March 24, 2009

Cambrian Adventure

"Dude. TL, where have you been? No posts since Thursday!"

Staying at a hotel that has no internet access, that's what. Yes, there are still such places out there. I couldn't even get the phone to work right the one time I needed to use a land line (because cell phone service is spotty in that part of the world). Next question?

"TL, what on Earth were you doing at a place so far out of touch that you couldn't get internet or cell phone service?"

Having a wonderful long weekend with my wife and our friends, that's what.

We sampled about three dozen wineries around El Paso De Robles. We drank good wine, plenty of it. And bought a lot of it. Our wine racks at home are now full; five dozen bottles of hand-selected or gifted wines. That's never a bad thing.

I took The Wife to redwood groves around Big Sur. She'd never seen live redwoods before. A drive up the coast from our hotel took us onto the narrow, twisty part of Pacific Coast Highway where it clings to the cliffs on the coastal range; there, we found the southernmost redwood groves in the state by clear, beautiful waterfalls. Salmon Creek Falls, not pictured here, were going at a spectacular rate, but I sort of preferred this less-frequented grove with the stream falling down off the rocks into the mossy quiet of the forest.

We watched sea otters diving for their breakfasts off of the rocky beaches near Cambria. I've got photos of otters out hunting, but they just look like little dots in the sea. There were, however, hundreds of otters out there. You'll have to trust me on that.

We partied with winemakers. Our friends are very close with one of the winery families, and we got to participate in their spring celebration and enjoy pizza and chicken and sample their entire library of wines. Along the way we got a glimpse into what the winemaker's life is really like -- for much of the year, it's reasonably relaxing once they've found a wholesale customer for their product; they just work the tasting room themselves and sell what they can on their own and the rest goes to their customer. They can give hayrides and relax and have a good time with their friends and family. For a couple weeks out of the year, around harvest time, they work like hell -- one guy described going six days straight without sleep, and eventually when the tractor broke down he and his crew were passed out from exhaustion by the time the repairman showed up and said "Add diesel."

We got to breathe fresh clean ocean air, and were overwhelmed by the beauty of emerald mountains and sapphire seas. Of the many really beautiful places in California, this just about takes the cake. Harmony, the little village between Cambria and Morro Bay, seems to always be green and the beef from there tastes especially good -- maybe because the cows have such steep hills to climb while they're grazing. I've not been to Ireland but I have to imagine that's kind of what it looks like. If it weren't for the lack of cell phone and internet service, I'd have been hard pressed to find a good reason to come home. Oh, well, we had to take care of the animals. But man, that is one heartbreakingly beautiful part of California.

We shopped for antiques and gifts. Cambria is a charming little tourist town, filled with bakeries, antique shops, tchotchke vendors, and Italian restaurants. I finally got my beret.

And we both got enough sleep. The hotel, as mentioned before, lacked the modern amenity of free wireless internet access. Whatever dwarf built the shower seemed to think that a nozzle four and a half feet off the ground was high enough for anyone. And the continental breakfast left something to be desired. But during warmer times, I'd have availed myself of the par-3 golf course, the pool, and the croquet court; and the price was quite reasonable. I would stay there again; after all, we didn't really do much in the hotel but sleep there.

I've got to say that I enjoy the Paso Robles wine region better than the Santa Ynez, Napa, or Sonoma regions. There are still wineries that do complimentary tastings. Many wineries include food in their tastings -- not just some palate-clearing crackers, but real food like chipotle burgers, carnitas, and substantial chocolate treats. There are more wineries, in a smaller area, and the ratio of superb wines available for sampling is high. It is wine country the way it was meant to be, the way it used to be in a lot of other places.

On the way back, we also stopped to visit Fort Tejon. I've driven through the Grapevine a hundred times and seen the sign for a historical monument but never been. So this time, we pulled off the road and stopped. There are several buildings from the original fort still there and some very interesting exhibits. This is where the Army experimented with using camels as pack animals in the 1850's, and it was the epicenter of Edward F. Beale's blatant abuse of military and Federal civil power to create a massive real estate empire for himself at the southern end of California's central valley, which today survives as a private enterprise known as Tejon Ranch Corporation and is now the largest private landholder in the state.

When we were there, we saw a bunch of kids wearing period costumes doing things like making nails in the blacksmiths' shop, cutting lumber with old-fashioned saws, churning butter and cooking food, and firing adobe bricks. They were on an overnight field trip and it looked like about the coolest field trip I've ever heard of kids doing. Good for them and their teachers (some of whom were staying the night with them for the trip; they were sleeping in the old barracks building) that they got this really interesting experience.

I found, upon my return to mundane life, five hundred entries on my blog reader which I've simply marked as "read" despite not reading them, a desk full of fires to put out at the office, and plumbing problems at home. And a Wife determined to eliminate every last shred of carpet in our house, uncaring if that means leaving bare concrete subfloors to walk on, waiting for me at home. Well, that's a crash back to real life for you, but that's what you get sometimes.

"TL, can we come along next time?"

No. Well, two of you can, and you know who you are. See you in Los Olivos next month for the barbeque, friends.

3 comments:

Arnie said...

Sounds like you had a great weekend, and each time you open one of the many fine wines, it will remind you.

billvan61 said...

You criticize Edward Beale, but inform yourself and read what Kevin Starr writes about him in his history of California, Inventing the Dream, pp. 21-30.

He set up a very progressive Indian Colony on the Tejon when other Californians were shooting indians as if they were environmental pests.

Bill Van Benschoten

billvan61 said...

You criticize Edward Beale, but inform yourself and read what Kevin Starr writes about him in his history of California, Inventing the Dream, pp. 21-30.

He set up a very progressive Indian Colony on the Tejon when other Californians were shooting indians as if they were environmental pests.

Bill Van Benschoten