This is Chapter 6 in our On the Road series with Bertie the 2002 Ford Explorer, and Marion the 1979 Trillium trailer. They left Whidbey on Oct. 15, 2021, and have traveled more than 5,000 miles from Oregon to eastern California to Arizona to western California. This leg of the journey takes them from Paso Robles to Olemas, along the central California coast,
Franklin Hot Springs, Paso Robles
We camped in a parking lot with a funky electric box, no drinking water, but hot springs water for showering, and an excellent hot springs pool. There’s a cast of characters that live here. Surfer Dave Padilla, who remembers the ‘moments of feeling God’s presence’ when surfing a tube, is the resident caretaker, and swears that the hot springs cured his arthritis. Both mornings we camped there, he cleaned up cigarette butts and beer bottles from partying guests who left a mess the night before. There’s the man we nicknamed John the Baptist, for his holy wild man appearance. He said he was much better off now, then when we saw him last May, living in a tent. He’s moved up to an RV now. A father and son camped next to us. They live in a van and truck, each held together with duct tape and foil on the windows. They are friendly guys who fish, drink beer, smoke, barbecue and fish. There’s Rob, who’s been living in his rusted camper the past 12 years. He has three loyal dog companions. His sweatpants were so torn, I went to the nearby Goodwill and bought him a pair of new sweats, which we placed at his door as an anonymous gift. He makes copper jewelry for sale by the pool.
Norman and Cindy Franklin run the resort, following in the footsteps of Norman’s minister/farmer/engineer father, Wesley. Wes moved to Paso Robles in 1951 with his wife Lydia and acquired over 1,500 acres of land. An original founder of Grace Baptist Church, Les worked with others to bring the gospel to down-and-outers in prisons and rescue missions in California. Texaco approached Les about drilling for oil on his land, but found a hot springs well instead. Les built lakes and a swimming area, which to this day remain a wildlife refuge.
Now, Norman still ministers to guys who need a hand up, and watches big screen tv with his old white dog.
The place is getting worn about the edges. Norman is slowing down these days, and has a soft spot for down and outers, who live in their vehicles. Seediness is creeping in.
Our first night, partiers sat in the hot pool, stayed up drinking, playing loud music, and singing until 3 a.m. Bill had asked them to quiet down about 1:30, and the noise was back by 3. We both went out and I begged them to quiet down since we needed to sleep. They finally broke up the party. In the past two times we camped here, people respected the quiet at 10 pm rules and no glass around the pool. It bothered us that the guests treated the place so poorly, leaving their trash for someone else to clean up. We also encountered a rude bald guy in the pool who exuded clouds of anger. His toxic vibe so distracted Bill, who stubbed his left toes on a piece of submerged concrete, resulting in dark purple bruising, a call to our Kaiser insurance nurse for advice, and some painful walking for a day. We bought frozen peas and he kept his foot elevated.
We breakfasted the following morning at Vic’s Cafe, in business with just three owners since 1942. The breakfasts are served in huge portions on platters. I ordered something called a Trainwreck with sausage, eggs, mushrooms, hash browns, and cheddar. It could feed four. Bill ordered a chili relleño breakfast with equally hearty portions.
We walked along Park Avenue and into the Dale Evers Design Studio. Its authentic functional art appealed to us, especially Dale’s signature sculpture, ‘The Focus,’ which, in his words: “represents overcoming by keeping one’s focus on that of a better future and actually projecting to that future. I named the human form the ‘Transcendent You,’ you being anyone who aspires to overcome adversity and trials.”
The piece features a naked human floating horizontally, its outstretched right hand on a bow whose apex reveals a pair of raptor faces. ‘The Focus’ is for sale in many forms: as earrings, pins, and smaller pieces, jn addition to what is displayed outside. Dale’s beautiful daughter Chloe helps run the place and we loved her energy and natural gift of conversation.
After driving up Hwy. 101, leaving Paso Robles, we drove by miles of grapes owned by Scheid Vineyards. Glad to leave the freeway monotony behind, we turned west on Hwy. 68, the Monterey-Salinas Highway, heading to Monterey and the WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
We were taken by the rolling forested hills leading to Monterey. We began to relax, not knowing we were tense from the angry bald man experience and the late night partiers. The natural beauty calmed us.
