Map of the First DayFirst Road Trip of the millennium, and it seems like there's a lot less "road" involved this time. Oh, we racked up about a thousand miles, total, but unlike previous years, there was a big block of time in the middle when we weren't on our wild-way off to another city or town, but instead were just toodling around Monterey...

...In Any Event, here we go!

Monday - Solvang, Mini-Horses, & Morro Bay

It's 9 a.m. and we're off northwards.

What, only 9 a.m.? How the mighty have fallen. What happen to leaving before daybreak, or in the wee-hours of the morning or, heck, the night before?

Well, what happened is our first planned stop is Solvang, it's only going to take us a couple of hours to get there, and it's silly to arrive at – say – five in the morning when nothing's going to be open till at least ten...

Anywho, we're cruising up the 101 and making good time on our way towards Santa Barbara. The day is remarkably clear and as we hit the coast just north of Ventura, the Channel Islands are easily visible out in the big blue Pacific. It's actually kinda rare (at least, for me) to see them this clearly, so I'm kinda driving and trying to look at them at the same time. Tricky, but no flaming balls of wreckage resulted from this, so I guess I did okay.

Once we reach Santa Barbara, I start hunting for the exit to the 154. Rather than continue on the 101 and then hang a right at Buellton (home of Split Pea Soup) towards Solvang, I figured we drive through the Santa Ynez Mountains and sneak up on it the "back way."

This proved to be a good idea. After finding the offramp, we began a leisurely climb up into the mountains. Just before going over onto the "other side" we stopped and got a lovely view back over Santa Barbara and out into the Pacific.

Looking back over Santa Barbara

The road now drops down into the valley of the Santa Ynez River and parallels it as you slowly descend. The valley is a beautiful green swath (at least, in April) with low hills on each side, filled with ranches, vineyards (yes, they've spread here too) and Lake Cachuma.

Looking down the Santa Ynez...Solvang Eventually, even the low hills flattened out and we reached the turn-off onto the 246. Westwards onto it, we soon were cruising into Solvang.

Solvang is a little piece of Denmark sitting in the middle of California. Or at least, it tries to be. The Official History states:

"In 1910, a group of Danish educators from the Midwest met to establish a colony on the West Coast. The site selected was the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley. With its gentle climate and fertile agricultural potential, the valley was an ideal place for Americans of Danish descent and immigrant Danes to settle and build. In that year, they purchased nine thousand acres of the original Rancho San Carlos de Jonata for the future community. Soon, colonists began to arrive. They named their village Solvang, meaning 'Sunny Valley.'"

It's tried to keep a Danish "look" about it ever since. Now days, of course, that "look" translates into a big tourist draw and much of the little town is given over to restaurants, shops, and Hans Christian Anderson afflictions.

SolvangIt's a fun little town to visit. Basically, it's one of those places where you eat and shop your way from one end of it to another, so we pretty much tried to do that.

This was hampered by a couple of disappointments. First, we'd arrived basically too late for breakfast – but fortunately we found stuff to eat breakfasty anyway (a food-given in Solvang is "aebleskiver" - a sort of spherical donut/pancake). Second was that the horse-drawn tour "bus" didn't run on weekdays – least, not until summer. Kinda wanted to ride that.

Beaver...So we're fed and walking through Solvang. While it had been clear on the way up, the weather now turned to a state where it just couldn't make up its mind if it was going to be rainy or sunny. You'd get a brief shower, it would clear up, then it would shower again. None of these showers was enough to dampen (yes, deliberate pun) our visit – but it did add a few quick "run to the next buildings" to our walk.

Oh, and we bought yet another kite – a small two-string stunter – at one of the toy stores in town.

After a couple of hours, we had lunch, then climbed back into the car for a quick side-trip to a place we'd seen advertised in their tourist literature.

Just outside of town is the Quicksilver Ranch where they raise miniature horses. Not ponies – horses, about two feet high.

