The mission that time forgot

Ron Walker

Ron Walker


As we turn down Garms Circle, I see our neighbor John Fitzgibon. John is a former high potentate of the University of California, Monterey, and is newly retired. Before coming to Smith Valley, John had the punitive task of driving to and from Monterey and San Jose each workday. Today he wears a Stetson hat, walks to the mailbox and rarely leaves Smith Valley.

I ask Orllyene to roll her down her window; I turn the ignition key off and a chat ensues.

“I read that there is a pile of rock and mud on the Big Sur Highway,” I say to get things started (John is an expert on the middle California coastline). “It’s closed more than it’s open. One time Kim (his wife) and I camped on a ledge with a 200-foot drop into the sea. The ocean roared all night long, and the next day we drove south to the last stand of redwoods in California,” John says and we chat back and forth.

On one of Orllyene and my trips on the Big Sur we are on the ocean side of the road, feeling smug that we have an unobstructed view of the ocean. Suddenly a road on the left appears and I instinctively turn. I don’t see where the road leads, I just shift gears and look straight ahead. Up and up and up we go. One time we pull off and park, just to admire the view, then more and more switchbacks until we finally level off and merge into a wilderness of meadows and oak trees. The tranquility of driving on an empty two-lane road is sublime. We are alone, then a surprise. A uniformed soldier motions me to stop. We are entering Hunter Ligget Army Base, the largest army base in California. We show our ID, ownership papers for the car and are allowed to proceed. I have no idea where we are or where we are headed.

After an eternity of isolation, with no road signs and no cars, Mission San Antonio de Padua appears nestled in rolling hills. We pull into an empty parking lot. This is the third mission built by Padre Juan Junipero Serra in California. On July 14, 1771, mission bells were hung on an oak tree; gardens were planted, rooms of thick stone walls and tiled roofs were built for the friars who were left to start construction. Today the Mission is a sprawling collection of chapels, work building and church grounds. It sits on 86 pristine acre and is gorgeous. I read that it is still a source of spiritual comfort for monks and laymen. Worldly success seems irrelevant here at San Antonio de Padua. Faith and peace, not ambition and competition are the goal here. Perhaps this remote location is responsible for San Antonio de Padua Mission’s physical and spiritual longevity.

It’s dusk now and how to avoid those switch backs on the coast? Not to worry, the road we’ve been on goes through Jolon, a hub on a four-lane highway. I look in the rear-view mirror, and vow to return to “The Mission that time forgot.” It was a great adventure.

Ron Walker can be contacted at


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