The Detour Off Highway One & Madonna Inn
Highway One. I so looked forward to be graced by the presence of the beautiful Pacific Ocean out my car-side window. This was a portion of the road trip I was so looking forward to after leaving our Vietnamese food pit-stop in San Jose.
When my cousin and I went on this road trip, I knew that Highway One had not opened completely yet, and we would need to take a detour at some point. Nonetheless, the plans were in motion: leave San Jose, stop at McWay Falls, check into our room at Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, and lay out in the sunshine in the pool until the sun set and then move to the hot tub afterwards.
The moment my cousin saw the ocean (because she had passenger privilege of being able to relax and look out the window, not on the winding road from driving), she would scream “WAAAAATERRRRRRR” as if she were landlocked her whole life. It would be quite hilarious, and also startling.
We lost signal as we got on the road to Highway One en route to McWay Falls. I figured if I kept driving south on the road, I’d eventually get to the highway. Several pitstops to take in the sunshine and the Pacific Ocean later, we made it to McWay Falls and it was gorgeous. There is about a ten minute walk to the viewpoint that has no rails and is a bit scary (I am afraid of heights and am not agile), but once you get to the viewpoint, you are greeted with hoards of other people who are also on the viewpoint up against the fence taking photos. I thought we’d be able to get down to the falls, but turns out… nope.
Now onto our next destination: Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo. I knew that Highway One would eventually detour since the road was closed according to the GPS when I had originally mapped out the drive - I wasn’t sure where exactly the detour would occur, and we had lost all signal at this point. I continued driving south, assuming that eventually we would have a sign to tell us how to get back onto the main road. (Here’s a lesson, folks: don’t assume because … you know how the saying goes.) I continued driving on the road, and eventually hit a road block next to a gas station.
You know how in video games there is always an area to stock up on your health and supplies before a big boss battle? This is what the moment felt like: entering a boss battle. I realized I made a terrible mistake taking a chance on driving down Highway One. It was 4 PM. My cousin went inside to talk to the gas station attendant while I filled up the tank, and she got the following directions from him (which clearly shows this was not his first rodeo considering he had this laminated):
Option one would have taken us approximately two hours to get back to Monterey and then another four to five hours (depending on traffic) to get to Madonna Inn (total of six+ hours). Option two would take us through “Nacimiento Road” for two hours, get to the army base, over the bridge, back onto 101, and then another two and a half hours to get to Madonna Inn (total of four to five+ hours).
To me, this seemed like a no-brainer: I was going to take the faster route. This day was supposed to be an easier day of driving, I thought!
Next thing I know, we are driving on a very narrow road with no railings on the mountain-side and I am afraid of large animals coming out of nowhere and knocking off the car cliff-side and us falling. This is a drastic exaggeration of a situation that did not happen, but I have little-to-no experience with nature and the wilderness, and I kept imagining what would happen if we were stuck driving in the dark on this rail-less, narrow road.
Two hours of driving at 10 mph later (exaggeration-ish), I pulled over because I wanted to take a breather from being scared (this is the one time I was scared of driving throughout the whole roadtrip). There was a couple driving in their Volkswagen Van who also pulled over, and ended up getting out of the car. As I was taking this panorama photo, one of the couple started talking about how there could have been a wasps nest next to us in the bushes and how she wanted to go touch it (goodness…)??? My cousin and I get back in my car, and she told me there was a lizard next to my foot the whole time and she was glad that she didn’t tell me and the lizard didn’t go on my foot because she was scared I would jump and fall off the cliff.
Honestly, realistic fear. That is basically what happened when I jumped out of the car from a bug being on my arm when we left Mt. Rainier.
It was nearly 9 PM by the time we got to Madonna Inn: known for having 110 uniquely decorated rooms and themes with its own resort in San Luis Obispo. Our time at Madonna Inn was supposed to be relaxing, but instead we picked up McDonalds, went to the jacuzzi, chatted for a while into the evening, and slept. We had only a few more hours of driving left before we reached our final destination: Los Angeles.
West Coast Road Trip Series
The Detour Off Highway One & Madonna Inn