California: Big Sur’s Garrapata Beach

Garrapata Beach Overlook

Garrapata Beach Trail

Garrapata Beach Stairs

Garrapata Beach Ocean View

Garrapata Beach Pyramid Rocks

Big Sur’s Garrapata Beach is a particularly scenic place along the California coast. Although the area is often shrouded in fog, the views are gorgeous on a sunny day in June.

Sea Lions and Seals Have Sensitive Whiskers

Sea Lion at San Francisco

Sea Lion at Moss Landing

Harbor Seal at Moss Landing

Harbor Seal at Monterey

Scientists have discovered that sea lions and seals have whiskers that are much more sensitive than previously thought.  They found that the animals can find and track fish from hundreds of feet away!  The whiskers (vibrissae) detect eddies left by the fish as they swim.  Harbor seals are thought to have the most sensitive whiskers all the animal kingdom.  Each whisker has up to 1,600 nerve fibers per single hair!

Monterey: Stunning Pink Flower Carpet

Pink Carpet Trailing Ice Plants at Monterey

Closeup of Pink Carpet Trailing Ice Plants

Pink Carpet Trailing Ice Plants Along Coast at Monterey

The first time I saw a picture of the pink carpet trailing ice plants blooming in Monterey, I simply could not believe it was true.  But the stunning flower bloom is real, and it usually peaks in May.  These pictures of the pink carpet trailing ice plants were taken at Lover’s Point.  This oceanside walk near the Monterey Bay Aquarium is truly spectacular!

Marine Mammal Center

Marine Mammal Center Seal Statue

Marine Mammal Center Swimming Pens

Marine Mammal Center Kitchen

Rodeo Beach near Marine Mammal Center

The Marine Mammal Center is located in the Marin Headlands (north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge).  It is a state-of-the-art animal hospital with research labs, pharmacy, swimming pens, kitchen, and education center.  The patients are mainly seals and sea lions.  The center’s water filtration system runs through an abandoned Nike missile silo.  When we arrived, it was feeding time.  The volunteer kitchen staff were making fish milkshakes.  They brought out frozen blocks of fish, pulled them apart, and then ground up the fish in a blender.  Mmmmmm.  More info is at:  http://www.marinemammalcenter.org/

Pacific Tidepools: Emerald Green Anemones

Emerald Green Anemone and Pink Coralline Seaweed

Emerald Green "Sunburst" Anemone

Emerald Green “Sunburst” Anemone

Emerald green anemones are among the prettiest animals in Pacific coast tidepools.  Microscopic green algae give them their spectacular color.  They can grow up to a foot high, and get as big around as a dinner plate! 

Seagull with a Mouthful of Starfish!

Seagull Eating a Starfish

I wouldn’t believe it, if I hadn’t seen it myself!  This seagull reached into a tidepool, came up with a starfish, and swallowed it in one giant gulp! 

Long-Billed Curlews Like to Eat Crabs

Long-Billed Curlew with a Crab

Long-Billed Curlew Eating a Crab

Long-Billed Curlew Walking

The long-billed curlew is the largest shorebird in North America.  These sandpipers nest in grasslands of the west in spring, and spend the rest of the year along the coast or water.  The curlew’s extra-long down-curved bill is perfectly suited to catching crabs in their mud burrows.  Our picture of a curlew with a crab in its bill is on a wildlife interpretive sign at San Pablo Park along San Francisco Bay.

Our BEST Piece of Sea Glass Ever!

Sea Glass from Yardley Lavender Perfume Bottle

Yardley Advertisement from 1946 in LIFE Magazine

Our best piece of sea glass was found on a beach south of San Francisco.  The clear frosted glass has “YARDLEY” embossed on it.  It came from a Yardley lavender perfume bottle manufactured between the 1930s and 1950s.  That means the glass was tumbled in the Pacific Ocean for at least 60 years, before washing in at our feet!

Our Biggest Pieces of Sea Glass

Cobalt Blue San Francisco Sodawater Bottle Bottom

Clear Frosted Palo Alto Creamery Milk Bottle Shard

Saratoga Springs Mineral Water Bottle Bottom

Our biggest pieces of sea glass were collected on the beaches south of San Francisco.  The cobalt blue round bottom probably came from a bottle made by the Bay City Sodawater Company in the late 1800’s in San Francisco.  The bottle would have contained mineral water, and would have had a cork stopper held in place with wire (called a blob top closure).  The clear frosted glass probably came from a pre-1930 milk bottle from a Palo Alto Creamery (back when cows grazed on the fields surrounding Stanford University).  The green sea glass probably came from a Saratoga Springs mineral water bottle from the early 1900s.  An excellent web site about bottles by the Society for Historical Archaeology is at:  http://www.sha.org/bottle/

