We were on our way to the coast and the Pacific Ocean. Before driving to Monterey, however, we wanted to visit the Pinnacles National Park. We found a beautiful overnight spot, lonely and overlooking the Panoche Hills. There, we watched the sun disappear behind the dry hills, turning the sky into a pastel-colored spectacle until the starry night sky finally took over for the night.
Winding through the Panoche Hills, the next day we drove through an apparently forgotten landscape. We did not see any other car while it was such a beautiful route!
At the Visitor Centre of Pinnacle National Park, we learned that it is a popular park in spring, when thousands of flowers are in bloom. So shortly before winter, we had to do without this splash of colour, but found two nice short hikes. For the first one bringing a torch was recommended. The Bear Gulch Trail route went partly through dark caves to a water reservoir.
During the second hike, it became clear to us how this park got its name. We walked part of the Condor Gulch Trail to a viewpoint. Along the way, we were accompanied by woodpeckers. We couldn’t count them, but we hadn’t seen that many before. It is said to be the highest concentration of woodpeckers in the USA and we had no problems believing that.
We saw a large tree covered in holes as if someone had used it as an aim for his semi-automatic rifle. With so many woodpeckers flying around here, it was not hard to guess who had caused this. Interestingly, we found that each hole had a acorn stuck in it. The woodpeckers hide these as winter supplies. Arriving at the viewpoint, we looked out over a ridge made up of pillars that stood close together to form the top of the mountain – the Pinnacles.
The drive to Monterey took us two hours and we were united with the ocean. For a long time, we have been looking forward to this moment. Along the Californian coast, we hoped to enjoy warmer temperatures in the coming days. In the evening, we decided to make Monterey downtown unsafe and had an overpriced drink at a local pub. The pleasure tax in California, like other taxes, must be considerably higher than in other states in the USA. Nine dollars for half a pint of Guinness was slightly on the high side in our opinion.
The day could not have started better at the Monterey Aquarium. Behind the aquarium is Hovden Way, a narrow ford to the sea, where a small colony of sea otters seemed to live. Cormorants were drying their feathers in the sun in their typical way and black oystercatchers were searching for oysters among the dried stones. The sea otters tended to stay in the background, but were easy to follow with binoculars. Wonderfully they swam on their backs and bobbed in the water, occasionally diving down in search of a tidbit. Looking out over the calm water, we sometimes even saw larger mammals emerging out of the water. Dolphins had apparently also chosen Monterey Bay as their home, which we could very well understand.
We park the car along the rugged rocks to have lunch. How wonderful to be able to follow pelicans flying over our heads while eating a peanut butter sandwich and not lose sight of a seal swimming around at the same time. Before heading south on Highway number 1, we visited a large colony of Monarch butterflies that reside here from November until the following spring.
Over four generations, these butterflies migrate from Mexico to the Canadian border. Several generations live here, some of which do not grow older than a few weeks. The super generation sometimes hangs by tenthousands from the branches of trees in the Monarch Sanctuary to keep each other warm and thus consume less energy. This way, this generation reaches six to eight months of age. What a beautiful spectacle of nature again. We said goodbye to them and we hope to see them again in Mexico!
Highway number 1 is considered one of the most spectacular coastal routes in the world. Along steep coastlines and high bridges, you marvel after every bend, where the view seems just a little bit more spectacular than at the one before. The setting sun made it all even more beautiful than it already was. In the late twilight, we found our chosen sleeping spot right along the ´1´ and watched the sun set further down the horizon.
The ocean, so beautifully colored orange by the sun last night, had now completely disappeared in the fog. It was rainy and cold. On our way to the Montana de Oro State Park where we planned to stay for a day or two, we soon passed the only highlight of the day, a colony of elephant seals that had appropriated a private beach here and were pretending it was Sunday. Laze about.
From relatively close quarters, you can get a really good look at these giant beasts here. An estimated 50 were lying on the beach, most of them were not moving. Only the younger sea elephants shuffled back and forth through the sand looking for a play partner to pass the time with. The pelicans played with the wind, flying in groups of three along the surf in search of treats while we fled back to the car. Fortunately, the car was parked so that we had a good view of what was happening on the beach dry from behind the glass.
The Montana de Oro State Park campground is surrounded by hiking trails and a beach on its doorstep. But the hope for sunshine remained unfulfilled the next day. Eddy therefore continued to work on the video and I did a little work on the car. Draining dirty water, filling up with fresh water, deflating the sleeping bags, cleaning the sink and sweeping out the car. So the morning went by at least somewhat usefully, even if the sun didn’t want to show itself.
Around noon, the drizzle started again, but that didn’t stop us from going on a little hike along the coast on the Bluff Trail. The loop was only about 6 kilometers long, but we didn’t make any fast progress. This was by no means due to the difficulty of the trail; it went on level always along the cliff. But we stopped at every viewpoint along the way, because the views were really great and there was something new to discover everywhere. Pelicans, cormorants, hawks, sea otters, seals, rabbits, birds, a beautiful colorful beach with great stones and shells, we couldn’t get enough. There was a great smell of herbs everywhere and some surfers jumped into the water despite the rain. It was a great hike, despite the weather.
Santa Barbara is best known to us for the fact that the ‘rich-and-famous’ hang out here, and we can also well imagine that this is a great place to live. The boulevard that runs parallel to the coastline is decorated with palm trees and even in early December people still stroll along the white sandy beach in shorts. Apart from a large group of pelicans, nobody swims in the tempting water. Apparently it is too cold for that.
We walked to Stearns Wharf. Dating back to 1872, this pier is the oldest of its kind in America and is built entirely of wood. The pier is home to a number of restaurants and coffee bars. From there we walked into State Street, where mostly wine bars are located. It was 11 am and what we noticed is that the terraces of the wine bars were much busier than those of the coffee bars where there was hardly any activity. These people were clearly having a good time. Santé!
The biggest task for today awaited us after leaving Santa Barbara. Los Angeles. Not that we wanted to go into the city, quite the contrary. We just had to drive past Los Angeles. We read in the travel guide that it’s best to hit the road before 6am or after 10pm otherwise it could be a stressful drive. “Forewarned is forearmed”, so we drove nicely into the traffic jam at 3pm. What also makes driving in Los Angeles not exactly easy is that motorways generally consist of more than five lanes. Try to struggle through when you realize too late that you should have had the right-hand lane and you have to cross four to get there on time.
Fortunately (also for our relationship), it wasn’t all that bad afterwards and we soon found our way to the mountainous hinterland of Los Angeles. For about 40 kilometers, the road snaked through a green mountain range with peaks up to 2000 meters high. A bit unexpectedly actually, but the winter sleeping bags we had tucked far away yesterday reappeared. We were the only guests at Monte Cristo Campground which actually surprised us greatly. The world was fine again.