Friday, 8 June 2007

Week 18 : Rio Del Mar To Glenwood Basin

Amy and I left the concrete ship of Rio Del Mar behind and headed west, hugging the coast and savouring the exotic names of the bays and beaches. Luckily, the Director of the Capitola Historical Museum, Carolyn Swift, has written a very useful article which examines the origin of these names. New Brighton Beach takes its name from the now demolished New Brighton Hotel which once stood on the spot where the State Beach is now located. Thomas Fallon built the hotel and named it after the famous British resort in the hope that it would attract a better class of customer. It didn’t, in fact it didn’t attract many customers at all and after a few years it closed down. Some years later, John Sinclair – a relative of Fallon’s – built some cabins on the beach near by. Each of the cabins was fitted with a potbelly stove and the beach became known as Pot Belly Beach. “Isn’t this fascinating”, I said to Amy as we walked along. She didn’t even grace me with a reply, merely pulled on her lead with more force than usual and returned to sniffing out the next hamburger joint.

A little further along we passed what remains of the El Salto resort which, during the 1920s was a Mecca for the California rich and famous. “The film star Mary Pickford used to holiday here”, I told Amy. Again she ignored me and pulled me ever-westwards. Some gulls were flying overhead and making a terrible racket. I tried once again to engage my travelling companion in conversation. “Did you know, that in August 1961, thousands of birds invaded the coast here at Capitola? Fresh from a feast of anchovies, the crazed birds crashed into the walls of peoples’ houses, into street signs and into trees, falling to the ground dead or dazed” Amy continued to act like she was dumb. “Alfred Hitchcock read an
article about it in the local paper, and decided to use it as material for his new thriller. His classic film “The Birds” was released two years later”. Amy indicated that the only bird she was interested in would be char-grilled, and finger-licking good.

A little later we arrived in Capitola and her spirits seemed to improve. We ate at the
Bluewater Steakhouse (“where San Francisco upscale meets Capitola-by-the-Sea local style”) and afterwards walked on the nearby beach. Capitola Beach is another area which proudly proclaims its dog-friendliness. A wonderful organisation called C-Dog (it used to be Capitola Dog Owners Group and now it is the Coastal Dog Owner Group) is dedicated to keeping this bit of the coastline dog-friendly. They have an excellent website which contains loads of very interesting information. “Did you know”, I said to Amy as we watched the sun set over Monterey Bay, “the average American dog-owner spends $203 per year feeding their dog?” Amy just gave me one of her superior smiles. Thinking of the bill I had just paid for our dinner in the Steakhouse, I understood why. We had single-handedly just pushed that average up significantly.

For the next couple of days we headed through the outer suburbs of Santa Cruz, passing the surfing beaches and neighbourhood parks. You can get an impression of what things are like by taking a look at the live Surf Cam which is operated by the
Pleasure Point Inn. But there are only a limited number of sub-drenched beaches and sun-bronzed bodies you can stare at before you begin to crave a little cultural relief, and therefore Amy and I made a short detour to call in at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, a splendid little museum which has a style far in advance of its size. Currently they have an exhibition – “Illustrating Nature” - of student works from the Science Illustration Program of the University of California Extension which is well worth seeing. Even Amy enjoyed it and offered her services as a model.

When we reached the point where the San Lorenzo river spills out into the Bay we had a decision to make : to continue to follow the coast up to San Francisco or to cut inland, over the mountains, to San Jose and then to San Francisco via Silicon Valley. As someone who has had a powerful love affair with computers all my life, the choice was not a difficult one. Whistling “Do You Know The Way To San Jose”, we headed north up Buena Vista Avenue in the general direction of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Leaving the city behind us we wound our way up tree-covered roads which twisted and turned up through the foothills. When Amy enquired where exactly were we heading for, I replied – rather enigmatically I thought, “it’s a mystery”. I could tell that Amy was beginning to fear I might be suffering from altitude sickness, but still I persisted. After carefully consulting the map I took a fork to the left, leaving the minor road behind and heading up and even more minor road. “Where the hell are we going?”. Amy was getting cross now. After a few more hundred yards she put her foot down. In fact she put all four feet down and dug them into the dirt track we were following. She refused to take another step. So picking her up – no mean feat – I carried her to the next corner and there in front of us was the sign for the Mystery Spot.

According to their
website, “The Mystery Spot is a gravitational anomaly … It is a circular area of effect around 150 feet or 46 meters in diameter. Within the Mystery Spot you will be stunned as your perceptions of the laws of physics and gravity are questioned”. As you progress through the attraction all sorts of strange things seems to be happening. When you think you are standing straight up, you appear to be leaning at an angle. Smaller things suddenly appear larger and larger things appear smaller. Poor Amy was totally freaked out by the whole experience, claiming that it reminded her of the day she managed to get her paws on an old bottle which still contained some of my prized single malt whisky.

The Mystery Spot website puts forward several explanations of the phenomenon. Perhaps it was that cones of metal were secretly brought here and buried by visitors from outer space as guidance systems for their spacecraft. Some think that it is in fact the spacecraft itself buried deep within the ground. Or maybe it is carbon dioxide permeating from the earth, a hole in the ozone layer, a magma vortex, the highest dielectric biocosmic radiation known anywhere in the world, or radiesthesia (whatever that might be). “Or maybe its because they have erected all the buildings at a funny angle so as to earn a dollar or two from passing idiots with more money than common sense”, sniffed Amy as we left the spot behind and headed north. “Cynic”, I shot back. “Fool”, she retorted.

We kept on like this as we scrambled through some thick brush, taking an unofficial shortcut back to the main highway. We didn’t make friends until we got to Scotts Valley where I bought Amy a double helping of chicken nuggets from the McDonalds there. I also stocked up at the shop and made sure we had enough food and drink for a few days. We were about to leave civilisation behind and head into the mountains. Taking a last look back at Monterey Bay, we headed north. Once again I bravely whistled “Do You Know The Way To San Jose”. Amy barked at the appropriate point.

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