Tag

california

Our Journey, Photography

Last Days in California

Last Days in California
Last Days in California
Last Days in California
Last Days in California
Last Days in California
Last Days in California
Last Days in California
Last Days in California
Last Days in California

The week went by rather quickly due to a busy work schedule and the numerous outings to watch the sea otters in the evenings. On Thursday, we were able to join the The Sea Goddess Whale Watching Tour and based on the past few days it looked like sightings were plentiful. After a late start getting on the road, we hurried over to Elkhorn Slough Harbor to catch the boat. They had clear rules stating they wouldn’t wait and would leave without you and we didn’t want to be those people. We quickly grabbed our tickets and scurried to the boat just as they were closing up. Only a minute or so after we got on, they began to push off and before long we were out of the harbor and out to sea. With luck, we almost immediately spotted a pair of humpback whales hunting just outside the harbor and rather close to the shore. Our captain was extremely adept at knowing where the whales would pop up next and successfully maneuvered the ship to give us the optimal views of them as they came to the surface, blowing spouts of water high into the air. For all their size, the whales were noticeably graceful creatures. They would come to the surface, take a few deep breaths, lift their tails in a fluke and dive back downwards to hunt for more food. The only trace left behind were small motionless wakes called fluke prints that were created by their massive size. We followed them for a good hour before the captain decided to do a quick exploration further out.

We made a wide sweeping arc across the Monterey Canyon hoping to scout additional whales but with limited luck. Despite the fact there was another ship following a pod of Orcas three miles out, the likelihood of getting there in time was minimal. The Sea Goddess’ speed couldn’t compare to that of an Orca, and we wouldn’t be able to catchup to them. As the sun came out we noticed thousands of Moon Jellies just beneath the surface as well as large schools of anchovies that glittered and shimmered as they swirled past. After some time, the captain decided it was best to turn back and stick with the two humpbacks discovered earlier.

As we neared the whales again, we noticed countless splashes around the whales. Very much like a pack of dogs, sea lions were moving in a large group along the surface and diving down in a synchronized routine as they hunted with the humpbacks. When they burst up to the surface again, it almost always meant that the whales were not far behind. The sea lions traced the movements of the whales which made easy pickings of the anchovies that the whales missed. This clearly proved to be a much easier method of hunting than trying to chase the schools themselves.
Every now and then, the Humpbacks would decide to stay at the surface a bit longer, turning on their sides and raising their fins up out of the water, as a dancer raises their arms in a slow circular arc, before turning and bringing it back down. A friendly wave of sorts to show off for the boat of onlookers. They had no fear of the boat, at one point swimming directly beneath it making everyone aboard seem to run from one end to the next in hopes of catching a closer glimpse of these gentle aquatic giants. Before long, the captain informed us that our tour was over and after watching them surface one last time, we made our way back to the harbor as the humpbacks turned and made their way further out to sea. Even if the tour was three hours long, it didn’t feel like long enough and I sorely wished that we could dedicate a full day to watching these beautiful water dancers.

The next day was our last in the area and due to the rainy weather we decided to spend the evening visiting the Monterey. When we arrived, the downtown area was packed with people hustling about in the drizzle. We made our way down the main street to the aquarium where we found numerous families enjoying their afternoon. Children squealed in delight as a scuba diver fed the multitude of fish and sharks behind one of the larger tanks simulating a kelp forest. The whole aquarium seemed to be geared towards getting younger children involved and interested in marine wildlife. One of my favorite parts was a section that had a variety of tanks full of jellyfish that were floating about, a slight current created to give them movement as they moved in everlasting circles. As much as they terrify and scare me, I can’t help but find them fascinating and beautiful in their own way. Although the whole aquarium is lovely, it seemed like it was had far more to do for kids than adults.

