California: Return to Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree and Rocky Landscape

Joshua Tree and Rocky Landscape

Each Joshua Tree Has a Unique Shape

Each Joshua Tree Has a Unique Shape

Flowering Joshua Tree

Flowering Joshua Tree

Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus

Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus

Claret Cup Hedgehog Cactus

Claret Cup Hedgehog Cactus

Joshua Tree is one of our favorite national parks (near Twentynine Palms, California). The trees are giant members of the Yucca family. The largest tree in the park is 42 feet tall, 34 feet wide, and has a trunk 9 feet around. Although trees start off growth as a single stalk, each one quickly develops its own unique shape due to damage to the growing tips. Joshua trees have a very important role in the Mojave High Desert ecosystem. This beautiful landscape has been featured in many movies and TV shows. More info is at: http://www.nps.gov/jotr/naturescience/jtrees.htm   A previous post is at: http://naturetime.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/joshua-tree-national-park/

California: Palomar Observatory

Palomar Observatory

Palomar Observatory

Model of Telescope

Model of Telescope

Celestial Lamp

Celestial Lamp

Palomar Mountain View

Palomar Mountain View

Big Berry Manzanita Flowers

Big Berry Manzanita Flowers

Purple Lupine Flowers

Purple Lupine Flowers

Scarlet Bugler Flowers

Scarlet Bugler Flowers

The drive up to Palomar Observatory is especially beautiful in spring (near San Diego, California).  The wildflowers and mountain scenery are gorgeous!  The telescopes at Palomar have discovered quasars, brown dwarfs, and Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. 

Anza Borrego: Native Palm Oases and Carizzo Badlands Overlook

Native Palm Groves Sign

Native Palm Groves Sign

Pygmy Grove Oasis

Pygmy Grove Oasis

Washington Fan Palm with Skirt of Dead Fronds

Washington Fan Palm with Skirt of Dead Fronds

Cholla Cactus Growing on Mica-Studded Granite Rock Slopes

Cholla Cactus Growing on Mica-Studded Granite Rock Slopes

Barrel Cactus Surviving with Few Roots

Barrel Cactus Surviving with Few Roots

Flowering Barrel Cactus

Flowering Barrel Cactus

Panorama at Carizzo Badlands Overlook (click on picture to enlarge)

Panorama at Carizzo Badlands Overlook (click on picture to enlarge)

Carizzo Badlands Landscape

Carizzo Badlands Landscape

Close-up of Carizzo Badlands and San Jacinto Fault Zone

Close-up of Carizzo Badlands and San Jacinto Fault Zone

The southern region of Anza Borrego Desert State Park contains many treasures. We especially enjoyed hiking on Mountain Palm Springs trail, which leads to several native palm oases.  The oases here form where groundwater seeps up to the surface along the Elsinore fault zone. The trail begins up a dry wash leading past cholla and barrel cactus.  The landscape’s white granite rock contains mica that sparkles in the sun.  The first group of palms encountered along the trail is the Pygmy Grove. The “skirts” of dead fronds on the palms provide shelter to owls, bats, snakes, and many other creatures. In Fall and early winter, animals feast on the palms’ sweet sticky dates.

A little further south is a spectacular vista overlooking the Carizzo Badlands. As you look out at the Coyote Mountains, you are looking at the active San Jacinto earthquake fault zone. These mountains are rich in fossils of mastodons, camels, zebras, and sabertooth tigers from a million years ago. What was really amazing was that no one else was around when we visited – the only sound we could hear was the wind. Not a car, not a plane, only silence. It was magical. More info about the geology and natural history of Anza Borrego is at: http://www.abdnha.org/anza-borrego-desert-geology.htm

 

Anza Borrego State Park: Sculptures in the Desert

Statue of Extinct Horse in Local Fossil Record

Statue of Extinct Horse in Local Fossil Record

Statue of Ancient Gomphotheres (related to elephants) in Local Fossil Record

Statue of Ancient Gomphotheres (related to elephants) in Local Fossil Record

Statue of Nonlocal Allosaurus Dinosaur from Jurassic Era

Statue of Nonlocal Allosaurus Dinosaur from Jurassic Era

Statue of Nonlocal Spinosaurus (spiny lizard) from Cretaceous Period

Statue of Nonlocal Spinosaurus (spiny lizard) from Cretaceous Period

Statue of Nonlocal Utahraptor Dinosaur Guarding Nest of Eggs (Jurassic Era)

Statue of Nonlocal Utahraptor Dinosaur Guarding Nest of Eggs (Jurassic Era)

Fanciful 350-foot-long Dragon Serpent with Rattlesnake Tail (road runs through middle of sculpture)

Fanciful 350-foot-long Dragon Serpent with Rattlesnake Tail
(road runs through middle of sculpture)

Head of Multi-Part Dragon Serpent

Head of Multi-Part Dragon Serpent

Visitors at Anza Borrego State Park, California, can’t miss the metal sculptures at Galleta Meadows. Over 100 statues by Ricardo Breceda dot the desert landscape. Some statues are based on local fossils found in the area, and others are more fanciful. All are fun to see! More info including a driving tour map is at: http://www.desertusa.com/borrego/bs-art.html   A previous post is at: http://naturetime.wordpress.com/2012/03/23/anza-borrego-time-travel/

