We drove out along the CA-58, through ranches and farmland, watching great white egrets in the fields and swallows swooping in and out of their mud nests on the sides of the overpasses. After passing through some oil fields, we began to climb. We sometimes had to drop to 5 mph around the curves, winding around, ascending, descending. The hillsides were covered in flowers: lupin, indian paintbrush, california poppy, wild mustard, california buckeye, and many others we don't know the names of. Juniper bushes and cattle dotted the landscape. We stopped in the little town of Santa Margarita and ate a lunch of salami, cheese, and crackers in a shady park. Afterwards, we had our first deer sighting of the trip - a young buck, right on the outskirts of town.
We drove through a corner of San Louis Obispo on our way to Morro Bay State Park. Pulling into the campground was but the work of a moment, then while Jess hooked up the RV, Rascal and I went for a walk. The campground lay next to a golf course, and I picked up golf balls to throw for the dog, who promptly lost them when his attention was
distracted by some quail.
When Jessie was ready, we took a longer walk along the bay, past giant eucalyptus, up to the Nature Center. Outside they had a garden of native plants with placards explaining their uses. Further along the trail, past a small beach, was a rookery full of nesting great blue herons, night herons, white egrets, and cormorants. The rookery was off to the right of the path, and you could see, hear, and smell the birds. The trail we followed was splashed with white, and we walked with wary eyes cast above us. The eucalyptus trees around us were immense. Non-native plants, they had been permitted to remain in the State Park because of their historic value and because they were the very foundation of the rookery.
At the end of the trail we crossed the street and walked back along the golf course edge. Turkey vultures carpeted the trees above us, and in the distance we heard the distinctive "gobble-gobble" of a real turkey. As we came back to camp the marine layer rolled in heavily, shrouding everything. For dinner, Jessie cooked us a delicious chicken alfredo pasta with carrots and broccoli.
visited the Nature Center museum the next morning, which was full of interactive exhibits about estuaries in general and Morro Bay in particular. The wall outside had a beautiful mural of sea mammals, and inside there were stuffed examples of the local fauna. We drove next to Cayucos Beach, where Rascal encountered the ocean up close and personal for the first time. He would run forward as the tide retreated and sniff the wet sand, then when the waves came crashing in again would hustle back up the beach away from them. Seabirds darted everywhere. There were sand dollars all over the beach, including a few live ones, and miscellaneous other shells.
We headed off towards our next stop, Hearst's Castle, driving through moss-covered pine forest and past the humorously named Nitt Witt Ridge. The big house on the hill, which we had visited before years ago, was as beautiful as we remembered. Rather than explaining the whole history of the building here, I'll just give you a link to the Castle's website. http://www.hearstcastle.org/ We took the "Upstairs Rooms" tour, which shows off some of the bedrooms, parlors, studies, libraries, and offices of the house. Carved ceilings, antique bedframes,
doors imported from European chapels damaged in WWI... the whole house is a work of art. It is interesting to go around back though, where the walls are plain, and the windows lack fancy frames. Hearst and his architect, Julia Morgan, never did finish the house, and some areas show it. After the tour, we walked around the gardens, where I practiced my macro photography on the flowers, and saw the famous swimming pools: the Neptune Pool and the Roman Baths.
Heading up the coast again afterwards, we stopped along a boardwalk which ran beside an elephant seal pull-out. The whole beach was crawling the giant animals, and the air rang with their grunts, snorts, and wheezes. (It was also rank with the smell of 15,000 animals.) We ran into a lady visiting from New York, who wondered what the squirrel-like animals that scurried around the boardwalk were. (We had to tell her they were indeed squirrels, just the ground variety, not the tree squirrels found in New York State.) As we pulled away, Rascal hopped up on the RV table to continue watching the seals. We drove along the BIg Sur coastline, but the fog was rolling in,
so the views were not totally spectacular. Fortunately, the hillsides were blooming, so there was still plenty to look at. We also spotted at least 10 sea otters in a little cove, all wrapped up in the kelp. We even saw a gray fox darting across the road! We pulled into a Triple A approved campground, nestled amongst the redwoods alongside a little creek, and settled down for the night.
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