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Monterey Trip - 06.10

On the way out, the route went along the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe to the small cities of Stateline and South Lake Tahoe [2] (pop 23,000, elev 6260'), which are really much the same as they were some years ago during the last visit. There isn't much room available for massively-excessive development between the shoreline and the surrounding mountains. The Lake Tahoe scenery is still topend.

Hwy-50 from Stateline to Sacramento is also very much the same, and also the slow way to get from Reno to Sacramento. The I-80 route is at least 1 and 1/2 hours quicker.

On both outgoing and return trips, we did some exploration of Sacramento [2] (pop 464,000, elev 20'). It really is a sort of pleasant city, with suburbs extending for miles both north of the river and also south of downtown, and with a large central area (approx 50-blocks x 30-blocks) near the capitol downtown full of shady tree-lined streets, and dozens of local neighborhoods with zillions of small shops (the total opposite of Las Vegas, for instance, which is endless strip-mall, looking like it was all constructed yesterday, and being devoid of even a semblance of neighborhood-style life). Sacto is very hot in summer, however.

Hollister [2] (pop 34,800) is a rather uninteresting agricultural town, located directly over the San Andreas Fault, and known as the 'Earthquake Capital of America'.

A little west of there, Salinas [2] (pop 143,600) is much more interesting, has a 'historical' downtown area, and is the home of the compelling National Steinbeck Center. The center has a large display with descriptions of Steinbeck's many books and stories, and many small theater nooks with on-going audios and videos, including his Nobel Prize speech.

[Rocinante interior; click to blow-up] The center also contains the truck camper, named Rocinante [2] after Don Quixote's horse, that Steinbeck used in his 10,000-mile circular tour of america in 1960, as described in Travels with Charley. This was the dark time in the southern USA when the Jim Crow laws were still in effect, and Steinbeck came away totally disgusted with the behavior of southern whites.

For reference, the camper area of Rocinante is 12' long x 9' wide, and it looks fairly livable inside (see right - also original image). Propane refrigerator on left and propane stove on right.

Monterey [2] (pop 27,700) [rentals] and Pacific Grove [2] (pop 14,600) are the true gems of the Monterey Peninsula, although a lot of people also find Carmel attractive, despite its streets being horrendously clogged with tourists, and traffic access being a real mess, not unlike driving into the narrow end of a funnel. The hoi certainly love company.

See also Asilomar, kite aerial photograpy over Pacific Grove [2] [3].

On entering Monterey, most likely via Fremont St, take the right turn towards Fisherman's Wharf. Don't even slow down at FW, but continue on past, staying close to the waterfront, and proceed a few more blocks to Cannery Row. This is the place to stop. Monterey is cute, but west Monterey and Pacific Grove are cuter.

The real "Main Street" in the area is Lighthouse Ave, which has several miles of continuous storefront, much of it many decades old. There are actually 2 streets running directly in parallel a few blocks apart, and each named Lighthouse, depending upon whether one is in Monterey or Pacific Grove. The street names change to Central and Hawthorne, right where the opposite city decides which is properly called Lighthouse. One can go around in circles trying to figure this out.

[Ed's Lab; click to blow-up] Visit the aquarium which is contained in an old cannery building, if spending $29.95 suits your fancy, but by all means go 1-block east and check out the old weatherbeaten completely-unmarked wood exterior building, nestled in between the grey aquarium and the grey luxury intercontinental hotel, to see Ed Ricketts marine biological laboratory building (picture to right) from the 1930s [no entry however]. Read the descriptive sign across the street. Walk down the alley way and see the concrete tanks Ed used to hold sharks and other marine creatures. John Steinbeck made Ed heroically famous in the Tortilla Flats and Cannery Row novels, and also included a 75-page biography in The Log From the Sea of Cortez book. [funny how all the real characters, including Ricketts, Steinbeck, Hemingway, and Jim Harrison too, were all extrovert whiskey-junkies].

Just past the aquarium is the posted-private, no-admittance, do-not-enter, no-tours-given 'Hopkins Marine Station', actually operated by Stanford Univ (who-are-these-guys-anyways?), which contains the old Monterey Boat Works and some cool old boats sitting in a field (below).

The best attraction in the area starts just beyond the Boat Works, being the seafront highway that extends for 6 or 7 miles around Point Piņos, with many tidepools where Ed Ricketts collected specimens back in the 1930s, and which has several miles of scenic walkway.

There is the lighthouse (left) at the end of Point Piņos, with some silly golf course in front of it. Nothing like the true appreciation of nature, as viewed while riding in a power-cart. Directly opposite the lighthouse are a few of the tidepools (center and right) where Ed Ricketts collected specimens back in the 1930s. The only animals seemingly present this day were 2 lone crabs and 2 small black fish, plus many 100s of hermit crabs in tiny shells. Of course, Ed would go in and turn over every rock and poke a stick into every crevice, and root out the unhappy residents to fulfill monetary commitments, prior to buying more whiskey. To judge the scale, the little sticks on the beach in the center image are actually people.

Just to the northeast of Monterey are the beach resort towns of Seaside [2] (pop 33,800) and Marina [2] (pop 25,200), sitting in the sand dunes that were once part of Fort Ord. Both towns look very much like bland city suburbs with a single main crossroad, replete with the usual shopping mall, and with comparable level of atmosphere. Amazing how the old towns, like Monterey, Pacific Grove, Carmel, and Salinas look so much less built-in-a-mold. There are many trails through the old Fort Ord dunes, snaking their way through tons of unexploded ordinance still buried in the sands.

On the road from Monterey to Seaside is the Naval Postgraduate School, located in the unbelievably plush Del Monte Hotel, originally built in the 1880s. It was constructed to be the most elegant seaside resort in the world. It's now a military country club, nicknamed the 'Billet at World's End'. See pictures.

Regarding stops on the return journey, Stockton [2] (pop 287,000, elev 15') is a fairly unexciting small city with a much boarded-up and rundown downtown area, located in the middle of the very hot Sacramento Valley (98-deg on 15 June), although it does have a couple of small colleges.

About 60-miles northeast of Sacramento on Hwy-49 (the famous 1849er gold-rush highway) in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains are the old gold-mining towns of Grass Valley [2] (pop 12,200, elev 2411') and Nevada City [2] (pop 2900, elev 2525').

Both towns have good-sized and very pleasant historical downtown areas, where the tourists swarm like bees, even on a weekday. Both towns are properly listed in The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America book (John Villani, 1998). Unfortunately, like most western foothill areas of the Sierra Nevada, the natural terrain here barely registers a 1.0 on the Scenic Richter Scale. Must go to higher elevations for 2.0 plus.

©, orig June 2010