coastal CA loop, Nov 2010


Here’s a few pictures from a recent loop in CA. I’m first aiming for Kirk Creek CG in the south end of Big Sur area, but a late start so decide to do the quick route. Up 5 to Lost Hills, then west across 46 to Paso Robles, through Fort Hunter-Liggett to Fergusson-Nacimiento Rd. Locals from the coast were happy when this road opened up because it is a long way up or down Rt. 1 to get inland.

Heading up from Morro Bay requires a much earlier start. I’ve been lucky to get a site at Kirk Creek every time I’ve been, but arriving early in the day is the ticket – and better to arrive on not a peak day. Half the sites are reservation only, but the best sites are not, which is kinda cool. I stop for gas at the Pleyto Country store – expensive, but I know it’s a long way to more, and probably pricier on the coast, so I fill up.

It’s always a little strange to enter a military base, even if you know it’s dual-use and everything’s ok. The signs are intimidating “expect 30 minute delays for military maneuvers”, “ordinance testing zone”, “entering vehicles subject to search” and so on.

No one was at the gate, but I stopped to make sure I’d read the signs. Someone rolls up behind me and says yep, this is the way, you’ll just turn left before camp. He follows me, and waves when I make the turn a few miles later.

It’s almost 5:00 and the sun sets earlier these days, so I camp on the hill. Save the downhill drive for the AM when I can see it, cause it’s spectacular. I check out Ponderosa CG but got a strange vibe from some folks there, so on to the other one – Nacimiento CG. It’s much smaller, and I have the place to myself. Right on the road, but it’s not a very busy road – maybe 2 cars passed while I was there. There’s a creek by most of the spots, it’s dark and moist and everything is green – very peaceful.

These are the St Lucia mountains. The Chalk Fire burned up here in 2008, and some of the dirt trails are still closed. Just below is the Pacific ocean.

Near Nacimiento Station:

Coming down I cross the Coast Rd, and signs for other trails. Crazy swirling mountain winds up here, elevation close to 3000 ft.

South Coast Ridge Rd 20S05, heading towards Prewitt Ridge Rd. I go down this road a bit but turn around because I want to get a spot at Kirk Creek, and the drive down this mountain is worth the whole trip.

A glimpse of the ocean, that road to the right is the central coast trail (Vincente/ San Antonio trail) heading north into the Ventana wilderness. Part of it’s still closed because of the fire.

Nacimineto-Fergusson Rd, it’s in decent shape:

There’s Rt. 1 down below, looking north:

And south:

The last little piece before you get onto Rt. 1:

Just a smidge north on Rt. 1 is Kirk Creek CG, one of the only places west of the highway that you can camp.

You just can’ beat the views. Rick is still the host here, he actually remembered me – and what spot I was in last time! Unbelievable. He says it’s like being a bartender, you may not remember someone’s name – but you know where they sit and what they drink.

This time I get a spot right on the ocean, oh yeah. Course it’s Monday, 10 AM – the CG is full by mid-afternoon almost every day of the year, it’s really hit or miss as to whether you get in. View from my site:

My 76 year old CG neighbor, kayaking below.


McWay Cove, and driving north to Carmel

Now that I've got a spot I'm calculating how much gas I have, if I have enough to get up and back to McWay Cove, ~19 miles north. Pat Bonish turned me on to this spot in Julia Pfeiffer Burns SP via one of his trip reports, I came here last year too.

Walking under route 1:

To the spot, this is the only major waterfall (~80 ft) in CA that drops directly into the ocean:

If you catch it at high tide near sunset, the lighting is awesome. There used to be a house at Saddle Rock Ranch here,

McWay Cove was the south view from the main window. The view north ain't too shabby either:

Nearby is this Pelton wheel – used to generate electricity for the ranch from McWay Creek. Low volume, high speed flow requires a different solution than typical waterwheels. The trick is to squeeze the water to increase the velocity and use a much smaller wheel to keep the revs up.

Back to Kirk Creek and a walk to the rocky beach below:

Waves crashing into the rocks below my spot just before sunset:

View from inside Tiger:

No clouds made for some great star viewing, the milky way was out in full force and lots of shooting stars. Around 3AM the winds really kicked in and Pepper and I both wake up, but right back to sleep listening to the ocean waves. The mist burns off quickly in the morning.

Rt. 1 south of Big Sur is pretty well known for good reason. It's sometimes hard to concentrate on driving with all those mountains dropping into the ocean, and waves crashing into rocks. One day I want to do it as a passenger. There is a pullout south of the bridge over Big Creek.

Pt Sur lighthouse:

A bit south of Carmel:
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coastal redwoods, Santa Cruz mountains

Stopped in Moss Landing for lunch, lots of sloughs and wildlife viewing here.

It always surprises me no matter how many times I do this drive how quickly the sunny perfect day of the coast turns into dark forest. It's the same day, not even a couple miles from the turnoff from Rt. 1 onto Rt. 9 near Santa Cruz, and the forest takes over. Love it. An old RR trestle bridge on Rt. 9:

There's a covered bridge in Felton. One of very few remaining in CA, and supposedly the highest one ever built, now part of a county park.

Continuing up route 9 to 236, I'm making my way to anywhere near Saratoga to meet a friend the next day. This time I pick Big Basin Redwoods SP, which is huge and has a piece on the ocean and well into these Santa Cruz mountains.

The coastal redwoods once seen, never fail to impress – they leave a mark on you. It's hard to explain or get a sense of them from a picture. I should know better than to try to capture the feeling of these primeval forests with a camera, it never works.

A few years ago, I spent several weeks in the redwoods and never got one picture that conveys the feeling. Pretty soon I stop trying and put the camera away.

