This surfer rides a wave near the pier in Huntington Beach, California. On the horizon is Catalina Island. Huntington Beach (Surf City USA) is known for its long 8.5-mile (13.7 km) beach, mild climate, and excellent surfing. The waves are a unique natural effect caused by edge-diffraction of ocean swells by the island of Catalina and the waves from distant hurricanes.
I love road trips, especially when I only do twenty percent of the driving. In mid-September, my husband and I loaded up my minivan with some of the left-behind belongings of my daughter and her boyfriend and headed west to Huntington Beach, California. Laura and Ryan had moved there in mid-August, making the drive in their two small cars jammed to the ceiling with their stuff.
I got the idea to make this odyssey when the Spiritual Rez band stayed at our house and talked about how much they loved traveling the country. I hadn’t made a driving trip to the West Coast in a long while. Our home state of Kansas is very familiar, but this time I tried to look at it with new eyes instead of wishing it away until that first exciting moment when we see the Rocky Mountains rise up from the horizon. So eager are we to make progress that sometimes we make a mountain out of a cloudbank. I love the gradual change in landscape.
Mid-way through Kansas we saw Monarch butterflies fluttering across Interstate 70 as they made their annual migration to Mexico for the winter. We saw scores of tall modern windmills slowly turning their blades, some overshadowing the old-fashioned farm windmills first erected in the 1880s.
As we drove through Colorado, Utah and Nevada, I recognized sights Laura had emailed me from her camera phone. My husband and I have driven much of this route before, but it was still awe-inspiring. I still gaped at every ridge and butte and mountain peak and begged for my husband to stop the car at every scenic turn-out during much of the drive. When I was behind the wheel, we did stop at everything! I wish there were scenic turnouts along the Flint Hills in Kansas, too. Kansas Turnpike officials, are you there (wishful thinking)?
The first night we spent in Dillon, Colorado, which is ski country. There was a brew pub conveniently located right by our hotel. The night air was crisp. I’ve been to this area several times during ski season, but it’s so much more beautiful when you’re not freezing to death. I won’t be visiting during ski season again. My skiing days are over! I wasn’t much of a skiier to begin with. I’m so slow I should have an orange triangle fastened to my back, and I hate to be cold. And I don’t like snow, either! Already in September, it was in the mid 30s when we headed back on the road.
The second day we drove through western Colorado and through Utah, spending the night in St. George, which we visited last November. We toured our “old” neighborhood. We knew where the Walmart was, too. Both visits to Wal-Mart we saw a few women with french-braided hair who were wearing long pioneer-style dresses with muttonchip sleeves. If you want to read my Utah posts, type in “Utah” in my search box. There are lots of great photographs!
We hurried through Nevada, stopping in Las Vegas only to get gas, and it seemed like forever to get through the desert of California to reach Huntington Beach. Laura had said that seemed like the longest part of the trip, maybe because you’re so close to your destination but the desert never seems to end.
Yeah, yeah, I know I just wrote that I never tire of it, that it was gorgeous and amazing. Some parts do drag on a bit. I thought about all of the immigrants who had plodded through these bleak, arid western lands in the 1800s on the California trail, which starts in our green part of the country of Kansas City. I thought of “Death Valley Days,” “Wagon Train” and “Twenty-Mule Team Borax” — two old television shows and a commercial that I barely remember beyond the titles. I do remember Ronald Reagan was the host of “Death Valley Days” for a while. (Yes, this might be the spot for a political joke, but I won’t go there.)
I’m not going to recite a mile by mile account of this trip (although it seems like it so far), but I’ve got to have some words to hold the photos together in this post, like eggs beaten into a cake.
Huntington Beach is a nice city, very laid-back it seems. The city is located 40 miles south of Los Angeles. Houses are packed very closely together because real estate there is very expensive, even now in this economy. There are no buildings on the 8.5 mile-long-beach, so there’s an unobstructed view of the ocean and of Catalina Island. It’s the longest open run of beach on the West Coast. It’s celebrating its 100th anniversary as an incorporated city this year. It was called Shell Beach, later Pacific City and finally Huntington Beach in honor of H.E. Huntington who brought the Pacific electric Railway to the area.
Here’s what the official Huntington Beach website has to say (yes, they like themselves very much!): “The dynamic coastal City of Huntington Beach, with its sunny Mediterranean climate and idyllic setting, is home to more than 202,250 residents. Internationally known as Surf City, Huntington Beach boasts eight miles of scenic, accessible beachfront, the largest stretch of uninterrupted beachfront on the West Coast. Tourism remains a vital part of the economy, as over 11 million visitors flock to the city during the summer, on weekends and for special events.
Our parks and recreation features one of the largest recreational piers in the world, public parks, riding stables and equestrian trails, a marina, and a wildlife preserve, and an eight-mile biking, inline skating, jogging, and walking trail along the ocean. The crown jewel of the recreation system is the wide expanse of beautiful and spacious beaches, where large crowds gather to watch professional sporting events as the U.S. Open of Surfing, AVP Pro Beach Volleyball and the Surf City USA Marathon.”
There are also oil rigs offshore, which surprised me. There’s oil in this town! I’m a little late in finding this out. The oil boom began in the 1920s. A few “grasshoppers” oil wells pump away in a beach-view lot in town, walled off next to houses that must be worth millions. When the Spanish arrived, they established the area as a cattle ranch. Beach Boulevard, the main thoroughfare of Huntington Beach, was originally a cattle route.
Much later, I read that an encylopedia company gave away free parcels of land, with the purchase of a whole set for $126. I don’t know how true this is, but it makes a great story. The encyclopedia company had obtained the land cheaply. The company should have kept the land and forgotten about the books, because oil was discovered in the area the company had given away as a bonus with the purchase of encyclopedias. Now the price of land for housing has risen so high it has pushed many of the rigs off the landscape. Links to more history about the city are at the bottom of this post. The city has dozens of pristine parks, protected nature reserves and unspoiled wetland habitats, such as Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve and the Donald D. Shipley Nature Center,
Huntington Beach is officially Surf City USA, a title it wrangled over with Santa Cruz, California.
Hawaii’s Duke Kahanamoku first introduced modern surfing in the United States in Santa Cruz, so you can see why that city might want to claim the title. Kahanamoku is credited with popularizing surfing world-wide during the 1920s, after achieving Olympic swimming fame in 1912 and 1920. The Surfing Walk of Fame is in Huntington Beach, featuring a statue of Kahanamoku. I loved watching the surfers, seeing how they’d pop up onto a wave and ride it so gracefully. I wasn’t tempted, though. That’s COLD water! The International Surfing Museum is in Huntington Beach.
Links to information about surfing, Huntington Beach and Duke Kahanamoku are at the bottom of this post. Later (probably much later), I’ll post about the Spanish Missions system, Catalina Island, South Pasadena and the Grand Canyon.