215 Photos - Jun 22, 2011
Photo: 1. From time to time, I like to do a solo trip for a week or so, my only companion being my camera. My wife is very gracious in blessing such trips - she knows that I can go at a pace that I couldn't with her and our teen-age son. For this trip, I flew into San Francisco from Chicago and spent eight days driving down the central California coast, focusing mainly on the Monterey area for five of those eight days. After picking up my rental car, I headed straight toward the town of Half Moon Bay, just to the west of the SF/Bay area. I had been to San Francisco several times, and although I love that city, this trip was for exploring the central coast. This photo was taken at a beach near the north side of Half Moon Bay. These boys seem to be having a blast playing some type of tag game. I was just happy in this electronic-obsessed world to see these boys running and laughing. Join me now as I drive south from here all the way to Pismo Beach, near San Luis Obispo.Photo: 2. I did a similar trip a little over a year ago, where I flew into San Francisco and drove up the North Coast toward Oregon, focusing on the coastline around Mendocino/Ft. Bragg and Eureka/Redwoods National Park. If you are driving up the coast north of San Francisco, you might want to check out my web album from that trip, labeled CA North Coast. .... This photo was taken along Highway 1 south of Half Moon Bay, somewhere near Pescadero. You can see how close Highway 1 hugs the coastline. I didn't find this section of the coast to be nearly as scenic as the Big Sur area or the North coast near Jenner, but it was sure fun to see the ocean again and it put me in a very good mood, after a day of travel related delays.Photo: 3. This is yellow lupine, a type of bush that helps stabilize dunes areas. It is native to CA, but has also been deliberately planted as well. It sure caught my eye.Photo: 4. That's the Pigeon Point lighthouse in the background and iceplants in the foreground. Iceplant can be beautiful in its own way, but is also considered a pest plant and people in some coastal areas spend considerable time pulling it up and then trying to reestablish native coastal plants.Photo: 5. Pigeon Point lighthouse - it's been in continuous operation since 1872 and at 115 feet tall, it's one of the tallest along the west coast. I arrived too late to do a tour inside, but I enjoyed walking around the grounds ... and appreciated this fence as an interesting foreground. I do indeed enjoy living in the Chicago area,  but my camera is far happier along coastlines and national parks. I am a high school biology teacher, but I do very much enjoy photography as one of my main hobbies. By the way, I drove right past Ano Nuevo State Reserve, where elephant seals congregate, because I knew I would be seeing them much further south, near San Simeon.Photo: 6. I stayed in Santa Cruz the first night, after landing in SF in the afternoon. This skateboarding park was only one block from my motel near the Santa Cruz boardwalk. I saw these guys whipping around on my drive in to town and couldn't resist watching them up close for a half hour. I had never seen skateboarders in such a park before and I admired their prowess.Photo: 7. We took a family trip out from Iowa, where I grew up, to California when I was 13 and we stayed a night in Santa Cruz, so going back there for a brief time was a bit nostalgic for me. Back then, it was my first ever look at an ocean and so it holds a special place in my heart. There's a nice long beach there. This little girl was doing probably what I first did when I got my feet wet in ocean waves, back when I was a teen - a bit uncertain about all those waves!Photo: 8. But what I really remembered most from that trip long ago was this roller coaster, still in operation. Santa Cruz has a very long, narrow amusement park right along the beach, as you can see here. It looks deserted in this shot, but I walked along the boardwalk for awhile and it was really hopping with people on a busy Friday evening.Photo: 9. One of my first orders of "business" on this trip was to get back to hiking in a coastal redwoods forest (after enjoying them so much on my CA North Coast trip). I am an early riser on such solo trips ... so that I can pack more into a day, but also to take advantage of softer light in the early morning ... and to be able to get in some hiking before crowds gather on trails. So on my first full day, I was on the road by 6:30am. I saw coastal redwoods several times on this trip, but the first time was Big Basin Redwoods State Park, just north of Santa Cruz and just barely southwest of San Jose. On the road up - Highway 9, near Boulder Creek, I spotted a bright gold color through the trees and turned off to investigate. What I stumbled upon was my first very pleasant surprise of the trip, the Taungpulu Monestary, a small Bhudist temple set among redwoods. What a lovely setting! If you're interested in learning more, here's their website ... http://www.forestpractice.org/Photo: 10. The road from Santa Cruz north toward Big Basin is a lovely drive in of itself. You encounter redwoods right alongside Highway 9 within a few minutes of Santa Cruz. The road is very curvy, as you're climbing some. There were some very modern, beautiful homes all along the road, but also some stranger ones, such as this ... all part of the "backwoods" ambience, I guess!Photo: 11. Big Basin Redwoods State Park has 80 miles of trails - it is quite the treasure for Bay area residents to have so close to home ... I'm envious! I only allowed myself about two hours to be in the park, so I focused mainly on the short loop walk, Redwood Trail, which takes off from the visitor center. I had done much longer walks a year ago ... But even just a few moments of walking among such giant trees (the tallest on earth) is akin to a spiritual experience. ... Unfortunately, there's no way that mere pictures can capture what it's like.Photo: 12. Coastal redwoods are remarkably resilient, helping to explain how some of them can live for so long - several within Big Basin are around 2000 years old. For this shot, I am standing in the very center of a large living tree. Fire had long ago gutted the center, but the living xylem and phloem sap (sorry ... I am a biology teacher!) are on the outside circumference of the tree, right under the bark, so the whole central portion can be hollowed out, as you see here. Some of the greenery you see here are branches from this tree.Photo: 13. Redwoods can spring up in a circle around a much older tree that is long dead and completely decayed away. They grow up from the roots before the tree is dead. This arrangement is called a cathedral ring. It's difficult to see from this shot, but the lowest branches for these old giants don't even begin for maybe 70-80 feet or more off the ground - amazing! The tallest tree in the park, if I recall correctly, is 325 feet. The tallest ones further north, near Oregon, get up to about 375 feet.Photo: 14. As I mentioned earlier, the focus of this trip was to spend five days around the Monterey area. I stayed in Seaside, a nearby town, because the lodging costs are much lower there, compared to if you want to be near the water within Monterey itself. ... Cannery Row fronts the ocean, with the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium anchoring it, for drawing in tourists. There are many shops along this area and of course, quite a few seafood restaurants ... a nice place to stroll. Parking, if you're coming in from another town - or if you're staying further out in Monterey - can definitely add up. It was $1.50 per hour or $10 for the full day anywhere near the waterfront.Photo: 15. This spot is right at the beginning of Cannery Row. The statue is of John Steinbeck, who wrote a book, also called Cannery Row, in 1945. Steinbeck is originally from nearby Salinas, and although he had frosty relations with his home town (many thought he was too left-leaning), that hasn't stopped Salinas in memorializing him. There's a National Steinbeck Center in Salinas that explores his life and literary works. This was on my list of things to do, but I sadly, ran out of time.Photo: 16. Monterey is a working harbor and you can watch boats come in and out all day long, if you like. This shot is from between the two wharfs, Fisherman's Wharf and Municipal Wharf (the more commercial of the two).Photo: 17. If you want to see sea lions up pretty close, walk out to near the end of the Municipal Wharf (aka Fisherman's Wharf #2), where these sea lions like to congregate. The sea lions in the foreground that are sticking their fins up are doing so for heat regulation. You can hear sea lions barking all over around the wharves.Photo: 18. Fisherman's Wharf has many upscale seafood restaurants and some