So Close – Day 73

So Close

Day 73 – June 12, 2003 – Thursday

We drove along the coast from Buellton, California to Big Sur. We took side trips to see the Danish community of Solvang and the James Dean Memorial in Cholame. We couldn’t find a hotel room in Monterey, so we drove on in to San Francisco where we planned to spend several days with son Ryan.

Our day began with an “Ostrich Crossing” sign in Buellton. We pulled over and saw an ostrich ranch. Ostrich Land produces ostrich chicks and sold feathers, eggs, ostrich meat, and ostrich leather used for briefcases and boots. We learned that ostriches run up to 45 miles per hour; the ostrich is the only bird with 2 toes; ostriches grow 1 1/2 pounds of feathers each season; ostriches grow to 8 to 9 feet tall and weigh 250 to 350 pounds. Ostrich hens lay 40 to 60 eggs per season (weighing 3 to 4 pounds each); it takes 42 days for an egg to hatch. Ostrich chicks grow one foot per month until they reach full height. An adult ostrich consumes about 3 1/2 pounds of food per day. The Buellton ostriches did not seem at all friendly.

We met Joey and Ivan at the Chevron station in Buellton.

Solvang is a cute Danish tourist-oriented town. I enjoyed a fabulous Apple Pie Square at Olsen’s Danish Bakery.

We went to Pismo Beach to see the World’s Largest Clam. When we reached the city limits, there was a pretty good-sized clam on the sign, but we felt like it wasn’t big enough to be the World’s Largest Clam. So, we drove all around town looking for the World’s Largest Clam. We drove all along the beach, and up and down likely-looking streets. No sign of the World’s Largest Clam. We finally gave up, and Boz suggested that we stop at the offices of the Pismo Beach Chamber of Commerce to ask for directions to the World’s Largest Clam. I parked the car in front, and I went in and met two nice ladies. I told them we had driven all over town and just couldn’t find the World’s Largest Clam. I asked for directions. The two ladies smiled an odd-looking smile, and one of them said: “Just go out the door.” I said: “Then what.” She said, “Turn right.” I walked straight out the door, turned 90-degrees to the right, and there at the curb was our car with Barbara in the passenger’s seat. Immediately to her right was the World’s Largest Clam. We have laughed about this more than just about anything that happened on the trip. The 8-foot tall clam was right there next to Barbara as we pulled up. How neither of us saw it was amazing. I put my red-faced head back in the door at the Chamber of Commerce to say thank you.

A little further down Highway 101, and we stopped at Avila Beach. We saw dinosaur eggs there.

We met some wonderful ladies at the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce. They provided directions and information about several places we wanted to see.

We had lunch and pie at Linn’s Bakery and Eatery in San Luis Obispo. We had a rare pie — Olallieberry Pie, and Boz felt it was one of the very best she had eaten on the trip. I ranked it as a top pie, but as much as I enjoyed it, there are others that I feel are better. Patty Carpenter and her husband, Bill, own Linn’s in San Luis Obispo. Patty sat and talked with us, and we really liked her.

We walked from Linn’s to Bubble Gum Alley. We thought we had good directions, but we couldn’t find it. We came dangerously close to giving up on seeing it when we stumbled by an opening between two buildings, and there it was. We had walked past it several times without seeing it.

Truthfully, we were kind of grossed out at first, but I came to appreciate it. Bubble Gum Alley is an alley in which the facing walls of two downtown commercial buildings are covered with gum. The alley is 70 feet long and 15 feet high, completely covered with gum. Chewed up chewing gum. Some gum chewing visitors had left messages like “Jesus Loves,” names, and fraternity Greek letters. There was art — flowers, an American flag, and more. The city’s historical society says the history is sketchy, but the alley was created sometime in the 1950’s. It is believed that high school students started putting gum on the walls, and college students soon followed suit. Over the years, Bubblegum Alley has made national news by appearing on a number of television shows, news programs and in newspapers around the world.

The first motel in the world is located in San Luis Obispo — the Motel Inn. In 1925, Los Angeles architect Arthur Heineman built it. He coined the term “motel,” meaning motor hotel, and named this property “Milestone Motel.” For $1.25 a night, guests rented a two-room bungalow with a kitchen and a private adjoining garage. All the units faced a central courtyard which housed the swimming pool and included picnic tables for social gatherings. The motel was not open for business during our visit, but this was road trip history at its best.

San Luis Obispo has the first motel in the world and the most outrageous motel in the world. The Madonna Inn has been in business since 1958. It was the creation of Alex Madonna and his wife, Phyllis. The motel has a Swiss Alps exterior, and bright pink common rooms. There are 109 rooms, and each room is uniquely designed and themed. The Caveman Room is one of the most talked about rooms. It offers a cave-like atmosphere, with solid rock floors, walls and ceilings. It even has a rock shower where you can relax under a waterfall of warm water from above. The sinks are solid rock and water flows down the rock to the sink basin below. The Old Mill room has a working waterwheel, and the Hearts and Flowers room has walls and floor that are bright red.

