Thursday, September 19, 2013

California Dreamin' Day Ten

A Whale of a Time

Monterey Bay is what they call a Submarine Canyon. The waters off the shoreline become very deep… as in miles deep with a series of finger-like canyons fanning out into the deepness. This makes the conditions perfect for whales to roam and frolic because of the tasty seafood buffet this area provides. It wasn’t long before we realized This was going to be a most exceptional day.”   

Within in a few minutes of leaving the dock, we began to view spouts not far off the shore. We thought we’d found the mother load of whales, there were so many spouts. As our 60’ boat drew closer (a much smaller boat than our previous trips) we found ourselves surround by 15 or 16 humpback whales…along with too many seals to count. Kate, the Naturalist on board, was giddy with delight… with five year’s experience, she had never seen anything quite like this before, especially so close to shore. 

The seals were doing synchronized diving, much like dolphins. The whales also seemed to be synchronized… moving the same direction in an organized fashioned.  She explained that the whales are quite intelligent and have figured out how to work together to herd the schools of fish and surround them in such a way that they can get a big gulp of fish. She called this a Bait Ball…  both whales and seals benefit from this form of food gathering. 

We began spotting more and more whales. There were a few other whale watching boats in the bay and they began reporting to each other the phenomena they were each experiencing. They figured there were close to a hundred whales in the bay. Hmmm… maybe because our morning prayer included a request to see whales today?  Never underestimate the value of prayer in your lives. It was more than I imagined it would be. Emilee would rather be shopping but she was still a good sport. What a way to end our trip.

We drove up the coast to find tidepools… we all agreed that California coasts are not as beautiful as Oregon. But it was still fun. A drive back to San Francisco to ride the cable car … lines too long. We were tired and it was late. Walked right past Ghirardelli; Dad must have had blinders on. Good thing, cause we’ve all gained weight on this trip. Drove to our hotel by the airport… had a great rate on DoubleTree.  We belong to the Hilton Honors program to collect free nights. They upgraded us to a lovely two-room suite, no charge. We will spend five hours here… it's gonna be so hard to leave this bed. We need to be at the airport at 5 a.m. It will be a very short night. 

All good things must come to an end... and our California Dreamin'  is no exception. We had some great adventures and some quality time with our Emilee before she heads off to college and we become empty nesters. Now that is sure to be an adventure... for each of us!

California Dreamin' Day Nine

It’s all about the Yummy Food 

Hilton Inn on Fisherman’s Wharf with a fantastic night view from our window of the financial district… a great city skyline. Sounds like a dreamy place to stay. And it was, sort of. The hotel was under construction so we booked it with a dreamy price. Just had to maneuver through the catacombs to find the front desk to check in… then all was well. Checked in after 9:00 at night and hadn’t had dinner for the day. My travel partners convinced me to muster the courage to walk a few blocks to the wharf to find dinner. It’s a whole new world out there after dark. They assured me we’d be safe… I tend to be the cautious type. All was well and it turned out to be quite the adventure. We walked and walked, ate dinner, then walked and walked again to Ghiradelli Square, our second visit of the trip. Yes, Dad is a chocoholic. But it was great fun. We got back to our hotel after 11:00, ready for a good night’s sleep.

Morning greeted us with almost fresh blueberry muffins and chocolate milk that we’d picked up at a Safeway the day before. This day we would be moving south towards Monterey to set up for the last day of our California Dreamin’ adventure. Before leaving the big city we found our way to South Park CafĂ©, a little French restaurant that Dad had scoped out to visit. All week he’s been talking about Pig Salad… does that even sound like something you’d want to eat?! Well we did, and it was delicious. Pork Confit (slow roasted pork) tossed with endive lettuce and sliced apples with a pure Dijon dressing that every third bite would totally clean out my senses with the horseradish. Still it was good. Very good. We actually ordered lemonades to drink rather than our traditional water with lemon. Turns out their lemonade is actually Citron Presse… which is lemon with water… at $2.50 a glass. Who knew? 

With a delicious lunch in our tummies were off on our road trip to the south of France… uh actually to Monterey. We found time to play on the beach in Santa Cruz and see the trees where my butterflies will spend the winter… Natural Bridges State Park.  They will begin their own California Adventure come October. 

On our way to Monterey we came upon Castroville… the artichoke capitol of the world. Emilee is an artichoke diva and with the help of Google found a restaurant with both seafood and artichokes on the menu in the sleepy little town of Moss Landing. What an adventure this turned out to be. A local favorite, it was rockin’. Literally. A live band of old men cowboys played all the oldies loud and long. We chose a seat far from them and settled down to chow down.  Emilee was absolutely in heaven and said so herself. She not only had an artichoke to eat but an entire crab to consume by herself.  “I’ve never had a whole crab to eat by myself before” she declared. It was a long process… Dad and I finished our meal long before she did… (I had Shrimp Scampi and Dad had Sicilian Halibut) so we helped her pick the crab meat… otherwise we might still be there. It was all delicious and a wonderful end to our Yummy Day.