California: Retro Palm Springs Architecture

Palm Springs Visitor Center (former Tramway Gas Station) with Distinctive Angular Roof

Palm Springs Visitor Center (former Tramway Gas Station) with Distinctive Angular Roof

Round Boulders Behind Palm Springs Visitor Center

Round Boulders Behind Palm Springs Visitor Center

 

Colorful Mid-Century Modern Home

Colorful Mid-Century Modern Home

Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway - 1960 "House of Tomorrow"

Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway – 1960 “House of Tomorrow”

"Swiss Miss" A-Frame Home

“Swiss Miss” A-Frame Home

Home Featuring Decorative Concrete Privacy Walls

Home Featuring Decorative Concrete Privacy Walls

Home's Dramatic Entrance Windows Overlook Desert Landscape

Home’s Dramatic Entrance Windows Overlook Desert Landscape

Palm Springs, California, has one of the largest concentrations of Mid-Century Modern architecture in America.  The Desert Modernism style combines sleek lines and modern materials with desert living.  Important elements of design include color, lighting, and texture.  Windows are placed to overlook the desert landscape  Many Desert Modernism style homes built in the 1950s and 1960s are now in top demand as chic retro-style housing.  Shops in town specialize in matching atomic/space age furniture. This architecture is so popular that tourists flock to Palm Springs every year for Modernism Week (http://www.modernismweek.com/).  Popular architectural landmarks are detailed in do-it-yourself driving tours:  (http://www.visitpalmsprings.com/page/mid-century-modern-architecture/8185).  More info is at:  (http://www.oldhouseonline.com/mid-century-modern-houses-in-palm-springs/)

California: Palm Springs Wind Turbines

Wind Turbines Along Highway 10

Wind Turbines Along Highway 10

Wind Turbines on Ridge

Wind Turbines on Ridge

Wind Turbines Among Sand Dunes

Wind Turbines Among Sand Dunes

Wind Turbines in Front of Mount San Jacinto

Wind Turbines in Front of Mount San Jacinto

Palm Springs, California, is home to the oldest wind farm in the United States.  Visitors can’t miss the wind turbines – it is surreal driving on Highway 10 among them.  The oldest wind turbines were built in the 1980s and stand 65 feet tall, with 15 foot blades, rotating up to 700 times per minute.  Newer models stand 300 feet tall, with blades half the length of a football field, rotating up to 45 times per minute.   Thousands of these wind turbines line the San Gorgonio Pass, producing electricity for the Coachella Valley.  This area has abundant wind energy because the air funnels through the mountain pass between the cool ocean and hot desert – sometimes reaching 80 mph!  There are even special dune buggy tours among the wind turbines.  A fun television episode of California’s Gold includes a visit by Huell Howser to the top of a wind turbine and can be viewed here:  https://blogs.chapman.edu/huell-howser-archives/2001/01/08/windmills-californias-gold-3012/

California: Return to Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Sign

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Sign

Rotating Aerial Tramway Car

Rotating Aerial Tramway Car

View Looking Down

View Looking Down

View Looking Up

View Looking Up

Viewing Platform at Mountain Station

Viewing Platform at Mountain Station

View of Coachella Valley

View of Coachella Valley

Mount San Jacinto State Park Forest at Top

Mount San Jacinto State Park Forest at Top

Old Style Tram Car at Base

Old Style Tram Car at Base

One of our favorite things to do in Palm Springs, California, is to ride the aerial tram car up to Mountain Station near the top of Mount San Jacinto (8,516 feet).  The distance between the mountaintop and the desert floor is over 2 miles one way, and the journey takes about 15 minutes.  The circular rotating tram cars are state-of-the-art and were built by Switzerland.  The temperature difference between the top and bottom is quite dramatic.  There aren’t many places where you can hike beside cactus and play in the winter snow – all in the same afternoon!  More info is at: http://pstramway.com/history.html   A previous post from 2012 is at: http://naturetime.wordpress.com/2012/03/18/palm-springs-aerial-tramway/

Southern California: Best Whale and Dolphin Watching at Dana Point!

Gray Whale Close to Beach

Gray Whale Close to Beach

Gray Whale Spout

Gray Whale Spout

 

Back Bumps (knuckles) of Gray Whale

Back Bumps (knuckles) of Gray Whale

Group of Mother, Baby, and Adult Escort Whales

Group of Mother, Baby, and Adult Escort Whales

Dolphin (left) and Gray Whale (right) Playing Together

Dolphin (left) and Gray Whale (right) Playing Together

Sea Lions on Buoy

Sea Lions on Buoy

Common Dolphin Jumping

Common Dolphin Jumping

Dolphins Swimming

Dolphins Swimming

We recently returned from a trip to Southern California. Our favorite day was spent whale watching off Dana Point (between Los Angeles and San Diego).  We went out on Captain Dave’s special catamaran named Manute’a that has 2 glassed-in underwater viewing pods.  I can’t say enough about his whale and dolphin watching tours – they are the BEST!