It's not just their unbelievable stature, they just generate overwhelming silence and awe. They're like ambassadors from another time, and a hush rings in their cathedral. There's no horizon here, dawn comes early and remains dawn until the sun is high. Then the foliage above filters the noonday sun into shafts of light for a short while. Dusk quickly follows, and lasts all afternoon. Ferns and fungi grow near the ground, moss grows everywhere:

They're struck by lightning and burn, they split and fall on each other, and still they grow. Cones drop from high above with a loud PLUNK! And some of them take root in their fallen brothers, and grow again.

The physiology of moving enough water to sustain these giants is simple but the figures are staggering, thousands of gallons of water a day moving up 300+ foot rises.

They used to reign over four continents, but then glaciers came and only these few remain. They've lived through so many important events of man's history, it's hard to wrap my mind around it. A slice of one at the registration area estimates it started its life in 544, around the time of the Byzantine Empire before the height of Mayan civilization, and it's far from the oldest!

Everything is as it was, and I'm just a visitor. The coast is beautiful and eternal, but these forests are just otherworldly. I know I'm rambling. I live in a forest and I think I understand trees a little, but it's hard to even call these trees. Go hang out with some, if you get the chance, you'll see what I mean.
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Took some time on Nacimiento and the Coast Ridge Road this summer. It was too hot to camp then, so I moved on. I will be back. won't let me upload the pretty pics I was going to share.


Took some time on Nacimiento and the Coast Ridge Road this summer. It was too hot to camp then, so I moved on. I will be back. won't let me upload the pretty pics I was going to share.
Try later? Something funny going on with pics right now. Would love to see them.


to San Francisco and points north

Thanks for the replies. I took another trip, and lagged on finishing this one up. But I did take a bunch of pics so here’s the rest.

Route 9 and 236 over the mountain are dark twisty roads, it feels like I’m all alone up here. No one else is on the road, and then I start seeing mailboxes. That would be cool, living in a beautiful forest but a short commute to the south bay area.

At the crest of the hill near Skyline Blvd is this view towards the ocean:

Dropped down into Saratoga and saw this old Model T:

I met my friend for dinner in Los Gatos and took off for the coast again. It was just after Halloween, and there were lots of pumpkin patches on the way to Half Moon Bay selling their wares:

This place had delicious organic veggies for sale as well as … more pumpkins:

Views from the Half Moon Bay CG:

Looking north:

Met my cousins in San Francisco for another mad sushi fest at Balboa Teryaki in the Richmond district. If you like sushi, you’ll be in heaven in this city – so many great choices.

Heading north, crossing the bridge hung by filaments:

The view south to the city:

I was going to camp at China Camp SP in San Rafael. It’s all walk-in camping and even though they’d let me setup in the parking area, they lock the gates at 9PM. Not good if you’re meeting up with folks, camping around a big city is tough. I wound up at Samuel Taylor SP, a little farther away but back among the redwoods and ferns:

Heading back to the city, I made the mistake of driving Rt. 1 south just at sunset. Note to self: Rt. 1 is NEVER the shortest way to anywhere!

The section from Olema down to Tamalpais Valley is one of the more beautiful pieces of this highway during the day, but in the dark it is nerve wracking. All those twisty turns, steep drop-offs, no lights, people driving too fast and swerving to avoid lots of deer in the road. Didn’t help to pass a major wreck, then a news truck and 4 ambulances. Lesson learned, I won’t be doing that again.


heading to wine country, Russian River valley

Next day I passed the Nicasio Reservoir in Marin county,

Starting to come into wine country:

And cheese country:

I was meeting some folks in Windsor for the Russian River wineroad tour. I don’t know much about wine, but these guys were in a club and I learned a lot. There were dozens of wineries, each serving food also, and it was as many as you could get to in two days for about $60.

Fortunately they had it all plotted out, and the designated drivers of our group carted us through rolling hills of grapevines from winery to winery. We jumped out of the car with wineglasses in hand, ate and drank, and off to the next place.

These places are beautiful. With the changing fall colors and every place putting on their best for the event, we were completely spoiled.

The heart of the matter – grapes:

These limited edition wines at Sunce aren’t for sale, but we got to sample. You can buy futures (!) on them. I had no idea.

Barrels at Geyser Peak, now that’s a party waiting to happen …

Silver Oaks:

Ferrari Carrano was like visiting Italy:

Every winery has its own history and family legacy:

I didn’t know what to expect and even though I’m not much of a wine drinker, I had a good time.

Everyone we met seemed happy in their jobs, and eager to talk about their part in the process. Might be the product :)

We said our goodbyes and they all jumped on their planes, and I took off east towards Napa valley.


around Napa valley

Near Calistoga I passed a petrified forest, so stopped for a look around.

These petrified redwoods were felled by a volcanic explosion:

The numbers are staggering “age when living 2000 years, buried approximately 3,400,000 years”. Robert Louis Stevenson has a long history in this area, one of these giants is named for him.

Nestled in the hills of northeast Napa County is Lake Hennessy, a beautiful and tranquil lake that is a drinking supply for the city of Napa.

It's a great fishing and bird watching area, the local Audubon society has regular field trips out here. I could've used their help, I saw LOTS of birds in the trees and on the lake but didn't know what they were.

If anyone knows what these are, I'd be interested in hearing.

On to Lake Berryessa which is several miles around, and empty at this time of year. Based on the businesses nearby I'd say lots of fishing and watersports in the summertime:

Deer were jumping out in front of the Tiger everywhere, one of them almost got me.

These wild turkeys seem to know it's almost Thanksgiving:

This one in someone's yard seemed pretty unconcerned:
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Automotive ADHD is fun!
Very cool report - you drove through my neck of the woods... Next time you're headed up Hwy 9, stop at the Tyrolean Inn in Ben Lomond - excellent German food!