Saturday, July 27, 2013

Driving on the Edge of Heaven

Hello and welcome to Day 8! I woke up at 10 and left the hotel at 11 on this very fine day. The first treat of the day was seeing this outside my window:

That is Morro Rock, a 600 foot tall lump of granite sitting at the beach at Morro Bay. I hadn't had a single clue it was there when I arrived late the night before. I read that peregrine falcons, some of the coolest birds ever, make their nests at the top and dive at ferocious speeds to pursue prey near the base of the rock.

After I adjusted to the presence of Morro Rock, I drove a short distance from the hotel to this nice little Espresso Bar / Internet Café:

There I did some more research and prep for driving Highway 1 that day, and chowed down on a strong latte and a delicious breakfast burrito served to me by a pretty attractive barrista. She was going kayaking or something later that day, which was a Monday. Tough life huh?

I thought I was pretty full after the café stop, but when I walked down into the shops area near the shore, I found an ice cream shop, so of course I had to load up on a vanilla milkshake:
Here's the Duckies with Morro Rock in the background:

With the combination of the 70 degree weather, sunniness, and the smallness of the town and all its little shops, I could've walked around the area for many hours. Everything reminded me of the mom'n'pop, sole proprietor setup:

I also found a giant chessboard in one of the local squares:

I walked down to the harbor for a few pictures:

From the harbor, I drove right out to the Rock, for some pictures of the surrounding hills, ocean, seagulls, the Rock itself, and a small army of squirrels:

It was honestly hard to leave Morro Bay, it's such a pleasant little town. It's the starting point of the section of Highway 1 where it rejoins the coast and hugs that coastline all the way up to San Francisco. Here's the first pics I took north of Morro Bay in some dry hill country:

It's hard to tell, but the last picture is of Hearst Castle at the top of the hill in the middle. It's the old stomping grounds of the newpaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, but as the tours cost good money, I stopped at the gift shop, got a magnet of the castle, and continued along the drive. Around San Simeon the road did go slightly inland, into some pines and plains:

San Simeon is the start of the region known as the Big Sur, an amalgam of what the Spanish called the region when they first got there. It's the most famous, most renowned section of the Pacific Coast Highway, and it starts out with the road right down by the shore, which includes vistas of the shoreline (sometimes very rocky) and stopping points to check out the elephant seals lounging on the beach:

 As you can see, I could get close to the seals, but couldn't actually go down onto the sand from the walkway, they can get pretty riled if intruded upon by people.

The mama seals have to do a lot of work, and that's why they lay out on the beach without moving in the abundant sunlight:

More shimmering blue Oceanside shots:

North of the elephant seal beach, the road rose upward, hundreds of feet up the cliffs, and I stopped at a lodge to snap some photos from the new vantage point:

Ok, here's a stopping point to set you the reader up for the next section of this day. I don't remember eating even a snack, or stopping for gas in this afternoon, and I'm not one to go many hours without food. It must've been because the upcoming scenery was better than I could've possibly imagined. The flat layer of pure white clouds appeared around a bend, and that's when I thought that maybe, like many others before me, I'd discovered driving heaven:

These pro-California comments are in no way meant to demean Texas, but frankly there's no place in Texas, nor in any other continental US state, where you can get these views above the perfectly blue, smooth-waved ocean, snow white cloud layers, and occasional glimpses of humpback whales far below:

A half hour or so north of San Simeon, I found the entrance to a road I'd read about called Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, which starts at the PCH and winds tightly up into the nearby hills. It's very narrow, like one and a half lanes wide, and steep. Loads of fun in manual shift mode:

 It was worth the detour to get hundreds of feet up and gain more vantage points above the hillsides and the inimitable blanket of clouds.

 Aren't you glad I took these next two driving near corners with drop-offs?

I crawled the Infiniti back down Nacimiento in low gear, and pulled back onto the PCH, with still another one and a half hours south of Monterey. As I proceeded north, the fog began to roll in from the ocean into the coastal mountains, something I'd never had the pleasure of driving through. Plus, it was nice to have incredible view after incredible view around each bend in the road:

I stopped so many times at overlooks that I ended up getting sunburned on my forearms! I even got the Duckies some good looks at the fog outside the car. It got thicker the closer I got to Monterey:

When the fog did clear at times, the sights were pure California perfection:

Notice the people of foot on the roadside in my rearview mirror. Never seen sights like these next two in my young life:

 This next part of the highway makes me think of the Mediterranean coast, with the low stone walls, limestone cliffs, bright blue water:

The fog got thick and completely blocked the sun by the time I'd reached Monterey itself, which also cooled the temperature down:

That's all the pictures for today. The drive was so good that not only did it cross off an item on my bucket list, it also created a new one - drive the Pacific Coast Highway again someday. I'm gonna do it, Lord willing.

I got to Monterey around 5 pm, and stopped a few minutes to get some expensive petrol and consult Yelp on where to get Mexican food between there and San Francisco. I didn't want to linger in Monterey because I'd been texting updates of my progress to my friend Cory's friend Josh in San Fran that afternoon, and I didn't want to keep him waiting.

Yelp directed me to La Perla Del Pacifico, a Mexican restaurant in a mid-sized town called Watsonville, which was a few miles inland north of Monterey, and it was also a mile or two away from Highway 1. I had to drive through some farmland to get to Watsonville, which made me miss the amazing scenery I'd just left behind. I got to the restaurant, ordered some shrimp fajitas and watched the Spanish language news while I began to realize how pink my forearms had become in just an hour. The shrimp in the fajitas was very spicy, I really liked that place! It deserved its 4.5 star rating on Yelp.

After dinner at 6, I got back on the PCH briefly to drive a short distance up the coast, then got onto CA-17, which was a cool evening view of the low mountains and forests southwest of Silicon Valley. It was a strange route though, because it would alternate from limited access highway, speed limits 55-60 (not blazing fast from still moving), to parkway that anyone could get on, where the speed limit to drop to 40. This switch happened several times, and I was in a minor hurry, so I didn't particularly enjoy the switch from medium speed to slow speed.

It was sunset by the time I turned onto west Highway 85, which skirts the western rim of Silicon Valley through suburbs like Cupertino and Mountain View, home of the headquarters of Apple and Google, respectively. I technically visited San Jose, meaning I saw the city limits sign but couldn't see any buildings because the highway had high walls and pine trees along either side. It was nearly dark by the time I got on the 101 heading into San Francisco itself. I was working the directions on the phone actively as I zoomed along with the rest of the evening traffic to get to the Potrero area of San Fran.

I'd asked Josh which Chinese food place he liked in his area, as I wanted to experience some Asian food in the city that has America's largest Chinatown. He directed me to a place two blocks from his apartment called Jade Café. Seedy little Chinese place, served me a big to-go box of beef fried rice right as they were closing, really nice staff! I took it back to Josh's place at 18th and Potrero, which is only a block or two west of the highway 101.

Once I learned that I had to park my car on the opposite side of the street because of the street cleaning schedule, I carried my luggage up some of the longest staircases to a second floor I've ever seen. I was lucky to find the exact apartment in the first place, it was one of those 515 1/2 addresses. I then plopped down on their couch and started destroying the fried rice and Diet Coke while telling my hosts about the trip so far, and what I had planned for the next month of driving. There was a joke made about driving to Old England instead of New England, we laughed, and it was a good conversation, while watching Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune.

After the guys went to bed, I spent a couple more hours, to probably midnight or later, uploading the beautiful photos from earlier that day, and basking in those memories. Good night from San Francisco!