I aimed to revisit California early April 2012 as a sequel of sorts to 2011’s “Californian Charm” Trip. In this venture the itinerary was similar but I reversed the order of the planned route. Last year my last destination in the venture was the lofty Crystal Cathedral. This year my 1st destination was a comparably humble yet elegant glass chapel named Wayfarers located on a sea cliff. I spent a colorful sunset on a sea cliff in Palo Verdes. It was a good start to the trip on this Good Friday.
The following day I visit the famous Huntington Beach Pier for an interesting sunrise. I revisit the surf spot The Wedge (last year the waves were pumping) and now it was flat. I went to Dana Point (last year the waves were really good) and now it was near flat. I head to my hotel in the desert ahead of schedule and revisit Red Rock State Park on the way. Last year it was chilly and windy with fast moving clouds. This time the wind was calm and air was hot with no clouds.
The Eastern Sierra Nevada
It is now day 3 and I find myself at the foothills of Mt Whitney for sunrise. I explored the Alabama Hills in 2010 near this Mountain and found curious rock formations, arches and wild flowers. This time I did not find the interesting rock formations in this system of rock mazes or any wild flowers. The Sierras experienced a very dry winter. When I drove Highway 395 in 2010 as part of the “Transcendent Southwest” trip, the mountains were full of snow and some foothills had fields of flowers. The absence of this deep snow on the mountains made it lack luster. Though the day was sunny it was hazy. The road to June Lake Loop was closed due to snow in 2010 and the 1st lake was completely frozen. Now the road was open and there was no ice on the lakes. I saw skiers and snow boarders up close in the Mammoth area. I return to the Alabama Hills for sunset and go on a hike described as 15 minutes round trip to see a rock arch. After briskly walking for 20 minutes I still did not reach the arch nor did I see any signs of it. The sun already went below the mountains so I turned around.
Rearrange of Schedule
The trip itself was about to turn around too. The forecast called for 2 storm systems back to back to hit California causing 4 days of rain. It had not rained in southern California that winter for 4 days in a row. The rain was to arrive 1 day faster than a previous forecast causing me to agonize and eventually reorganize my plans. I cancelled my trip to Death Valley which was forecasted to reach near 100 degrees. At this point things felt dry, dusty and too warm at times. With that in mind, Death Valley was not very appealing. I wanted rain in the desert not on the coast. I cancelled my hotel reservation in Bakersfield and made one in Monterey. I woke up at about 3:30 am to drive over 5 hours to the coast to arrive one day early to see Big Sur Coast before the rains came. This was my priority in this trip. Last year this portion of Highway 1 was closed due to excessive rains causing mud and boulder slides destroying parts of the road. In my trip of April 2011 it was closed and even during my trip to Yosemite in late May 2011 it was still closed. Just a day before my arrival for this trip the road was closed for other repairs and had just reopened, but I thought the rain would soon ruin the experience if I did not make this sacrifice.
Reward for Sacrifice
As I drove from the high foothills thru the valley as the dawn broke, I surprisingly was not falling asleep at the wheel. I had good musical companionship to help me press on. Now I was rising from the great valley to the coastal mountains and I finally reach a high point on the road that allows views of the coast from many miles away. It was an excellent and welcome sight to see sun lit green hills in the foreground and distant fog and cloud layers covering the coast beneath. The day ended up being hazy but a very enjoyable exploration experience for me as I meandered up Big Sur. Along this drive there are multiple places of interests to explore. I thought I might be dragging along after the long journey but adrenaline kept me up all day till I reached windy Monterey. This was the best day of the trip so far. I thought that the rest of the trip might be a joyless march to the inevitable.
And The Rain Came Down
The following morning the rain was present as forecasted yet I had 2 pleasant hikes in the morning. The 1st hike in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park took me alongside a pleasant river early in the morning with no one around. I hiked up a mountain surrounded by coastal Redwood trees. Everything was damp as a persistent light rain fell. There was a fresh feeling in the air among the plants, trees and birds with views of other nearby mountains adorned with passing clouds. The 2nd hike was even better. It was in Lime Kiln State Park where I would take a relatively short hike to a good looking 80 foot cascade. On the way to the falls I did not encounter another person. This place was quieter than the other place. At this point the rain had stopped. At the cascade I felt the liberty to linger more than usual. I scrambled and jumped from rock to rock to reach the base of the falls. The flow was coming down good and strong. This is a great place to get soaked on a warm day.
I arrive at Morro Bay where I had reserved a 2 night stay. I canceled the 2nd night due to the anticipation of rain. I sat in my car in Montana de Oro State Park overlooking sea cliffs in the constant rain as I reviewed weather forecasts in various areas and alternative trips to places like Mohave Desert. It was the most depressing time of the trip as it rained continuously into the night.
I did not hastily head to the desert the next morning though. The hotel was only a few block from the enormous Morro Rock so I went there pre-dawn. I was on the bay side when I noticed the dark clouds starting to scatter as the dawn approached. This was creating a very compelling scene. I watched sea otters floating and moving with the current and swell lines in the bay. I saw numerous sea birds of various species floating or flying around. I saw nearby mountains with attractive layers of clouds on them. I was thinking that this scene with interesting light would soon be over, but instead it got better. I go over to the ocean side and saw good medium sized sets of waves rolling to the beach with light wind. Many surfers were already in the water and others were arriving. I speak with one of them whose name is Bodie Snow. Though he recently did a month long surf trip to Maui he was stoked to go surf in the cold water on the relatively small waves.
