A visit to Montano de Oro

At the rocks at Spooner's Cove

At the rocks at Spooner's Cove

We love the area from Santa Barbara to Paso Robles.  The world changes here and life takes a step back.  Even in this Eden, there are areas that sparkle even more.  Montano del Oro is one of those areas.  Nestled to the south of Morro Bay, along the coast, this used to be a large ranch  that ultimately became a state park.   The park’s name, “Mountain of Gold,” comes from the golden wildflowers that bloom in spring.  At 8000 acres, it has many things to see.  There are hiking trails, camping, beaches and Spooner’s Cove across from the ranch house.  There was a dock here during the ranch days used to tranfer the produce and stock.  The old ranch house has been converted to a museum and the docents can help explain life in those days. 

The website has a wealth of information http://www.slostateparks.com/montana_de_oro/default.asp . Take lunch and enjoy the varied sights. Much of park is along the coast and offers breath taking views of the rugged coast. Being just south of Morro Bay, the spectacular views of Morro Rock are inspiring and unique. Even the drive to the park entrance is surprising as the road it winds through a residential area with views of the bay to the north. Take the trip and imagine the past!

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Volunteering at the California State Fair Wine Competition – 2009

THE CHAMPAGNE TEAM - Norma, Alice, Glenn, Me and Jerry

THE CHAMPAGNE TEAM - Norma, Alice, Glenn, Me and Jerry

This year, I had the honor of being the Captain of the Champagne Squad at the California State Fair wine Competition.  This is perhaps the most prestigious of the wine competitions in California.  To enter, the wines must come from California.  This year there were over 2600 wines entered from almost 600 wineries.  The prize?  The coveted “Double Gold” (where every judge on the panel rates the wine a gold), the “Gold” medal, the “Silver” medal and the “Bronze” medal.  Judges come from all over the wine spectrum; from wine makers, to winery owners, to writers, to restaurant owners, etc.  All judges must demonstrate the sensitive taste palate necessary to discern the subtle characteristics of the wine maker’s efforts.  Judges are subjected to intense tasting over a three day period starting around 9:00 every morning and finishing in the early afternoon.  This is quite an undertaking with around three volunteers for every judge.  I was particularly impressed with the dynamic nature of the volunteer team.  Although they only work together this one time every year, they come together to make a seamless event.  There are volunteers that can claim to have been involved with this event for over twenty years.  Makes me feel young with only three years under my belt.  I have made many friends over these three years and have reacquainted with old friends.  One of the judges was one of my college professors at UC Davis in the late seventies, one I work with every year at the ZAP conference in San Francisco and two were friends from the Society of Wine Educators.  It’s amazing how small our world really is.  In any case, this year I was able to direct the Champagne Squad, with the responsibility to pour the right Sparkling Wine ( as is now referred) at the right time and the right way to show the beverage at it’s finest.  This is the only squad to perform “live pours” for the judges.  A live pour is where the wine is poured directly in front of the judge.  All other wines are poured in a separate room from the judges and then delivered.  Champagne is different because the carbonation and cooler serving temperatures are critical to the flavor profiles.  All in all, a great experience.  Not only to be involved in such a great event, but to be associated with such a highly talented volunteer team.  Life is just a great place to be!

Desert in Bloom – Anza-Borrego

Vivid colors from the desert
Hard to find Ghost Flowers
Hard to find Ghost Flowers
Vivid colors from the desert

