Esotouric Road Trip, May 2010 – La Purisima Mission

Just before Memorial Day, your intrepid urban adventurers stepped outside of their asphalt-coated comfort zone for a lightning 40-hour road trip to explore some notable, rural Central Californian attractions. This is the first of several blog posts sharing scenes from the road.

After filling the cat bowls with high-end dry nibbles and promising the beasts we'd be back soon, we hit the highway around 6:00 AM with the aim of a hearty mid-morning breakfast at Ellen's Danish Pancake House in Buellton, just across the road from the more famous Pea Soup Andersen's.

Seated under the Zen gaze of an elaborately coiffed Ron and Nancy Reagan, Richard enjoyed the Danish Pancakes with Danish Sausage (after enduring a grilling from the friendly waitress who wanted to be sure he understood there would be sausage slices between his crispy pancakes and not on the side), Chinta had a fluffy omelet and the buttermilkiest biscuit imaginable, while Kim tucked into a big plate of those crisp pancakes with a side of poached eggs.

 

After a brief stroll to Pea Soup Andersen's for the ritual Ha' Pea and Swea' Pea photo op, we climbed back into the Exploration Wagon for the short trip out to La Purisima Mission, the most complete of all the restored California Missions, and a California State Historic Park.

While the Mission has a newish glass-and-steel information center and trumpets its interpretive history programs, we were fortunate to arrive on a day when the expansive grounds were nearly empty of human inhabitants, giving the impression that a sudden disaster had whisked away all the padres, noviates and Indians, leaving their livestock, workshops, chapels, gardens and fountains behind.

 

 

 

We split off to explore the vast grounds separately, coming unexpectedly upon lovely scenes that evoked the romance of old Mission days familiar to readers of Ramona and Charles Lummis.

 

 

 

Of course, La Purisima is a simulachra, an imaginary Mission replicated from a briefly-inhabited 19th Century ruin by a young crew of federal workers in the 1930s. The real La Purisima, closer to Lompoc, was destroyed by the Santa Barbara earthquake in 1812, and this unusually long quake-resistant compound failed to find favor among the local Indian tribes. Following a violent rebellion in the 1820s, most of the villagers fled, and within a decade the Mission was abandoned as Spanish rule faded. Once the roof tiles were taken, it only took a few years until the the adobe buildings melted into their foundations. The restoration was completed in 1941.

 

And yet on a quiet morning, with the ground squirrels gamboling and swallows zipping from beneath the red roof tiles, cool water flowing over the fountain tiles and stark shadows delineating the long, cool white walls symbolizing European faith and order, this might be the most powerful early California experience available anywhere. If you live in Southern California and have looked in vain for a place where the Spanish era feels real and alive, take a drive up to Santa Barbara County and let La Purisima get under your skin.

 

 

For more photos from the first part of our trip, click this link.

 

Up next: Nitt Witt Ridge, a recycled folk art environment facing some unique preservation problems in coastal Cambria.