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9780871560841-usT.H. Watkins’ book On the Shore of the Sundown Sea, published by the Sierra Club, tells of the T.H.’s experience camping with his big family at Salt Creek, exploring the southern Orange County coastline during the post WWII years to the passage of Proposition 20 in 1972.

I was introduced to T.H. Watkins’ book by reading writing excerpts in Orange County. A Literary Field Guide.  This compendium of poems and samples, published by Heyday Books, was compiled by Lisa Alvarez and Andrew Tonkovich and a complete review is available at The Daily Pilot.

Writings are organized by Orange County regions:  Anaheim, Irvine, Santa Ana and Orange, Santa Ana Mountains and Canyons, and the Flatlands, and the Coast and Beach Towns.  T.H. Watkins’ prologue is one of about twenty chapters and verse in Orange County each describing sandy beaches, surfing, and driving the Coast Highway.OCOUcover_web800px-200x300.jpg

In a 1939 eight-passenger Buick, named the Yacht, the Watkins family loaded up “six kids, two parents, one dog, camping gear, clothing, and a three-week supply of food and drove the seventy miles between the little town of Colton and the coast.”  The drive on the two-lane highway was a southern California “not yet coalesced like some particularly virulent biological culture, and its air was not fouled by what Wallace Stegner called the “taint of technology”.  The family passed through orange groves, dairy pastures, vineyards, and alfalfa fields.  “Two miles dead west of the village of San Juan Capistrano, we would come to the Coast Highway and a decision:  should we drive five miles to the south for San Clemente State Park, simply cross the highway for Doheny Beach State Park, or turn north for Salt Creek Beach?  The last lacked amenities, but the campsites were on the beach, and anyone could choose their camp spot as there were no assigned sites.

From these camp trips a connection to California’s coast drew T.H. to every cove and stretch of the coast road.  He supported Proposition 20 and considered its commission, the create of the Coastal Commission, to be a “profound shift … from mindless worship of the growth ethic” to an ecological movement.  In T.H’s time he saw planners and developers “had put wealthy tacky-tacky on the bluffs of Salt Creek Beach, and laid a parking lot for boats in the cove below Dana Point, and the citizens of Big Sur forced Caltrans “from jamming a multilane freeway through the ancient mountains that meet the sea.”  He mentions San Mateo county coast residents fight against Caltrans and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “decided that the area could support a population in excess of one hundred thousand people” … and laid plans to build a dam on Pescadero Creek with an expanded highway system to accommodate “these nonexistent thousands of people.”

On the Shore of the Sundown Sea ends with T.H. musing about freedom and illusion.  “Landwreckers” have been held back, but for how long is the question?

Earl Thollander, the artist who provided us the Back Roads books, drew the pictures for On the Shore of the Sundown Sea.FullSizeRender

How to buy:

Orange County. A Literary Field Guide site. or at Heyday.  or Amazon.

On the Shore of the Sundown Sea.  Amazon.  Abe Books.

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Almost four years ago I enthusiastically reviewed Elizabeth C. Ward’s Coast Highway 1 as “a fairly essential Coast Road Read,” and now Ms. Ward returns with another must-read for California coast enthusiasts or for anyone who enjoys a good mystery: Death in a California Landscape.

Set in Laguna Beach, Ms. Ward gracefully depicts the type of people who characterize Laguna: “Everyone who’d lived in town more than a dozen years knew Millicent. They called to offer help or stammer out their grief. They all expressed shock and disbelief. The Laguna family, that great, motley collection of eccentrics and artistic sensibilities, beach lovers, wildlife activists, gay, straight, old, young, every political philosophy on the map, con artist, best selling novelists in view houses, unsold poets living out their Waldens in the canyon, physicist and feng shui counselor shacked up together, the larger than life egos; this whole sprawling, prickery, generous, opinionated, cantankerous Laguna family was coming together to stand by one of their own.”