While we were sad to depart California, it was time for us to continue our journey ever northward. The drive from Moss Landing to Bandon Beach was something like out of a dream. When I was younger, I used to imagine rainforests to be a bit like what you see in the Jurassic Park movies. Rich ferns in the undergrowth of moss covered logs, mist seeming to float about between ancient trees. More so than anywhere else I have visited, the coast of northern California and Oregon fulfilled these picturesque imaginings. As we moved further north, we drove through what exists of the remaining stands of coastal redwood trees. Many of which were draped in thick moss and the ground surrounding them was covered a mix of gnarled roots and branches. Eventually, the trees gave way to coastal vistas and the rugged coastline. Waves smashed against giant sea stacks as we passed by craggy beaches littered with countless bleached logs. While it was a simple drive, it was definitely one of the better ones for scenery. When we arrived, the sky was overcast with seemingly ever present clouds to account for the moisture that gave so much life to the forests nearby. We will be spending the next few weeks working our way up the Oregon coast and enjoying the coastal life for a bit.

Our Journey, Photography

Big Sur & Sea Otters

Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters

The drive from Yosemite to Moss Landing was rather long and simple. It was mostly on the same road all the way until the exit where our campground was located. The KOA we stayed at was large but provided easy access to the highway with a couple of small shopping centers nearby. We also were not far from the Moss Landing State Beach, which made day trips out to see the wildlife extremely easy.

Once we had settled in, we took some time to go down to Moss Landing State Beach, and right from the start you could see a raft of sea otters floating about on their backs just by the entrance to Elkhorn Slough. They were absolutely fascinating, flipping about in the water, twirling with stunning grace and dexterity. They would move about easily with a small kick of their webbed feet as they floated on their backs. Some of them would come together and join hands, settling down to grab a quick nap and floating on the gentle tide. Seals were basking on the sand not far from a small marina, quietly sleeping for the most part, but a few were occasionally swimming about not far from the sea otters. They would stick their heads out for a look and make a wailing sound before diving back into the waters. This became our favorite place to haunt and watch the wildlife. Going down to the rocks at an outcrop, you could see thousands of tiny jellyfish bobbing about as the waves moved them. You could also sometimes find massive starfish clinging to the rocks, bigger than your hand, bright red and purple hues surrounded by a tiny army of jellyfish tendrils and pieces of loose kelp. That evening while watching the otters we met another photographer who was also out attempting to capture images of the playful creatures. He gave us a some information about local areas we should check out as well as discussing great places around the world for landscape and wildlife photography. He also informed us of a couple worthwhile tours in the area to increase the odds of seeing wildlife.

The next day after work, we decided to take an excursion along the coast just south of Monterey. The long, winding road over-looking the coastline of Big Sur is a wonderful day drive. It seems as though there are continuous magical views around each and every corner. Sometimes it’s lush pastoral hills rolling towards the ever moving sea, sometimes jagged and harrowing cliff faces with waves crashing against them. It’s a slow, meandering drive but it is varied enough to make it seem like it goes by quite quickly. We made our way down the coast in hopes of reaching McWay Falls while racing the sun looming on the horizon. We took a few stops along the way to admire the bridges that had been built where the land had been eroded away by water and time. Here and there you would spot recent evidence of the rock and mudslides that have caused so many problems of late.

When we finally arrived at McWay Falls, we were sad to see it had also been impacted by the weather. Although the waterfall cascading into the sea inside the little cove was incredible, it was far beyond our reach. Due to a series of landslides, the pathways and boardwalks that had been built to give people a complete view of the falls were blocked off by a fence. Streams of tape proclaiming “CAUTION” fluttered in the breeze and criss crossed over the area where the ground had heaved downwards toward the sea and began pushing the structure away from the base. The only paths that looked even remotely viable for a better vantage point, also looked extremely dangerous and likely would have caused further damage to the site. In the past, people have died trying to reach that picturesque beach with the waterfall, and we had no intention of meeting a similar fate. Footprints on the beach and a peace sign made of rock down below seemed to taunt us of the fact that others had been able to make the journey down, probably before the landslide, but we would not be so lucky.

