Day 2 (November 17, 2018 – San Simeon, California): “Cannon Fodder”
Both Julie and I slept in a little bit, especially considering that we had slept last night before 9pm, which was quite early for us. I wound up getting up at around 6:45am while Julie probably got up a little earlier. Either way, this was probably the most sleep that either of us had in quite a while.
I guess not having internet (or at least really slow internet), no Tahia, and no work that needed to be done (at least none that was accessible at the moment) ensured that we would stay in the moment while we were here.
Knowing that today was going to be a light-in-activities but full day of touring up and down the Big Sur Coast, Julie was in no hurry to get out the door. So I used this idle time to get dressed and go right into the hike down to the coastal access from the gazeebo at the Ragged Point Inn.
This was a hike that we had an opportunity to do back in March 2001 (17 years ago) but decided against doing it due to lack of time. But back then, I knew that the waterfall there was probably more likely to flow than it did today. Nevertheless, I was determined to make this hike just for informational purposes anyways, especially since I was prepared with hiking boots and hiking pants, just in case this was a harder hike than I was anticipating.
By about 7:10am, I left our room and proceeded towards the familiar gazeebo. The sun still hadn’t penetrated the property yet, but that was fine by me because I had a feeling that I was going to sweat on this hike.
The hike itself started off pretty easily with a few steps just down the cliff from the lookout area, where there was one guy checking out the view by himself. But I went ahead going by this guy then making the hike down. Sure enough, the trail quickly got rough after just less than a half-dozen wooden steps.
Then, the trail pretty much immediately was eroded and quite slippery due to all the loose gravel or dirt. If this trail was already rough this early to begin with, I had a feeling that the trail was going to get worse the further down I went.
Indeed, the trail continued to be steep and even undulating. The trail even bypassed some old bridge or railing as it veered around it and continued its descent down steep switchbacks.
Ultimately, after getting past some kind of false trail, the trail then cut back across in the other direction towards some windswept trees before continuing its steep descent directly down towards the rocky bottom where about three guys who had passed me earlier on in the hike (and complaining that they weren’t prepared for the hike but were already committed to it by this point) had joined a lady who was already down there and had gotten an earlier start.
By the time I made it down there, the group headed back up so I had the place all to myself.
Before completing the descent, I saw the gully behind me where it seemed like a spot where waterfall was supposed to be. Given that there were a couple of ponds in this drainage, I could swear that this waterfall should be flowing in the early Spring depending on how wet the rainy season was.
In addition to the rocky steppes that would have been cascades of the “Ragged Point Waterfall”, I could see a nearly vertical grassy streak way up towards the top of the cliffs. Clearly that was where the main part of the waterfall, and I’m sure it would have been something else had it been flowing.
Anyways, this excursion sure was rough going. And I couldn’t believe that I had entertained the thought of doing the hike in Chacos some 17 years ago when Julie and I first stayed at the Ragged Point Inn. Now after going through this experience, that thought would have been madness. Even with hiking boots and hiking attire, it was not an easy hike by any stretch of the imagination.
Down at the coastal level, the dark sand was all wet, which indicated to me that the waves could easily inundate this little cove in high tide. So this wasn’t the place to linger for too long, and eventually after having my fill, I started to head back up but not before savoring the imaginary Ragged Point Waterfall one last time.
Towards the upper third of the ascent, there was a couple that was going down to the coast. They told me that they were definitely not prepared for the roughness of this hike, but they too were committed.
Eventually at around 7:55am, I had made it all the way back up to the gazeebo where there seemed to be considerably more activity on the premises by tourists. In fact there was what appeared to be a group of Chinese elders at the overlook just as I had made it back to the top.
And then by 8:10am, I returned to our room, where Julie was eager to get to the brekkie room to try out the breakfast here. We got in there at about 8:25am after briefly checking out the views at the gazeebo and noticing what Julie said were Monarch butterflies in the garden.
For the next hour or so, we took our time enjoying my Ranchero Benedict as well as Julie’s Big Sur Omelette.
