Sunday, September 20, 2015

Salinas: The Bad, The Ugly, And The Happy Ending

The booking of the seedy hotel in Montery was not the end of our adventure. To sweeten the pot, we decided to stay one more night. My wife took charge and went to the main desk only to find that our little haven was in such demand than one more night would cost more than $60 more than the first night. Rather than reward the enterprising nature of our hotel manager, my wife decided to give me one more chance to prove the superiority of a computer master in the Information Age. I promptly found that almost every room in the whole town was previously engaged, unless we wanted to try spending $500 for a $100 room. I then widened the search and came up victorious with a $150 room that was a few minutes drive into the desert. We walked the town, seeking the otters and sea lions that we had enjoyed on a previous journey, but none were to be found.  We ate lunch at Islands, and had the Mahi sandwich, which was good, not great. I finally found the surf break, but the day was gloomy and the waves weren't worth photographing, so we began the journey that turned out to be the excitement of the day.
First, to say that Salinas is a few minutes into the desert is like saying the moon is closer than Mars. We drove on and on down a highway with no features but the occasional field of some plants and groups of pickers slaving away. The good news here was we stopped at a local truck stand and got some of the best strawberries we've ever had. We were heading towards the Laurel Inn, a place I'd never heard of and I was filled with forboding about what I would have to endure if it was another rathole.
I started to get the feeling that we were heading towards the town where all of the migrant workers had to live. I expected Payday loan stores, pawn shops, and abandoned storefronts. Instead, we pulled into a beautiful, seemingly recent-built town with all kinds of nice stores and places to eat. Eveen the hotel seemed a lot nicer than the Friday night stop and I pulled in with a smile on my face and sent my wife in to do the business of checking. It was then that I pulled up my receipt and saw with dismay that I had somehow booked the only "Smoking" room in the whole hotel. Since my wife is severely allergic to smoke and many other things, I thought I might need to mention this. I ran inside the hotel, hearing words like "yes, that is the last room we have!".....and blew my gaskets.
I would say in my defense, that I only blamed myself, loudly, but somehow exactly how I needed to do it because the manager overheard, and fixed the whole thing. We ended up a good room for a great price and a reccomendation to the best restaurant of the whole trip: The Hacidenda. If only we could somehow have managed to stay up past 9pm, we would have heard a great band perform on a stage that looked like large concert stage at a venure. In fact, the waitress told us that tickets were $25 to see a Banda.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Monterey: The Town, The Park And How To Not Pick A Hotel

We pulled into Montery on Friday and ended up sticking around for two nights...which wasn't as easy as you might think. We knew the weekend might make it a bit more difficult, so I took charge and showed my wife how it is done in the modern age with a smartphone and Quicker than a wink, I had us fixed up with the most expensive and rattiest hotel of our trip. Who needs an air conditioner anyway? I forgot to mention that while California is usually cooler than Florida, there are moments of 100 degree heat and we managed to find them. My wife was kind and barely mentioned the small bed, and what passed for a full breakfast in the morning. I impressed her with the idea that we were going to try to lose some weight anyway, and the greasy guy bringing out the limp half slices of sausages only served to help us with our attempt.
Saturday was saved by a random trip to Point Lobos, while I was trying to find the local surf breaks. we came across a state park that was well worth the $7 to get in. We ended up spending a good part of the day hiking through the park, looking at the rock formations in the fog and seeing the scuba divers head out into the lagoon. We initally drove in at 7:30 in the morning and I thought, "We have finally left the crowds behind! They are all going to Jazz festivals, and walking down Cannery Row, while we brave the fog and the cold of nature at the coast!" Then we came around the corner to where the scuba divers go and found the first full parking lot...

Friday, September 18, 2015

I Finally Got Just What I Paid For

Fox Car Rentals and I usually have an understanding...I pay for the cheapest car you can rent and they end up giving me something really cool for a little bit more money at the point of sale....well, this time I ended up with the cheapest thing they had, in spite of all of my begging. I guess you can't complain about that and my wife was actually pretty cheerful about spending 10 days on the road in a car she would laugh about at home. In fact, we were sitting in this car after dinner in a parking lot and a little girl came up and kissed the hood, laughing to her mother that she wanted this little car! 
Nowhere did it seem smaller than in the Redwood Forest, which was an unexpected bonus to our Oregon coastal tour. This was a great drive and we took a hike through the woods for an hour and just spent the whole time ooohing and ahhing. The temperature was in the 60's and I was happy in jeans and t-shirt. 

It is difficult to convey in photographs just how different it is here from Florida. No bugs, no humidity, and these giant redwood trees all around. The main feeling that we had was that there might be dinosaurs around!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Santa Cruz: Waves And Whales!

