Thursday, October 29, 2015

Going to California (Monterey, 2015)

Bixby Bridge, Big
Bixby Bridge, Big Sur

When we were having trouble deciding on a California vacation spot with my wife's family, I threw out  Monterey as a possibility. I've never been to Monterey, but between the allure of seeing Big Sur and Steinbeck and Kerouac's old haunts, and the desire to balance the various family requirements (not too cold, not too hot, enough to do, not too much to do...), I thought it might be a potential. I'm not sure if they agreed, or whether it was simply the path of least resistance, but the die was cast and off we went. 

Vacationing with 6 adults and two small children was an exercise in logistics and managed expectations. It was great to see everyone, even if it sometimes felt like we were all moving in asynchronous orbits within the same space.  The demands (and naps) of our miniature overlords are as numerous as their spurned wrath is thunderous. That being said, the time we and our far-flung family had to spend together was invaluable.  

Our rental house in Pebble Beach had commanding views over coastal forests and a vast sweep of the Pacific Ocean. It would be the first of many "how the other half lives" moments in the Monterey areas.  Pebble Beach is the great granddaddy of gated communities, and surrounds several of the more prestigious golf courses in the country along the rocky coast (none of us play golf). It's also known for its 17 Mile Drive, a scenic coastal loop road that the common folk have to pay for the privilege of enjoying. The drive on the Drive was pretty enough to make it worthwhile, but less for the views of rich excess, and more for the seascapes. What struck me was the density and diversity of wildflowers throughout the region. The area was like some high-achieving offspring of  some unnatural coupling of Thomas Kincade and Winslow Homer. Vignettes of stormy (but not too depressingly dark) seas, and wildflower strewn (but not too cheesy/pastel) landscapes. 

The high points of the trip for me, other than the family time, were our too-brief jaunts out to Point Lobos and a drive through Big Sur. We were limited on time in both cases, but I enjoyed the chance to explore the rugged coastal areas without the tourist trappings/wealth pollution of Monterey/Carmel/Pebble Beach. My wife and I even got some much needed alone time on our Big Sur drive, thanks to babysitting grandparents. 

Pacific Ocean view, rental house, Pebble Beach
Western Scrub Jay
Western Scrub Jay, Pebble Beach
The sunset
Pacific Ocean at Sunset, Pebble Beach

Spotted Towhee
Spotted Towhee, Pebble Beach
Pt. Joe Vista
Wildflowers and Cottage, 17 Mile Drive

17 mile road beach
17 Mile Drive Beach
Sea plant on rocks
Seaweed on Rocks, 17 Mile Drive

Golf Course
Golf Course Cypresses, 17 Mile Drive

Lone CypressCoastal Cypresses
Lone Cypress, 17 Mile Drive                                           Twisted Trees, 17 Mile Drive

Whimbrels, 17 Mile Drive beach
Clouded Forests, 17 Mile Drive

Beach Vista, 17 mile
drive (B&W)
Beachscape (B&W), 17 Mile Drive
Beach Vista, 17 mile
Wildflowers and Beach, 17 Mile Drive
Waves on rocks (B&W)
Rocks and Water, 17 Mile Drive
Whalers Cove, Point
Seascape, Point Lobos

Whalers' Cove, Pt. Lobos State Natural Area
Whaler's Cove, Point Lobos
Southern Sea Otter
Southern Sea Otter, Point Lobos
Western Gull
Western Gull, Point Lobos
Harbor Seal, Pt. Lobos
Harbor Seal, Point Lobos
Point Lobos landscape
Seascape, Point Lobos
Sea Lions, Point Lobos

Acorn WoodpeckersPigeon Guillemot
Acorn Woodpecker, Point Lobos                                           Pigeon Guillemots, Point Lobos

Whalers' Cove,
Point Lobos
Whaler's Cove, Point Lobos
Monterey Indian
Paintbrush/Seaside Paintbrush (Castilleja
Paintbrush and Seascape, Point Lobos

Rocks at Point
LobosRocks at Point
Lobos   Rocks at Point
Colors of the Rocks, Point Lobos

