California sunshine: Part 2

My aunt’s house felt like a remote bed-and-breakfast in the oak hills on the edge of Salinas. There were few sounds other than rustling trees and, oh, the occasional wild turkey wandering into the front yard. It was my first time visiting since my aunt moved there a couple years ago. She’d told me that it was small, and her kids think it’s too small as well as a bit too rustic; but I loved it right away for its brightness and coziness. The living room with its picture window was perfect for drinking coffee and reading the morning paper. On Sunday morning we had breakfast on the backyard deck, which overlooks a little courtyard and a cluster of enormous trees supporting a hammock. There was a rope swing, too, which I took advantage of for a few minutes while my aunt kept the dog away. (I wonder what makes dogs so excited about watching kids [or adults] play.) Inside, I slept in the guest room near my grandma’s old sewing table and a bevy of framed family pictures.

After dinner we went for a walk along the rural road, stopping to pet horses and enjoy the sunset colors of the Salinas River valley. It was a different view of the town than I got from childhood, when my aunt lived in a different house closer to my grandpa’s neighborhood. I’ve never given much thought to the place, but it’s where my parents grew up and it’s always felt a bit like my second home because of our family ties. It was nice to get a new, albeit brief, perspective: a landscape of farms and undulating green hills, rather than the strip-mall streets of a small town.

It was a wonderful place to call “home” for a few days. But I didn’t spent a lot of time at the house during the day. I’d come to do some hiking, and since my aunt and her husband are frequent hikers, they knew where to take me. On Saturday, we headed out toward Big Sur before the heat of the day began to set in.  We parked near the trailhead among coastal cypress trees and fields of wildflowers. Walking eastward and upward, we stopped to admire the blooming meadow, the hills that lay ahead, and a bit of blue ocean that was visible beyond the highway. After that the trail began winding through rocky hills with cactuses, oak trees, and patches of purple lupine and California poppies. The path was narrow and pockmarked with animal burrows. My aunt had warned me to look for rattlesnakes and brought a snake-bit kit just in case.

Garrapata State Park

Garrapata State Park

A little farther on, we left behind the scrubby vegetation and entered a shady redwood forest. Iris and Oxalis were in bloom here, rather than the fuzzy red Indian paintbrush and delicate purple morning glories lining the sunny part of the trail. We did a little climbing and even some scrambling—an activity reserved for steep and gravelly trail segments—during which my walking stick came in handy. In accordance with the “light packing” theme, I hadn’t brought proper hiking boots and didn’t have a lot of traction on the ground. That, plus time limitations, prevented us from following the trail completely to the top, where there probably was a spectacular view of the coastline. The forest was beautiful in its quieter, darker way, as the midday sunlight trickled down and splashed itself across the open spaces. We basked in it for a little while before turning around.

Garrapata State Park

Garrapata State Park

Hiking back toward the coast, we found the edge of a fog bank poking through a gap in the hills. Near the trailhead it became cloudy and downright chilly. We hurried into the car and started heading south, and the fog began to break up. The famous Bixby Creek Bridge, which we pulled over to see, flashed between white and gray as clouds passed over it. My aunt and uncle stayed in the car as I took a few photos out in the cold. After driving several more miles we were completely out of the fog, so there was no hesitation about taking a walk to the beach. The trail was flat and about half a mile long, leading past a historic cabin in a fragrant grove of eucalyptus trees. Beyond the grove, there were glorious purple-flowered fields dotted with orange poppies. The beach we came to was at the mouth of a small gravel-bed creek. A thin layer of fog hovered over the ocean and left us untouched. Toward the east we could see some jagged mountaintops that had been charred by wildfires a couple of years before. According to my aunt, the skies in Salinas had glowed red as the fires burned dozens of miles away.

Andrew Molera State Park

Andrew Molera State Park

We didn’t have much time to admire the beach before hunger got the better of us. They took me to a lovely spot on the Big Sur River, where a popular inn and restaurant lie among the redwoods. Lunch was on the deck, next to the river bank and underneath the canopy of tall trees.  The air was comfortably warm and fragrant with flowers. We raised our pint glasses in a toast: to the beautiful day, to our hiking accomplishments, and to family.

My Hiking Partners

My Hiking Partners

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