Speaking of incongruous dinosaurs, if you ever find yourself traveling up Highway 101 along the Oregon coast, you might be surprised to see a brachiosaurus head poking up through the trees. Just like the Columbia River Gorge, the Oregon rainforest isn’t a place you’ll ever find actual dinosaur fossils. Still, there’s something about the misty hillsides and impossibly tall trees that make it easy to imagine yourself standing in a primordial place.
On the morning I did this sketch, I was supposed to be sitting in a darkened lecture hall, listening to a bunch of scholars talk about art. But I just couldn’t do it. On a day like that, it seemed criminal to pass up such a beautiful place. So I jumped in the car and drove in the opposite direction—in the same time it would have taken me to get to the auditorium, I had reached the top of the world.
Posting this sketch has me remembering that I do this a lot. I have a long history of throwing the itinerary out the window and going off on my own to explore instead. And I gotta say: every single time, without fail, it’s been precisely the right choice to make.
This is the sixteenth 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.
After the splendor of Carmel and San Juan Bautista, I have to admit that Mission Santa Cruz (or La Misión de la Exaltación de la Santa Cruz if you want to use its full name) felt like a bit of a letdown. If you didn’t know the story (and I didn’t until I got there), it’d be easy to just breeze into town, see a tidy little church in a neighborhood square, shrug and move on.
The original mission was the twelfth founded along El Camino Real, and never one of the large ones. It was first built in 1791 on the flood plain of the San Lorenzo river, but within months it was destroyed by flood waters. Not eager to repeat all of that, the padres rebuilt the mission on the hill overlooking the original site, but that too was destroyed in an 1857 earthquake.
So all that’s left of the original mission on the hill is one long quadrangle wall; and in the sketch above you can see the steeple of the Victorian-era Holy Cross Church they built on the rest of the original site.
What stands in for the mission now is a 1930s replica—but what’s odd is that it’s a scale replica. I suppose with the addition of the Victorian church across the square, there wouldn’t have been room (or in the 30s, I suspect, the funds) to build a full-scale copy of Mission Santa Cruz. It’s easy to give the replica structure a miss, but I think the fact that it’s built to half scale makes it something of a curiosity. What’s also curious is that the new structure exists thanks to a sole benefactress, one Gladys Sullivan Doyle. She single-handedly funded the construction, on the condition that she be buried on site upon her death.
So strolling through the back garden of the replica mission felt like being on a film set—or inside a human-scale puzzle. It felt odd to try to piece together the story of the place, and finding both real historical remnants and false clues presented like red herrings.
Of course, in the end my stupid brain had the last word, and dashed any further serious inquiry by replaying that Monty Python line in my head: “It’s only a model.”
You wouldn’t normally think of the Pacific Northwest as covered bridge country, but we do have a few here. Southern Oregon is home to a real beauty, and the last covered bridge still standing along old Highway 99. Of course, the rainy Northwest weather and towering conifers gave it away, but otherwise, the place made me feel like I was standing in a Vermont mountain glen.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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—
—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.
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.)
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).
And when you wander back outside, you can breathe in the sea air and the fragrance of citrus and bougainvillea.
This is the tenth 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.
Unlike last week, where we were smack in the middle of the California countryside, this week’s mission is right in the center of it all.
Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, the origin and focal point for the town that takes its name, is another of the painstakingly well-cared-for missions in the chain.
And that’s because like Santa Barbara, the town of San Luis Obispo is a tidy, picturesque, wealthy community. So while the mission itself might not be as exciting as La Purisima or San Juan Capistrano (though Mission San Luis Obispo was involved in a brief skirmish during the Mexican-American war, so there!) ,it’s so beautifully situated and restored that it just draws you in (no pun intended).
There’s not a whole lot here anymore that’s original—at least on the surface. But I think they did a great job of merging a period aesthetic with modern touches. I only managed this one sketch of the interior, but if you’re ever there, prepare to spend some time inside the church itself. They took such care with approximating the hand-painted decor that the finished result is breathtaking.
Actually, I’m glad the place isn’t quite as action-packed as La Purisima. Since I did the two on the same day, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed by the time I pulled into SLO. But as soon as I stepped foot inside the mission, the place did its job as a retreat and sanctuary. Suddenly it was easy to pull out the old sketchbook again, and start letting the images flow.
This is the ninth 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.
