Saturday, March 21, 2009

March 18: Montana de Oro State Park, Hearst Castle, and the Pacific Coast Highway

The day began with a trip north on the 101 to Montana de Oro State Park, located near the town of Los Osos, CA. This was my first visit and for my money, I have to say this is one of the most impressive beachfronts in California. The beach is composed, in various stages, of sandy portions, followed by small pebble sections, and lastly, larger rock sections. Many of the larger rock formations, which appeared to be composed of some type of sandstone, extended out into the pounding surf like fingers extended from the beachfront. Some of these rock outcroppings contained small coves which could be easily explored, including a small natural archway eroded over the ages. This was the first and only beach where significant amounts and varieties of small shells were found as we searched the beach. Traffic in the park was very light and it was very secluded. Again, I would say a stop at this park is a must for those traveling north towards Monterey/San Francisco from Los Angeles on the 101.

After this stop, we moved through lushly green hills towards San Simeon and our primary destination of the day, the Hearst Castle. Perched five miles inland, high atop a coastal mountain with a commanding view over the area, the castle impresses well before one can make out the particulars of its structure. The 1 hour and 45 minute "Experience Tour" - recommended for first time visitors like us - was $20/per person and was worth every penny. The relics contained therein, be it inside or outside of the building space bring a true and relevant meaning to the use of the word "castle" in its name. From a 2000 year old stone tableau representing the backdrop of the famous Neptune Pool, to various 13th-17th century tapestries, to entire ceilings transplanted and rebuilt from centuries past, to frankly, every other single item contained on the premises the complex represents a truly wondrous intersection of the ages. If one is driving up the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) from Morro Bay to Monterey, this is not to be missed. Take multiple tours if you can; it would certainly be worth it (there are 4 to choose from, highlighting different indoor and outdoor spaces in the complex). Reservations are recommended during the summer months, though this is also the hottest time of year (with temperatures on the mountain often in the 90s); visiting in the spring is a much better option, as the surrounding landscape will be in prime form as well.

From here, we continued north up the storied Pacific Coast Highway towards Big Sur. This drive is not to be taken by those with a fear of heights, nor those with a desire to reach the Monterey Peninsula or San Francisco quickly - the speed in most areas will be confined to 35-40 mph as you navigate hairpin turns on the precipice of the road, at times more than 1000 feet above the Pacific. The views are magnificent, however, and it is worth the occasional stress of the road. Our destination was Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, where the 80-foot McWay Falls drops onto the sand merely feet in front the ocean. If this sounds appealing, it should, as it is quite a sight. The water in this area, apparently more shallow than other Pacific locales, is nearly turquoise in color.

From here, we began to work our way back south.  I decided to stop at a pull off called Jade Cove, which I had been meaning to do for some years.  My Grandpa Davis' 1st cousin Clare, who lives in Campbell, CA, mentioned that he took his boys there in the 1960's and that you could climb down to the beach from the road to look for jade, an ornamental stone.  He also mentioned something about a rope which was anchored to the cliff which was required to get back out of the cove.  We proceeded down the path, which became increasingly narrow and filled with loose rocks as it switched back down the cliff face.  Sure enough, there were two stakes pounded into the rock wall serving as anchors for a 20 foot strand of rope, which by the looks of things would be required if we were to reemerge.  At the bottom, waves crashed against large boulders strewn from the beachhead well into the water.  I collected a few rocks which were green but were probably not jade.  Either way, this was an incredible spot to witness the raw power of the ocean.  We left after about 30-40 minutes, at first clinging to the rope with camera around neck (me) and camcorder in hand (Dan).  We arrived at the top breathless and frazzled and plopped down in car seats which had heretofore looked uninviting.  

Following this, we drove the 2+ hours back to the hotel in Solvang for what was to be our last evening in California.

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