California Beach Treasures

California Coast South of San Francisco

California Coast South of San Francisco

Long Exposure of Rocky Coast

Long Exposure of Rocky Coast

Long Exposure of Ocean Waves

Long Exposure of Ocean Waves

Rocky Ledge on San Mateo Coast

San Mateo Coast: “Pig” Rock

San Mateo Coast: Tafoni Rock

Sea Foam on a Windy Day

Sea Foam on a Windy Day

Tafoni Rocks

Tafoni Rocks

Interesting Rock Patterns

Interesting Rock Patterns

Colorful Pebbles and Orange Turban Shell

Colorful Pebbles and Orange Turban Shell

Abalone Shell on Pebble Beach

Close-up of Abalone Shell

Japanese Fishing Float

Japanese Fishing Float

Acorn Barnacles and Red Algae (Nori)

Acorn Barnacles and Red Algae (Nori)

Clear Spiky Gelatinous Shells of Corolla Sea Butterflies and Seaweed

By the Wind Sailor with Green and Blue Sea Glass

By the Wind Sailor with Green and Blue Sea Glass

Green Anemone in Tidepool

Green Anemone in Tidepool

6 Armed Purple Sea Star

6 Armed Purple Sea Star

Agates Collected on Beach

Agates Collected on Beach

Agates Glowing under UV Blacklight

Agates Glowing under UV Blacklight

Agates after Polishing in Rock Tumbler

Agates after Polishing in Rock Tumbler

The California coastline south of San Francisco is very rocky and scenic. At low tide there are all sorts of interesting things to see on the beach and in the tidepools.  Surprisingly turban snails can live up to 30 years! Sometimes you find jellyfish, salp, and pyrosomes washed in from Monterey Bay.  A day at the ocean is always fun!  (Click on the pictures above for additional stories and links.)

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: https://naturetime.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/joshua-tree-national-park/

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

 

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/

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).

 

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

Nature at Alcatraz Island National Park

Fog Bank Flowing Over Alcatraz

Alcatraz Island - "The Rock" Front Side

Alcatraz Island – “The Rock” Front Side

Alcatraz Island - "The Rock" Back Side

Alcatraz Island – “The Rock” Back Side

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

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