California: Monterey Bay Aquarium

Author Photographing Sardines at Open Seas. “The sea is as near as we come to another world.”

Sea Pen Display

Chambered Nautilus (cousin of the octopus)

Green Moray Eels

Bigfin Reef Squid

Lookdown Fish

Stone Scorpionfish (looking left)

Orange Cup Coral

Southern Sea Otter

Avocet (at least 26 years old)

Marbled Godwit (at least 21 years old)

Black Oystercatcher ( at least 24 years old)

Semipalmated Sandpiper (at least 20 years old)

Beautiful California Coast South of Monterey

We visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium at the end of February.  It is always a delight – one of the best aquariums we’ve ever seen!  It is extra special because of its beautiful location on the central California coast.  Although temporarily closed now because of the pandemic, you can visit virtually through these live cams:  https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/live-cams

Some of the birds at the aquarium are quite old  (https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/stories/the-aviarys-amazing-senior-citizens).  Each one was found injured and unable to be released back into the wild.  They have been happily living their lives in the aviary ever since.  I read that birdwatching and nature is good for the soul and health – agreed!  https://www.healthfitnessrevolution.com/top-10-health-benefits-of-bird-watching/

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

Advice from an Elephant Seal

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).  As of 2018 the Piedras Blancas elephant seal colony had grown to over 25,000 seals!

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/view.htm

Spectacular Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle Main Entrance

Tower Closeup

Patio near Outdoor Neptune Pool

Neptune Pool Modeled after Roman Coliseum

Indoor Pool with Lapis Lazuli Tile and Real Gold

Indoor Pool with Marble Statue

Formal Dining Room

Holiday Decorations

Marble Statuary: Woman and Bird

View from Top of “Enchanted Hill”

Zebra Grazing on Grounds of Estate

The spectacular Hearst Castle is located at the south end of Big Sur.  This palace on the “Enchanted Hill” overlooks 14 miles of undeveloped California coastline.  Construction started on the estate in 1919 after William Randolph Hearst told his architect that he was “tired of sleeping in tents, and would like to build a little something”.  That “little something” took 25 years to build and turned into one of the world’s most expensive homes! 

The Hearst Castle has over 90,000 square feet of living area including 165 rooms, a formal dining room, library, movie theater, and indoor and outdoor swimming pools.  The home is decorated with antiques and statuary collected from Europe and Egypt.  The buildings are surrounded by 127 acres of formal gardens and orchards.  In addition, Hearst owned the largest private zoo in the world from 1923-1937.  The zoo has now been dismantled, but descendants of some of those original animals can still be seen grazing on the grounds of the estate.  The home was especially famous for its parties in the 1920s and 1930s, and movie stars flocked there on the weekends.  After Hearst’s death, the estate became a California State Park in 1958.  The home is especially beautiful over the holidays.  Info about visiting the Hearst Castle is at:  http://www.hearstcastle.org/content/facts-and-stats 

Big Sur: World Class Beauty!

Big Sur Coastline

Rocky Creek Bridge

McWay Falls

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Pink Ice Plants and California Poppies

Fields of Gold and Turquoise Water

Rocky Coast in Mist

Big Sur has been called “The Greatest Meeting of Land and Sea”.  This rugged coastline south of San Francisco is one of the most beautiful in the world.  The scenery is spectacular!

Big Sur: Stunning Pink Sand Beach!

Pfeiffer Beach

Walking North on Pfeiffer Beach

Pfeiffer Beach Rocks and Pink Sand

Closeup of Rocks and Pink Sand

Pfeiffer Beach Sand Patterns

More Colorful Sand Patterns

Pfeiffer Beach Sea Arch

Big Sur’s Pfeiffer Beach (south of Monterey) is famous for its pink and purple sand.  The sand’s gorgeous color comes from manganese garnet particles that wash down the hillside.  The further north you walk, the more colorful the sand.  The photography opportunities are endless and ever-changing.  This unique beach is absolutely stunning!

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.

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.

Rare Albino Redwood Tree

Albino Redwood Tree

Contrast in Albino and Green Needles

Albino Redwood Needles

Albino redwoods are the only white evergreens in the world, and are extremely rare.  Their locations are closely guarded secrets, except for two public instances.  We saw this albino tree at Big Sur, California.  Since albino redwoods lack chlorophyll and can’t make their own energy, they always grow as a sprout from a mother trunk.  It was a privilege to see such a unique and special tree!  Read more about this tree at Fernwood Campground at:  https://www.fernwoodbigsur.com/albino-redwood-tree.html

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.

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