In "East of Eden," one of my favorite books, John Steinbeck waxes poetic about his beloved Salinas Valley.
The Salinas Valley is in Northern California. It is a long, narrow swale between two ranges of mountains, and the Salinas River winds and twists up the center until it falls at last into Monterey Bay....
I remember that the Gabilan Mountains to the east of the valley were light gay mountains full of sun and loveliness and a kind of invitation, so that you wanted to climb into their warm foothills almost as you want to climb into the lap of a beloved mother. They were beckoning mountains with a brown grass love. The Santa Lucias stood up against the sky to the west and kept the valley from the open sea, and they were dark and brooding--unfriendly and dangerous. I always found in myself a dread of west and a love of east....the morning came over the peaks of the Gabilans and the night drifted back from the ridges of the Santa Lucias. It may be that the birth and death of the day had some part of my feeling about the two ranges of mountains.
Every time we drive to Santa Barbara on Highway 101, as we enter the Salinas Valley, I think of Steinbeck. The valley starts at the town of Salinas itself, home of the Steinbeck Museum, and wends it way 30 miles south to Gilroy, the garlic capital of the world. With its working farms, construction equipment, big trucks kicking up clouds of white dust as they cross over the highway, and lines of cars moving in both directions the valley is not as beautiful, I suspect, as it was in Steinbeck's day, but still the green fields, where there are green fields are lush and beautiful and dotted with farm workers bent over tending to the crops. Even now, in the midst of drought there are fields with sprinkling systems going full blast, the sunlight bouncing off the water like diamonds.
As you approach Gilroy, the smell of garlic comes wafting through the windows and as you leave Gilroy there are cherry stands, just closing at 4:30, when we were coming through, but open long enough for us to pick up a bag of cherries to bring with us...our annual July habit. The cherries are big and dark and juicy and delicious. A nice complement to the bag of Fritos we shared for lunch!
On the approach to King City there is a line of tall trees...I wish I knew what kind they are, but they stand like a wall separating the highway from the foothills of the Santa Lucia mountains, and then the tree wall is gone and ahead we are approaching the town of King City, with the tall signs for fast food restaurants seeming to grow out of the very treetops of the forest around the city like odd looking flowers.
Then out of King City and into Oil Country, the ugly city of oil wells, all looking like those drinking birds we used to have as children, their heads bobbing up and down in the wasteland that is the ground around them.
We pass through Camp Roberts, a National Guard post, where all the California National Guard units train at some point. It is difficult to tell from what you can see from the freeway that this is an army base. It looks completely deserted, but presumably there is more activity away from the prying eyes of the public.
We are following Historic El Camino Real, following the 600 miles that connect the California missions, established by Father Junipero Serra and the Jesuit and Franciscan monks, stretching from San Diego north to Sonoma, north of San Francisco. Many spots along the route are marked by these historic shepherd's crook signs.
We pass by a couple of the old missions, now repaired and open to the public, but pretty much invisible (or at least not obvious) to those zipping by along the highway.
I remember when much of the land around here was not yet overgrown, but now there are vineyards seemingly everywhere.
So much more beautiful now when they are lush and full, and heavy with grapes than they were on our last trip here when they are just starting to leaf out.
At one point we passed a herd of what looked like was probably from "rent a goat," where you rent a herd of goats to come out and eat all of your vegetation. I've seen them in overgrown fields around Davis occasionally These guys were all bunched up against the fence, munching away, and one little guy was climbing a bush.
I noticed when we passed through Paso Robles that the temperature outside was 80 degrees. The highway here is divided by huge bushes of Oleander, in pink and white and, while I had been taking photos regularly on the way down to illustrate some of the places about which I have written, it was not until I tried to get a good shot of the oleander that I realized I had left the SD card out of the camera and had gotten NONE of the photos I had taken. That this entry is illustrated at all is thanks to Google images. I must go out first thing in the morning and buy an SD card!
By the time we had crossed over Cuesta grade and down into San Luis Obispo (31 miles from Paso Robles), the temperature had dropped to 73 and in another 13 miles to Pismo Beach it was 63. As we had left triple digits in Davis, I was thrilled.
We stopped for gas as the sun was setting. I checked my text messages and heard from Ashley that the dogs were doing well and that she had given Sheila extra treats.
It was about 9:45 when we finally arrived at Alice Nan's house. We had been listening to a Harlan Coben book all the way down and it was nearly finished, but we will save the finale for the trip home.
It's nice to be here and I look forward to Tom's big annual BBQ on Saturday.