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The grasses were so dry from drought and looked otherworldly against the dark trees and blue sky.
Once we got to our hotel - Cambria Pines Lodge - we went to their restaurant for a good meal and curled up by the fireplace in our room to get a good night's sleep after camping the previous nights.
In the morning we headed out to Hearst Castle and to see the elephant seals at the rookery in San Simeon.
As we took the bus to the top of the hill where Hearst Castle sits, there were cows around us, grazing in the fields. They looked so picturesque against the ocean below.
It was a pretty beautiful place.
After leaving the castle, we thought we'd go down to the Piedra Blancas area to see if we could spot some elephant seals. Little did we know that there would be hundreds and they would be amazing! Not sure why I love these animals - they make strange noises, look funny and are pretty aggressive - but there is just something about watching them that brings me joy. I'm sure it doesn't hurt that they are lounging around California's central coast, which is already breathtaking.
Since we were there in June, the sub-adult males (ages 4-7) were starting to arrive to molt. They lie on the beach for about a month to molt their entire coat and grow a new one. Since they don't eat during this period, the don't move much except to throw sand on their backs and participate in some vocalizing and play fighting to prepare for the actual sparring they'll do as they become adults.
As recently as 1990, there were few elephant seals in this area and no new births until 1992. Since then, the population has exploded with more than 1000 births occurring there every year.
Here are some photos from the first visit with the elephant seals.
Not sure if you can see in the distance, but they're sprawled out all along the beach.
They were lying practically on top of each other. I got a short video of this group as well. I LOVE how they use their "hands" to scratch themselves, especially their chins.
You can really see the molt here. The one of the right is almost finished and the other one has just begun.
Beautiful sunset there too.
The next day we decided to drive north again on the coast a bit to see our elephant seal friends once more and we ended up exploring the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.
We even saw some elusive Hearst zebras. I guess some of the zebras from Hearst's zoo were never caught and now they breed freely on the ranch property (??).
Finally, we started the drive south, headed back to LA and the daily grind. What a great (and much needed) getaway.
Click here for more of my photos from the elephant seal rookery.