May 2008

Contrary to my usual method of advanced travel planning, we decided on Wednesday to go out of town for a night over Memorial Day Weekend.  I suggested San Juan Bautista because it sounded interesting (another one of California’s Missions and they filmed Vertigo there) and was conveniently located just an hour away.  With cool weather forecast, we could add on the Pinnacles National Monument (which on average would be too hot to hike this time of year).

Leaving Saturday in the early afternoon, we drove towards San Juan Bautista.  In my research for the weekend, I learned the fact that San Juan Bautista is "St. John the Baptist" which in retrospect is obvious.  I never was an expert in Catholic Saints though.  There is a lot of history in California and not growing up here, I don’t know much about it (I don’t remember a whole lot from the elementary school project I did on California).  Arriving at the Mission on a gray, cool May afternoon, we squeezed in a tour before it closed at 4:30.  The mission and some surrounding buildings are available for visiting.  We saw one of the original stretches of El Camino Real (which connected the original Spanish Missions).  It was a dirt road here with nowhere near the traffic of El Camino closer to home.  It’s come pretty far.  The Mission was neat and looked just like in the movie (except no Bell Tower).  There were some old stage coaches to see, an old hotel and building and a big plaza.  We finished seeing everything shortly before the official closing time and then headed a block over to the hotel to check in.

We cleaned up in the hotel, the Posada de San Juan.  While just a two diamond according to AAA, the bathroom was very nice.  It had a large jacuzzi tub and a stereo shower (two shower heads on opposite walls that were both on- I kept spinning in circles).  After the stereo shower, we wandered out for dinner.  It was nice not having to drive to go for dinner.  The town seemed deserted around 6pm.  It was kind of eerie.  I guess SJB isn’t a popular getaway (then why isn’t the hotel cheaper?).   We wandered the one main drag and saw a couple restaurants that were mentioned in Via magazine.   The lady in the hotel recommended the Cutting Horse.  It’s a steak place, but she said the halibut was very good (leaving L’ with at least one dinner option; we know what happens if she doesn’t get food).  After surveying our choices we chose the Cutting Horse and there was a one man band playing at the front of the completely empty restaurant.   Strange, but we took a table and the place had a few more customers later, but was never even half full.  I got a steak which was decent.  Even the top restaurants in a small town like this are only average when compared with the restaurants in the Bay Area.   The chocolate mousse cake was excellent.  Since we had a full day coming up and there wasn’t much going on in town, we just relaxed in the jacuzzi and called it a night.

Sunday we were up at a reasonable time to pack up and get breakfast around the corner.  Then it was off to Pinnacles National Monument which is about an hour south of SJB.  We picked up some bagels and cream cheese for lunch and arrived at the park around 12:30.  To our dismay, it was cool and rainy on the drive and in the park.  Since the normal rainfall for the month is less than 0.5 inches, this kind of weather is very strange.   We were willing to adjust our hike length based on the weather. 

I didn’t know much about Pinnacles.  It’s a geologic formation that is on the remains of a volcano.  Basically, a volcano was straddling the fault line.  It exploded.  Over the passage of time the plates moved and half the volcano remnants are here and the rest are over a hundred miles to the south.  The remaining stuff at Pinnacles is neat rock formations and pretty topography.   As is normally the case, I let L’ navigate and she picked a nice 5 mile loop for us.  The weather is really just an exceptionally light mist so we press on.  Part of the loop is warned to be "steep and narrow" and we learn that they are not kidding.  Nothing too difficult, but it was a steep, narrow staircase.   Even with the clouds and poor weather, I take some pictures and imagine that on a blue sky day, this would be spectacular.  We’ll have to return.  We do our full hike of a little over 1300 feet of elevation gain of which the last two miles were down hill.  We make it back to our starting point, make a quick stop in the visitor center and then hit the road to head north and return home.  We get back to my place in the late afternoon where we can shower, grab dinner, and sleep really well from our long day of hiking.

View the photos from the two day trip:

In another installment of my springtime ritual, I went to the East Coast to visit Grandma in New York and friends and family in Florida  Taking advantatage of a direct flight, I flew the red eye to New York for a few days in the Big Apple.  These were filled with enterntainment, good restaurants, and a stop to see Grandma and Aunt Karen.  We enjoyed the Natural History Museum which I think is one of the better museums to visit as a frequent visitor to the city.  It’s huge and to read even some of the signs, you could spend days there.  We also checked out the Lower East side for a trip to the past when it was an immigrant communtiy filled with members of the tribe.  Despite numerous trips to Manhattan this was my first time going up the Empire State Building which coincided with the best weather during our stay in NY. 

Florida was expectedly hot and humid although bearable for most of the time.  We went to the new location of Parrot Jungle which was fun.  I saw a couple friends that still live in Florida and celebrated Mom’s birthday with a couple good dinners.  The week went by quickly and then it was back home to California where I returned to work.

The photos are online   The album includes some pictures that were taken by others.