After Alaska and Texas, California is 3rd in land mass and 1st in population in these United States and “Oh My Stars” to quote my sister Mary, it is sooo diverse; you could spend months exploring the mountains, the desert, the forests and the coast. After MUCH consideration, we decided to stick to the coast (this trip).
We entered California on its southeastern border from Arizona, via the desert as we were heading to San Diego to see family and friends. Quite a distance from the AZ border, our first overnight in California was at the Salton Sea State campground – unbeknownst to us, until we arrived, that it is (was) an environmental disaster from the past; now this sea/lake languishes as water levels decrease making the water even more unsavory and unsupportive of any life. But it is hot, they do have hookups and showers (still) AND it was down the road from Coachella. I’ve heard of Coachella, Palm Springs, etc., now we found our way in and through those communities. You would never know you are in the desert by your surroundings. Irrigation is huge, not only to grow food but also to create green oasis’ in this arid, continually warm part of the country. We know this because to start our 30th wedding anniversary week, we got a wonderful couples massage at a very nice resort in Desert Palm, CA; suddenly you’re not in the desert, you’re in an oasis surrounded by grass and palm trees. On the one hand, they’re using water to grow food and on the other hand, they’re using water to create a fake environment (pleasing to the eye) during a 20-year mega drought. Priorities – just an observation.
Since its our 30th wedding anniversary and we miss the ocean, we decide to get off the road and get accommodations right on the ocean in Pacific Beach, San Diego, CA. We arrive to a bottle of wine with glasses in our room and our youngest has some other adult beverages delivered later that day. While being in the city is not usually our preference, it’s a welcomed experience to watch the joggers, roller skaters, bicycles, skateboarders and strollers of all ages, watch the daily surfing lessons right across the boardwalk from where we are, smell the ocean and soak up some sun on chaise lounges by the pool. We stay 3 nights at the Blue Sea Inn, right on the beach/boardwalk in Pacific Beach. Our friend, (a Pacific Beach resident) Suzie joins us for the afternoon and gives us a tour, a great way to get our bearings and shares her knowledge of the area (thank you Suzie!) so we’re not total neophytes. We also see our nephew, Aiden, stationed at the Navel base in San Diego and go out for breakfast, on the beach.
We head up the coast to Cardiff-by-the-Sea to see and stay with former neighbors from Hull for the weekend. 16 years ago they moved back to this area from Hull when their little girls were babies. Now their girls are 17 and 20 and beautiful and thoughtful young women. We eat, cook, bake and enjoy the company of these gals (who married in Hull) we love. I learn how to make the best margarita ever (from scratch), Thank you Lori!! Their home is a monarch butterfly sanctuary and there are chrysalis’s in various stages of development as well as caterpillars and butterfly’s on the milkweed supporting this lifecycle; we have to be mindful of the space and how we inhabit it. We stay in their guest cottage and enjoy our time with them and time out of the RV. We get the map out and discuss our trip and the tradeoffs of different routes and decide we will proceed up the coast on the Pacific Highway Route 1. With Memorial Day holiday coming up, I need to get busy and find places to stay.
As you can imagine, its difficult to find campgrounds with openings; everyone is camping 😉. We stay at a Harvest Host that’s a winery the 1st night; expensive stay as we do the wine tasting AND buy a bottle, so the next day, we decide to just stop at a campground and see if they have openings; we do and they do. We find Gaviota State Park right on the beach. The ranger in charge says they have space as this is a “little-known park”; no hook-ups but plenty of sun, sea and warmth. The thing about the California coast is that its mostly cliffs with BIG waves and small inlets, not hospitable to boating or swimming. We stay the night and proceed to Morro Bay where we have reservations.
Morro Bay is a small bay with many small marinas. The campsites are close in proximity with hook-ups (the last we will see for weeks); also next to a small marina where they rent kayaks. It’s a bit chilly here but we long to be on the water, we rent a double kayak (thankfully), the fog lifts and we paddle to Morro Rock a point of reference for the entrance to Morro Bay and the tip of remote, beautiful beaches. We spend 3 hours paddling and soaking up the sun and meditate lying in the warm sand. After 2 nights we keep heading north on Route 1 to Big Sur.
For some reason, I thought Big Sur was a surfing place, but it’s a huge forest dominated by big redwood trees. The ride there is only the beginning of the challenging Route 1; a winding, 2-lane, cliff-side road with various elevations, up and down, sometimes with a shoulder, sometimes not, sometimes with a guard raid, sometimes not; oftentimes frightening, with tight turns that reduces your speed to 15 mph. Either way, Route 1 elevates ones’ heart-rate regularly. The road to Big Sur was our initiation to this challenging topography that makes up the California coast, calling upon us to be present with attention to every mile. Sean is doing a tremendous job driving and remaining calm throughout. I am grateful, as sometimes I need to look away and breath.
