Saturday, June 12, 2010

Snapshots of Spanish California

Last time, we mentioned an important historical figure named John Sutter and his mill near Sacramento in the history of the 1849 California Gold Rush.  The story did not take place completely in United States, technically speaking.  In fact, John Sutter’s settlement and business endeavors leading up to discovery of gold were granted under a Mexican Governor as a Mexican citizen.  California was ceded to the United States in 1848 when Mexico was defeated in the Mexican-American War and signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.  Prior to that, California was a part of the territory called Alta California (or Upper California) that was formed around 1770 by Spain and later became a part of Mexico in 1821 when Mexico gained its independence from Spain, the first European colonial power who discovered and colonized the Americas.

The capital of Alta California was Monterey which was founded in 1777 and located at the Monterey peninsula, 100+ miles south of San Francisco. With its beautiful scenery and easy access, it is a top choice for excursion trips when visiting San Francisco bay area.  Monterey is also a special place for us where we spent our honeymoon weekend 35 years ago.   

One way to enjoy a relaxing visit of the Monterey region in an excursion from San Francisco is to drive south on the famous California State Route 1, or simply Highway 1, one of the most impressive scenic coastal routes in the world.  While the road may be winding here and there, it is not nerve wrecking and does not give you the cliff-hanging sensation for the most parts.  It also offers frequent roadside stop opportunities for one to relax and enjoy the breath taking views of the coastline.  Thanks to the efforts of the residents and conservationists, most areas along the highway had managed to resist land development and retain its natural beauties.

That was exactly what we did in our recent two day visit of Monterey.  Our first random stop was at the Montara State Beach, a few miles south of Pacifica.  What caught my eyes was a big patch of magenta flowers on a slope at a distance south of the beach.  Two days later, when we had a walk between the Lovers Point Park and Perkins Park of Pacific Grove on Monterey bay, next to Monterey, we suddenly found ourselves greeted and surrounded by the very same flowers.  They form a natural colorful carpet and sometimes hanging draperies along the sandy trail between the road and rocky shoreline of the bay.  A little online research suggests that they are ice plant (or Carpobrotus edulis), an invasive mat-forming plant that was brought to California in 1900s from South Africa initially for the purpose of stabilizing soil along the rail tracks.   It is now spread widely in California and can be found in coastal habitats as far north as Eureka.  Below are some photos that I took from the trail.

13 miles south of Carmel, one comes to one of the most photographed bridges - the Bixby Creek Bridge.  The bridge spans over 700 ft long over the Bixby canyon and made Big Sur much more easily accessible.   It was built in 1931-32 during the Great Depression as one of the public works projects to help relieve unemployment.  The bridge is so aesthetically pleasing that it became an excellent illustration of the balance and connection of natural beauty and human development needs.   Here is a panoramic photo of the bridge and ocean taken from northwest side of the bridge.

Traveling another 20 miles, one comes to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, one of many state parks in Big Sur region.  A short walk under the roadway from the parking lot of the Park towards to the Pacific ocean, one is brought to an incredible view of a rare tidefall - waterfall that flows directly into ocean. It is the 80 ft high McWay Fall pounding on the sand beach right next to the ocean. 

Before we drove back to San Francisco, we stopped by the Carmel Mission, or the Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, a Roman Catholic mission church, founded in 1770 and named after Saint Carlo Borromeo who was the Archbishop of Milan, Italy and a reformist in16th century.  Carmel Mission was the headquarters of the original Alta California Missions headed by Father Junípero Serra who was buried here upon his death.  It was painstakingly and authentically restored beginning in late 19th century.  In 1987, Pope John Paul II visited the Mission as part of his U.S. tour.  Today, visitors are brought back to the mood of Spanish California over 200 years ago when wondering around the gardens, the courtyard, and the hallways of the private K-8 Catholic schools on the compound.  There are also some records and relics exhibited in the church and the museum galleries to complete the history. 

Carmel, the popular and lovely small artistry town is only 2 miles north of the Mission.  I can still recall vividly scenes from Clint Eastwood’s first directed movie – the 1971 classic Play Misty for Me.  Of course, this thriller movie set the bar for all female psychotic stalker films including the popular 1987 Fatal Attraction by Michael Douglas and Glenn Close.  I always wonder if anyone would ever dare to pick up girls in bars after seeing this movie filmed partly in Carmel.   Before I go, I will leave you with the movie’s unforgettable title song The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face by Roberta Flack and its lyrics.  It brought a new dimension to love songs.  Talk to you soon!

The first time ever I saw your face
I thought the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon and the stars were the gifts you gave
To the dark and the end of the skies, my love

And the first time ever I kissed your mouth
I felt the earth move in my hand
Like the trembling heart of a captive bird
That was there at my command, my love

And the first time ever I lay with you
I felt your heart so close to mine
And I knew our joy would fill the earth
And last, till the end of time, my love

The first time ever I saw your face
Your face
Your face
Your face

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