RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: November 2016

Hiking and rambling around Maine

I have hiked or traveled in so many states throughout New England and loved them all, yet in all the years I’ve been traveling, for some reason I had not made it to Maine – big mistake. So, when a group hike along the coast of Maine in the autumn of 2002 popped up, I knew I couldn’t miss it. Beautiful coastal walks, farm country rambles, and a day trip to historic Monhegan Island, with homebases in Boothbay Harbor and Camden – joy! I could hardly wait!

I landed in Portland the night before joining the group, and connected with Susan – a hiking friend I’d met in Scotland some years back (great thing about hiking in groups: the friends you make). Wandering around Portland in the rapidly fading light, we felt the nip in the air, and stopped for dinner at a lobster house. I had what was apparently the last of the day’s lobsters, fresh out of the bay….in Houston, lobsters are cleaned up with not an unappetizing morsel to be seen. In Maine, you get the entire lobster, with something green and black attached to it…urgle! (And now I cannot eat a lobster at all.)

The next morning, ready to go, we joined the rest of our group from Country Walkers and vanned to Boothbay Harbor, where we were to stay at a charming New England inn.

1-boothbay-inn

Rooming with Susan, we settled into one of the small cottages surrounding the main house – captivating.

Boothbay Harbor is an appealing small town (2,000+ population) that developed as a fishing center, and now offers everything from boat tours to whale watching (we saw no whales).

1a-boothbay-img025

Hiking and walking through the surrounding countryside and town, the weather continued to be just about perfect, and the scenery the same.

3-beehives-img026

We meandered around an imposing mansion whose gardens were a swirling picture awash in color and scent: roses, lupines, marsh marigolds, black eyed susans, geraniums, asters and more I couldn’t recognize. Really beautiful, and certainly a gardener’s delight!

3-boothbay-ramble-img029-2

And the food was delish too…particularly when we ate at scenic outlooks, where picnic tables were set up. Love that!

Part of our hiking trip included the hour-long (more or less) ferry from Boothbay Harbor which deposited us on Monhegan Island on a day that was intermittently sunny, but turned misty and damp.

17-monhegan

We began our ramble around a fairly benign landscape, through lanes in woods laced with delicate greenery, over granite and boulders, and around some of the ubiquitous shingled homes and inns that dotted the landscape.

19-moneghan-img256-2

The island, an artist colony with about 12 miles of hiking trails, is situated 10 miles from the mainland. You can only get there by boat, and no cars are allowed. Nice! This was not a particularly grueling hike, but there is something to be said for a hike that allows you to inhale the fresh air, look at the beauty surrounding you, take photographs and just enjoy the sea breezes and intermittent sun.

Too soon, it was time to board the ferry for the return journey, and once we were on it, the fog descended in earnest. Good thing these people knew what they were doing, was my main thought as we moved through the dense mist.

Suddenly, from nowhere, an earsplitting blast … then the fog parted and we saw the side of an immense ship moving slowly not yards from our boat. Told to stay extremely still, we sat without stirring and as the ship moved through the fog and away from us, sigh of relief was palpable…yet, once safety reigned again, we were all slightly exhilarated by the adventure!

3-boothbay-ramble

After which it was back on the road again…to Camden.

10-camden-harbor-inn

9-camden-img104-3

Camden was an absolute joy to visit. The quintessential New England town, its narrow streets, delightful shops, galleries, inns and houses were very akin to those on Martha’s Vineyard, another favorite getaway of mine. Planting our luggage at the Camden Harbor Inn, we took off on a ramble around the town.

10a-camden-img032-1

It’s situated right on the coast, at the base of the mountains, so you can sit on the dock of the bay and look to the sailboats gliding gently across the deep blue water. The village green, designed by Frederick Law Olsted, Jr., one of America’s most prominent landscape architects, is a simple green swathe of lawn, trees, gardens and shrubs…just a beautiful place to sit and let your mind drift.

3-img023

A walk outside Camden took us through farm country, where Belted Galloway cattle grazed in green fields, black cattle with a wide white stripe circling their middle…cows I had never seen before (called by kids in Maine “Oreo Cookie Cows”).

 

The farmland was picturesque, like a picture come to life, with the fall trees in full color, and with the quiet of the countryside blanketing the landscape, and an occasional “moo” puncturing the stillness. But some of our hikes were more challenging.

10ab-camden-hiking-img039

15-hiking-in-maine-1

On a fairly overcast day, several of us opted to hike up Mt. Battie, a 1.5 mile moderate trail that was peaceful and serene.

20-mt-battie

The hike itself was quite laid back, as the trail ambled at a leisurely ascent around the mountain.

13-img104-6Atop the mountain we came to a large white cross, which can be seen from the valley below. The vista from the peak was fabulous: a panoramic view of Camden Harbor and Penobscot Bay, laid out like a fairy tale below our feet. Loved this little hike!

20-img302

5-img027

On the final chilly night in Camden, we all partook of a traditional lobster boil, sitting outside in the darkness on benches set on either side of trestle tables overlooking the bay. Bundled up in our parkas and boots, we set to: dinner was not just the lobsters (poor things!) but huge vats of boiling corn on the cob, tubs of melted butter, and chewy bread. Nothing like it in Houston, that’s for sure!

10a-camden-img032-2

Maine, with its iconic coastline and small towns, is a total delight…I loved every minute of this wonderful, albeit short, trip…. I like the feeling of “going back in time” when I visit New England and I like that a lot. Maine lived up to its promise…it’s a state I would like to revisit one day.

 

Advertisements

1975 Road Trip, Grand Canyon Part 1

ROAD TRIP, Grand Canyon – Part 1

My best friend Lana and I worked together at the same advertising agency back in 1975, and one hot sunny afternoon, decided to take our two-week vacation on the road…from Texas to California via the Grand Canyon. You have to forgive these photographs, because they are almost 40 years old!

It’d only been a few short years since the sixties, and we were still a naïve pair, setting off as if for a permanent move to the coast. We needed the break, picked the date, loaded up the car and were on our merry way. We had packed the trunk and backseat to the brim with everything we would need for our two week sabbatical and finally closed everything down on a mish-mash of clothes, books, butane stove (which blew up halfway there), tennis rackets (oh please), hair dryer, hot rollers, regular rollers, make up kits, coats, blankets, sleeping bags, towels and shoes. Hair spray – no food.

The weather looked extremely promising. Sunshine, few clouds, balmy. Ready for anything, we took off.

Document242A little over an hour later, we finally found the Hempstead Highway, a rather blighted thoroughfare, which would lead us out of Houston and onto the main highway to our first destination, the Grand Canyon. Drops of rain began to fall, and from then on, it was drizzle for the next hour or so, occasionally relieving the monotony by really slamming it down when things got dull.

We had stopped on the road to fill up with gas, and buy some much needed items, such as ice, Cokes, potato chips, sugar and Pream for the coffee. After checking the ice chest to make sure we had enough for two weeks and then some, we rolled on to the strains of “Sister Golden Hair” on the radio.

We got lost trying to leave Houston.

Document239

Why is it that when some well-intentioned soul gives us directions, we never fail NOT to follow them? After much discussion, we both decided “He’s wrong!” and proceeded to end up somewhere back downtown. Perhaps we’d been a bit hasty; after all, the man had lived in Houston for 40 years. Doubling back, we followed his instructions to the letter, and were actually on our way.

The day had turned a whiter shade of gray by this time, misty, drizzly. The forecast was not promising. We hadn’t left Houston, yet we were already down to half a tank of gas (about 55 cents/gallon).

The next gas station appeared just beyond a railway trestle around a sharp curve. Waiting at the curve for oncoming cars to pass by in order to turn across the road, a truck, unused to a car parked in the middle of a highway, came barreling towards us at 60mph. The squealing of tires, and the cursing of the driver did not go unnoticed, but we ignored it. He missed us by an inch.

Once we made it into the gas station, we discovered our air conditioner was not working –we were out of Freon. The gas station couldn’t help us, so onwards to the next town. It was close to noon on a Saturday, and everything was closed. In small Texas towns, everything closes at noon on Saturdays.

Document237

Well, did we need A/C? Apparently we didn’t – we could manage. Back onto the highway at a solid 75 mph, we headed onwards. The rain had faltered into a fine drizzle by this time, and sunny patches were beginning to appear. The freeway loomed ahead, mile after monotonous mile. At 75 mph, we barely seemed to be moving. But a black speck in the distance started to get bigger, and before we knew it, we were behind a fast-moving truck and a few motley cars.

Document240

The truck began drawing away from us, and at that moment, a giant tin sign propped on a wooden sawhorse hove into view, the truck clipped its side, tossed the sign into the air, and straight into our path. With no time to slow down and only a split second to utter a prayer, we headed right into it, and just before we rammed it, it slid beneath the wheels. Hmm. Somebody trying to tell us something?

Patting ourselves on the back for missing that close shave, we realized again, running low on gas. Seeing the Phillips sign ahead, we slowed to 50 mph onto the feeder, heading for the gas station. At the same moment, an old black Chevy roared out of a side road, turned the wrong way and headed directly towards our car – once again missing us by inches. Great road trip so far.

We gassed up the car and once more, were on the road again.

Document189

Driving out of Houston on the way to West Texas could not be a more monotonous road trip. The rain had stopped, the sun was full out, and a slight dusty haze clouded the air. The highway stretched before us like an iron carpet. You kept going and going and going, and never seemed to be getting anywhere! Like the Red Queen in “Alice in Wonderland,” you ran as fast as you could to (seemingly) stay in one place.

 

We switched seats, and Lana got behind the wheel. All we wanted by this time was to get across the border into New Mexico and find a decent place to rest. We passed Lubbock at a fast clip, and headed down the highway to the Texas border. Something moved on the grass verge, and a highway patrol car pulled swiftly and silently up behind us.

He stayed behind us for a minute or two, until we understood we were indeed the ones being followed. We pulled over, and so did the cop. “Do you know how fast you were going, Ma’am? You were going 76 in a 55 zone. Is there an emergency to warrant such excessive speed?”

Well, we were trying to make the next town before dark. “Ah’m sorry, ma’am,” replied the officer, “but that kind of emergency isn’t exactly what I had in mind. I’ll have to make you girls out a ticket. Let me ask you a few questions, and you can be on your way. You’ll have the citation in the mail by the 18th. By the way, where y’all goin’?”

We mentioned California, he handed us the ticket, and we headed down the open road… once again. The sun was beginning to sink into the west, shadows began to draw in, and all we wanted by this time was to get to Clovis, New Mexico. The highway just kept on going on and on, into nothingness. We thought if we saw one more cactus we’d go crazy.

Suddenly, a strong barnyard odor invaded the car, getting stronger and stronger, until it became overwhelming. Geez Louise. All we could see for acres around us were barns and more barns…and cows. More and more cows. We could have run the car on the gas from those cows!

We were beginning to wonder: would we never get across the border? Finally, as the sun turned into an orange ball and fired up the sky, we escaped over the New Mexico border and breathed a sigh of relief.

Too soon…more barns hove into view, carrying with them the same unadulterated aroma. It was too much! It inched through the windows and wiggled through vents and pervaded the Puffs we’d spread across our faces.

On the verge of hysteria, driving 55 mph the entire way, we plodded onwards toward Clovis. A gentle breeze wafted through the trees; the barns gave way to city lights, and a Holiday Inn came into view. Holiday Inn is not necessarily my idea of Nirvana…except just at this moment. Greasy and lank, we hobbled into the lobby. Although we looked like a couple of hobos, the desk clerk was extremely understanding, giving us a room what seemed like miles from the front office. Probably didn’t want to give the inn a bad name.

Never has a motel room looked so inviting. We completely unloaded the trunk, don’t ask why. Dumping all on the floor, scrabbling wildly for nightgowns and toothbrushes, we fell into our respective beds. The only sound heard for the rest of the night was the toilet flushing, and Lana bumping into the wall, or vice versa.

The next morning found us rested and refreshed. Leaping from the bed and stubbing the toe, I commenced to the bathtub for a long soak (probably needed a pickax to get the dirt and grime off). Once I mustered enough energy to move from the tub, I wrapped a towel around my parboiled form, and walked into the living area.

Perched on the floor looking like Betty Crocker after a bad batch of buns was Lana, holding a pan of water over the butane stove. “I’m boiling water for tea…if you take the pan, I’ll turn off the flame.”

Taking pan in hand, I turned to the cups, only to hear a garbled shriek from behind, as the stove had burst into flames, which were gushing from the top of the cylinder. This prompted a major huff and puff operation, and we succeeded in finally blowing out the flames…but unfortunately the gas was still pouring out.

No matter what we did, the stove was either in flames, or exhaling gas. Grabbing the directions, and reading about everything but turning the stove off, we did the only thing we could do: we kicked it – still aflame – out of the room into the adjoining field. We got hold of the bellboy at the front desk, who arrived promptly with a cylinder of aerosol foam, which put out the fire, but did absolutely nothing about the gas.

At this point, we packed our things, bought a cup of coffee, decided coffee shops and restaurants were the way to go in the future, and left the poor bellboy to get on with it.

Finally! The day was sunny and bright, not a cloud in the sky. We turned our faces toward the Grand Canyon, and hoped for the best. The road sped past and the air was clear.

Around midday, we noticed the empty gas tank; an Exxon station loomed on the horizon, and we pulled in. A friendly voice greeted our request to fill ‘er up, and we wandered to the Coke machine while things were being taken care of. A couple of minutes later, we were greeted by the same friendly voice advising us of an air bubble in one of our tires. Checking our spare, he pronounced it dead on arrival. So we bought a new tire. He’d seen us coming.

Two minutes later, the friendly attendant came strolling over. “Ya’ll need three new tires,” he mentioned. When asked why, he pointed out slits and bubbles galore, and once again we thought we were up against it. So three new tires were purchased.

New tires in place, we waved goodbye to our newfound friend, and hit the road. A few hours later found us zooming through Arizona to, we hoped, the Grand Canyon. There is something about being on the open road with nothing to think about that puts it all into perspective…sort of.

The flatness of the country began to change: we were coming up to Flagstaff. Mountains in the distance became not quite so distant, and the dry, deserty look began to give way to a misty green haze. We reached the base of a mountain, and stopped to take photographs from every imaginable angle, using up the two rolls of film we had with us. (Two photographs turned out.)

Finally: Flagstaff, a most picturesque little town, with curves, bends, hills and dales. We were enchanted just to be there, and when we saw a sign saying “To the Grand Canyon,” we thought we’d hit a home run. That was about 7PM.

We rolled on up the road, going this way, going that, and although we thought we were on our way to the Grand Canyon, it finally occurred to us that we were actually on the way to Mexico. Back we turned, but the multitude of signs did little to help. We stopped for directions.

Five minutes later, Lana turned to me and said: “He’s wrong!” and we once again proceeded on our own path…in the opposite direction. Once again, hopelessly lost. Once again, we agreed to stop questioning everything anyone ever told us, and managed to get back on the right road. We careened down the hill at full gallop, hit a gigantic bump, sending Lana bouncing all over the front seat of the car, me to the roof, and the ice chest’s contents all over the back seat.

But enough of all that. We were on the road, bound to be at the Canyon in about 30 minutes. We thought.

Document241.jpg CROPPED

The road rose steadily, and by this time it was completely dark. Black is the actual word for it. No lights, very few cars, and every curve held signs to watch for animals crossing (wild?). So we inched on.

Still, we almost headed full-tilt into three large cows, gently ambling across the road and into the thicket. So much for wild animals.

By this time, we were almost going backward, we were moving at such an infinitesimal pace. The highway, thicketed with trees which made the dark even darker, was extremely winding, making for a very unsafe journey. And once again – more cows!

We decided we weren’t going to be reaching our destination any time soon. Seat belts were also a good idea. But we couldn’t for the life of us unjam the safety belts, and breaking nails in the process was quite aggravating. We pulled into a side road, stopped and managed to dig the belts from under the seats. Then it was back on the road. Two hours later, a few lights far in the distance gave us faint hope, and eventually and at long last, a store came into view. We pulled in for directions; the store was closed, and a very large dog was taking care of the premises.

Time to move on again. But minutes later, we were at the Grand Canyon. We knew we were safe, except for the slight worry of driving off the edge. As it seemed to be the middle of the night – pitch black – with only large rocks marking the side of the road and what looked like infinite nothingness on the other side, we drifted along on a wheel and a prayer. And then Bright Angel Lodge was there!

Document191

We pulled the car into the parking lot and sat quietly for a moment. A few boys were seated on the railing, one strumming a guitar. The moon rose high in the dark blue window of sky and the pines whispered on all sides. The night air was distinctly chilly, and we thought longingly of jeans and sweaters, since we were still in our shorts and halter tops.

Our cabin was right on the Canyon rim; we picked up the key, drove round to the front door, and carried our luggage into what would become our home for two nights. Not much to look at from the outside, the interior was quaint and, better yet, clean. The beamed ceilings, pine board floors, lack of air conditioning and television and tub, and a non-working telephone, only added to the feeling of the middle of nowhere.

The one surprising feature was a lack of two beds. A single double bed, with a dip in the middle, was what we had to look forward to. But, exhausted (and starving), we thought it looked like heaven on a plate.

We were directed to the dining room with the admonition that it was about to close (it was after 11PM). We made it just before the final bell: the chicken was cold and the ribs were greasy, but all tasted like ambrosia. More importantly, we managed to find the pub, and had a revivifying drink. Then, bed. We planned to be up at dawn to watch the sun come up…ha!

Document202

Awake at nine (the sun didn’t wait for us), and juggling makeup, shower and hair in the tiny bathroom, we dressed and walked to back to the dining room. Jeans and backpacks were everywhere. In our dainty little shorts and tops, we looked as out of place as tulips in an oat field.

Document198

But we were ready to take our first real look at the Grand Canyon. The day was clear and clean – glorious. A few white clouds ruffled the sky, and a slight breeze rippled the feathery pines. Everything was in perfect harmony – including us – and we felt on top of the world as we walked along. The next thing we knew, we WERE on top of the world, looking down into the Canyon’s vast depths. It was a breathtaking sight, to be slightly pedantic about it. Too vast and awe-inspiring to be believed, on one hand … and unreal, just like a painting on a picture postcard, on the other. It stretched down to bottomless depths, and its cliffs jutted out at fantastic angles, throwing deep shadows across the vast expanse.

A tiny white ribbon of trail threaded its way through the Canyon floor; the river itself was hidden in the deep gulley in the depths of the Canyon, too far for the eye to see.

Document193

At first, we couldn’t get enough of the view, taking pictures from any and all angles. The sun was brilliant and hot, the sky vivid, Autumn was in the air. After wandering aimlessly for a while, we asked one of the passers-by to take our photograph. About ten minutes later, after the camera moved up and down around twenty times, the photograph was taken. Still have it, as a matter of fact (I hope the guy got an eyeful).

The rim of the Canyon was incredible. We wandered on, and about an hour later, came to another Lodge for a beer and snacks. It was so pleasant, sitting at the window looking out on the spectacular beauty of it all – extremely happy.

Document195

The remains of the day were spent running to the store for food, making sandwiches, taking photos, eating and watching people of all sorts – and in all sorts of dress – pass by. Hippies everywhere. So much fun! After a short nap, we walked down the trail…it was steep, but not too steep, and narrow, but not too narrow. A quaint feature was the mule droppings along the route; the aroma was enough to knock you over.

Document199

The Canyon’s fantastic sculpture revealed ledges, rocks and figures of fantasy. We climbed out to some of the furthest reaches, looking down, down, down. A very strange feeling, to be sitting on a finger of rock and have nothing but miles of space below. As we moved on, a small plane appeared from nowhere and flew through the Canyon, looking like a miniature bird. And here we were, connected to the ground, yet higher than a plane in flight. Very cool.

Before we turned back, a couple of guys hanging out on the path took our photo as we sat on a ledge overlooking a particularly steep cliff. To get to the ledge, we scrambled along a small trail about an inch wide, leaped across a small space (with nothing but air below) and perched on the rock just wide enough for two people.

The guys were pretty mellow; nothing like a couple of joints to make you unaware of the miles of space between you and the Canyon floor.

Lana and Rose hang out

Once again, back at the top, we decided to take a breather and a nap. Then we set out for a walk around the Canyon’s western rim. It was late afternoon, and the weather had cooled considerably. We took a blanket, with plans to sit and read on the rim. Which we did, until a swarm of bees decided to dive bomb us.

Document201

We moved upwards to a lookout point, where we sat on the rim with the entire Canyon spread below us. The sun began to fade. The Canyon became a shimmering mass of violets, pinks and greens, until the sun, a ball of gold, slipped from view and disappeared. Everyone seemed to sit in a kind of dream, until the bus showed up, and then everyone dashed madly to get a seat. We did not…get a seat, that is. We took off, and the bus, bouncing down the hills at 90o angles, constantly precipitated one or the other of us into someone’s lap.

Document196

Black as pitch, with just lantern light showing us our Lodge, we stumbled into our little shack, took quick showers, and began packing for the next day. We were due to leave at 7AM, so wasted no time getting everything together and falling into bed. Snore!

The next morning saw us up at (to us) the crack of dawn. We hastily piled everything into the car, and prepared for take-off. The car took off into the clearing, and stopped. One more time…halt. The engine was flooded. So much for the crack of dawn.

We finally barreled off down the mountain, reaching a small town an hour later, and pulled into a Phillips 66 station for gas

What a surprise when we were told by the attendant that our shocks were “gone, girl gone.” We left the car in the grimy hands of the attendant, asking him to hurry it up, and went to breakfast (which was delish – something about the air round there). We ambled back to the garage, only to be told “it’d be a good idea, ma’am, to put back shocks on as well, as they look a little worn.” For a change, we decided NOT, and he decided not to push the matter. Did he think we were neophytes here?

Then…on our merry way to California. Little did we know we were not to rest again until we reached the Golden Gate to San Francisco. Stay tuned for Part 2!

1975 Road Trip, California Part 2

Mickey Mouse ears

Dreaming of California

As we left Flagstaff and drove merrily along the road through the brilliant clear light, everything seemed perfect. The sun beat down, not a cloud in the sky. We were approaching the Mojave Desert when the temperature began to climb. At a small grocery store on the side of the road, we stocked up with ice, grapes, Cokes, orange juice, water, and set off.

The heat intensified, and the sun was blinding. And no air conditioner! Forgot to get Freon…. As we drove further and further into the desert, we covered up with damp towels and shirts to keep our skin from burning. We also rolled up the windows at times to keep the dust from blinding us. The car was baking – we have never been so hot in our lives.

Open road

But… it was fascinating to see the desert up close: so endless and dry, with the purple mountain’s majesty far away in the distance. The green of the Canyon scenery seemed just a dream.

We kept ice in our mouths as much as possible to offset the drying heat, gulping juice a mile a minute as the ice melted. We packed ice in towels with which we wiped our faces and necks constantly. With a sigh of relief, we saw Rose’s Restaurant appear like a mirage on the highway.

Rose's

We pulled up beside the trucks and motley array of vehicles, and made a beeline for the interior…oh, so cool! It helped to drink drink drink, and not eat at all. We hung about as long as we could, but all too soon, it became time to get back on the road.

As we walked out of doors, the heat smacked us in the face, wet, thick, hot. It was at least 130 degrees and getting back in the car (the windows had to be kept rolled up) was torture. More ice, and then onwards once again.

The asphalt highway cutting through the desert was the only sign of civilization after leaving Rose’s. The view of sand and dusty cacti stretched for miles. But, we actually drove through a small rainstorm there in the wilderness! We couldn’t believe it. A few cars had parked on the side of the road, and as we passed through that little black cloud, everyone at the roadside cheered. Doesn’t take much, does it?

After about seven hours of straight driving, the end of the desert at last seemed possible. And there was the sign: the California border – never was there a more welcome sight! But the desert wasn’t through with us yet. The highway became winding and hilly, and before too long, the golden-hued hills began to appear. Coming into California from this angle (through Needles), you can see why it is called the Golden State. The hills were covered in honey-colored grass, and the golden haze was everywhere. At times, the grass looked mown and brown, but closer observation revealed the golden-wheat color.

California hills

This lasted for an hour or so, and then once again desert appeared. We drove through barren land, and even more barren-looking towns, until finally, around 7PM, we arrived in Bakersfield. We drove through the town and decided to go a few miles further before settling in for the night.

About 30 miles beyond Bakersfield, we stopped (yet again) at a gas station to fill up, and asked for the nearest motel. “It’s back in Bakersfield.” We looked at one another and decided, “He’s WRONG” and on we went. Our biggest mistake of the journey!

We drove, and we drove, and we DROVE. At one point, we debated returning to Bakersfield, but decided something had to turn up in the way of a motel or hotel…or… something…anything? (Somehow, we’d forgotten about the sleeping bags.)

It was 3AM, and it seemed the night became blacker and blacker, and the road stretched out longer and longer. Suddenly, in the middle of nowhere, a gigantic gothic inn loomed. (This was two years before The Eagles’ “Hotel California,” but every time I hear that song, I think of this hotel.) There was nothing else around…just this huge imposing structure. We were exhausted, and looked incredibly awful, but at that point we didn’t care how creepy it seemed or we looked.

And apparently it didn’t matter anyway, because, lucky us, no rooms were available. We had to get back in the car and drive on. We found the freeway, which at that time of the morning was filled with nothing but semis, driving like bats out of hell. It was surprising to us how black the night was, and how isolated we were on this freeway to, seemingly, nowhere. But suddenly, we saw lights at a distance far off the road.

We pulled off the freeway, into a wide swathe of vineyard, lit every so often by a tiny lamp. What did we know – we kept driving in. Then, in the middle of it all, there appeared a telephone booth. And a man talking on the phone. I was about to pull up, ask him for directions, when Lana whispered “He’s got a gun!” Surreal! We both swallowed, and putting the car in reverse, backed and swung around towards the freeway again.

Not having learned our lesson, we noted more lights a little further on…and this time what looked to be a tiny town a mile or two off the feeder. It may have been a town, but there were no motels anywhere to be found. And if ever a town could be said to have slept, this was definitely the one. Not even a dog barked.

The only thing to do was continue on our way to San Francisco. And get to San Francisco, we did, found a Holiday Inn with an available room, and crashed. We didn’t wake until afternoon. But oh, to finally get there! Ecstatic is not too broad a term for how we felt!

Happy happy happy

And the sky was blue, the sun shone, hippies and flower children everywhere, the atmosphere incredibly buoyant…it was everything we’d hoped for.

Happy again

The first thing we did after having a late lunch/early dinner was look up Lana’s old friend from college, with whom we were going to stay for a few nights. Having got that settled, we all took off to look around San Francisco. It really did fulfill our ideas of what California would be like – the weather was glorious, people were friendly (since we’d cleaned up), the shops and cafes were enticing, the views – incredible.

We rode on the trolley,

TROLLEY

drove up and down twisty, crooked little Lombard Street,

Lombard Street

and hung out at Fisherman’s Wharf, where we wandered around very happily for a while.

View in San Francisco

Then we wound our way to Haight Ashbury, which we’d both wanted to see (a few years too late, but what the hey…). The Haight was not what it had been – mostly, no-one was there! But the atmosphere reminded you of what used to be….

Haight Asbury

After a few photo ops, we met back at the house for dinner and to make our plans for the next day. We had a good night’s sleep, got back in the car and drove to the Golden Gate Bridge and the Park, so beautiful in the soft sunlight.

Then it was on to Sausalito, a sunny little town on the edge of the water, filled with boutiques, art galleries, hippies, cafes and the sea, endlessly lapping at the town’s edge. A mime was taking a break in a sheltered corner, and he seemed to embody the spirit of this quintessentially California town. I heard “California Dreamin’” on the radio somewhere.

On to Sausalito

I didn’t want to leave.

Shopping in Sausalito

After a bit of shopping and buying

Sausalito

and wandering the waterfront,

Sausalito waterfront

we ate our late lunch and planned our trip down the coast to Carmel: the Scenic Pacific Coast Highway Drive (Hwy. 1). We wanted to take our time, stop along the way to look at the amazing views of the Pacific Ocean, and try to spot celebrity homes nestled in the cliffs.

Seagulls

That night, as we were walking around Fishermen’s Wharf, the fog rolled in. It wasn’t a few swirls of mist, it was a palpable blanket of gray rolling across the waterfront into town. I’d heard about how dense the fog could be, and to experience it was a real trip. And even though it was August, the temperature had dropped a LOT, so it was cold to boot. We were glad we wore jackets. But the fog made everywhere we looked that much more mysterious and fascinating.

Coast road

The day we set off towards Los Angeles, the weather was overcast and much cooler, which didn’t dim our spirits in the slightest. The coast drive was so beautiful, it was hard to be anything other than in awe of the spectacular scenery.

Flowers everywhere

Masses of yellow gorse and wildflowers covered the cliffs, and plunged over the edges. The sea below thundered and crashed in foamy white rollers, and the cries of sea birds mixed with the sound of the waves. The other side of the road led to the redwoods, pine forests and rolling hills. This was one of the (many) reasons we came to California…just everything you dreamed of.

We stopped at many recesses along the road, wanting to capture as many images as we could…but of course nothing (in those cameras) shows the rawness and majesty of that natural region. You just had to be there.

We had been told Kim Novak lived in one of the houses precariously balanced down on the cliff face, so naturally we had to check every post box along the way!

Postboxes

Never were sure if we finally pegged the house she lives in, but all the dwellings along this stretch of the coast looked as if one good blow, and they’d drop into the sea below. Wonderful views – as long as the house lasted.

Cliffs

Eventually we came to Carmel, but (as seems to be our destiny), no rooms were available at any inn. So we turned to Monterey – seemed there were plenty to be had there. We dumped our luggage and took off for Carmel. We wanted to shop, and we wanted to go to Clint Eastwood’s Hogs Breath Inn.

Carmel

We managed to do both…the shops were charming and super-expensive. The Hogs Breath Inn was exactly what a Clint Eastwood inn would be like: dark, cozy, welcoming, big fire burning in the patio, great food. But no Clint.

The next day, we wandered to the white sands of Carmel Beach. By this time, it was pretty chilly, and I had on my wool coat. Lana had bought a denim coat here, which I coveted…but I was now running low on funds. New coat vs. eat and drink. Tough choice, but… drinking seemed to be the order of the day!

Carmel BeachWe padded around the sand, noticing how the cedars were bent double with the ever-prevailing winds. It was a lonely spot at that time of year, and especially with the darkness looming. Quite eerie. But nice.

Carmel Beach

We didn’t spend much time in Carmel, as our time was actually running out. After a couple of days wandering the narrow streets, checking out the boutiques and art galleries, and falling in love with the fairy tale design of the whole place, we had to pack our bags and get back on the road.

Big Sur…90 miles and counting of one of the most incredible coastlines in the world. Once you experience the beauty of the drive, you never forget it. We passed Hearst Castle, which was closed…(I think there’s a theme here somewhere)…so we viewed it at a distance as we continued to Santa Barbara for lunch.

Santa Barbara

The day had suddenly, miraculously, turned sunny, and the boats in the marina, white-sailed and blue-painted, were massed together like so many seabirds. We stood on the dock, looking across the bay and up the hills thinking how lucky some were to live in the midst of all this stunning scenery.

yacht basin The seagulls joined us for an outdoor lunch, and then it was back in the car to Los Angeles, where we managed to nab a room for the nights we’d be there. Our plan was to tour the homes of the stars, go to Disneyland, and experience one of the movie studio tours before continuing down the coast.

We woke the following morning to the yellowest, densest smog we had ever seen. The sky was citronella-yellow, and the TV shows ladled out advice about how to handle it. Basically, the advice was stay put, but hard to do that when your time is limited. We ran down to the coffee shop for breakfast, and as we were finishing, the smog began to lift.

Lana at Disneyland

After noon, things were more or less back to normal, so the first thing on the list was Disneyland. The most I can say is: crowds, crowds and more crowds. We took a few of the rides, and wandered everywhere, people watching (and a few watching us, if the photos are anything to go by.)

Ro at Disneyland

I took a picture of the most adorable little girl in Mickey Mouse ears, which I am so glad to have saved. This child is probably around 40-45 years old today. Time flies…

Mickey Mouse ears

The next on our itinerary was a bus tour of homes of the stars…which we enjoyed. It was nice to have someone else driving us for a change. I can’t remember for the life of me whose homes we saw, but suffice it to say, all gorgeous, all big.

Universal studios

The following day, we stood in line to tour Universal Studios, after which, it was Graumann’s Chinese Theatre …

Graumann's Chinese theater

We drove by The Brown Derby, which by this time had started to lose its cachet, and gazed at Schwab’s Drugstore where Lana Turner was discovered.

Schwab's

The sun was intense, it was still somewhat smoggy, so drinks seemed to be in order. Then dinner. And a good night’s sleep was had by all.

The next day we headed to Balboa,

Balboa

one of the prettiest little towns along the coast, similar in tone to Carmel, but newer and at that moment, sunnier.

Balboa shops

All the street lights were hung with flowering baskets, fountains sprouted at every cross street, everything seemed freshly painted, and the sand looked SWEPT. Hot pink bougainvillea draped itself across walls and fences.

Yikes on the sunglasses

It was lovely…almost too good to be true (see above: these must be the worst sunglasses in the world!). We spent the night here (actually found a motel) and walked to the beachfront for dinner, under the stars. It was such a pleasant place to be….for a short time. I say this because it was so clean and scrubbed, the charm of the old had not settled in. That’s one thing I loved about Carmel: charming with character and history. (OK, maybe Balboa does have a history, but I didn’t know it at the time.)

fountains

Next stop on the agenda: San Clemente, which is another one of those California coastal towns that is lovely and small. We drove by Richard Nixon’s compound (he didn’t wave), and then we turned our car towards the open road, and home.

San Clemente

We drove back through the desert without incident, to Albuquerque and its bowl of jeweled lights seen from atop a mesa.

Then on through west Texas and back into Houston, where we dumped everything that was in the car onto the driveway, with some vague thought of burning it all! What a trip…we had the best of best times, and sealed our friendship into the bargain.

2 happy girls

Life’s good, isn’t it?! (But we never did get our A/C fixed.)