Report: 2018 MSSJ Pilgrimage – California Mission Trail


Mission San Juan Bautista

Well, we broke the polar vortex [fn 1], though the 2018 pilgrimage from Mission San Juan Bautista to the Carmel Mission began auspiciously enough.

Day 1 dawned sunny and warm with hardly a breeze to cool sweated brows as we crossed the rolling hills of New Spain on the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail. A group of about 16 pilgrims from Southern California, Seattle, Minnesota and Vienna assembled before the mission chapel where the pastor gave us a blessing and then opened up the building and grounds for us to visit before we set off for the day’s destination in the outskirts of Salinas. Friend of the blog gst supplied the group with St. James medallions and our erstwhile organizer DCL provided pilgrim credentials that he had turned up in a heroic search—many thanks to you both!


JBdA National Historic Trail

So equipped and after collecting our first stamp, we crossed the Hollister Hills on a well-maintained path led by indefatigable children (who made up almost half of our number, incidentally; in case you were wondering about the wisdom of taking children along, it seems to have worked out well), stopping on occasion under the oak trees to rest and regroup. We talked as we walked, getting to know each other, renewing friendships and remembering those who are no longer with us as we passed the beginnings of a forest fire and a number of ranches so scenic that California real estate prices somehow seemed like an almost surmountable obstacle to life in paradise. About halfway through the walk we emerged from the hills and descended into the Salinas Valley where providence had located a taco truck to sustain hungry pilgrims on the long walk down a busy road that was still to come. We reached the parking lot where the shuttle vehicle was located just as the sun set and temperatures dropped.


A fisher of fish

Although Day 2 dawned just as sunny as the day before, winter weather was lurking behind the dunes along our route from Marina State Beach, past Fort Ord Dunes State Park and Sand City and into Monterey. Not long after we began to walk, a stiff sea breeze began to blow, dropping temperatures and whipping up a sandstorm that would accompany us the rest of the day. We reached our goal, San Carlos Cathedral, in the mid-afternoon a little worse for wear and were treated to a fascinating tour led by parish docents before retreating to the comforts of pizza and, for most of the participants, lodging at the Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds.

If it’s not on your radar already, Asilomar ought to be. It started life as a YWCA camp and is now a California state park, featuring historic structures designed by Julia Morgan between 1913 and 1928: “Thirteen of Morgan’s original structures remain today and constitute her largest collection of Arts & Crafts style architecture in one location” (source). You don’t have to pay to play (on the beach anyway) as the grounds are open to the public and are as scenic as the day is long.

Day 3 started, and just about ended, in the Social Hall. With the wind blowing as furiously as ever, the wind chill hovering just above freezing and stragglers delaying the start, we got cold feet that not even cold pizza could warm up. It was perhaps the rockiest moment of the trek with some wanting to continue and others not so much. In the end, discretion stood in for valor, and most decided to continue on to Carmel by car. Yeah, I know; it was no redpoint pilgrimage. Then again, who’s to say the pilgrims of yore wouldn’t have used available technology on their journeys? At any rate, we traversed Pebble Beach via 17-Mile Drive, stopping at several scenic points to take in the sublime of a tempest-tossed sea in measured doses.

We arrived at the Carmel Mission in time to take in a tour of the Basilica Church, a registered National Historic Landmark, and several museums on the grounds, which include some fascinating artifacts related to Junipero Serra. After a last group photo, we went our separate ways, vowing never to return.


Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo

Just kidding. The founding members of the MSSJ plan to organize another pilgrimage in 2019, this time going back to where it all began—the Camino de Santiago. We’ll keep you posted as dates and details crystallize. Until then, enjoy the pictures below and Buen Camino!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Fn 1: “In the days leading up to the European cold snap, the polar vortex didn’t just get weaker, Dr. Cohen said — it split into two.

One piece went into northern Eurasia and drifted westward into Europe, earning it the nickname ‘Beast from the East.’ The other piece wound up in northwestern Canada, which led to the Western United States cooling off after an unusual warm period.” Source.


  1. You were in the neck of my childhood woods. Standard school field trips were taken to San Juan Bautista. It’s my favorite mission. Though I do love Santa Barbara and Carmel. And yes on Asilomar. Absolutely visit it. Play on the beach near it. Book family reunions there. Every summer of my youth wrapped up at Carmel, Monterey, Asilomar. I love the California Missions. Thanks for making your pilgrimage through them.

  2. I really liked the SJB mission too; I didn’t really have any expectations before the trip—I’d never been before—but it being off the beaten path and surrounded by other historic buildings made for a great setting. Other missions are quite scenic in their own right, but these days are typically located in more urban, built up areas.

  3. I also grew up in this beautiful area. I wish I could have been there with you. I enjoyed the journey through your posts and pictures. Thank you.

  4. It was a truly amazing gathering and pilgrimage — thank you so much for documenting it in this post!

  5. DeAnn Spencer says:

    A great weekend – I so enjoyed meeting and walking with kindred spirits. The pictures are beautiful Peter!

  6. Thanks, I’m glad you came and had a good time!

  7. dlorenzen says:

    Great write-up and pictures, Peter. I really enjoyed the fellowship.

  8. juliannaatc says:

    Perfect recap. Thank you for this, Peter.

%d bloggers like this: