Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Pismo Beach, PCH2

I awoke to a beautiful ocean sky resting peacefully atop a calm ocean, the world still for a moment. I stepped out of my car to stretch and take in the beauty. The waves gent ally crashed into the rocks below, seagulls sat perched on the concrete barrier, awaiting the tide to recede so they could dig up their next meal. I sat on the hood of my car and let the cold ocean breeze waft over my body as the sun slowly moved along it’s daily trek. 
The view from where I slept. 
It was still early when I hit the road, but traffic was already slugging along as I reached the outskirts of Santa Barbara. The town was still yawning as I drove thru downtown, shopkeepers were casually opening up for the day, as bikers sped along to work. I nestled into a cafe and had breakfast, watching as the empty diner filled up with morning patrons and then emptied again. I had planned on spending the day in Santa Barbara, but the city, which I had been to multiple times before, seemed dull so I headed up the coast, back along the Pacific Coast Highway.

For no particular reason I choose Pismo Beach as my next stop, about a two hour drive to the north. Once again the PCH turned inland, but this time instead of being surrounded by small towns, I was engulfed in a mountainous nothingness. Farmland stretched from the side of the highway to the foot of the mountains, the fresh vegetables adding a pleasant aroma to the cooler mountain air. The temperature had dropped 15 degrees from the coast to this inland valley, an amazing change for such an insignificant distance. 

The landscape remained unchanged for miles, until eventually the road turned back west and the Ocean laid in the distance, beckoning me back to her shores. It was only midday when I reach Pismo Beach, a quaint beach town built along a sandy coastline, the economy obviously based on tourism. I continued on through town, having seen a sign for a place called Dinosaur Cave Park. Any park with the word Dinosaur in the title instantly has my attention and I excitedly cruised through town, confused as to what the coast of California could possibly have to do with dinosaurs. 

The PCH meanders through Pismo Beach and it’s sister communities, the roadside a row of specialty shops and restaurants catering to the tourist who frequent the city. Pismo was filled with tourists, which was a strange change from my weeks on the road, where I had been all but alone. The masses of RVs struck me, but I just attributed it to the beautiful weather and continued on. Then I came to a bend in the road and I realized why everyone was here.

Cars were parked along the side of the highway, people running across the highway with cameras. the sky was covered with the fluttering of gentle wings. A kaleidoscope of butterflies drifted back and forth from one tree to another, searching for a mate. Thousands of orange and black monarchs flew blissfully in the warm summer sun. This was part of the famed Monarch Butterfly Migration, and according to a sign the grove at Pismo Grove this spot was home to the largest wintering population of Monarchs. The tree branches were covered, clusters of butterflies looking like leaves hanging onto the branches. Overhead the sky was filled with a ballet of delicate wings. I stood in awe of the massive display around me, couples of butterflies fell to the ground as the male tried to convince the female of his worth. If and when she excepted the male would hoist her up, carrying her high into the trees, above the largest clusters and would consummate the agreement. 

I had read that the butterfly migration was this time of year, but in the masses of information I had stuffed into my mind I had forgotten, letting it be another pleasant surprise of life on the road. I continued on down the road to Dinosaur Cave Park, only to discover it was simply a bluff side park. 

The reason for the name is that it had in the mid 20th century served as a tourist attraction, where the owner had built a dinosaur that served as the entrance to the cave. The cave collapsed in the 1970’s and the dinosaur burned down at some point, but the park’s legacy lives on in the name. The view from the park was amazing, seals laid in the sun on rocky outcrops as sea otters swam around in beds of seaweed, hunting and playing around. I walked down to the beach where tidal pools, filled with stagnant sea water in the low tide, housed an array of snails, crabs and giant sea slugs. The waves cashed against rocks in the small cove, spraying the beach. I sat on a large rock and watched pelicans hunting in the calmer waters away from shore. 

It was magnificently warm, the sun cascading on the beach causing the fragments of shells, the only thing left by the group of shell hunting ladies who combed the sands, to glisten on the beach. A couple of men sat in the shade, casting their lines into the surf hoping to snag a fish. Above on the top of the bluffs, families snapped pictures with the coastline behind them. 

I was getting hungry and decided to head back into Pismo Beach for lunch, a small cafe announced it had world famous Clam Chowder, a lofty claim, and one I was destined to investigate. The cafe was packed, and the prices were amazingly inexpensive, especially considering it’s proximity to the beach and the Pismo Beach Pier. I ordered a sandwich and some chowder and sat and waited. A group of teenage boys flirted with the girls making sandwiches until an older male employee, who I assumed to be a manager, came over and asked them to leave. The girls blushed as the boys scurried out the door. 

One of the aforementioned blushing girls brought out my soup and sandwich and I dug in. The sandwich was made with amazingly thick cuts of pastrami and the chowder was thick, each bite contained fresh bits of clams, the famous Pismo Clams that are themselves a tourist draw in the area. I scarfed down the sandwich, sad they I hadn’t savored the flavor more, and headed out along the pier. 

The pier was nearly empty save for a few fisherman standing along the sides. Surfers were out catching the last of the days waves. Out in the distance fog started to roll in, the only clouds in the sky were those hugging the ocean off in the distance, a wall of white approaching and sweeping over some of the mountains to the north. I decided to drive back to Dinosaur Cave Park for sunset, and found an empty bench at the top of the bluffs, where I watched the sun disappear into the fog cloud in the distance. 
This is a butterfly, not a picture of elaborate fog. 
I had decided to put in a little more driving before settling in and need to go up the coast a little ways to my campsite. As I drove the fog reached land, and soon I was driving in a cloud, the only visible landscape that to in my immediate vicinity, soon I entered the park and was instantly in a forest of ancient looking frees, the fog coursing between the dense foliage. The road drifted back and forth, taking me closer to the shoreline, the fog receding with each mile. Soon I found the campsite, the bright moon provided the only light as I set up my tent. The moonlight illuminated the remaining fog, obscuring the figures of the trees around the campsite.

After a short stroll I tucked in for the night. I have never spent a night alone in a tent, and each noise roused me from my dreams. The cadence of the wind flapping my tent sounded early like footsteps, but the sound of the waves crashing against the shore just down the way drowned up most sound and I drifted off to sleep for good. 
Trees at my camp site. 

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