California Road Trip-Part 1: El Camino Real

A number of years ago, I read a book by the Native American writer William Least Heat Moon- “Blue Highways”. It told of his driving tour of the country, all on its back roads, or ‘blue highways’. I was captivated by it, and have done similar, smaller versions of this myself over the years. Last week, I took my latest,  a one week trip around the state of California. My partner Juan and I had planned a trip to Palm Springs, where we have a second home, and I decided, since I had the time, that I would drive down, spending a couple of days each going down and coming back.  The first installment covers the first leg of the journey, from San Francisco to Bakersfield. Here is the route:tour


The first leg of the trip took me south down 101 to Atascadero, then east on Route 58 to Bakersfield. The focus of this installment is the middle part of the trip, generally the areas north and east of Paso Robles. Traveling down 101 sourth takes one through a region that I like to think of as being “classic” California, or, the reason someone decided to nickname the place the Golden State. Rolling hills, studded with oak trees and grazing cattle. And it is an historic and primordial route, generally following the route of the old El Camino Real, as well as the San Andreas fault.ElcaminoReal








As every California school child no doubt knows,El Camino Real, or “The King’s Road”, was the route developed by the Spanish that linked 21 missions , from San Diego to Sonoma. And about mid-way on this leg, I stopped at one of them ; Mission San Antonio de Padua. 

Mission San Antonio de Padua

This mission is really like none of the others. For one, its sits on an army base, Fort Hunter Liggett. Two, it is remote, it is not located in a town, as are  the others. As a result of this, the mission feels very much like it must’ve felt in the 18th century. Approaching from the south on a hot dusty day, it doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to feel what it must’ve been like to arrive here.


The mission was founded in 1781, and the current buildings are about 200 years old. The multiple foot thick walls reflect the building technology of the day, baking thick adobe bricks in the hot sun. The result is a building perfectly suited to the climate, thick walls to cool, and arcades to shade .  There is a plaque inside listing the early fathers, all from Mallorca, Spain. What it must’ve been like, coming to this place in the 18th century, from Spain no less,- “Father, I know you wanted the Madrid post, but we’re sending you to Soledad-…huh”? In short, the mission is an extraordinary 200 year old set piece.  Here are some photos. Continue reading “California Road Trip-Part 1: El Camino Real”