Thursday, May 29, 2014

Big Sur ~ Pacific Coast Highway ~ California

We left the wonderful world of Elephant seals and headed north on the Pacific Coast Highway with the sun shining down on us to make this another wonderful day. Our visits to the Big Sur region in the past had given us better opportunities to stop along the roadside as we had parked the RV and driven south with the truck only.  When driving north pulling a big RV, that changes the parking opportunities for sightseeing.

Big Sur California coastline
Big Sur follows about a 90 mile (140 km) stretch of road along the coast and the Santa Lucia Range on the Pacific Ocean south of the Monterey Peninsula.  The steep grade and rocky terrain offers very little flat land so there is not a lot of residential or commercial development through here

Gorda, Big Sur, California
We do see a few small settlements that offer accommodations or restaurants and the popular tourist gift stores.  There are three villages offering amenities but no big hotels there. Any homes that are here are out of view of the highway but I understand there are not a lot of those, either.  

Private driveway on Big Sur
The Big Sur Marathon is held yearly and sounds like a very popular marathon to participate in for those so inclined and that is not surprising, it is gorgeous along there.  The road is closed to traffic while the marathon is on and the views are amazing!

Bixby Bridge, Pacific Coast Highway
The Bixby Bridge was constructed in 1932 and was part of eighteen years of construction to build the road in this area. It wasn’t until this time that there was much traffic using this route, at all but that changed drastically when the road opened in 1937 and it was then closed down during winter months.

Rocky shoreline of Big Sur
The road has some hills and lots of curves, it is a winding road which makes it very popular for car and bicycle tours but can be a bit challenging for the big RV’s in some parts of this road.  I don’t recall seeing any big semi trucks on here and the traffic is fairly light considering the location so not a difficult drive.

Mesh safety netting
Some of the banks along the roadside have loose rock and gravel, there has been occasion to close the road due to slides in the past but the netting used helps to hold some of the small rock contained, preventing it from falling and creating problems on the road.

Big Sur, California
Now there are millions of visitors a year as it is a big tourist attraction along this part of the Pacific Coast Highway.  The views are amazing. It is an easy drive from either end of Big Sur so can easily become a day trip from the Monterey Peninsula or locations south of Big Sur. 

Colorful fauna
The camping facilities are there but the ones we could see on our travels look limited to tents and small RV’s.  We might find it difficult to get a place to park our big RV but there are some campgrounds and cabins available along the Big Sur coastline.  I would suggest they might have to be booked well in advance with the limited numbers available.

Blue waters of Big Sur
There are nine state parks on Big Sur but with very limited access to the beach.  This is to preserve the natural habitat and there are some conservation areas offshore to preserve the marine life. 
It was a great drive even with the big RV’s and taking photos out the window.  We were on our way to our next stop for an overnight stay where we watched the sunset from the beach.  See more of our travels on the Pacific Coast Highway here.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Pacific Coast Highway ~ California

We left the great city of San Diego to make our way north up the coast of Southern California.  We had done this before so we would be stopping and staying in different places this time.  With so many great places to visit on the 800km (500 mi) drive to San Francisco, it is almost impossible to do it in one trip, always more to see ‘next time’.  First we have to pass through the cities before we get to enjoy the ocean.

City freeway sights in Southern California
We followed I-5 through the cities in the Los Angeles area to Hwy 101.  The freeway and city sights are the main view, including the ‘Hollywood” sign in the distance as we made our way.  Once we passed through the Santa Barbara area we had few opportunities to see the ocean yet but enjoyed the interior scenery on Hwy 101 before spending the night at Buellton, CA.

Morro Bay, California
Our first close-up view of the ocean from the highway is on Day 2 at Morro Bay after passing Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo, where we turned onto Hwy 1, the Pacific Coast Highway.  The clouds are dark and we get a bit of rain but we manage to find brighter skies up ahead and many more beautiful ocean views.

San Simeon, California
The beach up ahead is calling to us.  We decide it is time to have lunch so we park and take some time to stroll along the beach.  What we did not realize until a park warden told us just as we were leaving is that no dogs are allowed on the beach, “even the little cute ones”.  He also told us that we’d walked through a protected area for the Snow Plover but no signs were there to tell us about these restrictions.  Rule-breaking rebels, are we!  He said he’d get someone to post signs.
Hovering hawk
The beach had a few visitors but the one I noticed first was the hawk flying over.  He may have seen “the little cute one” and thought he would check her out for lunch but he passed over without a problem.  I am guess this to be a red-shouldered hawk.

Weathered rocky shoreline
Maggie was oblivious to the hawk and enjoying her walk along the beach, on the trail of something interesting in the rocks.  The rock erosion shows years of sand and waves splashing up against them.  It is amazing how much force that would have to erode to this degree, they look like the bubbles in the Aero chocolate bar.