The weather on April 21 was perfect – sunny, warm, and the seas were calm. Dana Point is a landmark for the gray whales during their annual migration between Alaska in summer and Mexico in winter (where mother whales give birth in Baja’s calm lagoons). In spring mother whales hug the coast with their new babies as they travel north, thus making them easy to spot. As a bonus during the trip, Captain Dave released a drone to film unique behavior he had never seen before – mother whales were teaching their babies how to sift mud off the bottom for food.  We ended up seeing 7 gray whales, 1 fin whale, and over 200 common dolphins.  It was especially sweet watching the dolphins playing with the whales!

More info about Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari is at:  http://www.dolphinsafari.com/    His beautiful 5 minute viral video is at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bo_f8mV5khg&feature=youtu.be&hd=1  (you can skid the ad).  Not only is Captain Dave an award-winning filmmaker, he is also licensed to rescue whales that are in trouble. This trip was so amazing that we hope to return again sometime in summer to see the blue whales – the largest living creatures on Earth.  Life in the ocean is incredible!  Below is our one minute cell phone video of dolphins – footage was taken both above deck and below (in the underwater viewing pod).

 

Beautiful White Pelicans

White Pelican Swimming

White Pelican Swimming

White Pelican Wing Stretch

White Pelican Wing Stretch

White Pelican Pouch and Knob on  Bill

White Pelican Pouch and Knob on Bill

White Pelican Flying

White Pelican Flying

Flock of White Pelicans Soaring

Flock of White Pelicans Soaring

White pelicans are one of North America’s largest birds.  Their 9 foot wingspan is second only to the American Condor.  They are true snow birds – they spend winter along our southern coasts and head inland and north in summer.  During nesting season, they grow temporary knobs on their bills and have bright yellow around their eyes.  They feed by dipping their pouches into the water, and sometimes work together to corral and scoop up fish.  It is always a treat to see these magnificent birds!

California: Beautiful Yosemite National Park

Yosemite's Granite Mountains

Yosemite’s Granite Mountains

Granite Boulders on Mountaintop

Granite Boulders on Mountaintop

Tree Growing in Crack of Rock (Half Dome in Background)

Tree Growing in Crack of Rock (Half Dome in Background)

Ancient Stunted Juniper Tree

Ancient Stunted Juniper Tree

Deer at Tuolumne Meadows

Deer at Tuolumne Meadows

Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel

Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel

Yosemite Fall Color

Yosemite Fall Color

Vintage Firefall Postcards

Vintage Firefall Postcards

Yosemite National Park is one of our country’s oldest and most beautiful parks.  Its 1,200 square mile wilderness is famous for soaring granite mountains, spectacular waterfalls, and giant sequoias.  Glaciers shaped and polished the granite rocks long ago.  This park is a real treasure – it is one of our nation’s best! 

Summer visitors at Yosemite between 1872-1968 watched the dramatic Firefall Show at Camp Curry every evening.  A fiery “waterfall” was created by slowly and continuously pushing glowing wood embers off Glacier Point to the valley below.  The experience of watching that flowing river of fire while listening to the Indian Love Call song was unforgettable!  Even President Kennedy came by to watch.  Visitor remembrances of the Firefall are at:  http://firefall.info/readers.html.   A fun show about the Firefall by Huell Howser on “California’s Gold” is at:  http://blogs.chapman.edu/huell-howser-archives/1996/01/08/firewall-californias-gold-706/  Info about visiting Yosemite is at:   http://www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm

Amazing Hummingbirds

Female Allen's Hummingbird

Female Allen’s Hummingbird

Male Allen's Hummingbird

Male Allen’s Hummingbird

Female Anna's Hummingbird

Female Anna’s Hummingbird

Male Anna's Hummingbird

Male Anna’s Hummingbird

Wings of Anna's Hummingbird

Wings of Anna’s Hummingbird

Hummingbirds are known as “flying jewels” because of their beautiful iridescent feathers.  They are the only birds that can rotate their wings in a circle.  They can hover and fly forward, backward, and even briefly upside down.  They are among the smallest of birds, and only live in the Americas.  Their tiny nests are 1.5 inches in diameter – just big enough for two jellybean-size eggs.  Spider silk is used to stick lichens onto the nest for camouflage.  Hummingbirds eat small insects and drink nectar from up to 1,000 flowers per day.  They are a favorite of mine – what sweet little birds!  More fun info is at:  http://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/humm/funfacts.html

Nature at Alcatraz Island National Park

Unusual Low Fog Covering Alcatraz

Unusual Low Fog Covering Alcatraz

Alcatraz Island  - "The Rock"

Alcatraz Island – “The Rock”

Western Gull

Western Gull

Juvenile Black-Crowned Night Heron

Juvenile Black-Crowned Night Heron

Pigeon Guillemot

Pigeon Guillemot

Beautiful Peach Rose

Beautiful Peach Rose

Gorgeous Calla Lily

Gorgeous Calla Lily

Succulent Garden

Succulent Garden

Alcatraz Island National Park is San Francisco’s number one tourist attraction.  Most people visit “The Rock” to learn about its role as a Federal Penitentiary housing criminals such as Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly (1934-1963).  But some visitors come for a different reason – they come to see its historic gardens and nesting sea bird colonies in spring. 

