Joshua Tree, CA to Monroe, WA via Hwy 101

My mistake was focusing on the infamous Pacific Coast Highway, PCH 101. Fifty something years ago, it was ‘the coast road' for the most part, at least where I traveled. Occasionally on a double day off I would go for a casual drive north following the beaches, or other more rural roads northeast through the endless orange groves and Eucalyptus windbreaks to the mountains. I would go as far as I could go until after dark, often on the PCH, up into the coastal mountains, where my dog and I would find a $1 hostel in the off-season ski country to stay the night, returning the next day in time to get a good night's sleep at home and be back to work the next morning in Laguna managing the Pottery Shack's warehouse.

On our planned 1225 mile trip to Monroe WA, 860 miles of it would be on Hwy 101. We thought it would be a nice casual drive along the beaches. It was in fact, a fast drive on an endless freeway with occasional off-ramps to planned waypoints, or for gas, food, etc. well into central CA. All along this route we would see these green signs pointing to California 1. At the time, we did not know that it was the beach road, and we did not want to get lost or loose time exploring the unknown, so we kept going and stayed with the plan, Stan.

Now that we have done the trip and I have mapped where we traveled, I can see that we should have gotten off at every one of those signs for California SR 1, aka Cabrillo Highway, Shoreline Highway, Coast Highway and even occasionally the PCH.

As we climbed into the coastal mountains, everything changed. The highway narrowed and slowed down as it began to wind its way between massive Redwood trees, now at 55 mph, interspersed with sudden 35 or 25 mph yellow warning signs. Now and then you could see where some cars had not quite made the turn.

In fact, well before we even reached Hwy 101, we did sit and watch a car being winched back up a cliff and onto the road. Guided by the GPS, we found ourselves travelling along a Bouquet Canyon Road, a real nice drive near Santa Clarita, about 170 miles northwest of our Joshua Tree home, above Los Angeles and approaching Hwy 101 at Santa Barbara. All we could see as we sat and waited were a wall of tree trunks on our right and an irregular rock wall rising on our left. The cop waiting beside us said that it was a 100 foot drop over that edge, but a tree had caught the guy's car at 10 feet. He had climbed back up unharmed, and sought help.

We did notice how similar it was to our favorite hair-raising ride over the Ortega Highway from Lake Elsinore up, over and down into Capistrano, heading for Laguna. However, this one had a lot more trees and fewer guardrails.

We landed safely in Santa Barbara and took a casual walk through this beautiful old town, including an unexpectedly extended and somewhat arduous treck out the long, wide and solid Stearns Wharf (as others smarter than us paid the fee and drove out).

It was on our way back to the car that we discovered that we had forgotten to note where we had parked it. By then we were both kind of weary and with sore feet. Hence, we got to see even more of the town until we eventually found the car. There is no shortage of grey Prius's in Santa Barbara. It helped having a veteran's plate. I could see the emblem from a distance.

On the way out, we made a point of driving by the old Spanish mission of Santa Barbara. It was not as impressive as the mission in Capistrano, as though it had been squared off and modernized 200 and something years ago with adobe so that it looks pretty much like any other adobe building. I suspect the rock walled mission in Capistrano looks about like it did when it was built in 1776.

The next day we pulled off at Pismo Beach, a name that had always intrigued me, but I don't know why. It is a relatively small California beachside town at the bottom of an ancient canyon creek originally settled by the Chumash Indians. It also includes a large grove of Eucalyptus trees populated every fall by endless flocks of Monarch butterflies on their way to South America. We have a similar Eucalyptus adjacent to our home in Joshua Tree. I have seen some colorful orange moths around our tree, but no Monarchs.

Later in the day we rounded a corner and discovered the infamous Big Sur coast road hugging an endless succession of 200 foot (+/-) drop-offs. This became 25 miles of a fairly casual but twisted drive where I had to keep my eyes glued to the road as I heard Eileen going "Oohh" and "Ahhh" and "Wow" etc., but I did not dare look. It is a proven fact that the wheel does tend to turn slightly in the direction that you are looking and I have caught myself doing that in the past.

