Ghost town on the road to the coast

Mystery House in Calico – all strange angles.

After seven hours driving we’re all a bit wrecked, but we’ve made it safely from Las Vegas to the little community of Summerland, just south of Santa Barbara on the Pacific Coast. We saw some pretty impressive scrubby-desert landscape on the way, as well as a vast vista of highway.

Spot the guy behind Cal with the coonskin hat.

There’s a definite pecking order on the highways; a bit like some prehistoric savannah. There’re the small fleet footed individuals who fly along at high speed in a desperate desire to be somewhere. Surprisingly often those same little dudes in their shiny cars end up sidelined and chatting to the ladies and gentlemen on the California Highway Patrol. There’re mid-sized denizens of the road like us, moving along in family groups. The main California Highways facilitate this by giving anyone with more then one person in their car a lane all to themselves. And finally there are the huge brontosaurus-like dinosaurs – the RVs.

Panning for gold.

There’s no question that the RVs are the kings of the road – enormous, lumbering beasts with their drivers sitting a good two metres above the road level, proudly looking down on us smaller creatures. These things are just unbelievable; some of them are the size of coaches. Like the huge dinosaurs, the RVs are often accompanied by smaller beasts; they are so large they tow a car behind them, and not a dinky little car but a full-size four-wheel-drive.

Cigar-store indian.

We stopped for morning tea this morning at the ghost town of Calico. In the 1880s Calico was a booming silver-mining town. Almost overnight it became deserted and abandoned until bought up by an enterprising gentleman who made it into a tourist attraction. Now the old buildings house a range of shops and small attractions that are entertaining and cute. We went into the Mystery House which is built all out of kilter so water apparently runs up hill and just trying to stand straight causes a sense of vertigo. The boys panned for gold and came up with a little collection of pyrite. We also had a great slice of cherry pie.

But the Calico sights were almost equalled by people-watching the other visitors. There was a nice variety of cowboy hats, some Japanese tourists who took lots of photos of Declan (presumably mistaking him for a local) and some genuine characters. My favourite was the gentleman walking around in a coonskin hat and buckskins a la Davy Crockett. At first we took him for an employee of the town, but it turned out he was just another visitor.

Finally we made it to Summerland. Given we visited a ghost town today, there is a nice parallel in staying in a town founded and populated by people with an interest in the supernatural. The centrepiece of the town was a community seance room. The unearthly aspect did not last long, quickly being supplanted by an oil boom which saw oil derricks crop up all over the place, including the world’s first offshore oil well. In time the local oil ran out, although there are still offshore oil rigs clearly visible, and Summerland has become a sleepy beachside community renowned for its restaurants and weekly polo matches.

And as a final word, on our trip today we passed the town of Zzyzx – officially the last word in the English language. So there.

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