Tuesday, July 24, 2012

El Capitan, San Simeon, and wind storm in Gaviota

So, we had such a great time at El Capitan last time, we wanted to try it again. This time, feeling more confident, armed with our trusty camping book, and better able to navigate the reservation web site, we decided to take another trip there when our youngest (at the time), "K" was a few months old.

We reserved our now favorite site (sorry, I just can't share, some things just must remain sacred). You probably wouldn't like it anyway. I mean, these favorite spots are so subjective. I'm sure you understand, right?
Pretty private space, with a few trees and a view of the ocean behind us. However, this was also the favorite site for an ENORMOUS raccoon who visits us every time we reserve it. He is not easily scared away either. 

Our sweet baby "K" seemed very content in this spot too. She was an angel on the trip!



The kids were both entranced by this friendly bird. I believe it is a Stellar Jay. Any experts out there, feel free to correct me, but that's what my friend, Mr. Google led me to believe. This guy perched right on our chair, and just watched us, wishing for food. 
He's still waiting... We really don't feed the natives, but they are so much fun to look at. 
After spending several days at El Capitan, we drove further north up the coast to San Simeon State Park to spend a few days there. San Simeon was pretty, but much more like an RV Park setting, than a wilderness campground, know what I mean? It's often called a "layover" campground, as many use it to spend the night on their longer journeys up or down the coast. It was extremely practical, with flush toilets and showers, and the sites were fairly private. Both times we have visited this campground it was extremely windy. So, I would give the campground itself pretty average reviews, but the surrounding area was beautiful and very fun to explore.

Within walking distance from the campground, there is a beautiful (yet VERY windy) beach with gorgeous waves to watch. Leading up to the ocean were wetlands where we saw large birds (heron maybe?) fishing. It was really interesting. To tell you the truth, on this trip, it was so very windy and cold (remember it was October) and we had our young baby K, that we didn't want to keep her out in the elements for too long.
A marked trail takes you from San Simeon Campground under the highway to this desolate, yet lovely beach. 
So very pretty (and windy)! But the strong wind made for some powerful waves which were so much fun to watch crashing towards the beach.
Another trail led us through grasslands, and marshes on a very cool raised boardwalk (to protect the wildlife and vegetation below). Our 3 year old loved this, and I have to admit, I got a kick out of it myself. Very unique, and very educational. Little placards gave us more information about the area. Our little scientist was thrilled!
Cool boardwalks led us on a hike, protecting wildlife from us, and protecting us from poison oak. Thank you!!!
To be completely honest with you here, after one very cold night (with the baby) we decided to return south again and finish up our trip. We ran the heater in our pop-up trailer during the night (thank goodness for the great heat in our trusty pop-up) so we kept little R & K warm and toasty, but it was just too cold for such a small baby.

So, since we were now camping without reservations, we had to find any campground that had first come, first serve spots available. It was no surprise that El Capitan had no availability. Next we tried Refugio, but no dice. So we went back up north to Gaviota State Park.

Gaviota was basically a parking lot, but with beach access. You could walk from your (parking) space through two canyon walls, under a scenic bridge to the beach. It may not have been our first choice, but it was warm, and it was a place to sleep, and to break up the drive for our antsy kids.

We all agreed that it was the best choice to be made, as we sunned ourselves on the beach that afternoon. We were glad for the warmth, and the pretty beach. However, the calm didn't last very long. Our umbrella being uprooted, and our stroller nearly airborne by a gust of wind should have been warning signs of what was to come later.

The wind gusts in the late afternoon and early evening began to get stronger and stronger. We ate an early dinner and retired to our trailer for some relief. We tried to play cards, but the wind was so loud and powerful, it was hard to concentrate. I'm not gonna lie to you, I was scared. Some of the gusts were literally lifting our pop-up off the ground. I was outwardly calm, trying to put on a brave front for my 3-year old. Have I mentioned she was a bit high-maintenance? She had some issues with loud noises (toilets flushing, lawn-mowers, etc.) and had a tendency to freak out when her routine was upset at times. I was petrified she was going to "lose it" soon.

To make matters worse, some "brilliant" campers outside had campfires going. Have I mentioned how close the sites are to one another? And how ferociously the winds were blowing? Not a good combination at all.

My husband went outside to survey the situation. I was in the trailer with my five-month-old (sleeping) and my little (sometimes crazy) R. The pop-up was lurching and lifting up with the insane wind gusts. I was getting more and more scared, when the trailer seriously blew up off the ground. Little R shrieked with delight. Yes, delight! For some obscure reason, she was thrilled by this excitement. She was one hard toddler to decipher. Whatever. I was just ecstatic that she wasn't bawling, and that sweet little K was somehow sleeping through all of this madness.

The hubs poked his head in the door, and asked what I thought we should do. We both looked at each other. It was about 11 pm. Our kids normally would be asleep at 7 pm. They are creatures of habit. Have I mentioned they hate sleeping anywhere but their beds? And that R still was not fond of the car? Even so, both of us were worried about the trailer, the winds, possible fire, and the possibility of being trapped in that canyon if there was a fire. So, we both decided to start the drive home.

But first we had to move the girls into the truck, pack up all of our camping gear, and somehow manage to put the pop-up down in crazy wind gusts, with sobbing children. We did it. It was not fun or easy, but we managed.

Let me say that this long, long drive home was probably one of the darkest times of our camping experiences thus far. The girls kept crying. R never slept, and K woke and slept fitfully, crying and crying. Meanwhile my husband was trying to concentrate on the roads, with gusty winds blowing us (and the trailer) all over the place. Of course we hit traffic in Los Angeles at about 1 am (there's ALWAYS traffic in LA) and finally reached our house in the wee hours of the morning. I've never been so happy to be home.

So nothing against Gaviota, but I don't plan on going back anytime soon.


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