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Do You Know the Way to Monterey?


Original Article and Photographs by Kenneth A. Larson © 2007 - 2013

We got off a little after seven, just a little late this time on a Labor Day weekend. We headed north from LA along Interstate 5 as far as Highway 46, descending the Grapevine into the Central Valley. Highway 46 runs west through agricultural fields and oil fields toward Paso Robles, slowly climbing out of the Valley toward Highway 101. We availed ourselves of one of the three rest stops conveniently provided along the route.
We turned right (north) off of Highway 46 at Airport Road. I had seen the Estrella Adobe Church on a previous trip (link), but my wife hadn't gone with me on that one, so we stopped for a peaceful visit to the first Protestant church in northern San Louis Obispo County. Built in 1878, is was a multi denominational church but fell into disuse as the various denominations grew large enough to build their own churches. The building deteriorated until it was finally restored and rededicated in 1952. My previous visit had been in early December and it was cool and green, today was September first, and it was hot and dry. The church was closed so we wandered the cemetery for a few minutes, observing crumbling and fallen tomb stones, one for a man who died at only 22, life was harder back in the 19th Century. As with my first visit, no one else was there to disturb the tranquility.
The road continued north and we followed it to Estrella Road which took us west to the town of San Miguel and a visit to Mission San Miguel. A few years earlier, we had planned to attend Christmas Mass at the mission, but an earthquake only three days before had foiled that plan. Since then, I have visited this mission several times. The first time, most of the site was open except the church, then a second earthquake caused the entire closing for several years, but today, it was once again open except the area around the church. A funding thermometer showed that the mission is still far short of the necessary rebuilding funds. The mission's official web site tells how you can make a contribution. The gift shop was open and we made our donation and proceeded into the quadrangle. Only half of one side is open to the public, but it allows a view of the entire garden. San Miguel isn't near a population center and doesn't get the visitation and financial support of some of the other missions, so the exhibits are not as extensive as some, but better than others. There is a curious exhibit that I didn't quite follow about a tree along the El Camino Real into which a cross had been carved, then the tree grew up around it, and it was revealed when the tree died and fell over. We toured the museum exhibits housed in one side of the quadrangle, a padre's bed, various mission industries, and artifacts. Before the earthquake, the Mission San Miguel church was considered the only, and best, unrestored mission church. When it reopens, if it ever does, it will no longer be unrestored. I missed seeing it unrestored by only 72 hours. We viewed the colonnade, I think it was 12 arches, and continued on our way.
The City of San Miguel is long and narrow, parallel to the highway. The north highway exit is a mile or two north of town, the south exit is just below the mission. Between the mission and the highway exit (coming from the south) is Rios Caledonia Adobe which was also closed after the earthquake but quickly reopened. I had visited it few years earlier so we skipped it this time but it is worth a stop if you pass that way. It was built in 1835 and had many uses such as home, stage stop, inn, tavern, and several others. We got on Highway 101 heading north until we approached the town of Solidad.
I mile or two south of the City of Soledad is the exit for Mission Soledad. Exit Arroyo Seco and drive west a mile, then turn right at Fort Romie Road and travel another mile and a half and you are in the middle of quiet agricultural lands surrounding the thirteenth California Mission, Mission Nuestra Señora Dolorosísima de la Soledad, founded in 1791. Mission Soledad lived up to it's number and was one of the least successful missions. The winds come up every afternoon and most of the priests assigned there didn't stay long. Today, the small church and one side of the quadrangle stands with a small museum occupying the building. What sets Soledad apart from the other missions is that three quarters of the original quadrangle are visible, only as melting adobe walls. It is one of the best displays of what happens to adobe when not maintained, which was the state of most of the other missions before restoration early in the 20th Century. It would be possible to restore Solidad like the others, but a valuable teaching opportunity would be lost. The first time I visited Mission Solidad, it was a raining Christmas day, today, it was hot, windy, dry, and blue skies stretched in all directions over this agricultural landscape. We returned to the highway and continued north.
At Solinas we stopped for gas and turned west onto Highway 68 and within a few minutes, we were in Monterey. It was about four in the afternoon and a quick stop at the Visitor Center told us that the historic buildings we wanted to see were closed for the day. We were advised to do the 17 mile drive today rather than wait till tomorrow, so we checked into our hotel and headed south to Carmel.