Hearst Castle at San Simeon, CA
The Hearst Castle is a big tourist draw in this area.  We’ve never been but there is always a parking lot full of cars and buses bringing many there to have a tour and see the splendor of the place.  We did once tour the parking lot, though.

Elephant Seal plays in the water
A highlight of the day was our stop to see the elephant seals.  I’ve put together a page of them, click here to view that and enjoy.  We could have stayed there for hours watching them all enjoy their playtime in the water or naps in the sunshine.

Pelicans visit
We did see some brown pelicans fly by.  These are the smallest of the pelican family and found along the coastal waters of the western and southern states.  They dive into the water for their food, unlike the white pelicans but are no competition for the food supply with the fasting elephant seals, causing no disturbance for them.
Vintage car parade
We saw a vintage car in the Elephant Seal parking lot but enjoyed seeing many more as we headed north along the Pacific Coast Highway for our next stop.  We must have seen several dozen vintage cars that had driven down through the Big Sur area.

California shoreline
We’re about to drive up the winding Pacific Coast Highway of Big Sur where we will have few opportunities to pull over but we can enjoy the view of the water from the scenic drive.  Our destination is Marina Dunes north of Monterey and Carmel.  I will share some of the sights of the day on another page.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Elephant Seals ~ San Simeon ~ California

We love rv’ing because it allows us to enjoy so many wonderful things on our travels. One of the most recent was a springtime travel north from southern California on Highway 1 as we followed the California and Oregon shores.  This highway has views and sights that we could never tire of and so many locations that are wonderful to explore.

A beach of seals
The best stop of the day was to see the Elephant Seals as they lay on the beach as far as the eye could see.  Approaching from the parking area it is quite amazing to see so many but my first glance did have me wondering if I was looking at driftwood or seals!  There are approximately 17,000 seals that will stop at this San Simeon Piedras Blancas rockery.

A sandy seal love-in
A closer look and there was no doubt they were seals, alive and well.  They love to cover themselves with sand so there is always one flipping the sand up over their back or someone else’s.  They don’t stay still for long, they wiggle around a lot, some of them just can’t seem to get close enough to another.
Elephant seal playtime
The young males romp and play together, mainly in the water, which is their way of learning their life skills.  The elephant seals will spend only a short time during mating and breeding time here and then spend 8-10 months of the year in the open ocean; they will dive 300-700 metres (1000-2000’) for their food.
Almost naptime
The time spent at the rockery is a time of fasting for all seals.  They’ve been out to sea for all those months and come here to give birth, breed, fast and molt.  It takes about a month to molt and during this fasting time, male and females lose about one third of their weight.

Feeling that warm sun
The pups, called “weaners” are usually born a few days after the female’s arrival and weigh between 40-60 lbs.  They fatten up quickly on the richest milk of the mammal world to be about four times their birth weight before their mother breeds then leaves and the pup’s ‘fast’ then begins.  This will last about 8-10 weeks and they will lose about one third of their weight.

Alone but not for long 
It is during their fasting time that the pups teach themselves how to swim before they head off into their big sea world.  The females will grow up to 725 kg (1600 lbs) and the males up to 2268 kg (5000 lbs).  We saw no adult males on our stop as they’ve come and gone by now as have the adult females.  As cute and cuddly as these pups look, that will change once they are adults, far moreso for the males.  They no longer look cuddly!
Pups packed in like sardines
These little “weaners” are enjoying the sun and sand, likely after a romp in the water and playtime and it won’t be long before these days are over and they set out to sea.  It is amazing to realize that these Elephant seals were once an endangered species for their oil-rich blubber. When you see all of them out here, as thankfully they are now protected, it is an incredible sight to see.

Pelicans seen flying by
This Elephant seal colony began when 2 dozen seals arrived in November 1990 due to overcrowding at their former homes.  The numbers grew steadily and in January 1992 the first pup was born, the following year there were 50 born.  In 1996 there were almost 1000 pups born and “Friends of the Elephant Seal” formed the following year and added improvements to the area for viewing.  The most recent count I found was 3800 pups born in 2006.

Piedras Blancas Lighthouse
The Piedras Blancas Light Station is situated about a mile north of the rockery.  The lighthouse was built like the east coast style in 1875.  Due to damage done in the earthquake of 1948, the top three layers were removed so it is now 9 m (30’) shorter than the original.  There are guided tours offered but we did not stop so that is on the list for our next visit to this area.

If your travels allow you, I would recommend you make a stop to view the Elephant seals.  The number of seals there will be determined by the time of year you visit, we were there the beginning of April.  This rockery is located on Hwy 1 just 19 km (12 miles) north of Cambria or about 6 km (4 miles) north of the entrance to Hearst Castle and at the south end of Big Sur on the California coast.  There is a large parking area, it is open all year round and has no admission charge.  Don’t forget your camera!  Follow us as we drive north on the Pacific Coast Highway.


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