After having our fill of the OK breakfast, we then got loaded up the car with our change of clothes as we knew that we wouldn’t be getting back to Ragged Point Inn until later at night.
Just before driving off, we checked out the views looking north along the Big Sur Coast from the property one last time knowing that we’d probably be heading straight home via the scenic route first thing tomorrow morning. And with the weather looking beautiful at this time of the morning, we just seized the moment and took more photos around some kind of “Portal of Big Sur” monument that we hadn’t noticed the first time we were here.
We left the premises at about 9:35am, which was a bit later than I would have liked knowing that it will get dark sooner (so we had that much less daylight left to enjoy while still having a long drive ahead of us towards Monterey).
In fact, the GPS warned us that it would take at least two hours to get all the way to the Fisherman’s Wharf in the historic part of Monterey. Julie and I hadn’t been there since around 2010 at the latest so there wasn’t much that we remembered from our first time here. But we were looking forward to getting there as Julie was really eye-ing the seafood to be had there since seafood tended to be very low in lectins.
The drive up the Big Sur Coast was pretty busy, and that wasn’t so suprising considering that today was a Saturday. Along the way, we made just one photo stop as it really seemed like we were going to arrive at the Old Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey right at around 11:30am according to the GPS.
One of the focuses of the drive this time around was trying to see where the landslides had happened that closed the road for a couple of years. We actually saw two or three such zones though we suspected the worst one was a single-lane road with a traffic light that was probably it. There was also a fancy rock shelter “tunnel” near Limekiln State Park that also looked new as I never recalled seeing a rock shelter section before.
Sometimes I wondered if this road was really meant to be built or if they might be better off tunneling through some of the most landslide prone sections of the road. I figured they just went with band-aid patches and tried to go the cheapest route instead of the long-term solution. But it was definitely clear where the next landslides would happen next (i.e. where the vegetation was bare) and it was a matter of when not if the next slips will happen.
Something that was really strange about our drive was that it really felt like things were further away from each other than I had recalled on our earlier trips to Big Sur. I attributed that phenomenon to the fact that as we were getting older, we were paying more attention to details that we tended to gloss over when we were younger. Such lack of attention to details (especially of the tedium and “pain”) was probably due to the obliviousness of youth.
Now that we’re older and more cognizant of our surroundings, this drive really was a dominant part of this trip even though memories tended not to support that thinking. But as it was clear that we would be spending all morning doing this drive, we figured that we mind as well not spend too much time making any more stops and beeline straight to Monterey.
So this meant we opted not to stop for Bixby Bridge on the way north even though the sun was somewhat out at this time in the morning.
It really seemed like the further north we went on the Big Sur Highway that we went, the busier the road became and the straighter the winding road became as well. It definitely lacked the rugged intimacy that we associated with the Big Sur Coast in all the times we’ve done this drive previously, but I chalked that up to the fact that this was a Saturday, most of the visitors to Big Sur were from Northern California (as opposed to Southern California), and the population as a whole was larger now than it was back then. Of course, the social media aspect of everything also meant the places we liked back then were crowded now that the obvious attractions were no longer hidden gems.
While our initial plans had us only driving to Carmel for a meal, it seemed like there were some better food choices up in the Monterey area so we opted to check this part out and really splurge on the seafood since it was Julie’s birthday. Along the way, we did notice that there was a Hyatt property at the Carmel Highlands.
That was kind of unfortunate because we had plenty of points we could have used to save money on this trip (to the tune of $200/night worth). But we consoled ourselves by trying to convince ourselves that it was busier and less-secluded in Carmel than it did in Ragged Point. Still, when money was tight and we were splurging on every meal on this trip, that wasn’t a chunk of change to sniff at.
Eventually at around 11:35am, we found a street parking spot at the Old Fisherman’s Wharf area of Monterey.
The street parking score was a blessing as we didn’t have to pay for parking as two-hour street parking seemed to be free. That said, I’m sure it was a small consolation prize for the bigger bucks we were about to spend on whatever seafood we were after for our early lunch.
