We left Prairie Creek State Park (our second campground in Redwoods National Park) and headed south with great anticipation of finding warmer temperatures. Our destination for the night was The Golden Rule Campground in the small town of Willits, which was a most unique stop. The campground is run by Christ’s Church of the Golden Rule and lived up to its name by offering us a most hospitable and enjoyable stay, without any religious intervention. We did have an interesting chat with a man who wondered about our viewpoint on same-sex marriage, and quickly told us he couldn’t understand “that stuff.” Stephen told him he just hadn’t met the right man yet!
The campground is situated on the sprawling property of Ridgeville Ranch, which was horse-racing icon Seabiscuit’s final home and resting place. It is still a working ranch, has a charter school and offers tours.
Not to make light of the horrendous wildfires that have been burning in the area, but our approach to the campground was a little biblical. We had no idea what we were driving into; we thought we were heading toward a storm. We found out later the town of Paradise, 160 miles east, had just burned to the ground. This is what many Californians live with – out-of-control fires that spring up with little or no warning. After the damp, moist cool climate of the Redwoods, everything in central and southern California is tinder dry.
Our original plan was to hit the coast highway and stop at Mendocino, Fort Bragg and Bodega Bay, but after reading that the road to the coast was filled with switchbacks and the coastal road itself required “nerves of steel”, we shifted course and headed to Monterey and Carmel. We’re still driving with caution and not yet comfortable with navigating tight switchbacks with our trailer in tow.
Monterey was a terrific “Plan B.” We discovered another unique campground, right in the city. It is situated in Veteran’s Memorial Park at the top of a hill, about a mile walk down to the historic waterfront. It’s been in operation since 1926, and had everything we needed – hot showers, water, and a dumping station. We’re getting the hang of “dry camping” – switching over to propane and our solar panel.
Monterey and Carmel are an interesting study in contrasts. Monterey is a working town with its roots in fishing and sardine canneries. Cannery Row, which Steinbeck so famously depicted in his novel of the same name – depicts the challenges of that stinky, tedious work. Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium have become the centrepieces of the waterfront.
Monterey’s downtown and waterfront have been meticulously restored. The one-mile walk from downtown to Cannery Row was filled with cyclists and pedestrians enjoying the bright sunny weather.
The big drawback to the Monterey waterfront, for us at least, is the proliferation of tacky tourist traps, same-same souvenir shops and questionable-looking chowder houses. The area is stunning, the history is fascinating and the architecture is exquisite. Why add a wax museum? This is a shot of Fisherman’s Wharf:
The promenade is filled with murals, such as this one that show the cannery workers having a break – “the dripping, smelly, tired Wops and Chinamen and Polacks” (Cannery Row.)
Three of the original, tiny shacks that housed some of the workers.
The city of Monterey rises up from the bay and climbs around several hills, creating gorgeous sightlines and strenuous workouts. The historic part of the city is clustered around the waterfront; its streets filled with unique, iconoclastic architecture and interesting little shops and restaurants. Since many structures are made of adobe, we were intrigued by these signs that we saw on a number of buildings.
This home looks as though it could withstand a few tremors. It is built of Carmel stone.
Even in November, the gardens in Monterey are still lush, and the area trees are simply formidable. If anyone can identify this species, please let me know.
A peaceful scene in a pocket park, by the Monterey Museum of Art.
Carmel-by-the-Sea, just a few miles south, could not be more different. It is manicured, pedicured, blow-dried and primped. The actual village of Carmel encompasses about one square mile of pristine laneways; one distinctive home outdoing the next. Homes in this rarified zip code have no numbers. They are identified by their names – Seventh Heaven, Dreams Come True, and the enigmatic I’m Done.
A sampling of what life in Carmel is like for the lucky few.
An English cottage:
A Spanish colonial:
Hansel and Gretel:
A typical back laneway:
The shopping streets of Carmel are carefully curated and no less charming. There are an astonishing number of art galleries in town; not surprising since Carmel began as a bohemian artist colony. It is hard to imagine a more idyllic setting for painters and writers.
There are rules to be followed, however. Women are not allowed to wear high heels in Carmel: a rule that came about to avoid lawsuits in case a nasty fall occurred on the uneven streets.
Another rule revolves around not offending the established aesthetic. No nasty neon or garish plastic in Carmel – even the gas pump has to comply with a tasteful sign.
As you might expect, Carmel’s fire station is photogenic.