The gardens were important to everyone living on the island.  Park rangers say the gardens demonstrate the importance of plants to the human spirit.  More info is at:  http://www.alcatrazgardens.org/index.php   A self-guiding brochure of the gardens is at:  http://www.alcatrazgardens.org/pdf/AZ%20Garden_05_12.pdf

Sea birds nest on the island from February – September.  Birds that breed on the island include California and Western Gulls, Pigeon Guillemot, Brandt’s Cormorants, Black-Crowned Night Herons, and Snowy Egrets.  A brochure on the “Waterbirds of Alcatraz” is at:  http://www.nps.gov/alca/naturescience/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&PageID=388749

Sea Lions at San Francisco’s Pier 39

Sea Lion Statue at Pier 39

Sea Lion Statue at Pier 39

Sign Pointing to Sea Lions

Sign Pointing to Sea Lions

Sea Lions on Floating Docks

Sea Lions on Floating Docks

Sea Lions Sleeping

Sea Lions Sleeping

Sea Lion Hello

Sea Lion Hello

Sea lions are quite a tourist attraction at San Francisco’s Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf.  The animals first showed up in 1989, and have made their home there ever since.  Sea lion numbers rise and fall with the seasons and food supply.  Activity is lowest in summer, when most of the sea lions migrate south for breeding season.  The animals are endlessly entertaining.  Visitors always laugh when they watch them!  Imagine yourself there with the cool fog on your face,  the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance, and these raucous sea lions in front of you.  Adding to the ambiance are the deep booms of a fog horn and sea gulls calling overhead – what fun!  A live cam is at:  http://www.pier39.com/home/the-sea-lion-story/sea-lion-webcam/   

Killdeer Nest at Matanzas Creek Winery and Lavender Gardens

Killdeer Distraction Display

Killdeer Distraction Display

Killdeer Eggs in Nest

Killdeer Eggs in Nest

Matanzas Creek Wishing Well

Matanzas Creek Wishing Well

Lavender Flowers

Lavender Flowers

View of Matanzas Creek Lavender Gardens

View of Matanzas Creek Lavender Gardens

Killdeer nests are a simple depression scraped out of the ground with added bits of sticks, grass, rocks, or shells.  If a predator gets too close, killdeer perform a distraction display.  We knew we were near a nest when this mother killdeer pretended to have a broken-wing – the performance was quite convincing!  We didn’t want to upset her, so we quickly walked away in the other direction.  Just like that she “recovered” and ran back to the 4 eggs safely tucked in her nest.  She couldn’t have picked a more scenic place to raise her family – right in the middle of the lavender gardens at the Matanzas Creek Winery in Sonoma County, California.  Info on visiting is at:  http://www.matanzascreek.com/

Noisy Fish

Sausalito Marina

Sausalito Marina

Sausalito (north of San Francisco) is famous for its humming toadfish.  In July and August the fish create quite a din under houseboats in the marina.  Each mating call is droned in perfect A flat for at least an hour at a time.  Toadfish hum, growl, and grunt by vibrating the muscles above their swim bladders at 6,000 times per minute – twice the speed of a hummingbird’s wings!  A funny article about a Humming Toadfish Festival there in 1989 is at:  http://www.nytimes.com/1989/06/26/us/sausalito-journal-voice-of-the-turtle-no-toadfish-love-song.html

Fish have disturbed residents in other places too, such as black drum in Cape Coral, Florida, and cusk eel in Block Island, Rhode Island.  Each time it happens, residents express disbelief that fish could possibly make that much noise!  A delightful article with sound links of various fish is at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/08/science/08fish.html?_r=2&pagewanted=1

Point Lobos: Harbor Seals at China Cove

View of Seals at China Cove from Bird Island Trail

View of Seals at China Cove from Bird Island Trail

Mother and Baby Harbor Seals on Beach

Mother and Baby Harbor Seals on Beach

Harbor Seals Swimming

Harbor Seals Swimming

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve (near Monterey, California) is an excellent place to view wildlife.  Hikers on Bird Island Trail can see mother and baby harbor seals on the beach at China Cove every spring.  The patterns of spots on each seal are unique and do not change over time.  A fun fact is that harbor seals can sleep underwater.  More info (especially for kids) is at:  http://www.sealsitters.org/learning/kid_stuff.html

California: Santa Ines Mission

Santa Ines Mission Bell Tower

Santa Ines Mission Bell Tower

Courtyard

Courtyard

Rose Arbor

Rose Arbor

Santa Ines Altar

Santa Ines Altar

Embroidered Lamb

Embroidered Lamb

Chumash Family Statue

Chumash Family Statue

Statue of Santa Ynes

Statue of Santa Ynes

St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio

St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio

The Santa Ines Mission was founded in 1804 in Solvang, California (near Santa Barbara).  It is nicknamed the “Hidden Gem of the Missions” because of its beautiful location overlooking the Santa Ynez River.  It is one of California’s most well-restored missions, and currently serves about 1,300 families.