After walking around the backside of the Custom House, we then went to the real happening part of the Old Fisherman’s Wharf. Whatever my faded memories were of this place from way back when definitely did not ring a bell upon our current visit.
Instead, we saw a real happening arcade of mostly restaurants flanking a wide walkway that was quite the happening spot for a stroll. There were lots of boats in the harbor behind the north flank of the arcade. It was a place seemingly begging for camera clicks unlike our first visit here.
What was comical about some of the restaurants we were window shopping (so to speak) was the presence of these signs that said “No strollers, No high chairs, No crying babies” right at the entrances of a couple of the restaurants. The message was quite clear that those joints were not meant for families with babies or toddlers, but the decor of those restaurants looked casual and not very fine dining.
After making it all the way to the end of the pier, we got up to the public viewing deck where we peered out a little more at the harbor as well as some old historical looking warship (though we weren’t part of the tour to go onto that boat), and we also got a look back against the hazy morning sun towards the arcade from an elevated perspective.
We ultimately settled in on this restaurant called Domenico’s as Julie was quite sold on the Alaskan King Crab legs, which was something we hadn’t had since Juneau, Alaska some 7 years ago on our Alaskan Cruise when Tahia was just a few months old. Again, since it was Julie’s birthday, we figured it was worth the splurge of the $64 per pound of the deadliest catch yields.
The seafood was definitely quite fresh and pretty delicious though I knew that we were really overstuffing ourselves as this was way more food that we’d typically eat in a normal sitting (at least it felt that way since the last three years when Julie’s dietary restrictions really kicked in, which also coincided with me losing around 20-30 pounds).
But one thing we noticed were a couple of skiffs with a handful of people dressed in what appeared to be costumes rowing just outside in the harbor in plain sight from the restaurant. Then, suddenly, we heard loud booms, which rattled the windows of the restaurant.
When we were done with lunch and walked back outside into the now-busy arcade, the booms continued. And when we walked into the large opening in front of the Custom House, we saw lots of people gathered around the wharf edge and the Custom House itself as clearly they were watching some kind of historical re-enactment.
We weren’t sure exactly what this re-enactment was, but we figured it had something to do with the founding or settling of Monterey. Someone said it was some explorer from Argentina that first settled in the Monterey area (which might explain some of the Spanish we were hearing in some of the actors’ yells to people wielding bayonets), but she then said that they seized this place for 6 or 7 days, claimed it for Argentina, then promptly left because there was nothing here.
At least that was the story. I guess we’ll have to Wikipedia it up to see why this re-enactment was happening on this particular day (we later found out that it was the bicentennial of the founding of Monterey and the re-enactment was the Battle of Monterey).
At around 1:35pm, we were back at the car just in time for the apparent end of the re-enactment. There was a parking enforcement person making the rounds on the street we were at, and one person was apparently getting a ticket. We also saw a sign saying something to the effect that there was no parking on this day (though it wasn’t clear if it was for a couple of spots or for the whole street).
So we promptly headed right back to the car to check to see if our free parking was too good to be true, but fortunately for us, we didn’t get a parking violation. Either way, I stayed in the car while Julie was checking out some other historical building that turned out to be nothing more than a shop.
And then, we promptly headed towards some kind of gluten free bakery since Julie was keen on having a dessert there (even though we were totally stuffed from our lunch at Domenico’s).
By about 1:45pm, we arrived at this place called the Morning Dove Bakery and Cafe, and we got a bit gluten-free “eye-hungry” since Julie got a muffin, a coconut macaroon (not the French macarons), a chocolate chip cookie, and a chocolate cupcake. It wound up being around $15 of stuff.
We then decided to just eat it right then and there knowing that the stuff might get messy as the car would be jostling back and forth on the winding roads as we were about to head back south along the Big Sur Coast.
It turned out that the food was not that great. In fact, Julie knew that she could make better gluten free (and lectin free) muffins and cookies herself (with Tahia’s help, of course). Perhaps the best thing of the bunch was the chocolate cupcake.