cheaper grab-and-go fare, as well. I had one meal here with a former student ... a nice catch up evening.Photo: 19. This is Monterey State Beach, just a few blocks away from the wharves and as you can see here, there are some large stately eucalyptus trees that provide some shade.Photo: 20. If you are fortunate enough to be in Monterey on a Tuesday, they have a farmer's market that runs for four hours from 4:00 until close to 8:00. It's set up along Alvarado Street in the heart of the historic downtown area and stretches for about three blocks. I am a vegetarian and eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, so I always try to check out farmers markets, while traveling. I was afraid I would buy too much fruit - more than I could possibly eat - and that's exactly what I did! I had to throw some out at the end of my trip. It all looks so enticing and some of the vendors offer free samples, a very good marketing strategy - at least it worked on me!Photo: 21. They had plenty of food stands, as well as some stands offering hot meals. They also had many crafts to offer, as well as some colorful hand-made clothes. I was intrigued to find these orchids displayed for sale. I am a pretty serious gardener and love plants of all kinds. I have never ventured into keeping orchids as a hobby, but I can sure see why some people are crazed about them.Photo: 22. There were a few local musicians playing, as well - here two blue grass performers are entertaining for change.Photo: 23. My camera is always on the prowl for colorful images and the farmers market did not disappoint. I took many more than this one shot, but I am trying to keep this web album manageable for both me typing these captions and for you, the viewer.Photo: 24. My wife, son, and I did a two week coastal CA trip five years ago, from San Francisco to San Diego ... and we spent one day in Monterey - FAR too short! After driving away from Monterey back then, I vowed to come back some day and spend much more time, thus the impetus for this trip. The Monterey Bay Aquarium wowed me then and I was thrilled to have a second, longer look at it. I have been to many of our country's top aquariums - we visit Shedd Aquarium in Chicago often - but this Monterey one is far and away the best I have ever seen. The quality of the exhibits is just outstanding. Part of the reason for its excellence is that they pump in seawater to feed most of their exhibits. Thus they are not just getting the right mix of minerals and so on, but also all the larva and other plankton that feed the larger animals. The aquarium is set up right on the ocean ... and you can see sea lions and possibly sea otters in the ocean. It's just a beautiful setting.Photo: 25. The aquarium is set up in old cannery buildings, which certainly adds to its charms. There is a large display of cannery operations, showing how important canning sardines and anchovies once was to Monterey's past. ... Here two gray whale models hang from the ceiling - life size.Photo: 26. The star attraction is the massive kelp forest display - the top of the tank has no roof, so the kelp are exposed to daylight. These kelp can grow at phenomenal rates, up to two feet per day! In the ocean, all along the Monterey area, you can see the very tops of these giants - they provide food and shelter for many organisms and really are the basis for a whole ecosystem. If you can't SCUBA dive in the bay area, I guess this is the next best thing - a fantastic exhibit ... one of  the best I've ever seen in an aquarium!Photo: 27. Within the kelp forest display, there are huge numbers of anchovies (I think that's what these fish are) that circle around endlessly. It's sort of mesmerizing to just stand there awhile and watch them.Photo: 28. The quality of their touch tanks is very good, indeed and they have several, not just one, docents there to supervise and answer questions. This is a fantastic place to bring children. Of course, the aquarium gets very crowded during the summer season, as it is a very popular tourist attraction. If you're trying to avoid the hordes within, you might want to consider coming in the late afternoon on a weekend day, when the hours extend into the evening.Photo: 29. Another of their star attractions is their jellies exhibit - they have several types of jellies and it is enjoyable to just relax and gaze upon their slow, graceful movements. These are among the simplest of animals in terms of their tissues and organs, but they are beautiful in their own way.Photo: 30. I couldn't resist including another shot of a different type of jelly. Their displays have large numbers of them, adding to the wonder.Photo: 31. There are, of course, many colorful fish to see, that is if you don't mind oodles of young children telling their parents, "Look, there's Dory!" (from the movie Finding Nemo)Photo: 32. Penguins are always fun to observe, especially to watch them "fly" so quickly under water. Go take a swim, little guy.Photo: 33. If you stay in the Monterey area for very long, you will likely spot sea otters among the kelp beds ... but it is great to watch their movements behind plexiglass for a different take on their behaviors.Photo: 34. So many colorful fish ... they do a great job of showcasing the amazing diversity of the Monterey Bay area ocean life. There is a deep canyon that begins right within the bay itself and it's the foundation for that diversity.Photo: 35. The aquarium has an outstanding shorebirds exhibit ... it's so wonderful to be able to watch their behaviors up so close. Here's a killdeer, a type of plover. Here's a link to the aquarium ... http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/Photo: 36. One of my former biology students is now a marine biologist and he works for the aquarium. I roamed the whole aquarium one afternoon by myself for about five hours (I would allow at least three or four hours, depending on the attention span of your group). I went back a second day and got a behind the scenes tour from him that lasted well over two hours. It was fascinating to see how the tanks are constructed from behind the exhibits ... how they feed the animals ... and how they breed some of them. Some of the creatures are quite finicky to keep in an aquarium and present special challenges. Anybody can do a shorter (about an hour) behind the scenes tour by reserving in advance ... it does cost another $10, on top of the $30 regular admission charge (for adults). If you love aquariums, as I certainly do, it's well worth it.Photo: 37. I love to snorkel, but have never been trained to SCUBA. I would dearly love to do so, however, among the kelp beds. Here are two boats ready to deliver hearty souls out into the bay ... the water is very cold, thus the thick protective wet suits.Photo: 38. People explore the bay in a variety of ways.These two are doing something called standup paddleboarding (or SUP) - looks like fun! ... Many choose to venture out in kayaks.Photo: 39. I am always up for a whale watch! I chose Monterey Bay Whale Watch and I thought they did a real nice job - the naturalist on board, the lady you see off to the right did a very good job of explaining what we were seeing and was great about getting around to passengers to answer their questions. It cost $36 (for adults), which I thought was a very good value, given that we were out in the bay and slightly beyond (out into the open ocean) for four and a half hours. I have been on other whale watches that cost more and were of much less duration.Photo: 40. Shortly after you're out on the water, the boat goes past a breakwater with all sorts of animals hanging out. Here you see some nesting cormorants and plenty of noisy sea lions.Photo: 41. I include here just four photos of the star attractions. I took many, many more (one of the gifts of digital photography). I used a 100-300 zoom and had my camera set to 1/1000th of a second on shutter speed priority. (By the way, I use a Nikon D7000) ... If you are on a bay area whale watch during the winter season, you will be focusing on gray whales, which move through the coastal area on their long migrations. On this day, we saw 19 different humpbacks - one group of three and eight different pairs. The various outfits doing whale watches are all in radio contact with each other and share sightings, making the experience for all tourists that much better. We just basically zigzagged around from one sighting to another. The captain looks for the characteristic spouting, as you see here. This image gives some idea of the length of the whales. Humpbacks can get up to 50 feet. ... Here's the link for Monterey Bay Whale Watch ... http://www.montereybaywhalewatch.com/Photo: 42. 