Road report: Coast to desert

It’s Friday and I haven’t blogged since Monday. I’ve been driving, logging more than 1,100 miles from the Big Sur Coast of California to Moab, Utah and the redrock desert. That kind of road time–along with being chief cook, bottle-washer, guide, and caretaker of my love, the guy with advanced brain cancer, leaves me wrung out by the end of the day.

Mind you, Monday was a short driving day: only 81 miles between Monterey and our cottage at Lucia Lodge (we logged the remaining thousand-plus miles in just three days). Of course, Monday’s 81 miles were along the spectacular Big Sur Coast, so that “short” drive still took about three and a half hours…

There’s no way to compress the journey from Pacific Coast to Colorado Plateau into one blog post and do justice to the landscapes we’ve traversed. So I’ll split it: Today, Big Sur to the Mojave Desert. Tomorrow, Mojave to home, because that’s where we’re bound, weary but exhilarated by all we’ve seen and experienced…


I’ve known and loved the Big Sur Coast for essentially my entire life: my mom’s from a Bay Area family. We explored central California on many family vacations. We camped, hiked, collected seashells on ocean beaches, watched birds and butterflies, ate fresh seafood, searched for wildflowers and interesting rocks. So I know the nature of this moody and diverse and fascinating place where the ocean crashes against the continent.

Still, every visit surprises me. This time it was the wildflowers, blooming abundantly in the sage scrub on the steep coastal cliffs: Indian paintbrush, bush monkeyflower, asters, california poppies, and brilliant scarlet Zauschneria, which I would rename Speaks to Hummingbirds. I didn’t expect so many wildflowers this late in the year, and it was a treat to share them with Richard.
Paintbrush Bushmonkeyflower Asters Zausch
Then there was the fog muffling the cliffs and lower valleys so that Highway One dipped into thick, soupy fog, then rose into brilliant sunshine before dipping back into fog, then rising into sunshine, over and over again, a lovely and meditative alternation.


You can see the fog bank in the photo below, smoothing over the rugged edge where ocean eats at land. (That’s the view from the ridge just south of Big Sur, looking toward Lucia, where we spent the night.) Another in the series of “Why I Love the Pacific Coast” photos…

It was foggy at Lucia Lodge by the time we checked in, but we took “cocktail hour” in the adirondeck chairs overlooking the invisible cove anyway, relaxing to the sound of waves crashing against the cliffs far below, the world wrapped in micro-droplets of water… (The shrub with the blood-red flowers behind Richard in front of our cottage is fuschia, one of many exotics that grow enthusiastically in the fog belt–too enthusiastically in some cases, hence the invasive Pampas grass on the bluffs, crowding out the fragrant native sage scrub with its beautiful wildflowers.)


We slept soundly that night, wrapped in fog and peace. I woke just once, roused in the early morning darkness by a change in ocean’s constant thrumming. I got up and padded outside in my bare feet. Sure enough, the fog had sunk below us to a silvery layer just covering the ocean, and the night sky was a glorious panoply of stars. I woke Richard and guided him outside to look.

“Oh,” he said, head tilted back, voice full of wonder. “Thank you for the gift.”


The fog rose again at dawn, replacing the view with a blushing bank of pastel purple and pink, the waves thrashing the cove somewhere below in the watery realm…


We soaked in peace and quiet until late morning, even though we had a long drive ahead. And then we hit the road, winding south to Cambria, and finally out of the fog as we climbed up and over the tail end of the Lucia Mountains. (That’s Morro Bay in the distance, filled with… fog.)

In the course of traveling inland, the weather quickly changed from 55 degrees in the fog to 95 degrees. We booked it across the Central Valley, headed for Bakersfield through miles of almond groves, then climbing the Tehachapi Hills, and dropping into the Mojave Desert by nightfall.

When the sun finally set, we were a universe away from the coast, in the land of Joshua trees and creosote bush, where bony mountain ranges turned burnt red and then black, and stars twinkled in the heat of a desert night. We drifted off to sleep with the hum of the tires still in our ears, and the air scented with desert dust. After more than two weeks away, we were longing for home…