Highway One Day Two: Finding the Promised Land

Somewhere near Cambria

Today was the second of my 3-day drive up from Los Angeles to San Francisco – and with Highway One’s various road closures, it proved to be the one where I spent most of my time on US-101. But I’m not disappointed, because the scenery I saw still reminded me why California has been the Promised Land for so many generations of Americans – and why I have chosen to live here for the rest of my life. While I’m in denial that my vacation ends tomorrow, I have a newfound excitement and appreciation for heading back home.

The famous Men's Room at the Madonna Inn

My morning in San Luis Obispo started simple enough, with my friends on Facebook telling me I have to check out the Madonna Inn for breakfast – and that I should show up in my Western attire. The manager of the Hostel Obispo concurred with their opinion, so I took off. I was not disappointed … Breakfast was only so-so, but the ambience was pretty incredible – and you can see how a group of local Hollywood ranchers would come hang out here. Photos of the owner with John Wayne adorned the area, and as everyone kept raving about the Men’s Room – I just had to go take a look. It was a trip and a half. But what I thought was best were all the banquet rooms, which clearly made me feel this would be an excellent place to have a wedding!

Morro Bay

Leaving Madonna Inn, it was 10:00 a.m. – and I had a reservation at Hearst Castle to do a tour at 12:00 noon. Knowing that much of Highway One was closed and I would not have much time to drive up in the afternoon, I headed due west towards the Ocean – hoping to catch some of the incredible scenery in the morning. And to get into the mood, I snapped the Beautiful Thing soundtrack as the soaring vocal harmonies of Mama Cass and the Mamas & the Papas got me into that California Dreamin’.

Sadly, the morning fog hue still sank over the coastline – leaving a gray residue for what could be a more glorious view. Still, I stepped out of the car in Morro Bay – to watch these adorable “sand-piper” birds on the beach, as they sucked their prey through their long beaks. As the tide rolled in, the birds all jumped back and forth as if on cue. It was really fun to watch. Further north near Cambria, the fog started to lift – and I took some pretty amazing pictures (which can be viewed on my Facebook page), but I didn’t have much time. My reservation at Hearst Castle was coming up soon.

Hearst Castle

Of course, Hearst Castles was as grandiose and opulent as I had expected it to be. The billionaire news publisher William Randolph Hearst spent over 30 years with architect Julia Morgan designing his palatial estate, and he technically “never completed” it because he kept on changing his mind about how to expand and build it even more. That being said, the Main House still had 115 rooms upon his death – and doubtless would have had more if he had lived even longer.

The son of a mining entrepreneur who had raised his family in luxury, William Randolph Hearst was a compulsive art collector at an early age – and the Castle is a real treasure trove of European medieval architects, complete with modern renditions of ancient architecture that fit Hearst’s eccentric style. Hearst spent much of the 1930’s and 40’s expanding this estate, which reminded me that back then the very rich still paid a huge percentage of their income in taxes. Did Hearst pay his fair share to keep our country going, or – like General Electric today – did he manage to find loopholes to cheat himself out of the system?

With the tour over by 2:00 p.m., I still wanted to drive up Highway One further – but knew that with road closures there would only be so much I could see. Moreover, it was still a very cloudy and foggy day – which meant the views would be far less spectacular than otherwise. But that being said, there was one place along Highway One north of Hearst Castle that I very much wanted to see – the Elephant seals.

Elephant Seals

Elephant seals congregate along the beach here in California, after they spend months traveling throughout the Pacific Ocean. After months of solitude at sea, they are a playful and social bunch on land – and it was a pleasure to watch. I noticed quite a few of the seals rub each other on the neck – as if they were “necking” each other romantically. Of course, it could also have been two males thumping their chests in a kind of macho, “domineering” way. But a thought crossed my mind as I watched them. Could it be that, at least in the case of a few of them, it was both? Why do we presume all animal couples to be heterosexual – if homosexuality is a phenomenon among humans? Could it be that I saw a few gay elephant seal out there today?

Satisfied with my brief excursion up north, it was time to head south and exit Highway One at Route 46 – so I could make my way to US-101. One lesson I’ve learned from this trip is that it’s a hell of a lot better to take Highway One southbound than northbound – because you’re on the side of the road facing the Ocean. If you’re driving north, the temptation to look over your shoulder and turn left on the curb is all too tempting – and far more dangerous. I briefly enjoy the southbound trip on Highway One, as I go back to rejoin Route 46.

Route 46

Heading off Highway One, I prepare to play some Creedence Clearwater Revival in the car – as I expect the guttural voices of wannabe hicks from El Cerrito to keep me focused on an unappealing scenery. But wait … Route 46 isn’t so bad. Wow, it’s actually quite beautiful. Sure, we’re not on the Ocean – but it’s a lot less cloudy, and the hills are a gorgeous green that I haven’t seen in a very long time. CCR can wait till later on the trip – now is time to play something more idyllic, something more joyful, something more … Californian. So I pop in the California Golden Overtones, Berkeley’s female a cappella group as I marvel at the rolling green hills of northern San Luis Obispo County.

The Golden Overtones take me the 20 miles to re-gain US-101 – as I head due north on the freeway. Sure, I’m going at 70-80 miles per hour on a dreaded Interstate – but the scenery is quite amazing down here. This is so much more pleasant than driving on I-5, and any Californian who can’t take Highway One for some reason should really take US-101 if they can. Approaching King City, the scenery gets more drab – but now I’ve got Creedence Clearwater Revival to keep me company, as the car zooms all the way up to Monterey for the night.

I’m now spending the night close to Monterey with my old college friend Maria, and her boyfriend. She takes me out to have drinks in Carmel at a fabulous seaside restaurant owned by Clint Eastwood, and we then have dinner at a great Indian place in town. Tomorrow, I head back to San Francisco for the very final leg of my vacation. It has been one truly memorable and exciting road trip!


One Response to “Highway One Day Two: Finding the Promised Land”

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