Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Summing Up

As we were leaving we found a clear view of Hearst Castle from the beach area, the best weather we have had here.

On a Clear Day You Can See...

Our goal for the day was to arrive at Nepenthe, near Big Sur, by 11:30am--opening time--for one of their delicious Ambrosia Burgers. We actually arrived about 45 minutes early and took the opportunity to browse the Gift Shop downstairs. They are not cheap, but they have delightful curios. They also have an interesting book selection. This time I was intrigued by the section on books of lists: The simple idea was that each book had a theme, provided a caption for each page, and you provided the content. For example, a book on relationships might have a heading, Characteristics of A Best Friend.


We decided to enjoy ourselves; we began with caffeine.

Claire's Cappuccino

Chuck's Latte

Since the weather was so perfect, we chose an outside table, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Outside Table at Nepenthe

We decided on the Ambrosia Burger with bean salad as our entree.

Ambrosia Burgers All Around

Since we were willing to splurge on this final day of our trip, we also had dessert. Claire and I had banana cream pie and Letha and Tai had a slice of four layer chocolate cake. The service was terrific and the food was great.

We stopped at both Winco and Costco on the way home, since we had little food in the house. We finally arrived home at 5:30pm. It took another hour to unpack. We had a light meal and a movie as our welcome back home. Be it ever so humble...We were both glad to be back.

A miscellany of observations and comments from the trip.

We have relied heavily on Susan, our loyal TomTom GPS, on our trip. She has been extremely helpful through all the States, even rural areas. The only complaint I have is that she seems to be consistently inaccurate when calling out the number of feet before the next turn--I am "sure" she slightly overestimates the distance, which is confusing; but, once we accepted this, we were able to adjust to her misstatements.

The peals of thunder in the Southwest were long and loud. I do not recall ever hearing such lengthy thunder. The lightening that precedes the sound appears (to me) brilliantly white--not yellow, as it appears in other areas. It sometimes occurs 24 times in a single day. But, the showers never last long.

The relatively recent and revised wisdom of allowing forest fires to burn in order to avoid later, devastating fires is not followed in some National Parks: This is to protect both archeological sites and people.

We loved our Senior National Parks Pass that cost only $10 and is good for life. It entitles the owner to bring a carload or 3 guests--where per person fees are levied. It is hard to imagine a better deal, unless you go to Canyon de Chelly, where there is no admission fee.

We have encountered our largest examples of road kill on this trip, both on the same day: A cow and a dog. I also saw a young mountain lion along the side of the road.

Rangers do not appreciate being compared to guides. In other words, National Park Rangers meet high standards and private guides may not.

We enjoyed learning about Navajo codetalkers before we took this trip. There are many reminders of them throughout this area. Clearly this is a matter of great pride. Native Americans served with distinction in WWII and they love their country--but this is associated more with love of the land than with a governmental system. We learned that Indians were not given citizenship until 1924 and could not vote until 1948. Sadly, we have witnessed much poverty throughout this area. (This is judging by our standards; we are not sure how Native Americans see living in rural housing with wood or, at best, propane heating, no indoor plumbing, and no running water. In many cases they must cart in their own water and propane, because the population is too sparse and the roads too crude for larger vehicles to pass.)

The Civilian Conservation Corps provided labor to create many of the National Park trails, often with steps carved in stone. This was part of the New Deal and the economic activity to spend our way out of the Great Depression.

I tried to order a beer with dinner one night in AZ and was informed that no alcohol was allowed as we were on tribal lands.

