I took an 8 day trip to explore the south central region of California in mid April. This adventure took me crisscrossing from Coast, Valley, Desert and Mountains. I was as far south as Dana Point and as far north asMonterey. I went to the Santa Cruz Island which required a 2 hour commute in Island Hopper’s Charter Boat. I reached elevations exceeding 6000 feet above sea level where snow was still abundant in the Sierras. On the same day that I walked in several feet of snow, I hiked among Red Rocks in the desert with wind gusts surpassing 35 mph. I visited historical sites in Santa Barbara and the dramatically artistic campus of Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove. I even stumbled upon an Earth Day Festival where I saw Hippies doing their thing. I witnessed surfers ride some sizable waves inNewport’s “The Wedge” among other surf spots. I also saw interesting waterfalls, rivers, wildlife and wildflowers. There were times that I was isolated from people in nature’s agreeable sights and sounds. There were also times I was amidst crowds of people in the hub of the city. I travelled within an island (reached by a short bridge) with impossibly narrow streets and throngs of people meandering about its unique boutiques. It was a claustrophobic experience, so I was relieved to leave the island though it was quite quaint.
This is to summarize that this particular exploration of Californiawas very diverse. The trip itself started really good (1st two days), and ended excellent (especially the final day). The core of the trip was very disappointing, but not overwhelmingly so. The major issues were Highway 1 along Big Sur being closed to my unpleasant surprise. This caused me to forfeit the majority of that day’s itinerary, not to mention take a very long detour (back tracking many miles) on a banal highway. I was not seriously put off by this because the skies were overcast which would have made the original trek a bummer anyways. The 2 major places visited and enjoyed that day were Elephant Seal Overlook with the whimsical beasts and Point Lobos. Both these places were visited during my trip in April 2009 (“The Return after 30 Years”).
The other major issue I already alluded to was that the weather for the majority of 3 or 4 days was not ideal. The main problem was cloudy conditions. Each day had superb opportunities though, like seeing sun lit rolling clouds moving by hillsides or mountain peaks at close proximity. The last major issue was the lack of wildflower blooms in places where they are renowned for such displays. I had high expectations due to the traditional peak bloom timing being mid April and the high amounts of precipitation this season. The Poppy Reserve was especially a disappointment where there are potentially widespread carpets of the colorful poppies. All I saw were shriveled pieces of orange dominated by unsightly shrub. Carrizo Plains had a great field of yellow flowers clustered in a large area, but that was the extent of it. This place has had displays of bright multi-colored flowers covering the hillsides that look like an artistic work of fiction.
In all my expeditions my expectations are set high. I do prepare myself mentally for let downs. Some let downs leave me lower than others and at a faster rate. At one point my expectations of seeing the extra-ordinary for the rest of the trip had greatly diminished. I settled to just look for curious little things here and there. I found simple enjoyment like seeing a perceptibly silent humming bird getting acquainted with the salad bar (flower garden) from just a few feet away. The forecast was mixed so my expectations were mixed also. On day 7 I saw some extremely azure skies for half the day while exploring theAngeles Forest. I found that I had more time than previously anticipated because of things like the Poppy Reserve being too pooped to pop. I ended up doing 2 hikes at the end of day 7 that I thought to do at the beginning of day 8. I went toSan Antonio Falls and was unimpressed. The colors of the falls and the surrounding looked pale and drab. I then took a calculated risk and drove toEaton Canyonto see the falls. I got there with not very much daylight left (It was overcast anyways). The parking lot closes at sunset and I had a relatively long round trip hike to accomplish. I made it to the falls getting wet up to my knees in the creek which I had not prepared for. This was the best waterfall of this trip and had it to myself (rare for this place due to the popularity and nearness to big cities). I then had to quickly hike back to the car muddy and wet and made it just in time to the car at around sunset time.
