Desert, and Desert Springs (a theme emerges it seems) until finally needing gas we stopped in Riverside and paid the first of our $4 plus per gallon fees for fuel ($4.23--which made me gasp but I got over it because the price only went up from there.) We had lunch in Riverside and then got back on the road, bound for the LA area.
"LA is a great big freeway, put a hundred down and buy a car...." That sound began to pour out of me as I began to fight the famous LA traffic. To be honest, I had great fear about driving around LA. I had always heard it was the most terrible place to drive in the world and you wanted to avoid it at all costs. We got our friendly GPS lady to take us just north of downtown LA so we could pass through Pasadena and Hollywood and other places whose names I had only heard but I had never been there. Surprisingly, we made it okay driving through the LA area. I found out that they drive just like the folks in Houston and Austin. They drive faster than the speed limit, cut off other drivers, and weave in and out of the traffic so I did the same and much to the surprise of my wife who was holding on for dear life, we saw the Ventura Freeway and soon arrived in cool, comfy Ventura.
Ventura was the first city in California that I really liked. I was so surprised by it. It was definitely cooler than where we had come from and felt really great (high 60s). It is an agricultural area and had fields with pumpkins in them. We had dinner at a little casual seafood place where we ordered fish and chips and ate them at a picnic table outdoors fighting the cool wind and the sea gulls that had gathered to help us out. The fish and chips were good but there were so many of them that we could not finish them off so we got a box of fish to take with us (the gulls got some of the fries) and then walked over to the seawall to see the Pacific Ocean in action. The wind was a bit high so the waves were too and they came crashing onto the shore, just like in the movies. The Pacific Ocean seemed rather threatening that day but I bet on a sunny day with low wind it would seem very welcoming.
The next day was our day to drive up Hwy 1, the Big Sur Highway. We started out on Hwy 101 (a rock group from the 70s-80s had that name but I did not know any song of theirs to sing) and passed through Santa Barbera, which is a beautiful city with mountains to the east and ocean to the west and vineyards everywhere (I would love to return there someday) and soon saw the turnoff to Solvang so we turned east fore about five miles until we reached the picturesque Danish village. Solvang is the Fredericksburg of California, except much larger. Many buildings have facades that look Scandinavian since Solvang was settled by Danish pioneers who went west long ago and since they did not find gold they found tourism instead. One can enjoy Danish pastries and coffee at a sidewalk cafe and stroll the streets looking in the shop windows and that is exactly what we did, walking our two dogs, who got admiring glances from passersby. They were very good until another dog approached, and Bo, who never went to Obedience School, would jump at his leash and want to attack it. We had to pick him up and calm him down and tell him that we were okay and he did not need to protect us at that moment. He got so mad at other dogs who dared to pass by him. We did not drink the coffee but we did buy pastries and ate them in the car as we left Solvang and headed toward Morro Bay.
Morro Bay is home to a huge rock, which is more like a really large hill, that sits hear the bay in the town of Morro Bay. Scuba Divers and surfers in wet suits were jumping into the waters and soon emerging to wash themselves at the changing station adjacent to the walking path that we took from the parking area to the rock and back. The rock is the center of attention in the town and has been a landmark to pioneers and travelers for centuries. We walked the nice boardwalk there, letting Bo and Bushy use up some more energy and then got back in the car, bound for Big Sur. The two main roads 101 and 1 divided soon and we were on the Big Sur Highway, going north toward San Francisco. We took Hwy 1 and soon were on a two lane road with many stops for road construction and learned that once you are on the road you cannot get off of it until it ends nearly 100 miles later.
Big Sur has been in our vocabulary and public knowledge for a long time. I had seen pictures of the waves crashing on the rocks down below all of my life. I had heard its name through the years and expected it to be a tremendous sensory experience. I guess I set myself up for disappointment. It was not what I expected at all. Perhaps that is because as one goes north and looks over at the ocean, there is a well constructed wall in many places that was built to prevent southbound drivers from falling into the ocean. It does its job well because not once did I see anyone falling into the ocean on our trip but I also rarely saw waves crashing onto the rocks below because the well constructed wall prevents northbound drivers from seeing the ocean below except in the far distance where it is not doing anything except being the smooth ocean it usually is out in the distance. So, the Big Sur Highway became this never ending series of curves and hills with occasional road construction thrown in that would not end until you emerged from it at Carmel By The Sea which was off of it. I think if we had driven northward first on another highway and then had returned on Big Sur Highway we would have enjoyed it more. Also if we had planned to spend a night along its way at a motel or campground and really explored the area we may have had a better time on it. Our next trip there we will know what to do.
This ends part one of the journal of the journey. Look for the next installment soon for the journey has only begun. Much greater things are in store....