Of Many Journeys

Dec 13 2012, 18:07 IST
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The region’s iconic Monterey cypresses. The region’s iconic Monterey cypresses.
SummaryDriving through California throws up immense vistas, trees as old as dinosaurs and fumaroles spewing steam.

Driving through California throws up immense vistas, trees as old as dinosaurs and fumaroles spewing steam.

A road trip through California is like a good summer movie: scenes glide by, brimming with nature’s imaginative details; and there is always a golden sunset to drive off into. Fact is, Hollywood has, for decades, filmed the state’s diverse and inspiring landscapes — from stately sequoias to the unrelenting blue sea, from salt flats to serene lakes. When we set out to explore this land of geographic possibility, our friends in Silicon Valley have a few words of wisdom for us: dress for capricious weather, and be prepared to stop often for photo-ops.

Highway to heaven

If there is a route in America that calls for a convertible and a wide-angle lens, it is the Pacific coast highway that hugs the western edge of the continent. The narrow, 198 km strip of road right out of Need for Speed clings to the jagged coast for the most part and is flanked by the Santa Lucia mountains on the other side. On the most stirringly beautiful stretch — between Monterey and Big Sur, about 60 km — we gape from vertigo-inducing turnouts at secret tide pools and desolate beaches a few hundred feet below. Cross-training bikers pass us by; barking elephant seals and the crash of waves blur our sense of time. Minutes later, the road, like a meandering river, plunges to the Pacific, which, despite its tropical appearance, is a frigid 10 degrees C, and then ascends into a veil of salt mist.

From Monterey, a 20-minute drive down the picturesque “17 Mile Drive” off California Highway 1 takes us to the chic hamlet of Carmel-by-the-Sea — Clint Eastwood is a one-time mayor — where charming European cottages, art galleries and bistros serving local abalone vie for our time. Extricating ourselves from this peninsula of high civilisation, we get back on the highway and are rewarded almost instantly with the immense vistas of Point Lobos State Reserve. Its rocky coastline, which supposedly inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write Treasure Island, teems with life: sea lions bask on sculpted rocks, birds circle lazily overhead and deer dart across scrub land. We hike a park trail that threads through twisted Monterey cypresses, found in only two places on earth, looming on fog-engulfed headlands, and come back with a classic picture of a blue cove framed by

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