Some of the other rooms are the Love Nest, Kona Rock, Irish Hills, Cloud Nine, Just Heaven, Rock Bottom, Austrian Suite, Cabin Still, Old World Suite, Elegance, Daisy Mae, Safari Room, Highway Suite, Jungle Rock, American Home, Yahoo, and Bridal Falls. Even the casual visitor for lunch or dinner does not escape the Madonna Inn effect as the public restrooms are furnished in an outlandish style. Madonna Inn’s famous rock waterfall urinal is perhaps its best known feature. The urinal looks like a waterfall; the flow of water is activated when you break a beam of light. In another public restroom in the hotel, there is a towering copper trough urinal with a waterwheel. An electronic beam is activated when the urinal is approached, and the water wheel begins turning and splashing water down into the trough.

Alex Madonna said: “Anybody can build one room and a thousand like it. I want people to come in with a smile and leave with a smile. It’s fun.”

As we were walking up to the entrance when we arrived, Barbara asked me to hurry up with the camera. I rushed over to where she was standing next to a fountain just outside the entrance. She had spotted a hummingbird hovering as it drank from the fountain spray. I snapped a quick photo and was able to capture this unique sight. It is definitely one of my favorite photos from the trip. Another photo I took at Madonna Inn has been purchased to be on the cover of a book published in the UK. Of all the incredible sights we saw and great photos we took, this is simply a photo of a lemon tree. Nothing special to us, but when you are a book publisher looking for a lemon tree to go on the cover of your book, I guess it was really special to them.

The Mission in San Luis Obispo is really beautiful. We visited it and took a number of photographs. We had a great time in San Luis Obispo.

We saw the Morro Rock in Morro Bay as well as the World’s Largest Chess Board. Morro Bay has a falcon preserve, but we saw no falcons.

Our next stop was Harmony — population 17. It is a small artist’s community. It was serene.

Finding the James Dean Memorial was a challenge, and the side trip took much longer than we thought. We looked and looked for the monument at the intersections of two highways. Unfortunately, there are two intersections of those highways about 12 miles apart. There was no monument to be found. We drove back and forth on the highway for about an hour! Our information did not indicate the memorial was in the one-building town of Cholame, so we didn’t pull into the parking lot of the cafe there, but that turned out to be precisely where the monument was. The town of Cholame seems to consist solely of the shiny aluminum monument under a big oleander tree and the neighboring cafe. James Dean died 700 yards east of this spot on September 30, 1955. Donald Turnupseed pulled out in front of Dean’s Porsche Spyder in his 1950 Ford Custom Deluxe Coupe. Dean died of a broken neck. The memorial was erected by Seita Onishi, a Japanese businessman and fan. We were surprised to learn that James Dean made only three movies, and just one of those had been released at the time of his death.

We reached San Simeon too late in the day to get the full tour of Hearst Castle, but what we saw was staggering. In 1927, William Randolph Hearst told architect Julia Morgan that he wanted to build “a little something” on the California coast. Eighteen years later, Casa Grande (commonly called Hearst Castle) had been built above tiny San Simeon. It is a 165-room Moorish castle with 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways, furnished with Spanish and Italian antiques and art. There are three large guest houses. In its heyday, Hearst Castle had a zoo, tennis courts, and two magnificent swimming pools.

The entire Big Sur area certainly has beautiful scenery, but we were both expecting to be more impressed than we were. We were fortunate, however, to have read about the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park where we could park and hike a short ways to see the only waterfall (McWay Falls) that drops directly into the Pacific Ocean. We went through a tunnel under the highway to see the very special sight at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. It was an absolutely gorgeous sight to see.

We also made stops at Cambria Beach, saw Elephant Seals at Gorda, saw the Piedras Blancas Light Station, and stopped for photos of the coastline at Ventana.

We made it through most of the treacherous road before dark, and then we tried to find a hotel. We had planned to stop in Monterey, but we stopped at several hotels where there was no vacancy. We were sure there had to be hotels with rooms just around the corner as we drove, but we never found them.

The family magnet kept pulling us to our son’s home, and we were so happy to pull into his driveway. Seeing our only son was clearly the highlight of the trip — even better than the World’s Largest Ball of Twine.

The lesson for the day? Sometimes you can’t find what you are looking for when it is staring you right in the face.

The Daily Journal of Round America:

Each day, we collect our thoughts on a web page just like this. We drop in some of the photos from the day. Our goal with the Daily Journal is to write about the towns we visit, the sights we see, the people we meet, and the pie we eat. We write about where we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going, but we also make observations about what we’ve seen and done as well as about life in general.

You can follow our travels from the Daily Journal section of this website. Other pages of interest include the running report of “vital statistics” on the Trip Scorecard, our nominations for the Best & Worst of the trip, as well as a rating of the pie we eat. If you’d like to see information for a specific state or town, click here, and then click on the state of interest, and the full itinerary is shown.


More Information on the Sights Visited Today:
Ostrich Land — Solvang California — Pismo Beach California — World’s Largest Clam — San Luis Obispo California — Linn’s Bakery and Eatery — Bubble Gum Alley — Motel Inn — Madonna Inn — Morro Bay California — James Dean Memorial — Hearst Castle — Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park — Big Sur