If these walls could talkSan Juan Bautista, CA

Mission San Juan Bautista sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This is the fifteenth installment of my Mission Mondays series, exploring all 21 Spanish Missions along the California coast. You can read more about this series, and see a sketch map of all the missions, at this post.

San Juan Bautista was the first mission I ever visited, more than two years ago now. It’s the one that inspired me to see all 21 of them, and even though I now have plenty to compare it to, it’s still one of my very favorites.

Detail of California Missions map sketch by Chandler O'Leary

San Juan Bautista is one of the more famous missions, thanks to its role as a film location for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. And judging by the changes it’s undergone, and the hidden details it holds, it might have the most stories to share. But it’s certainly not the oldest mission by any stretch—in fact, it was the fifteenth founded in Alta California, built well after Blessed Junipero Serra’s death.

Mission San Juan Bautista sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The last time I visited here, it was far too early in the morning for the buildings to be open. So this time, I was eager to get inside the place. I could go on about how lovely the interior was, though with the exception of the triple-wide nave, it wasn’t so different than any of the other mission churches. The part that really slayed me, though, were the tiny animal paw prints in the tile floor! I almost missed them entirely—I dropped my pen, and when I bent to pick it up, I saw one. Apparently the tiles had been outside curing in the sun when some small dog or other had run across them. Rather than throwing out the “ruined” tiles, they just used them anyway. Such an enchanting little detail.

Mission San Juan Bautista sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The other real treat was seeing the interior courtyard garden. The plants and layout were similar to any other mission, but I loved that all the doors and windows were painted turquoise. It felt like stepping through a California doorway and emerging into a hidden pocket of Santa Fe.

Over the course of two visits, I’ve racked up a sizeable pile of sketches of San Juan Bautista. Yet somehow, it still doesn’t feel like I’m finished exploring. I have a feeling I’ll be back, and that you haven’t seen the last of this place here.

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Mission ControlCarmel-by-the-Sea, CA

Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This is the fourteenth installment of my Mission Mondays series, exploring all 21 Spanish Missions along the California coast. You can read more about this series, and see a sketch map of all the missions, at this post.

I had some technical difficulties with the site this week, so Mission Monday couldn’t happen on Monday—but everything’s back up and running now, and anyway, isn’t better when Monday turns out to be Friday anyway? So let’s get back to it!

Detail of California Missions map sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo (Carmel Mission for short) is the exact opposite of its nearest neighbor, La Soledad. It’s in the center of town, rather than way out in the country. The structure is mostly original, instead of a rebuilt replica. The complex is ornate and unusual, in contrast to the simple, almost stereotypical style of La Soledad. And while La Soledad is nearly forgotten all the way out there in the valley, Carmel is bustling with tourists and well-to-do townsfolk—there’s no danger of this beloved mission falling into disrepair.

Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo sketch by Chandler O'Leary

In fact, the buildings are in fine fettle. This is one of the missions I’ve visited before, and when I was here two years ago, the façade was covered in scaffolding and tarps. So while the weather was brighter that first day, I’m glad I got to see it again without any distracting construction equipment around.

Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Carmel Mission has an interesting history, and a special place among its 20 siblings. It was the favorite of Blessed Junípero Serra, the priest who founded the first nine of the Alta California missions. He made Carmel the headquarters and seat of power of the entire chain, and directed operations for all the missions from this site until his death in 1784 (he’s even buried beneath the chapel floor). And in recent years Carmel has been made a basilica, giving it special status (and therefore protection) among the Catholic Church’s properties.

Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Like most of the missions, Carmel has seen many modifications over the years, and spent time in serious disrepair—but great pains have been taken to restore it to its original glory. As a result, it’s considered the most architecturally authentic of the missions. Later additions like steep rooflines and Victorian details have been removed, so what you see now is as close to the original as possible.

Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I love how Carmel perfectly marries different architectural styles into one lovely whole. There are the more “traditional” mission elements like tile rooftops and adobe colonnades—

Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo sketch by Chandler O'Leary

—and then there’s the stone cathedral, with the more unusual Moorish influence (like that of Mission San Gabriel) of its ovoid dome and that spectacular star window.

Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo sketch by Chandler O'Leary

But what I love best is the interior. The ceiling of the nave is arched, but not in the way a Gothic (pointed arch) or Romanesque (semicircular arch) nave would be. The shape here is a specific type called a catenary—the precise curve formed by a chain held with both ends up and its length hanging between them. Catenary arches aren’t found as commonly as other types (though since they perfectly balance the opposing forces of tension and compression, maybe they should be), but if you’ve ever seen the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, you’ve seen a catenary before.

(If you haven’t guessed, I’m a sucker for simple, mathematical perfection found in very old and unlikely places.)

Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The rest of the interior is a rabbit warren of brightly painted side chapels, living quarters and historical dioramas (warning: if dolls creep you out, you might want to skip this bit).

Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo sketch by Chandler O'Leary

And when you wander back outside, you can breathe in the sea air and the fragrance of citrus and bougainvillea.