Tomorrow brings our Grand Adventure of the Trip.  Stay tuned!

California Dreamin' Day Eight

Morning in the Forest

We slept with the Farmhouse windows open, and I left a crack in the curtains so I could awake to the sound of the morning light. Just as planned, the sweet melody of birds singing their ode to the new day began to drift through the cool crisp air beckoning me to get up. With my “roommates” still sleeping, I quickly got dressed to slip outside so that I might capture images of the magic hour with my camera. As I reached for the door, I remembered the sketch pad and artist supplies from the day before. I also remembered my invitation to Bill to join me in the morning light to capture some of the magic with his new pen and sketch pad. I gently whispered in his ear “You’re missing the magic hour”. His eyes didn’t open but I persisted…“Your sketch pad is waiting for you…” and then I quietly slipped through the door and down the stairs. 

The room at the bottom of the stairs was inviting, a fresh bouquet of sunflowers on the table lit up the room and beckoned me to stay, but I was on a mission. Camera in hand I opened the creaky door and entered the kingdom of Morning in the Forest. This new morning was alive and fresh and I wanted to capture all of it. Gardens in September can begin to look a little worn around the edges, but no matter… I found beauty in every corner, with an occasional humming bird zipping by. It wasn’t long before I sensed I was not alone in the gardens and began to look about. I soon spotted my Honey carrying a stool with artist tools in hand to the far side of the gardens. I smiled at him… pleased that he had decided to act upon my invitation. 

I continued my lark through the garden, taking pics of everything that intrigued me… an elaborate spider web, (thankfully with no spider in sight,) chickens in the hidden coup, (I heard them first,) sweet blossoms unfamiliar to me, and long shots of the gardens and house I had called home for the night. Bill was in his own corner of our morning kingdom busily sketching away with an occasional act of pondering as he held his pinched fingers forward to judge distance and perspective for the image he was creating. I peeked over his shoulder and marveled at the likeness he had created. It was just a beginning, but it was beautiful. Yes, there is an artist inside of my Bill… just begging to be set free. 

A delicious breakfast in a cozy nook and we were soon ready to say our “good-byes” and our “we’ll come again” to both Margie and Bessie the cook, and to the beautiful surroundings that we had found such comfort in.  And then we were off for the next adventure… kayaking up the Big River at high tide, the current and our strokes pushing us ever up stream… Bill and I in a double seated canoe with outriggers and Emilee riding solo in a bright yellow kayak. We paddled up stream for almost an hour and a half and then turned around to come down the river, hoping to take advantage of the changing tide which was soon to begin its descent. Emilee was a trooper but was getting tired, so we had her maneuver her kayak between the pontoons of our canoe catching a ride with us for a while, then letting her solo until she tired again. It was a beautiful morning to be on the river and a grand adventure for the three of us.

Our next destination was Muir Woods National Monument down the coast almost all the way back to San Francisco. We thought it just a couple of hours away but it took the rest of our day to get there. The road from the coast was like a toboggan ride through the trees with tight curves and zig-zagging that was not for the faint of heart. We finally arrived at the Woods just an hour before closing, and I so wanted to linger there. We had just enough time for a brisk walk through the old growth redwood forest before it became dark. It was another adventure from my bucket list… I wanted to walk in the steps of John Muir, an 18th century botanist whom this forest is named for. He was present when this land was set aside and dedicated as a national monument. Another checked box for me but also a favorite memory sharing the magic of this beautiful forest with Emilee and Bill.

California Dreamin' Day Seven

The Touch of an Artist’s Hand

Day Seven was bound to be fabulous after the disappointments of the day before… and it absolutely was. We were excited for this day from the get-go, as everything we researched about Mendocino invited us to come see. So glad we did. To get there we drove through amazing Redwood forests to the ocean. There lies Mendocino, a beautiful little coastal town, warm and welcoming and surely a step back in time. We checked into the Mendocino Farmhouse, a bed and breakfast tucked away in a redwood forest a couple of miles from town. It was even more enchanting than I dreamed it would be. The house was built in the 70’s for the family to live in, but when the children grew up and moved away, it was converted into a six bedroom bed and breakfast. We were greeted by beautiful country gardens surrounding this lovely old frame home and Margie, the owner of this beautiful country retreat. Our room was spacious and inviting with book shelves filled with books, a fireplace, a King-size bed and a sweet window seat which doubled as a twin size bed… which quickly became Emilee’s nook. From here she caught up on all her days happenings she missed while we were “out of service” with her cell phone. Our own private bathroom across the hall had an old fashioned bath-tub with claw feet. We were the only guests this night so we felt very much at home.  It was exactly what I wanted for this part of our adventure…  a place to relax, soak in nature and simply enjoy. And enjoy we did. 