43. I included this particular photo because you can see the aftermath of both whales' spouting spray ... and also because I think that's the eye of the whale in the back ... please, any whale experts, correct me if I'm wrong. I probably took well over 300 shots and this is the only photo where I see an eye above the water line. Sadly, we didn't see any breaching, where the whole head comes up to take a look around ... but we did see a one whale stick its whole front fin up above water. For some reason, that shot came out blurry - arhh!Photo: 43. Here you can see that group of three I mentioned before ... another shot that shows off some of their great length. It's pretty exciting to see whales in the wild like this! I have been on whale watches in Maine, Hawaii and one from Santa Barbara and it just never gets old. Sometimes, they spot blue whales, as well (about one day out of every two weeks) and occasionally, killer whales. We saw several dolphins in the bay .... on our Santa Barbara whale watch five years ago, we found ourselves in the middle of many hundreds of dolphins and they came up very close to the boat, on all sides - it was amazing! That happens occasionally on Monterey whale watches, too, but not the day I was out.Photo: 44. What you're seeing here is the tail up, right as the whale dives for food ... they eat mostly krill, tiny crustaceans that they trap in their baleen.Photo: 45. We were lucky enough to see an albatross, with their massive wingspans.Photo: 46. I believe this is a flock of shearwaters. I am not a serious birder, but I always enjoy learning birds as I see them on trips.Photo: 47. On the way back into the bay, we saw these boats fishing for market squid. They drop in the huge nets you see here and then basically scoop them up. The squid are then cut up for calamari. The squid seem to have very prolific breeding potential and only live a year or two, so harvesting them in large quantities does not seem to deplete their stock too much ... but that's, sadly, certainly not true for many of the fish taken for food.Photo: 48. Well, that completes my photos taken directly from Monterey itself. If you're still looking over my shoulder, we'll venture off to nearby Pacific Grove (at the tip of the peninsula) first, then Carmel, Point Lobos, and Seaside (where I stayed). Next I'll show you images from Moss Landing - rich in sealife! ... Pinnacles National Monument and the Carmel Vally with its wineries. I'll finish up with two days heading south along the gorgeous Big Sur coastline. ... This shot is taken along Asilomar Beach, within Pacific Grove (often called PG by the locals).Photo: 49. I headed to Asilomar particularly because, after doing some research on TripAdvisor, I knew that they had some good tidepools (as you see here) and I timed my visit there to coincide with low tide. If you're seriously interested in checking out tidepool critters, it really helps to have the times of low tides in mind. Here's a link that will help ... just find the right locale and it will give you all the tide info you need. http://www.saltwatertides.com/dynamic.dir/californiasites.htmlPhoto: 50. I was hoping for a wide array of tidepool critters there, but was a bit disappointed by the variety. I didn't see any sea stars or urchins ... and only a very few anemones. There were some small crabs and these mussels (to the right) and gooseneck barnacles (left). I ended up exploring tidal pools several times later on, with a little more success. In general, I found the tidepools north of San Francisco (last year, on a different trip) richer in diversity. I don't know if that's generally true ... or just more of a hit and miss thing unique to where I happened to go on both trips. Does anybody know if tidepools are truly better the farther north you go along the CA coastline?Photo: 51. I spent a half hour or so exploring the Point Pinos lighthouse, within the town of Pacific Grove. It's the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the whole Pacific coast, all the way back to 1855 ... and so it has a rich history associated with it. You can get a short (15-20 minutes) tour of the insides for a small donation. They explain the workings of the light itself and how ships use the various lighthouses along the coast to avoid crashes. They also have several rooms upstairs decorated according to mid-1800s furnishings. Here's a link ... http://www.ci.pg.ca.us/lighthouse/default.htmPhoto: 52. I saw a group of black-tailed deer roaming a PG golf course, right across the street from the lighthouse. They did not seem to mind the presence of golfers at all. These were the only deer I saw the whole trip, but then again, I stuck mainly to coastal areas.Photo: 53. Within the downtown area of PG is this Pacific Grove Natural History Museum. You can see the all the exhibits easily in less than an hour. It's pretty small, really, and if you're used to much larger natural history museums with all sorts of interactive exhibits, you may be disappointed. But I thought they did a nice job showing off and explaining the local flora and fauna. A link follows: http://www.pgmuseum.org/Photo: 54. They have quite a few stuffed animals, particularly many birds. If you're a naturalist at heart ... or if you're looking for something to do in inclement weather, this museum is a great way to spend an hour.Photo: 55. Pacific Grove is famous for harboring monarch butterflies from November through February that migrate there from more northern locales. Of course, I was there at the wrong time of the year, but I would dearly love to visit some winter to see the massive numbers that congregate there to shelter in the trees. The town has set up several sanctuaries for them and residents do seem to treasure their annual visits. The museum has a nice exhibit about them. Here's a link with some good info ... http://www.ci.pg.ca.us/monarchs/default.htmPhoto: 56. Alas, I did not see any of the endangered condors, but while I was on the Big Sur coastline, at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, I ran into some folks who said they'd seen one soaring above them that very morning. Oh, I would so dearly have loved to see that myself!Photo: 57. PG has a beautiful drive along their coastline - it's free and is a good alternative to the 17-mile drive Carmel offers which charges $10 per car. I walked some of it, rather than driving it, for a change of pace. I loved every minute of it! It was a fascinating mix of pretty gardens, gorgeous homes (that have incredible views), and of course, very scenic coastline. I think I walked for nearly two hours and wish I had gone even further. By the way, I saw a couple of sea otters playing out in the kelp beds while on this walk.Photo: 58. This is a sample from the PG coastline. Much of it was pretty much a sea of pink. I think the plants that are producing all that eye-popping color are a type of small iceplant.Photo: 59. OK, now on to ritzy Carmel ... I'm not much of a shopper (I only go into stores generally when I need to buy something), so I only spent a half hour roaming around the center of Carmel. They had many upscale jewelry and clothing stores, as well as some galleries.Photo: 60. The next six shots are all from the Carmel mission, officially called Mission San Carlos Borromeo. It was CA's second mission and was built in 1770. It fell into disuse at various times in the 1800's, so some of the buildings had to be reconstructed in the 1930s. Here's their link ... http://www.carmelmission.org/Photo: 61. Here's the church itself. There was a funeral happening when I first got there ... it is very much a functional Catholic parish.Photo: 62. Even though I can't help but be angered by how early Spanish explorers and missionaries treated local peoples, I still have respect for how much those priests from the 1700s sacrificed to set up missions. It's a fascinating story. The mission today has many rooms along the perimeter of their huge courtyard ... and most of them have artifacts, drawings, and pictures in an attempt to recreate life back over 200 years ago. To scan through the exhibits is truly to walk back into another era ... I very much enjoyed it, but then again, I am a nerdy history buff. This shot is off the gravesite of Father Juniper Serra, one of the early patrons of the mission.Photo: 63. They also have beautiful gardens, very well maintained. If you're looking to visit one CA mission on an extended trip, the Carmel mission is a good bet!Photo: 64. Statues, blooms, and blue sky make for good photos. The first three days of my five in the Monterey area were pretty heavily overcast with only brief glimpses of blue sky, but then my last two had much nicer weather. The fog that so often blankets the area can roll in anytime, however. If you're looking for more consistently warmer weather with a greater chance for blue skies and sunshine, apparently September through November is the best time to visit. Strangely