So Mary wanted to take a tour of the Hearst Castle in San Simeon. While it is now a national and California Historical Landmark, it was once the playground of William Randolph Hearst, who inherited the land from his father, George Hearst. It is always interesting to hear how these two are portrayed as people, and businessmen. If you believe what is told during the tours, you might think what wonderful men these guys were. It really depends on where you get your information. A couple of years ago, HBO aired a series called, Deadwood. It portrayed a time in South Dakota when gold had just been discovered, and George Hearst comes into play during season 2 when he arrives in town and begins to strong-arm his way into everyone’s claims. If you believe this version, he was not a particularly nice man. Be that as it may, he was a successful business man and invested his money in more gold mines, but also land around San Simeon.
His son William, maybe was not quite so awful, but he did profoundly change the way news was reported. He invented Yellow Journalism for both the good and bad. He did have a philanthropic streak though, and so created something special when he began building his castle on his childhood stomping ground. Together with architect Julia Morgan, and over a period of 20 years, he spared little expense to create this spectacle. Since he is now long dead, and the Hearst Corporation has donated the property (probably because it was too expensive to maintain anymore), I didn’t feel quite so conflicted about doing the tour.
We did tour the grounds 25 years ago as part of our honeymoon. On that tour, we were herded through the Neptune pool area, the main house and indoor Roman pool, before being shuffled back on the bus for the ride down to the parking area. It has changed much since then. Now, after a tour through the house, we were allowed to roam the grounds for as long as we wished. This was much nicer. While the house tour was interesting, I’ve seen plenty of opulence before. It was pretty cool to then be able to stroll around the massive Neptune Pool, visit the gardens, view the architecture at length, linger over some of the spectacular views, before finally walking through the Roman pool room and returning – all at our own pace.
While we were there, we learned that Lady Gaga had just finished filming her latest video on the grounds. Actually, we knew a little before we got here. My 90 year old dad told me about it when I talked to him a day before. She is a popular woman. Apparently she took a liking to the Neptune pool for her new G.U.Y song. I actually have a lot of respect for the Lady. She is every bit the philanthropist that Hearst was, and maybe every bit as rich. In addition to the usual fees associated with renting the grounds, she also donated $250,000 toward restoration and repair of the pool area. This is not unusual for her. She was named the Creative Director of Polaroid after they emerged from bankruptcy. She may be no Madonna, but she still a sharp cookie.
We also learned while there, the pool was soon to be drained. Due to drought, the natural spring that normally provides 250,000 gallons a day to the estate, has been reduced to 47,000 gallons. The estate must share water between the castle and the cattle business it also supports, and so the water is needed elsewhere. It is DRY here.
After returning to the visitor center area, we decided to view the iMax movie about the Hearst story. It was interesting, if just a bit too lovingly portrayed, but I guess they have to tread a little lightly. You don’t want to bite the hand.It was just into the afternoon when we finally were finished with Hearst, so we decided to drive up the coast a few more miles to Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal rookery. Every winter, hundreds of these Northern elephant seals come ashore along the California coast to mate and have their pups. We arrived at the point where the mating part was still going on. A few of the cows had already pupped, but there was still much fighting between males, mating between males and their harems, and fighting between cows defending their young. Almost he entire circle of life was on full display. We witnessed dead pups being torn apart by hungry scavenger birds, males mounting their girls (not something for the faint of heart), and lots of other typical seal behaviors.
It was noisy and smelly and extremely entertaining. It was also quite crowded on this holiday Sunday afternoon. We had a bit of trouble getting into the parking area at first, but there was plenty of room once off the road. A long boardwalk allows for an excellent view of the proceedings and several docents were on hand to answer questions and explain behavior. After about an hour, we’d had our fill of Elephant Seal love, and decided to visit the tiny town of San Simeon where the Hearst Winery is located, for a little tasting. We picked up a couple of nice bottles before calling it a day and returning to camp. Another nice day.