Rocks at Point Lobos
Some Geological Thing, Point Lobos

Selfie at Point Lobos
Selfie, Point Lobos
Vista, Point
Point Lobos Landscape
Big Sur
Big Sur Landscape
Big Sur
Big Sur Bridge and Landscape
Paintbrush, Big Sur area

Bixby Bridge (B&W)
Bixby Bridge Landscape, Big Sur area
Big Sur seascape
Seascape, Big Sur area
Ice Plant
Ice Plant, Big Sur area
Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans)
Pride of Madeira, Big Sur area

Rocks at Garapata SP
(B&W) Rocks at Garapata SP
(B&W) Rocks at Garapata SP
Rock Patterns Tryptych, Garapata State Park

Garapata beach geology
(B&W)  Garapata beach geology (B&W)  Garapata beach geology
Rock Patterns Tryptych, Garapata State Park

Ocean Wave, Carmel
Cannery Row
Cannery Row, Monterey

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Grand (Chinese) Army of the Republic

Forbidden Gardens panoramic
Terracotta Army of the Katy Prairie

Forbidden Gardens
One of the places we visited in the early years as we explored our new Texas landscapes was the inestimably odd Forbidden Gardens. I got thinking about it a bit this week, after finding an old picture which brought back vivid memories of that day.

Forbidden Gardens was built in the late 90's by an enigmatic Chinese businessman named Mr. Poon, who seems to be quite literally an international man of mystery. The original stated intent was to share Chinese culture with the US, and with young Chinese living here. The 80 acre site was developed into an odd amalgamation of roadside attraction and historical museum, plopped down in the middle of a then endless expanse of prairie west of Houston.

The primary exhibits were a large scale replica of the imperial Chinese Forbidden City and a full 1/3 scale replica of the Terracotta Army of Emporer Qin. There were also a series of other statuary and exhibits housed in what were originally immaculately maintained grounds.  I won't go too far into the history of the place, but you can read more about it here , here, and here.

Seeing it in person felt like someone dropped a Chinese historical site into a cow pasture in rural Texas. The soldiers stood patiently sentinel, staring out at the cow pastures of the prairie. The whole place had a sense of abandonment, like a inexplicable relic of some past civilization. It was clear that the attraction was on its way out, with weathered paint and broken statuary. In actuality the disrepair contributed to the austere feeling of the place, oddly solemn like a temple fallen to ruin. Compared to the usual roadside attractions, the lack of many other visitors and the decrepit beauty gave a sense of discovering a forgotten place rather than just vintage kitsch. I don't know why we never went back, though I'm sure it would have not had the same impact twice.

The Gardens closed in 2011 prior to the expansion of a major highway through the prairie. It's now being developed into what I'm sure will be more McMansions crowding the landscape. The Gardens were weirdly iconic, and in their passing are an unexpected metaphor for the passing of the prairie and authentic Texas landscapes in the face of ever-advancing sprawl.

When they closed, they auctioned off most of the statues. One of my biggest regrets was not buying one when I had the chance. A local bar bought one of the 6' full sized versions, and placed it initially at a urinal in the men's rest room. I still can't decide if it was juvenile or a brilliant artistic statement about the whole affair.

Forbidden Gardens 9
Weathered soldiers, Forbidden Gardens
Forbidden Gardens 7- color
Dragon and red, Forbidden Gardens
Forbidden Gardens 10
Column of soldiers, Forbidden Gardens

Forbidden Gardens 12- Leadership
Emporer Qin surveys his warriors, Forbidden Gardens

Forbidden Gardens 8
Dragon, Forbidden Gardens
Forbidden Gardens 13
1/3 scale soldiers, Forbidden Gardens

Forbidden Gardens 4a- colorForbidden Gardens 6
Forbidden Gardens 11- IndividualityTerracotta Warriors
Terracotta warriors, Forbidden Gardens

Forbidden Gardens Horses
Chariot horses, Forbidden Gardens

Remnants of Forbidden Gardens, 2014

Forbidden Gardens site in 2014, with highway to right