When we had first pulled up to the view point, a young woman also out to shoot the sunset informed us that the trail we were looking for had been blocked off by fences for restoration areas. She had a rich accent of a Londoner, and we chatted about British humor and traveling. She informed me that she was a bit anxious, as she had hitch hiked her way to the location, and was not sure if she would be able to find a ride home. When we finished our photos she was still there and we gladly offered her a ride. It was getting dark, and we didn’t want her to be stranded along the road trying to find a ride back. As we rode along in the truck she told us a bit more about herself. She was a travel photographer based out of Singapore but had grown up in London, she didn’t like driving, so she hitch hiked almost exclusively. We chatted about places we had both been to, places we recommended, and throughly enjoyed her company.

I was a bit sad to say goodbye when we dropped her off at her hotel, but glad she had made it back safely and we had ample room in our truck to give her a ride back. It reminded me vividly of the couple we had picked up in Grand Staircase Escalante, so desperate for help they had considered riding on the roof of the Jeep we had rented just to get back to their car and out of the heat of the desert. We had squashed into the Jeep and the poor woman half sat in my lap as we jostled about in the cramped space. If we had had our truck back then, it would have been a much more comfortable experience for all parties, but I wouldn’t have turned them away either way. Before we began traveling I never really considered picking up a hitch hiker. Too many horror stories of people slitting your throat after asking for a ride, always being told never to pick someone up from the side of the road. Now that we travel more, I’ve come to appreciate that sometimes it’s ok to take a small risk to help people, particularly in cases where it could mean life or death for those stranded.

A couple days later we were able to arrange a tour of the Elkhorn Slough by boat. The boat was an open topped pontoon, bench covered, and flat, making it ideal for being able to see everything around. A phone call to the owners of Elkhorn Slough Safari and Brandon found out that they had a special seat in the very back for photographers. It gave him the ability to stand up whenever he wished to get shots from either side of the craft. The Captain was a good spirited man who loved to make jokes. Our two naturalists who were on board were knowledgable, and helped create fun activities for the children on board while imparting their information.

As soon as we set out we saw an abundance of sea lions stacked on top of one another like an unceremonious dog-pile upon anything they were able to reach that floated in the Harbor. Some were rather small, which we were told were mostly the females which comprised the harems of the males. The few males we did see however, were massive. Glittering sleek fur, rounded domed heads, hulking bodies, and loud cries that showed rows of large and sharp teeth. A scuffle would churn up the piles of sea lions every now and then and would raise into loud, guttural growls and barks before one of them was driven off their perch and into the water. Very quickly the rest would re-settle into their piles and sleep again. Some of them swam in the water of the harbor, not at all disturbed by the presence of the boat.

Leaving the narrower part of the harbor, the amount of sea lions petered off and a stench immediately smacked into your face from the blowing wind. On abandoned pylons of a once destroyed old pier, were nests holding Brandt’s cormorants. It was the middle of breeding season and dozens of nests holding females were to be found on the tops of every pole. We were told that the smell was because the nests primary building component was actually their poop. It made for a very fishy, pungent aroma. The males were finding materials by diving into the waters and pulling up chunks of kelp to present to their mates. If the female approved, she would take his building material and add it to the nest. The male would puff up his throat, a vibrant teal blue patch just under his beak, and show his pride at having brought back his prize for her and providing for their future offspring. Brandt’s cormorants are not the most consciences birds though, as a good majority of the material found in the nest is found to have been stolen from neighboring nests. The males seemed almost to pose for the camera as they puffed up and preened themselves readily and eagerly at their audience.

Once we had drifted past the pylons, the naturalists pointed out the group of sea otters we had been photographing and visiting over the past few days and gave us some more information about them. The raft we had been observing was apparently known as the Bachelor Raft, consisting almost entirely of males. As we passed under the bridge into Elkhorn Slough proper, we were greeted by the sight of female sea otters tending to tiny fuzzy balls of fur that were their pups. The pups we were told, are rather helpless until they get to be older. Their fur is so buoyant when they are young, that the only thing they can do is float, they can’t swim, or dive beneath the water, leaving them rather helpless without their mother. Their mother will drag them along trying to teach them to swim, how to tend their fur, grooming and caring for their fur till they can do it themselves, and feed them. More often than not the baby sits upon its mothers belly as she swims about on her back. When the mother leaves them to hunt, they make tiny wailing cries which we heard to a round sound of “Aww” and happy squeals from the onlookers. The naturalists said that because of this they call them “wailers” as they float about, sometimes wrapped up in kelp so mother can find them again. The males do not take part in raising the pups, instead they will actually ‘kidnap’ a pup, holding it ransom until mother returns, and only give the pup back if she will give up whatever food she has hunted for. The mothers we saw were never far from their pups, and would hold them tightly as we passed by. One mother was struggling with an older pup who had learned to swim and would rather play then pay attention to anything else, much to the mothers agitation from what we could see as she struggled to keep herself above water between her offsprings pounces.