enough for a Midwestern boy to contemplate, Monterey's summer is usually much cooler than their fall. The temps while I was there hovered around the high 50s and low 60s for HIGH temps ... so bring a jacket or sweatshirt if you're visiting in the summer!Photo: 65. The courtyard in the back has a nice fountain you see here and as mentioned, several pretty gardens.Photo: 66. The next thirteen photos are all from Carmel's famous 17-mile drive. As I mentioned before, it costs $10 per carload and it may be a bit off-putting to have to pay just to drive along a short stretch of road. I am not really sure of all the dynamics of why the city charges ... is it to keep traffic much lower, so local residents who mostly have huge, very expensive mansions will be less bothered by tourists? I suspect so ... anyway, I decided to go on this drive before I left home and not to be bothered by the cost of it. I am so glad I did! It was just simply gorgeous. I got off to an early start, beginning before 7am ... and it took me three hours ... but I think most people wouldn't spend much more than an hour or two. The early part of the drive, if you enter from the Highway 1 gate, takes you through a pretty forest. These are huckleberry shrubs. Here's their link ... http://www.pebblebeach.com/activities/explore-the-monterey-peninsula/17-mile-drivePhoto: 67. There are several very scenic golf courses right on the coastline and this must be paradise for devoted golfers. I don't golf, but still found the juxtaposition of the courses and ocean very interesting. And again, lots of iceplant in the foreground.Photo: 68. I took this photo from the tee of one of their golf courses .. you can see the green with its flag in the distance. Better not leave the ball short on this one. I guess this is where mulligans come in very handy!Photo: 69. For this biology teacher, local wildlife was much more interesting than golf courses ... I lingered here at bird rock for a long time. If your time in the Monterey area is too short and you don't have time to do the Elkhorn Slough tour (which I'll get to later on), this may be the best place to watch a large group of sea lions and harbor seals. The next two photos are from this very spot, zoomed in with my telephoto.Photo: 70. So here's bird rock, with a large gathering of cormorants and other sea birds. You can see the tops of kelps in the foreground, where it's always worth scanning for sea otters. I didn't see any when I was there, but I would guess they do hang around this spot.Photo: 71. You can hear all these sea lions barking well before you see them up close. What a noisy bunch! As I mentioned earlier, many of the ones in the water are sticking their fins up to cool off.Photo: 72. This is from the cypress point lookout, another spot I lingered for quite awhile because there was an abundance of harbor seals playing all about in the water very close to me and my camera. You can see five in the foreground, poking their heads up. Perhaps they were checking ME out?! You can also see a sampling of some of the mansions the 17-mile drive is famous for. What stupendous views they must have out their windows!Photo: 73. Here's a harbor seal taking a little rest.Photo: 74. And, ah, yes, the famed "Lone Cypress" (off to the right), one of the most photographed trees in the world. It's over 250 years old and is a symbol for the whole area. The cypress trees in this area of the drive were just gorgeous! They alone are worth the cost.Photo: 75. The ever present and not shy Stellar's Jay.Photo: 76. This is Pascadero Point, right before you head into Pebble Beach. You can see some of Stillwater Cove in the distance, to the left.Photo: 77. Hole number one at the famed Pebble Beach golf course. I think every single famous golfer the world has produced has golfed here at some point. They let the general non-golfing public walk around the clubhouse, store, and even the beginning of the course itself.Photo: 78. Looking out over famous hole #18, where I would imagine many close matches have been decided with clutch putts ... or not. By the way, if you're very interested in photography, this is the first shot in this album where I used HDR - high dynamic range. For scenes that have a lot of contrast - bright sun-lit parts and heavy shadows, cameras can't expose all parts well, so they average the light metered. What you get generally in such scenes is disappointment later on, because it's not what our eye sees. The solution is to take three or more shots, one normal exposure, one or two underexposed, and one or more overexposed ... and then you have to align them and merge them with processing on the computer later on. I am new to HDR - this was my first trip where I tried some of the times, bracketing my exposures in such a way. From now on in this album, any photos where I used this technique, I'll start off with that acronym, HDR. It's really a lot easier than it sounds and I am quite happy with the results.Photo: 79. I stayed in nearby Seaside, which is right next to Monterey. It's not as touristy, obviously, and has cheaper lodging than Monterey, Carmel, and PG have. Where I stayed, Seaside Inn, had many stores like a large grocery, Target, and fast food restaurants within a few blocks. It was also just three or four blocks away from the ocean, as you see here, with many dunes to climb. I went there two nights to watch the sun drop around 8:15. The next five shots are all taken from the area off to the right.Photo: 80. This is an image of Monterey Bay as taken right after the sun set. I lightened it up some, once home, so you could see the details better. I don't know if it was legal for these tenters to set up their tent in this spot, but it looked like a great location to fall asleep to the sound of the waves! Monterey is in the far distance, along the right edge of the photo.Photo: 81. I was surprised by the number of fishermen on the beach. I asked permission to snap some photos and they obliged.Photo: 82. I'm always looking for shots like this. My camera was very happy on this trip!Photo: 83. I followed this pelican for awhile as it kept circling around, trying to spot a school of fish close to the surface. I set my camera to continuous shutter (my Nikon will take 6 shots per second), composed the shot to have the sun to the left and waited for the pelican to enter the right of my shot. This photo captures the bird right as it begins its dive. I still had to crop some, once home, to balance the sun and the pelican, compared to each other, left and right. By the way, I crop nearly every single image. I try hard to compose my shots well as I take them, but almost all images can be improved some by cropping out edges that are cluttered with distracting details or edges that don't contribute to the story I'm trying to tell with the image.Photo: 84. More pelicans! Thank you so much for flying into my foreground - much obliged.Photo: 85. The next 36 images are all from Point Lobos State Reserve. It's just south of Carmel and only a few minutes' drive from Monterey. I know that's a lot of pictures, but wow, what a very scenic, beautiful place! Believe me, these 36 are way pared down from what I am saving on my hard drive. When our family drove through the area rather quickly five years ago, we stopped off here ... Back then, I didn't know much about it and only allocated about two hours to wander around. Getting a chance to come back with my camera and time to do nearly all of their many trails was quite a treat for me ... and the primary motivation for me doing this solo trip. I went there three times, in blocks of two, three, and then four hours, for a total of nine hours. I'll try my best to tell what general area each shot is from, starting from the northeast area and then circling around counter-clockwise. This shot is from Bluefish Cove.Photo: 86. There were many wildflowers in bloom. This is bluff lettuce. Here's the website I am using for flower identifications. Please correct me if I miss on any of them. http://www.pointlobos.org/taxonomy/term/167 And by the way, here's Point Lobos Reserve's site: http://www.pointlobos.org/Photo: 87. This image is taken from around Cypress Grove, off of the North Shore Trail. I love the brown lichen on so many of the trees.Photo: 88. The California quail, with its characteristic teardrop shaped head plume. I saw several of these along the North Shore Trail and even got to see several very young chicks up close. This is indeed a great place to spot wildlife, as well as take in the coastline.Photo: 89. Several cypress trees ... have I mentioned yet how much I love this place? :) ... Sadly, very recent budget cuts have cut into the operating hours. Since this last March, they have begun to close at 7:00, which of course in the summertime is well before sunset. I didn't know this until