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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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.

Day 1 of our Journey to Yosemite – the Maraposa Grove & more

That is one big tree.

That is one big tree.

Every time we have come to Yosemite from the south, we pay our entry fee and make the immediate left turn heading toward the valley.  This time however, Mary and I decided to turn right and visit the Maraposa Grove.  This is a large grouping of Giant Sequoias, with some rumored to be over 3000 years old.  Oh my.  We elected to try the tram rather than walk both groves.  It seemed like a good idea at the time and probably still was.  The tour is rather expensive at $25/person and takes you for an hour and fifteen minute tour of the upper and lower groves.  The upper grove is a good hike and we would not have gone there if we had to hike that distance.  The tour is well narrated with two 10 minute stops for pictures.  The tour is good if you want to see both groves.  On the downside, you don’t get the best pictures since you are bound by the angle and stops from the tram.  Also, the tram is just a trailer modified with seats.  That means it is directly bolted to the axle and the road is just a paved trail, sooooo……you feel every bump and dip.  I would not recommend it if you have a bad back.  All in all, an OK experience and good to do at least once.  From the grove, we headed back towards our original destination at Yosemite Valley.  You know about our trip to the Ahwahnee (see below), then we checked into the Yosemite Lodge and started to wander. By now it was in the late afternoon with some great shots of the setting sun hitting the valley sides.  We have included pictures of the “dry” Yosemite falls (one thing about a trip to Yosemite in the fall is that the falls are all pretty dry and the rivers are low and quiet), an orange half dome and some of the fauna having dinner in the meadow.  (For a view of the pictures for now, just click on the Picture widget to the right of this article. We will update when we get back)  What a photo rich area…..The only problem was that they were doing some controlled burns in the park and the valley had picked up a slight haze in the evening ( note the shots of half dome).  Mary and I then had a light dinner at the Lodge cafeteria and followed with a few drinks at the lodge bar while watching Boston make an incredible comeback.  All in all, a great way to spend our first day in Yosemite.  This is such a great place to come for vacation.  It is almost spiritual here.  This is nature at it’s most impressive. 

 More to come on day 2………