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Christmas at the Castle

Original Article and Photographs by Kenneth A. Larson © 2011 - 2013

We left early trying to get out of town before traffic started. I had heard rumors of ruins from a Mission Rancho in Casmalia but that side trip yielded only an interesting stop in a forgotten town. Casmalia was once a successful town along the railroad, but now is quiet, however the Hitching Post is famous for its Bar-B-Q.

We stopped a few minutes in the town of Harmony, a quiet artist town boasting a population of 18. I strolled through Harmony Pottery established in 1973 and featuring artists from the Central Coast and Harmony Glass Works. Other studios fill the former Dairy building. A winery sits on the hill overlooking Harmony. Harmony lies on the east side of Highway 1 about mid-way between Morro Bay and San Simeon.

This trip was a surprise for my wife who only guessed our destination as we approached Hearst Castle. Only a year and a half earlier we had taken the two tours we hadn't yet taken, but we had to go back to see the castle decorated for Christmas. Also the Garden Tour had been dropped in favor of allowing visitors to wander the hill top on their own, allowing new photo opportunities and more in depth looks at the art and architecture.

Usually the guide would start the tour with an introduction in front of the castle, but when he noticed everyone shivering, he continued the intro in the main room which was beautifully decorated for the holidays. Aside from the holiday decorations, the Grand Rooms Tour was the same as the rest of the year, but the castle is always beautiful. The tour continued into the Dining Room, a small room receiving conservation, the billiards room, and ended in the theater. Mr. Hearst would show movies in this theater, we were treated to an eight minute film about the man and the castle.

We were escorted outside where we wandered about the grounds an hour and a half, including areas we had not seen on the Garden Tour a year and a half earlier. We road the bus back to the base of the hill and were in time for the IMAX film Building the Dream. We bought the DVD during the previous visit, but it is better on the huge IMAX screen. My wife bought a few pieces of fudge and we headed out. By this time it was dark and we could see the lighted castle on top of the dark distant hill.

It was a half hour drive to our motel in Morro Bay, Best Western El Rancho, built in 1954 and with very friendly feeling. We enjoyed our dinner and fell off to sleep early.

It was dark when we arrived at the motel last night but we awoke the next morning and looked out across the highway to the Pacific Ocean. Just beyond the Lobby was the dome of the extinct volcano, Morro Rock. Morro Rock is the northern most of a chain of seven volcanoes, known as the Seven Sisters, that extends between Highway 1 and the coast south to San Luis Obispo.

We enjoyed our continental breakfast, loaded the car, and headed into town. We first drove out to Morro Rock and walked to where the breakwater meats the former island, now rooted to the shore by a man-made causeway. The rock itself was quarried for material for the breakwater and causeway. I talked to two men with huge lenses on their cameras waiting for the perfect photos of two Peregrine Falcons. Climbing the rock is not allowed, but I wasn't planning to do that anyway.

We walked along the Embarcadero for an hour or so, taking photos of pelicans, the rock, fishing boats, and other scenes. There are several nice restaurants, but at this hour, none were open yet.

We continued south a short distance to Pismo Beach and the North Beach Camping Area and the Monarch Butterfly Grove. These are the western population of Monarchs that winter along the coast of Southern California (smart insects) and spend the summer in the valleys of northeast California and points north. An eastern population migrate from the northeast US and southeast Canada down to Mexico, but the Rocky Mountains keep the two populations separate. Unfortunately the population is about 10% of what it would have been twenty years earlier. The caterpillars eat Milkweed and land development and agriculture have destroyed most of this habitat. I bought some milk weed seeds, listened to the docent talk, observed the butterflies, and continued on our way.

We stopped a few minutes at the Gaviota Pass Rest Area and a plant nursery in Somis, and arrived home about 3:30. In two previous trips we had taken all five tours of Hearst Castle but managed to complete a new and different tour. A year before I had canceled a day trip to the butterflies so I was glad we were able to squeeze it in. Also I wanted to follow up on the rumor of the Mission Rancho in Casmalia, too bad I didn't find it. Till next time.
Information signage at Gaviota Pass Rest Area, south bound.

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This page last updated: Saturday, 06-Jul-2013 05:49:06 EDT

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