GAWA2011, Day 12: Big Sur

The plan had never actually included an all-out tour of San Francisco. The only real items on our list were a fervent desire not to experience an earthquake and a wish to take some jumping pictures from the observation station near the Golden Gate Bridge.

The good news is that there were no earthquakes.

Tourist Ruth Visits the Golden Gate Bridge

The bad news is that California weather decided to be uncooperative. When we left the hotel in the morning, we were convinced that the fog would either blow over or be burnt away by the sun in the time it would take us to drive to the bridge. It did not. If anything, the fog thickened in direct proportion to our proximity to the water. By the time we reached the observation center, we could actually observe distinct billows of fog blowing across the parking lot.

The good news is that we succeeded in not accidentally driving across the bridge, as we'd been convinced that we would do, and we did not therefore have to pay the toll. Instead, we redirected the Beetle for the day's next planned stop: CA Route 1, aka The Pacific Coast Highway. And the highway isn't technically a stop, since you drive on it, but you know what I mean.

After a brief incident in which we stopped at a small town in which none of the gas stations seemed to be in working order, we were driving along the coast, eagerly anticipating the promised stunning views.

Soon, we found ourselves in the vicinity of Big Sur. We stopped briefly to pick up some food, since I had found that hiking sounds much more enticing if one has sandwiches to eat at the end of the trail.

We wound our way through the dark coolness of towering sequoias and found the entrance to Big Sur State Park.

Feeling Small

The entrance to our trail of choice sported two signs: one an admonition to the hiker to help prevent the death of oak trees (rather a large responsibility to foist upon day visitors, if you were to ask me) and one a warning about mountain lions. Apparently these beasts don't like to be sneaked up upon, have been known to snatch people off the trails in order to eat and/or maul them, and are curiously attracted to small children. Neither of these signs made me more disposed to enjoy hiking.

The sign about mountain lions had recommended singing, talking loudly, and making plenty of noise along the trail so as not to surprise them and provoke an attack. As if I needed to be told.

Spirit of the Trees

After much winding up an down amongst the trees (and in one case, tripping over EVERYTHING, including the tripper's own feet), we reached an unimpressive waterfall, where we immediately dug into our backpacks and began scarfing down food.

Lunch spot

Keeping an eye on things

Mountain lions and nearly incessant tripping notwithstanding, we safely and successfully completed our hike, found where we'd parked the car, and pulled back onto Pacific Coast Highway. Unfortunately for me, it was my day to drive. As the breathtaking views along the coastal road undulated before us, Alissa looked out of her window and straight down sheer drop-offs with wonder as I gripped the steering wheel, white-knuckled, and attempted to keep a billow of wind from sweeping our toy car over the side and down into the sea. Initially, I drove so slowly that people behind me were honking their horns.1

Once we were through the foggy peaks, I was able to unclench my hands from the steering wheel long enough to pull over at turnouts and take a few pictures. What you see here captures only a fraction of the raw beauty of this area of California.

Big Sur

Big Sur

Big Sur

Once through the Big Sur region, we continued to drive south along the coast, almost always in sight of the sea. Alissa's head lolled loosely against the headrest as she slept through the most tortuous part of the drive: a section of road called Ragged Point. At times, the road went down to one lane due to the other lane having been destroyed either by a rock slide or by a raging ocean wave washing it into the Pacific.

I've read that with its ballooning debt and bankrupt economy, California may not be able to keep Pacific Coast Highway in repair much longer. If you plan to drive it before you die (and you should), you should get out there within the next ten years before the rest of it crumbles into the sea. Cheery thought.

North of Los Ossos, we spotted a busy seaside parking area and decided to see what all the fuss was about. Along this cold, lonely stretch of beach, we discovered one of California's most interesting attractions.

Sunny California

Elephant Seals!


These blubbery mammoths alternately squelched around vigorously in the sand and behaved threateningly toward one another while emitting rude sounds, or they slept like the dead. Either way, we were immensely happy not to have visited during mating season.

Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!

Since the air had grown chilled and the parking lot was full of Asian tourists and hippies, we did not linger.

It was colder than it looks

Alissa's friend Mitch--the one who had taken us out to dinner and then to the zoo in San Diego--was originally from the town where we planned to stay for the night, San Luis Obispo. He had told us that if we wanted to seem like locals, we would call it SLO. That seemed a bit rude, but hometown charm generally seems that way to outsiders. At any rate, Mitch had recommended that we eat dinner at his favorite restaurant, the Firestone Grill.

Our first order of business, though, was to find our hotel. I had been very excited to book this place, too, because the rates were extremely low and the hotel had a good service rating on whatever website I happened to be checking at the time. If I had any sort of wisdom whatsoever, I would have known that $30 a night was almost too good to be true.

It was. Our room, although large, was musty. The door had a flimsy lock (no deadbolt), one of the lamps was broken, and there were cigarette burns in the bed clothes. But the old Indian couple (India Indian, not Native American) who checked me in were so kind, and we were so tired, and I am so cheap (and I've stayed in much worse), that we decided to stay. We dumped our stuff in the room and walked the few blocks across town to the Firestone Grill.

Mitch had been right about that place: the food is excellent, and if you ever find yourself in that part of the country, you should try to make it there. Despite the good food and excellent people-watching venue we had while sitting outside on the patio, we were in a hurry to make it back to our skeezy motel before dark, since it was right along the freeway and we had walked.

Dusk found us settled in our musty room. Alissa had her phone clamped to her ear, talking to her bearded beanpole of a boyfriend, while I researched our adventures for the next day.

We only had two days left, and we were determined to make them good ones.
1 - I just need to stop going to places that require me to be high up in the air.


  1. Key words I kept repeating to children during a trip to Mt. Rainier: "Don't act like PREY!" Which is, you know, all that toddlers DO.


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