We relied heavily on Frommer's Arizona & the Grand Canyon guide for this trip. It was generally satisfactory. There were, however, some disappointments:
  • Elevations are not given. This would help plan for clothing.
  • Populations are not given. This would help plan for buying food or locating restaurants and motels.
  • Locations are not given for post offices, grocery stores, ATMs, laundromats and gas stations.
There has been a fair amount of Deja Vu on this trip through the Southwest:
  • Petroglyphs reminded us of Hieroglyphics in Egypt.
  • Mushroom rocks reminded us of the White Desert in Egypt and Cappadocia in Turkey.
  • A plethora of foreign languages reminded us of all of Europe.
  • Kivas and pithouses reminded us of Skara Brae in the Orkneys, Scotland.
  • Rain like in England--occasionally but briefly.
  • Navajos are Athabaskans and share the language of their Alaskan cousins.
The U.S. has some of the best natural beauty in the world. We hope you enjoy these comparisons:

Slot Canyon, Bryce, AZ
Siq, Jordan Canyon de Chelly, AZ
Scala dei Turchi, Sicily
Painted Desert, AZ
Cappadocia, Turkey
Zion, UT
Petra, Jordan Mesa Verde, UT
Petra, Jordan Kiva House, Mesa Verda, CO
Stone House, Skara Brae, Scotland Inn, Painted Desert, AZ
Nubia House, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Total mileage for the trip: 3,533 miles--equal to driving across the country.
Total cost for the trip: $4,595 (for 25 days).
Total worth of supportive planner and tolerant partner on the trip: Priceless.

Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey. ~ Fitzhugh Mullan

Friday, September 30, 2011

Heart Castle, Revisited

Today we did two tours of Hearst Castle at San Simeon: First, Upstairs Suites and then Cottages and Kitchens. Again, Letha and Tai were with us. We planned both tours for morning so that our afternoon would be free for lunch, a walk and some down time.

The guides are consistently impressive; they prefer to have people ask questions to inform them of our interests (and maybe to keep themselves from becoming stale from constant repetition; but, they are rotated among the several tour offerings--so that helps, too.)

We were able to walk through several levels of the Castle and look into many of the rooms--there are something like 168 rooms in Casa Grande alone! The cottages are larger than many homes--and they don't even have kitchens.

Ready to Wear

Mantle and Fireplace. Hearst collected mantles; so, he built fireplaces to showcase them.

Ceiling. Hearst also collected ceilings--and room sizes (plans for them) would often be modified to accommodate his collection.

Wallpaper. This room has a curtain-like covering on the walls; this means that the hard surfaces need not be finished--and they aren't!


Guest Bedroom. Every guest had their own bathroom, even when the bedroom is shared. This would be unusual even for a grand home in the early 20th Century.

Library. Part of his world-class Greek pottery collection is here; much of the remainder has been sold to important museums around the world. The Castle is now a museum and it is not permitted to dispose of any remaining works of art.

Walk-in Closet

Nepture Pool, Ground Level. There was a function yesterday evening and we were not permitted to be on the pool level. Today, we were able to roam at will.

Study. Hearst had a private floor--shared only with his partner: either his wife or Marion Davies, depending on what time period we consider. Regular guests were not permitted on this level.

Old Ceiling. This ceiling dates from before the time of Christopher Columbus.

Wine Bottles. The wine cellar was never visited by guests and was purely functional--no frills at all. The wine remaining here is no longer meant for consumption, and the upright bottles are empty. There are full bottles packed in straw; these date from the late 1800s.

Bell Tower. We had a clearer view of things, today--there was less fog.

Stairway to Sleeping Loft. A few of the guest rooms were split level--the sleeping area above and the sitting room below. We loved this wooden stairway.

Dispelling the Rumors. Apparently it is not true that this bed once belonged to Cardinal Richelieu. But, David Niven is supposed to have smuggled bottles of booze in here, against all rules, and left the empties in nooks in the bed. Hearst permitted drinking, though it is said he watered down the hard liquor--he liked good conversation, not drunks.

Cute Vase

The last area to view on this tour was the kitchen, which was enormous and state of the art. There was an enormous metal-topped table that served as a preparation area and had an enclosed steam table beneath, to keep food and plates warm.

Tai in the Kitchen

Two German Draft Beers Were Always on Tap

Industrial Grade Mixer

Pressure Cookers

Prototype Costco Roaster

Servant's Dining Room. Servants often ate in here; they were well-paid (by the standards of the day) and they ate what guests did.

