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.

No comments: