20 March – The isolation of the desert was all but left behind as we headed back towards civilization and Victorville before going on to the Saddleback Butte State Park to the north of the San Gabriel Mountains which are themselves north of the LA megatropolis. There were only a handful of people staying at this site, and the wildflowers were actually playing ball here. There were swathes of yellow coreopsis scattered around and the scent was devine. We had a walk up in and around the park to take advantage of this sight. There must have been a bit of rain around here to bring them out in flower.
20 March – After doing a dump and fill up with water we set off via Lancaster for the California State Poppy Reserve which sadly was a disappointment as the drought has had a severe effect on the poppies. Where there should have been fields of these brilliant yellow and orange flowers, there were only a handful here and there. Another planned stop at an Indian Museum also met with disappointment as it was only open a couple of days a week and this wasn’t one of them. As we came down over the last range of hills we started to see a bit more farmland and the further west we came the greener it started to get. Our stop for the night was in BLM land on the Carrizo Plains – right on the San Andreas faultline. We parked on a barren bit of land beside the road with a small dry soda lake just up the road.
21 March – Our progress today was by good road alongside the almost dry Santa Maria River through a ravine in the Sierra Madre Mountains first to Solvang – a community first set up by Danish settlers and the tradition has been kept alive – the town was full of windmills, Danish pastry shops and buildings very much in the Danish Style. The main reason for coming to Solvang however was the motorbike museum run by Dr Virgil Elings, which Bob had been told not to miss – so after establishing where it was located and having it opened up for him he was able to spend a couple of hours drooling over the great range of bikes including a Britten, and a few Nortons of course. With that appetite satisfied all that was needed was a nice coffee and pastry to finish off – which we duly did. Had hoped to stay the night in the Indian run Casino down the road, but although their website said they had RV parking – it was off in another location and you had to get a shuttle to the casino – not what we had in mind so we ventured off down the road to a State Park on the Cachuma Lake. This had a large campground and was quite busy with lots of families who had come to enjoy a weekend of boating and BBQ’s.
22 March – Finally made it to the coast at Gaviota Beach west of Santa Barbara – this small state park had a campground (which turned out to be closed for maintenance) and a small picnic area. The beach accessed from here was just a small cove with a large trestle railway bridge above it. There was a jetty going out into the deeper water utilized for boat launching, but that was also closed. The weather has changed since hitting the coast – quite a bit cooler and much cloudier. The visibility out to sea wasn’t that great but we could see four oil rigs on the horizon. We had our lunch and went back up the road to Lompoc in search of somewhere to stay – a small River Park campground (although the river it borders was completely dry) had a spot for us so we reserved our spot and then went off just a little further up the road to visit La Purisima Mission. This mission had been completely restored by the CCC – California Conservation Corps in the 1950’s after it had been abandoned and almost ruined completely. The Corps were a bit like a cross between our Taskforce Green and conscripted army boys. They were housed in barracks and for a few dollars a week set about reconstructing the entire mission. The reconstruction was done using as original methods as possible (with underlying modern supports) and it is a real credit to them. The mission itself was in its time a huge place with around 15,000 cattle, sheep and mules. The monks were of course in the business of converting the local Indians and they provided a lot of the labour needed to make the mission self sufficient. In the course of bringing in all the stock and grazing the land, it then became unsuitable for the Indians to carry on with their traditional way of life.
The mission started off in a completely different area but it was destroyed by a large earthquake, so was rebuilt in its current location. The original mission was built in the standard layout of a quadrangle, but because of this layout the loss of lives was great during the earthquake; when they rebuilt the mission it was done in long blocks instead. The mission had its own weavers, blacksmiths, leather workers, candle makers, olive press, orchards and gardens. Passing visitors were able to stay at the mission in quite luxurious accommodations and were always assured of good food and wine.
Before going back to our park – we stopped off to stock up on provisions at an amazing grocery outlet store and stocked up on quite a lot of very cheap food – compensation for having to pay for camping!!
23 March – Started on our progress up the coast. Driving around this region it is so much like NZ – there are green hills, lots of trees – the only difference is the sheer size of everything. We came through a heavily irrigated market gardening area – and the size of the strawberry fields make our’s look like pocket handkerchiefs. We bought some strawberries yesterday and they were a complete disappointment – they looked nice and red but they were as hard as the hobbs of hell and not terribly sweet – I am not sure what they do to them to get them red but it certainly didn’t enhance their flavour.
Drove for quite a long time through the Vandenburg Airforce Base area and then hit the coast at Oceano and Pismo Beach – not to our liking at all – packed with people and built up. We had heard you could stay right on the beach but weren’t willing to risk getting stuck in soft sand and as I said the area wasn’t that appealing to us. We instead opted to head out to a more remote State Park – Montana del Oro and were pleased with the choice. A small campground set back a bit from the ocean in a pretty setting. Our budget is going to take quite a hit all the way up this coast as there is no BLM land and State Parks all have set fees of around $23-25 per night – hopefully this should only be for 10 days or so and then we can get back to more frugal options and make our dollar last a little better.
The weather has been the greatest change for us – since hitting the coast, the temperature has dropped several degrees and the mornings are often quite cloudy with the sun not showing until noonish. We may even be in for a speck of rain in a few days time. Once away from the built up areas the coastline is quite rugged with some great rock formations.
24 March – Day two at Montana del Oro – nice lazy start to the day and then had a nice walk out along the coastline. Loads of little ground squirrels have made them homes in the soft sandy soil and the power of the air and sea was also present with large areas of the cliffs eroding away. The sea was not too rough and with the tide out we were able to explore some tidal pools. There are big beds of surfgrass on the rocks and kelp in the deeper parts. The rock pools had quite a lot of pink and white pieces of coral which had been broken off by the surf – and the usual crabs and mussels. The sun has been in and out all afternoon.