In case this all sounds a bit cloying and precious – it really isn’t. Carmel simply has very exacting standards and it sticks to them. Build it and the tourists will come – it is the swarms of people like us that help to make it feel a bit contrived.
The beach keeps it real, though. Carmel is blessed with an absolutely gorgeous white-sand crescent beach – we spent a good hour walking along the shore.
And the dogs! We had heard that Carmel was well-known for its love affair with all things canine, but boy – they may outnumber humans two to one.
We spent our final day hiking the oceanside trails in Point Lobos Park, just south of Carmel. This was a taste of what was to come driving down Hwy. 1.
Many of the trails were filled with trees typical to the area – Monterey pine, Monterey cypress and live oak.
A typical sea view as the trail dipped in and out of the forest.
After worrying about whether we could manage the switchbacks of Highway 1 to Mendocino, we bit the bullet and drove that iconic road south through Big Sur to Morro Bay, where we are now camping. The highway had been closed for 14 months, due to a landslide, and only opened again a few months ago. We’ll see you again in a few days with photos and stories from that drive.
12 thoughts on “Heading toward summer”
Gorgeous, Ginny and Steve. I’m jealous as we are having shitty weather. Rain so far but NB has snow so I’m sure we will get it tomorrow. I’m not a fan so no excitement here. What a gorgeous place you were in. We are watching the fires and feeling massive sympathy for the people involved. To lose everything is awful but so many lost their lives. You two be careful!
Going to meet the other three goons tonight to play 45’s. I’m just learning and that’s hard to believe coming from a card-playing family. Was never interested. I guess I’m old! Lol. Travel safe. Me
What is “45’s”? My only reference are those small two-song records we used to play back when we all had record players.
You’re right – the fires are horrible, and after 100 days without rain, many Californians are worried. Their rainy season has usually started by now.
Where are you and Terry off to this winter?
Great photos! Deb and I had to laugh at Steven’s comment to the man at the campground, good comeback. It has been blowing a gale here for 3 days😕
I have such romantic memories of the Atlantic storms – I guess I need to come back for a visit in the winter for a good reminder.
Thanks for showing us around Steinbeck’s old haunts in Monterey, and Cannery Row, your pictures really bring it to life. I loved reading his books when I was just a teenager, I read everything of his, but it’s hard to beat those stories from that group of crazy guys inhabiting that milieu. I just reread Cannery Row a few years ago which was fun, but less apropos to our time than The Grapes of Wrath. I’m reminded of it every time I see pictures of the caravan of migrants travelling through central America, hoping to find a better life in the US. Looking forward to your next installment, and glad to know you’re away from the fire zone. The news is so full of the horrific consequences and loss of so many lives. Take care.
Thanks Garry – we are being careful and watching the news for word on new fires. This year seems to be the worst yet – what are these poor people in for?
I want to re-read both The Grapes of Wrath and Cannery Row again – it’s been a few years. :>) We weren’t in Salinas, but today, driving across the state, we drove for mile after mile of flat agricultural land – stark, barren and hot. Not the romantic images I have of lush, rolling farmland – although they have that too, but this part of California feels just like Steinbeck country.
This is a lovely, enticing account of one of the few areas of California that I have not yet visited. That makes Monterey and Carmel all the more appealing.
I mentioned to a park ranger that we could spend our entire 7 months away just in California, and she heartily agreed. This state has everything, including unfortunately devastating weather, but the scenery is unreal.
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Your latest account is taking me down memory lane, much to my delight. Mitch and I have been to the places you’ve mentioned; so, some of your pictures are looking very familiar. It reminds me of how much I loved our trips down the west coast. We’re relieved to hear you are some distance from the devastating fires raging in California.
Heather, I’m so glad you are following along memory lane. I don’t think this area changes much, except for shops and restaurants, perhaps. We found the hotel we had stayed at in Carmel 10 years ago – Lobos Lodge – and just for fun, I went in to check out their current rates. It was $89 in 2008 and $155 in 2018, so not an unreasonable jump in prices.
You took me down memory lane as well. We honeymooned down the coast and I particularly remember the charm of Carmel -it hasn’t changed a lot by the pictures. We camped at Big Sur – a hippy stronghold at the time -not sure if it is now a parking lot, housing estate or what. Did you pass by?
We did pass by Big Sur – but there was not room for us to park with our trailer. It is still rugged and beautiful.