We arrive with grace and ease to Big Sur state park for one night’s stay. We have a beautifully, private campsite with a creek flowing across the way where we sit in the sun and have a cocktail. We had no idea that we would be dry camping (no hook-ups) throughout the rest of California after leaving Morro Bay; good thing we have portable solar panels to recharge. Glad the fridge runs on propane, as that uses a lot of electricity. I’ve been silently worrying about where we will stay for Memorial Day weekend as I couldn’t find any openings in any campgrounds online. From Big Sur, Waze takes us on a circuitous route through San Francisco on Friday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend; I figure we need to get far enough north of the city to find a place to stay for the weekend – focusing on Bodega bay where there are two state campgrounds. We arrive at 1 campground at around 5:20 pm AND they may have an opening; she’ll check, we need to wait. Fingers crossed.
Turns out they have overflow spots at their sister campground, Wright’s Beach campground. We go there and we have a beautiful site, in overflow, that has grass and a hill and a beach view; better (we think) than the campground sites. Grateful beyond words, we have a place to stay for three nights. We settle in and enjoy the beach and Bodega bay. Wright’s beach is considered one of the most dangerous beaches in California because of the surf – it slams down on the shore as a wave arrives. Bodega bay has an active fishing fleet and we have to try Pacific coast oysters. East Coast Oysters win hands down, but we do have the best fried fish we’ve ever had at Fisheteria in Bodega Bay. We head north to Van Damme State Park.
The one thing about the California Coast we find out is that AT&T has little coverage here, while campgrounds have WIFI, enabling me to keep working, we cannot make calls and no streaming on the campground WIFI. No cell service, so no music as we haven’t downloaded any from Spotify and no TV cause no electricity as California state parks, for the most part, don’t have hookups. We can only keep up with the Bruins by listening via WIFI. We are reading a lot, writing a bit, playing backgammon (finally found a board) and chess, a lot of campfires and I’m learning to play a Navajo wooden flute. Also, the motorcycle is a great ride on these less-traveled winding roads. Another thing we find odd about the California coast is the lack of boats when we look out over the ocean, toward the horizon. Since the Cali Coast is cliffs and not coves and/or harbors, there are very few boats, pleasure or otherwise. What we like that’s very different from home is the lack of trash on any beach we go to; not true back home.
Van Damme state park is a beautiful park and we get a nice, sunny, level spot; no big rigs in this park as you must cross a 1-lane bridge and go up a steep incline to get to the campground. Amazingly, in the heart of these giant redwoods is a Pygmy forest, nature’s bonsai, very old trees whose trunks are only one inch in diameter because of the lack of nutrients in the soil. We have a wonderful 5-mile hike around this remote, natural wonder that also is littered with blooming rhododendrons. Redwood trees and rhododendrons are very compatible and like the same soil. From Van Damme we head further north to Humboldt State Park where the park is comprised of groves of the huge, huge redwood trees.
We are in awe at these giants that are everywhere but there is little natural light in this park because of the canopy created by all the giants. This is a 1-night stay as this park was very full; good thing because we can’t use solar here (no sunlight), there’s not much separation between campsites and the showers only have cold water. We are on to a more mature redwood forest at Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, a combined national / state redwood forest.
Driving Route 1 or the 101 is still treacherous, it really doesn’t let up anywhere past San Francisco on the California coast. Hair-pin turn after hair-pin turn; now that we are “experienced”, it’s a bit easier to remain calm. I am glad I checked (and read) the attachment to our campground reservation confirmation as it says there is a rockslide on the 101 and there are only 2 windows (1 hour each) when the road is open to get through. We arrive at 1 pm for the 2 o’clock opening; we have lunch and I give myself a manicure. Also, I notice the couple stopped next to us are traveling with a cat – a black Maine Coon cat that looks just like our Batman, just a bit younger. I do miss him.
We get a great campsite at the Del Norte Mill Creek Campground. This park turns everyone into a kid as the redwoods abound, the huge stumps that remain from the logged redwoods are everywhere and provide a great stage for any type of play, dress-up, fairy houses, a ship – you get the picture – it’s a magical place. We go for a hike where we think its either a joke or someone with a learning disability made the signs about the different trails, because all the signs give different information (distances) and point you in different directions. 4 miles and 30 floors later we feel good and safe, as we thought we heard a rather large animal (there are bears here) make their presence known with its “voice” as we walk through the forest.
We bid a fond farewell to California and its over $4 a gallon gas prices with deep appreciation for all its natural beauty and for keeping route 1 / 101 a journey in itself. This leg of the trip has been the most challenging so far between the dry camping, no cell service and difficultly finding places to camp. I have learned to turn the page on worry though, even when it takes several pages (in my mind) that are being turned (or let go of), trust deepens as conventions are challenged because everything ALWAYS works out. I know we are loved and supported by forces greater than ourselves.
And so it is,
Sean & Kelly