Mention Highway 80 to just about any Utahan and the responses are exasperation and eye-rolling. It’s a necessary evil to go to all points west, at least faster than any of the alternatives and at the end of June that’s the only speed you want to go. Faster.
I remember it differently. When I was six we lived in Carmichael, a suburb of Sacramento, and for the time spent there Summer vacation meant a trip to my grandparents’ home in Salt Lake City. We’d leave before sunup, get California out of the way and end up having breakfast at John Ascuaga’s Nugget – the works with pancakes – and then we’d face the punctuations of Nevada cocooned in our own freon-cooled atmosphere with the neon cowboy exclamation point at Wendover, the state line and Bonneville, and then the smoke stack past Tooele and the majesty of the Wasatch Front.
Now we’re going the other way, we being my traveling companion and I and our two Goldens, and we go to see, instead of grandparents, our daughter who lives in Monterey.
And we left at sundown instead of before sunup. It’s easier to come by and cooler on us all, especially the Nomad. We paused at Salt Air to watch the sunset and drove through the night, or at least right up until 0130 Mountain time when I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. We tried sleeping in the back with the girls, but Maryann was more excited about the slumber party and kept us all awake.
Not much room back there for two adults and two large dogs.
This being a holiday week the only camping reservations I could find were at the Saddle Mountain Ranch on the way to Carmel Valley, but close enough to Monterey and the PCH. That was our first stop to check things out and get our site, only to find camping at Saddle Mountain Ranch was on a steep, terraced tree-covered hillside with a site too narrow for our set-up, but we got things worked out with the friendly owners and found our Goldilocks site.
We went back into Monterey to pick up our daughter and returned to Saddle Mountain to set up camp, make dinner and talk the night away.
Saturday morning I made breakfast burritos and we struck camp and made for the beach in Pacific Grove.
Maryann was the only thinking one in the bunch since the rest of us got some solar overdose, but no trip to the coast is complete without one.
The plan for this trip was to spend the weekend plus Monday with Addie and then head back to Utah Monday night, but the US Army had different plans giving her Tuesday and the Fourth off, so we extended our trip through to Wednesday. Bonus. Besides, she was going to be in the Fourth of July parade representing the DLI and we weren’t going to miss that. The whole reason we were there was to be able to go a few days without missing her.
There were a number of things we weren’t going to miss on this trip, we just didn’t realize it at the time. We’ve ridden and driven the PCH at least a dozen times and rarely would we pull over and have a better look. The road itself always beckoned us to roll, the vistas on the west begging us to see more. We’ve stopped for photo ops, took the kids to an amazing tide pool once, but, embarrassingly, that’s about it. So while Addie had duties to attend to at the Presidio we turned the Nomad south onto the PCH, this time without a destination or a schedule, at least not an immediate one.
Our first stop was at Soberanes Point in the Garrapata State Park. Other than Pfeiffer and Molera, I didn’t even know Garrapata existed, let alone the improved trails at Soberanes. We picked up the trail just as it splits to go up to a vista or down to the Point. We walked down along the tops of the cliffs.
Spring is in her encore here with every color refusing to be muted by the high fog. We left the main trail and took a little artery down to the Point itself and walked above among the tide pools.
So much has been written about the junction of land and sea and any addition to that canon may be enough to make one throw up a little in the back of their mouth, but damn, Soberanes Point was incredible.
The next stop I’ve always wanted to make is the Coast Road, just north of the Bixby Creek Bridge, a graded dirt road that runs up the hillside.
This road was just opened the week previous having been closed for the last two years due to heavy rains, erosion, and damage caused by slides. We stopped and talked with a man woking on a pedestrian passage next to a cattle guard who was kind enough to fill us in on the road repair story, most of which, from what we saw of his work, was done by him throughout the road’s traverse.
He wasn’t in the employ of the State of California, but rather by the owner of the private property through which this road passed. This philanthropist has restored the road at what must have been incredible expense making it safe and passable to motorists and hikers alike. You don’t hear about this kind of environmentalism, but we’re grateful to both these individuals.
It winds along the foothills, a path for a number of homeowners in the area making its way through redwoods and up along plateaus that bring the Pacific into view. At one point in the thick of another redwood forest it crosses Little Sur River at its north and south forks. Eventually the road enters Andrew Molera State Park where it joins the PCH.
Later that evening we found something else we’ve been missing. We decided to eat at Mountain Mike’s Pizza in Pacific Grove only because one of my first three simultaneous jobs was working at the one in Livermore (of which I thought was the first Mountain Mike’s in 1979, only to find out that the actual first store opened in Palo Alto in 1978).
Anyway, while waiting for Addie and her companion we noticed a steady stream of people going into another store front in this little strip mall and coming out with large brown bags and what looked like great anticipation. I walked over to find Michael’s Grill and Taqueria.
We ate there. Twice. Once for lunch and the next time for dinner.
Their menu takes up two walls inside and it’s not much good in helping you make up your mind. That’s why we had to go back. Maryann was very patient.
Best Mexican food I’ve had. Cafe Rio doesn’t count because it’s more Tex Mex than traditional. Great helpings, incredible value and everyone behind the counter was very friendly. I can’t wait to go back.
I’ve been hearing for weeks now from Addie about Monterey’s wonderful Farmers’ Market, which is where we spent our Tuesday evening (before returning to Michael’s).
I’ve always been leery of our grocer’s produce and this confirmed my suspicions. We’ve been missing out on what strawberries, blueberries, cherries, plums, nectarines and peaches actually taste like. I was eating fruit for the first time or so it seemed and it was amazing.
She shops there weekly, inspiring me to do the same at my own farmers’ market in Bountiful.
The Fourth caught up to us the next morning and we found a good spot in Old Monterey to watch our soldier march by.
Ginger doesn’t mind the crowds and seems at home in the fray of public. Maryann not so much.
The DLI was among the first in the line up of the parade and we got to cheer our serious soldier on. I’ve learned not to wear any shirts with buttons at times like these. She’s third from the right.
We had lunch afterwards at Cafe Trieste and the time came for us to hit the road to make our way back across Nevada. Leaving her doesn’t get any easier.
Traffic was light on this holiday and we made good time to the Sierras where we stopped to stretch all our legs. We did so at the Donner Pass Eastbound Rest Area where there’s a great half-mile trail that loops around through an interpretive guide of the area’s geology, not to mention that it’s part of the Pacific Coast Trail.
Now that’s a new item on the not-to-miss list.
I worked most of the daylight hours with Mindy at the helm while we traveled I-80 into the night. Once I got back behind the wheel I had to stop twice to nap, a luxury I don’t have on the Tiger. This age thing…