Driving up the steep grade to Laguna Seca racetrack, we heard the sound of Champ cars racing. This lifestyle of motor heads who crave speed is not our style, yet we found the atmosphere exciting and distinctly manly on the track. Our campsite was perched on a hill overlooking the Monterey foothills, green with new grass, and covered with shapely oak trees. As we left camp to head to the beach, our camping neighbors’ three young sons, shirtless, had gathered to watch the racers in their souped up Datsuns and Miatas, pointing to the cars and cheering. As we left, a sign read, “Did you turn in your transponder?” What is a transponder?
We parked at Lovers Point Park & Beach, a popular and scenic beach in Pacific Grove, next to Monterey, whose Cannery Row was swamped with tourists on a hot Sunday afternoon.
It was more relaxed at Lovers Point, with calm clear blue water, wet suited families, paddle boarders, kids jumping off the nearby wall about 20 feet into the water. The mood on this Sunday before Thanksgiving was festive and fun. We walked along the boardwalk above the ocean and admired the harbor seals sunning themselves on rocky outcrops.
The following morning we drove to Carmel Valley to visit with our dear friends Sheila and her husband Ray Heibert. They were guests when I cooked aboard the Snowgoose Alaska in 2009 and we have stayed in touch ever since. Lovely people who moved from the East Coast to Carmel Valley, who have a lovely home with their art and Ray’s photos. Sheila made an egg dish, which I said was similar to the Trainwreck I enjoyed two days earlier. Good food made with love and conversation that matters really filled us up.
We left the bonhomie of Sheila and Ray’s home, returned to the racetrack, packed up and drove to Santa Cruz.
We had reserved a site at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in Santa Cruz and were lucky to get the last one left. We were only five minutes’ drive from our friends who lived nearby.
We had a great dinner with our long-time friend Bridget Maloney (who we’ve known since 1973) and her partner George Bañuelos. Good to see them again, as we stayed at their home last May on another road trip.
The next morning we met with Bridget and hiked at one of her favorite places in the Henry Cowell Redwoods: Falls Creek. We hiked along a beautiful creek through dense forest and up to lime kilns built following the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. Hundreds of thousands of cords of redwood were burned to stoke the fires it took to process the mined limestone and turn it into mortar and plaster to rebuild the city. What is there now are second growth trees.
The kilns, now more than a hundred years old, look like ruins from Panama or Guatemala. We enjoyed our visit with Bridget and being in this excellent park jewel of Santa Cruz.
We had planned the afternoon for looking at the migrating Monarch butterflies at Lighthouse Field State Beach. This was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and we were lucky to get a parking place. The beach is also home to world-class surfing, has a plaque celebrating the Hawaiian princes who brought the art of surfing to the United States in 1885, and is home to America’s first surfing museum.
We noticed squadrons of California Brown Pelicans heading up the coast, so we followed them and saw hundreds of pelicans diving and feeding. They were joined by gulls, California sea lions, and harbor seals.
It remains a mystery, despite my research, on how the pelicans communicate there is a fish bounty to be had; and it is a mystery as to what causes so many fish to gather in one place. The sardines or smelt were so plentiful they were thrown on the beach by the waves. I ran along the sand, throwing the finger-length silver fish back in the waves. What a thrill to see this many birds together, eating their Thanksgiving dinner. Afterward we walked through the eucalyptus forest across the street and saw trees whose branches were covered with Monarchs.
We let Drew Kampion know we visited his former surfing spot and home, and mentioned the Monarch butterflies. He emailed, “We used to go to the eucalyptus grove lining the bluff just north of 26th Ave. to see each tree completely draped with capes of monarchs …. and over the years, Monsanto-assisted, they’ve dwindled to a token few.”