The callers phoned Jake Martin, the same Jake Martin from Ms. Ward’s Coast Highway 1, returning as our noir narrator and unintentional private eye. Jake’s dear friend Millicent is found shot to death. Detective Swann suspects foul play, maybe even suspects Jake.  Jake knows that Millicent, albeit in her eighties was full of life and not planning to die.  Jake senses murder, but why and by who?

Millicent was the last living member of the original California plein air artists who painted the landscape that is now covered with cities sprawling across the hills and along the coast. Could the killer be one of those who make their fortunes off subdivisions and model home communities? The art museum curator informs Jake, “Developers are the largest collectors. They seem to feel that it is their responsibility to preserve the vision of the land as it was before they sliced it up and built malls and housing tracts on top of it. One would think they’d want to get rid of the evidence of what it was before they ruined it.”

To solve the mystery in Death in a California Landscape we travel with Jake Martin up and down the California coast from Laguna Canyon to Crystal Cove, with a few trips up to Newport Beach, a side trip to Ensenada, and then north to Big Sur. Death in a California Landscape delivers on its title by including the scenery in the text. Jake Martin puts us in the passenger seat as he drives up the coast, “I drove PCH through the coast cities to the traffic circle in Long Beach, north on the 405, then west to Santa Monica and Coast Highway 1. The morning fog burned off just past Oxnard where the road widened and 101 came in from the valley. From there on the sea was blue, the kelp beds rising and falling in the swells until the road curved inland and the sea was lost behind it. I turned onto the narrower and less traveled Coast Highway 1 towards Morro Bay and the Big Sur. I made San Simeon by eleven. Hearst Castle shimmered in the distance, sun turreted and dream veiled, a mirage that had floated out of the Arabian Nights, taken a wrong turn somewhere and come to rest on the far crest of the California foothills. From there on the road began to climb along the edge of the Santa Lucia range. The Big Sur is not for the faint of heart. Cliffs drop a thousand feet straight down into the Pacific Ocean on one side. Mountains rise steeply on the other. The road unwinds between the two.”

Elizabeth C. Ward’s Coast Road Mystery, Death in a California Landscape, serves as a retreat from the holiday frenzy this December. Download to your Kindle or pick-up the book. Death in a California Landscape also makes for a fine gift. Happy Holidays!

Click for Ms. Ward’s website.

 

 

 

 

Doc Mishler and friends

Doc Mishler last rode the coast road fifteen years ago with the two horses pictured on the right: Chief Free Spirit and Keep The Faith. At that time, Doc trotted from Montana to Washington D.C., by way of California, after surviving a cancer diagnosis and its treatment and reading the book, How Then Shall We Live, a text that weighs the question, “How shall I live, knowing I will die?”

What was then a personal journey to celebrate life after beating a terminal diagnosis is now a ride to raise our awareness of hunger, in particular regard to starving children.  Doc says, “There are children in the world who are so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of food.”

This ride is Doc’s mission. For more information about his church community, please stop him on his way south along Highway 1.

Doc can use a place to board his horses each night, so stop to offer your place when you see him.  Today he’ll depart Pescadero to travel to Santa Cruz, then on to Monterey, and then El Sur Grande, a day’s ride southbound until San Diego, where he will then head east-northeast to D.C.

This post written by Anneliese Agren

I am not without hope of delighting to find the essential Coast Road novel.  Expectations defined in a previous post on two Coast Road-titled books ended with a request that, at the very least, when a book is titled, “The Coast Road,” then the reader better find plenty of setting along the Coast Road.

Elizabeth C. Ward’s 1983, Coast Highway 1, has it all:  A pissy, Stanford alum, University of Irvine comparative literature professor who translates nineteenth-century Spanish novelists, and intentionally grades his best student’s extraordinary paper a B+.  Jake Martin finds the extraordinary student lying dead one foggy morning, under the bougainvillea of his Spanish stucco courtyard.

“It was too late to go home, even for a change of clothes.  I bought a map of the coast highway and headed south.”   Jake Martin exits his next locations (Balboa Bay Club, San Juan Capistrano, Encinitas, even Ensenada), always in the nick-of-time.  Bullets prod his every departure.

