First Stop: Point Mugu
It's time for the beach. Each year, at least once, I head north up the coast. Last year I foolishly went in June and was socked in with the marine layer for almost 10 days. This year I had none of the "May Gray" and it was sunny and warm and, well, damn near perfect.
The trip started out at good old Point Mugu and Thornhill Broome Beach which lies between Malibu and Oxnard. As a young man I lived in Ventura and attended UCSB but would work for my Dad in his typesetting shop in Los Alamitos on the weekends. I didn't enjoy taking the 101 to the 405 so I took the longer, more leisurely and exceptionally scenic route through to Malibu. That route went directly by Point Mugu. I'd look down at the people camping literally on the sand and think, "Man, that's the life - one day when I don't have to work 7 days a week I'm gonna camp there." I made good on that promise to myself. I counted and I may have missed a trip or two but I believe this was my tenth trip.
Even if you haven't been you to Point Mugu you've seen it. It's featured on about half the car commercials these days. I adore the area. On my first night my Brazilian musician and poet friend Mauro came to visit and we made a fire and and barbecued tri-tip. We chatted and listened to music well into the night...
The last photo is kind of random but across from my campsite was a padlock in the fence separating the highway from the campground. I was fascinated by it - how long had it been there? Why had someone locked it and left it? It's a dang oddity. Love those...
One of my photography influences is Dennis Stock. Back in the '60's he took what I consider to be the best shot perhaps ever made of the Southern California beach scene near San Diego. There are a few spots on PCH I consider quintessential California but, alas, they're changing as development and other changes impact the landscape and the road. Nevertheless, I did go looking for a few spots to make photos and was nearly hit by a small and swerving grocery truck. You have to sacrifice for art, right? I like these photos anyway.
The following photos are just up the road a bit from the campground and I've spent many an hour in that very spot. I always say, "It feels a million miles away from LA".
Second Stop: Gaviota State Beach
After 4 days at Point Mugu I drove North to my old standby Gaviota. While there I went looking for some railroad photos and visited the first place I ever taught - De Anza Junior High School in Ventura as a long term substitute in Autumn of 1981. I also went to visit an old house - the house we were living in when my wonderful son, Jordan was born in April 1983. I enjoyed it. I often wish I could transport myself back to that time - knowing what I know now - I'd do many things differently. Regrets? I have a few...
The hills around Gaviota were lush and covered in mustard.
The coast in Santa Barbara county is much different than the coast I grew up with in Southern California. Shale dominates here.
A train trestle runs across Gaviota and invites you to explore. So I followed the tracks north...
Here are some additional photos of my time at Gaviota. I'll be back in August. I can't seem to get enough of the place.
Final Stop: Morro Bay
I scheduled a Morro Bay State Park trip for last Fall but it was canceled by them after a freak storm brought down several trees in the campground. I love Morro Bay - have ever since I was about 12 and my grandmother brought me here to meet her old bachelor cousin who had lived here for 30 some odd years. He was a poor, salty old fisherman who lived in a small apartment about a block from the bay. I never forgot him. A bad ass, independent, crotchety, profane "pescadero viejo". My kind of guy.
Normally, when I've visited the last several years it has only been for a few days and I haven't really explored the nearby wetlands or Elfin Forest which are close to the south end of town, I made up for that omission on this trip.
I was, finally able to visit the Elfin Forest which is near Los Osos, CA and just across the National Morro Bay Estuary from the campground. I left for my hike about 2:00 in the afternoon and it was cloudy - by the time I hit the trail the sun had emerged and the light was not great for photography. Of course, that didn't stop me from taking photos and I decided, then and there, that I had to come back in the Fall since this was such an extraordinary place.
I hope, through these photos, you get some idea about how splendid Morro Bay is and that you will, if you find yourself on the California central coast (and you should find yourself there) , check it out. Wait until you see how you feel there.
I hope you enjoyed looking at these photos as much as I enjoyed taking them. Next stop is the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. See ya on the road...
I am a John Steinbeck man. I was introduced to him by reading, "The Red Pony" at the age of 12 and I've been reading him ever since. I was lucky, in my senior year of high school, to play George in "Of Mice and Men" for which I won a small scholarship to the Drama Department of a small local state university. Make no mistake, I consider him one of the greatest writers of all time. The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden are two of the most beautiful, meaningful and powerful reading experiences of my lifetime. As a Nobel winner in 1962 it's clear that others have agreed. John's work, of all authors, resonates in me deeply.
John Steinbeck was the first of the great writers with whom I fell in love. There would be dozens and dozens of others over the years but he's the one I've stuck with - through all the the other "reading eras" of my life. If you know Steinbeck's work then you that no other writer, perhaps ever, captured settings better than him. The majority of his novels take place in what is commonly called "Steinbeck Country" in California. The oak savannah of central California has always held a particular allure for me and I thought, last September, that I would plan a spring trip there.
I was hoping we'd have a decent rain year which can turn the rolling hills into a spectacular, verdant green. Well we finally had a downright wet year.