Lost Movie Set of “The Ten Commandments”

Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge

1923 Silent Movie

Sphinx Head from “The Ten Commandments”

City of the Pharaoh from “The Ten Commandments”

Recovered Movie Set Pieces from “The Ten Commandments”

1930 Movie “Morocco” Filmed at Nipomo Dunes

Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge is located north of Santa Barbara.  The refuge has the largest and most extensive coastal sand dunes in California.  Cecil B. DeMille filmed his original The Ten Commandments at this location in 1923.  Before filming began, an entire Egyptian “City of the Pharaoh” was constructed on the dunes.  The scale of the production was amazing!  The elaborate movie set contained 300 chariots, 21 sphinxes weighing 5 tons each, and 4 statues of Ramses that were each 35 feet tall!   When filming ended, the set was secretly buried in the sand.  Now historians are using ground-penetrating radar to recover pieces of the set for display in the Dunes Center Museum.   A documentary on the film history of the area by Peter Brosnan is currently in production.   Past “Sahara” movies filmed on the dunes starred Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, Gary Cooper, and Marlene Dietrich.  A more recent movie filmed on the dunes was Pirates of the Caribbean starring Johnny Depp.

UPDATE October 2014:  Recent excavation has unearthed one of the giant sphinx heads buried in the sand.  It will be displayed at the Guadalupe Dunes Center Museum.  Articles are at:  http://www.newser.com/story/197287/archaeologists-uncover-giant-sphinx-in-calif-desert.html   and http://www.kcet.org/arts/artbound/counties/santa-barbara/cecil-b-demill-ten-commandments-excavation-nipomo-dunes.html 

UPDATE December 2015/January 2016:  After 30 years, the documentary by Peter Brosnan is finally finished!  The movie “The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille” is now being submitted to film festivals.  An article is at:  http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/the-lost-city-of-cecil-b-demille-the-film-about-unearthing-a-1923-movie-set-that-took-30-years-to-a6787021.html

A trailer about the new movie is at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAfhfNGRACU&app=desktop

The official website for the movie is at:  http://www.lostcitydemille.com/index.html

Info about visiting the  display is at:  http://dunescenter.org/visit-the-dunes/dunes-center/exhibits-and-activities-research/the-lost-city-of-demille/

Our Favorite Starfish Photo

Pacific Sea Star at Pebble Beach

This picture shows a Pacific Sea Star at Pebble Beach in California.  We took a long exposure to soften the ocean waves in the background.  UPDATE:  This photograph is featured for the month of July in the 2016 Ocean Wildlife Calendar by the Ocean Conservancy.

Colorful Surf Scoters

Surf Scoter

Surf scoters are sea ducks that spend winter along the California coast.  They use their colorful bills to scoop up shellfish from the sea bottom and swallow it whole.

Mammoth Rubbing Rocks

Mammoth Rubbing Rocks, California

Polished Surface of Mammoth Rubbing Rock

Sonoma Coast State Beach Coastline

Pussy Paws Wildflower at Sonoma Coast State Beach

Sonoma Coast State Beach in northern California is famous for its Mammoth Rubbing Rocks.  The rocks were polished smooth by the wooly hair of mammoths over 10,000 years ago.  Mammoths used the rocks as a scratching post, the same way that elephants rub against tree trunks today.  It was incredible to touch the spot that a living mammoth rubbed against so long ago!

Mustard Flowers Along the California Coast

Mustard Grass Along the California Coast

Hillside and Mustard Grass Flowers

Mustard grass blooms along the California coast in early spring.  The flowers are as bright as a yellow highlighter!  The young leaves of the plant can be eaten as greens, and the seeds can be used to make mustard.

Glass Beach

Colorful Glass Beach

Close-Up of Glass Beach

Glass Beach Landscape

Glass Beach at Fort Bragg is amazing! The unique beach is covered in rounded, polished sea glass. The ocean waves and time have transformed this former dump (1949-1967) into a place of special beauty.

Mendocino Driftwood

Mendocino Beach with Driftwood

Mendocino beaches in northern California often have entire logs washed onto the sand.  There is an abundance of driftwood for beachcombers to enjoy.

California’s Lost Coast

Mendocino's Rugged Coastline

Mendocino is known as the “Lost Coast” because of its relative isolation.  It takes a long drive over curvy roads north of San Francisco to reach it.  The rugged coastline is very scenic!

Monterey Submarine Canyon

Monterey's Rocky Coast

The Monterey Submarine Canyon lies just offshore Monterey’s rocky coast.  The canyon is so deep that the Grand Canyon could fit inside it!  The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a special exhibit on research into the abundant sealife and geology of the canyon:  http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/efc/efc_mbari/mbari_home.aspx

Monterey: Red Hot Pokers and Oxalis

Red Hot Pokers and Yellow Oxalis in Monterey

Red Hot Pokers Close-Up

In Monterey there is a gorgeous walk along Ocean Road from the Monterey Bay Aquarium to Lover’s Point.  In early spring, the red hot pokers and yellow oxalis are in bloom.

