Friday, 27 April 2007

Week 12 : Hearst Castle To Gorda

Dogs aren’t allowed on the tour of Hearst Castle. This is a little odd seeing that old WR (having paid my $24 dollar entrance fee I feel that a degree of familiarity is warranted) was fond of animals. During the 1930s, herds of giraffes, lions, elephants and zebras would wander around the grounds, and, as we saw the previous night, some of the zebras still remain. In many ways, William Randolph Hearst was the spiritual godfather to Michael Jackson. Nevertheless, in order to take the tour, I had to leave Amy behind which, given her temperament, is always a bit of a risk. I left her down by the Pacific Coast and she promised to just sit and watch the elephant seals and wait for my return.

Hearst Castle is well document in both the traditional and the digital media. If you want to get a flavour of the conducted tour, there is a honest little video taken by skcarterr available on
YouTube. If you want to see some superb images of the Castle have a look at the photo gallery on the Hearst Castle website. If you want to know about WR then a good starting point is his entry in Wikipedia. However, you can get quite a good idea of the chap by looking at the Editorial Guidelines he circulated to all his 28 newspapers in 1933. Number 1 is “Make a paper for the nicest kind of people for the great middle class. Don’t print a lot of dull stuff that people are supposed to like and don’t”. Number 2 is even better : “Omit things that will offend nice people. Avoid coarseness and a low tone”.

For someone who was such a consummate showman and a first-class manipulator of twentieth century media, it is somehow appropriate that his lasting legacy is a fake castle and a razor-sharp movie. Hearst Castle looks stunning perched on the hills above the Pacific coast. But it is made of reinforced concrete to withstand the earthquakes and its treasures where shipped over from a bevy of European Stately Homes. The movie was, of course, Citizen Kane – the story of a megalomaniac newspaper publisher which is still rated by many people as the greatest film ever made. Whether it was the greatest movie ever made and whether it was a true portrayal of Hearst were questions rumbling around my mind as the tour bus brought me back down “the enchanted hill” to the visitors centre.

I found Amy (did she have a guilty look on her fine wheaten-blond face?) and we followed Highway 1 north, leaving Hearst Castle, San Simeon and the south central coast of California behind us. For the next two or three weeks we were leaving much of what, in California, constitutes civilisation behind. As far as I could see from the map, for the next eighty miles there would be no fast-food restaurants and no shopping malls. There would, however, be plenty of elephant seals.

I caught my first sight of these magnificent animals a few miles north of San Simeon at the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Viewing Point. Truth be told, as soon as they saw Amy most of them made a dash for the open sea which made me somewhat suspicious of her activities whilst I was doing the Castle Tour. However, you can enjoy the full elephant seal experience – including the sound of them honking and barking at each other – on the
Friends of the Elephant Seal website. For those captivated by these animals a visit to the National Geographic’s live Seal Cam is essential.

Just north of the seal colony is the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse, one of only three lighthouses built on the Californian coast. It was built to guide ships safely into San Simeon Bay which in the middle of the nineteenth century was a centre for the whaling industry. According to the wonderful
Lighthouse Friends website, the whaling station was built “to surprise the huge creatures as they hugged the nearby shoreline during their annual migration”. It all sounds a bit beastly to me, but Amy casts a knowing look out to the open sea. I have a feeling that I know what she will be dreaming about tonight.

Over the next few days the road north takes us over the County Line. We leave behind San Luis Obispo County and enter Monterey County. Before I embarked on my virtual journey, I had little idea of the existence of counties in the United States. Like all half-decent pub quiz players, I could name most of the States and a sprinkling of State capitals. But the concept of a County (and American County that is) was foreign to me. But as I walked on I became more familiar with counties and county lines : they would act as useful yardsticks, handy reference points and emotional bookmarks. So Amy and I said farewell to SLO (as those who have walked its streets call it) and hello to Monterey, home to half a million people and one of the original counties of the State of California.

For the rest of the week we walked north along State Route 1 (Highway 1 to those who have walked its tarmac) which must be one of the most beautiful coastal roads in the world. It has been designated an “All-American Road” (one of only 27 in the USA). The designation means they have features that do not exist elsewhere in the United States and are scenic enough to be tourist destinations unto themselves.

By the end of week 12 we had reached Gorda (the official maps call it Gorda, the web-based spin-doctors call it Gorda Springs-by-the Sea). Whatever you call it, it is a couple of houses a shop and a café. According to the
Beach California website, Gorda’s Whale Watcher Cafe is “a world renowned establishment offering a 60 year tradition of hospitality and gourmet dining in a romantic, nautical-like setting”. World-famous or not, Amy and I settled down at the end of the week, looking out to sea, watching out for whales swimming by.

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