We had so much rain, in fact, that it threatened my trip and closed the campground at my first stop. Morro Bay State Park. The campground there on the coast had suffered significant storm damage and photos showed dozens of trees knocked down onto the campsites and blocking roads. I looked for an alternative and found pretty Cerro Alto campground off Highway 41 between Morro Bay and Atascadero.
(Quick digression - do you know what atascadero means in Spanish? It means "sticky mess" and ranks high on the list of dumb Spanish names for towns along with Los Banos).
The road to Cerro Alto, off Highway 41, is one lane and if you stay right at the Y leads you over a stream, and into a tiny dead end with 3 parking spaces. Of course I took the truck and trailer right in there on the way in - you always stay right, don't you? After some crazy yet dexterous maneuvering I got the truck and trailer turned around and made it to my campsite. It was a picturesque place and my campsite had tiny Morro Creek running behind it.
The following morning I drove to Morro Bay and filled up with gas, had breakfast and bought a few provisions. Morro Bay is one of my favorite places on the coast of California and I've made dozens of trips there in my lifetime. I do not believe I had ever seen it so quiet and serene.
On the way back to camp I drove for a bit on Highway 41 to check out the late winter splendor.
The following day I spent hiking around the camp and on the Cerro Alto trail.
After a morning hike I came back for lunch and then decided to take a short nap. As an aside, I met a woman a few weeks back who had warned me about ticks this spring being very bad in the area I was to be travelling. She had contracted Lyme's disease about ten years ago from a tick and told me she had been sick ever since. Scared the Hell out of me as I've had a lifelong fear of parasites (human and insect) but I was pretty sure that I'd scheduled my trip prior to the big spring "tickfest". I mean, I'm a outdoors man, I wasn't worried.
After I got comfortable on my bed in the trailer, ready for my afternoon nap, I looked up and, boom, a tick about 4 inches from my head. Shit. Oh no. They must be everywhere, right? I thoroughly checked my clothing and scoured the trailer. I showered in my little trailer bathroom. The camp host came by and I asked him about the ticks. He told me, "yep, been around all winter and they're everywhere". Thanks pal, thanks for the encouraging news. I spent the next several hours obsessively scratching and itching. In the end, I never did see another tick. After years of being outdoors I'd much rather deal with rattlers than ticks. I can generally see and sometimes hear the snakes. The ticks are sneaky little bastards.
The next day I drove to Fremont Peak State Park. I was looking forward to going there as it had been Steinbeck's last California stop in his wonderful and inspiring travelogue, "Travels with Charley". It overlooks the Salinas Valley of John's youth and I felt that I would be walking in his footsteps during my visit. I did stop at the Camp Roberts Rest Stop (one of the most scenic in California) and made a few photos of what I consider prime examples of "Steinbeck Country".
The road to Fremont Peak is harrowing and the campground road was narrow, one lane, with fallen tree branches and steep cliffs on each side in places. About halfway there I thought I was completely out of my mind for dragging a trailer to such a place. After finding my campsite I didn't feel quite so crazy. It set on a bluff overlooking the valley with a view all the way out to marine layer covered Monterey Bay. I was, until a few nights later, the only person camping there. Magnificent.
I love that old picnic table in the photo gallery above. It looks like it has been there at least since the time Steinbeck visited in 1960. I imagined him there - peeling an orange and relaxing with faithful Charley by his side.
I was now in full "Steinbeck mode" and decided to spend the next day in Salinas. My first stop was at the "Garden of Memories Cemetery" where the ashes of Steinbeck are buried near his parents and last wife.
I met some workers at the cemetery who told me that 300 old growth oak trees had fallen in Salinas during the series of strong Pacific storms this winter. It was a theme for the entire trip - so many old, stately, and beautiful oaks lost. Heartbreaking.
I then went to the National Steinbeck Center and spent a few hours immersing myself in John Steinbeck. The exhibits are wonderful and cover each major part of his life. I had heard that Steinbeck's truck and camper from, "Travels with Charley" was there and I raced around until I found it. It didn't disappoint.
After spending a few touching hours at the Center I wandered down Central Avenue in Salinas to the birthplace and childhood home of Steinbeck which is a now a fine restaurant staffed by volunteers and fellow Steinbeck enthusiasts.
The journey back to the campsite was not nearly as anxiety filled without the trailer and I did stop to take a few photographs of the drive.
That evening was quiet and serene - literally no one else around.
The next day, a Saturday, I decided to go ahead and truly follow Steinbeck's footsteps and hike to the top of Fremont Peak. I awoke a little later than I'd planned and worried it might be crowded. I needn't have worried - I saw a group of 3 women and a father and son on the hike. There was a 360 degree view at the top of Fremont Peak. It was blissful and I thought of John and Charley the entire time.
