We went to Monterey last month as Mike was in need of some vitamin "SEA". He loves the ocean and if we don't go visit every few months, he becomes a very sad fellow.
With all our favorite trails in Big Sur inaccessible due to the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge collapse, we opted for some hiking in the redwoods near Santa Cruz. Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park was our destination and an easy 45 minute drive from Monterey.
The main park has a grove of impressive old growth Redwoods. There is also a gift store and nature center with helpful volunteers. We decided to do the Redwood Grove Loop Trail and River Trail first. Well, not really first but we missed the turnoff for the trail to the observation deck so we ended up right back at the nature center! Yeesh! I couldn't believe it when we found ourselves right back at the beginning again. We re-oriented ourselves and headed out for the observation deck on the Ridge Fire Road. The fire road was paved and easily walkable until it started its uphill climb. This road went up at a pretty steep incline for about a mile before we made it to the fork where you can go on about 100 yards to the observation bench or turn off and take a trail for another half mile uphill to the observation deck. Well it was about 80-85 degrees that day and frankly we were so hot we decided to just see what the view was like from the observation bench. Silly me- I thought the bench might be in some nice shade but that was not the case. We could see the ocean in the distance from the bench so we decided that was good enough for us. Back down the trail and straight to the car for a cool drink.
Next stop was the Fall Creek area. This is a separate unit of the same Henry Cowell State Park but this area has no services whatsoever. It does have some old remnants of lime kilns that we thought would be interesting. There is a short hike to the kilns from the road, about half a mile, but the only parking is on the road. We only found a couple of places that we might even consider parking, but ultimately we felt they were just too small and didn't get our car far enough off the narrow road. Back down the road to the main entrance and a 2.4 mile in and out hike instead. This hike was really pleasant as there were no really steep parts and the trail follows the Fall Creek the entire way. With all our recent rain, the creek was flowing nicely with several small rapids and waterfalls. There was a lot of evidence of the toll our winter had in this area as we passed many downed trees and there was a nice waterfall created by several downed trees that had fallen on top of each other across the creek. We made it to the lime kiln remains and poked around a bit then headed back down again. There weren't many other hikers there, especially compared with the area we had hiked earlier. I have to say that if you want to see more impressive lime kilns, try Lime Kiln State Park instead. It's south of Big Sur, and has more intact kilns and also a nice beach on the ocean.
The next morning we went out whale watching with our favorite company Monterey Bay Whale Watch. There were a number of humpback whales being seen across the bay by Moss Landing. We made it across the bay and could see a couple of other whale watching boats that were just sitting in one place and knew that meant there were whales around. As we got closer, a whale suddenly surfaced right in front of our boat, blew his stinky breath on us and dived down under the water! It was so close that the captain actually had to reverse the boat engines. We spent about an hour or more watching various whales surface and dive. We didn't see any of the killer whales that have been hanging around the area the past month though. We had a chilly ride back to the other side of the bay as the marine layer was starting to come in and we always stay outside the cabin to avoid seasickness.
Dinner was a nice hot bowl of clam chowder and Chicken Caesar salad then a drive along beautiful Oceanview Drive before heading back to our hotel.
Well, we had record rainfall this winter after 7 years of drought. It was really nice to see California looking so green! We received a lot of snow in the mountains so we won't have any water rationing this year because we'll have plenty of runoff as the snowpack melts.
The downside of all that rain is that many of our favorite hiking trails are either washed out, inaccessible or still covered in snow 😞
Today is castle marathon day! We're visiting at least three castles today, maybe more if time allows. We're going to wring every last bit of value out of that Explorer Pass that we can. ;-)
First up: Conwy Castle. Built where the River Conwy flows into the Irish Sea, this 13th century Castle commanded a strategic point at the port city of Conwy. We climbed up and down lots of stairs and towers and looked out at the medieval walls that surrounded the town. If we had more time, we would have walked the walls. It is super windy today and the wind is just blasting us on top of these towers. Another really bad hair day, oh well!
Second: Beaumaris Castle. This castle was really interesting because it was never completely finished but it has a complete set of outer walls surrounded by a moat, then a green space, and then an inner set of even taller walls and towers. We don't think we've seen a castle with two complete sets of walls and towers before. There were inside passages that ran all around the perimeter of the inside walls too, with archer's stations poisitioned along them. The inside of the castle was never finished according to plan as Edward I ran low on funds. It costs a lot of money to build a castle!
Outside Beaumaris Castle there was a small craft fair going on. There was an owl rescue group there and, for a small donation, you could hold one of the Owls on display. I got to hold a very nice owl named Mr. Cheeky-chips who liked to have his feathers stroked.
Third: Caernarfon Castle. This is the castle where the Prince of Wales is crowned. This is because Edward II, the first Prince of Wales was born here. We climbed to the top of the tallest tower and looked around a bit, but at this point we were getting "castled-out" and the wind was just so strong we decided to call it quits at three castles instead of trying to squeeze in a fourth. It was also 4pm and we had started at 9:30am, so time to head back to our B&B. We left the castle and headed toward the pier where we had parked. We turned the corner around a building and the wind quite literally stopped us in our tracks! We both looked at each other like "did that just happen to you too?" Mike even had one foot raised to take his next step! Anyway we made it to the car and out of that freakish wind.
Back at Betws-y-Coed, we strolled along the high street for a bit, had a bite to eat and headed back to the room to relax. Tomorrow we head to Manchester and fly home the day after that. We've seen a lot of great stuff but I'm ready for my own comfy bed and to see the family. It's always nice to come home. ☺️
We have a long day planned today, driving from South to North Wales with a couple of stops along the way.
The first stop is Strata Florida Abbey. Another 12ty century Cistercian abbey. There is much less of this one to see as compared to Tintern Abbey yesterday. One arch and some partial walls, there is some interesting tilework in the remains of the chapels though. The very nice lady at the visitor center is happy to answer my questions about directions to our next stop and also a scenic drive that I had read about. Thanks to her excellent detailed directions, we get straight to our next destination, the Devil's Bridge.
The Devil's Bridge is an 11th century bridge with an 18th century bridge built above it, and a 20th century bridge above that one. There are two trails here. We took the first trail, the waterfall trail. It goes down into the gorge and back up again with views of a long beautiful series of waterfalls along the way. The trail has 675 steps and took us about 40 minutes to complete. We met some nice people from Cornwall who were also hiking the trail and chatted with them for a few minutes. Everyone we have met in Wales has been so nice and so friendly. The other section of the hike is above the falls and gives you a good look at the three bridges. We went down to see the bridges and then back up again. The day had started out cold and windy but we were definitely hot after all that climbing. We bought a couple of sodas and then headed back to the car for the scenic portion of the drive.
From Devil's Bridge, we took a small local road (recommended by someone on Tripadvisor and confirmed by the nice lady at Strata Florida this morning) to Cwnystwyth then on the mountain road above the Elan Valley. Wild and windy scenery, sheep and cattle loose on the road, it was a great drive and we both really enjoyed it. We kept stopping the car to jump out and take pictures. We made it to Rhayadar and joined up with a more major road (wide enough for two cars instead of one), and headed to Betws-y-Coed for our final destination and home base for the next two nights.