Point Lobos: Sea Lion Point and Cypress Grove Trails

Sea Lions on Rocks Below (bottom right)

Sea Lions on Rocks Below (bottom right)

Wildflower Meadow on Bluff Overlooking Ocean

Wildflower Meadow on Bluff Overlooking Ocean

Natural Stone Staircase to Sea Lion Point

Natural Stone Staircase to Sea Lion Point

Lizard-Tail Wildflowers along Trail

Lizard-Tail Wildflowers along Trail

Sedimentary Rock Pair among Wildflowers

Sedimentary Rock Pair among Wildflowers

Round Sedimentary Rock along Trail

Round Sedimentary Rock along Trail

Powdery Live-Forever or Bluff Lettuce

Powdery Live-Forever or Bluff Lettuce

Solid Rock "Beach" at End of Sea Lion Point Trail

Solid Rock “Beach” at End of Sea Lion Point Trail

Cypress Point Trail in Fog

Cypress Point Trail in Fog

Black-Tailed Mule Deer among Monterey Pine

Black-Tailed Mule Deer among Monterey Pine

Sea Lion Point Trail is one of the most popular places to walk at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve near Monterey, California.  The trail follows a natural stone staircase down to the Pacific Ocean.  Sea lions can often be heard barking on the rocks offshore.  And if it’s not too foggy, you might even see them too!  Sedimentary rocks along the trail are part of the Carmelo Formation and are over 60 million years old.  Details about the rocks are at:  http://www.pointlobos.org/sites/default/files/The_Rocks.pdf 

Cypress Grove Trail heads north from the Sea Lion Point parking area.  This trail is famous for its extremely rare Monterey cypress trees.  Their striking appearance is the result of constant buffeting by the wind and salt spray.  These trees grow naturally along Monterey Bay at Point Lobos and 17-Mile Drive’s Cypress Point.  A beautiful and interesting quarterly magazine about Point Lobos is at:  http://www.pointlobos.org/general-info/magazine

California: Scenic Jalama Beach

Jalama Beach

Jalama Beach

Travertine Onyx Sedimentary Rock

Travertine Onyx Sedimentary Rock

Beautiful Rock Patterns

Beautiful Rock Patterns

Pacific Sea Star

Pacific Sea Star

Orange Club Sea Squirts and Old Growth Kelp

Orange Club Sea Squirts and Old Growth Kelp

Feather Boa Kelp, Giant Kelp, and Surf Grass

Feather Boa Kelp, Giant Kelp, and Surf Grass

Vineyard Entrance Sign and Agave with Massive Flower Stalks

Vineyard Entrance Sign and Agave with Massive Flower Stalks

Mercedes-Benz Car Commercial Being Filmed

Mercedes-Benz Car Commercial Being Filmed

Recently we visited Jalama Beach (north of Santa Barbara, California).  The geology of the area is very interesting.  Walking along the beach it is possible to see sandstone, travertine onyx, and agates.  On a super lucky day you might even see petrified whale bone or fossilized fish.  Naturally-occurring black tar coats a few of the rocks on the beach.  It seeps from oil–bearing rocks along fault lines of the Miocene Monterey Formation.  The seeps can be both onshore (La Brea Tar Pits) and offshore, and are a source for oil and gas production in Southern California.  In the past, native Chumash people used the tar to waterproof their boats.  We saw lots of sea life on the beach, including dozens of starfish, a clump of orange club sea squirts, and several kinds of seaweed.  The road to Jalama Beach (west of Solvang) winds through rolling hills past several wineries.  The landscape is so beautiful that we were momentarily delayed while a Mercedes-Benz C250 car commercial was being filmed in the area!

Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola)

Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) at Monterey Bay Aquarium

Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) at Monterey Bay Aquarium

Closeup of Ocean Sunfish

Closeup of Ocean Sunfish

Monterey Bay Aquarium occasionally has an ocean sunfish (Mola mola) on display in the Open Sea Exhibit.  These fantastic fish have fins at the top and bottom, and a flattened tail at the back.  They can get up to 10 feet long and weigh over 5,000 pounds.  They increase their weight by 60 million times over their lifetime!  Fast growth means that each ocean sunfish at the aquarium is only on display for about a year.  At that point the fish must be airlifted out of the tank by helicopter to its freedom in Monterey Bay. 

Ocean sunfish are related to pufferfish, and feast on jellyfish in the deep ocean.  After diving they like to float sideways at the surface, basking in the warmth of the sun. They are famous for being very curious and approaching divers, and are found in temperate and tropical waters worldwide.  More info is at: http://www.oceansunfish.org/index.php

Monterey Bay Aquarium: An All-Time Favorite!