While Santa Cruz is beautiful, it has its homeless population with its heartbreaking challenges. Leaving the Monarch-filled trees, and walking through the woods back to our car, we saw a man in terrible shape with bleeding legs, saying he was having a psychosis. I gave him 20 bucks and he said he would buy some socks. Ah, but for the grace of God go I.
Hungry for dinner, we stopped in at the Santa Cruz Mission Street Barbecue, a joint with great gluten free sauce and smoked meats. We ordered half a pound of brisket, wishing we could stay for the live blues music that was to follow later that night. Eating a bite in the car, we drove a few minutes to Kater Pollock’s home. She is my dear friend Urashan’s oldest daughter. Earlier in the week, Urashan had visited me in a dream, wanting me to visit her Santa Cruz family. I met Kater twice in Urashan’s life and was impressed by her calm ways and care for her mom at Urashan’s end of life last March. Kater works as a psychotherapist and is a great listener. After seeing a client until 5:15, she had tea, cheeses, olives and crackers ready for us by 5:30. We talked of family and memories of Urashan. We are glad to keep the connection going.
Back at camp that night, we showered and woke early the next morning for our drive to Olema in Marin County, where we would celebrate Thanksgiving with our son Raymo, his partner Gino, and a long-ago Wisconsin high school friend who lives now in San Francisco with his wife.
Olema, Bolinas, and Pt. Reyes
After enjoying the good vibrations of Mill Valley, we parked later that afternoon at the Olema Campground. An epic flood had left the floodplain campground muddy with pools of standing water even after a month. Our nearest bathroom was closed, its bottom wrapped in black plastic. We parked Marion in our designated spot, and left to visit the hamlet of Bolinas, which I have long wanted to see, after reading about it in several novels. Its people are similar to Whidbey’s independent Greenbank folk, and we bought fairy lights at Bolinas Hardware, enjoying the murals and feel of this place on Bolinas Lagoon, near world-famous Stinson Beach. Later, we arrived hungry at the Side Street Kitchen in Pt. Reyes Station for dinner. I had Googled good food in the tiny town and we enjoyed healthy fare here.
Back at camp, we were dismayed by the big rigs parked helter skelter, the overflowing trash bins, the muddy bathrooms with open doors that let the cold air in. At 3:45 a.m., I woke up having to pee. I walked through soaking grass and mud to the bathroom. Back in Marion with cold feet, I texted my high school friend Mark Secosh to let him and his wife Brooke know that he ought not camp in a tent, as he had planned, as his tent would be soaked. I suggested they come for dinner and return home the same day. I barely slept that night, thinking I had wanted so badly to camp in Marin County, and this campground and Samuel B. Taylor Redwoods nearby, were the only options available, and both were full.
And Olema camping was pretty rough. The following morning, on the two-block walk to the bathroom, Bill saw a woman talking to the trash dumpster, saying, “You’ll be all right.” He thought she had put her dog in there for the night. Turns out a raccoon had gotten caught while pilfering trash. The woman lowered a rope tied to a towel to get the creature out. We would later have offerings left by the raccoons in the morning: they pooped on our vinyl tablecloths covering our picnic tables.
Also that morning while having breakfast, Bill looked out of Marion’s window to see a campground neighbor emptying her trailer’s gray and brown water on the ground. The campground has a dump station, the lady just didn’t want to empty her tank there. He talked to her and so did I. Her response, “It was only a little pee pee.” Come on. Brown water pee pee? I phoned the office to complain about this behavior. Soon the park owner Gabi and her two staff pulled up in a couple of pick ups. We watched through the window as staff gestured to the woman. Later after the woman left, Gabi talked to us and said her $1.2 million sewer project was overwhelmed in the ‘bomb storm,’ in which 14 inches of rain dropped in three days during late October. Gabi was really stressed.
Gabi now pays $38,000 a month to have the waste water trucked away. She said recovery is slowed by the National Park Service, which does not allow the nearby creek to be dredged. She added her staff poured bleach on the nearby site where the neighbor emptied her wastewater tanks. Then she told us about the time campers gathered all the waste from their tank and left it in black plastic trash bags to carry away. Seems there is a lot of frustration running this campground.
