Hello Friends and Family,

Rio Del Mar

Link to this year's index by clicking here.

In the early 1980s when I lived in the Santa Cruz area, I actually lived in the community called Rio Del Mar. Hunting for a tiny bit of nostalgia, I drove by my old house there. It looks pretty good — some minor changes, a new paint color and bark on the front yard rather than ground cover. It is a typical suburban home — three bedrooms, two bathrooms, formal dining room, family room and an attached garage. It did have one slightly unusual feature — a hot water circulation pump which kept the heated water moving in the pipes to the farthest reaches of the house then back again to the heater which was located in the garage. Thus when you turned on the hot water in the shower or bathtub, it was instantly hot — you did not have to wait for the hot water to make the trek from the heater to the back of the house. Unfortunately, this did raise my utility bill a bit since the hot pipes were not insulated — a home improvement task I wanted to do but I never got around to.

My house was less than a mile from the ocean, just a quick drive via Rio Del Mar Boulevard down the big hill to the beach area. To the right is Beach Drive where the folks with big bucks own or rent property. Notice the buildings hugging the cliffs overlooking Beach Drive. You may guess that cliff erosion might be a problem at this spot and you would be correct. But I guess if you have the money to own property there, you have the means to pay for damage repair or even, in the worst case, rebuilding.

I always enjoy looking at this very first house on Beach Drive — it just looks like it belongs at this location, overlooking the beach. It would be fun to spend a few nights here either visiting the owners or as a rental.

In the other direction, is Seacliff State Beach the final resting place for the SS Palo Alto, a concrete ship. More on that in a moment.

At the base of the hill is a small commercial area where, to me, the star is Cafe Rio — a most delightful seafood restaurant —one that I frequented often when I lived just up the road.

On the far side of the commercial area is the outlet of Aptos Creek. As you can see, there are many nice homes alongside the creek. I recall that when I lived in Rio Del Mar, a terrible winter storm took out the bridge crossing the creek so these folks had no way to get to their homes. As I recall, a temporary bridge was quickly put in place (it was probably by the military) until the permanent bridge could be rebuilt.

The deteriorating retaining wall marks the dividing line between Rio Del Mar Beach and Seacliff State Beach. You'll recall that I mentioned previously that the water along the coast here is quite cold. I recall one time walking along the beach here after taking off my shoes only to discover that my feet became numb because of the frigid water. I never repeated that mistake. Fortunately, the gentle flow of Aptos Creek makes it a great place for kids to enjoy the beach without turning blue.

As promised, here is a better photo of the SS Palo Alto, AKA "the concrete ship". During World War I, there were shortages of steel and to get around that handicap, shipbuilders turned to reinforced concrete as an alternative building material. The SS Palo Alto was launched in 1919 after WWI had already concluded. The Seacliff Amusement Corporation purchased the ship and had it towed to this location where it was scuttled so that it rested on the ocean bottom at this point. They build a pier out to the ship, refitted her as an amusement ship including a dance floor, swimming pool and cafe.

Unfortunately, the company went bankrupt and was purchased by the state of California and refitted as a fishing pier. The ocean has not been kind to the ship — huge waves during winter storms have broken the ship into pieces such that less and less of the ship was accessible for finishing — and eventually was closed to all access. The pier has also been damaged so that the section closest to the ship is also off-limits. Now the ship is home solely to birds, fish and sea mammals.

This photo from the Naval History and Heritage Command shows the SS Palo Alto under power during a sea trial in 1920. See a concrete ship really can sail.

Nearby, there was a bit of commotion up in the air — everyone looked in the direction of the noise — to spot a Peregrine Falcon, looking for dinner. It was hovering with outstretched wings catching the sea breezes. It was magnificent. Unfortunately, for the raptor, several crows coordinated a defensive counter-strike and effectively deterred the raptor's hunting trip.

Last for today is a shot of the far end of Seacliff State Beach with Recreational Vehicles camped on the beach. Beyond that (and hard to see in this photo) is a small residential community — as I recall, accessed only by residents and guests. Of course, by California law, they cannot prevent you from walking on the beach.

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com