Sunday, 27 May 2007

Week 16 : Monterey To Moss Landing

As Amy and I walked down from the Presido of Monterey to Fisherman’s Wharf after spending a somewhat uncomfortable night on a park bench I whistled “It Happened In Monterey” to keep her spirits up. Stopping to check the lyrics and noticing the line “I met her in Monterey, in old Mexico” I realised I had made a mistake. That was another Monterey, that was another country. It’s a bit like that Monterey – Monterey, California that is – it’s a surprising place and even a bit of a confusing place at times.

For example, as we were taking a shortcut from Arbrego Street to Pacific Street we passed “
Stevenson House – the Home of Robert Louis Stevenson”. Could this be the same Stevenson, the archetypal Scotsman, the creator or Treasure Island and Kidnapped? Could this be the sickly son of the famous Stevenson family of lighthouse builders? The answer is, of course, yes. Stevenson stayed here in 1879 (just for a few months be never let it be said that Americans don’t know how to make the most of the history they have) to be near the love of his life and his future wife, Fanny Vandergrift Osbourne.

The literary surprises continued as we hit the seafront just north of Fisherman’s Wharf and discovered a flashy collection of shops, bars and restaurants that is the 21st century
Cannery Row. The old fish canning plants that formed the heart of the area that Steinbeck wrote about so memorably are long gone, replaced by designer outlets and theme bars. As Amy remarked, “that’s progress”.

Progress is less noticeable amongst the picturesque chaos that is
Fisherman’s Wharf. Here you will find a hotchpotch of shops and restaurants strung out along the wooden piers. During the height of its commercial power, Monterey was one of the most important fishing ports in California and the centre of the sardine industry (it was sardines which were packed by the Cannary Row plants). Originally built in 1870, part of the main pier collapsed in 1923 under the weight of 20,000 cases of sardines which were waiting to be shipped out. To get a flavour of the wharf today, have a look at one of the holiday videos available on YouTube. Although the sardine industry came to a fairly sudden end in the late 1940s when the shoals of sardines fell victim to over-fishing, you can still catch the tang of fish-scales in the air. All that fish can be a bit overpowering, so Amy and I bought a couple of burgers to eat as we made our way around Monterey Bay.

Main course over with, we began to think about something to round our dinner off. Amy quite fancied donuts but I reminded her of the whole purpose of our coast-to-coast walk and suggested something healthy like fruit instead. At which point we serendipitously arrived in the Monterey suburb of Del Monte. So what were the links between this sleepy suburb and the world-famous food company? Were we in for another Monterey surprise? There were clearly no vast canning warehouses here, nor any food processing plants. A visit to the Del Monte
company website told us that the headquarters of the company were situated to the north in San Francisco. But the history pages on the website gave us the origin of the Del Monte brand name. It was first used in 1886 for a premium brand of coffee which was supplied to the fashionable Del Monte Hotel in Monterey. The hotel is long-gone – repeatedly attacked by earthquake and fire - and on the site today is the Club Del Monte which styles itself as “the Queen of American Watering Places”. It is now operated by the Navy’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation Department. From their website, it was unclear whether they still served Del Monte tinned fruit, so we gave it a miss and continued up the Bay.

The military theme continued as we made our way north. This is what used to be Fort Ord, one of America’s biggest military bases. It was from here that thousands of troops were shipped off to Korea and Vietnam. As long as you weren’t en-route for combat, Fort Ord was seen as a good posting with its close proximity to the Californian beaches. The site of the military base was taken over by California State University, Monterey Bay in 1994 when Fort Ord closed down. And now the young people who graduate from this sun-kissed corner of California go on to more peaceful destinations.

Monterey had one last surprise for us. We spotted a poster for the
50th Monterey Jazz Festival which will take place in September 2007. The poster was headed MJF and was clearly for a jazz festival. Back home in West Yorkshire, when I am not walking Amy around the rainy streets, I help with the organisation of the Annual Marsden Jazz Festival (MJF) which takes place in a village on the edge of the moors. Could our fame have spread this far? But as I read the list or artists appearing at the American version of MJF - Diana Krall, Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Dave Brubeck – I knew I was either day-dreaming again or dealing with a very different festival. I comforted myself with listening to Diana Krall’s latest CD on my MP3 player. After all, recorded music must have been the first example of virtual reality. If Edison had not opened the door to the virtual concert, and pushed the boundaries of technology backwards, perhaps Amy and I would not have been virtually walking the streets of Monterey 130 years later.

When we had been planning our week’s walk a few days earlier, I had drawn Amy’s attention to the town of Castroville and told her we must pass through there. It would be a good joke, visiting a town which appeared to be dedicated to modern Americas’ greatest enemy. I could write something funny in the Blog about it. But the joke was on me. When Amy and I arrived in the town we found not a joke but an artichoke. What we had failed to realise – silly us – was that Castroville styles itself as the “Artichoke Centre of the World” and our visit coincided with the 48th Castroville Artichoke Festival. What a time we had. There was a parade, there we agro-art exhibitions and there were demonstrations of how to cook artichokes. It is a little known fact – other than to people who have spent a couple of days in Castroville during the Festival – that there are hundreds of delicious ways to serve artichokes. A few of the recipes can be found on the
Festival website. Amy and I did try a bag of French Fried Artichoke Hearts and then quickly left town feeling ever-so-slightly queasy.

Our week finished back on the coast at Moss Landing which is described by its Chamber of Commerce as “a quaint, historic fishing village that is full of hidden treasures and enjoyable activities”. Other than the rather ugly power plant and the mud-banks, it was. No surprise there then.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Week 15 : Bixby Bridge To Monterey

There seemed to be a spring in the step of Amy, my soft-coated wheaten terrier, as we embarked on week 15 of our epic journey. Perhaps she could smell civilisation: maybe the salt-encrusted aroma of chicken nuggets and fries was wafting south down the Big Sur coast. Perhaps she had detected another colony of elephant seals. But she was pulling on her leash as we left Bixby Bridge behind us and she provided a little extra motive force as we crept north past the coves, canyons and points in our journey towards Monterey.

We stopped for a late breakfast at the spectacular
Rocky Point Restaurant where I was tempted by the Le Roc Corsaire’s Treasure (New York steak and two eggs any style served with country potatoes, black beans, sourdough toast, coffee and fresh orange juice. … all for $23.00) whilst Amy polished off a Buccaneer’s Bounty (Chicken/apple sausages or bacon, three eggs any style served with country potatoes, sourdough toast, coffee and fresh orange juice). I took the advice of the menu and started the day with a glass of champagne and then I started Amy’s day by downing another in her honour. When we set back on our way up Highway One, I was more grateful than ever for the constant pulling of my travelling companion which allowed me to doze and walk at the same time. We were still out in the open countryside – it has now been a good few weeks since we had passed through anything larger than a village (what the Americans call a city). This meant that every time you came across a building of any significance you were anxious to identify its purpose, its history and its secrets.

Thus, on our second day out, when we spotted a group of buildings marked MPSL – clinging to the strip of land between the road and the sea – we were anxious to find out more about them. Amy and I played guessing games. I suggested Missile Propulsion Strategy Laboratory. Amy went – I thought somewhat optimistically - with Meat, Poultry and Seafood Left-overs. In fact we were both wide of the mark, for this was the
University of California Marine Pollution Studies Laboratory. Delving into the background of the Laboratory it turned out that Amy and I were not too far out with our guesses. The facility was first build as a missile tracking station by the US Navy, and later became a research base for the infant aquaculture industry. Now it monitors pollution levels in both sea water and fresh water : its local pollution-free sea and rivers providing an excellent control for research purposes.

This feeling of being at one with nature was the theme of the first part of the week. Soon we entered the 3,000 acre
Garrapata State Park where “spectacular rocky shorelines play counterpoint with an inland area of steep mountains and deep redwood canyons” The usual Warning Notices from Governor Schwarzenegger said that dogs weren’t allowed in the State Park - other than, in this case, on the road or on the beach – so we had to give the coniferous forests, the Californian Brome and the blue wild rye a rain-check. However, down on the beach we did see some brown pelicans – still quite rare in these parts – and a quite amazing plant which was – we were told - sea lettuce (Dudleya caespitosa).

A little further north we came upon Carmel Highlands and, feeling in need of a little luxury for a change, we were tickled pink to find the
Tickle Pink Inn just off the main highway. The enchantment from the natural beauty, we are promised, “captivates your senses and sets a mood which will nurture, renew, and inspire”. The name comes from the fact that the site was originally the home of State Senator Edward and Mrs. Bess Tickle. A great lover of flowers, particularly pink varieties, Mrs. Tickle liked a suggestion to name their hillside stone cottage 'Tickle Pink'. The stone cottage has since disappeared but the name remains. Unfortunately, the Inn is another of those places where dogs are not welcome, so I had to smuggle Amy in in the usual fashion. Having a somewhat overweight long-haired terrier concealed under your pullover gives a whole new meaning to “tickled pink”.

This discrimination against my travelling companion was maintained at our next stop on our journey northwards to Monterey – at
Point Lobos State Reserve. Despite the fact that the name translates as Point Of The Sea Wolves, this is not a canine-friendly place and dogs are not allowed anywhere within the confines of the Reserve. So I apologised to Amy and walked on by. This "greatest meeting of land and water in the world" would have to wait for another visit. I feared that Amy might be getting a little upset by this constant rejection, but her spirits remained high, and she was still pulling enthusiastically. As we entered the wonderful city of Carmel-by-the-Sea, I at last understood why. Not only is this spot rated as one of the top ten destinations in the United States by Conde Nast Traveler, not only is it one of the favourite resorts of A List celebrities, not only has it become a Mecca for poets, artists and academics, …. it was recently voted the most dog-friendly city in America.

Wander the delightful streets and you are greeted with signs declaring “Dogs Welcome”. The city authorities produce long lists of all kinds of establishments where man and dog can enjoy life together, side by side in a spirit of harmony and equality. Dogs are allowed on the streets, in the parks on the beach and in the City Hall. There are dog-friendly restaurants, hotels, inns, and shops of all types. There are shops that specialise in clothes for dogs, food for dogs, furniture and fittings for dogs. Amy wandered around with a big smile on her blond furry face. She was in Carmel-by-the-Sea. She was in paradise.

It was hard dragging Amy away, but I wanted to get over the hill and in sight of Monterey before the end of our week. I eventually reached a compromise with her – our continued journey north in exchange for an all-expenses trip to the
Diggidy Dog Boutique (it’s a kind of Harvey Nichols for Dogs). After looking around for what seemed like hours she finished up with some Earthbath Deodorizing Spritz ($9.95), a Wrought Iron Antique Rust Feeder Station ($78), and a Bow and Fur Leather Coat ($72).

As we walked north from Carmel and into the outer suburbs of Monterey, I reflected on the beauty of the California coast, the friendliness of its people and the delights that were yet to come. As for Amy, I am not sure what she reflected on. But she had a smile on her face and a batch of Carmel real estate brochures clutched tightly in her paw.

Friday, 11 May 2007

Week 14 Julia Pfeiffer Burns SP To Bixby Bridge

“Amy and I walked along the poor haunted canyon, under the bridge and came to where those heartless breakers burst in on the sand. The gusts of wind tore the leaves from the trees and plunged them into the surf where they were belted and melted and taken off to sea”.

If that sounds like Jack Kerouac, it’s meant to. Amy and I are walking up the Big Sur coast in California, past the spot where Kerouac came to escape the city and his demons. This is also the coast of drifters and dreamers, artists, craftsmen and the occasional Hollywood star searching for peace and tranquillity.

Our week started at the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (JPBSP). You could put forward a reasonable case for renaming this bit of the Californian Coast Pfeiffer County as the Pfeiffer family were early pioneers and are well represented in local place names. As well as the JPBSP there is the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Pfeiffer Beach, the Pfeiffer Resort and no doubt a brace of Pfeiffer creeks. The original Pfeiffer Resort – the term “resort” was given a fairly liberal interpretation by the Pfeiffers was established in 1902 by John and Florence Pfeiffer. John was an untrained naturalist with am interest in the study of local plants, coastal weather patterns and the habits of birds and animals. The family supported themselves by a combination of subsistence farming, beekeeping, ranching, logging and providing hospitality to visitors. The State Park where we started out from this week was named in memory of their daughter Julia, who maintained the family tradition of being passionately interested in the local flora and fauna.

