Day Thirty Six: Out On The Old Coast Highway: California (Solvang, Morro Bay, Big Sur)

(Events of Monday August 20th, posted Thursday August 23rd)

Sooo, the room I got at the Wine Valley Inn was not so hot. It was right on the parking lot and underneath the outdoor stairwell that accessed the parking lot. So, pretty noisy and had tom keep the blinds down all the time. And the maids came into my room five minutes before check out while I was indisposed. Awkward.

So after a little rhetorical “Mirror Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Awesomest of Them All,” we were ready to head out.


I decided to take another quick stroll around Solvang and pick up some pastry goodies from the oldest bakery in town. I also stopped in to possibly the only dog store that had NOTHING of interest for me.

And then it was time to be on the road again-for s stretch of driving I was really looking forward to-Route One, the Pacific Coast Highway, and one of the most breathtaking stretches of highway in the country.

Things got off to an interesting start when I spotted a dude hang gliding directly across the highway. If that was a lady, she is for sure the BAWOTD!

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And pretty soon the views turned into things like this…

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After a bit, we pulled in to Morro Bay a sort of run down little seaside town full of thrift shops and cheap souvenir stores.

The focal point of Morro Bay is the aptly named Morro Bay Rock, which is A) really cool looking, and B) a nesting place for lots of birds, including peregrine falcons. A lovely birder gentleman let me peek through his scope which was trained on a handsome male (falcon).

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One question: How big of an asshole do you have to be to vandalize a cactus?

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Annie and I strolled the neighboring beach for a bit, but it was gray and quiet and we were growing hungry, so I stopped in to a little French eatery for a soup and salad, and was delighted to see these fanciful bread creations adorning the walls.

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We drive a bit longer, and then, out of the blue, with no warning of the Awesome Bomb that’s about to be dropped in my lap, I see a sign for “Elephant Seal Viewing Point”. Ok, now I have my hopes waaay down, and I am fully prepared for this to be another bust like the “Bighorn Sheep Viewing Station” in Colorado, but what to my wondering eyes do appear???

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ELEPHANT SEALS!! Scads of them! Big ones! Little Ones! Fat Ones! Tiny Ones! They frolic in the surf, they BARKBARK at each other, they flip sand, they snuggle, THEY ARE ADORABLE!!

I finally manage to pull myself away from the insane amount of cuteness (mainly because it was chilly and windy) and we continue our drive through paradise…

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And finally we hit the big time…

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I decide to look for a camp a little earlier than usual as I’m concerned about availability, and I’m also hoping to have a little down time to actually enjoy it. I had a campsite in mind for the evening, but it’s another 30 miles down the road, and I don’t want to have to double back if it’s full. So Annie and I pull into the tiny but perfect LimeKiln State Park and I rustle up some healthy grub.

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The campsite is a little rough around the edges, but it does have its own private beach where I find the perfect size rock to prop against and settle in to watch the sun go down.

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I had a few more photos of Solvang and Morro Bay, but they don’t seem to want to load and I’m too far behind to waste anymore time on them.

Day Thirty Five: Driving Down the 101 California Here We Come : California (Santa Barbara, Solvang)

(Events of Sunday, April 19th blogged Wednesday, April 22nd)

Did I forget to mention that the whole time I was sitting on the beach reading and waiting for Mary (and later hanging out with her) I neglected to put even a drop of sunscreen on? Well, it’s true. I’m terrible with sunscreen, and I think I thought because I’ve gotten a nice base layer from not wearing it in the cold desert then I’d be fine. I go through this every summer, I’m 45 and I still just refuse to learn. Anyhoodle-what this means is my knees and calves were pretty fried (and I was also exhausted by the end of the day yesterday), so I was moving slowly and creakily, and the prospect of any significant exercise was out.

I would also like to point out, that when I went to walk my dog around this fine quality lodging establishment Mary had secured for us, I MAY have inadvertently stumbled upon a drug deal in progress. What I thought were the housekeeping folks preparing to enter a room (at 7:30AM??) looked a lot more dubious when the plumber’s crack of one drew my eye to an array of pills spread out on the sidewalk.

Luckily, the one place I wanted to check out only involved an easy drive to access… up a really steep, really narrow road with no room for passing, and only the tiniest sliver of space to “park” your car once you’d reached it. But these were Mary’s problems. I was cool as a cucumber in the passenger seat for a change.