This type of adventure is more indicative of my trips, but was mostly absent to this point. Natural and wild places are not for everyone for there are city dwellers whose minds are so bound by Satan that they incapable of enjoying it. The only time they will return to the soil from whence they came will be when they perish. We are made of dirt. You may be sophisticated, but you are still dirty.
Another opportunity to do something spontaneous similar to some other trips was withinLos Padres Forest. I found some small falls and rapids on the side of a road side pull out that was not obvious when driving by. It was a very pleasant creek with clear rushing water and pools. It then dawned on me that I should go in the creek to experience the rush of the falls and the refreshing pool. The water was not as cold as I expected. The air temperature was in the upper 60’s. This was a good experience on day 6. I felt like the trip itself was reviving as a result. These plunges into cold fresh water feel much better than an ordinary shower. I felt like I found a wonderful secret spot.
I did not have a feasible name for this trip until almost its finality. Since this trip was not in the class of drama of previous ones that I could aptly name “Transcendent Southwest” or “Authentic California”, I was having difficulty identifying the trip. I could not easily ID it by region because the region and variety are too vast. Other trips like “Pacific Northwest” or “American Rockies” were self explanatory. Since I been to California 5 times for adventures, the name of the state by itself was inadequate. I was looking for an adjective or two and thought of Simple Charm, as a contrast to using a lofty term unfitting of this experience. As things progressed in the trip using the term simple was inaccurate as it would imply irony because there were quite a few features of the trip that merited something better than “simple” as a description. Once I was back I looked up the word charm in my 1972 large dictionary and it was defined as features or qualities that were attractive, pleasant and fascinating. When I review the experience as a whole linking the many highlight thru out the 8 days I am very satisfied with the name “Californian Charm”. The alternative name for the video presentations is “Cali Charm”. This trip did not display the “Best of Cali” or specialized in 1 overwhelming feature found in Cali, but rather captured the essence of what makes California charming in a variety of fronts. The title Californian Charm is to specify that the charm is unique and belonging to California. This combination and contrast of natural beauty, interesting culture, intricate history, grand structures etc. is only found in Cali. The appeal can be found from a small flower to majestic mountains or from the Freak Show of Venice Beach to expert kid body boarders taking off on steep and tall waves. One can enjoy seeing sailboats, Stand Up Paddlers in the bay as you see a man climbing sea cliffs on the other side of the inlet bay. The Charm is seemingly inexhaustible from place to place and from day to day. The pleasant things I saw like a wedding held in a charming park next to a carrousel as the sun is setting or little kid playing around the caves of a large sea rock onMalibu’s Beach are more examples of the appeal. After watching Long Board Surfers at Dana point I see teenaged girls running a Baton Race in the beach park.
By a few minutes I missed seeing 3 whales come up for air near a coastal cliff in Dana Point spotted by an expert. The point I raise here is that so much CAN happen within one area. I was concentrating on flowering cactus, and then I saw the large rolling waves and distant surfers from atop of this cliff (Natural Preserve). As I poise myself to find the place which I just saw, the report of the whales I hear. So much can happen in moments in one place. As I am leaving I see and hear a variety of colorful birds and lizards skirting the path. Before I actually took this adventure on, I wanted to name it California Spring Time. The lack of spectacular flower blooms diverted my plan of such.
I have departed from my accustomed daily detailed account of my journey for this crisscrossing synopsis not unlike the trip itself.
The last day was supposed to be “A Joyless March Towards The Inevitable” because of the forecasted cloudy condition and “Drizzle”. I wake up to exactly that; cloudy with the evidence of recent rain. I drive to the coast from Upland Foothills which took almost an hour. I expected fog, but instead what clouds were there were already dissipating. In a short while Day 8 became a flawless weather day and otherwise. It never did get hot that day, as opposed to Day 1 at the BU. I was sweating by late morning and was not too motivated to be outdoors in the mid day. That changed soon enough when I reached Santa Barbara and especially El Camino del Cielo (A high road overlooking the distant pacific and city). Santa Barbara is a fair town in my estimation in which I would like to live. The top reasons are the waves of the blue Pacific Ocean, pleasant parks in harmony with natural surrounding, views to the Santa Monica Mountains(short driving distances to mountains and canyons), variety of cultures and ethnicities, historical sites, clean, organized and the like. It is a town that is ideal in size too. It is not so big you get lost in, yet it is big enough that you CAN (if you want to) get lost in it.