Having finished the tour, we walked around the garden and outside a while, to get a final impression of this grandiose place.

Menage a Trois. Just at this picture was being snapped, a guard came scurrying over to remind us that there was no touching of the museum objects!

Leaving the Castle, we were hungry and drove to Cambria to look around and have lunch.

Letha and Claire With Scarecrow. The town of Cambria was having a contest to see who could come up with the most clever idea. There were scarecrow figures all over town doing various things. The Catholic Church had a priest and a group of singing nuns for their entry.

Letha had wanted to eat at this location for several days--they arrived before we did. Today is the day.

Fab Four at Lunch in Cambria

Claire's Lunch of Fish Tacos

Chuck's Breast of Chicken Sandwich

An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered. ~ Gilbert K. Chesterton

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Hearst Castle

Today we met our friends Letha & Tai. We will be doing 3 tours of William Randolph Hearst's Castle, together, one today and two tomorrow. Today we visit Casa Grande.

There is no flash photography inside Hearst Castle and this is the only inside shot we ventured to take. Even some outside shots were difficult, due to the intense fog that always threatened to lift--but never quite managed to do so. We could not see the Castle from the entrance, nor could we see it on the winding road up the hill. The weatherperson had predicted sunny and clear in the pm; but, we all know what liars they are. We hope for clearer weather tomorrow.

Billiards Room Ceiling. This European ceiling, the second oldest on the estate, dates from before Columbus sailed to the New World.

According to Wikipedia, "The estate is a pastiche of historic architectural styles that its owner admired in his travels around Europe. Hearst was an omnivorous buyer who did not so much purchase art and antiques to furnish his home as built his home to get his bulging collection out of warehouses. This led to incongruous elements such as the private cinema whose walls were lined with shelves of rare books. The floor plan of the Main Building is chaotic due to his habit of buying centuries-old ceilings, which dictated the proportions and decor of various rooms."

The guide noted several times that Hearst never referred to this home as a 'castle.' He usually called it "the ranch"--there was a 250,000 acre ranch he owned surrounding the home. As a child (long before construction on the castle began), he referred to it as "camp hill." Formally, he later named it "La Cuesta Encantada" (Enchanted Hill).

Outside, we browsed around the colorful gardens until it was time to take the bus down the 5 mile drive back to the Visitor Center at sea level. There is a drop of approximately 1600 feet on this trip.

Cottage With Flowers

The decor and architecture actually work well together; but, it is an actual hodge podge of styles from across the world and the centuries--from Egypt in 3,000 BC to Europe in the 1600s.

Cottage Exterior

I thought several of the statues were very appealing. I was especially touched by the first one for its tender sentimentality.

Statue in Garden

Another Statue in Garden

Statue in Garden, Finale

Teak Exterior, Front, Casa Grande

Castle Bell Tower

Neptune Pool is a gorgeous construction that we were unable to approach closely, today; they were preparing for an event this evening.

Work on the castle stopped in 1947 when Hearst stopped living here because of ill health. Here is evidence of this incomplete state of construction.

Unfinished Castle

Monarch in the Garden

On the descent we were on the lookout for wildlife remaining from the zoo. We spotted several zebras grazing near a small herd of cattle at the bottom of the ranch.

We had a quick lunch nearby and drove to our Motel 6 to check in and prepare for a brief 3 mile hike.

On the Trail With Letha & Tai

Tai & Letha Stop On the Trail

Completing the hike we drove around til we located a family style bar and grill for a quick meal: beer and burgers for Tai and I, clam chowder in a bread bowl for Letha, and salad and a cup of clam chowder for Claire. A delicious end to a lovely day.

I would like to build something upon the hill at San Simeon. I get tired of going up there and camping in tents. I'm getting a little too old for that. I'd like to get something that would be a little more comfortable. ~ William Randolph Hearst to Architect Julia Morgan