After a few days of R&R waiting for Marty’s hand to heal, we decided it was time for another mini-vacation so we hit the road, driving north along the coast. Once you leave the population behind, the hills open up, the beaches turn to dramatic rocky cliffs and the traffic disappears.
Our first stop was Morro Bay to check out the rock. It’s a really big rock! A quick stroll around to read the plaques and learn a few historic tidbits, laugh at the sea otters, have lunch on the pier watching the kayakers and harbor seals, then it was time to hit the road again; next stop – Denmark! Solvang is a cute town with lots of shops, restaurants, wine tasting, and windmills. We danced the tourist shuffle, tasted a few wines, then headed back out on the highway. As we were driving along, a herd of zebras jogging along by the highway definitely caught our attention. What a riot to see these beautiful stripey creatures right next to the ocean. The story goes that they were originally part of Hearst’s exotic animal zoo, and were then set free to roam the 1,000’s of acres on the Hearst Ranch. Not a bad gig!
We checked into our hotel at San Simeon, then traveled a bit farther up the road to Piedras Blancas to see the colony of elephant seals. We’d arrived a little late in the elephant seal mating season, but we saw a number of the gigantic bulls in all their blubbery, big-nosed glory. Think of a 5,000 pound, 20 foot long, black rubber tube filled with jello. Attach a proboscis, a lot of attitude, and there you have it – the bull elephant seal!
Walking toward the edge of the bluff we started hearing some crazy sounds above the crashing of the ocean; barking, belching, screeching and slapping. Elephant seals are huge and not at all polite! They climb all over each other, throw sand over themselves and anyone nearby, snorting and growling as they slide along. As graceful as they are in the water, elephant seals are completely inelegant on land, using their flippers to lurch along as they bury their snouts in the sand.
After communing with the seals for a few hours, followed by an ocean sunset, we stopped at the mini-mart for dinner (cheese and crackers to go with our Solvang wine). We got up early the next day to drive up the mountain to see a different kind of wild life – the Hearst Castle.
Anyone who has been to Hearst Castle knows how incredible it is, but I’d never been before so it was a real treat for me. I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t anything like what I saw. When we entered the great hall my eyes went immediately to the huge tapestries hanging on each wall and the 40′ high mantle on mantle fireplace. There wasn’t enough time on our tour to take it all in, but we got a great taste of some amazing architecture and art.
One interesting fact for me was that W.R. Hearst planned the building around the massive 100-year-old live oaks on the property, and even moved a couple of them, roots and all, if they were in the wrong place for the construction. After 29 years, the castle still wasn’t completed, so it was interesting to see one wing that was simply a concrete tower waiting for the grand embellishment that will never arrive. The details of the rooms and the surrounding gardens are amazing though, so it’s understandable that it took a bit longer to create than Mr. Hearst had planned!
For two people living a wild life, we had great fun visiting (but never, ever feeding) the wildlife!!