Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Highway 1: We practically own it by now.

Sanderlings and beach wanderers, Seacrest Beach, Soquel

I'll bet you thought we fell in to the sea and were swept away by this time, huh?

The Big Adventure is winding down... we have only 4 days before we head for home. (Although, given the current weather between here and there, the adventure may be amping up when we pull out of the Soquel driveway for the last time.)

Believe it or not, it got cold here this week... nights below freezing and days hovering around 50F. At home 50 degrees would feel like spring, but here we've a damp wind and it can be pretty darn uncomfortable. HOWEVER.. it's been below zero at home, so we are absolutely not complaining.

A new concept of "bird bath." Seacrest Beach pier.

So let's see... where have we been... what have we done? 1) Everywhere. 2) Paltry little drawing, but plenty o' gawping. When we last left our heroes, they were headed to the Saturday Farmer's Market in Aptos. Truly delightful for multiple reasons. Okay... for one reason with multiple facets: diverse vendors! Available? A wide variety of veggies and fruits (we bought blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries), fish, dates, nuts, and scads of flowers. All KINDS of flowers. In December. I was most chagrined to find some beautiful potted orchids for only $3 each... if I could have figured out how to get them home without mishap, I would have loaded up the Cruiser. Still... I missed our little market at home in Salida. June seems so very far away....

From there we scouted antique shops (meeting a few novel-worthy characters along the way) and then went down to wander about Capitola Village. (Shops, restaurants, beach, wharf, funny multi-colored hotel... the "usual" tourist fare.) It was a big day.

Sunday I felt a need to catch up on writing, so we set ourselves up with tea and a table at a bookstore in Santa Cruz. Afterwards we strolled downtown and had the most decadent cup of hot chocolate at Marini's. You know you're in trouble when they perch a chunk of fudge on the edge of the cup like a lemon wedge. (They also sell chocolate-covered bacon, but that's another story entirely.)

On Monday we stayed close to home and spent the day looking at goals and plans for the new year. AKA: Reality check. Ooph. There's gonna be some serious settling down to art- and music-making in 2010!

Are you still with me? By now we must be up to Tuesday. AKA: Big Highway 1 Day.

California 1 runs 655 miles along the Pacific coast from somewhere south of Los Angeles to somewhere north of San Francisco. We've actually spent a lot of time on short sections of it, because Highway 1 is just a few blocks from where we are staying. You have to love road directions that are the same for places like Monterey, Carmel, and Big Sur: Get on Highway 1 and go south until you get there.

I'm not sure I have words to describe this drive... although I will say that the DM and I simultaneously had the same thought: We sure were glad his long-time Cleveland self had a year-and-a-half of Colorado mountain driving experience! It's not a scary road, just winding and full of distracting scenery- each curve revealing dramatic new vistas. Once again, though, we scored by being here in December. Yeah, it's a little cold and gray from time to time... but traffic was negligible. It was easy to pull over every time one of us said, "OOOH, stop!"

We kept looking for gray whales, which should be in the area just now, but without practiced "sea eyes" we didn't find any. We DID see a huge group of sea lions hauled out on a beach far below us, their barking, quarreling voices got our attention before the tiny, distant shapes of their bodies.

At one stop we enlisted the help of two young men with heavy packs and a dog who were hiking down the highway. They were 15 miles from their next water stop and already dry, so the DM emptied his water bottle into theirs and we asked for a photo in return. The designated photographer kept backing up until I wondered if we would be in the shot at all. Ah well, WE know it's us.

By the time we reached Lucia we were famished, and stopped at the only open restaurant for miles. You know where this part of the story is going, right? Can you say $21 for fish and chips? Live and learn. Next time we'll pack peanut butter sandwiches.

On the way back we enjoyed a stop at the dramatic Hawthorne Gallery, where Kathleen was kind enough to let me "play" in the jewelry displays and to hang out on the deck with us looking for whales. (It was a quiet afternoon for her, too.) We also stopped in Carmel, which was loaded with galleries exhibiting a disturbingly saccharine repertoire. There were a few artists whose work really stood out (I quite liked the graphic nature of some oil paintings by Gregory Stocks, for example), but otherwise the scene seemed unchanged from one gallery to the next. And not. One. Printmaker.

This morning we were beat, and ready to stay home and record some music (the DM) and make some drawings (me). But the weather forecast for the next few days calls for rain and today dawned clear(ish) and cold, so we squeezed in one more day trip. We went north on Highway 1 this time, just a few miles through Santa Cruz to Natural Bridges State Beach. I wanted tide pools.

There used to be another natural bridge, but it washed away and left a gap.
The visitor center here has some great photos illustrating how this formation has changed since 1900.

There was an ominous sign at the gate stating that the seas were rough and to stay out of the water. The first moments on the rock ledges were pretty nervous-making for me. Huge, crashing waves and slippery algae made me feel jittery, as if I'd had way too much caffeine, but after a while I got used to the (erratic) rhythm and things dried out just a tad. The best pools were, of COURSE, closest to the edge.

We never found any crabs or sea stars, but we did see plenty of periwinkles and limpets and barnacles and tiny crawly things. And anemones!... including this "giant green anemone." (Of course that's its "real" name, what else would you call it?)

Did I mention the sea was rough? That the sign at the gate said not to get in the water? You might be able to guess, then, that the place was littered with surfers...

Since we have no experience of wave riding, we've spent a fair amount of time watching surfers and trying to imagine their understanding of sea and swell. We've decided we're pretty much clueless. But today, as we sat on the ledge watching surfers try to work the heaving, wild water, we were joined by a young man with a camera and an ukulele. It turned out he was a sidelined surfer ("blown-out knee"), keeping track of the action both onshore and off. One query from us about about reading the waves, and he enthusiastically explained why Santa Cruz was so famous for surfing (the orientation of its shore to the prevailing wind and waves), why the waves broke where they did (offshore reefs), why the swells were so epic today (big storm leaving Hawai'i and headed this way). He also gave us a great tip about other places to access this chunk of shore, more tide pools, and the Seymour Center at the Long Marine Lab (UCSC). Would that we had met him days ago! Still, we went over and checked out the lab campus, and the Seymour Center looks like a great place to hang out with a sketchbook if it really is raining the next few days.

If only my arms were long enough to make self-picture taking a little less goofy.
On the cliff behind the Seymour Center.

Whew! I think that brings us more or less up to date. Already I feel my attention tugged back towards home... torn between the feeling that there's still so much to see and do before we head back to the Rockies, and the knowledge that obligations and adventures await us there, too.

From Tuesday's road notes:

Travel is for discovering paths that are windier* than your own.

(* More winding.)


  1. You are having too much! You must leave California and go home right now. Too much fun is simply not allowed.

    I love Highway 1.

  2. i love that third photo! :D great job capturing the movement of the water in that area.

    i think its great the people you can meet when travelling, and how they can be so helpful (of course not everyone is like that sadly :/).

  3. Too much fun, indeed! Don't tell anyone, Susan!

    And Jennifer, you're right... it's great to meet people! We've been really fortunate, and I've been quite pleasantly surprised to discover a general polite and friendly attitude here. Traffic, for example, can be pretty trying, but MOST (not all, of course) people seem to be good about taking turns. And it's a little unnerving how many times I've had people cheerfully apologize if they bump into me in a store or something. Really nice...