Someplace as we left Fremont California for Half Moon Bay driving on one freeway and merging on the right into another, the GPS said – exit left in 1.5 km. I looked at the eight lanes of traffic to my left, took a deep breath and calmly, with a firm grip on the steering, instructed our Red Rosie Outback to start moving. To her credit she stepped up on her toe-points and gracefully made her way across the mid-morning traffic as if she had been doing it all her life. Must have been all the deer she was used to watching for on the sides of our Mayne Island roads in British Columbia. We had decided to take the California One north until it connected to Highway 101. We had been warned that it was slow, windy, car-sick inducing and had great views. It was the latter that made it irresistible.
California coast from Muir Beach overlook south with San Francisco in the distance.
Though there were impressive moments before this, we didn’t stop along the shoreline until reaching the Muir Beach Overlook.
The California One is gorgeous but one must keep driving or it would take weeks to complete this section instead of two days.
The first night on California One we stayed at the Valley Ford Hotel in the middle of cow country.
The hotel is more like a quaint bed and breakfast these days without the breakfast. But it’s 1864 establishment and history is most evident. We had purchased local cheese and some bread and bananas for breakfast. Coffee was available with filtered water even. So all was just as it should be.
Besides the old barn directly behind the grocery store…
and the country commuter car…
there was something else that told us before any other factor that we were in serious cow country. Can you guess what it is? Nope, not the dead skunk in the middle of the road that I narrowly missed. Nope, not the cattle guards either. Yes, you got it – the unmistakable aroma of cow manure. But even so, it sure was a beautiful stretch of road.
The next morning we continued on galloping up, down and around the ribbon of highway on the ruffled neckline of the Pacific coast. At times, the narrow road has all the excitement of a slow roller coaster.
When we would round a corner and see nothing but the narrow curve of the highway and the blue of the sea and sky I really did need to mutter to myself – stay the course Terrill, people drive this road everyday without mishap.
We did stop occasionally just to enjoy the view. One of these was at Duncan’s Cove.
The other was to eat our packed lunch at Point Arena Lighthouse.
But mostly, we drove and pulled over frequently to let locals go zipping by on their way to destination that was far more urgent than ours.
We have a two night stop at Howard Creek Ranch Inn, mile 80.49 on California one.
Complete with rubber boots to cross the creek it is a little peace of sixties heaven coming from the rubble of much older roots. We are in a large room on the main floor of the carriage house – the Walden. As I sit at the desk looking out onto the courtyard this morning, I can hear the morning birds, a chatty rooster and the surf which is telling me the tide is in. Breakfast is in an hour at 9:00 am and we will walk one-at-a-time across the bridge that swings over the creek to the farm-house where I have already spotted wood smoke churning up from the chimney of the cook stove and the living room fireplace. When we checked in it was at the farmhouse and then we drove back to the quiet highway and came a cross the bridge then back down a long winding driveway, complete with a deer bounding across the field, coming to a parking place next to the large carriage house. Howard Creek is definitely a defining feature of the property and daily life. The woodwork is an aesthetic gem in the big building and was done by the owner in what appears to have taken years and is an ongoing process. Terracotta tile floors with bits of blue and Spanish design around the bed finish our room off with comfortable warmth. The bathroom has a large open European style shower and there are patchwork curtains at the end of the bed for privacy and shelter from the morning light. I can hear little bells and looking up there is a herd of goats and sheep coming down the road towards the farm-house. Good morning world!
I have already taken my camera for an impressive walk late in the afternoon yesterday
and again at sunset.
Today after breakfast, I hope to do some painting sketches as it looks like another fine day here on the coast. And with my coffee cup empty, so another day begins on our coastal trip. With my painting gear on my shoulder, rubber boots on my feet I head out and cross the creek near the shore.
The blue-green of the sea is mesmerizing. I just stand there for the longest time.
Eventually the surf connecting with the shore forces my camera up.
I begin an hour-long reference shoot of these favourite rocks
along with the rest of the shoreline.
Words cannot explain my full-body of emotions and the rhythmic vibration of the surf in my being. Eventually, I gather enough inner calm to decide where to do a painting sketch. I am unsure of the tides direction so the decision seemed obvious enough. I went up to the lookout.
Removing rubber boots and socks I set up to work. People come and go behind me with little attention necessary on my part. About 45 minutes later, I call it done.
The light has of course already changed and the sea is now slightly washed out in the mid-day light but I am happy with the results of the sketch.
About this point a young boy of around ten years old comments behind me – great job! I turn to look into this earnest face filled with appreciation. He goes on to explain that his art teacher had asked them to paint like Monet and that it was really hard but I had done it perfectly. The fact that he absolutely meant every word that he said and that he somehow had an intuitive understanding based on his own experience as to what was involved in creating this small painting sketch, immediately established a kinship. We chatted for a while about patches of colour and moving light. His sister and father watched and listened with more curiosity than real interest. I wonder if this young lad will someday become a full-time painter? One never knows who tomorrow’s artists are among us do we?
“morning on beach at Mile 80.49 California one” 9 x 12 inch acrylic plein air painting sketch
So, if you are afraid of heights, or if you truly do get car-sick or frustrated with slow travel then this is not the highway for you. Other than that, I would say do it! I do believe that this section of the California One has become one of my favourite road.
We are home again now and there are large canvases in the waiting in the loft studio to explore more of my experiences. But for the moment, this is enough, more than enough.
What is one of your own favourite stretches of highway?
© 2015 Terrill Welch, All rights reserved.
Liberal usage granted with written permission. See “About” for details.
Creative Potager – Visit with painter and photographer Terrill Welch
From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada
For gallery and purchase information about Terrill’s photographs and paintings go to http://terrillwelchartist.com