More than a little road weary, after nearly two months traveling, we only knew we had to get back to the Pacific Ocean. We didn’t expect the startling beauty of Highway 46, from Paso Robles to Cambria—old oaks, vineyards and sycamores in undulating hills. After weeks in the desert and then in snow, fifty shades of vibrant green took our breath away.
We looked the coastline up and down. Took a remarkable walk on the leash-free beach near Morro Bay where dogs in sizes XS to XL were flying free as kites, scampering with great canine abandon from surf to sand. We noticed not one dropping, as all the owners seem well schooled in doggie-doodoo-picking-up-etiquette, used the bags provided, and disposed in the simple trash bags tied to the fence.
But after our explorations, we came back to Cambria. We could tell it was the right place at the right time for us. How do you find a great town, anyway? I started by googling “great towns of southern California”. As travelers, we know for sure that we don’t want to spend time in bad towns. And we also know great towns are rare. So when we found a sweet hostel in an appealing setting, we knew we were blessed. The hostel was the Bridge Street Inn. We were thrilled to find it.
The hostel life, if anyone wants to know, is one of the most sublime experiences I have ever known. Cooking together, eating together, talking with travelers, forming a short-lived but rich community—it far outshines any sterile hotel room. The hostel in Cambria, Bridge Street Inn, is managed/owned by Brandon, with an easy hand and an eye for spontaneous creativity. A modern day beat poet, Brandon played songs for us on his guitar and read his own stories, while we thoroughly enjoyed his distinctive humorous style; pure irony with a satirical twist that made me laugh out loud more than once. I was fascinated by the way Brandon encouraged co-creation and collaboration with his visitors; from conversation to projects to bonfires and potlucks. Enjoy Brandon’s creativity at Earthworm Envy.
The two interns, Ginna and Brian are bright spirits, welcoming and fun. Ginna is a yoga teacher, and wise beyond her 23 years. Taking some time to stretch and move with her on New Year’s Day was a special treat.
The sights around Cambria boggle the mind. “World-class” is a travel term that often falls short but I would put the viewing of the elephant seals in that category without hesitation. Never mind that it is just steps away from Highway 1 and that you view their lives elbow to elbow with a whole lot of other people. In fact, those facts make it seem more amazing to me. There is some kind of one-way mirror between the human community and the elephant seal community. We watch them but they seem remarkably oblivious to us. They are 25 feet away on the sand; you are on the boardwalk. They are fighting, nursing, dying, birthing, swimming and resting. You are watching this with a combination of awe, inspiration and heartbreak for those that lose or die. Many questions arise, and as soon as you say them out loud, one of the other extraordinary features of this experience appear… docents. People who love the wild and can articulate it over and over to endless questions (and often stupid—I know, I asked them myself!)—are special. The elephant seal world is so raw and untamed that it nearly defies description. They are like the fundamental nature of the sea personified.
The next day, I woke up drenched by elephant seal dreams. We decided to check out Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, following Brandon’s suggestion. Walking right from the hostel, we entered this beautiful community treasure and thoroughly enjoyed its riparian and woodland communities, the rich birding and the fabulous views. The story is one that makes my heart delight and echoes a San Juan County triumph: Turtleback mountain. When a community decides to make something last into perpetuity, it is the best of human teamwork and vision. I quote here the inspirational Fiscalini story, for it needs no amendments
“The Fiscalini family owned the property for nearly a century, raising first dairy stock and then beef cattle. The family sold the Town Ranch out of tax necessity in 1979 and it went through a series of development plans by ambitious owners. These plans were blocked by Friends of the RanchLand until they realized that the only way to save the land was to buy it, bringing in the American Land Conservancy (ALC) in 1999.”
Bottom-line, a series of partners appeared and pledged funds to save the Ranch but these funds needed to be matched by local efforts.
“Cambrians, through numerous fundraisers, donations and an eleventh hour donation by Midstate Bank of their creek side property, accomplished the impossible. With hard work and determination the purchase was finalized in November of 2000. The Ranch now belongs to all of us, forever.The Ranch is open for public enjoyment every day.”
On New Year’s eve, we decided to herald the end of 2012 with a soak at Charan Springs Farm. The mineral rich waters are augmented by additional heat, provided by solar panels and propane, and a person who enjoys rustic, as we do, would get a kick out of soaking in two side by side tabs with surrounded by towering sycamore and live oak. The farm itself is a treat, eye candy of the best sort: a fertile organic garden and orchards, encircled by sage green mountains.
We ended 2012 with a stop at the Stolo Family Winery. Together with our new friend, Alison, another Bridge Street Inn hosteller, we toasted to our intentions for 2013 in between tastes of delicious and high quality wine.
I could go on and on about Cambria, but wait, I have a better idea. Come check it out yourself. Go see the cemetery, find the steps up to Cambria Pines, find a moonstone on Moonstone Beach or go up Big Sur to Jade Cove and find a lovely green rock there. You will be delighted by the place. And you will have a wonderful hostel to call home in the evenings.
All words and photos are credited to
Shann Cathro Weston
Salish Sea Press
Author of Curve of the Moon
Special Thanks to Shann for this special guest blog!!!! Adventure with Shann at http://doityourselflife.org