Day five: Three Rivers

We woke up to blue skies and lovely views across the San Jose valley. Today our real road trip began as we left cities behind and headed down the Pacific Coast Highway. But first we needed supplies in the form of a water cooler and lots of water. The temperatures so far have been similar to the UK until the afternoons when it’s crept to the mid-twenties. Today we expect it to reach around 32C.

Foggy coastline

This is vineyard land and We’d picked out one that produced something a little different. Kirigin Cellars produce chocolate and mocha infused wines so a tasting was in order. Unfortunately they didn’t want our custom as no one came to unlock the gates so we left.

As we approached Monterey we were enveloped in smoke from the forest fires raging further south. California is suffering a drought and this region has no rainfall from May to October. Residents are encouraged to fit water saving devices in their homes.

Smoke over Monterey

Our first fuel stop was in Monterey situated in a beautiful sweeping bay. In the shop there I asked if there was a restroom and was told ‘with that accent there sure is’.

After that, as we travelled south, we could smell the smoke and it covered the next 80 miles marring the hills in swathes, obscuring the magnificent ocean views. The eye could pierce the gloom but the camera struggled. The phrase that we most repeated was ‘that would be a stunning view in the sun’.

Fires on the hillside

We’re lucky, we get to come back this way in a couple of weeks and we’re hoping the smoke has cleared; the difference is it will all be on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.

Fortunately by the time we got to the elephant seal beach, Piedras Blancas, the smoke had started to clear. The large car park was stuffed with cars and the occupants were strung along the fence looking at these magnificent creatures sleeping on the sand, occasionally sitting up making a noise quite unlike the sea lions in San Francisco. Occasionally one of them would lazily cover itself in sand with an enormous flipper. An added bonus was a cute little Californian ground squirrel, very tame and playing to the crowds.

From there we finally turned inland at Cambria. And the landscape flipped from up and down twists and turns with cliffs and crashing waves to blasted gently rolling parched yellow hills.. And the temperature climbed to 103F (39C).

Perfect for a second attempt at visiting a winery, this time James Tobin in Paso Robles. They were open, and busy. We had a pleasant half hour tasting a variety of wines - Graeme, red, and me white.

Walking back out was like walking into an oven. Yay, heat at last! Unfortunately there was still 130 miles still to travel. The air con was going to earn its keep through the arid miles. Incongruously at Kettleman City (total misnomer) we picked a sparkly blue watercourse, alongside the road, lined with lush, green plants that were laughing at the yellow fields.

By the time we reached the CA-198 the hills had given way to flat greener scrub and trees had reappeared; by Visalia everything looked normal again albeit flat. Then the Sierra Nevada foothills loomed, dwarfed by the mountains behind them.

We spent the night in Three Rivers, very close to the Sequoia National Park.

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