Oh well, that really amped up Julie’s anticipation of going to the Lilac Patisserie in Santa Barbara tomorrow. I just hoped that she wasn’t setting the expectations so high that she would set herself up for disappointment.
You know how these things go. It’s all about managing expectations when it comes to experiences like these.
Anyways, we then drove back south along the Big Sur Coast, which remained very busy and heavily trafficked.
However, by now, the sun that was promising to be out for today gave way to an apparent marine layer or fog or something as it was suddenly gray. We weren’t sure if some of the haze also came from smoke from the fires from hundreds of miles away or if it was now combined with the marine layer. But whatever it was, the lighting was nowhere near as scenic as it had been this morning.
Either way, we stopped for the Bixby Bridge at 2:35pm, which was super busy with people on the cliffs looking down at the signature bridge of Big Sur (many of the visitors seemed to come from overseas), and then we continued the drive south eventually towards the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.
We ultimately got there at around 3:25pm, thinking that it would be late enough in the day to score parking, a good sunset (though it was overcast at the time), and still be good to go to return to Deetjen’s for dinner though they didn’t start that until 6pm when it would be well dark.
We wound up parking on the shoulder of the Hwy 1 since we weren’t in the mood to be paying $10 for just 90 minutes of being here (though in all the times we were here, I had never seen the main lots enforced). And there were indeed lots of people still here even though darkness was coming soon.
First up, we opted to go to the back of the park to check out Canyon Falls again. Julie said she didn’t remember much about this waterfall when I told her that we had been here before. But then we saw that there was a closure sign, which I originally thought was for the Ewoldsen Trail, but apparently Canyon Trail was also a casualty.
But just as we were about to give up, we saw four young ladies coming out from the trail, and when they said that the closure was most likely due to some construction for a bridge, that strengthened our resolve to do what they did and head back into the canyon to avoid the crowds that we knew were headed to both the Pelton Wheel and the McWay Falls Overlook.
Indeed, the hike was nice and provided a bit of solitude for Julie and I. After passing by some of the picnic tables at the start, we then got to the partially finished bridge, which was a bit dicey to cross at the moment. So we found a more tamer place to cross the stream (still flowing pretty well, which further proved that McWay Falls as well as Canyon Falls were truly year-round waterfalls), then scrambled our way past some fallen logs to get back onto the main trail.
Beyond the bridge, it seemed like the trail makers tried to make the path go way higher up the canyon slopes before dropping back down. I recalled that this part was a bit confusing prior to the bridge being built, and perhaps the building of this bridge was meant to reduce the ambiguity and subsequent trail erosion from confused people scrambling everywhere looking for the right way to go.
Regardless, we eventually got back onto the trail and continued making our way further upstream until we reached the familiar 15-20ft waterfall. Julie and I spent a few moments here basking in the quiet solitude where we learned to better appreciate the subtleties of Nature as opposed to the more gaudy scenery back at the McWay Falls overlook.
After having our fill of this waterfall at around 4pm, we then walked back out towards the commotion, and then followed the trains of people making their way past the Pelton Wheel, then through the tunnel beneath the Hwy 1 before getting to the familiar walkway leading to the overlook of McWay Falls.
Apparently, they closed the trail leading all the way to the end where the foundations of the first homesteader that was here (I believe his name was McWay or something like that and that Pelton Wheel powered his ranch or something like that). So that made the overlook even more crowded than what would normally be.
Yet still, McWay Falls spilling right into the cove below remained a sublime sight even though there was no sunset on this day but there was still a bit of a subtle glow as the setting sun slightly pierced through the marine layer in the distance casting soft glows on the cove waters itself.
While we were patiently awaiting our turn to get our shots, there were some Chinese visitors that showed up, and one guy was saying in Mandarin that this waterfall was puny, especially after all the trouble it took to get here on the drive. I think he completely missed the point here (as it was more about the whole of the waterfall together with the scenery as opposed to something huge like Huangguoshu or Detian or something like that), but I guess to each their own.