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On the banksNear Old Town, FL

Suwannee River sketch by Chandler O'Leary

When Mary-Alice and I hatched our Florida trip earlier this year, I made a point of not planning any destinations ahead of time. I wanted to be surprised by what we found along the road. One of the many surprises that day was crossing the famous “Swanny”.

Suwannee Gables Motel sketch by Chandler O'Leary

An even better surprise (for me) was what was waiting for us on the opposite bank.

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Neon queenFresno, CA

Fresno Motel sketch by Chandler O'Leary

If you’re into neon signs or period architecture, Fresno is something of a wonderland. But truth be told, I planned this entire leg of my trip around this sign alone. I mean, look at her! She might have seen better days, but to me she’ll always be a masterpiece.

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Lonely outpostNear Soledad, CA

Mission Nuestra Senora de la Soledad sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This is the thirteenth installment of my Mission Mondays series, exploring all 21 Spanish Missions along the California coast. You can read more about this series, and see a sketch map of all the missions, at this post.

The “Soledad” in Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad means “solitude.” And boy howdy, is that ever accurate.

Detail of California Missions map sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The third of three missions located in the Salinas Valley, La Soledad is also the most remote. It’s not as far off of modern Highway 101 as Mission San Antonio, but it’s the farthest from civilization.

Mission Nuestra Senora de la Soledad sketch by Chandler O'Leary

In fact, even though there’s almost nothing left of the original complex (thanks to the caprice of the Salinas River)…

Mission Nuestra Senora de la Soledad sketch by Chandler O'Leary

…you really get a sense for how self-sufficient the missions had to be when they were founded.

Mission Nuestra Senora de la Soledad sketch by Chandler O'Leary

That’s because the mission is located smack in the middle of a bunch of vegetable fields. Quite literally. There’s no fanfare about the place—there’s barely even any waymarking to find it. It’s a bit of a shock, actually, after seeing mission after mission in town centers or near tourist traps.

But that’s the best part of the place: being able to stand in the shade and look out at a landscape right out of a Steinbeck novel.

 

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Blushing brontosaurusVernal, UT

Pink dinosaur sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Vernal is the known as the gateway to Dinosaur National Monument. And don’t get me wrong, I’m always game for a national park—but I would have come all that way just to see the pink concrete dinosaur. (Priorities, right?)

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Mountain missionNear Jolon, CA

Mission San Antonio de Padua sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This is the twelfth installment of my Mission Mondays series, exploring all 21 Spanish Missions along the California coast. You can read more about this series, and see a sketch map of all the missions, at this post.

Note: At the time of my visit, the façade of the building was ensconced in scaffolding. I was so sad at the idea of including it in my sketches that I just…didn’t. I drew around it, and sketched as if it weren’t there. So know that if you go, you might not find it looking like this. I’m not sure how long the current restoration project will go on.

Today we’ll visit a mission that stands out among its brothers and sisters. While some details might bring to mind places like La Purisima or San Juan Capistrano, there’s simply nowhere quite like Mission San Antonio de Padua.

Detail of California Missions map sketch by Chandler O'Leary

As you head north out of San Luis Obispo along the Salinas Valley, you’ll pass three missions before you reach Monterey Bay. Each one is more remote than the one before, so make sure you have food, water and plenty of petrol if you decide to make the trek.

Mission San Antonio de Padua sketch by Chandler O'Leary

San Antonio, the second of the Salinas Valley three, is one of the oldest missions in the entire chain. And it has all kinds of features and details that you won’t find at any of the others—like the subtly contrasting archways. Or the campanile situated in front of the main entrance, instead of off to the side or around the corner.

Mission San Antonio de Padua sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The interior of the church is also really unusual, with its squared-off arches and wooden planking.

Mission San Antonio de Padua sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The overall look of the place is different, too—like this might be a Texas or New Mexico mission instead (or perhaps Italy, like San Antonio himself).

Mission San Antonio de Padua sketch by Chandler O'Leary

It’s certainly located in the most mountainous stretch of the Royal Road—and since you actually have to enter and cross a military installation (which buffers the place even further from modern civilization) to get here, the trip really feels like an old-fashioned expedition.

Maybe that’s what I liked best of all: this feeling of stepping back in time and seeing the one mission that is perhaps the closest to how it has always been.

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BirdlandCentral Valley, CA

Central Valley, CA sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I’ve written about California’s Central Valley before, and I have a feeling it’ll come up again. But there are just so many things to love about the place. Perhaps the best part of all is the birdwatching.

Central Valley, CA sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The Central Valley is a main thoroughfare along the Pacific Flyway, and hosts thousands upon thousands of both migratory and native birds every year. The best time to birdwatch is in the late winter, when the valley is otherwise at its most drab. While most of the human tourists are in more “interesting” places like the coast, the avian tourists are literally flocking to the Inland Empire.

So while most folks might consider the valley to be a flyover region that’s beneath their notice, birders might just find it to be heaven on earth.

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