Just north of the JPBSP we found Castro Canyon – how the name must annoy some righteous Americans – and there we found the wonderful
Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn. The website has a whole section on the history of the Inn – which dates back all the way to the 1930s (Americans do so well at making so much out of so little history, and that is not meant as a criticism) – and the Inn is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was founded by Helmuth Deetjen and his wife Helen and quickly benefited from the opening of the then new Highway 1. Over the years “Grandpa Deetjen” as he is now known, added rooms and wooden lodges built in the style of his native Norway. The Inn, which is now run by the non-profit making Deetjens Big Sur Inn Preservation Society, is dedicated to maintaining an enclave of peace and quiet in the busy modern world of California. They boast with pride that mobile phones won’t work in the area, there are no phones or televisions in the rooms, and room doors lock only from the inside. Our stay at the Inn was complicated by the fact that pets are not welcome (this is despite the fact that the Inn proudly displays several photographs of Grandpa Deetjen with his favourite dogs). Amy claimed that this was crass hypocrisy. As I sneaked her into my room hidden beneath my anorak, I told her to shut up.

This whole stretch of coast is dotted with inns, hotels and restaurants of a similar antiquity and in equally attractive surroundings as the Big Sur Inn. A little further up the coast is the Nepenthe Restaurant which has its own
webcam so you can get a feel of the atmosphere. At the adjacent Café Kevah, Amy and I enjoyed one of their famous sticky buns ( you can download the recipe from their website) as we took in the view of the coast and the mountains.

Just before stopping for our sticky bun, we had paid a call on the Henry
Miller Memorial Library. Miller lived on the Big Sur coast from 1944 until 1962 and wrote some of his most famous books here. At the Memorial Library you can see the usual memorabilia, but the Library also makes a good stab at being more than just a mausoleum to a long-dead writer. They have an active programme of events featuring a wide range of artists and musicians. As we walked north I explained to Amy that, according to Miller, when we reach for a book we are hoping to meet “a man of our own heart, to experience tragedies and delights which we ourselves lack the courage to invite, to dream dreams which will render life more hallucinating, perhaps also to discover a philosophy of life which will make us more adequate in meeting the trials and ordeals which beset us”. She didn’t sound very impressed and said hat she liked a good story herself.

The Big Sur is the name of the region, the name of the coastline, and the name of a clutch of local garages, bakeries, and galleries. Many mistakenly think that the Big Sur is the large volcanic rock outcrop on top of which the Point Sur Lightstation sits. This is not the case. The name comes from the Spanish name for the region “el país grande del sur” which described what was then a largely unexplored region to the south of Monterey. You can get a good taste of what the Big Sur has to offer by looking at the excellent
Big Sur Guide which is published by the Big Sur Chamber Of Commerce.

The Lightstation is a noble building which forms the focal point of
Point Sur State Historic Park. Sitting 361 feet above the surf on a large volcanic rock, Point Sur is the only complete turn-of-the century Lightstation open to the public in California, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. First lit on August 1, 1889, the lighthouse has remained in continuous operation. Lighthouse keepers and their families lived at the site from 1889 to 1974 when the lighthouse was automated. The only way to visit the Lightstation, and indeed the rock itself, is to go on one of the official tours. But like too many things in this part of the world, dogs are not allowed. They do run moonlight tours and for a while Amy and I did consider the old dog hidden under the anorak approach, but decided against it. A quick look at the Wikipedia entry for the Lightstation told us all we could reasonably want to know (the light gives a white flash every 15 seconds whilst the fog signal is a group of two blasts every 60 seconds - blast two seconds, silent one second, blast three seconds, silent fifty-four seconds) so we sat and ate the last of our sticky buns instead.

We followed the road to the north of Point Sur, heading for the point which would mark the end of our wanderings for this week – Bixby Bridge. There is an admirable academic paper on the building of Bixby Bridge available on the
Pelican Network website. I got quite enthusiastic about the mechanics of it all and explained to Amy that the bridge was constructed to withstand a stress (f) at the mid-point where f = H = 1530666.5 = 472.4 psi A 3240*. Once again, Amy was less than impressed and simply looked over the side of the bridge and picked the remaining bits of sticky bun from between her teeth.