A twist in the plot turns Jake northward, and soon he is north of Santa Monica, above Malibu, “Point Magu [sic].  One last strange rock, alone and seaward, like some forgotten giant or a period at the end of a sentence.  Beyond that are the flats of the Ventura Valley, the firing range, the naval base, the Pacific missile range, pale fields with only the tips of the summer crop greening the land.  Highway 1 hurries across it as though to get to the other side quickly, before the sea sweeps in again and wipes it clean.”

The reader finds plenty of setting along the Coast Road.  In Pismo Beach, Jake races through Oceano Dunes to evade a dune-buggying pursuer.  To reach some inland locales, such as Jake’s side-trip to Stanford campus, Elizabeth Ward writes, “I left the sea at Pescadero and turned inland through the artichokes and up into the redwood canyons that wind up to Skyline Drive.”  At Fort Point, Jake exchanges words under the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge with the sergeant assigned to the case.

Penciled edits in the copy that I read, made me laugh out loud.  The first edit is found when Jake Martin carries his investigation to Pacific Heights in San Francisco.  Elizabeth C. Ward describes the streets of his location as, “…on California, between Jackson and Clay.”  A savvy reader before me penciled in three parallel lines next to this paragraph, and named each: California, Clay, Jackson.  To the right of the paragraph, this editor/reader wrote, “BETWEEN?” and then, for good measure on the page, a deeply-leaded “!”

Later, the same scribe slashed an “r” in “Monterrey,” with an admonishment, “One “ARE” in our Monterey!”

Elizabeth C. Ward includes the environmental movement and Robinson Jeffers in her Coast Highway 1.  In the victim’s photography book on estuaries of the California coast, “Jennifer had used Jeffer’s words as the only text in her book and the photographs were worthy of a poet.  The eye that had looked through the lens had lingered on the detail of wing and seed and ripple of water.  Had recorded the reflection of insect and reed and marsh grass.  It had gloried in the sweep of sky and the boundless still-spaces of the estuary.”

The gnarliest chase scene occurs, briefly, as a coast road run through the Big Sur coastscape.  “No backwoods roads lead to the safety of highway arteries further inland.  There is no escape except by foot into terrain where only the wildcat and the red-tailed hawk survive.  Once committed, there is no way out.  Set a roadblock, one at each end, and a man is trapped here forever.  Fugitive, he is defeated, finally, not by the men at either end, but by the mountains themselves and the sea swirling below.”

Elizabeth C. Ward’s Coast Highway 1, is fairly essential as a Coast Road Read.  It is certainly a bunch of fun to vicariously romp along its settings up and down the California coast.  Elizabeth wrote two other books, both published in the 1980s, A Nice Little Beach Town and The Lost Day.  Ms. Ward has lived in Newport Beach for most of her life.

Available Used.

A little article on Ms. Ward.

What do Afghanistan, Ram Dass, the Hells Angels, Maui Wowie, the warm smell of colitas, Timothy Leary, Taco Bell, Guadalajara, Rainbow Surfboards, and LSD have in common?

670 South Coast Highway.

Mystic Arts World at 670 South Coast Highway in Laguna Beach is described in a 1973 Los Angeles Times article, “The store dealt in the accoutrements of the burgeoning psychedelic culture – love beads, clothing, and health foods.”

Mystic Arts World is the store front owned and operated in the late Sixties by a band of drug pushers who once lived in the Canyon.  Nicholas Schou’s Orange Sunshine tells the tale of Mystic Arts World and its notorious assortment of inlander badasses who named their group The Brotherhood of Eternal Love.

30 miles northeast of Laguna Beach is Anaheim, the “working-class city” where the Brotherhood of Eternal Love founder, John Griggs, and his friends “grew up in the shadow of Disneyland.”

“Most of them were former heroin addicts and boozers, petty crooks and street fighters who’d driffted in and out of juvenile hall, jail, and reform school.”

An Anaheim High School alumni who attended school with John Griggs told me, “Johnny Griggs was the meanest boy in school!  He was always getting in fights and one time he poked a boy’s eyes out with his fingers!”