DeeDee and a minihorse Little, dinky, pot-bellied horses

It's hard to overstate how strange that is. The ranch allows visitors to come and see the horses (not that this is hard, as the ranch is right up against Alamo Pintado Road and you can see the horses as you drive by, let alone by making a special stop. Wonder how many accidents this has caused?) and you walk up to the fields and then look down on animals that look like nothing so much as real-life "My Little Ponies" - but in non-pastel colors.

Mini-colt Completely and utterly weird. Interesting – but weird.

The drizzles start again and we're back on the road, heading towards the 101. Along the way we make a quick stop at "Ostrich Land" – a small ranch that raises...surprise, surprise...ostriches. They also, though, had some emus. We didn't stay long – it was raining lightly, the ground was already pretty much mud, and all the ostriches were off somewhere on the other side of the field - though a ragged-looking emu was in a pen right next to the "parking lot."

Soon we hit the 101 and return to heading north through passing waves of heavy rain and sunshine. Couple of hours later and we're driving through San Luis Obispo, heading for the turnoff to the 1 and Morro Bay.

Morro Bay is our stop for the night. It's a small coastal town whose main claim to fame is "Morro Rock." Big enough to earn the nickname "the Gibralter of the Pacific," it's actually the remains of an ancient volcanic plug sitting just out in the bay (it's the ninth and last such formation you pass between San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay – the "Nine Sisters" – but it's the only one in the water). Last time I was there (except for driving past it) I was about twelve, but it hasn't really changed much.

We find our motel, dump stuff off, then head out to explore for awhile before dinner. Our first stop is the Rock itself.

We drove out on the breakwater (itself composed of little rocks blasted from the big one) and parked. Winds were extremely high – but also extremely gusty and non-directional. Which is a bit of a pity, as I had this Plan To Fly A Kite At Every Place We Stopped at on the trip. The kite I'd brought was our small parafoil kite (it packs nice and small, so I figured it wouldn't be in the way), but now I also had the new one I'd got in Solvang.

Kite flight - all 30 seconds of it... As it turns out, it is remarkably hard to fly a kite when the winds can gust from three different directions in the space of five seconds (I think they get screwed up coming around the Rock). Never did get the stunter up for more than those five seconds, but did manage to fly the parafoil for nearly two minutes (wow!) before I gave up and we headed back to the car.

We drove around to the other side of the Rock to watch the sunset for a minute, then headed back towards town for dinner. Just onto the breakwater, though, Dee Dee spots a small dark dot in the water down below. She stared at it for a minute then said "I think that's an otter."

I pulled over to the side of the road, looked, and by golly it was! And not just -an- otter, but an otter and its baby. They were slowly drifting out of the harbor (very slowly – they were in no hurry at all). Every so often the baby would climb on its mom for a rest, then slip off to swim around her for a while. While we watch, a third otter popped up and began swimming back and forth across the channel.

yep, otter all right...with baby, honest... This was actually a big surprise. Morro Bay is pretty much the southern end of their current range (though they stretched clear down to Baja in the pre-Russian hunting times) and we never expected to see them just drifting by there in the harbor like that. Cool.

I tried to get some pictures, unfortunately what zoom my camera has was no where near enough – though I did manage to get a couple of pics where you can squint at it and go "yep, otter all right..."

The sun had almost set by now as the otters drifted farther away (now even in binoculars they remained just small dark dots) so we headed up to the Embarcadero for dinner.

Sunset over the Rock, ending the first day

We stopped at a place called the "Flying Dutchman", a very nice seafood place (as are most restaurants in Morro Bay. It's a theme, after all...) where we had a very nice dinner as the sun finished setting over the harbor. We recommend the place, and highly recommend the dessert "Apple Dumplings" – which is actually a baked apple inside a nice pastry crust. Yumm!

Then it was back to the motel and bed for the night.

To Second Day of Trip

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