By the time we arrived, darkness had fallen upon the Mountain of Gold. (Sarah had a 3:00 PM meeting on Friday afternoon and delicious Gilroy burritos further delayed our southward progress.) With darkness came coldness and Andre and Sarah were glad to have brought a big, down comforter.

An early morning pee-scursion, however, revealed that a warm breeze had begun to blow in from the east. By the time the sun came up, Saturday morning was shaping up to be mighty fine.

Andre snuck out first and found that the outhouses in the campground were numbered. This one seemed like an appropriate venue for the morning’s agenda.

Montaña de Oro (as earlier evidence has shown) is particularly well suited to early morning photographic expeditions. After finishing up with his AM appointments, Andre ventured out to do a little recon. The surf was considerably smaller and messier than the last such mission, but the park was no less beautiful.

The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant is about 5 or 6 miles south of the campground. They recently opened up part of northern end of the property for hiking. (Sarah and I checked it out a couple years ago and dared each other to touch the electric fences that ran around the property.)

One of the byproducts of having a reactor so close (a reactor built practically on top of a seismic fault line) is the many warning stickers stuck up around the park. The stickers tell you what to do if you hear a prolonged siren. (Pray.)

Here’s the plant: click ! Be sure to check out the full resolution picture to see it in all it’s looming glory.

7:00 AM flights headed out across the Pacific.

Another geologist’s wet dream.

(Previously )

This rock is a lot bigger when you’re trying to climb it at night. (It’s even bigger when you’re up on top of it at night and your brother is attempting to cast himself into a swirling watery graveyard of jagged rocks and seven-foot swells!)

Just up the road from the campground, there’s a grass parking lot with two big aloe plants growing next to one another. This snail appears to be pretty excited about the whole situation. (Well... as excited as a snail can appear, anyway.)

There’s a gap between the two plants through which intrepid explorers might travel to the far side of the plant. Judging from the snipped off branches, the tunnel appears to be man made.

Man made or not, the cave is pretty awesome! Complete with stalactites and everything!

The view out the western end of the tunnel.

(“Splendid!” thought Andre.)

Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides: above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumbered and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages and will lie
Battening upon huge sea-worms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

— Alfred Tennyson (1830)1

Four similar plants, obediently standing at attention.

The tide was pretty high when I took this picture (just a couple hours away from a +5.15 high!), but normally these rocks are a tide pool wonderland! We used to come here all the time when I was a little(r) kid. Probably half of our family pictures were of my brother and I running around these rocks pants-less so as to keep our clothing dry.

Looking back from the tide pools, the sun had gained a few degrees on the horizon.

That’s the Mountain of Gold itself on the right. It may not look it from this picture, but it’s much bigger than the flower studded dune below this fence...

...This picture, I think, sets the record straight.

Judging by the number of times I’ve gotten a mouthful of web while walking down the path to our house back in Berkeley, good fortune has smiled upon the California spider community. And from the looks of things on this cactus, the same is true down south.

After lurking around the outskirts of the campground for some time, Andre figured the ladies were probably awake (they were) and headed back to the van to break his fast. On the way, he noticed the old buckeye tree from which his chum Wren had once derived for him an eponymous nut.

Post morning nosh, our fearless party headed south for a day of beachful reverie at Pirate’s Cove. Grog was drunk and grub was devoured. Swimming was swum, sweat was sweated, rays were absorbed, a frisbee was thrown, and rocks were climbed. It goes without saying, but I can’t resist:


We hung out for as long as we could, but around 4:00 a fair breeze did commence that kicked up the sand most fiercely. We moved twice: first to a sheltered “suite” between two large rocks and then to the far end of the beach. But to no avail! The sandstorm proved unbearable and we departed for more suitable climes.

Said climes turned out to be the pier-side drags of Pismo Beach. And shakes were in order!

In this picture, we see Sarah, Andre, and Nell casting about their glances in various directions.


Here, Sarah (who really only wanted a glass of icy lemonade) well tanned and sandy (though you couldn’t tell from the picture) ponders the milkshake options at a Dreyer’s ice cream stand.

Anicia, meanwhile, was busy taking photos for a persnickety blog she reads.


On the way to the beach, we made a 5:00 reservation for a hot tub at Sycamore Springs. We abandoned this plan when it became evident that the phrase “per person / per hour” referred not to the $1.00 cost of a towel rental, but to the $17.50 rate for the tub itself!

An alternative plan was proposed to view the sunset from the cliffs below Montaña de Oro. We caught it, but just barely.


Here’s what the sunset looked like just after the sun set.

Chips and beers were brought, meta-photos taken.

From L to R: Sarah “Six Eyes” Carsman, Anicia “The Towering Teetotaler” Timberlake, and Sneering Nellsworth Cloutier.

From L to R: half bird, bird, bird, bird, bird, bird, bird, bird, bird, bird, bird, bird, bird, bird, photogenic bird, bird, bird, bird, bird, and slow bird.

Nell ate chips.


Ray Charles endorsed hipster beer.


It got cold once the sun went down.

Having played nerdy word games until it was all but too dark out to follow the path home, we barely made it back to the campground.

And by dark, I mean dark! Don’t believe me? Check the EXIF data on this picture of a camper with a headlamp! FIFTEEN SECOND EXPOSURE!!

Back at the van, traditional gender roles were reinforced: Andre proved his manhood by conjuring fire from a pile of wood and real-estate papers (almost cutting off his finger in the process while trying to whittle a log into kindling-sized chunks) while S, A, and N cooked dinner and debated the pros and cons of prenuptial agreements.

The next morning, Andre went for a short hike up the mountain (ok, hill) behind the campground. He kept a sharp lookout for the dreaded six-inch Western Black-Legged Tick.