I did have my right arm out with a camera on the end of it clicking as needed, so I got a lot of good pictures of the Prius upholstery and light glinting off of hazy glass, water spots, reflections, etc. and a surprising number of road shoulder shots, almost all out of focus. Out of those 42 Big Sur shots taken along that precarious edge, I might have gotten 2 that I can work with in Photoshop. It wasn't all edge. I did get some shots where it was safe to look in that direction. They were of broad green fields with cattle and barns and research stations in between the road and the more distant edge.

Lots of people were pulled over along the way taking pictures the correct way. I have trouble doing that; I have trouble stopping once we are underway. God forbid we forgot something; "No going BACK!". For gas, it has to say empty, or even blinking before I will ask my GPS for the nearest gas station. Once, on another trip, it actually did run out of gas, but that wonderful Prius battery kept me going to the next off-ramp and gas station. However, I do not want to do that again so I don't really wait for it to start blinking anymore.

Anyhow, if we had stopped at all of those magnificent picture-taking spots, I think we might still be there (as I write this). Likewise those beach roads we didn't drive down before and after this one.

However, at the bottom of this stretch of Big Sur, we did pull off the road onto a narrow curving path that the GPS had put us on. I had in fact selected it as a destination back home before we departed, along with a half dozen other beach destinations up into Washington.

This one was Pfeiffer Beach. This narrow 2 mile drive took us down through heavily wooded and wet terrain, past very private back-woods homes and gates, crossing through a running stream, alongside curious horses and greyed fences until we ended up at a ranger station with a parking lot and bathrooms (yes! thank you). We did have to pay $10 cash to get through the gate.

We then walked a pathway down to a rocky and sandy and windy beach with big surf bursting around the edges of large high isolated rocky mounds, one of which contained a squarish small boat sized hole that somebody must have cut through the rock a long time ago. It might be assessable at low tide. After typing the above, I looked it up. It is called Keyhole Arch. Some articles suggest that it is a natural formation, but I do not believe that. I have worked with enough rock to know that somebody cut that hole, probably with a small sledge hammer and a chisel. One day I would like to return at very low tide and get up close and personal with my camera.

There were a surprising number of people and dogs braving the terrain where the rocky fresh water fore-mentioned creek cuts through a sand dune to penetrate the rolling and crashing waves. Nobody was actually in the water though I understand that photographers have waded out there with their tri-pods to capture the winter solstice evening sun shining brilliantly through the keyhole.

On our way out we pulled over for a moment so that Eileen could chat with the friendly and inquiring horses.


Somehow we got off of Hwy 101 onto I-880 above San Jose and passed through Oakland, 5 miles east of San Francisco, at around 5:00 PM. I did get to see Elon Musk's enormous brand new Tesla factory off to the right - I want one! The traffic was heavy but still moving at a good pace. I think it and Seattle were the only places where we saw any heavy traffic on the trip north (south would prove to be an entirely different story). After passing over the Richmond - San Rafael Bridge and San Quentin State Prison, we reconnected with Hwy 101.

Had we known, and had we stayed on 101, we would have travelled over the Golden Gate Bridge, which probably would indeed have been golden at that time with the setting sun.

We stayed the night north of Frisco in Petaluma and stopped for breakfast an hour later in Ukiah. At about 10:30 we pulled off of 101, now being called the Redwood Highway, into a rather unique rest stop somewhere near the Mendocino National Forest (I love these names). First of all this rest stop was not adjacent to the highway. We had to loop around and over a small bridge and then down into the place. Other than being incredibly cold, it was probably the cleanest and neatest rest stop we had ever seen. But for the cold, it was a real nice place to go for a long walk on the grounds or into the surrounding woods. Eileen did that. I did not, but I enjoyed watching a gentle creek running along beside where we were parked, with the unseen highway somewhat distant and elevated on the other side of the creek.

I have just completed a thorough search for the place online, such as "rest stops near highway 101" and found nothing. Here's what I have:
At 10:23 AM I had taken 2 pictures, neither of which help identify the place.
They follow long distant sunset shots taken the evening before of the port of Oakland shipyard cranes.
The rest stop would therefore be 2+ hours, maybe 130 miles, north of Ukiah where we paid for our breakfast at 8:00 that morning.
We had also stopped for gas in Rio Dell, CA at 12:07, 1.5+ hours after the 10:23 pair.
The first shots to follow the 10:23 pair were taken at mile 95 near the Clam Beach County Park in Oregon at 1:07 PM, so they are no help.

