My rule for making the Los Angeles/San Francisco trip is, I try to see something I haven't seen before each time I make it. This trip I accomplished a two-fer — hitting "Taste of India" on the way up and the Guadalupe Dunes on the home stretch.
Going home, I took the 101, and when I got to Pismo Beach, the Mini Cooper decided on its own to peel off onto Highway 1. There was a sign calling this stretch an "Official Scenic Car Route," or something like that. The signs do not lie. The road runs though dramatic green hills, sharp against the sky this time of day, late in the afternoon. On the right, the ocean, now and again, glimpsed through the towns and then receding as the road pulled further away from the shore. I drove through a strange little town called Oceana, a place with a ramshackle, working-class edge that has mostly disappeared from California's beach towns but was very familiar to me growing up.
The gap between beach and highway widens, taken up by croplands, open fields surrounded by hills and groves of eucalyptus. Then, the town of Guadalupe, bordered by the highway, fields and dunes. Cecil B. DeMille's "Ten Commandments" was filmed here, the original sets buried somewhere in the sand. Mostly Guadalupe is an agricultural town, a few historic buildings here and there, tacquerias, a modest subdivision of terracotta-colored tract homes that edges up to the fields on the town's southern boundary.
Between that subdivision and the fields is a narrow road that leads to the state beach. Again, the Mini wanted to go there. I was along for the ride. The road was deserted, the fields empty of labor; it was the end of the day by now, but there was still plenty of light.
At the end of the road was an open car gate, a guard shack, a sign indicating that this was Guadalupe Dunes State Park and suggesting that a $3.00 fee per car was appropriate to help support the place. But no one was in the guard shack, and there wasn't anyplace to leave the suggested fee, so I drove on.
The road, which had been narrow before, faded to nearly a path, and as it wound into the dunes, blowing sand covered it from either side, and I found myself wondering if this had been such a great idea on my part. I hadn't seen another person, another car. Just dunes, sculpted by the wind, crazy blue sky, golden light.
Finally the little road emptied into a parking lot. About half a dozen other cars were there. Gusts of wind kicked up the sand, and the ocean was slate-gray and ripped by whitecaps.
I got out of the car, stretched my legs, stood a while. Then drove back the way I came and continued on my way.
I have this response to overwhelming natural beauty at times: I obsess on what it means, what's the purpose? More to the point (because it is, after all, all about me) what is my purpose?
Somewhere south of Lompoc, the Obvious Fairy hit me over the head with her magic wand and said: "You're supposed to be writing, dummy! How many times do I have to tell you this?"