Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dinner in Carmel (Not As Simple As it Sounds)

Today I'd planned on writing about Highway 1 and its disparate personalities, first gently meandering through tiny towns and then morphing into a four-lane freeway pulsing through cities like Santa Cruz.

When it's good it's very very good...etc

Instead, this story ends in a restaurant called Chinese Gourmet in Carmel.

We awoke in Halfmoon Bay to a shimmering sun, eager for the million-dollar drive to Big Sur. Even had a couple campgrounds sized up (in case Ventana was full). Our spot on Halfmoon here had a water view, but in the context of an unusual RV park. More on that in another post.

Our drive was superb (avocado sammos for breakfast), first on the shy twisting Highway 1 and then making some time on the same road in its Dan Ryan mode and looking to stop somewhere near 1:30, in time to soak up sun, walk a beach, and breathe the sea air.

Less than a mile outside Big Sur we turned off into a steep drive that plunged downward into a ravine toward a potential campground on a rushing river, but too chilly in the redwoods, we decided. No problem, as I had two more possibilities on my list. 

Art turned over the monster 460 cubic inch Ford engine and we pulled easily back up the hill and got more than halfway out onto Highway 1 to make a turn when the power steering hose ruptured, killing the engine and starting a small but seriously smoke-producing fire under the hood. Oh, and the engine died. On Highway 1, which this holiday week is like rush hour on Division Street.

Don't ask how Art backed off the road (he put it in neutral and it rolled, backward). Another three feet and...recall the steep ravine? Anyway, sad boy here, but your correspondent was deliriously happy to be off the crazy-busy road and, too, not at the bottom of the ravine.
 Telltale sign of burst hose.
That's Highway 1 in its tiny, unassuming costume right there, ravine two inches past our rear wheels.
You know the ensuing drill: After lighting candles at the altar of AAA, Art walked down to the office to use a phone, and I stood guard. When he returned, that funny thing happened that happens any time a Ford truck has its hood up: a bunch of guys ended up under it. 

First, Pasquale there on the left, rubber gloved and using a flashlight while Art turned over the engine. Nice guy--he was awaiting a client who was down in the campground.

Then another guy in red cap who stopped to see if he could help.

And finally a California state trooper. Pasquale confirmed Art's diagnosis, the nice guy in red cap started talking about his photography course, and the state trooper answered questions about the gear on his cop car. And everyone talked about our conundrum, offering advice on which town we should be towed to and what town might possibly have a motel with a vacant room (again, the holiday week is jammed).

Soon the capable Drew arrived from Triple A, positioning his truck partway down the steep campground drive and guiding Art onto the ramp. 

And suddenly the daylight--which had been all wrong for me to shoot pictures when we were heading south--was perfect. So consider this series courtesy of AAA. Plus, Art got to enjoy the scenery a little more as a passenger as we headed back north to Carmel, not a bad choice for being stuck overnight (Big Sur is the antithesis of a Big Town, without even a service garage).

Drew said he'd grown up near Carmel, and when I asked if Clint Eastwood had been mayor or I had dreamed this Drew confirmed, noting that Clint had been mean to him when we was 9 and asked for his autograph. Meh.

Carmel seems like a perfect little town out of Rod Serling's Twilight Zone imagination, a place where even the service garages don't look like anything of the sort.
We said goodbye to the Avion, leaving it to an energetic young mechanic who lit up when he looked under the hood (a real truck to work on!), and walked a block to the Carmel Inn. We needed a shower, but we needed food more. 

Quiet nightfall, laughter and tinkling glassware coming through the doors of a charming French resto. Campers need not apply. Off to the welcoming Chinese Gourmet, with tasteful window boxes full of trailing begonias. Hot and sour soup can change the day.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sonoma Coast State Park (Wrights Beach) + Halfmoon Bay

First, the ominous...

Next, look at the stunning location of the campsite below, peeking out onto the beach.  Most of the sites here are reserved this week between xmas and the new year.

One of the discoveries we've made camping during winter months this far north is the need for a little heat after the sun goes down and before we crawl under the down comforter (thanks Gwen!) that must be rated to -10 degrees F. Art has a small plug-in electric heater and for that we need...electricity. Virtually every one of these coastal California parks has none.

So we've stayed at a few commercial RV sites as we try to cover some miles, and while we hunt hard to find good ones, they've been uniformly inferior to the state and federal parks.

Look at that wave blast at Wrights Beach.

The 45-year-old Avion camper has a highly effective propane light that throws a lot of heat, but we need someone to look at it. Soon we'll be far enough south not to need the little heat boost.

Tonight we're at a commercial RV place
on Halfmoon Bay

Arrived late and walked down to a harbor joint for take-out: calamari, steaming chowder, and braised artichoke hearts.

No Guardrail: California Highway 1 to Halfmoon Bay

My brother keeps sending me emails entitled: No Guardrail!

Call this the No Guardrail series south on Highway 1 from Caspar--achingly, inexpressibly beautiful as it twists and turns (urp) forever and ever.

I left a piece of my heart in Mendocino, population 1100.

With the occasional drifter passing through...

Monday, December 26, 2011

Avenue of the Giants: Humboldt Redwoods State Park Auto Tour

Humboldt Redwoods State Park encircles 53,000 acres, including 17,000 acres of old-growth coast redwoods and the 10,000-acre Rockefeller Forest, the largest contiguous old-growth redwood forest in the world.

The tallest trees on earth,
reaching heights of 300+ feet, some 2,000 years old

The 30-mile auto tour (paralleling Highway 101) is a brilliant means of traversing the land where these giants sit, the best Christmas gift I could imagine.

Not a chance I can portray the immensity. You need something for scale, and a person just barely does it.

How about an auto? There were a handful of others taking the tour this morning, in the light and deep shadow.

In the presence of these immense beings, thrumming with energy, one becomes almost hyper-aligned with the rhythms of the natural world.
The 32-mile Avenue of the Giants road was originally built as a stagecoach and wagon road in the 1880s. Can you imagine?

We cross the Eel River as we meet up again with Highway 101, heading southeast toward Highway 1, which climbs ever higher on its path to the coast.

A two-laner filled with tight turns and precipitous thousand-foot drop-offs (some on my side--yikes), Highway 1 is a road of hairpin turns and ribbon-thin shoulders.

The drop-offs are so steep that at one turn I realize we're looking at the upper third of a group of junior redwoods, their trunks rooted far far below. 

How lovely, then, to see the Pacific on our way to check out a campground in Westport, north on the Mendocino coastline.

This is the site of the Westport KOA campground. Hard to believe, right? We don't regularly stay at KOAs, but this one was highly recommended. The actual campground is just to the right in this photo.

The views were better from above, and the water sites weren't open (not that anyone was parked in them), meaning these people had the temerity to charge $47 for back-camp locations. Snark.

We drove Highway 1 a few more hairpin-turn miles to Caspar. Look at that road!

 Our campsite sits off Caspar Beach, just over that rise.

A woman was riding her horse on the beach.

The camp has flowering thyme and calla lilies.  It's quiet here.
Time to stretch it out before cocktails...