Alas, my very own information nails it down to one of two rest stops near Willits, CA. Other Google images that I had looked at did not ring any bells, but I think this is the place. The Irvine Lodge Rest Area or the Moss Cove Rest Area. Both have their own Facebook pages. Pictures of the latter make it look like it is right on the highway, so that can't be it.

One guy's description of the Irvine Lodge Rest Area is "This is seriously one of the nicest, coolest little rest areas I've been to. It's tucked way back in its own little nook and is beautifully groomed and next to a creek and quite nice.".
I have found it.
I had originally ignored this one because I knew it was nowhere near Irvine, CA and the Irvine Ranch in Orange County, my original stomping grounds in the latter 60's. It took a while for me to realize that there are probably other Irvines.

Regarding the two streams previously mentioned, I can't help but wonder about something. The state has been suffering through a horrendous draught over the last few years, and yet there certainly is no draught where these streams are located. Of course they serve a useful purpose along their routes providing water to the surrounding terrain, the farms and the residents. But eventually, like at Pfeiffer Beach, that clean fresh water drops into the ocean. Why not some sort of screened dark green composite catch basin or perhaps some submerged filtered inlet pipes at the bottom of its journey to strain and funnel that water though composite pipes that carry the water along the ocean floor to immerge above Los Angeles or wherever needed and quietly dump its contents into a reservoir. A few thousand of these up and down the coast could capture a lot of water being lost to the sea. If they can do that with oil and gas, they can do it with water.

Water is already being piped and channeled for this purpose, mostly from the Colorado River at Lake Mead and the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta, formerly a large freshwater marsh which is now sinking. It is a good idea gone wrong for various reasons I won't get into here. You can see those pipes passing through the mountain walls east of 29 Palms, and the endless concreate aqueducts serving the same purpose. I have read that the power needed to run those pumps is equal to that required to run a small city.

At least these partial extraction catch basins or pipes could absorb the water where its loss would cause no apparent harm. If salmon, otters or other wildlife travel these transition areas from salty to clear, enough room could be left for them get by. Just like an aquarium pump, not much force would be needed to move that water from long filtered regulated valves or basins at the source to pumps installed at the destination.

The rest of this trip north was mostly about following 101 (now truly the coast road even if you are a couple of hundred feet above that coast) through mountainous terrain and redwood or pine forests, farm land and small towns. Unfortunately, the latter are still pretty much covered with a dingy layer of coal dust, one of the worst contributors to the climate change that we are all experiencing now, one way or another. Oregon and Washington are doing something about that right now. California has already been there and done that for the most part.

It is also interesting to think that as the giant Redwoods grow and are now protected by law, highway 101 is slowly shrinking side to side as the trees gradually expand into the road. One day highway 101 will be the width of a bike path.

But by then the Cascadia earthquake tsunami that wiped out the area 300 years ago will probably repeat itself and remove what is left of the highway, not to mention the 1000's of beach front homes west of the road. They actually do have signs all along that northern route indicating that drivers should be prepared to make a quick right turn up a hill real fast, if there is a hill and a way up. Either that or pull over, put on their scuba gear and fasten their seatbelts.

It took us 4 days to drive from Joshua Tree, CA north to Monroe, WA mostly on Highway 101 and 2 days to drive back via I-5 and unplanned alternates.

Our destination was Sultan, WA, 9 miles east of Monroe and the home of Eileen's son, Jody Kerr with his wife Tiffany and kids Tanith, Jensen & Ellie.

They have a quietly adventurous farm on Highway 2 about half way between the two towns with a number of rescued farm animals, plus chicken trailers and honey bee boxes. The animals' job is to mow and fertilize the long narrow 40 acre farm with the Snohomish River running along the opposite border (and sometimes across the farm). They sell eggs and honey at a local farmer's market and at a store that he just opened in Sultan in partnership with a woman who makes chocolate.

The 2nd day of the drive back, 12/23, became wet and surprisingly crowded. Waking up that morning at a Motel 6 in Anderson, CA, out of the mountains and in the central valley, we expected a smooth ride home. A Friday, 2 days before Christmas.