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Week 13 : Gorda To Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

It is week 13 of our epic trans-American journey. Amy, our soft-coated wheaten terrier, and I are attempting to walk from Los Angeles to New York in easy stages (very easy stages). If you have just joined us – where have you been for the last thirteen weeks? – I should explain that we aren’t really walking from one side of the American continent to the other. It is an exercise in virtual reality. Amy and I walk the streets of West Yorkshire but plot the miles on a map of America. The sights, the sounds, the smells we describe all come from the virtual world of the internet. Now that we have got that out of the way, read on.

This week we walked up what must be one of the most beautiful coastal roads in America – taking Highway 1 up the Big Sur Coast. Our most useful guide has been the very comprehensive website “
A Guide To California’s Big Sur” which has been put together by a guy called John Rabold, partly for his own amusement, partly as a public service for visitors, and partly as a way of making the occasional dollar. I like the approach. It is one that I am getting used to as I tramp the virtual trails of America. Whilst the big media and publishing companies control the maps and guidebooks that are the companions of the real-time traveller, us virtual travellers inhabit a different world, a world in which the amateur, the enthusiast and the eccentric still have a central place. Long may it continue.

A few miles north of Gorda there is a sign at the side of the Highway pointing the way to Jade Cove. Unsurprisingly, the cove gets its name from the deposits of jade which can often be found here. Thinking that a bit of jade might make a nice present to take to the folks back home, Amy and I carefully read the
regulations relating to the collection of jade and headed down the path. Noting that the restrictions did not cover dogs digging for jade, I cleverly whispered to Amy “chicken” and pointed to the mass of rocks that littered the beach. After half an hour I hadn’t found any jade – and Amy hadn’t found any chicken – so we continued northwards.

This stretch of the coast is just a succession of quite stunning coves and rocks. You can get an idea of what the scenery is like by looking at the
Big Sur panorama which is available on the iNeTours website. But after a few days of this, it was concrete and tarmac I became obsessed with. Midway through the week we came upon a road junction and – in these parts – this is a special event. My maps had told me that going straight on would keep me on the coast on Highway 1, past Point Sur and heading for Monterey. Turning right would take me on the splendidly named Nacimiento-Fergusson Road over the Santa Lucia mountains to King City, Salinas and all points north. Now Amy was in favour of staying on the coast – something about elephant seals but I decided it would be best not to pursue that too closely – whilst I quite fancied the mountains. When we got to the junction and saw the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road climbing up the steep mountainside like a stairway to heaven my mind was made up. We stuck to the coast road.

A few miles further north, the coast road passes through Limekiln State Park. The Park and its road are a monument to civil engineering. The virtual presence of the park is a monument to that wonderful digital skill, cut and paste. Google Limekiln State Park and follow up any of the hits and you are almost sure to find the same descriptive sentence. I don’t want to swim against the trend, so here it is : “The park features breathtaking views of the Big Sur Coast, the beauty of the redwoods, the rugged coast and the cultural history of limekilns”. The original author is probably lost in the mist of digital antiquity but hopefully, he or she still feels a virtual glow every time the phrase is used. The
California State Parks website has some nice photographs of the park, but our attempt to investigate it more fully were curtailed by the usual prohibition on dogs on State Park trails. On questioning the reason behind this prohibition we were given a leaflet signed by Arnold Schwarzenegger. I explained to Amy that he was a seriously big man. We decided to stick to the road.

Just north of the State Park is the tiny community of Lucia. Most sources claim that this small collection of houses is named after the nearby Santa Lucia mountains. However, according to the website of Lucia Lodge (spectacular deck dinning - a great spot to relax with a cocktail while enjoying a stunning view of the Big Sur coast) it was named after the postmistress who, in turn, had been named after the mountains. Further north still the road passes John Little State Reserve. I am unsure of the correct terminology here. Is a State Reserve a State Park which hasn’t grown up, or a State Preserve you can’t get the lid off. Being afraid that I might upset Governor Schwarzenegger, I hurried on by.

It was a few miles north of here that our week came to an end. We had reached yet another State Park, this time the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (this is all very confusing because there is another park called the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park a few miles further north. Anyway, our Pfeiffer Park has a path leading down to the spectacular 80 foot McWay Waterfall. Once again, dogs are not allowed down the path – indeed humans are not allowed down onto the beach. But this time Amy and I both said to hell with Big Arn. This is the virtual world after all. So down we went. And believe me, the risk is worth it.