It sure feels good to be home! The house grew while we were gone - I swear it doubled (maybe tripled) in size - it's absolutley ginormous now (at least compared to the camper). Our bed is an acre across and you can not only sit up straight, you can stand on it and still not hit your head on the ceiling. Also: bathrooms are wonderful. :)
So, where did I leave off? Oh yes, in Monterey. Well, after leaving Monterey we backtracked a little to visit Pinnacles National Monument, about 100 miles to the south. The namesake pinnacles are actually the remains of a huge (8000 ft high, 13 miles across) ancient (23 million years ago) volcano that was located almost 200 miles to the south. The San Andreas fault split the volcano in half and this part of it has moved 2 or 3 centimeters north every year to get to where it is now. The rock towers, gorges and cliffs are stunning.
Pinnacles is also one of the places that california condors have been released back into the wild. Thirteen condors currently live in the park. We saw 5 or 6 of them circling lazily around the highest pinnacle - really neat! They are enormous birds.
The other wildlife that really made an impression on us at Pinnacles was the feral pigs. Apparently someone imported russian boars for hunting, which then bred with escaped domestic pigs and now their offspring are running rampant through the mountains and the campground rooting up the native plants and/or camper's garbage. Its a pretty wierd sight to see a herd of feral pigs go darting across the road into the brush... Pinnacles also has caves that you can hike through, but we were not able to do so because of high water. It rained harder on us the night we camped there than it did anywhere else, truly torrential - all the streams and ditches were overflowing. We'll have to go back someday!
After Pinnacles, we went north again, stopping in San Jose to tour the Winchester House. It's a crazy place, built by a crazy lady who had plenty of money. She was the heir to the Winchester (as in rifles) fortune, but she beleived she was being haunted by the ghosts of everyone killed by Winchester rifles. After her husband and baby daughter died, a medium told her that she would be safe as long as she lived in a house that was under construction and never finished. So, starting in 1884, she built, and built, and built, as you can see from this view of (one section of) the roof.
She had no architect, no designer, no plans. She had a seance room in the center of the house, and the story is that she received instructions from the spirits for building the house. It is a matter of reccord that she allowed no objections or dissent from her carpenters or servents about the design of the house. She paid double the going wages for every job, but she paid in cash daily so she could hire and fire at will. I imagine they all learned pretty quickly not to question the boss! She had a crew of 8-10 carpenters at work 24-7 (or at least so the story goes) as well as gardeners and cooks and housekeepers and the like. She had a system of electric call buttons allowing her to summon her servants to any part of the house at any time of the day or night (apparently she slept very little). She was known to enjoy playing the organ in the wee hours of the morning.
Everything in the house was finely built and decorated with exquisite victorian furnishings - expense was never an issue. Many materials were imported, such as tiffany stained glass (the peices shown below were never installed), italian marble, and spanish tile. She (or maybe the spirits) changed the plans often, requiring beautifully constructed, ornate doorways and fireplaces built over or torn out, windows put into the floors, stairways that go straight into the ceiling, and a chiminey that rose 4 storeys only to stop a foot short of the roof (rendering all the fireplaces attached to it useless). When she died, work stopped immediately, leaving some areas of the house unfinished and a vast store of materials in the lurch, until eventually the house was opened as a museum/turist attraction. The tour was a bit pricey, and the gift shop was obnoxious, but the house itself was incredible.
Still heading north, we stopped for a night in northern california, and the next morning went to the Lake Shasta Caverns. They have an interesting three-part tour set up - first you take a boat across the lake, then a bus takes you up a steep road with magnificent views to the ridgetop where you enter the caves themselves. We were only inside the caves for about 40 minutes, but the rooms were spectacular. I wished we could have stayed longer or explored deeper off the path, but oh well. Still a fun stop and well worth it, if you are travelling through on I-5.
Despite all the snowy weather, we managed to get through the sourthern oregon/northern california mountains without any trouble before stopping for the night in central oregon. Even down out of the mountains there was snow on the ground - in fact, there was even snow in Portland where we stopped and enjoyed the hospitality offered by Marty & Josh. We spent a fun day with them in P-town, eating wonderful food (Por Que No Taqueria is the best ever!), browsing at Powells, and nibbling and drinking the finest chocolate I've ever had at Cacao. Seriously, folks, if you are ever in Portland, if you like chocolate at all, you must go to this store and try their "drinking chocolate". It is NOT hot cocoa!
After leaving Portland, we stopped and spent a couple of days socializing in Olympia (woo!) and then we cruised back home on Friday. Our kitties weren't sure at first if they were happy to see us or mad at us for having abandoned them, but after a full round of snuggling they got over it and now it's like we never left - except for the laundry, the memories, and the gear scattered all over the living room waiting to be put away...
Did I mention it's good to be home? :)