I got there, at the gate, and was quite disappointed to learn I couldn't take sunset photos there. I imagine I am not alone in this sentiment, as this reserve is a very popular place for landscape photographers to visit. I certainly can't gripe too much, however, as Illinois' current fiscal mess is as bad or worse than California's.Photo: 90. There's a small building at Whalers Cove that explores how various peoples over the ages have used the area. It's worth stopping in for a few minutes if you like history.Photo: 91. This shot was taken from the Granite Point loop trail, looking out over Moss Cove. It was the clearest shot all trip of kelps. It was interesting to watch them wave gracefully with the waves.Photo: 92. The next five shots are all taken from my favorite place within Point Lobos, The Cypress Grove Trail, within the most NW corner. The cypresses and all the lichens made for such dramatic foregrounds. We didn't get to go on this trail five years ago, so the wow factor was big for me. I literally gasped out loud several times during this late afternoon walk.Photo: 93. This is one of those spots that made me stop in my tracks and gasp. It's other-worldly! So beautiful ...Photo: 94. HDR (remember, this is short for high dynamic range, a photographic technique ... sorry if that's redundant - it's the teacher in me that can't help repeat things sometimes) ... Such a gorgeous spot!Photo: 95. Cypress trees, lichens, flowers, rocky shore, and cormorants ... so much to love.Photo: 96. Close up of some of the cormorants and a few of their nests.Photo: 97. Adding to the beauty of Point Lobos' scenery are many unusual rock formations crafted by water and winds.Photo: 98. The next four shots are all taken around the very popular Sea Lion Point Trail. This is where the most parking spots are and their information center. It's also where you're most likely to see a lot of people, although it never felt crowded to me ... plenty of space to spread out. ... I liked the swirling of this rock formation.Photo: 99. Here's Sea Lion Cove, looking north. It's a very beautiful place ... the small island usually harbors resting harbor seals, as you can see off in the distance. The orange flower in the foreground is seaside painted cup and I'm not sure if the abundant yellow flowers are lizard tail or golden yarrow ... help, please - any experts?Photo: 100. They have a trail with steps - as you can see in the upper left - that you can use to go down to water's edge at Sea Lion Cove. This is a great place for kids to explore.Photo: 101. I believe this is a white-crowned sparrow.Photo: 102. As I said before, many interesting rock formations. So unique ...Photo: 103. Just a beautiful place ... We have traveled extensively and I can say with confidence that Point Lobos is one of my all time favorite places to just go for a stroll and see what pops up. The next image is a close up of the wavy colorful rock formation you can see here in the lower right.Photo: 104. Beautiful!Photo: 105. And of course, it's just fun to watch the waves roll in ... During my first two visits to Point Lobos, it was heavily overcast, but I was so pleased to have blue skies before me for my third, longer visit.Photo: 106. Pelicans in V-formation.Photo: 107. I don't know ... do CA natives ever tire of watching waves crash into rocky coastline? This Illinois man apparently does not.Photo: 108. This is rattle weed ... it definitely caught my eye.Photo: 109. This is looking south from the South Shore Trail.Photo: 110. I liked the seedheads on this grass.Photo: 111. One of the things that makes Point Lobos so special and scenic is its abundance of small coves.Photo: 112. This collection of kelp wrack caught my eye, for its variety of colors and textures.Photo: 113. Wow, that's a lot of pelicans in formation!Photo: 114. Forgive me for maybe too many Point Lobos shots ... again, looking south along the South Shore Trail, close to Bird Island, which was inaccessible while I was there ... I assume the trail was closed for restoration.Photo: 115. I didn't see too many tidepools within Point Lobos, but there were a few spots here and there where it was possible to look for anemones, crabs, and so on. Here's a striped shore crab that was ducking for cover as my camera and I moved closer. I just fired away ... I never saw the bright greens and blues of its mouthparts until I got home and looked at a larger view of this image on the computer. It was a nice surprise!Photo: 116. This is false iceplant, a succulent ... Conicosia pugioniformis.Photo: 117. Immediately next to the bright yellow flower in the last shot was this lizard, with its striking turquoise scales.Photo: 118. These last three Point Lobos images are all from interior trails. They're not as dramatic as the shoreline trails, but still, they have their own charms. The last day there, I got to spend some time wandering about away from the coast.Photo: 119. If you have a little extra time there, I highly recommend strolling along Lace Lichen Trail ... it's not too far away from the main parking lot along the western shore. If you have never seen so many hanging lichens before, it's pretty striking, like some sort of ghost world.Photo: 120. I was thrilled that this chestnut-backed chickadee was not fazed by my close presence along the Lace Lichen Trail. It's usually pretty difficult to get good close shots of smaller birds, as they normally don't allow you to get so close. So ... thanks, little guy!Photo: 121. The next 21 shots are all from the Elkhorn Slough tour I did my last morning in the Monterey area. It's actually in the Moss Landing area, which is about halfway between Santa Cruz and Monterey, directly off of Highway 1. It only takes about 25 minutes to get there from Monterey. This tour on a pontoon boat was phenomenal for wildlife viewing, getting us up very close and personal to many marine mammals and birds. It cost $35 for adults and lasts about an hour and a half. That's the captain to the right and the naturalist, the young lady to the left,  who just by sheer coincidence (I had already planned on doing this tour before I knew) is the fiance of my former student who gave me the aquarium tour. They're both marine biologists. This gave me by far my best viewings of coastal animals - if you love wildlife, I can't recommend it highly enough. It's well worth the short drive from Monterey. Here's their link... http://www.elkhornslough.com/Photo: 122. There are quite a few ocean research centers around Monterey and Moss Landing. This vessel transports the submersibles that explore the depths of the Monterey underwater canyon.Photo: 123. Here's what the slough looks like ... a brackish (mix of salt and fresh water) slow moving river that empties into the sea. Marine mammals and various sea birds seem to love hanging out there. The boat didn't even really go that far upstream, but we saw just so much wildlife, mostly along the banks.Photo: 124. We counted something like 45 sea otters on our tour. Many of them were all hanging out in one larger group, which you can see a portion of here. Most of them appeared to be napping ... no kelp beds here for feeding on urchins.Photo: 125. Sea otters - fascinating animals to watch in the wild like this.Photo: 126. We also got to see several mother sea otters interact with babies. They were all positioned on their chests, as you see here.Photo: 127. There were way too many sea lions to count ... many close up views.Photo: 128. This is a typical Elkhorn Slough view ... going slowly past large groupings of animals just laying around. Those are pelicans in the background and harbor seals (they have much shorter front fins and a blunter snout than sea lions have) in the foreground. That little blob of life in the lower right is the subject of the next image.Photo: 129. Awww, what a cutie! It's so small, it can't be very old.Photo: 130. A cormorant, showing off its bright eye and beak colors.Photo: 131. We floated past a large grouping of nesting cormorants ... I set my camera to continuous shutter release and fired away. I filled up a 16 gigabyte card during the hour and a half. Yikes ... that's a lot of photos! I don't know if these babies could exactly be described as "cute" - maybe they're adorable enough to their parents and I guess that's all that matters.Photo: 132. A pair of nesting Western sea gulls.Photo: 133. Here's a great egret, showing off some of its gorgeous plumage.Photo: 134. Closeup of a brown pelican.Photo: 135. I have seen brown pelicans many times on trips, but I have sure never seen anywhere near this many congregated in one spot ... quite a treat to observe some of their behaviors up close.Photo: 136. Wow, that's a lot of pelicans gathered. I wonder if those two cormorants are experiencing a bit of an identity crisis.Photo: 137. You can see here