I became very grateful that I did not leave this place prematurely.
I then go back to the Montana de Oro which even in the rain the day before I could tell was an interesting place. As I enter this park a group of people wave me down and alert me that a big tree fell during the storm blocking the road into the park. I went to a nearby beach trying to make the most of it. About 30 minutes later I decide to see the fallen tree for myself and to my pleasant surprise a work crew had already efficiently removed the large tree from the road. The coast within this park is very interesting due to its rocky shore line where wave were crashing strong, tide pools and sea caves. There was also a decent display of various wild flowers along the Bluff Trail hike. I return to Morro Rock for sunset and to my surprise the weather was mostly clear. The surf was still rolling as the colors in the sky displayed interesting contrasts and textures. I return to the same hotel in which I cancelled the 2nd night to re-reserve. I asked for my original room, but was told it was given to a nurse who would stay for over 2 weeks. After meeting her I discovered that she is originally from my current city Miami. This was an even better day than day 4 and the day with the least amount of driving.
Day 7 was mostly a non event. I went to a 100 ft cascade that was literately just a trickle over a wall of moss. The woods were comfortable and cozy this morning though. I then embarked on what was to be a 2.5 mile round trip hike to 80 ft Tangerine Falls in Santa Barbara.
Even though a couple of ladies explained to me how to get to the falls as I was well into the hike, I was perplexed by all the various trails that forked from the supposed main trail. There are drain pipes all along the creek which is very unsightly. What made matters worse was the need for scrambling, creek crossings and hiking up steep moist terrain as I lugged all my camera gear. At one point (just like in Bama Hills) I gave up and turned around never even snapping one picture.
Things improved when I visited the famous surf spot south of Santa Barbara know as Rincon Point. The wind was causing some texture on the waves but overall still okay conditions. The potential for long rides at this point break is very good. The rest of the day was overcast and ugly. At this point I tried to end the trip a day early because of the forecast of 100% rain so I called the airline but was informed I would have to pay an expensive penalty for changing flights.
Snow Storm on the Mountains
I wake up at my leisure for the 1st time of the trip on day 8. This day I had planned to take a boat ride to Anacapa Island which is part of Channel Islands National Park. I see that the radar shows abundant snow is was currently falling on the high places of Los Padres National Forest which is an hour’s drive from where I was. I make a relative b line for the mountains. Once I started the steep incline in elevation in the Ford Taurus it went from heavy rain to sleet at about 3000 ft above sea level. At this point the road was very icy and the car was constantly sliding though I was only going about 15 mph. I would then be hearing strong thunder booming and echoing in the mountain range though my windows were up. There were very few cars I saw during the whole time I was on this road. Twice while I was parked on the side I was asked if I was okay. The first time it was a lady who stopped and showed me the okay sign as an inquiry and the other was a man in a snow-plower who did the same.
As I persisted driving up the steep mountain road I pass the 4000 feet above the sea level mark and the temperature was about 33 degrees. The sleet turned into an abundant falling snow and it was accumulating rapidly. The sight was extraordinary especially because the snow was decorating the fascinating rock formations found on these mountains. At one point the temperature was 36 degrees and still snowing. I had seen this place on a clear day in 2011, and now I saw it in a completely different attitude. In 2011 the sun was shining as I immersed myself in a rushing creek with small cascades. This time the creek was completely muddy from all the run off. Later I saw Malibu Beach which is normally a clean blue now it was dark brown because of mud run off from the rivers. It was a very good way to finish the exploration part of the trip.
I had to deal with some logistic issues though to actually finish the trip. As I was backing the car up in a gas station during some rain I lightly hit a car that came seemingly out of nowhere. This caused a minor scuff on the bumper of the Taurus. I then park the car in a very narrow spot in the Travelodge parking lot in the rain. I had reserved and pre paid but the front desk did not have my reservation for some reason. After nearly an hour in the lobby dealing with reception and the booking agency, I decided to leave. As I drive to a Motel 6 a mile away the car’s tire goes flat. Regarding the hotel, I paid $10 less than Travelodge and was in my room in a matter of minutes. The hotel was much quieter than Travelodge too. I then resolved the tire issue with my AAA as the rain stopped and the day actually cleared. The Motel 6 parking was spacious allowing for the mechanic to change the tire comfortably as opposed to Travelodge’s cramped lot. I was grateful that it was the last mile of the journey that I had gotten the flat. Expedia (the booking agency for Travelodge) not only refunded the price of the hotel but granted me a $50 coupon to use with them.
I traveled over 1,900 miles at 28 MPG in that Taurus. Gas prices were as low as $4.15 a gallon and up to $4.80. I experienced from as low as 28 degree air up to 83. I experienced drought like conditions to abundant rain. I went as low as sea level to over 8000 feet above with views of over14, 000 ft peaks. These high contrasts were also typical of the exposures I took. The challenging light made for time consuming editing with many below average shots. I took well over 2,000 pictures and deleted over 1400 of them not to mention the video clips. There were times that I felt joy, excitement, peace, awe or contentment. There were other times I felt anxious, frustrated or depressed. Overall this trip was successful especially for the sake of adventure.