Escape to Carmel Valley


Sometimes travel isn’t measured by the distance or the time spent, but by the sense of escape attained. That’s what Saturday was like for me.

An author speaking at the Carmel Valley Village library caught my eye, so at 9 AM I embarked on a gorgeous drive, heading south from my parent’s house near Monterey over the Laureles Grade and into Carmel Valley. It was clear and warm, with sculpted clouds accentuating the far-flung landscape. Looking at a map, I realized that Carmel Valley Road runs roughly parallel to Highway One: the two roads embrace Los Padres National Forest, so I was viewing the back of the coast range, the back side of Big Sur. No wonder it was fabulous. Winter rains have left the grasslands brilliantly verdant and wildflowers are beginning to bloom. An orchard of still-dormant, gnarled mossy trees rose above a blanket of mustard flowers. Rugged mountains (yes! over 4,500 feet) soared up from the valley floor, a patchwork of oak and scrubland and rock and meadow.

It reminded me of Malibu: the wild terrain tamed by a few roads, the panoramic views, the multi-million dollar homes. It seems like the immense wealth actually does infuse the air out there–I could smell it and taste it. Wineries, horses, tennis courts, and those palacial houses, scattered in the wilderness. Vanity vineyards–small residential plots of grapes–dot the terrain. A store displayed statuary of a massive scale: marble columns, enormous fountains, carved animals.

All the rampant wealth notwithstanding, it’s a place of rapturous beauty on a spring day. After the library event, I strolled, I had a coffee, I popped into a few stores and then concluded with… a spontaneous photo safari! Mix is a store with a couple of acres devoted to large-scale imports for the garden from Southeast Asia. After a recent photography workshop, I was eager to try some of my new tricks on their photogenic merchandise.

An hour of photography, half an hour from home, was a low-budget vacation. It was the sense of leisure, more than the activities, that I carved out of a pedestrian Saturday morning that left me feeling refreshed and transported, having had a brief window into the lives of folks just over the hill, in a destination predictably embraced by the Beautiful People.