Mission La Purisima Concepción was probably the one for which I did the least amount of research—the mission I knew the least about. I’m so glad I showed up there without doing my homework first, because it ended up being both a complete surprise and my very favorite mission.
La Purisima is unique in a couple of ways: in the first place, it’s one of only two in the chain that have been deconsecrated. Now that it’s no longer an active church, it’s now operated as a California state park.
The other unique thing is that La Purisima is the only mission in the chain to still include the entire mission complex. Most of the missions are down to just the church and gardens, but this one still encompasses the adjacent monastery, workshops, cemetery, and remnants of the mission village.
Much of what’s there today was reconstructed by the CCC in the 1930s (like most of the missions, it was badly damaged in a long-ago earthquake), and currently maintained by the state park system.
I think I arrived not long after a recent restoration, because the place was in fine fettle.
Best of all, I had almost the whole place to myself—which, combined with its remote location, made it feel like I’d stumbled upon a bit of hidden treasure.
I could have stayed there all day, basking in sunshine, birdsong and the sweet spring breeze.
But what really bowled me over was that gorgeous pink stucco.
Instead of a historic shell, inhabited only by ghosts, that pink made the place feel very much alive.
Now this is more like it. Solvang might have seemed a little too much like a polished Disneyland for my taste, but in the next town over was something much more my speed.
Though its name has changed slightly over the years, Pea Soup Andersen’s has been a Santa Ynez Valley institution for over 90 years. And while I’m not sure their famous split-pea soup is quite as home-cooked as it may have been in 1924 (it tastes fairly processed, I’m sad to say), there’s something comforting and homey about sitting down to hot soup after a long day of travel.
And the decor! This is the kind of low-brow charm I was hoping for in Solvang. Every inch of the place is Danish-ized to the hilt (but in a far less polished way than in Solvang), and there’s a heckuva gift shop that’s worthy of the best roadside attractions.
And there’s one other thing Andersen’s has that Solvang doesn’t: killer neon.
(They had me at the neon.)
This is the eighth 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.
For most of the missions along El Camino Real, the mission itself is the main feature (and tourist draw) for each mission town along the way. That’s especially true for places like San Juan Capistrano, where the mission provided not only the origin of the town, but also the model for all architecture and tourist themes to follow.
That may once have been the case for Mission Santa Inés as well, but you’d never know it these days. That’s because the mission is located in the town of Solvang—a tourist draw all by itself, and a town inspired by a completely different aesthetic than that of the Spanish mission (as you’ll see in the next post—I don’t want any spoilers to detract from the, er, mission of this one).
Still, if you knew nothing of Solvang itself—or if you happened to approach the mission from the east, and hadn’t yet seen any sign of the town’s dominant architecture—you’d think Santa Inés were the best and only reason to visit. It certainly makes for an incredibly picturesque vista, perched above its namesake valley as it is.
Solvang is famous in its own right, however, so it’s more likely you’d be there to see the town itself—and then you’d be surprised to discover there’s also a Spanish mission there.
Still, while the mission feels a little out of place in Solvang, the whole area is a bit of a mish-mash of cultural influences. Even the mission itself was founded by Spanish colonists, named for an Italian saint represented by a Latin pun, established to convert local Indian tribes, adorned with a garden laid out in a Celtic cross pattern, and today an active center for the local Mexican-American community. It’s all just one big mixed metaphor now… and all the more endearing for it.
This is the seventh 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.
Now, here’s a lovely thing. Mission Santa Barbara is one of the most well-known and beloved in the chain, and it shows. And it almost seems to be the companion piece to San Luis Rey de Francia: for one thing, while San Luis Rey is often called the “King of the Missions,” Santa Barbara’s been crowned the Queen by her fans. For another, both have beautiful pastel accents—Santa Barbara in feminine pink, San Luis Rey in baby blue.
Even the cemetery of Santa Barbara matches that of San Luis Rey, with its trio of skull-and-crossbones (though unlike San Luis Rey’s Hollywood touches, Santa Barbara’s are original).
Santa Barbara also stands out because it is so lovingly cared for. Located in the affluent town that owes it name to the mission, Santa Barbara has been painstakingly restored and maintained–unlike her somewhat more inner-city brother San Gabriel.
At first I was a little overwhelmed by the sheer size and scale of the place, and worried I’d never be able to pick a vantage point for my sketchbook.
But in the end, it was the details that really had me smitten. Between the pink accents (I’m a sucker for pink), the careful stonework and the magic-hour light, the compositions really chose themselves.