Monterey Bay Aquarium Entrance

Monterey Bay Aquarium Entrance

Open Seas Exhibit

Open Seas Exhibit

Sardines in Kelp Forest

Sardines in Kelp Forest

Grass Rockfish

Grass Rockfish

Pacific Marine Life

Pacific Marine Life

Strawberry Anemone

Strawberry Anemone

Pacific Seahorse

Pacific Seahorse

Leafy Sea Dragon

Leafy Sea Dragon

Blue Spotted Jelly

Blue Spotted Jelly

Sea Nettles

Sea Nettles

Back Deck Overlooking Pacific

Back Deck Overlooking Pacific

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the best aquariums in the world!  It is a place that we return to again and again.  It is mesmerizing watching the sea creatures on display.  A wonderful quote at the aquarium says “The sea is as near as we come to another world”.  I highly recommend a visit – it never fails to impress.  More info about the aquarium is at:  http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/  More of our posts and pictures on the Monterey Bay Aquarium are at:  http://winegarpics.com/category/california/northern-california/monterey-bay-area/monterey-bay-aquarium/

California Sea Glass – History in Your Hands

Overall Ceramic and Pottery Shards

Overall Ceramic and Pottery Shards

Overall Colorful Sea Glass Pieces

Overall Colorful Sea Glass Pieces

This ceramic piece says 1945 – the year World War II ended.

This ceramic piece says 1945 – the year World War II ended.

This ceramic piece says Japan and includes a rising sun and Japanese characters, which dates it to the late 1940s. One of the characters on the bottom line refers to water, and it may be part of the name of the manufacturer.

This ceramic piece says Japan and includes a rising sun and Japanese characters, which dates it to the late 1940s. One of the characters on the bottom line refers to water, and it may be part of the name of the manufacturer.

This ceramic piece has a beautiful blue willow pattern – the most popular pattern in the history of dinnerware.

This ceramic piece has a beautiful blue willow pattern – the most popular pattern in the history of dinnerware.

The writing on this piece ends in “erey” – perhaps it is part of the word “Monterey”.

The writing on this piece ends in “erey” – perhaps it is part of the word “Monterey”.

This unique piece is chicken wire embedded in textured striated glass (used for reinforcement and safety glass in cabinets, plus windows at schools and fire stations). This is a hot new vintage glass being recreated for current products. A piece of sea glass half this size was recently posted for sale on eBay with a starting bid of $69.99.

This unique piece is chicken wire embedded in textured striated glass (used for reinforcement and safety glass in cabinets, plus windows at schools and fire stations). This is a hot new vintage glass being recreated for current products. A piece of sea glass half this size was recently posted for sale on eBay with a starting bid of $69.99.

This must-have piece of glass is Jadite – opaque green glassware dating to the 1930s. It was so favored by Martha Stewart that she reintroduced this glass to modern times.

This must-have piece of glass is Jadite – opaque green glassware dating to the 1930s. It was so favored by Martha Stewart that she reintroduced this glass to modern times.

This ceramic piece is decorated with a beautiful pink pattern - perhaps flowers.

This ceramic piece is decorated with a beautiful pink pattern – perhaps flowers.

This ceramic piece is a bright green chartreuse color – perhaps Fiestaware from the 1950s.

This ceramic piece is a bright green chartreuse color – perhaps Fiestaware from the 1950s.

This clear glass piece is a bottle top ring. It was so highly prized by Calvin Klein that he dressed his best models in sea glass rings.

This clear glass piece is a bottle top ring. It was so highly prized by Calvin Klein that he dressed his best models in sea glass rings.

This piece is part of a striped ceramic plate.

This piece is part of a striped ceramic plate.

Recently we found amazing sea glass at Seaside Beach, California (near Monterey). We found some of the pieces on the beach, but Richard noticed that the best pieces were out at the surf line. After I saw a piece I just HAD to have, I took off my shoes and socks and went into the 50 degree ocean water – brrrrrrrr! Although I got soaked, it was worth it. Each piece of glass tells a story – it is like holding a piece of history in your hand. All of the sea glass is worn smooth and pitted by ocean weathering, so it is at least 50 years old. If you recognize or know more about any of these pieces of glass, please let me know.

Point Lobos: Nesting Brandt’s Cormorants

Brandt's Cormorants Nesting on Clifftop

Brandt’s Cormorants Nesting on Clifftop

Male Brandt's Cormorant Carrying Flowers as Nesting Material

Male Brandt’s Cormorant Carrying Flowers as Nesting Material

Brandt's Cormorants Sitting on Seaweed Nests

Brandt’s Cormorants Sitting on Seaweed Nests

Brandt's Cormorant Mating Display

Brandt’s Cormorant Mating Display

Pair of Brandt's Cormorants Showing Blue Throat Pouches

Pair of Brandt’s Cormorants Showing Blue Throat Pouches

Brandt's Cormorant and Western Gull

Brandt’s Cormorant and Western Gull

Brandt's Cormorant Nesting Colony on Bird Island

Brandt’s Cormorant Nesting Colony on Bird Island

View of Bird Island (background left) from China Cove Trail

View of Bird Island (background left) from China Cove Trail

Brandt’s cormorants are nesting now along the China Cove Trail at Point Lobos State Park near Monterey, California. These sea birds have spectacular blue throat pouches and turquoise eyes during breeding season. The nesting material consists of seaweed and plants collected by the males. This year some of the birds decided to nest right beside the trail, so it is a real treat for photographers!

Monterey: Scenic Lover’s Point

Scenic Lover's Point

Scenic Lover’s Point

Field of Pink Trailing Carpet Ice Plants

Field of Pink Trailing Carpet Ice Plants

Brewer's Blackbird and Ice Plants

Brewer’s Blackbird and Ice Plants

Heart on Rock Wall at Lover's Point

Heart on Rock Wall at Lover’s Point

We’ve just returned from a trip celebrating our anniversary along the California coast. One of the most scenic places we visited was Lover’s Point at Monterey, California. The pink ice plants are particularly stunning this time of year!

California: Piedras Blancas Lighthouse

Piedras Blancas Light Station

Piedras Blancas Light Station

Piedras Blancas Lighthouse Tower with Beacon

Piedras Blancas Lighthouse Tower with Beacon

The Piedras Blancas Lighthouse was built in 1875. The top of the tower was sheared off during a fierce storm in 1949. Afterward an automated beacon was placed on top of the shortened tower and it was returned to service. Currently the lighthouse is undergoing restoration. Visitors can only access the lighthouse grounds by guided tour. Especially popular is the “Sunset and Whale Watching Tour” every March.

Elephant Seals are Fun to Watch!

Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery

Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery

Alpha Male Elephant Seal

Alpha Male Elephant Seal

Mock Battles among Young Male Elephant Seals

Mock Battles among Young Male Elephant Seals

Scuffle among Young Male Elephant Seals

Scuffle among Young Male Elephant Seals

Female Elephant Seal Face

Female Elephant Seal Face

Elephant Seal Family

Elephant Seal Family

Mother and Baby Elephant Seals

Mother and Baby Elephant Seals

Very Young "Weaner" Elephant Seals Playing

Very Young “Weaner” Elephant Seals Playing

Elephant Seal's Big Eyes

Elephant Seal’s Big Eyes

Trio of Sleeping Elephant Seals

Trio of Sleeping Elephant Seals

Backs of Sleeping Elephant Seals

Backs of Sleeping Elephant Seals

Elephant Seal Flipping Sand to Cool Down

Elephant Seal Flipping Sand to Cool Down

Elephant Seal Watching an Oystercatcher

Elephant Seal Watching an Oystercatcher

Silhouette of Young Male Elephant Seals

Silhouette of Young Male Elephant Seals

Piedras Blancas is Named after White Rocks Offshore

Piedras Blancas is Named after White Rocks Offshore

Beautiful Piedras Blancas Coastline

Beautiful Piedras Blancas Coastline

Elephant seals are fun to watch! They are one of our favorite animals. Ano Nuevo and Piedras Blancas in California are the only two places in the world where elephant seals come onto the mainland to have pups (elsewhere they breed on islands). The pupping season runs from December until March. The Piedras Blancas colony began in November 1990 when a dozen northern elephant seals came ashore near San Simeon (at the south end of Big Sur near the Hearst Castle). Now the Piedras Blancas elephant seal colony has over 16,000 adults and 2,500 pups!

Elephant seals can grow up to 16 feet long and weigh up to 2 tons each. Males have trunk-like noses that grow up to 2 feet long. Their vocalization sounds like an outboard motor trying to start. Alpha males battle for dominance and gather up harems of females on the beach.

The babies are born with black wrinkled coats of fur. The black fur allows them to absorb warmth from the sun, and the wrinkled coat gives them room to gain weight quickly. Mother elephant seals lose one-third of their body weight while nursing. Their rich milk is as thick as mayonnaise! Babies grow from 80 pounds at birth to 300 pounds in 3 weeks. When the babies are 4 weeks old, mother elephant seals return to the sea to feed. Meanwhile the young “weaners” are left on the beach to play and swim. At 6 weeks of age the babies’ black fur is replaced by a silver coat.

Elephant seals have big round eyes that help them search for prey in the deep ocean. Dives for squid and fish last from 30-60 minutes, with only a 2-3 minute break at the surface. These mile-deep feeding trips go on continuously for months. Elephant seals return to the beach twice a year to either molt or breed. While on land they do not eat, and they often sleep to conserve energy.

Elephant seals maintain a body temperature of 100 degrees, which is quite a feat in the chilly Pacific Ocean. Their blubber keeps them so warm that they quickly overheat in the sun. They flip sand over themselves to cool down.

Elephant seals have one of the longest animal migrations in the world. Tracking devices have revealed that California elephant seals travel in a big loop that extends far west into the Pacific, north to Alaska, and then south back to the beaches they were born on.

The Piedras Blancas and Ano Nuevo elephant seal rookeries are well worth a visit. The animals are entertaining, and the scenery is fantastic! An excellent website by Friends of the Elephant Seal (including a calendar of activity) is at: http://elephantseal.org/
A live cam of the Piedras Blancas rookery is at: http://www.elephantseal.org/livecam.htm