So we got our shots at around 4:15pm, then after taking our time taking what shots and videos that we could, we then walked back up to our parked car, where we then noticed people checking out the falls along the road from the cliff top. So we decided to check that out since we had never really experienced McWay Falls in that way in all the times that we had been here.
As we were walking along the Hwy 1, we noticed one guy parking the car that had his windows down and blaring the B-52’s Love Shack as he was singing loudly. I was very tempted to sing along with him and Julie knew that, too. For sure if Tahia was with us, we would have been singing along together.
Anyways, we ultimately got to the roadside overlook spots of the McWay Falls which still looked attractive from this vantage point, but one thing that surprised us was the presence of a sea arch behind the waterfall itself! As if this waterfall didn’t have enough going for it, there was a sea arch (albeit hard to really see even from this vantage point) as well!
I guess that solidifed our choice of giving this place a 4 in the ratings, but it also made Julie and I wonder about Alamere Falls and what it would be like if we were to make another visit to it since we were last there in 2010. I still found it a shame that there was no beach access because this would have been quite the sublime spot to bask and explore as opposed to gawk at from an overlook or two.
By about 5pm, we were finally back in the car. There were still people parking and showing up just as the sun had already set and darkness was setting in. Indeed, this place was definitely a runaway favorite stop over the years, and clearly it was far from being a secret or even an unbusy secluded spot these days (unlike our earlier visits).
Eventually after following a long caravan of cars further back north along the Hwy 1, we ultimately returned to Deetjen’s for our dinner for the first time since 2010 as well. There seemed to be a lot more limited parking that we had recalled in the past (definitely no parking facing the highway anymore), and we wound up taking one of three spots in front of the office.
It was still only 5:15pm when we showed up, which was 45 minutes too early for our dinner reservation. So we took this time to get dressed for dinner using their spacious bathroom. Then, we chilled out in their library before dinner as we noticed some coffee table books to flip through as well as some brochures for hiking tours offered by locals to show off waterfalls and other hidden spots that I’m sure we didn’t know about (though it costed something like $75 per person for 2.5 hours).
Eventually at 6pm, we got back into the quaint restaurant where we were promptly seated, ordered a filet mignon and rack of lamb (to offset the surf that we had for lunch), and then waited for the food as we enjoyed each others’ company by the quaint fireplace and cozy dark room with lots of decorations all around us.
Again, with money tight, we still were guiltily splurging with this place since it was a true getaway from Julie and I. The experience was way different when we took Tahia with us to the Big Sur Coast some three years ago. So the birthday girl was totally savoring it.
Anyways, it took some time for our food to show up (plenty of people that came after us got their food and left), but I think they were trying to time everything with bringing out Julie’s surprise dessert (even though she couldn’t have anything since they didn’t have gluten free stuff and I wound up getting her a mango sorbet even though I knew it had too much sugar for her to eat by herself).
Regardless, despite the wait, the food was excellent and she even liked my rack of lamb even though she doesn’t like lamb in general. The sorbet was also a nice surprise for her, which she totally wasn’t expecting. And we got a mint tea as well as a dark chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream in addition to all the other stuff we ordered.
Indeed, I’m sure I’ll be feeling the pain of the expenses of this short weekend when I have to do finances the next month, but at least for the time being, we were seizing the moment with no regrets. Of course, we were still trying to figure out how to go to France (for Julie’s cousin’s wedding) and then Norway as two separate trips next year, but I figured this was going to be another one of those seizing the moment things where we take the financial pain first but then not live with regrets later. We’ve had plenty of those over the years…
After the dinner was over at 7:35pm, we then made the long drive back towards Ragged Point in the dark. It was mostly uneventful and I was only passed by one guy in a sports car who was really gunning it. I was surprised by the amount of traffic going the other way in the dark, but that just goes to show you just how many more people are everywhere these days (though it was nowhere near the high volume of traffic we saw earlier in the day in the northern parts of Big Sur).
Eventually at 8:45pm, we finally made it back to the Ragged Point Inn, which besides Gorda, was the lone brightly lit areas along this southern part of the rugged Big Sur Coast. And then after getting cleaned up, we crashed and slept soundly…