by the way this brown pelican is gaping that it can hold several fish in its large mouth, when it's out fishing for a living.Photo: 138. I don't believe I had ever seen white pelicans before that day .. very nice!Photo: 139. Ah, yes, just another day on Elkhorn Slough. That's not an image you get every day!Photo: 140. Here's a Western grebe, with its cool bright red eyes. We saw quite a few of these.Photo: 141. Some people decide to kayak on the slough instead, allowing them to get even closer to wildlife in some spots and go at their own pace. I know I will probably sound like an advertisement here, but I can't recommend this tour enough if you enjoy wildlife. There are just so very many different animals all packed into one relatively small area. Bring your camera and telephoto lens!Photo: 142. I spent the better part of one of my days in the Monterey area heading east to spend a few hours in Pinnacles National Monument and see some of the agricultural areas of the central CA valleys. Seeing so many fields of vegetables up close gave me a much better appreciation for how much work is involved in growing them.Photo: 143. There were many laborers out that day picking vegetables, often with nearby fields with much younger versions of the same plant being heavily irrigated (this seemed to be a pretty dry area, so this "salad bowl" area is sure not located as such because of abundant rainfall). There were other fields being watered where it was just dirt, so I assume vegetables had just been recently picked in those spots and they had just been freshly seeded.Photo: 144. In such a stark landscape - here, along Highway 25, heading south toward Pinnacles - there is still a strange kind of beauty ... Many rolling hills, filled with just one type of grass.Photo: 145. HDR ... This is what much of Pinnacles National Monument (where the next seven shots are from) looks like. My wife and I adore the U.S. national park system - we spent much time early in our marriage tenting our way through most of the major national parks and loved every moment ... So, when I am traveling and there is a nearby national park or monument, if time allows, I am there! Pinnacles is about an hour and a half drive from Monterey, via Highway 1, 101, and then 25 South. It had been overcast and pretty cool most of my time in Monterey, and so it felt good to have crisp blue skies with zero clouds and some heat, for a change. I actually sweated for the only time the whole trip.Photo: 146. HDR ... I had wanted to spend 4-5 hours at Pinnacles, but due to a late start - a rare morning of "sleeping in" (for me, that means until 8:00), I was only there for a little under three hours. I hiked the Moses Spring trail and Rim trail (comprising a relatively short loop) and then a portion of the High Peaks trail, to get a flavor for being up higher. Much of Bear Gulch trail, an offshoot of the Moses Spring trail, looks something like this. Lots of fallen boulders to climb around and underneath in some cases. It makes for some dramatic views. There are caves to explore, as well, but I didn't allow enough time and I had no headlamp (essential!) with me on this trip. You'll know better if you choose to go.Photo: 147. HDR - definitely, this image would have been a mess without this technique ... either the rock would be hopelessly dark or the lit background would have been all washed out. ... A pretty cool spot!Photo: 148. Lizards are pretty good about not scurrying away. This one stayed motionless for a long time.Photo: 149. I have always enjoyed seeing manzanita shrubs or trees on trips out to the drier parts of the West. I love their reddish or orange bark. You can also see some yellowish berries gracing the top branches.Photo: 150. HDR ... This spot sort of reminded me of a Greek statue, the profile looking toward the left. OK, maybe it's just my overactive imagination.Photo: 151. Another cool Pinnacles spot ... I liked how many trees there were around all these rock formations. The whole monument is one half of a very large extinct volcano from long ago. The other half has long since migrated away with continental drift, now on the other side of the San Andreas fault. Here's a Pinnacles NM link, if you're intrigued. ... http://www.nps.gov/pinn/index.htmPhoto: 152. I don't like to backtrack on the same roads too often if there's a choice that doesn't seem too far out of the way ... I figure that I'll see more of the country that way and give my camera more opportunities to spot a surprise around then next corner. So ... I decided to go back to Monterey from Pinnacles by a completely different route: Highway 25 South to Bitterwater (now, there's an inviting name for a town!), then westward on G13, 101 briefly, then G17 and finally G16 through the Carmel Valley and all its vineyards. I am not sorry in retrospect that I chose this route, but it added a lot of time to my route back. It doesn't look far on the map, but it took me over three hours (at least doubling my earlier route). Most of the route was made up of very curvy roads that were great for scenery, but not so good for time. I wouldn't recommend this route if you go to Pinnacles from Monterey unless you have a lot of time on your hands. ... There were many more fields of vegetables along this drive.Photo: 153. I want to put in a quick plug in here for the use of the maps app for the iPhone. This was my first trip with a smart phone in hand and I found it to be indispensable for navigating. Most of these more obscure back roads were labeled with local names and never bothered to use the G17 type designations that were on my atlas CA map. If I didn't have this GPS feature handy to tell me always exactly where I was and where to turn next, I'm afraid my journey back would have stretched from three hours to 4-5 instead, as I would have several times needed to stop for directions (out seemingly in the middle of the proverbial nowhere!). ... I was surprised by the large numbers of huge vineyards, as you see here, out in the driest land. I can only imagine the irrigation necessary to keep these grapevines going. I wonder how CA residents, often under water restrictions, feel about all these plants being so heavily irrigated.Photo: 154. HDR ... This is Chateau Julien, a vineyard/winery that gives free hour long tours of their wine-making process. I had really wanted to do this tour, but I couldn't make it back in time. The location is just a short hop over from Monterey, on G16 ... look for the signs that say Carmel Valley. ... Maybe next time for me! Here's their link ... http://www.chateaujulien.com/Photo: 155. When I spent two days in the Sonoma wine valley a year ago, it was early April and I was catching "bud break," when the vines were just barely breaking their winter dormancy. You can see from this photo that the grapes are not fruit yet, but flowers instead. I need to tour a CA wine valley in October and catch some of their harvest! It's on my list.Photo: 156. My last two days, I left Monterey and headed straight south on the gorgeous stretch of Highway 1 known as the Big Sur. It's famous for good reason ... it affords one spectacular view after another, with the Santa Lucia mountains in the background to frame all the scenic coastline. I started off spending some time first in Garrapata State Park. The next five images are all from this park. ... Here's a typical coastal view, looking south. The various turnouts are not well marked ... I think this is stop #5.Photo: 157. HDR ...Looking back north in this shot. Still from stop #5.Photo: 158. A little further south, I stopped at pullout #10 and really enjoyed this long beach. With the blue sky, bright white clouds, mountains, flowers, and wide beach, this was one of my favorite spots on the whole trip. I had a hard time pulling myself away from this one! In fact, after a long year of teaching with its frequent evening and weekend grading, this whole trip with all its beautiful scenery was a great recharging for me.Photo: 159. I don't like to have many pictures taken of myself on trips .... I and all my family and friends already know full well what I look like! But ha, ha, just in case anyone is wondering whether I was really in CA, here I am ... yes, indeed.Photo: 160. I am always looking for a foreground object or person to draw the viewer into a sweeping landscape shot. Here, this long bit of kelp does the job. I was quite impressed with Garrapata. I highly recommend a few stops instead of speeding on by. Well, nobody (hopefully!) really speeds on down Highway 1, at least in the curviest portions. It's a slow journey, but the views are outstanding and well worth the time invested. Here's the link for Garrapata SP ...
