Open Road

Open Road

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

I’ll have the ‘Sampler Platter,’ OR Variety is the spice of life!

Two weeks in California, and we still didn’t see it all!  One of the things that we have struggled with on this trip is deciding what to see, and what to cut out.  Even with 77 days (yes, the actual trip is eleven weeks long, but the alliteration sounds better with ‘Ten Weeks in a Tin Can’)…anyway, even with 77 days, there are still more things to see in this great country than we could possibly fit in.  This certainly was the case with California.  Like seriously, we didn’t even go into L.A. or San Diego.  We also skipped Palm Springs, Joshua Tree, and multiple state parks and a few other national parks.

Even while in San Francisco, we skipped taking the kids to China Town, biking over the Golden Gate, going down Lombard Street, Twin Peaks, Golden Gate Park, or venturing into parts of town that might spur discussions that will be easier to handle when they are a little older (e.g, the Castro, Haight-Ashbury, etc.).

But enough about what we didn’t see, what we did see was a great sampling of an amazing state that has so much to offer.  I can easily understand why property prices are so high there and why people continue to move into the area.  I hope what we did see provided the kids with a good understanding of the variety of opportunities this world provides them with and maybe a few things that they can come back and explore more completely when they are older.

Big Sur
After leaving San Francisco, we headed over the mountains and started heading south on California Hwy 1, otherwise known as the Pacific Coast Highway.  

Our first stop was the Monterey Bay Aquarium - which was easily the coolest aquarium I’ve seen (sorry, CT friends!).  We started our day by seeing a great program about how they help raise baby otters that have been separated from their mothers.  They raise them using surrogate mothers from the Aquarium’s captive otter population.  This allows the Aquarium to raise the babies in a way that they can be reintroduced to the wild.  Great program - and, even cooler to see the otters back out in the wild, but more about that in a minute.  

In addition to multiple touch pools that allow you to interact with local sea creatures, a great jellyfish display, and the requisite tanks of fish, the Aquarium also has a great display of the local flora and fauna.  Monterey, and much of the CA coast has kelp forests, and the aquarium has an incredible multi-story tank that allows you to see the inner workings of this complex ecosystem.  

Finally, the Aquarium is built right over the bay, so after you’ve walked through all the exhibits, you can walk out on their deck and see the sea lions, otters, and birds playing in the water, diving for food, or lounging on the rocks.  After exploring Monterey for a bit, we headed over to Carmel and walked the shops on the main street.  Carmel is a cute little seaside town with your average seaside t-shirt shops.  Oh, and Tiffany’s and Sotheby’s Real Estate, and multiple other designer stores.  Carmel is definitely a playground for the rich and famous, and poor Toad looked quite out of place parked along the street.

Our next stop was a great state park half way down the coast called Morro Bay.  Morro Bay is named for Morro Rock, which is an ancient and dormant volcano that sits at the opening to the bay.  We rode our bikes into town, and up to Morro Rock, where we found a raft of otters (we learned at the aquarium that a group of otters are a ‘raft’!).  We enjoyed sitting and watching the otters frolic in the water for some time.  We also did a couple of smaller hikes to see the area.  At the back of the bay is an estuary, that between that and Morro Rock provides plenty of opportunity to see all kinds of sea birds, which are fun to watch but I won’t pretend to know what they are, outside of the occasional passing pelican.

Elephant Seals along the PCH
In order to get to Morro Bay, we had to drive down through Big Sur.  This took the better part of a day, because we kept stopping to admire the views.  It is a breathtaking drive with ever changing vistas of the rock bound coast.  We had alternating periods of bright sunlight and total fog.  The sunlight turned the water bright blue/green offshore and a frothy foamy white as it broke on the shore.  While the fog was so dense that we couldn’t see the ocean below us.  The fun part was that there were times when we were driving above the clouds - bright blue sky above us, and below us clouds so dense they look like you could walk on them.  We made a quick stop in San Simeon to tour the Hearst Castle.  Wow!  How awesome would it have been to live there?  Or even to have been a guest during the heyday of William Randolph Hearst and the dinner parties he would throw?

Our last stop in California was Ventura where I kept singing, “Ventura Highway in the moon light.”  The kids have no idea why.  

We stayed at a campground up in the hills, but the highlight was going to Leo Carrillo State Park during low tide.  There are great tide pools there and we spent hours playing with the thousands of hermit crabs that are everywhere, and we were lucky enough to find a couple of regular crabs, a sea urchin, lots of anemones, and a baby starfish whose legs were as thin as a piece of yarn, but was still large enough to crawl all over our hands.

California wasn’t all golden sunlight and gentle temperatures - we experienced our fair share of challenges while there, too!  In Morro Bay, we tried to do an easy hike with minimal change in elevation, but what looked like a couple hundred feet change over a good distance on the pseudo-topographical map provided by the state park turned out to have fairly steep inclines and declines.  That, coupled with the couple mile bike ride earlier in the day, I think brought April to realize that this is a “full contact” trip and there will be physical demands just about everywhere we go.  Though we will try to minimize the demands on her poor knees, in many cases we won’t know what we are getting into until we are there.  It’s all part of the demands (and joys) of discovery while exploring.
Lounging at Hearst Castle

In Ventura, I had my own personal breakdown brought on by my own bad decisions.  First, in my excitement and haste to get to the beach, I pulled Harvey (with Toad in tow) up alongside the guardrail to park along the PCH.  When we decided to try parking inside the state park instead, I pulled away too quickly, turning the back corner of Harvey into the guardrail, clipping the corner and smashing a running light.  To add insult to injury, while at the beach I was enjoying the beautiful Pacific ocean and wadded too far out.  I got caught in a very large wave that picked me up, and as I put my foot down to catch the bottom, I instead caught one of the massive submerged rocks along the coast.  I had two toes that were so black and blue I was sure that I broke them both, as well as multiple abrasions and a ripped off nail.  I spent the rest of the afternoon hobbling around the beach on a bloody stump.  So gnarly, dude.

Well, as I mentioned, we spent a full two weeks in California, but didn’t get to see it all.  In fact, at our last stop, April and I spent one night planning the rest of our trip.  As we expected before we left, there is no way we can see all we had mapped out.  So, we figured out the important stuff - along with a pace that is more comfortable.

Next, we are off to Vegas.  Where, once again, I’m sure we will not be able to do a fraction of what we would want to do.  But, we will do enough to provide a sample of what Vegas has to offer…well, offer a ten year old, anyway.


  1. This land is your land, this land is my land...

  2. Sounds to me like you'll just have to do this every summer until you've seen it "all"! Now that you guys have done this once, you'll be old hands at it by next summer! :o) I'm enjoying your exploits (although I'm sorry to hear about your foot) and hope you have as much fun on the rest of your journey as I have had reading about it back here in Michigan!

  3. I doubt we'll ever have another opportunity to do a trip like this again, but even if we did, we'd need at least a year to recover from this one! So blessed to be doing this though. By the way, his foot is almost back to normal! We have some pretty amazing places yet to visit, so stay tuned!!!