“Griggs and his friends moved to Laguna Beach and helped usher in a flowering hippie scene that established the city as a Southern California version of Haight-Ashbury, luring countless flower children to overrun the resort town and fill its beaches, coves, and canyons with the scent of marijuana and hashish and the wild sounds of the latest psychedelic rock albums.”

The Brotherhood attracted a circle of runaways and kids from broken families.  Fourteen year old, Thurston Junior High School student, “Thumper,” met the Brotherhood when his dysfunctional parents became too negative to be around.  “I went in search of my sister and stopped by Mystic Arts right across from Taco Bell on Pacific Coast Highway.”  Thumper was told that he’d find his sister, “Sunshine,” at a “group grope” in the canyon and that she was crashing at Johnny Gale’s house.

“Thumper would recall decades later that his brief stay was the adventure of his life.”  In addition to losing his virginity at the age of 14 to a 23 year old and dealing drugs for the Brotherhood, Thumper met Timothy Leary who was hanging out with the Brotherhood at Mystic Arts World.  “After a month of following his sister from one house to another,” Thumper moved uphill.  “The caves, high in the hills above Laguna, near a part of town called Top of the World, thanks to its panoramic ocean view, were known among locals as the Living Caves.”

“We wound up living in a cave for a while,” Thumper says.  “I did homework in a cave by lamp.  Is that a groovy thing or what?”

John Gale's house, circa 1972, Laguna Canyon. Photo by Jeff Divine.

You will notice more elements of this photo’s story after reading Nicholas Schou’s Orange Sunshine.

Orange Sunshine includes the story of Neil Purcell.  Purcell, a patrol officer from Newport Beach “where he broke up fights between surfers and bodyboarders at crowded surf breaks like the Wedge,” worked undercover for the Laguna Beach Police Department.  “He was stunned by the amount of drug activity he witnessed — hippies wandering up and down Pacific Coast Highway or Laguna Canyon Road in broad daylight smoking weed with no fear of arrest, as if they had no idea what they were doing was illegal.”

John Griggs “had his own legally-registered church and used its tax-exempt status to establish Mystic Arts World.” It’s not a plot spoiler to tell you that Mystic Arts World’s demise was by fire.  “We burned out those hippies on Pacific Coast Highway,” boasted a John Birch member whose “own daughter became an acid-dropping hippie.”

It would be a plot spoiler to tell you the fate of either John Griggs or Neil Purcell.  One died by doing a face plant into a campfire “at a ranch hideaway nestled in a grassy bowl three hundred feet beneath a rock-strewn ridge along the Pacific Crest Trail between Hemet and Palm Springs,” the other made quite a career for himself in Laguna Beach and is now happily and healthily retired with his lovely wife.

Old Coast Road, 1916 - William Wendt

Gladstone’s in Malibu benefits from a makeover in both style and menu offerings, so reports an article from the Los Angeles Times.  “The Pacific Coast Highway location is Southern California’s highest-grossing independent restaurant, with annual revenue topping $14 million, according to Restaurants & Institutions, an industry trade journal. But sales and profits have slid in recent years as the restaurant has fallen victim to the recession and changing consumer tastes, (Richard) Riordan said.”

$14 million dollars?  That’s a lot of dining!  Gladstone’s location, “Where Sunset Boulevard meets Pacific Coast Highway,” might be part of the reason for its success.  On weekends, the Pacific Coast Highway, (and here I refer to the Coast Road in its entirety as PCH and California SR 1), is a dining destination for weekend wanderers wanting a sight for sore eyes and pleasing food and drink.

That $14 million dollar quote got my attention and I reflected on all the fine dining opportunities that I’ve enjoyed during my lifetime on the California coast.  I also think about the many times I’ve been stopped by tourists who ask, “Where’s a good place to eat around here?”  Fine dining in this post is not to be defined as expensive, formal and dressy, instead, “fine dining” is used as the qualifier to describe simply a good place to eat.

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Days until manuscript completion

Final DraftNovember 30th, 2013
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