Every now and then a girl’s gotta get out of town. That’s what I did last weekend when I went to Paso Robles to see artist Bruce Munro’s massive outdoor walk-through installation called Field of Light; at 15 acres it’s his largest work to date…and amazingly, it’s solar powered.
Located on the eastern edge of town at a venue called Sensorio that is currently under construction, Munro dramatically introduced the space to the public, placing 58,800 stemmed fiber-optic globes, connected by a web of wiring resembling solar synapses, across an undulating landscape of gently sloping hills and meadow. While it’s still light, you can see the sun streaming through this mass of orbs atop transparent stems, but as twilight falls, the bulbs begin lighting up in a multiplicity of colors.
They hug the landscape, carpeting the topography and wending their way up the hills and down into a small ravine, wrapping around the old coastal live oaks. With darkening dusk and a rising moon on the horizon, this is one magical super bloom. It’s subtle too; the colors shift from one shade to another but so slowly you barely notice, until suddenly the field of blue and green you’ve been looking at has morphed into pink and purple. It’s an ethereal light-based, sculptural experience that calls attention to nature.
And that’s partly the mission of this new 360-acre project called Sensorio, described as the intersection of art, technology, and nature. With sensory experience as its mission, it will eventually contain a waterfall, a botanical garden, an entertainment space for concerts, lectures, a maze, a meditation space, more immersive art installations and a hotel and conference center.
Ken Hunter, the developer of Sensorio, says he’s carried the image of Butchart Gardens, a former limestone quarry in Victoria, BC Canada that was converted into world-renowned gardens, in his mind for more than 30 years and knew that one day he wanted to create an interactive garden destination for “entertainment, exploration, meditation, adventure and delight.”
INSPIRED BY ULURU
He and his wife Bobbi were on vacation in Australia and happened upon British artist Bruce Munro’s light field at Uluru, the mystical Ayers Rock in the Red Center. This installation opened in 2016 and has been continually extended, now until 2020. They were bedazzled by what they saw and felt, and commissioned Munro to create a field of light for their property in Paso Robles. The Field of Light at Sensorio opened this May and is expected to close in early January 2020.
Munro himself is inspired by natural light and his curiosity for shared human experiences. With a background in fine arts and lighting design, large-scale light-based artworks have become his signature. He’s created them for parks, galleries, museums, botanical gardens, grand estates, and cathedrals all across the world.
Depending on the day and time that you leave, and barring the bumper to bumper traffic we encountered until well past Santa Barbara, you can get to Paso Robles in under four hours. You can even stop in cute little Solvang on the way for a bite to eat.
For more info, visit https://www.sensoriopaso.com
HALTER RANCH VINEYARD
Of course, this is wine country and there are hundreds of wineries to visit where you can taste and sample. I visited Halter Ranch Vineyard on the west side of Paso Robles, which I recommend highly, not only because of the wonderful two-hour land rover tour of this breathtaking property, including five stops along the way featuring generous tastes of their wines at each (and what a great way to start a day!).
But if you’re a person who cares about the environment, Halter Ranch (twice named Paso Robles’ favorite winery) goes beyond organic, beyond biodynamic, beyond regenerative into a realm they call SIP: Sustainability in Practice. It’s not quite 20 years old, is making terrific wines, and is dedicated to environmental stewardship.
Owner, entrepreneur and philanthropist Swiss-born Hansjörg Wyss was named National Geographic’s Philanthropist of the Year in 2018, recognized for investing $1 billion towards conserving 30% of the planet in its natural state by 2030. We need a few more woke billionaires to join him to help save more of this beautiful blue marble.
On this impressive 2,000-acre property, you’ll find 281 acres of SIP certified wine grapes, 15 acres of walnuts, and 10 acres of olives and what’s believed to be the oldest coastal live oak (between 800-1000 years old) on the Central Coast. It’s a wonderful place to sit while enjoying an excellent glass of their most expensive and delicious wine.
Halter Ranch Vineyard is truly a paradise. Find out more here: https://www.halterranch.com
Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, now retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.