The Golden Hills were emerald green. No Oz reference here – that’s just the best description of our St. Patrick’s Day weekend in Monterey and Paso Robles. Even before the flood event of March 5 (see The Swamp Comes Home – Navigating the Blowers), we had decided to spend part of spring break visiting J’s family in the Monterey area and my BFF in Paso Robles. But, given the events of March 5, a date that shall live in infamy, the timing was awesome. Awesome being a word I really don’t like and rarely use, but it fits the bill for this occasion.
So off J and I and our one personal item each went to MCO for our 7:50 am flight to LAX and on to Monterey. The 737 MAX debacle was in full throttle but we figured we were safe as we were on the 800 series (or was it 900) – in any event not the one that had plunged nose down on two prior occasions. You can imagine my comfort level when, just as I turned on my phone while taxiing on the LAX runway I learned that ALL MAX planes were immediately grounded. I figure we were some of the absolute last passengers to fly on that plane.
But that bad karma was about the last bad karma on the whole trip. Brother-in-law S met us immediately on arrival in Monterey – and knowing our hiking obsession – took us right away to an odd stretch of no mans land near the Ryan Ranch and in the general area of Ft. Ord. Apparently there’s an ambitious development plan for the area, but no one has come through with any money, so as of now there are wide, interconnected dirt trails running up hill and down valley, through mud puddle and thicket, that culminate with a grand panorama of the Pacific. What better way to greet the west coast.
Family and friend activities took up much of the next couple of days, but with one new first for me – a driving range! I have not hit a golf ball that isn’t on a miniature golf course for well nigh 30 years. But our hosts insisted and the next I knew I had two buckets of balls and a club in hand. J thought I should use something like a chipping wedge but that seemed way too lightweight, so I picked the driver. And I have to say – I enjoyed it! I found it extremely zen – in the same fashion as yoga or playing Jenga or hard rock scrambles. And that little crack of the ball when you hit it right – priceless. My shoulder paid for it the next couple of days but it was worth it.
It was then time to turn our eyes south and make for Highway 1. It had been quite a while since J and I had done that drive, and there have been numerous mudslides and fortifications built since then. We happened to be in California at the time of a so-called “Superbloom” and the hillsides were blanketed with golden poppies and pink blooms. And instead of the classic California yellow brown, the hills were as green as Ireland.
After stopping at Nepenthe, a family favorite, we turned inland to Paso Robles, one of California’s less known but equally fabulous wine growing areas. My BFF and her husband have recently branched out from the legal profession to invest in a 12 acre vineyard with farmhouse. Right now it’s filled with newly planted grapevines, but there are big dreams propelling those little buds.
What better way to start that part of the trip than a soak in a natural mineral spring hot tub with a bottle of champagne. Don’t need to say much more than that.
The next day involved lots of wanderings – but I’m afraid they were mostly by motor and not by foot. After a lovely lunch at a winery, we started to explore some of the lesser known spots in Paso Robles. My absolute favorite was Dunning – you drove along a narrow winding road between two mountains, among ancient oaks to arrive at a clearing like a fairy glen. The winery was in a hanger like structure, and there was a tasting room, and a few small cottages where you could stay overnight. The wines were absolutely classic, and the gold light filtered through the oak trees made it feel like a place you could happily stay for a very long time.
We wrapped our trip the next day with brunch at a place that looked exactly like an old Howard Johnson’s (except the prices were anything but). The omelets were huge and the waffles cradled in whipped cream.
Fortified, we embarked on the three hour drive through the oh so emerald hills to LAX for our flight back to the swamp.
Arrived at our house hoping beyond hope the flood would be a thing of the distant past. Not so much. The blowers were going strong; our poor old wood floors continuing to suffer the indignities of suction cups and tubes and drying mats. But at least we’d had five days to remember you don’t literally have to live in the swamp.