http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=579Photo: 161. Here's the first major bridge as you head south. This is Rocky Creek (which you can see below, off to the left) Bridge, built in 1932. This and other similar bridges along the coast for the first time made such dramatic views accessible to many.Photo: 162. Just less than a mile further south is the more famous Bixby Bridge, also built in 1932. If you're wondering how I got this sort of sweeping shot, it's with a 10-20 mm lens, zoomed out all the way to its furthest wide angle setting, 10mm. I use this lens quite often on trips, particularly for landscapes. If you have a dSLR, I highly recommend this type of lens for travel photography. It's pricy for sure (about $400-500), but if you go this route, you'll wonder how you ever got by without it. It records so much more of what our eyes see from what any one spot.Photo: 163. Shortly after these bridges, there are a few spots where the cliffs are really high. This is looking straight down from a pullout just off the highway.Photo: 164. My next state park that day was Pfeiffer Burns Big Sur State Park. I did the trail to Pfeiffer Falls, which is 60 feet tall. You can see some of the falls in the center of the shot. If you're going to allocate time for one waterfalls walk, I would do it instead in Limekiln SP - which I'll get to in a bit. There are many coastal redwoods in this park and quite a few others along Highway 1. None of the trees are anywhere near as tall as they were in Big Basin Redwoods State Park or locations much further north, but they were still beautiful to walk through. Here's the link for this state park ...
http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=578Photo: 165. Nepenth Restaurant is just a few miles south of Pfeiffer Burns Big Sur SP and it's clearly worth a quick stop, even if you are not planning on eating there. They have some nice views looking out over the ocean. A great place for lunch and although I did not stop for a meal, I have read on TA that the food is pretty good there.Photo: 166. They also have some very nice landscaping there and a colorful gift shop, as you see here. There were many cars in the parking lot, so I imagine not too many tourists fail to stop here and eat or at least poke around for awhile.Photo: 167. This is the often-photographed McWay Falls, within Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park ... it's so interesting how it flows right into the ocean. If you're familiar with this spot and this image looks like it's from a different perspective than you're used to (higher up, that is), that's because I took it from the road, right before you enter the park. There's no pullout at this spot, but when I approached the park, traffic was stopped due to a motorcycle accident ahead. We were all stuck there for over a half hour, so most of us got out of our cars and walked around some. If you have to be stuck, without being able to move for some time, how could it be better than this?!Photo: 168. Here's a closeup of McWay Falls ... the park's website is here ... http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=578Photo: 169. HDR ... I walked around some within the park, besides the short falls trail, and liked this camping spot. My wife and I did a lot of tent camping years ago, before we turned into weenies and decided we were too old to sleep on the ground. This would be such a great spot to pitch a tent! ... And what an awesome location for a hammock!Photo: 170. As I drove south that day, the sky kept changing from blue skies to overcast and back to clear again. Sometimes, fog rolling in can alter the mood of a shot in a pleasing way.Photo: 171. This and the last shot were taken just north of Limekiln State Park. You can really see from this image how close Highway 1 hugs the coastline. You obviously have to watch the road carefully every second, but fortunately, there are abundant pullouts.Photo: 172. Just before reaching Limekiln, I drove past this young red-tailed hawk, which was just five feet off the edge of the highway. It didn't fly away, so I figured it must be injured or maybe dazed from flying into something. I stopped at the next available turnout and backtracked ... it was still there and allowed me to approach pretty closely.Photo: 173. The next five images are all from Limekiln State Park, which I was quite impressed with! It was my favorite of the state parks I visited between Monterey and San Simeon. The hikes inland to the east of the highway went through such lush scenery and I was happy to spend several hours there poking around, in among the many redwoods. Here's Limekiln's site ... http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=577Photo: 174. Within Limekiln, there were so many streams set among towering redwoods. I was on three separate trails, all streamside ... there were many pools and cascades.Photo: 175. Lots of ferns around the water ...Photo: 176. The park gets its name from these large wood-fired kilns that were once used (in the late 1800s) to smelt quarried limestone into powdered lime, used to mix cement. The trail to reach these kilns is short - a little over a half mile - and it follows a gorgeous stream.Photo: 177. As you head toward the kilns, before you get there, there's a fork to the right that takes you to this 80 foot waterfall. The trail requires you to cross the stream several times over rocks or logs, so it wouldn't be for everyone, but I did it without getting my hiking boots too wet, so don't let that scare you off ... the waterfall itself is quite impressive, as you see here. ... I had a tripod with on this trip, but got lazy about carting it around on hikes. So absent my tripod, I tried my best to slow the water down (as you see here) by just handholding the camera and holding it as steady as I could. Any shutter speed slower than the 1/8th of a second I took this shot at turned out too blurry. ... I was alone on this trail, so I lingered in this spot for a long time - I just sat on a rock and soaked it all in. If you're driving Highway 1 for the coastal scenery and have extra time, I would most recommend Limekiln SP for an inland trail or two for an hour, especially if you've never seen redwoods.Photo: 178. Ah, yes, as I headed toward San Simeon, now south of Limekiln, the sky opened up again .. yay!Photo: 179. I enjoyed seeing some yuccas growing on the mountains slopes, right along the highway.Photo: 180. I stayed in San Simeon that night, mostly to be able to spend some quality time with the elephant seals that have a colony just a few miles away. On our family trip when I was a young teen, we had stopped at the Hearst castle, and I wanted to revisit it. The castle is set on a working ranch, as you see here. The bus that carts tourists up to the castle goes up a curvy road with nice views of the surrounding hills and coastline.Photo: 181. William Randolph Hearst inherited a massive pile of money from his father, who made his fortune in silver mining. This castle, just one of his worldwide estates, has 165 rooms and was mostly done to mimic Spanish and Italian architecture from about 400-500 years ago. I am much more of a naturalist at heart and personally find these sorts of monuments to one man's ego a bit garish ... all that being said, I still enjoyed the two hour "Experience Tour," which is recommended for those who have never been there before. You can do other tours, as well, that focus on other parts. The tour was $25 and narrated well by our guide. The castle now belongs to the state of CA ... here's their site ... http://www.hearstcastle.org/Photo: 182. Hearst used this estate to show off his massive collection of European art, so authentic statues, paintings, and murals are all over the place. ... The outdoor pool you see here looks pretty inviting!Photo: 183. Beautiful gardens everywhere ...Photo: 184. This shot is taken outside one of three guest "cottages." The attention to detail is seen everywhere on this tour. This man had an obscene amount of money to play with!Photo: 185. Here's just one bedroom in the guest cottage we walked through.Photo: 186. Wow, so ornate, in every direction, for every room.Photo: 187. The ceilings were fascinating in themselves - beautiful woodwork, all imported from Europe.Photo: 188. Now, that's a dining room!Photo: 189. What if it was too cool out to swim in the outdoor pool? Well, you would need an equally impressive indoor pool, right? This one is underneath the tennis courts and marks the end of the "Experience tour."Photo: 190. The next ten shots were all taken at the Piedras Blancas site that harbors a growing colony of elephant seals. It's just a few miles north of the turnoff for the Hearst Castle, and right off of Highway 1. When we visited this spot five years ago, I had absolutely no idea these seals were here! I just saw a bunch of cars in the lot and figured there must be something interesting there. Imagine our surprise