Friday, March 18, 2011

California or Bust!

I had a week to go from Los Angeles to San Francisco while Dave had a job on the East Coast.  I decided to head up the scenic Pacific Coast Highway, Route 1.

Santa Monica National Recreation Area:  When I think of heaven, this is what I imagine...  happy little hiking trails, cliff faces, lots of green, trickling creeks, blooming wildflowers, bird song...  ahhh it was just so darn pretty!  I hiked the Mishe Mokwa Trail to TriPeaks, where I went off trail and almost stepped on a snake (sorry buddy!), to the Backbone Trail to Sandstone Peak, the highest in the Santa Monica Mountains.

I wanted to hike in the Angeles National Forest, but a lot of the trails are still closed due to the Station Fire back in 2008.  A few different rangers suggested checking out the Morro Bay area outside San Luis Obispo, so I headed there.

Montana de Oro State Park & Morro Bay:  Let me tell you, this isn't the Jersey Shore or Malibu!  Tidal pools packed with anemones and hermit crabs...  cliffs dropping straight into the churning surf...  dense fog rolling in off the water and turning everything dream-like.  I'm not much of a beach person, I prefer the mountains, but I'm glad I went here to experience the California coast.

The next day, I decided to walk up Cerro Cabrillo, Cabrillo Hill.  It's something less than 1,000 feet, like 3 miles round-trip, I thought I'd knock it off in an hour.  Holy crap on toast, I was wrong!  The first third is a gentle uphill on a wide track.  The second third is a respectable uphill puffer on a beaten-earth track.  And the final third?  Bushwhacking through poison oak while avoiding snakes.  I totally lost the track on the way back down and survived the whackest of bushwhacks I've ever experienced.  I'm going to burn the pants I was wearing because I'm positive they're infused with 100% poison oak oil and will never be safe to wear ever again.  It was nasty and awesome.

the look on my face after the bushwhack...  WHEW!
Route 1 and Big Sur:  how to describe the California coast...  MOODY.  Not spectacular, not dramatic, not serene, but rather... infused with subtle feelings.  Everything here is a shade of gray, especially when the fog rolls in, which is always.  It seems like this would be the place to reach some sort of far-reaching personal conclusion about the workings of something or other.  Does that sound weird?  Something about the loneliness of driving this road in the middle of the week...  how the waves keep crashing, crashing, crashing against an unobserved cliff...  the way the fog burns off the peaks of the ridges before the valleys...

I visited Big Sur and day-hiked the famous Pine Ridge Trail.  It would make an awesome backpacking trip.

I was surprised to learn that Big Sur is the far southern end of the range of the great Redwood tree.  Most of the trees I saw were freaking huge by east-coast standards, but rather puny by Redwood standards.  I decided to head farther north in search of the giants.

the trees might not be huge, but the banana slugs are!

And then the highway fell into the ocean.  Oh, s***.  At first, I heard it would be closed 3-7 days.  Now crews say a month.  I backtracked a few hours and went up and over the Santa Lucia mountains.

AP Photo/Monterey Herald, Orville Myers,

Big Basin Redwoods State Park:  Why this park?  I don't have a good reason, other than acknowledging that something told me in no uncertain terms that I had to go.  I've learned not to second guess those intuitions.

It was AMAZING.  The little half-mile "Redwoods Trail" brought me past some of the largest trees in the park.
the "father of the forest" is 66 feet, 9 inches around
the "mother of the forest" is 329 feet tall and 70 feet around.  take that, dad!
I also walked the Skyline to Sea Trail to the Dool Trail to the Creeping Forest Trail.  This park wins on trail names alone!  The forest was SO lush, SO green, and then there are monster trees everywhere.

a bridge made out of a downed redwood
The hardest part of being a bum in California has been finding non-sketchy, non-illegal places to sleep at night.  I really wanted a break from the stress of figuring out where I would park for the night, so I paid for a campsite in the park, nestled in a grove of redwoods, right next to a shower block (aaahhh!).  Wisely, I slept in the car and awoke to the pitter-patter of raindrops sliding off the redwoods, my tent still dry under the car seat.  I stayed in my sleeping bag until 9:30 a.m. when I reasoned that I had been hibernating for 12 hours.

campsite among the redwoods
Hanging out with the redwoods was a very peaceful experience. Some of these trees were seedlings during the Byzantine Empire...  saplings during the Dark Ages...  already eight feet in diameter when Columbus landed in the Americas.  Spending any length of time in a grove of redwoods reminds me that I am very small and very insignificant.  Not in a bad way, though.  It feels reassuring to know that there was so much before me and there will be so much after and beyond me.


  1. Redwoods are so amazing! I can't wait until I get to see my first one in person...sometime in the future!

    Also, that banana slug? Wow.

  2. Anastasia, they are so amazing. At least to me. They make me feel very small.

    By the way, I've gotten way into Murakami... read anything of his, my fellow bookworm?

  3. Way cool, looks like an incredible week.