Meanwhile, Mark messaged that morning, saying they had Plan B, which was to sleep in their car and join us for two days. I worried for their well-being. Brooke was recovering from a year’s treatment for cancer. I wanted her to feel welcome and cozy. It was fortunate we had sunny days with temperatures in the mid-sixties. The sun helped turn the mud into the consistency of wet clay.
It was Thanksgiving Day. Raymo and Gino pulled in (they were staying in a warm and dry place in Berkeley). Next Mark and his wife Brooke arrived in their Saab sedan. Not having seen Mark since my 1972 German class at Kettle Moraine High School in Wales, Wisconsin, I recalled what a good person he was then and trusted he would be now. His love of life and interest in many things has not waned. Brooke was easy to be with and we didn’t lack for a second, things to talk about.
Bill started a fire at 1:30 using almond wood and all-wood charcoal in a 12-inch-high round fire pit. Mark methodically added ingredients to make a delicious paella in two pans. Brooke made a creative and healthy salad. By 4, we sat down at the picnic table, only to have it sink about six inches in the mud. Fortunately we had moved another table over, one with wider legs, that kept us from sinking. We moved our dinner to that table. The food was delicious and the conversation lively as we celebrated Thanksgiving outside.
Later, after the boys left, we talked by the fire. Brooke dried her wet socks and warmed her hands. We heard some teenagers screaming at the top of their lungs several times. It was strange their parents let them disturb the peace like that.
We went to bed about 8:30 in Marion, whose furnace kept us warm. Bill lay awake all night worried about Mark and Brooke sleeping in their car. But the following morning, Mark and Brooke emerged smiling. We invited them in for eggs, which they had brought, and ham and cheese and baguettes. Cozy. We spent the day in Berkeley hiking with the boys before returning back to camp and reheating the paella, which we ate outside by the light of our Luci solar lights. We built another fire and did not lack for enthusiasm as we sat around talking. The evening brought on damp and dew once again. Saturday morning we feasted on excellent breakfast at the Pt. Reyes Roadhouse. Saying goodbye, I felt we had made good friends.
After breakfast we visited the Pt. Reyes National Seashore Bear Valley visitor center and learned from the ranger that the Olema Campground lies in a wetland and is prone to floods. It also lies square on the San Andreas Fault. The geology here is so interesting. Pt. Reyes was once located near Joshua Tree millennia ago. The plates have been actively moving the past 16 million years, and Pt. Reyes has traveled 100 miles to the north during that time. It is composed of granite, which does not support redwoods, which grow on the other plate. Olema lies on the Pacific Plate, and the other side, along with most of North America, lies on the North American plate. The fault is the sight of serious earthquakes, such as the 1906 San Francisco quake; and the 1989 Loma Prieta quake.
At North Beach at Pt. Reyes’ 11-mile beach, a raven perched nearby. They are a totem animal for me, ever since I worked in Alaska, and they showed up to cheer me on whenever I felt low. At this beach, I placed a cube of my peanut butter rice crispy treat on a fence post. Our raven flew over and picked it up, returning to grace us with a chuckle and a tail waggling dance. What a gift! We walked along the beach and sat in the sand watching the big waves roll and thunder. We haven’t heard that sound in a long time.
Near sunset we hiked out along the Chimney Rock trailhead, along the tip of the peninsula, marveling at the views, the geology, and the late afternoon light.
As we drove back to our campsite during sunset, Bill said, “I was wanting to go to the tip of Point Reyes and it exceeded my expectations.”
That night we sat in our trailer wondering about the remainder of our trip. We have made no reservations from now till we arrive home around Dec. 19. For the next two weeks we will stay in the lovely West Sonoma County home of a couple who are friends with our long-time friend, Christine Schreier.
As we left. Olema Campground, we said, “Goodbye muddy roads. Goodbye piles of trash. Goodbye broken picnic table.” Bill added, “Sometimes you feel bittersweet about leaving a place. This isn’t one of them.”
As we head up the coast to Sebastopol, we notice vultures warming their outstretched wings while perched atop telephone poles. They reminded us of Jesus giving a blessing.