These days, because of family responsibilities, there are limited times I can leave. When I can leave, the best trips are the ones where you don’t initially know your destination.
I used an excuse some years ago of my niece’s wedding in Minnesota to drive 7,492 miles around the country. Other than the wedding, I made up the destinations as I went along.
So this week, I had only 3 days.
What to do?
Well, I view a trip both as an opportunity to see things and drive some good roads. And along the way make a few small discoveries. On this drive, I did both.
I had the idea of seeing Yosemite or Sequoia and along the way down CA-99, decided on Sequoia. I hadn’t been there in 50 years.
What I didn’t realize before
In Sacramento, the Sierras really start after driving up about 40 miles of foothills. Once you get beyond the old gold-rush towns (now bedroom communities) of Placerville or Auburn, you start to climb the mountain.
Down where the Sequoias grow, the mountains start almost on the eastern side of the Central Valley. From the park entrance at about 1,000 feet elevation (estimating here), for the next 20 miles or so with a lot of switchbacks you climb 5,000-6000 feet.
The park has really changed, I believe for the better. The museum used to be the general store for campers until 1996. The park used to be a “small city” (their description), with campgrounds scattered all over the park.
Now you park your car at one of the designated parking lots, and either take a shuttle to the various sights, or hike on designated trails.
To see the General Sherman tree, I hiked 1/2 mile.
It seems with the other national parks I’ve seen recently, they have enacted similar changes.
To allow “more nature” and “less city” seems to me to be a definite improvement in the atmosphere.
After a half day at Sequoia, I had the idea of driving to the coast and up the fabled CA 1. I’ve had an aged Mercedes SL for 6 years, and always wanted to drive that road with the top down. It is known among fans by its internal designation, the R129. Within the forums there are a number of owners proud of their car’s low mileage. Many have 30K, 40K miles on these up to 30 year old cars.
These cars were many times 3rd cars stashed in vacation homes in Florida and Palm Springs. Each to his own, but I have always believed that cars were meant to be driven.
My car, which I named Gabriella, had 119,000 miles when I bought it from the first owner in 2013, and now it is on the verge of turning 200,000 miles.
Gabriella is no garage queen!
Before I got to the coast though, I had to take CA-41 near Lemoore NAS. Coupla things about Lemoore that struck me:
It’s probably the only NAS that can have huge agricultural fields with a tractor stirring up all kinds of dust with a Hornet on final approach above.
And it was 102 degrees that day.
Lex’s piece Speechifying came to mind that day. I was thinking of all of these poor officers dressed in their choker whites sitting on metal folding chairs on the tarmac (where the temperature was probably closer to 125 degrees), while the outgoing CO kept droning on…and on.
People outside California think that the central coast is the best in the summer, but in my experience the best time is September and October.
I can remember having a car club drive to Bodega Bay in the middle of summer and it being 100 F in the Valley, we dressed accordingly. They seated us outside at Bodega Bay and we were freezing.
So anyway for the drive up CA 1 the weather was clear, and 70F.
I arrived at the coast, and spent the night in my favorite motel. They always seem to give me a room in the same area, and I told the owner it seemed like my home away from home.
Since I have been to “Hearst Castle” at least a dozen times, that was not on the menu this time. I love the history of that area, and over dinner was telling a visiting couple from Kentucky some Hearst stories. However, in the fall, they have an “Evening Tour” where docents dress in period costume and you arrive at dusk as a “Hollywood star” and see the grounds just as they would have seen it (including stopping at the Assembly Room before the dining hall, as the guests did (don’t have more than 2 cocktails or you will, as David Niven discovered, find your bags packed in the hallway and a chauffeur ready to drive you off the premises!).
But alas, the Evening tours didn’t start for another month or so.
If you know some of the history as I do (which could charitably be labeled an interest or a darker interpretation might be a result of OCD), you know that even after 70 years, traces of the Hearsts and Marion Davies are still around San Simeon and nearby Cambria. For example, in the town of San Simeon is the old warehouse Hearst used to store the paintings, tapestries and antiques he bought from around the world.
Probably delivered at the nearby pier on his yacht the Oneida.
I had read of an organ Marion Davies had donated to the small Catholic church in Cambria. Many of Hearst’s Catholic guests, such as Bing Crosby and Gary Cooper, attended mass here.
The last time I was in Cambria, there was a wedding there. Naturally I wasn’t going to disturb them to see the interior.
This time, it was closed but the gardener said that the caretaker would be back in an hour or so.
There’s always next time.
The ocean has always had an appeal to me. It has seemed to rejuvenate my spirit.
After a quick trip walking the beach, it was off on CA-1, with lunch at another favorite of mine at Big Sur, Nipenthe.
While driving, I had an epiphany: I kid you not, every 15th-20th car going south was a new Mustang convertible. It occurred to me that these were people who came from around the world to the Bay Area, rented these for some top-down motoring, and enjoy this fantastic day.
It was a great way to spend 3 days!