USA Road Trip No. 1 - San Francisco to New York


Thursday, 22 December 2011

Verse 6: Highway 1 - Pigeon Point to Big Sur

Tuesday 5th Jan. The clear skies and sunny weather continued so we got a stunning, fresh sunrise at Pigeon Point and finally got to see where we were. It felt a million miles from the noise and traffic of San Francisco despite only being an hour out of the city.

The lighthouse is graceful and a very distinct landmark along the cliffs, it looked all the more beautiful for the soft, early morning light. Got up early, had some porridge, took some pics of the rising sun.


We continued along Highway 1, towards the Big Sur via Santa Cruz, briefly checking out the magnificent old roller coaster which was closed for the season. There’s always something charming and slightly melancholic about seaside resorts in the winter, they fall into hibernation and signs of life are few and far between... until you scratch beneath the surface. Move away from the sea front and see what the locals are up to. Unfortunately we are on a road trip and just passing through so we didn't have time to find out what was going on in this pretty town but enjoyed it's retro splendour none the less.

Just after Santa Cruz we took a minor detour to a good ol’ tourist con – The Mystery Spot. A place where trees grow in corkscrew formations (that’s a bit of an exaggeration – more like a gentle twist), balls roll up hill and short people get to be taller than their tall friends!

It’s quite obviously one of those great American swindle myths that have been really well constructed and marketed, but it’s really fun – especially if you have the quirky, very sharp witted guide that took us round and did the spiel. It’s a good place for silly photos and is in a pleasantly wooded spot. I was disappointed that none of the tricks made me taller than Ingo though.

We continued on our way and briefly passed through Monterey (famous for the Jazz fest) and Pacific Grove. We briefly stopped off in Pacific Grove to check out an area of Eucalyptus wood that is well known as a winter haven for Monarch butterflies. Most years there are 10s of thousands of these beautiful butterflies dripping from the branches of the trees but unlucky for us there was only a few hundred or so scattered around this year. Thankfully there was a lady with a telescope who let us take a peek at a group that had gathered high in the branches of a particularly tall tree. They looked like shards of delicate stained glass as the sun shone through their wings, which only open up once the temperature gets to 13°C (55°F). Apparently the best time to see them is around 4pm on a balmy afternoon when they get a little more active. It was still a lovely sight to see them flitting from branch to branch. It was also funny watching the people watching the butterflies.

Had lunch in a pleasant little café called Toasties on Lighthouse Ave, it was so warm we sat outside in t-shirt and soaked up some small town rays.

Soon after Pacific Grove and Carmel (which are all part of the Monterey Peninsula) we hit the Big Sur coastline. Ninety miles of winding, two lane black top hugging the precarious cliffs as it winds round the headlands, fingers of sea mist gradually being burnt off by the sun, sun, sun. Clear blue California sky. Stopping every 10 minutes to take in the incredible vistas. Every time we stopped we could see hundreds of seals in the water, little black heads bobbing in and out of the water, calling and honking out to each other. Over impressive steel bridges spanning deep canyons, past steep slopes covered in waving Pampas grasses, glimpses of huge remote glass and wood houses built high up on the mountains (and even more incredible price tags I am sure).

As the afternoon wore on we crossed into the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, through majestic, coastal Redwood forests with their wonderful alpine scent. It seemed strange to be driving one minute along the sunny Pacific coast and then diving headlong into deeply shaded forest valleys only a few miles away. We decided to check out Pfeiffer Beach for a late afternoon walk and an ocean bound sunset. The turn off is not sign posted so you have to look out very carefully for a small road going off steeply to the right about a mile after the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park ranger station (if you are coming from the north, or left and about one mile before the ranger station if you are coming from the south). After winding our way down Sycamore Canyon Road, which follows a wooded creek right down to the beach, you come to a car park and then walk through some trees out onto the beach. For a moment ingo and I thought we were back in Cornwall, it was so reminiscent of the north coast beaches around Bedruthan Steps. A mile and a half long walk along the sands at the foot of the cliffs, more seals surfing the waves, monumental rocks and arches, pink sand, people playing Frisbee, reading, meditating or just staring out to sea. We felt right at home. The sunset was hidden by a thin bank of clouds on the horizon but the colours and mood of a sunset at sea never disappoint (apart from when you try and capture it in a photograph and end up taking 50 shots of nearly the same thing - yawn).


After ambling back to the car we drove a few miles onto Deetjens Big Sur Inn, tucked in amongst the Redwoods it was one of the most atmospheric places we have ever stayed in. We chose a beautiful wood paneled cabin called Grandpa’s, with a rocking chair and a wood burning stove and a huge luxurious old bed. One tasty meal later and it was time to snuggle up under the blankets with a glass of champagne. What a lovely way to end the day.


We even had a harmonium and a guest room..

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