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I had read about this cave on one of my dog-friendly sites, and although it was blink and you’d miss it super tiny, and you have to peer in at them through a gate, the paintings that are there are brilliantly colored and fascinatingly bizarre. They are believed to have been painted by priests attempting to influence supernatural beings to assist them and were created in different time periods, with new designs overlapping previous depictions. Scientists have used pigment analysis to date some of the images to the 1600s.

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The area around the cave had some fun nooks and crannies and steep rocky trails perfect for the more able-bodied of our party to explore.

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And, much to my delight, there was even a guest book to sign!

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After that excitement, and once we’d survived the harrowing turn around and drive back down Death Road, we decided to go in search of a light hiking spot I’d heard of called Knapp’s Castle Trail. So, OK, this trail is all but impossible to locate, it’s not marked at all, and in attempting to find it we nearly wandered out onto a shooting range and a spot where some folks were having archery practice! We did see some magnificent views though. The pictures don’t capture it, but we were literally above the clouds.

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And FINALLY, after Mary took the drastic step of talking to some other people, FINALLY we found it!

It’s about a half-mile walk to the ruins of an old mansion built by George Knapp, the founder of Union Carbide in 1916. The property was sold in 1940, and a world-famous opera singer moved in. Only five weeks later the whole thing was destroyed by a forest fire and never rebuilt. Now it’s just some cool old stone structures with lots of fun spots to play around in.

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There was also a cool amphitheater type thing, but according to Wikipedia that was built by the current owner around 2011 before he was forced to stop for lack of proper permits.

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By this point, we were famished. A little internet sleuthing turned up the Summerland Beach Cafe, which seemed like it catered to our sort of clientele.

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Indeed, everyone was pleased with their service.

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Then it was time to bid an all too soon farewell to Mary, how I wish she could have come with us through the rest of California. Still moving a little slowly, Annie and I decided to take a tip from Seth and head just a little bit north to the Danish town of Solvang.

Solvang was founded by Dutch immigrants, but looked just like every other California Cowboy town until the 1950s-after a magazine article came out trumpeting it as THE place to go to experience Old World Culture, the local tourism department decided they better overhaul the whole architectural feel from Spanish conquistador and California Craftsman to more of a Hans Christian Anderson vibe, with full on windmills and everything.

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Speaking of Hans, The Little Mermaid is the town logo, and appears on everything, right down to the fire engines. Fun HCA fact: He also wrote The Snow Queen, which later evolved into Frozen, and if you say the names of some of the main characters really quick: Hans, Kristoff, Anna, Sven-it sounds like his name! I learned this bit of trivia on the Horse Drawn Streetcar Ride that Annie and I took… as the only passengers. Which sounded great at first, until I realized the tour ladies ENTIRE shpiel would be narrated directly to us and I would have to react to EVERYTHING rather than just staring out the window and taking it in. And that I would have to endure all of her awkward laughter and nervous mannerisms with no buffer. I couldn’t get off of there fast enough.

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Afterwards we strolled around the town a bit on our own, and Annie was welcomed kindly at several of the stores. I wouldn’t let her go in the tiara shop though…

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There were lots of cool Danish touches all around, especially if you looked up. Many of the rooftops have wooden storks nesting on them-said to bring good luck and protection to the household.

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The cross-hatching on this thatched roof is supposed to ward off evil spirits

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And this is a replica of a tower in Copenhagen – the four intertwining dragons at the base represent the unity of the four Scandinavian countries.

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Speaking of dragons, it is (was) Sunday night, which means I’m springing for a hotel room so we can unwind with Game of Thrones and pizza!

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OH! And before I forget (again)-these are photos of the lovely sunset that caused Mary and I to hang around Eli’s hood all evening yesterday. Some random lovebirds, and me with my best girl.

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ALSO! It had been suggested that a Q&A session on the blog may be of interest, and I think that’s a great idea. So consider this your chance to ask me anything you’ve ever wanted to know (that contains some minimal bit of tangential connection to this trip). All questions should be posted in the comments section of THIS blog post only; not on FB or by text, or on another post (although if you have previously asked a question on a previous post, and I never responded, feel free to repost here.) You can ask anything, no question too big or too small. Pop it in the comments here, and I will be happy to respond.