Two Milpitas Camera Club members and an associate took the three-hour drive
to San Luis Obispo the weekend of December 13-14. We holed up at the Motel 6
one freeway exit south of the
a long-time California landmark motel and restaurant. The place is like a late-1960s
Winchester Mystery House with more of a point to its rambling architecture.
People get off Highway 101 to stop by the Madonna to buy cakes and pies from
its well known bakery and to gawk at the completely-over-the-top 60s decor and
check out the men's restroom in the basement of the restaurant, where you can
relieve yourself in a sensor-controlled waterfall urinal, that is, if you are a male.
(You can take a seat in an armchair in front of the large stone fireplace near the
entrance to the bar just about any day and watch people come through the doors
looking like they are on a quest. More often than not, they will say to one of
their companions, You gotta check out the men's bathroom!)
Why is the world so strange near the belt buckle of California?
The fabric of the universe seems a bit stretched and buckled here in central
California, perhaps the massive metro areas to the north and to the south are
sucking in the real estate too fast. There are many oddities round these parts.
Why, just up the road is the California-famous
Andersons Pea Soup
restaurant in Buellton, near Solvang and wine country of Santa Ynez.
The winery-dotted hills nearby should be familiar to fans of the movie Sideways,
where Paul Giamatti and his co-stars rambled through California's recently
established middle wine ountry.
Sampling the squeezings from the grape was not high on our list, however.
We had our own agenda that included the Monarch butterflies that show up
annually at the same eucalyptus grove in Pismo Beach. From our appointment
with the insects, we drove north on Highway One, the PCH, to a gently sloping
beach near the point at Piedras Blancas (white rocks) to see the colony of
Northern Elephant Seals.
Both butterfly and pinniped shows were less than
spectacular this year, with the cold weather keeping the ectothermic insects
in clusters; and numbers of butterfly and seal populations drastically down
from past years. In the case of the Monarchs, it was estimated that approximately
20,000 showed up this year (previous years counts have been as high as 200,000),
a phenomenon that seems to have no clear cause. Everyone wearing patchouli-tainted
tie-dyed shirts and Birkenstocks will, of course, openly proclaim:
Its because of global warming. But to be fair, nobody is really certain
why the numbers were down to such a low point this year.
The lack of seals seemed to be partially a matter of our poor timing, with
a scant few big bulls lolling about the beach, and hardly any females to
fight over. We got some great action shots of them yawing and occasionally
lifting an eyelid or two.
Brooding over the top of the whole scene, of course, was
Hearst Castle, which
provided us relief from the cold wind and lack of seals. After warming up in
the tourist lobby, and catching a bite to eat, we were lucky to find three
vacancies on the last tour of the evening, the Christmas lights tour.
It was well past sunset when we got in the bus to be taken to the huge
mansion on the hill, built by William Randolph Hearst, newspaper magnate
and a self-styled art-collecting tycoon. The vast number of art treasures
he acquired in Europe became the decor for his huge home and showplace on
one of his expansive California ranches. Working closely with California
architect Julia Morgan, Hearst built a personal art museum where he entertained
his high-profile guests. (You can either approach Hearst from a negative or
positive tangent in trying to explain his antics, but one thing for sure
is that he built a home worthy of any king.) If you haven't seen the
Hearst Castle, you should treat yourself when you are in the San Luis Obispo area.
Tickets are a bit pricey, but if you don't have six or seven kids, the tour
is well worth the cost (in the $20 to $30 range, depending upon the tour).
Our tour featured the mansion decorated with Christmas lights and docents
dressed up in styles of the 1930s striking poses about the mansion,
too bad flash photography and tripods were prohibited. Many of my
available-light pictures were blurred, but some turned out really well
with he help of a small airline pillow.
The final act in our eclectic Middle California adventure was the
Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa,
in downtown SLO. The mission was the
fifth mission founded by Father Junipero Serra on September 1, 1772.
Although the grounds around the mission are not expansive, they are
picturesque and the museum is worth a walk-through. If you've toured
more than three of the California missions, you'll find yourself having
serious bouts of déjà vu, but the history is a fascinating part of our
heritage as Californians. Enjoy your state, its one of the prettiest there is!
Although the mission was not the high-water mark, it provided the
exclamation point on this weekend excursion. We drove back in a
gathering rain storm and arrived back on a gloomy Sunday night in the Bay Area.
||Monarch Butterflies and Elephant Seals
||December 13-14, 2008
||January 7, 2009
© 2009 S.R. Hinrichs