• Otter Views: Cruising through Winkie Land

    Yellow wildflowers and emerald meadows having reached some sort of scenic crescendo along the Central Coast, it seemed prudent to travel through them Saturday to a couple of mystery spots I had too long overlooked.

    The first was a narrow valley I must have sped past 30 times over the years. Glimpsed from Highway One on a sunny day, it has the aura of a storybook setting from some earlier age. N.C. Wyeth or Maxfield Parrish could have painted those wooded hills, rolling farmlands and quiet stream.

    According to the highway sign, the valley’s winding, two-lane road promised access to the towns of San Gregorio and La Honda. The former features picturesque farms and a Civil War-era tavern. The redwood redoubts of the latter gained renown from hippie-era novelist Ken Kesey and his painted bus full of “Merry Pranksters.”

    No psychedelic buses plied the San Gregorio road during my transit Saturday, but fancy racing bikes and motorcycles abounded. It was easy to see why. On a clear day, Highway 84 offers dry pavement, exquisite views, varied terrain and little car or truck traffic.

    Dominating Saturday’s traffic were high-performance bikes that spun along the roadside in tight, fast-moving packs of 10 or 20, their riders hunched over the handlebars, as lean and focused as greyhounds. The motorcyclists I saw tended to ride solo on speedy “rice rockets,” but one big regiment of Harleys thundered through, the bikes running two abreast in classic formation.

    Beyond the scarcity of four-wheeled traffic, I’d guess the route’s terrain is the big draw for cyclists, motor and otherwise. With an open river valley at the ocean end and steep redwood forests inland, Highway 84 offers a training circuit short enough to complete in a morning but challenging enough to get the endorphins churning.

    I don’t know if scenic beauty factors into a serious bike workout, but it was there for the taking on Saturday. Dotting meadows and pastures and thick along the roadsides, the wildflowers called “footprints of the spring” swept the green hills like a yellow wind. Even brighter and richer were chest-high colonies of mustard and scotch broom that engulfed the bottom lands in a golden surf of blossoms.

    All that yellow reminded me of L. Frank Baum’s Kingdom of Oz, a fanciful domain comprising four “lands” whose denizens wore different colors. The eastern part of the quadrant was “Winkie Land,” a name derived from “winks” of yellow sunlight that penetrated the thick forest in its southern half. Accordingly, yellow was the Winkies’ color.

    They would have felt right at home on Saturday. From the intense cadmium yellow of the wildflower meadows to the cooler play of sunlight and shadow beneath the redwoods, Highway 84 was Winkie Land incarnate. And at its summit was a sort of Emerald City, a deep green forest flat where several roads converged. Purveyors of food and beverage made it a popular staging area for bikers and cyclists.

    Twisting up the mountain and snaking down the other side, the road eventually sloped into the town of Woodside, the first place I’ve been where horse crossings command more signage than crosswalks. While I didn’t see the mutable “horse of a different color” from MGM’s 1939 Oz movie, thoroughbreds aplenty nickered in the white-fenced paddocks of country estates.

    A long, gradually sloping access road thronged with bicyclists led to the Big Daddy of country estates, the century-old Filoli mansion. Built by the San Francisco mining colossus William Bourn, the manse overlooks 654 Oz-like acres of meadows, forests, ponds and European-style formal gardens. It’s a sort of peninsular Downton Abbey, with one wing for the family and another for the servants. The ballroom has immense murals, cut crystal chandeliers and a stone fireplace as big as a garage. Atop a stage at one end, a Steinway grand beckons some bygone virtuoso in swallowtails to play Strauss for ghostly waltzers. A woody library includes photos of the Bourn women in exquisite finery “being presented” to the king and queen of England. By California standards, this is old money.

    After passing through the Bourne and Roth (Matson Navigation) families, the estate was donated to the National Trust in 1975 minus most of its art and furnishings. Years of painstaking acquisition work refurbished the mansion with reasonable facsimiles, and the stately house is now open six days a week for tours by the dazzled hoi-polloi.

    But the gardens are the main attraction on a sunny spring day. To extend the Oz analogy, every color was represented among the flowering fruit trees and immaculate planting beds there: Winkie yellows, the ruby reds of the Quadlings, the blue palate of the Munchkins and the velvety purples of Gillikin Land.

    As the travel guides say: worth a visit.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on March 20, 2015

    Topics: Otter Views

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