The State of California has extremes as no other state does. The highest mountain in the contingent theUS and the lowest place as well. It is the worse off regarding financial organization at the legislation level according to perception. The conversations one eaves drops into from its citizens paint a bleak picture concerning the state of affairs. I also thought before I took the journey I’d call the trip California Dreaming. The potential exists to live up to this title, but certainly not this one with PCH closed, un-blooms and overcast skies at times.
I was standing on a boulder overlooking a mini cascade with pine trees surrounding the canyon under rich blue skies when a butterfly comes and flutters around and then on me for a moment. Now that is charming. It was not Californian Drama or Dreaming necessarily. Situations like that of Kern Wildlife Refuge where innumerable swallows (small birds) ecstatically fly all around and above me, skimming the marsh under perfectly clear skies in the late afternoon chipping away was Charming. It was not simple charm for the sheer number of the birds flying in sporadic patterns. It was not the Best of Cali for they would have had to been the Eagles in Klamath Lake on a Fall Evening under purple majestic skies and a snow flurry atop the might MT Shasta clearly seen 100 miles to the south to qualify to that description.
It seems like I spoke to more people on the last day than I did on all the other 7 days combined. In a quaint farmers market near Bakersfield I could not pull a single word in response from a particular tall model of a man buying a terribly over priced 7-11 type frosty being touted as a natural smoothie for nearly $5. This was an expensive brain-freeze. The land of rip-offs is an apt description for Cali (The Worst of Cali). Fortunately flight prices can be reasonable and hotel prices too. While I was filming the surf action at Salt Creek Beach a photographer fromBoston engaged me in conversation. He was an inspiration to me to the point I stayed past my allotted time according to my pay and display parking slip. I got nailed with a $50 parking ticket as a result. It makes the $18 parking violation at SoBe a deal. The land of extreme Rip Offs!
I encountered a couple of more people on this day in which we conversed mainly of photography. The last thing I did on this day (the last day) was not originally planned for. I was in a hotel lobby checking in looking at the tourist brochures. The one for Crystal Cathedral caught my eye. I later found that it wasn’t but a 30 minute detour from my route to see it. The tall tower of mirror like material was looking majestic in the setting of blue skies and reflecting the late afternoon sun. At the base of the tower is a room solely dedicated to something akin the scene in Superman 1 in that crystal chamber. The center piece set on a platform is a block of crystal with an image of a man sculptured in its center. The piece revolves and the sunshine would reflect on this amazing work of art as it rotated. The room is surrounded by marble pillars. This is the most unique work of art I had ever seen. The late afternoon would be the only time that the phenomenon of light happens because the glass door to enter the room faces west. An odd thing it is that the glass door bangs loudly and intrusively whenever someone enters the room. This is a place where people meditate only to have a tourist come in chattering and to punctuate their intrusion is a loud bang! Could not a pressure stopper suppress this? I was starting to feel chilly wearing shorts and t-shirt while I strolled about the campus. The sanctuary is very impressive with its transparent roof and walls showing forth blue skies and the strength of the sun shine. As with other anomalous incongruities in the state the Crystal Cathedral is a glaring example. This church of awe-inspiring structure and design has declared bankruptcy. The Shuller family is undergoing inner strife as well according to hearsay.
Was it a great trip? The answer is no. Did it have great moments? The answer is yes. As with any adventure my primary purpose is to encounter something sublime and life altering. Time and chance applies, but I certainly try to position myself as suitable as possible to attain glorious experiences. When all else fails, I settle for the pleasing, attractive and fascinating qualities that may be available.