The day before, after returning from the beach, our salt- and sand-encrusted heroes went out in search of creek access (that they might wash themselves clean in its clean waters). A kindly ranger told them it wasn’t far. They walked for a while before deciding that the sunset was the priority and turned around.

Not one to give up on a creek, Andre tried again the next morning. Following the trail along Islay Creek out the back of the campground, each turn greeted Andre with stunning views of newly-lit mountains.

Montaña de Oro is named, I’m told, for the color of the mountain when the springtime poppies start to bloom. This being October, there weren’t a lot of them about. Still, the name seems fitting.

Planty tendrils.

Another early-morning trans-pac flight.

And another! Though this one was headed the wrong way. (Right into some trees.)

And then... the creek!

As it turned out, the trail we were on never did meet up with the creek. To get there, one had to follow a smaller spur trail leading off to a road on the other side of the valley.

Tricky though it was to find, Andre wasn’t the first to make it down to the waters of Islay Creek.

I fell off of this rock right after I took this picture.

The Islay Creek Valley, flooded with morning sunlight.

The place was overrun with rabbits too. I tried to sneak up on this little bastard, but it didn’t work. (Check it out full size!)

The trail eventually circled back up around the campground, whereupon I took this creepy stalker photo of the van.

Most of the campground was stirring by the time I got back, but not so much that the animals had been scared off.

Behold! The menacing fury of a quail in the morning!!

And the pathetic cowardice of his accomplice the rabbit.

Meanwhile, back at camp... Another quail had infiltrated the van zone.


Sarah montage.

Now, with more pouty lip!!


Vanstravaganza essentials (from L to R): two-serving french press, fancy pants aluminum water bottle, tasteful plastic mug (with interchangeable needlepoint insert), Dewars vessel, Pabst Blue Ribbon beer (with power dent), hand sanitizer, van, and Sarah.

Our final day’s activities, it was decided, would begin with a tide-pooling excursion down at Hazard’s Reef. This turned out not to be the wisest of plans, however, when we realized that the almost-new moon prevented with its exceptionally high tide prevented the formation of said pools.

Still, it was pretty neat mucking about on the rocks. We discovered, for example, that large stones thrown at piles of wet kelp would disappear on contact with a slurpy splattering sound.

(Note the photo-bombing clam digger between Sarah and Anicia.)

On a previous this same spot, I was warned by a passing surfer that locals don’t take kindly to people taking pictures of their wave. He said he’d heard of people getting their camera’s smashed in the past. (Man I hate the sense of entitlement some surfers have about certain spots!) Not one to cave to indirect threats, I retaliated by posting just such a photograph on my photoblog. That sure showed them!

I was hoping somebody would hassle me this time, but no one did. I decided I’d post another picture of their precious spot. (Though, admittedly, it isn’t nearly as effective when the surf is crappy and blown out.)

Andre and Sarah stuck to the higher (drier) rocks. Though these turned out to be a bit more bird poop-y.


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Our next stop: Baywood Park for more coffee.

I was going to point out the photo-bomber in this shot as well, but then I decided that a photo needs to be "nice" for it to be bombed...

This helpful sign, right out in front of the coffee shop, warned passersby about something.

Final stop: SLO proper for a peek at the infamous Bubblegum Alley. Seeing as how it was a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, I was dreading the parking situation. But then we saw a car pulling out of a spot right next to the mission and Sarah jumped out to read the magic words on the meter: “EXCEPT SUNDAYS.”

I spent a lot of time in this creek when I was a little kid. Jeremy and I could while away a whole afternoon chasing water skimmers, throwing rocks, and building dams.

I had all but forgotten the place by the time I moved back to California in 2004. When I re-visited the creek for the first time, I got all nostalgic. Everything came back to me! I remembered how hard it was jumping across these rocks. I remembered where all the deep spots were. I even remembered the smell of the nearby fig tree. I still get teary-eyed every time I go back.

(I get a little less teary-eyed when I walk past the “avoid contact with water” sign next to the staircase on the other side.)

Bubblegum Alley.

You can see from the reflection in Sarah’s over-the-glasses glasses that the other side is covered too. Gross.

A close up of the wall in all its tutti frutti glory.

We’d stopped at the Madonna Inn on the way to SLO so that Nell and Anicia could see the famed waterfall pisser. The girls went in after I made sure the coast was clear. (An older gentleman soon followed and, upon seeing three young ladies standing giggling inside, apologized for going in the wrong bathroom.) I waited outside and threw away a quarter in a nearby gumball machine.

Looking at Bubblegum Alley, I had an epiphany. Here I was, having never contributed to the piece itself, with a wad of gum in my mouth! It was starting to lose its flavor anyway, so I left my legacy: a big, white, “A.”

I’ll be taking my grandchildren here...

Maybe that’s what this lady did.

Our other motive in stopping in SLO on the way back was to introduce our friends to the splendors of a California Burrito. Our favorite burrito place, however, was gone! Fortunately we found a backup.

Here, Sarah anticipates putting this pico de gallo to good use.

Andre, on the other hand, decided that it would be a good idea to smash a bottle of hot sauce by gracefully knocking it off the table with his elbow. Fortunately, the bottle was only 9/10 full, so it took only half of all the paper towels in the bathroom to clean it up!

Here’s the grisly aftermath (with Anicia pointing at it for good measure).

Back in the van and on the way home!

Elbows abound as Anicia endures the painful springs of the captain’s throne and Nellsworth (ecstatically) dons the front-seat hat with Andre (and Sarah in his lap) taking some pictures from the back seat for a change.

1 Alfred Tennyson, The Poetical Works of Alfred Tennyson, Poet Laureate (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1870), 241.