Day 5: Our Jaunt in June

“From the mountains, to the valleys, to the the ocean, white with foam . . . God bless America, my home sweet home!”

These words tumbled unbidden through my brain as we drove from the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, across the broad valley of Central California’s agricultural belt, to the Pacific Ocean beach at  old Ft. Ord. It was a short day of driving, but one that crossed three glorious geographic wonders of our country – and all of them in California.

We had made other plans to stop at various places of interest, but simplified the day by just getting to the coast. We craved the cooler temperatures, the moister air, the ocean breezes that reminded us of home. And, we were not disappointed. We stopped in a lovely corner of Marina at the Comfort Inn and set out to explore. The temps had dropped from 79 this morning in Modesto to 62 this afternoon in Marina, allowing us to gain a little much needed energy. That dry desert heat just takes it out of a body!

My only desire was to go to the beach – well, maybe even just to SEE the beach. And, my driver was happy to comply. After a little rest, we set out to find the old Ft. Ord State Park and Public beach. It was only a matter of miles from our motel. Ft. Ord was a major military installation here until 1994 when the Army gave it back to the state. But the ghosts of its former life are evident everywhere. Old barracks still stand, paint peeling and windows broken out; old roads remain that lead nowhere; and miles and miles of dunes and beach that were used for target practice and tactical maneuver training are still stunningly beautiful, although much of it off limits to the public because of possible unexploded ordnance.

I could not help but think of all the men who trained for battle here on these beaches, who perhaps honed skills that kept them alive during battle. Skills that perhaps helped keep us alive as a free country. The dunes and sands have shifted . . . time has passed . . . and yet the sand, and the sea remain. The Army is gone, but nature survives – even though the Army planted foreign vegetation to stabilize the sand, which the state is now trying to eradicate. It does make a beautiful picture in the late afternoon sun, though, don’t you agree?

From our walk down memory lane on old Ft. Ord, we went to Gusto’s – a hand crafted pizza and pasta establishment. We arrived as they opened their doors for dinner and were treated to fine dining like we only dream about. Going all out, (and because we hadn’t eaten a bite of anything since 9:00 a.m.) we ordered more than we should have. You’ll notice on one of their signs it says “First we eat. Then we do everything else.” We were happy to comply and started our dinner with an appetizer of meatballs; then shared an Italian chop salad with local greens and produce; and a wood fired pizza with prosciutto and Pecorino Romano. My driver had some wine and I drank my favorite beverage these days – ice cold water. We thoroughly enjoyed the food and the attentions of our excellent waiter. Gusto’s definitely earns a spot in the annals of great dining while on a road trip.

For my postprandial walk I traced my way back toward Ft. Ord and walked through a city park that I saw as we drove by. Locke-Padden Park is a wetlands and water fowl sanctuary, right in the middle of town. I walked down into the park and road noise magically disappeared and bird song took over. It was cooler among the reeds and the bugs began to hug me, but I walked swiftly on. Ducks were bathing in the shallows and the evening sun was kissing the tops of the foliage goodnight. It was a delightful spot and I was only one of two other people I saw there. Alone with nature – in the middle of the city. Truly an amazing experience and something to look for in my own city. I’m sure there are similar spots hidden away from the crowds.

I found my way back to the motel grateful for all that we have seen and experienced in these short five days. Yes, God bless America – my home, sweet home.