Fremont Peak State Park is an unheralded gem. Not only literary history but California history abounds as well. John Fremont and his troops ascended the peak during the Mexican-American war (1846-1848) and it was the first place that the American flag flew in California. It is also a dark sky place of some renown in California according to the stargazers I met on Saturday night. There is an observatory there and many folks just tote their telescopes to the park, set them up, and spend hours observing the constellations. It's quite a place. I'm pleased Mr. Steinbeck sent me there.
I planned to spend the last few days of the trip in Pinnacles and then visit the Carrizo Plain National Monument. Unfortunately, Pinnacles was overrun (the exact opposite of Fremont Peak) and I had a couple of minor issues develop with my Casita which necessitated coming home a bit earlier than planned. Nevertheless I did make some photos of the two days around Pinnacles.
I am a passionate person. Guess I was born that way. And the things I love? Like music and literature and the land? I love them deeply. I love John Steinbeck and I love the topography of my home state. I have my whole life. This trip was one I'd desired to take for many, many years. It satisfied a longing I had and felt as though I'd touched the heart of the golden state.
Haven't read Steinbeck yet? Start with, "East of Eden". Like me, you'll probably never look back.
I returned a few days ago from Great Basin National Park (see Trip Reviews). It was awesome and I have decided to return there, in August with my daughter, Lilly. One of the major reasons it was so fantastic is because it is uncrowded. I can remember camping as a child and feeling like I was getting away from it all. Now, a visit to Yosemite makes you feel like you've been at Disneyland all damn day with the hordes of humanity who descend on the place.
More people than ever are camping. This is great except that there are no new campgrounds opening and, in fact, because of budget cuts (for everything except war), there are fewer campgrounds. The last trip to the local San Jacintos brought home this glaring reality as, after an 8 mile trip on a fairly rough dirt road, the campground was full. Moreover, the neighbors in the adjacent campsite were astonishingly loud and drunk and obnoxious. I had to give them my old principal's voice and say, "Please turn the music down! Thank you!".
This is a huge problem for those of us who look to nature as our solace and comfort.
I've decided, in the next few years, to do what I can to get the appropriate agencies to develop more campgrounds. In order to do this, of course, we must protect more public land. Further, I am working on a book about camping in the new era of crowds- emphasizing camping etiquette. A perfect project for a grumpy old man.
This next month takes Lupe and Lilly and I to crowded Point Mugu, crowded Pismo Beach and crowded Morro Bay. While I'm looking forward to these trips I also look forward to the off season when the calm returns.
It's that time of year when an old Cactus Man's fancy turns from the desert to the mountains and sea.
I have been trip planning for the last week while homebound. Lupe and I have had some domestic issues like painting and appliance repair to deal with (I swear it feels like these damn things are never done). As a result, I have nearly finished my trip plans for the next few months. In addition, Lupe and I are looking at the possible purchase of a very small, affordable, versatile, high ground clearance travel trailer. I need something that is homey enough for Lupe but I can take on my beloved dirt roads. While I love my current setup with just the camper shell I must admit it would be nice to have a place to hole up in bad weather. Anyway, we're not looking for something that resembles our home in any manner (why not just stay at home or in a motel then?). We want a tiny hideaway to take us away to private and secluded spots as well as the National Parks. The research continues...
In June- next week in fact, my son Kevin and I are headed to Boulder Basin in the San Jacinto mountains for a couple of days. I've been trying to get him to go camping with me for a few years now and I'm really looking forward to it. From there he'll go back to work (poor bastard) and I'll head to Nevada and Great Basin National Park. It's my first visit there and it is one of the lesser known National Parks- which is right up my misanthropic alley.
Then it's time for Lupe and Lilly! At the beginning of July Lupe and I are going to Point Mugu and camp right on the beach. Then, at the end of July she and Lilly and I are going to Jalama Beach and Pismo Beach. We'll spend a night in a motel in Morro Bay to wrap up (love that sleepy little town).
In August I'm headed back to the Southwest for a trip to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. I've been to the south rim probably 10 times but I don't usually head there in summer when the north rim is free of snow and open. I will probably camp a night or two at nearby Jacob Lake and look for future boondocking spots. At the end of the month and just before Lilly starts high school (Good God!) I'm taking her to one of my favorite spots in this lifetime - Lassen Volcanic National Park. I know it so well I can show her around! As she grows older these chances will be come fewer and fewer (see Jordan and Kevin) and I will cherish this time together. It will be an unforgettable trip.
My next BIG trip is in my favorite month to travel - September. I'll be heading to Devil's Tower National Monument in Wyoming and the Little Big Horn Battlefield in Montana. You've probably figured out my appreciation of and fascination with the indigenous people of our continent and this trip will focus heavily on Native American history and culture.
In October I'm heading back to Big Sur area to stay at Kirk Creek Campground and boondock in the mountains that overlook the sea, I'm gonna squeeze in a weekend back at Pinnacles National Park with my dear Bay Area family.
November brings me back to the desert...
I'll look forward to showing my pictures and narrating the trips as I return from each one.
This will mostly be a journal of my travels. I may include other items that interest me. Feel free to join in.
All content (C) Jeffrey C. Hubbard. No re-use without express written permission