How do I describe the 17 Mile Drive? It's a large gated community with so much great scenery, they allow the public in for $9.00 per car. They hand you a map showing the major roads along your route, with the route marked with a red dashed line. A matching faded dashed red line is painted on the road and there are signs at most intersections. The twenty or so stops are at scenic vistas and famous golf corses. The 17 Mile Drive takes about two hours, more if you make long stops, and is a drive of 17 miles, hence the cleaver name. In addition to several scenic vistas of the coast and an opportunity to walk along the beach, there are also several stops among the cypress trees, the most famous of which is "The Lone Cypress," the most photographed tree in the world and a Monterey icon. We stopped at most of the scenic stops and added a hundred or so photographs to whatever statistic it is that says the Lone Cypress Tree is the most photographed tree, and headed into Carmel. We stayed in Carmel about as long as it took to drive through and turn around. There were just too many people and cars and too few parking spaces on this holiday Saturday evening.
We returned to Monterey and found a parking space at Fishermen's Wharf. Fishermen's Wharf is adjacent to the Monterey State Historic Park, Maritime Museum, and marina and all share the same large parking lot. We enjoyed our dinner at Gilberts Monterey and I bought a cool suede hat at Ethnic Arts. We retired to our hotel where my wife settled of to sleep and I settled back for several hours to somehow recover from a day of photographic problems.
Day two began early. I'd been having a number of problems with my digital camera and notebook computer and all the gadgets I use when taking these photo expeditions. As a result, I awoke early and resumed trying to backup my photos. When my wife awoke, after scolding me for getting so little sleep, we went to the hotel lobby for a simple continental breakfast. My wife got some advice from another guest about visiting Walt Disney World in Orlando, his home town, which we hope to visit some day.
We then rushed off to Mass at Mission San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo which was founded in 1771, the second mission founded in Alta California. We had been here before, but the first time it was unexpectedly closed the day after Thanksgiving. We celebrated Mass at the mission and then wandered the mission grounds and museum. The Mission at Carmel is one of the most beautiful of the missions and the off-center 4 pointed star window is another icon. The Mora Chapel is dedicated to the final resting place under the alter of the church of Father Serra who founded the chain of missions in Alta California.
We stopped by at the hotel on the way back to Fishermen's Wharf, this time, to see the Historic Park and take the Historic Walking Tour. We first toured the Customs House, the first public building in California, now a museum exhibit. At the time that it operated, all incoming freight passed through this building for paying of appropriate taxes. We next visited Pacific House with several exhibits on local history. This is where we started the historical walk which is a loop and can be started anywhere along the route. The walking tour took us through downtown and is about two miles long and while we were told to expect it to take about two hours, it took us about four, making many stops. A few of the historic buildings offer tours, some were closed, one tour (The Larkin House) was by guide only and we couldn't spare the time. The mid-point stop was the Presidio Chapel on the last day that it will be open for the several years it takes to restore the two century old building. We were told that it's the oldest church in California and the only remaining piece of the original Presidio. Scaffolding was already erected around the church and most of the interior furnishings had been removed. There was a special ceremony that evening to remove the blessed sacrament and the church would close for the first time since it was built. I'm sure the restoration fund would appreciate any contributions. We were almost through with the walking trail when I said to my wife that I was confused because years earlier we had seen an historic building that was part of a walking tour and we hadn't seen it, maybe there were two tours. Then we turned the corner and there, the last building on the tour, was the house we had seen so long ago and had given us the idea to take the tour today. We ended the tour back at the Pacific House where we started. We had planned to finish about two o'clock and it was now almost 3:30. We returned to our hotel to freshen up and left for dinner.
We braved the holiday traffic to Cannery Row and found space in one of the public parking structures and worked our way to Cannery Row. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Louie Linguini's, run by someone with a sense of humor. While it seems to be a popular place, we were seated quickly and enjoyed reading the "history" of Louie and his restaurant while awaiting our dinner which was served quickly. I would go into the fanciful biography of Louis, but you'll just have to read it yourself when you visit.
