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Home Looks Sweet on Last Leg of Long Journey

Family Postcard. In April, the Paget family embarked on an odyssey across the U.S. Theirfinal report will appear next week.

August 09, 1992|DALE and SUSAN PAGET | Dale Paget is an Australian journalist. Susan Paget is an American free-lance reporter-photographer

"Why are you so excited?" we ask Henri as he bounces up and down in the back seat of our car, laughing and giggling and looking around at the shiny office buildings in downtown Los Angeles.

"It's because we are gonna get this drive over with," Henri says with a smile as wide as a car fender.

The junior adventurers are happy about arriving home after a 12,000-mile journey around America, sitting on top of sleeping bags in the back seat of our tiny sedan. The senior campers are also looking forward to private bathrooms and not collecting firewood.

We began the final leg of our three-month journey a few days ago, just south of San Francisco, with the first "citing" of our destination.

"Los Angeles 338 miles," the highway sign reads.


The coastal state campgrounds near Santa Cruz are fully booked, and we feel lucky to drive into one of the last available campsites at Henry Coe State Park in the hills behind the city. At $16 a night, it is the highest-priced government campground of our trip.

"Everything in California is more expensive," says the smiling lady at the campground ticket office. She notes that the fee was $10 just over a year ago.

We set up our tent, but discover that for a few dollars more we could have reserved a budget motel room close to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, an amusement park on the ocean.

After setting up the tent, we drive to the Boardwalk. The weather is wonderful, practically a heat wave, there are dozens of crazy people swimming in the icy cold water, and we find we're in the right place at the right time: On Mondays and Tuesdays from 5 p.m. on, it is "1907 at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk," featuring 45-cent rides, hot dogs, candy apples, cotton candy and soda. Perfect for our $40-a-day budget. And the amusement park rides are good practice for the road into Big Sur.

The amazing Highway 1, built by prisoners from San Quentin, is a thrill-a-minute cliffhanger. It hugs the western edge of America, moving in pulses with the Big Sur coastline.

Henri wants to know how Big Sur got its name. "Is it because the ranger is big and everyone calls him sir?" he asks. We all crack up laughing.

Our plan to camp in the famous Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and make a day trip back north to Monterey falls apart when the campground is sold out.

Low on groceries, we decide to try for an economy breakfast on the road. A cheap breakfast in Big Sur. Now that is a laugh. We stop at three cafes, each one more amusing than the next--$4 coffee, $8 eggs and toast, and gas is almost $2 a gallon.

"Is there any place that isn't a rip-off?" we ask a grocery store owner. "Yes," he says, smiling, "it's an hour-and-a-half drive away."

We don't follow his directions, but about 10 miles down the road we find a wonderful little forestry campground at Plaskett Creek on the southern edge of Big Sur. The small towns along the highway all

seem to consist of a cafe, a grocery store and a gas pump. In Gorda, about 15 minutes from Plaskett Creek, we find the best deals in groceries at the general store as well as the most cosmopolitan "community" in Big Sur. Gorda lists its residents as 100 elephant seals, 14 people and 7 dogs.

High prices aside, cruising along the remarkable coastline of Big Sur is the best scenic drive of our American adventure. We stop to stare over the edge of the road down vertical cliffs that rush to the ocean. Farther out, black rock islands are surrounded by bright green and deep blue water and the sea air is cool and salty.

Down the road we find the pretty fishing village of Morro Bay. The town's landmarks are a rocky headland and three spiraling smoke stacks that rise like skyscrapers above a Pacific Gas and Electric power station. In the shadow of the tall chimneys are a fleet of fishing boats and a harbor shopping village with shell and surf shops, restaurants and a seal museum.

At Morro Bay State Campground, we shell out another $16 and learn that the ranger campfire programs--the best part of state park camping--have been reduced because there is not enough money. The campground sells out quickly. There are cars and motor homes, tents and laundry lines and a steady stream of people going in and coming out of the bathrooms.

This whole camping thing has definitely lost its novelty. Our last campgrounds are no more than parking lots for tents and RVs.

After showers we start south for our final campsite (hooray!) on wind-swept Jalama Beach, a county campground north of Santa Barbara. The sand is blowing in our faces, the yellow jacket wasps have found our steaks and the fish we just caught at the beach taste like flour.

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