Apparently everybody in the state decided to leave then for their Christmas destination. It began kind of weird. We stopped for breakfast at the first Denny's that the GPS could take us to, the only stipulation being that it be on our route. Except that this one was closed and had obviously been that way for many years. Back on the highway, we aimed for the next one. We saw it as we drove by its exit on the highway. The GPS got us off at the next exit and told us we were there. We weren't. We drove down the street, took a right and drove a mile back to the Denny's at the previous exit in Woodland, CA. I told the manager about it so that she could tell the home office about it.

This is a brand new TomTom GPS. I got it at Wal-Mart a few days before our departure and downloaded the latest map that night. The download took over 4 hours in spite of my having a recent model 64 bit Dell PC and a high speed internet connection. It is a massive database for all of the USA and Canada, so I understand.

I suddenly have an idea of what the problem might be. I had transferred all of my incidental data from my old TomTom into the computer and then into the new TomTom, primarily my list of favorites that I had accumulated for nearly 10 years. That data also included some extended databases that I had downloaded nearly 10 years ago of all Denny's locations, Wal-Marts, Home Depots, and others. I assume it made sense at the time, though I don't recall why. Now it would be way out of date and totally redundant since all of that info would be in the current database anyhow, or available by satellite which is probably the more likely scenario. I am guessing that the GPS is designed to give that "favorite" information priority, regardless of how accurate it may or may not be.

Then we went next door to get gas at the Arco. My AMEX card would not take. I went inside and told the clerk about it and he said "Oh, Arco does not take credit cards. You have to use a debit card.". Huh?? I said that I wanted to use my AMEX for this. Debit cards are highly risky and should never be used in unfamiliar locations. The manager came over and took my AMEX card, charged me a flat $40. I filled my car. They credited back the difference. Apparently they do not even get a cut of that for their trouble. Remind me never to buy stock in Arco.

We then passed by Sacramento, Stockton and Modesto. The traffic was very heavy but moving, until it was not.

I do not know where this was but we were in creep mode on I-5 in the middle of nowhere. The next large city was Los Angeles over 200 miles south. We crept along for over an hour. We could see way ahead but we could see no reason. It did not make sense. Eventually we told the GPS to find an alternate route. It told us to get off at the next exit, about 6 miles ahead. In about a half hour we did so.

It took us directly north (not good) for 21 miles and then east (still not good) for 33 miles to Fresno. The traffic along that route was also heavy and often bumper to bumper, but this was a tad better then I-5. At Fresno we turned southeast on Hwy 99 towards Bakersfield. We were finally heading in the right direction and at a decent speed.

An hour and a half later, after Bakersfield, we decided not to attempt the known heavy traffic of Los Angeles so we turned east towards our original route of 8 days earlier, but safely north of L A.

We found ourselves driving through some magnificent mountain country. It was a long straight passage through scenic land that I had never seen before. This then dropped down to the stark volcanic desert of Mohave where I had once owned investment land a long time ago.

We passed by Edwards Air Force base where the space station shuttles often landed. South to Palmdale and east to Victorville, where again the traffic came to a standstill. Again, for no apparent reason. It was dark now as we crept along, bumper to bumper for perhaps an hour. It had been pouring rain off and on all day. Maybe people up ahead had trouble driving through the puddles. I don't know. This trip was really getting weird.

Eventually we reached our right-hand turn and headed south towards Yucca Valley, finally. Nobody else was going that way, which I appreciated. This was a 60 mile dark and narrow road twisting and turning down through more mountainous territory. At least I knew this road. I was maintaining about 60 MPH, keeping my tired eyes open sharp for coyotes and birds that don't fly, but occasionally someone would catch up and pass. We had driven most of this road in daylight 8 days ago, but we had turned east at highway 18 to Palmdale.

We arrived in Yucca at about 7 PM which felt like 2 AM. We filled up at Nick's Chevron, got food at Stater Brothers and went HOME.

I do not want to do that again. Next time we fly out of Palm Springs, which is always nice.

Eileen is already talking about exploring those beach roads with missed, so I don't know how this is going to work out. Yes, I do; I ain't goin!

However, I have since figured that flying and renting would be about $100 cheaper, allowing for the cost of eating at home for 5 nights.


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