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JANUARY 01, 2013


'And when the fog's over

and the stars and moon come out at night

it'll be a beautiful sight.'

- Jack Kerouac - 

The iconic 17-Mile Drive from Carmel to Pacific Grove in California is a pocket of contrasts. This portion of the peninsula is famous for its pine-filled forest, it's golf courses, its magnificent homes, its views, and its abundant animal and marine life.

In the 1800s, grandnephew of Samuel Morse, also called Samuel Morse, was instrumental in preserving this area. On the best land, he built Del Monte Lodge, laid out golf courses and established the scenic 17-mile drive as a green belt. He also preserved much of the natural forest.

Initially this circuit was an all-day carriage ride, with a stop at the Chinese fishing village to eat and to purchase souvenirs, such as polished stones and objects made of shells.

Along the two-mile stretch between Cypress and Pescadero Points, there are many fine examples of Monterey cypresses. Monterey cypress is found naturally along the central Californian coast, but specifically confined to two small populations near Carmel, at Cypress Point, and at Point Lobos. Although they look really frail, the cypresses may be 500 years old. It is difficult to estimate their true age, as this species doesn't always add a ring annually.  

Taking the road slowly provides a surprise at each turn, so it's worth spending a few hours simply enjoying the scenery.

This excursion through the 17-Mile Drive takes place during a longer road trip between Los Angeles and Carmel-by-the-Sea. We are driving a hire car. To ready about the entire road trip, click here.

carmel 17 mile drive.jpg



Highlights: 17 Mile Drive, Asilomar  Convention Centre , John Denver Memorial

Total distance: 35 kms

Costs: $10.00 entrance fee for the 17-mile drive

Accommodation: Comfort Inn Carmel by the Sea, Ocean Ave & Torres St, Carmel, CA 93921

The 17-mile drive is probably one of the world's most scenic stretches of road. It hugs the Pacific coastline from Pacific Grove to Carmel, California. The modest US$10.00 fee to use the road includes a brochure outlining the scenic features of the peninsula, such as the Lone Cypress, Bird Rock, and the Pebble Beach Golf Course. Each of the stops is numbered and provides a specific view. We stop at each one, and whilst we enjoy the scenery at each scenic viewing area, some views are better than others. 

At the first stops at Shepherd's Knoll and Huckleberry Hill, I'm surprised to find that I'm overlooking a fairly large cypress forest; Spanish moss is draped upon the branches, which is an indication of the amount of rain and fog this area receives annually. I'm glad that it's a fine day today. We stop at turnout number 6, Restless Sea, and cannot think of a more appropriate name for this spot. Waves swell and smash over the large rocks in the water, creating white foamy spray that resembles delicate lace. I'd like to witness the 'restless sea' when the ocean is more turbulent.

At Point Joe, I'm amused to see cypress trees bent over almost horizontally; a result of the strong winds, which prevail at this location. In between the rocks, I can see a tiny section of the golf course; the players must cross the road to play the hole in the flat top of a rocky outcrop. I wonder how many balls are mistakenly shot into the swirling water below. China Rock marks the spot where a Chinese fishing village once stood. Here I find a curious squirrel warming himself on a rock. There are cormorants and ravens amongst other birds pecking between the rocks for food and are quite oblivious to our presence.

I drag my eyes away from the magnificent coastline to view the residences along the road. This is a gated community, which is now operated by the Pebble Beach Corporation. I see a quaint Disney-esque home across the road, and despite it's sinister 'gingerbread house' features, it appears to be abandoned. A quarter-turn provides a view of large homes overlooking the Pacific Ocean and built to take advantage of the wonderful, unobstructed view.

The Lone Cypress stands on a granite hillside and is probably the most-photographed tree in North America. Possibly as old as 250 years, the cypress has been scarred by fire and has been held in place with cables for 65 years. A drawing of the Lone Cypress is the official logo of the Pebble Beach Company; the image was registered as a trademark in 1919. 

We continue our drive, stopping at the world-famous Pebble Beach Golf Club and spend a little while wandering around the beautifully-maintained gardens surrounding the clubhouse and hotel. A large plaque features the names of the winners of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am tournament, and we are interested to see that Australians, Greg Norman and Kerry Packer, won the competition in 1992. Not a golf fan, I can still appreciate the skills needed to play the game. As we return to our car before exiting the peninsula, we notice a deer grazing on the lush grass. This scene reminds me of an incident in 2009, when driving to visit a friend who lives in nearby Monterey, three deer jumped over a suburban fence and trotted down the road - right in front of me. It was at this time I realised that since deer in suburbia is such a common sight, is it any wonder people from overseas think that kangaroos are just as common in our cities and towns. Just a thought.

We exit this beautiful area of California and turn into Asilomar Avenue. We are on this street for two reasons. Turning into a foreboding grey granite gateway, we drive along a wooded driveway into the Asilomar Conference Grounds. Built in 1913 as a YWCA Leadership Camp, it is nestled in 43.3 (107 acres) hectares of the 'Refuge by the Sea' State Park. The conference centre has a long history, which is interesting in itself, but we are here to see some of the thirteen remaining structures designed by architect, Julia Morgan between 1913 and 1928. It's easy to see how progressive her designs were and with her use of timber and stone, they blend beautifully into the environment. It's worth noting here that the YWCA held a contest to name the property in 1913. The winning entry came from a student, Helen Salisbury, who made up the word Asilomar from the Spanish words 'asilo', meaning retreat or refuge and 'mar' meaning sea, hence refuge-by-the-sea.

We don't have enough time to properly explore this expansive site, but I'd like to come back one day and do just that. We exit the conference centre grounds and travel along Asilomar Avenue to the very end, where it meets Ocean View Boulevard. The Pacific Grove Marine Garden Park is located at this spot. It is also the location of the John Denver Memorial. On October 12, 1997, in the sea facing this Pacific Grove beach, John Denver's plane crashed, killing him instantly. The people of Monterey and beyond have designated this as a memorial to John Denver. A large piece of driftwood lies on the beach; John's name was lovingly carved into the weathered timber by Jeffrey Pine, a singer/songwriter from Colorado. I stare out over the rocky shore while the sky begins to turn a shade of pink as the sun dips below the horizon. The day has remained calm and sunny, but a cold breeze reminds me it is wintertime and it's also time to return to Carmel, just twelve kilometres away, on the regular road. 

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