Central Coast - June 2010

My parents were visiting for an event and they decided to stay a bit longer so we could take a trip. We considered going to San Diego (since I've never been and my dad has some old friends - or cousins? - down there), but we decided instead to forgo the bad traffic and head north where we could drive up the coast and see the landscape change from semi-arid valley to hilly and mountainous and green. We almost booked a room in Monterey, but remembered that the US Open would be there so we stayed a little farther south in my favorite central coast town - Cambria.

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I'd been there to visit last June for my anniversary with T and then passed through it again in the winter on our way to Big Sur, but I could spend every weekend up there. Such a beautiful place. Feels like going home somehow.

On the way up we stopped in Santa Barbara and had a snack on the beach. I saw a bunch of what looked like seagulls over by a lagoon-type area but when I got closer some of them turned out to be Black Skimmers! Such strange and beautiful-looking birds. Just a lesson to look closely!

Black Skimmers

After that we continued north and decided to speed past Cambria and keep driving to see how far we could get into Big Sur before it got too dark to drive safely. There was some construction on the road (so strange to see cranes and bull dozers on the edge of the continent) so by the time 6:30 came (our turn-around time) we were still 20 miles or so from Big Sur proper, but we saw some amazing sites along the way. The whole coast up there is beautiful and here are just a few shots of the views. As the sun started to set it just kept getting more beautiful.

Some of them hardly look real. We heard on the news later that the strange clouds are what some call "jellyfish" clouds and they are pretty uncommon in this area.

We were in a bit of a rush to get back to Cambria before the restaurant closed, but my mom said she'd never be able to sleep knowing we'd passed right by the elephant seals without stopping (I'd talked about them so much she was dying to see them) so we took a quick peek and planned on coming back in the morning (more about the seals below).

In the morning we walked around town for a bit and saw some interesting bird activity in this palm tree. It was right near a gas station, but there was a nest and one bird flying back and forth maybe getting food for the young. Such a bright yellow bird! Didn't get any great photos, but here are a few. I think it's some kind of Oriole. Scott's Oriole or Hooded Oriole.

We then drove back down to the elephant seal rookery in San Simeon to spend some more time with these amazing animals. Just think about going to a zoo but not having to feel the guilt about the animals being caged up and deprived of their animalness to be on display for us. No one put the seals here. Once they saw that some seals were using this area of the beach to mate and molt they closed it off, built a viewing ramp away from the seals and since then the population has exploded. And they are only doing what they naturally do.

This is the time of year when the juvenile and sub-adult male seals are molting. They lie on the beach for 6 weeks or so without eating or going in the water much to shed their skin. This time, we learned that they need to shed the skin because they dive so deep and for such a long period of time (hours) when they are in the open ocean feeding that the oxygen from their skin is diverted to their organs and the skin dies. Pretty great.

Also during this time they practice sparring, something they will need for when they get older and have to try to become the alpha male. Only 1% of male elephant seals ever get to mate and they establish their place by fighting off the other males. Then one male will mate with all the females on the beach after they birth their young in the winter. The loser males set up bachelor colonies away from the females and pups. For more info and a calendar of the cycle go to Friends of the Elephant Seal.

This adult male was a few months earlier than the others (notice the size of his nose).

For more photos, videos and description of my trips to the rookery check out these posts.

After this, we stopped for a Hearst beef sandwich and headed to Paso Robles for a little wine tasting before driving back to LA. A short trip, but definitely worth the time. My parents hadn't been on the PCH for at least 20 years and I was glad to show them one of my favorite places.

Click here for more of my photos from the elephant seal rookery.