California: Scenic Pigeon Point Lighthouse

Scenic Pigeon Point Lighthouse

Scenic Pigeon Point Lighthouse

Pigeon Point Lighthouse with Yellow Buttercup Oxalis Flowers in Spring

Pigeon Point Lighthouse with Yellow Buttercup Oxalis Flowers in Spring

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Coastline

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Coastline

Pigeon Point's Perilous Rocky Coast

Pigeon Point’s Perilous Rocky Coast

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Welcome Sign

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Welcome Sign

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Tower and Flag

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Tower and Flag

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Tower Front with Starburst

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Tower Front with Starburst

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Tower Back with Fence

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Tower Back with Fence

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Fresnel Lens

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Fresnel Lens

Pigeon Point's Ocean View

Pigeon Point’s Ocean View

Harbor Seal on Rocks below Pigeon Point

Harbor Seal on Rocks below Pigeon Point

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Tower in Fog with Sun Halo

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Tower in Fog with Sun Halo

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Tower Top with Fog Shadow and Rainbow Prism

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Tower Top with Fog Shadow and Rainbow Prism

Pigeon Point Lighthouse in Infrared

Pigeon Point Lighthouse in Infrared

Pigeon Point Lighthouse is located along the scenic San Mateo coast south of San Francisco.  The lighthouse was built in 1872, and is named after the clipper ship “Carrier Pigeon” that went down off the point. The ship even had a gilded pigeon as its figurehead.  Pigeon Point’s original name was Whale Point, because whales are frequently seen offshore.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse is one of the tallest active lighthouses on the west coast (150 feet above sea level).  Its Fresnel lens flashes a rotating beam of light once every 10 seconds.  The lens has 1,008 glass prisms, and weighs over 4 tons! 

Sometimes light stations use fog horns in addition to light signals to warn ships away from the coast.  Early settlers around Pigeon Point Lighthouse described the fog horn as sounding like “an asthmatic old bovine” or “stuck hog”.  The light station’s dock was used by rumrunners and bootleggers during Prohibition in the 1920’s.  Tens of millions of dollars in whiskey were brought ashore during that period. 

The lighthouse is currently undergoing an $11 million restoration.  The first step (completed) was to remove the Fresnel lens from the tower and put it on temporary display in the Fog Signal Building.  The second step (underway) is to stabilize the tower.  The future third step will be complete restoration of the tower, which will begin once funding is secured.  Progress updates are available at:  http://www.calparks.org/programs/improving/pigeon-point-lighthouse.html

California: Pebble Beach/Bean Hollow State Beach

Pebble Beach Overlook

Pebble Beach Overlook

Pebble Beach - Long Exposure

Pebble Beach – Long Exposure

Rainbow Seaweed on Pebble Beach

Rainbow Seaweed on Pebble Beach

Colorful Pebbles on Beach

Colorful Pebbles on Beach

Tafoni Rock Layers

Tafoni Rock Layers

Tafoni Rock with Mushroom Shape

Tafoni Rock with Mushroom Shape

Tafoni Rock Honeycomb Pattern

Tafoni Rock Honeycomb Pattern

Tafoni Rock Filled with Pebbles

Tafoni Rock Filled with Pebbles

Close-Up of Colorful Pebbles

Close-Up of Colorful Pebbles

Pebble Beach/Bean Hollow State Beach (south of San Francisco) is famous for its tafoni rock and pebble-covered beach.  The lacework tafoni rock is soft sandstone that has been eroded by the wind and waves.  The colorful pebbles are composed of various rocks including green jade, red chert, white agate, jasper, moonstones, and petrified wood.  The rocks are washed in from an offshore Pleistocene-era gravel bed.  Many geological field trips come to this unique location.  More info is at:  http://science.kqed.org/quest/2011/03/03/geological-outings-around-the-bay-pebble-beach/

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: Owl Painting

San Francisco MOMA Owl Painting

San Francisco MOMA Owl Painting

When we visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, I fell in love with one piece of art in particular by Joseph Cornell from 1957. The painting features an owl and is called “For Sale”.  The delightful text reads:
“FOR SALE. Sequestered bower – numerous compartments, look-outs, guest rooms, cozy nooks (feather-lined), pine-scented lounge, ivy-covered observatory for early dawn views and romantic sunsets, cheese cellar, moss-lined alcoves with dripping water and large variety of snails, cool storage, chalet-view of valley, bird’s eye view of old chateau inhabited by storks, aquarium in base of trunk with rare deep forest specimens, salamander’s crannies, violet-banked approaches, musical waterfalls, natural mineral specimens, and easy walking distance to enchanted lake.”

Fun Holiday Pictures Coast to Coast

Merry Christmas Raccoons at our Florida Home

Merry Christmas Raccoons at our Florida Home

Holiday Present Theme Horse at Half Moon Bay, California

Holiday Present Theme Horse at Half Moon Bay, California

Holiday Candy Cane Theme Horse at Half Moon Bay, California

Holiday Candy Cane Theme Horse at Half Moon Bay, California

Our Santa Teddy Bears

Our Santa Teddy Bears

Christmas Tree at Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco

Christmas Tree at Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco

Christmas Tree at NASA Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Christmas Tree at NASA Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Holiday Table at McKee Gardens, Florida

Holiday Table at McKee Gardens, Florida

Merry Christmas Fruit Crate Label with Santa

Merry Christmas Fruit Crate Label with Santa

Merry Christmas from Florida

Merry Christmas from Florida

Holiday scenes are all around.  Enjoy these pictures from coast to coast. Merry Christmas!