Friday, 1 June 2007

Weel 17 : Moss Landing To Rio Del Mar


Amy and I left Moss Landing and headed north, soon crossing over a river which – as far as we could work out – must be the Pajaro. In an effort to be more precise we turned to the website of the Moss Landing Harbor District (“our mission is to provide a functional, visitor-friendly harbour for commercial and recreational use"). Unfortunately, their mission didn’t extend as far as telling me which river flowed through their wharfs, but before I could lodge a complaint I noticed that I should have had a $5 dog permit to walk Amy anywhere near the harbour. As Amy pointed out, you can buy a lot of chicken for $5, so we decided to leave town quick and head for the County Line.

County lines are one of my great discoveries of this walk. If you fly, county lines are meaningless, if you travel by train they are trivial. If your chosen method of transport is a fast car they fly by without troubling either the conscious or the subconscious. But if you walk, they take on a real significance. You look forward to new counties with a pleasing anticipation, you think back on old counties with satisfied nostalgia. And so – halfway between Moss Landing and Watsonville – it was goodbye to Monterey and hello to
Santa Cruz (“our beaches are just the beginning…”), the second-smallest County in California. By a tradition which stretches back to the beginning of February 2007, the crossing of a County Line means that Amy and I change our virtual environment. So for the next week or so we will be reading the Santa Cruz Sentinel and listening to the quite wonderful Free Radio Santa Cruz.

Our first chance to see what Santa Cruz County was really like was when we arrived at the City of Watsonville. “Watsonville is the strawberry capital of the world”, I explained to Amy as we walked towards the city-centre. “Each year they hold a famous
Strawberry Festival”, I continued with a creeping feeling of déjà vu, for didn’t we have the same conversation about Castroville and artichokes just last week. “And did you know”, I continued like someone in need of a life, “that just down the road is Salinas which is the lettuce capital of the world, whereas just over there is Gilroy which is the garlic capital of the world”. Amy feigned indifference, but I knew that she was mentally plotting a route to Gainesville, Georgia (before you dash off to look it up, it’s the chicken capital of the world).

Watsonville looks like a pretty cool place. It has a
speedway track, a famous high school soccer team, and …. and it’s for sale for just $4,000. Well, Watsonville.com is for sale, and when you live in a virtual world it’s the same thing.

The walk from Watsonville to the coast at La Selva Beach takes you past field after field of strawberries. Every so often Amy and I would stop to sample the fare, thanking the powers that be that we were in Watsonville and not Castroville (the thought of chewing on a raw artichoke was too much for either of us). La Selva Beach is a sleepy little place. “What fun things are there to do here”, I asked myself. Then I checked the on-line
La Selva Beach Forum and discovered that someone else had posed the same question almost two years ago. They are still awaiting a reply. Not having that kind of time to spare, Amy and I headed north to Rob Roy Junction.

Now there’s a name to conjure with”, I said to Amy as we walked up San Andreas Road (which we later learnt was named after the fault which ran underneath it). Men in tartan kilts sweeping down from mist covered moors to the sound of bagpipes. When we eventually got there we were disappointed. The emphasis was very much on the “Junction” rather than the “Rob Roy”. Amy muttered something about the Trades Description Act as we climbed the concrete ramparts that kept the multiple lanes of traffic apart, but I reminded her that the same criticism was made of Sir Walter Scott’s book – in which the celebrated Rob Roy is only a minor character - some 190 years ago.

We walked the concrete highway to Aptos which, in native American, means “where the waters meet”. Amy stopped next to a fire hydrant to celebrate the fact. Not wanting to be left out of the litany of world famous Californian cities and not growing very many pomegranates or loganberries, Aptos styles itself as “the home of the World’s Shortest 4th July Parade”. It appears that the Aptos parade is just under half a mile long, which – I am reliably informed - is on the short side for such affairs. Nevertheless, half a mile is still quite a long way and therefore, the way is open for any other municipality to steal Aptos’ crown. Aptos is also famous for its French restaurant – the
Café Sparrow. As soon as I mentioned this to Amy she got quite excited and demanded that we stop there for lunch. She thoroughly enjoyed her sparrow burger and ate most of mine as well. Despite being assured that the sparrow in the burger was in fact a chicken, I couldn’t get the thought of a little hopping bird out of my mind.

Our week came to an end just down the road from Aptos at the seaside community of Rio Del Mar. Like many other American CDP’s (census designated places), there is a mass of statistical information about Rio Del Mar (median age - 44, median income - $87,000, median race – nine-tenths white with a dash of black, native American, Chinese, and what-have-you) but very little insight into its soul. We wandered through the streets in search the essence of the place, its defining characteristics, or – as those business types would say – its USP (Unique Selling Point). It wasn’t until we came to rest at Seacliff State Beach that we discovered it. It has a concrete ship!

The S.S Palo Alto was an oil tanker built during the First World War. Steel was expensive and someone had the bright idea that building a ship out of cement might give it better protection against German submarines. But the War came to an end, before the construction of the ship did, and by the early 1920 its owners discovered that they had got themselves a classic white elephant. In 1921 it made its first and only journey from Alameda, where it was built, across the San Francisco Bay. For a time it served as a static oil storage tanker and then, in 1930, it was bought by the Seacliff Amusement Corporation. They built a wooden pier to connect the ship to the beach and had great plans for converting it into a luxury Oceanside amusement centre. But then along came the depression and the great concrete ship slowly decayed and died. Strangely enough, the S.S. Palo Alto has now become a tourist attraction in its own right. You can walk the beach and gaze at the sunken concrete hulk. It’s not what the Seacliff Amusement Corporation had in mind, but it got there in the end.

1 comment:

lisa said...

Very nice Allen, I grew-up In La Selva Beach. Our family was in the farming biz from watsonville, Moss landing, and Hollister. I really enjoyed your post.
Thank you, Jacques Mayou