when we first peered over the fence you see in this photo! This time, I was prepared to get some good long looks. I spent about an hour watching them the first evening I rolled into the San Simeon area ... and then again, the next morning, for another hour or so, right after the Hearst Castle tour. What fun! If you're driving up or down Highway 1, this is an absolute must stop. Since we were there before, they have extended the walkway in both directions from the parking lot, giving much more close up views of the seals and all their interesting behaviors.Photo: 191. The colony here began in 1990 and the first pups were born two years later. Since then, the colony has grown to 16,000 and about 4000 pups are born each year (please correct me if I am recalling the numbers incorrectly). They were hunted to near extinction in the 1800s for their blubber ... so it's a real success story to see their numbers bounce back so well.Photo: 192. At this time of year, most of the e-seals (as they are called by locals, apparently) are "weaners," young seals left on the beaches by their mothers, who have headed out to the open sea on long migrations to hunt for squid and fish. Their fathers migrate even further, all the way up to Alaska. Both parents will return to these beaches in the early winter to breed.Photo: 193. You can clearly see here where their name "elephant" comes from. The males have a much larger proboscis (nose) and the females, when they come back to breed, swim up and down the shores looking for a male who has a really, really big proboscis ... she then chooses him for a mating partner and the winning males can then have a harem of up to 20-30 females.Photo: 194. What a good napping position!Photo: 195. These weaners are in the process of molting and thinning down, to be streamlined for their first ventures out to the open sea to feed on their own.Photo: 196. The young males are frequently barking at each other in fun, noisy displays ... essentially practicing for subsequent years, when they are much larger - up to 3000-5000 pounds! - and battles with other males will help them protect their harems, if indeed, they are so fortunate.Photo: 197. What strange looking creatures! For more info, here's a useful site ... http://www.bigsurcalifornia.org/elephant-seals.htmlPhoto: 198. There were quite a few ground squirrels around the parking lot and nearby fence. They must have been fed often by tourists because they are rather bold, coming right up to your shoes and begging for food.Photo: 199. The turkey vultures on the elephant seal beaches were also very interesting to watch for awhile. The middle vulture here is feeding on a dead e-seal pup ... and the vultures were in constant squabbles over who got to feed in any one moment. The helpful docents explained that the vultures help "clean up" the beaches. Sorry if this image is distressing ... for me, it's all just part of nature.Photo: 200. During my last full day of this trip, on my drive southward, I stopped off in Morro Bay for a couple hours of walking around. Here's Morro Rock, as seen from a beach just north of town. It's an ancient volcanic peak.Photo: 201. Morro Bay is a working harbor, with many fishing boats. Morro Rock is a protected bird sanctuary and there are nesting peregrine falcons perched up high on the rock. I didn't see any falcons flying around while I walked around, but there were birders there with spotting scopes who were looking for them.Photo: 202. These blooming cacti, along the perimeter of Morro Rock caught my eye. By the way, that unsightly power plant in the distance was built in the 1950s, before environmental aesthetics became more important. It looks sort of jarring in such an otherwise scenic place.Photo: 203. The beach that abuts Morro Rock had several surfers riding the waves. ... So many ways to enjoy the ocean! Here's more info about Morro Bay, if interested ... http://www.pelicannetwork.net/morrobay.htmPhoto: 204. The next nine images are all from Montana de Oro State Park. It's just about a half hour drive south of Morro Bay and takes a little navigation to get to as, unlike most of the other state parks I've highlighted so far, it's not directly off of Highway 1. I got to spend several hours there exploring and came away pretty impressed. It's definitely worth the drive to get there. On the way to the seaside cliffs, you drive through this impressive eucalyptus forest.Photo: 205. HDR ...I stopped to take a closer look at the eucalyptus trees and there just happened to be a short sandy trail that took off from where I stopped. I followed it, on a whim, and was quickly rewarded with views of several eucalyptus trees that looked like they were out of a Lord of the Rings movie. What an interesting array of low, twisting branches, made all the more interesting by their mottled bark. I so enjoy little surprises like this.Photo: 206. I saw isolated smaller patches of the striking orange California poppies you see here, but this was one of the bigger patches, right on the trail that heads toward the cliffs. I sat down at trail's edge to compose a shot of the poppies and the yellow wild mustard plant behind them. A pretty shot, to be sure, but alas, I am pretty sure this is the exact spot at which I encountered poison oak! It's a week later now after the end of my trip, as I type out these captions ... and I am, unfortunately, still battling poison oak on the right side of my body, where I must have brushed up against the plant right here. There was a sign warning about poison oak, too, right at the start of the trail. You would think, at 51 years old, that I might have by now acquired enough wisdom to actually heed such warnings, but alas, sadly, that was not the case. Sigh ....Photo: 207. Montana de Oro SP has a very impressive seven-mile shoreline ... and I got to walk a couple miles of it. There were quite scenic cliffs to ponder down from and many small coves, as you can see here. Here's a link to the park ... http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=592Photo: 208. The roaring waves have carved quite a few arches, as you can see here ... it's really a beautiful walk and I highly recommend it, if you can spare the time.Photo: 209. This was a very good place to look at tidepools. I was there a couple hours before low tide, so I didn't get to see too much diversity, but even two hours out, it was still pretty good. You can see from this shot how easy it is to walk out on the exposed rock, with all sorts of snails, crabs and tiny fish moving about within the pools. ... And, oh, yes, thank you, little girl for bringing your long hair and bright yellow dress directly into my shot, as I was perched a little higher up, watching the waves carefully to see if it was safe to walk out on the rock without being surprised by a wave that might knock me over.Photo: 210. Here's another shot of the tidepool area. I put this image to show how careful you have to be, if you venture out to look for interesting critters. Even if the tide is moving out, rather than in, waves can be very unpredictable and it's best to not ever turn your back on the ocean. Believe me, I have had to learn this lesson the hard way on other similar trips along rocky coast. I tend to get a bit stupid when my camera is pulling me along and I have put myself in position several times where waves knocked me on my butt. I like to think I am at least a little smarter about waves these days!Photo: 211. Here's a giant green anemone from one of those tidepools.Photo: 212. ... And plenty of colorful snails.Photo: 213. My last destination for this eight day trip was Pismo Beach, close to San Luis Obispo. My motel was just a short drive from the beach and I wandered around near sunset for an hour or so. This boy seemed proud of his creation. You can see cars and trucks parked on the beach in the distance. This seemed to be a popular place for four wheel vehicles to go messing around on the dunes.Photo: 214. This photo was taken right after sunset. It was a Friday night and many groups had set up fires. Indeed, looking down the long beach, there was a string of bright lights - many roaring fires.Photo: 215. Well, I like to conclude trip web albums with a sunset photo, when I can. This is still Pismo Beach. I meant this whole album to be hopefully useful to others who might be planning a Monterey area/ Big Sur vacation. I imagine most of you would have stumbled upon this album via TripAdvisor. I certainly welcome followup questions about the choices I made while on this trip. If you have queries, please ask away within the TA link that led you here ... and I will try my best to answer shortly. The California Central Coast has so very much to offer outdoors enthusiasts ... what a gorgeous part of our country! I loved it there ... happy and safe travels to you. ... Mike