The Ocotillo's vivid color

We had never been to Anza-Borrego and the spring bloom seemed like the right time.  Wow, we happened to pick one of the best years out of the last five to make our trip and what an experience it was.  Anza-Borrego is the largest of the California State Parks, covering over 600,000 acres  and continues to grow.  It is west of the Salton Sea and is best to visit anytime but the summer where temperatures can reach in the 120’s+.  The park is named after Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and the Spanish name borrego, or bighorn sheep.   For those of you who have never seen the desert in spring, it is quitHumming Bird Moth feeding on a flowere a sight.  The normally dry and brown desert explodes with a carpet of colorful flowers.  In some areas the bloom is as far as the eye can see.  Reds, yellows, purples and white flowers cover the expanse.  This year, the northern side of the park was in bloom with little to be seen in the southern portion.  Mary and I could not take enough pictures.  This is a photo rich area that is only around for a few weeks each year and then returns to the stark, harsh environment we so commonly associate with the desert.  In one canyon, the Ghost flowers could be seen.  They were limited to one patch on one hillside (at least where we could drive).    I have included a picture above.  Surprisingly, the weather this time of year, March, is very comfortable but a little warm.  Be sure to bring water.   Of particular interst is that it is not just the flowers that can catch you eye.  While taking pictures, Mary thought she saw a Humming Bird and snaped this picture before she realized it was just a moth.  When we got home and opened the image, we found it was a fabulous shot of a Humming Bird Moth feeding on a desert flower.  What a great eye she has and what a great picture she took.  Her new Nikon D90 helped a little.  Enjoy!

A Night at Hearst Castle

The Great Hall During the Holiday SeasonMost of you have been to Hearst Castle and know of  the grandeur Hearst gave to the family camping grounds.  Not too many know about the evening tours.  Some time ago, the lights were restored to the grounds and a tour established to give you the feel of what it was like to attend the evening festivities.  Although Hearst wanted his guests to have all possible distractions during the day,  the payback was that they had to attend the dinner party every night.  This consisted of dressing to the max and beginning the evening in the main room at 7 PM.  After socializing and  allegedly alcohol stingy drinks( beer was OK as is) , the party moved to the dinning hall for dinner.  After dinner, some more games and socializing, the formal scripted part of the evening would assemble in the movie theatre.  Once the movies were done, Hearst would retire for the evening (usually to do a few hours of work) and the guests had the run of the place.  The tour is set to give you the feeling of the evening.  Docents, dressed as they did in the period, are along the tour route and the tour guides are a little more abstract about the history and ongoings during this time.  The Pool at NightDuring the holidays, they decorate the castle as Hearst did.  He was very big on Christmas and it shows.  The tour also takes you for a walk along the gardens at night. There the ambiance of the lights, the quietness and the beauty of a star filled night take you back to what it must have been like.  A walk through the kitchen gives you a feel for the level of entertaining that occurred regularly.  Even before you get there you begin to travel back in time while driving up highway 1.  The area is pitch black except for the glow of the light on the hill and the outline of the castle waiting for you.  Now I know why it was on the map for mariners.  This is a must tour for those who have been to Hearst Castle and have seen at least one day tour.  The night tour is entirely different and gives a very realistic feel for this magical place.  Check it out at the Hearst website.

The Monarch Butterflys of Pismo Beach

Monarch Butterflys are everywhere in the grove

Mary finally convinced me to go see the butterfly grove in Pismo Beach.  What a great place!   The Monarch’s winter here from their summer sites in the Sierra’s.  Tens of thousands of these Monarchs winter in this grove.  These butterflies live up to six months while wintering but the rest of the year they survive only weeks.  This means that the ones who spend the winter are not the ones who leave to return to the summer sites and the ones who arrive at the summer sites are not the ones who come back to Pismo.  Yet, somehow the descendants find their way back.  Absolutely fascinating.  The grove is easy to find and the tour is short.  But, it is something to add to your list of things to do if you have never been there.  Great information is available at the Pismo Grove Website.  I was pleasently surprised and had a good time.

Munch’s trip to Disneyland on Dad’s Birthday

Juat a cute Munchkin

Just a cute Munchkin

A new friend has started joining us on our journey’s.  Her name is Munch and she is special for two reasons.  First,  our daughter’s favorite animal is an Okapi.  She saw one at the SD Animal Park and it just so happens our new travel friend is an Okapi.  Second, when Kim was a toddler, her Grandma Waldau once affectionately called her a “munchkin” .  It stuck and became her nickname.  In her early teens, she said she was too old to be called Munchkin, but after some thought said I could still call her “Munch” if I wanted.  Well, many years later and here we are…a stuffed Okapi called Munch who travels with us on our special trips.  Enjoy Munch’s journeys……

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Credit for this idea came from a friend’s blog, Scent Weakly, Check it out.