Friday, April 8, 2016

California Highways

We just completed a decent day of driving, as we drove from Big Sur to Lake Isabella and managed to book end our day with what I believe are like the two wildest paved roads in California. The first road, California Highway 1 south of Big Sur to Cambria was intentional, I had driven this road before, I just forgot what the road was like. The last time I drove that road was with my friend Chris. We were in ‘88 Pontiac Grand Prix, a far better handling vehicle than my Ford F-350 with a camper on back. We were also in our mid-20s and still believing we were indestructible (in hind sight, we were definitely crazy to do that drive, as the breaks in that Pontiac Grand Prix were rather sketchy).

California Highway 1, better known as the Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most beautiful stretches of highway in North America. Even though the speed limit is 55 mph for most of the stretch we drove from Half Moon Bay to Cambria, it’s impossible to drive it at 55 mph (especially in a truck and camper), because of how windy and narrow the road is, and because it’s almost impossible not to stop every few miles to take in the endless view points. The incredible vistas are endless and there are several opportunities for wildlife viewing, like Elephant Seal Vista Point. Heading from North to South the road seems to get more narrow, and windy to a point where I, the driver, was nearly getting car sick. It is the only stretch of highway where I didn't feel like California drivers were constantly trying to angrily pass me. In fact the only person I had to pull over and let by was a California Highway Patrol.
The Pacific Coast Highway, where you don't want to take your turns wide
Molting juvenile elephant seals at Elephant Seal Vista Point 
After we got off of Highway 1, our choice of roads was completely unintentional. We are currently making our way to visit friends who are spending their Spring Break in Zion National Park. So we found a place to stay near Lake Isabella which seemed like a good day's drive from Big Sur as we made our way towards Zion National Park. The stop it left us with the possibility of an easy detour to visit to Death Valley National Park. I plugged into GPS where we wanted to go at Lake Isabella and it returned us with a route that, at a quick glance, appeared to be the simplest route. The route took us along Highway 1 to Cambria, then east on Highway 46, eventually 46 turns to Granite Road a beautiful road winding through the hilly California country side, eventually we ended up on Highway 155. Highway 155 steeply twists its way up over 6000 feet into the Greenhorn Mountains. Along most of Highway 155 it is difficult to get your vehicle up to 30 mph, despite the speed limit being 55 mph. Eventually the highway drops steeply back down to Lake Isabella. A truly beautiful drive, but a bit of a white knuckle drive in a truck camper with rain pouring down.
A moment without rain on the climb up Greenhorn Mountain on Highway 155
On this trip we have never passed up the opportunity for an interesting stretch of road (such as Beartooth Pass in Montana which my brother-in-law Dan recommended). However, Highway 1 and Highway 155 are definitely the wildest stretches of paved road that we have driven on this trip, and definitely among the most beautiful stretches of road (but the views had to be left to the passengers). I highly recommend anyone who has the opportunity to experience these two stretches of highway to do so. However, I recommend not doing it in a RV or even a truck camper. Consider a Porsche, or some other car that is light, with great handling, low to the ground, and with excellent breaks.

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