Neu-Schwanstein fantasy

No, wait, it is Hearst’s castle. There are few things that are so much American than that. Think of a very (very!) rich businessman who builds a very (very!) large mansion up in a hill on his family ranch in Central California. He is well educated so he knows about history and arts and its value and collects it. Did I mention he is rich? He can essentially buy everything. He builds all kinds of ancient Greek, Egyptian statues and sarcophagi into his mansion. He is in good company, the Greeks reused ancient stones to build their modern times housesvas well… He buys wooden Renaissance ceilings to hang in his house and gothic choirs for his ballroom. All pieces are very exquisit but are not ment to be on a ranch house in California, but in Egypt, Turkey or Italy. The entire ensemble looks in part ouf of place and who would want to live in a dark, over decorated 16th century like palace in 1920, when he could have built a fine Bauhaus mansion to go with the time.

Today the Palace is a California state park. You can visit it on guided tours. Those are quite an an experience. They bake a lot of Hollywood into it, it’s all dramatic and full of grandeur from the bus ride up to the castle to the stories the guides tell you along the way, to the dinner tables set with finest china and vintage 1920 Ketchup bottles. America has a big talent in exageration, dramaturgy and story telling. Thag makes Hollywood so successful and many of their museums more enjoyable and fun to visit as their European counterparts. No wonder trends like gamification come from over here. 

Big Sur

The Big Sur coast is beautiful, not as much as the Oregon coast though. In a sense they are similar, rugged and hilly bug the prevailing colors are very different. Big Sur is darker, the dark rocks and mediteranean type dryland plants making a sharp contrast to the white fog. The Ocean itself also reflects the darker colors. 

The reason I wanted to sea this coast is literary. Strangely, in Monterey they make a big fuss about Steinbeck and Cannery Row indicating buildings featured in the novel, etc. At Bixby bridge there is no sign 

hinting to Kerouac’s Big Sur. Cars stop because of the views and the high bridge, not because of the donkey and the spring and the drunk struggling machista poet in the cabin down there. 

Fog or smoke, who can tell!

 All along Big Sur there were white clouds hanging over the coast. Traditional pacific summer fog mixed with traditional Calfornian wildfire smoke, hard to tell which was which most of the time. This fire has got out of hand. A California state ranger warned me about potentially heavy smoke ahead. I asked a cyclist coming up from the South an he said it wasn’t too bad. He was right. It was humid but there was a distinctly smokey smell to it. All in all I did not get more smoke than at an ordinary American campground where everybody needs his campfire at night and some even do in the morning.

The largest impact of the fire on me was the closure of all state parks in Big Sur. So instead of leisurely cycling through for two days covering 30 miles at a time, I had to do all the 60 miles in one day. Distancewise that is not such a great deal but I had started (too) late in Monterey not being able to make up my mind whether I should go on at all due to the fire. Nobody wants tourists in a heavy congested emergency zone. They had not closed highway 1 though and the traffic was so heavy  it seemed nobody except me had any thoughts of changing their travel plans. Most traffic were the usual vacationers jamming all vista points (made explicitly to admire the scenery) and every turnout (made explicitly to remain empty for slow traffic aka trucks, big RVs, bikes to pull aside and let faster cars pass), the rest was fire trucks, Calfire service vehicles, big trucks carrying bulldozers, I pulled aside for them, I did not for tourists.

Talk to the ranger, part 2

Not marine mammals but trees this time: 

There are the coastal redwoods (sequoia sempervirens), they grow all along in the California’s coastal region and the giant sequoias (sequoiadendron giganteum) that only grow in the eastern slopes of the Sierra (there are some groves in Yosemite and the of course in Sequoia national park, which is all about it). 

The coastal redwood is higher, growing up to 100m, it grows in families and reproduces mostly by sprouting from roots of an existing tree. In At Henry Cowell states park close to Santa Cruz they have a albino redwood, lacking chlorophyll the thing cannot live by its own and only survives because it grows on another redwood tree that provides ig with nutrition. Their cones are very tiny, maybe the size of a larch’ pine.

The giant sequoia is less tall but fatter in general, the trunks grow up to 10m in diameter. There cones are larger (but still tiny). The leaves are very different too, so is the overall tree’s shape. Both trees are well adapted to fire, they have a very thick bark that protects them and they need occasional wildfire to clear out the bush and brushwood to allow them to prosper. The giant sequoia needs the fires to reproduce. The fire cracks the cones open and sets the seeds free. If they fall on too much brushwood and pine needles they cannot reach their nutrition, only when they fall on recently burnt grounds they can sprout. That is why suppressing all wildfires was actually harmful to the Sequoia population. In Yosemite they let fires burn now as long as they do not threaten human structures and they believe them to be of a natural cause. Sometimes they even set controlled fires.