After checking into the Farmhouse we drove the mile and a half into town… a quaint little village filled with happy people. We walked from shop to shop browsing their wares and talking to the shopkeepers. These folks are a friendly bunch. (Wish we had pass along cards.) We arrived there later than we’d hoped and didn’t have time to see everything we wanted as many of the shops began to close around 5:00. Main Street Square had garden paths and walkways interconnecting each shop. It wasn’t long before we realized just about everything was closing up.  Dad had his eye on an art gallery but to our dismay, it closed right at five. 

As we meandered through the corridors of gardens and shops, I spied a small little shop tucked away in a corner with paintings on the walls begging us to come see. This little town boasts to be an artist’s mecca, and this seemed to be one of those artist’s haven. My eye was drawn to a beautiful country garden image that touched this gardener’s heart. As I beckoned Bill and Em to come see, a voice from the tiny loft above invited us to enjoy her artwork. As we looked up toward the sound of her voice, a woman began her descent down a spiral staircase, eager to greet admirers of her art. She was an eclectic soul, as I imagine most artists are. We began a delightful discussion with Suzie and I asked her what medium she painted in… the colors were bright, definitely not oil paint, too much detail for watercolors.  She led me in a guessing game until I gave up… “Pastels” she said with a sparkle in her eye. She then proceeded to tell us how she one day tried pastels and has been using that medium ever since. 

I felt to share with her that my husband is a closet artist, that his father was an artist and painted beautiful landscapes. I also shared that I am a gardener and we’ve always said that someday Bill will be my Monet and will paint beautiful images of the gardens I create. ”I have something for you” she spoke as she crossed the room to a little corner. There she picked a small box, opened it and began to explain the contents… a field watercolor kit complete with watercolors, a brush, a sponge, a quality sketch pad and an Indian ink sketch pen…all the supplies that a budding artist would need to get started. 

I loved the look in Bill’s eyes as she explained each article and how to use them. “I’ve seen my Dad do that” he offered several times. This was not a chance encounter… she was put in our path to bless our lives, to bless Bill’s life. He had a wonderful exchange with this sweet woman as she taught him the basics of how to begin. With newfound skills in his pocket, all that remains is for him to paint the images he sees in his heart.  We left Suzie and her art gallery with not only art supplies but a promise that I would keep in touch with her regarding this budding artist’s progress.  Somehow, I feel within my soul that this was a most important moment.

Califronia Dreamin' Day Six

A Day of Disappointment 

We hit the road at 6 a.m. to travel up north to ride the Skunk Train. My research had us salivating over the opportunity to ride an old steam locomotive through the Redwoods. We had experienced a similar train adventure in Colorado several years ago and were exited to do it again. Imagine our disappointment (and that of most of the passengers) when we realized we were instead riding in a 1925 carriage train that looked more like a big old bus on rails than it did a train. Their no refund policy had us all paying a pretty penny for a four hour ride on a stuffy old “bus” with only a few windows that actually opened. We felt like we were on a prison bus/train. The scenery was far less than spectacular, however the lady conductor was quick to point out the points of interest as we came across them… a wooden beam where the mail bag was hung that they could reach out and grab as the train passed… an 800 year old redwood tree that you could only catch a ten second glimpse of from our side window, the KOA campground where the residents were surely paid to wave and smile as we passed by… and there were others, but those were certainly the highlights. Beware of a train called SKUNK. 

We decided that we were close enough to the actual Redwoods that we would continue driving north to travel on the Avenue of the Giants. We took a detour to drive through a 2000 year old redwood tree that was a fun diversion even though it was a real tourist trap. Pics to be posted someday. Our flashy red Ford (that we want to take home with us) was commercial perfect. Ford should buy the pic from us. We arrived at the Ave of Giants about 5:00 pm, a slow windy road that delivers a magical trip through the forest. This did not disappoint. However, the fact that we only had time to drive it and not hike it was a major disappointment. I found myself snapping pictures from the car hoping to capture a bit of the majesty and beauty of those simply amazing trees as the light filtered through them. It was hard to leave them but we had a long ways to go before we reached our bed.

We discovered that a day of riding is more tiring than a day of hiking and we went to bed exhausted, hoping for a better day tomorrow.