California: Favorite Big Sur Sunset

Big Sur Sunset

Big Sur has the most gorgeous sunsets along the California coast!  We took this image at dusk.  We used a long exposure to saturate the colors and give the ocean a dreamscape look.

Sea Otters Wrap Themselves in Kelp

Sea Otter Sleeping Wrapped in Kelp

Sea Otter Sleeping Wrapped in Kelp

Mother (light brown) and Baby (dark brown) Sea Otters

Mother (light brown) and Baby (dark brown) Sea Otters

Sea otters wrap themselves in kelp so they don’t drift on the ocean while they sleep. Sometimes mother sea otters even wrap their babies in kelp to hold them in place while they hunt!

Bullwhip Kelp on California Beaches

Bullwhip Kelp at Point Reyes National Seashore

Bullwhip kelp is a type of seaweed that can grow up to 120 feet long.  Pacific coast Indians used it for fishing and storage containers.  Masses of it on the beach look like big piles of rope.

Point Lobos: China Cove

China Cove at Point Lobos Reserve

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve near Monterey is a very special place!  Artist Francis McComas called Point Lobos “the greatest meeting of land and water”.  Photographer Ansel Adams called the landscape an inspiration.  This picture shows China Cove within the park.  Look closely and you can see masses of bullwhip kelp in the clear ocean water.  More information about Point Lobos is at:  http://www.pointlobos.org/

Point Lobos: Harbor Seal Pup Nursing

Harbor Seal Pup Nursing from its Mother

California harbor seal pups are born every March-June and can swim at birth.  They grow up to 6 feet long and weigh up to 300 pounds.   A fun fact is that a pup will climb onto its mother’s back for a ride when tired!  This harbor seal pup was nursing from its mother on China Cove Beach at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve (near Monterey, California).

Natural Bridges State Beach

Natural Bridges State Beach

Natural Bridges Butterflies

Natural Bridges State Beach is a very scenic park along the California coast.  Three connected land bridges used to extend out from the beach, but now only one remains.  In the 1800’s settlers drove horse and buggies onto the bridges for picnics and weddings.  Settlers used the surrounding land for dairy farming and growing brussel sprouts.  Hollywood even used the land for a South Seas movie set!  Now everyone enjoys the park’s beaches, tidepools, and Monarch butterfly preserve.

Sea Otter Smiles

Sea Otter Smiles

Sea Otter Smiles

These sea otters look like they are smiling!  We saw them during a pontoon boat tour at Moss Landing, California (at the north end of Monterey Bay).  Sightings on the 3 hour ride into Elkhorn Slough included 74 sea otters, 94 harbor seals, 392 sea lions, and 30 species of birds!  A few of the sea otters had pups, including one that was nursing.  Seagulls always hang around the otters, hoping to snatch a snack.  A link to the boat tour  is at:  http://www.elkhornslough.com/   A live sea otter cam is at:  http://seaotters.com/live/   A video about the sea otter population and Monterey Bay Aquarium’s role in it at Elkhorn Slough is at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zvfFsC165CY

Mother and Baby Sea Otters Sleeping

Mother and Baby Sea Otters Sleeping

These sea otters were sleeping together at Moss Landing (the baby is on the left, and the mother is on the right).  Sea otters have the world’s densest fur, with over a million hairs per square inch! 

Sea Otter Saying “Prayers”

Sea Otter "Saying Prayers"

Sea Otter “Saying Prayers”

This sea otter looks like it is saying prayers!  Actually the otter is rolling in the water to keep clean, and to trap air bubbles in its fur for warmth.  Sea otters spend up to half of their day grooming!

Sea Otter Eating an Innkeeper Worm

Sea Otter Eating an Innkeeper Worm

Sea Otter Eating an Innkeeper Worm

This sea otter is eating an Innkeeper worm (known locally as a weenie worm).  The worm looks remarkably like a hot dog!  A sea otter floats on its back and uses its stomach like a table.  Sometimes a sea otter uses a rock to crack open tough shells.  When diving, sea otters store food in skin folds under their legs while they continue to hunt.

Sea Otters at Moss Landing Marina

Sea Otters at Moss Landing

This picture shows a pair of sea otters at Moss Landing.  The marina is at the entrance to Elkhorn Slough – one of California’s largest tidal salt marshes.  You can watch live sea otter cams at Elkhorn Sough at:  http://www.elkhornslough.org/ottercam/

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