We passed through a couple of Sketchy towns on the way down to Santa Cruz, the most memorable being Garberville. We were making a pit stop and we both got back in the car as fast as possible. We were in the middle of Humbolt county, which is apparently the pot-growing capital of the world and it must attract more homeless folks than nice warm Florida sun. I never actually saw anybody sitting in public smoking a joint, but we saw plenty of places to buy the stuff. Just a few miles down the road things seemed more like normal and then there was Santa Cruz. We hit Santa Cruz and suddenly there were joggers, surfers, the homeless and the filthy rich all mingling. I seemed to notice way more young twenty-somethings on vacation here than anywhere else...or it could be the students from the nearby college. We watched whales for hours and not 100 yards away was some of the best surfing I'd seen in a long time. Steamer Lane was still going off from a recent nearby hurricane and it was incredible to see the age mix in the water, from a tiny little French kid to a guy that looked older than me, they were all tearing it up in what looked to be an extremely dangerous place...

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Gold Beach, Oregon And One Fantastic Drive

Finding a place to stay on the scenic Oregon coast, was a bit of fun itself. We decided to call it a day in Gold Beach and found a place that was a little bit less than what we would like to have, but the price was right and we were tired. One great thing about the Motel 6 there in Gold Beach was that it featured deer coming around our front door first thing in the morning. Then we took off in search of breakfast, stopping to look at the wreck of the Mary D. Hume on the way. Although the photo gives you an idea of what we saw, in person you are amazed that something so old still holds some of it's original shape. There is a plaque nearby that details her career as a whaler, a tugboat, and a hauler. The ship was expensive in her day, but made plenty of money for her owners. One bit of interest was a 6 year trip as a whaler up in Alaska, with crew going mad, dying and being left in ice for later burial...
 We ate in a little diner for breakfast and found food that was palatable, but not inexpensive, although the restaurant and it's staff  appeared as though it should have been one of the least expensive stops of our trip. This little fishing town of Gold Beach did little to prepare us for the natural beauty was ahead.. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Revisiting Mount Ranier

We decided to visit Mt. Rannier National Park on Labor Day and somehow managed to get there before the holiday crowd. We were warned about the chance of low clouds and the possibility that we would not be able to see the peak, but we were close by and I hadn't been there since I was a kid. It still had the power to amaze me and Pam agreed that it was well worth the trip even with the clouds.

On the wildlife side, we did see a variety of birds, but no exotic mammals. The best part was spotting a scene on the side of the road that looked like an alien landscape. It appeared to be a dried up lake that had been logged years before. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Finding The Oregon Coast

We left Mount Ranier and headed off for the first truly adventurous part of the journey. Just looking at the map, it appeared that there was nothing much on the Oregon coast and then by using the modern tools, like Google Street View, it seemed even less appealing. I wasn't absolutely certain that hotels and gas stations existed out that way. We filled up the tank in the car, grabbed some bottled water and snacks and headed down a long two lane highway to Newport, OR.
The first surprise happened as we were getting out of our car in Newport. I hadn't even locked the doors when I heard the barking of California Sea Lions.
That was the beginning of a beautiful trip down the Oregon coast. I'd say now that it is every bit as scenic as Big Sur and way less crowded.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Hitting the Pacific Northwest Right After Summer

My wife and I decided that if one trip to the Great Out West was a good idea, then it must be followed by another. This time we decided to start from Seattle and work our way down the coastline, stopping for the occasional foray into the mountains. What followed was a little bit different that what we expected...
The first part of the plan was to fly in the week after Labor Day, so the crowds would be gone and we would have our way with accomodations, negotiating with empty hotels over their prices and taking our pick of which room we would want, after checking the view from the windows.
Next time we go on a trip, I will have my wife double-check me concerning the actual day of the month that we celebrate Labor Day, since we ended up in Seattle in the middle of Labor Day weekend. My thoughts were, driving into the city on that Sunday was that every hipster in the USA had decided this was the place to be. Even the most expensive parking lots, the kind that advertise $10 a day and then in small print: if you get here on a weekday before 7am,  were full and there was not a street you could turn on that there would not be 3 more cars following you closely, hoping you knew some secret spot to stop. We finally gave up the possibility of seeing fish tossed about in the market and headed off in search of Mount Ranier.
We drove south, heading to Puyallup, a small town on the way to the national park. I tried my best to learn how to say that name, but it seemed that everyone pronounced it differently. If only we had known then what we know now....that was the nicest hotel we were to see on the entire journey..
We were excited about getting up at first light, and by the way, one great advantage of a trip to the Great West, is that with the time change, my wife and I are almost on the same page with getting up in the morning. I'm up at 5am and she is up by 5:45! We are out and on the road before most westerners are even smelling the coffee. The downside is that we are tired on our feet by 7pm and can barely drag ourselves to bed at night.
Unfortunately, the early rising was of little use for Mount Ranier. There are many days when the mountain is shrouded by fog and this was one of them. The park is beautiful and worth the trip no matter what, but I'm sure it was less crowded due to the weather forecast.
The strangest part was as we were driving, sometimes the fog would part for a moment and you would see this giant mountain almost right in your face!