Last summer, I visited the 21 Missions of California. The most remote mission was Mission San Antonio de Padua near Jolon, California. This mission offers a retreat center where guests may stay overnight. I took advantage of this opportunity and reserved a room several months in advance.
Mission San Antonio de Padua is located about 20 miles west of Highway 101. To enter the mission, visitors need to pass through a military base called Fort Hunter Liggett. If you ever plan on visiting, be sure to have proper identification or you'll be asked to turn around when you approach the gate. In my case, I carried both my driver's license and a passport.
When I arrived at the mission, I was welcomed and given a brief tour of the grounds and the retreat. I was shown to my room...a simple, but clean, room that reminded me very much of my dorm room from years ago.
Once I got settled in, I explored the mission grounds. This mission is one of the oldest of the California missions. It was the third mission established in California and was founded in 1771. The large property appears very much as it did more than two hundred years ago. It's one of the only missions that allows visitors to get a glimpse into what mission life was really like back in the day.
As I entered the massive, old church, I was disappointed to see that it was dark. Fortunately, my host granted my request and lit the church to my satisfaction for a series of photographs.
One remarkable thing about my visit is that I was the only visitor on the grounds! When I arrived, two women were working in the office/gift shop. By 5:00 PM, they told me that they were leaving and wouldn't return until about 7:30 AM. At that point, I was on my own...at least for a while.
At first, I took advantage of having access to the grounds after hours. I had access to the dining room, courtyard and church. Without special access as an overnight guest, I couldn't capture many of the mission scenes in the best light--the colorful light that accompanies sunset.
I must admit that once the sun went down, things began to feel a little eerie. I was alone on this large complex. I didn't have internet or cell service on my phone. During my entire visit, the organ music continued to play from the church. Even walking down the long and empty corridor from my room to the restrooms felt strange. The only other living creature at the mission was Rosario, the black cat who lives there.
I prepared myself for a restless night. Like most of these very old complexes, this mission has a reputation of being haunted. It attracts ghost hunters. Just as when I was inside the abandoned Manteno Insane Asylum (which also attracted ghost hunters from around the country), I'm not nearly as concerned about the ghosts as I am about the people that the facilities might attract!
In any event, about 30 minutes after the sun went down, I saw a car working its way up the road towards the mission. The retreat now had two more guests--an author and a writer who were working together on a project covering the California Missions. Having a couple of more people occupying some rooms within the retreat put my mind at ease enough for me to get a good night's sleep!