The drive still has the red line painted down the middle of the road, making it easy to avoid the McMansions and golf courses and stay on the road we wanted. The signposts for the various points of interest along 17 Mile Drive are still there, but are pretty beat up and faded, as are any picnic benches or anything else put in place for their paying public--you can tell that the money they collect isn't spent on anything for those peasant slobs that take the drive, it's all going in someone's pocket.
At least nature puts on a quality show, although the weather was a bit overcast. The trees have beautiful Spanish Moss hanging in them.
Further down we stop at one of the main beach/picnic areas along with a bunch of other people. The bird crowd knows the drill and waits to see if you have food...
...and when they see that you do, have themselves a little bird frenzy.
I showed the kid how skilled seagulls are in particular--my dad used to take us to the beach when we were kids and showed us how to toss bits of food into the air where a seagull would snag it right out of the air, or hold a bit of food up in your hand and the gulls would do a flyby and just snatch it cleanly out of your fingers, you'd never feel a thing.
She had a grand time feeding the birds and watching how skillful they were. This was like the seagull version of Top Gun.
Politely waiting their turn...
Happy Food Dance!
We only passed out a couple of food bits and then went on our way, even if the juvenile Gray gulls were cute.
The seagulls don't like to give up on a food possibility though. I heard the pitter-patter of little feet behind me and turned to see an entourage following us.
There was an old man with four dogs who scolded us a bit for feeding the birds. I bit my tongue and didn't lecture him in return about how his four dogs were chasing birds and disturbing their habitat, we just walked away. Some people will do everything they can to suck the fun right out of any given situation.
Farther down the beach was a boardwalk, at the end of it we found these guys posing. I like the 'Attack of the 50 Foot Seagulls' perspective with the people in the background.
The kid goes off to explore the beach while I sit with the gulls and watch the ocean. Pretty soon she returns with a NEW kelp buddy. This one is considerably larger than the one in Cayucos and requires dragging.
It's heavy! Hey, it's hard work dragging a stinky kelp chunk hither and fro along the beach!
Off she goes again with her new friend slung over her shoulder. She reports that there is a dead seal lying on the beach. I give her the standard mom 'Leave it alone' command, which thankfully she does.
Down the beach a but further, someone had themselves a campfire and used bits of charcoal to mark their passage on the rocks. One has the name 'Nolan', another 'August 2014'.
The Monterey pennisula has beautiful scenery. Kelp beds float on the water.
Lots of examples of California's seismic-enhanced rocks.
Monterey Pines doing their classic thing from the winds that shape them.
Seal Rock. Even though it was a bit offshore, it was covered in seals and birds, was LOUD and STANK to high Hell.
...and more craptacular golf courses encroaching like freakin' weeds on the scenic areas. I sincerely hope that they have a major seal poop problem here.
The point was populated with tons of birds and little ground squirrels.
These little guys were quite bold and cute as Hell--and they knew it.
Several of them had mastered the art of begging, along with the ohsocute little extended paw wave thing which turned every human watching into a puddle of goo. 'Awwww...!" They did this whether you had food or not, they'd give it a shot.
The kid had several come over and stand on her foot. If you stood still and didn't respond with food they'd start to climb your leg.
You could tell at a glance who the most successful beggers were. Fatso here, for example.
He noticed us laughing at him and waddled on over. We told him we weren't going to feed him and he wandered off to beg elsewhere.
Some of the homes along 17 Mile Drive did have gorgeous architecture that fit well in the area.
Granted, there was another just down the road that was bright yellow, but hey.
We gawked at the trees a bit more and headed out, back towards Salinas.
The stretch of road between Monterey and Salinas is interesting. Lots of farmers in Salinas have planted tons of wildflowers along the edge of their produce fields which makes for a nice drive. Mostly we saw fields of lettuce, tomatos, the ubiqitous brussel sprouts and beans. I told the kid that a little farther north it was mostly garlic and artichokes.
We stopped for lunch at another place I remembered from years ago (back when it was Gregory's), now called Tarpy's Roadhouse, a beautiful place despite the 'roadside grill'-type name. Fantastic service (thanks, Nick!) and an elegant setting with amazing food. We got to sit out in the garden, I had the maple-brined pork chop and the kid had the baby back ribs--and we were both rolling our eyes and muttering about how good it all was.
We needed to head out, so we got on the road for Merced. We explored one of the side roads a bit along the produce fields and found this abandoned old place, the Rincon Cafe. It also has 'Rancho Rincon' painted on it.
One of our planned stops was at a well-known tourist trap called Casa de Fruta. Originally a farm stand out on Highway 152 in Hollister, Casa de Fruta has come to fully embrace it's tourist trappyness and has grown to be a huge complex--I swear you can see it from space. It reminds me strongly of Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park when I was a kid, it has a very park-like setting. Along with the original produce store, there is a now a train, a carousel, a pond with a ton of peacocks running around, a petting zoo, a gas station, a restaurant, a candy shop, a gift shop...it goes on and on. They've gone kinda nuts with the whole 'Casa de' theme, and all of their little attractions have it incorporated into their name.
The double-decker vintage Italian carousel is beautiful.
To it's credit, the carousel is rejecting the tacky-crappy gold spray paint and it's peeling away to reveal the original soft colors underneath. I wonder who the dipshit was that painted over the 'Venetian Carousel' and pretty hand-painted flowers.
The train station
The candy store was an orgy of sugar. Ten pound blocks o' fudge? We got 'em.
Giant gummi bears the size of squeeze-bear honey dispensers? We got those, too.
The kid gets herself a 4 foot long gummi rattlesnake and we go off to explore the rest of Casa de Fruta. They have some fruit crate label art painted along the side of one building.
I love this guy's 1000 yard stare.
In amongst the old-timey, cute complex we suddenly came upon this outside the restaurant. Because, y'know, stocks are part of family fun!
The kid saw the water wheel/sluice area and had to try it.
The only ones around were the birds.
We get ourselves a bag of sand and follow the directions...
Dump it into the sluicebox...
Right as the kid gets started, one of the peacocks suddenly comes RUNNING across the grass, warbling his head off at us as he flies up to the top of the water wheel.
The treasures the sluicebox yielded--some pyrite, a shark tooth, some pretty polished rocks and an arrowhead.
The peaboss stayed where he was.
After this is it was getting dark, so we headed out and continued to Merced, our stop for the night. Once it got dark we encountered a very strange bug blizzard that lasted at least 4 miles, bugs pattering off the windshield like some kind of disgusting rain.
We eventually got to our hotel, another Holiday Inn. This one, thankfully, had potable water, did not smell of brussel sprouts and had normal towels.
Tomorrow, Yosemite and our last day of vacation!