It was only a few blocks along Cannery Row to the Monterey Bay Aquarium which had extended summer hours and was open till eight. We only had two hours, but moved quickly and felt that we saw most of it. There were two places where we didn't move fast. Both were of jelly fish. These creatures are not fish. They are fascinating and watching them slowly pulsating and drifting through the water is one of the most relaxing things that I have ever seen. Some have long tentacles, some don't. Some are white, some brightly colored, most are transparent. As I stated above, there are two places at the aquarium containing jellyfish. I've seen jellyfish at other aquariums, what seems unique to Monterey is an exhibit that sees the jellies as living art. Two exhibits of jellyfish inspired art, one of glass and one of neon, draw visitors into a second exhibit of even more jellyfish. The big draw at the aquarium that day was a recently caught great white shark which was gracefully swimming with the other fish. We also enjoyed the sea otter exhibit. These comical creatures reminded us of the cats we left at home, only wetter. The announcement came that it was closing time and reluctantly, we passed out into the Cannery row nightlife.
My wife was tired and a little perturbed that I dragged her through a few shops, looking for another hat. I didn't find one. So, we returned to the parking structure and slowly followed the traffic back to Highway 1 and the short drive to the hotel for a good night's sleep.
Monday began early. I had one major stop on the way home and my wife insisted on being home before dark. We had one last quick visit in Monterey before leaving and we had waited for early morning when it would be quiet. El Estero Park is a small community park that probably doesn't appear in the guide books, but we enjoyed a quiet stroll around the U shaped Lake El Estero. A street cuts through the peninsula that the lake forms with a bridge on each side. At the top of the U are two cemeteries but the fun is in the end of the peninsula. In addition to a skateboard park and ball fields, Dennis the Menace Playground has all sorts of unusual play equipment, a steam locomotive for climbing on, theme sculptures, and other features. My wife, who has recently graduated from teaching preschool to kindergarten, enjoyed the play area as much as the kids. The lake has paddle boats which were not running this early in the morning, but we observed all types of water fowl including two large birds, herons or cranes perhaps - my birding skills are confined to pigeon, sparrow, humming bird. It was peaceful as we watched the mist rise off the lake and then we returned to the hotel to pack.
We grabbed a continental breakfast at the hotel and hit the road heading south on 101. At King City, we turned off onto County Highway G14 (Jolon Road) heading west through gentle winding valleys toward Jalon and Fort Hunter Liggett Military Reservation. Shortly before reaching Jolon, we paused for a few minutes at the remains of Dutton Hotel, once an important stop along El Camino Real, now only melting adobe and rotting timbers under a make-shift tin roof shelter. Fort Hunter Liggett Military Reservation is a military installation and training center surrounding one of my favorite missions, San Antonio de Padua. This mission was founded in 1771, the third mission established in Alta California. As you enter the base, you are stopped at the gate where security checks the ID for all people in the car, the auto registration, and proof of auto insurance. This is an active military base and all these papers must be in order and please do follow the rules. Once we were cleared, we continued down the road about five miles. People often confuse the Heart Hacienda on the hill to the right for the mission, but this is recent construction. The Hearst family once owned this land and built a mission revival house on the hill, it is now the base headquarters.
A few minutes later, we could see the mission slowly raising above the horizon in the middle of an oak studded valley. We drove slowly as we approached to read the information signs and photograph some ruins. My only complaint of this mission is that the parking in front brings you back to the 21st Century. The parking should be off to the side as at La Purrisima. Otherwise, you feel like it's still 1800. There was some parking off to the side and we parked in the shade of an oak tree and walked to the mission. On the wall just outside of the church is a plaque commemorating the first Christian wedding in California that was performed here in 1773. The Mission contains a nice size museum with interesting exhibits, the quadrangle is restored (although only half of one side is open to the public), and the church is larger than many mission churches. We were briefly entertained by two kittens so cute, I had to check that my wife didn't sneak them home with us. In addition to the main restored mission buildings, the surrounding plain is filled with the ruins of other constructions such as soldier housing, work shops, reservoir, and grist mill. I wandered the ruins for about an hour while my wife hid in the shade of the large overhanging roof. It was hot and I had promised my wife to be home before dark, so I reluctantly said goodbye to Mission San Antonio.
We headed east, past the security gate, and on to County Highway G18 and then south on Highway 101. We caught Highway 46 back to I-5 and continued south arriving home about sundown. We had seen four missions - although we had planned to see only two when we left home, the oldest church and oldest public building in California, the wharf and Cannery Row, the Aquarium and more. This trip had been postponed from the year before and during that time, we changed the itinerary a little. We skipped Pinnacles, Mission San Juan Bautista, and Gilroy, the later two we would visit a month later.

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This page last updated: Saturday, 06-Jul-2013 05:49:50 EDT

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