Big Sur and Beyond

Everyone has heard of Big Sur – it was the requisite hippie stop for all California road trips in the 60’s. It’s still pretty groovy, and still feels like a bit of a time warp. Very little has changed – certainly not the scenery – and with the exception of a few motels, campgrounds and cafes along the way, it is all about the natural environment. People are here to camp, hike, listen to the surf, and possibly reminisce about the good old days. To that end, there are no shortage of VW camper vans.

We were excited to have the chance to drive down this iconic stretch of Hwy. 1 – it had been closed south of Big Sur for 14 months after a devastating landslide. It reopened again just a couple of months ago, and the damage from the slide is still evident in spots.

Highway 1, south of Big Sur, is the stuff of motorcycle dreams and convertible ads. Ocean on the right, mountains on the left and a twisting, rollicking road in the middle. There were no dreaded switchbacks, but the road is so curvy and winding it took three hours to drive just over 50 miles.

The beauty of this road is that there are innumerable pullouts, and we took full advantage of them to admire the view, take photos and let cars pass us. As soon as we had more than two cars, we’d pull over, and we were almost always rewarded with a wave or a honk. We’re trying very hard not to be annoying and oblivious RV people.

So back to Hwy. 1 – these are the reasons you want to drive this road.

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We saw surfers. It is hardly noteworthy see surfers in California, but I liked this shot.

We drove over many bridges just like this one.

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The highway climbs up, up, up and then descends back down to the beach, and then does it all over again.



All too soon, our delicious ride was over. Actually, I am speaking for myself. Stephen did all the driving on that stretch and had to pay keen attention to navigate truck and trailer safely on all the curves. I got to sit in the passenger seat and admire the view. Slowly, that is changing as we both gain confidence in my trailer-hauling abilities.

We arrived in Morro Bay for the night, and backed in like pros to our campsite. This was our view:

Morro Bay is a charming small city with lovely curved streets lined with typical California bungalows, unusual shops and restaurants and a waterfront filled with the usual fish and chip shops and many purveyors of salt water taffy. I’ve always wondered why one feels compelled to buy salt water taffy every time one is within spitting distance of an ocean and yet live happily without it everywhere else.

I also often wonder why people think their dogs are human and/or have no impact on others. I’m a dog-lover, and don’t want to be cranky but no, I don’t want your boxer’s backside on my lunch table.

Morro Bay is dominated by this very large rock.


It is possible to drive out along a causeway, and then walk or cycle all around the rock. Morro Bay struck us as being a happy place for locals – prosperous without being exclusive and full of important amenities – walking and cycling places, boating and kayaking, a great library,  a beautiful natural setting and a wonderful temperate climate.

As we left the coast to head inland toward Death Valley, we drove through many different landscapes.

Massive oilfields:

Lush wine country

Pretty leafy roads


And agriculture – avocados, nuts, olives, nuts – agribusinesses that ran for miles in broad, flat valleys and small market gardens. This is part of the country that helps to feed  Canada and the U.S.  and the scale is hard to imagine.

I don’t have a photo that does this area justice, but I do have a story. I bought cherry tomatoes and once we got them home, I discovered much to my surprise that they were grown in Mexico, shipped and packaged in Ontario and then shipped back to California. The 2000-mile diet.

Enroute to Death Valley, we had to stop overnight at an RV park in Lake Isabella, in order to break up a 9-hour drive. This was a disturbing glimpse into a side of California that does not show up in the brochures.

Lake Isabella is not on anyone’s flight path, and I doubt they often get travellers. The RV park was run-down and filled with mainly old, moldy-looking trailers decorated with  American flags and pots of artificial flowers. We spoke to one lady who is so spooked by the fires she is moving back to Ohio as soon as she sells her trailer and finds a way to move her 19 cats.

The next morning, we made our way east to Death Valley National Park, and the landscape became more barren as we drove along.

This shot was taken about an hour outside the Park:


Now we’re in Death Valley – so much to discover here. See you again in a few days.

16 thoughts on “Big Sur and Beyond

  1. Ginny, U are such a great writer.. I hope you are being subsided by Condé Naste, or any other travel mag.. Hope all continues to go well for u both..
    Patty.. xox


    1. Thanks so much Patti – I would dearly love to be subsidized by any magazine! Life is good for us, now that we have overcome our “freaked-out” period of learning to haul and operate a trailer. We’re having no end of fun – how about you?


      1. Well i too travel constantly as im a tour director for 2 US agencies.. i was in Death Valley last year with a group of europeans, however it was early Sept & 120 degrees!! I love hearing all about ur adventures! Have fun & stay safe!!

        Sent from my iPhone Patricia Brown



  2. It must have been hard to steer inland after such gorgeous coastal scenery…but who knows what is waiting to surprise you around the bend….that’s the fun, isn’t it? Love ALL your stories!


    1. You’re so right – every corner brings something new, and if you have no idea what lies ahead, it is all part of the trip. Death Valley looks like all the photos, but it is so much more than that – so different than I had imagined. If we had just driven by, we would have missed it entirely.


  3. So inspiring and I bet you posted the perfect VW for Edwin,he is currently restoring one in the garage.
    Wonderful photos,totally want to do that drive again,coast to Big Sur.
    I drove through Alberta, Montana,Idaho and Nervade a couple of months ago onroute to visit our son in San Francisco.
    I just love road trips and the freedom from the matrix world that so wants to grab us.
    Keep trucking,keep loving and keep sharing .


    1. We love the road trip! We’ve gone from each privately thinking we would just wave the white flag and sell the trailer to being totally involved with this new life.

      Who knows – we may meet up on the road one day – it sound like that is simmering on the back burner for you two.


    1. I’m just showing you the good parts! California is fascinating because they have everything – mountains, ocean, lakes, desert, agriculture, oil, L.A., San Francisco, Silicon Valley – it’s all here.

      They also have unpredictable wildfires, landslides, earthquakes, floods – all on an epic scale. Some of their small towns are almost entirely shuttered and bleak, and 50 miles away, there is an oasis.

      We’ve talked to many, many people who live on the slenderest of threads, as well as a number of folks who are doing very well. All contradictions, all part of the same state. There is so much left to explore here – we’ll need several trips to scratch the surface.


  4. As usual, interesting reading and delightful photos. So glad that the RV experience seems to be to your liking. Hope we will hear something about how the RV itself is working out and how well the design works now that you have a few weeks under your belts.


    1. We’re getting there! I’ll write something more in the next blog – I think our time here in Death Valley was a turning point. We are learning how to boondock, which is an essential part of long-term travel, if we want to avoid crowded parks.


  5. Loving the blog and your photos! Never get tired of driving that route. Found Death Valley interesting as well. Cannot imagine the duress people faced back in the day travelling that area! Looking forward to the next adventure. Big hugs and safe travels. Xoxo


    1. Oh, we stopped by the Harmony Borax site – where they mined for borax and shipped it out with the famous 20-mule carts. The area right in front of the mine was where the “Chinese workers” slept – it looked none too inviting – hard, scrubby ground with not a hint of shade. You’re right – cannot imagine the hardships.


  6. Mitch and I drove Hwy. 1 in my new Camry. I remember the scenery was beautiful but there were times when I looked out over the cliffs to the ocean below and held my breath, as we navigated the twists and turns!


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