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The Pacific Ocean is only 25 miles west via highway 46. Many interesting sights await at the coast. Upon hitting highway 1…a major destination in itself…a left turn takes you south to the classic beach towns of Cayucos and Morro Bay, and the tiny town of Harmony. Turn right to the quaint village of Cambria and Hearst Castle perched high upon a local mountain.
We go beyond both of these northern landmarks to the beach at Piedras Blancas.
Four miles beyond Mr. Hearst’s estate, this stretch of rocky sand is home to a colony of formerly endangered elephant seals. Now protected against molestation, the seals have made a nice comeback and live in a few colonies along the coast.
Large, fat, and lazy, the elephant seals seem to be content to lie on their bellies, flipping sand occasionally on their backs as a sort of natural sunscreen. Now and again, a couple will flare up…barking at each other, butting heads, maybe even biting…but as soon as it starts, the animals seem to lose the strength to continue and flop back down on the sand, content to rest until another flash of energy enters into their blubber lined bodies.
The human spectators gather in the parking lot and along the top of the sand. A fence keeps the two species separated, allowing plenty of opportunities to spectate.
In the water, a few seals joust with each other bashing heads, barking loudly, and occasionally biting each other while the waves crash against them.
The animals are much bigger than the harbor seals of Morro Bay or the sea lions crowding around the local wharves, very similar looking to the manatees of the east coast.
Fat squirrels and aggressive sea birds fight for scraps of food from the visitors. A seagull takes a nip at a squirrel and flies off with an inch of the rodent’s tail while the squirrel takes cover under a car.
As we return, we make a short stop in Cambria to shop and have a snack.
Back in Paso Robles, we take a little time to relax at the hotel and go for a swim. Across the street from our base of operations, the Best Western Black Oak Inn, is the local fairgrounds.
Many of our fellow hotel guests are driving big pickup trucks, wearing Wranglers and cowboy boots, and walk with a swagger. They’re competitor in a regional team roping competition going on across the street.
Letty and I, curious about this, walk over to the main gate of the fair and walk in. There is nobody around, no signs, no ticket booths…not a soul in sight. We walk tentatively to the north end of the fairgrounds, waiting for the inevitable security guard demanding to know what we’re doing here, but nothing. Nobody. Not a single luxury.
Eventually we hear a buzzer, follow the sound to a large shed, and find some activity. We wander inside and find the team roping competition going full force.
It’s like going to one event in a rodeo. Team roping consists of a team of two riders on horseback. A calf is released who tries to run away. One rider attempts to lasso the horns while their partner tries to throw a loop around the hind legs. A special cap is worn by the calf to prevent injury and the animal is released as soon as it is caught.
Teams compete for the best time with penalties assessed for sloppy roping. If either team member misses, no time is given.
It’s fun and exciting for a little while. After watching the same activity time and time again for 45 minutes, it gets a little old so we take our leave, heading back to the gate where we entered.
Again, it’s back into the deserted grounds. We get to the gate…and it’s locked. We walk to the administration building. It’s locked and so is the gate next to it. Again and again, we walk along the perimeter fence. Every gate is locked. We can find no one.
At the end of the fairgrounds, there is one last gate. It is also locked but has a gap. Letty can fit through but not the bigger dimensions of my body.
(You can see our fairground adventure in the video above)
We walk waaay back to the other end of the fairgrounds where the roping is going on. The lady who seems to be in charge doesn’t know where we should go except to try to go out where the trucks go in.
It’s quite a walk, but we find the access road and eventually find our way out and then walk about another mile to get back to our hotel.
With our escape , we call it a day and in the morning high tail it back home…Tim’s camp called. He’s sick and they need us to come pick him up right away.
Paso Robles now just a quickly fading memory in our rear view mirror as we speed to the San Bernardino Mountains, we say goodbye and face up to getting our son better.
The epilogue? Tim is sick but not real bad. We have a couple of frazzled days of caregiving getting him back up to health but he’s fine and we can all look back at it with a smile now.
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