As our journey took us further inland the shore became dotted with numerous seals. We learned that the reason there were such large seals was because it was time for the female seals to give birth, and so they would swim into the safer waters of Elkhorn Slough to give birth. We saw a few of the swollen mothers basking on the shore for a rest as well as a few that had already given birth. Their pups were small, fuzzy, wrinkled, and pudgy little things. We had the luck to see one suckling milk from their mother as we passed by. The mother watched us closely but made no move as it might disturb the feeding pup, and we kept a safe distance so as not to upset them.

Towards the end of the journey they had a few more activities for the kids, cookies, hot chocolate and coffee as we headed back towards the marina. The naturalists pointing out birds and a restoration project to help replace land that had been washed away by erosion to make sure the wildlife would continue to have a safe spot to breed and raise pups. Overall it was an extremely pleasant tour and I would highly recommend it to anyone who goes out that way looking for a chance to get up close shots of the wildlife.

Later in the week we will be participating in a whale tour before heading up to San Francisco and eventually to the Oregon coast.

Our Journey, Photography

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park

It was quite a relief to watch the arid and bleak scenery of Death Valley melt away into the green smatterings of plants here and there. Before long, the views along the roadside had fully transitioned into lush, rolling hills, sprinkled with rocky outcrops and dotted with trees. Seeing the green grass rustling in the wind made me realize just how long it had been since we had seen real grass, not just a tiny dot of it that comprised of the dog runs in Vegas or the fake grass that people roll out in front of their RV’s. This was thick, green, and full of life. I wanted to run out into the middle of any number of the passing fields and roll around. It seemed like an eternity since the ground had been anything but baked earth or the red dusty sand that had grown so familiar these past few months. Brown and white cows were in abundance, casually meandering through the picturesque landscape as they chewed their cud. Little calves pranced and jumped about in joy, playing as their mothers watched over them. It made me smile as I looked out over the hills as far as the eye could see with clouds rolling across the sky promising rain. The initial phase of the journey to Yosemite was comfortable and smooth with the promise of a new environment.

It was a long day working our way south of the Sierras and back up again. Nearly eight hours into our ascent our journey took an unexpected turn. A man, a truck and a sign all indicated the same thing – “Road Closed”. Despite the lack of warnings on the roads leading up to this junction, the DOT employee was able to explain to us that the entire corridor up ahead was washed out. The unusual amount of rain that California had received over the past couple weeks had wreaked havoc on many of the area roads and bridges. Unfortunately for us, this meant we would need to turn around and take a detour that would add a couple hours to our trip. The detour led us directly into Yosemite instead of skirting the western edge as we had planned. While the views were of course incredible, it had already been a long day and now the sun was setting. More than once I thought the RV was going to scrape against the edge of the cliffs and rock faces that had been carved out to make way for the road. The constant winding track, inclines, and steep downhills made the wheels of the RV send up small billows of smoke as we slowed our descent around precariously tight corners. Several hours past our original time for reaching our destination, and we had finally reached the RV park. Brandon took out his phone to check for cell coverage and/or WiFi only to discover that there was absolutely no connection. No internet means no work which forced us to have to make a new set of calculations.

Without data coverage we were limited to what information we had cached on our offline maps. We suspected that if we headed west we would increase our odds of cell coverage as that was the only direction where there was any towns of substantial size. Half an hour later we were starting to get limited coverage and decided to pull off and call around to see if we could find someplace else to spend the night. After a few phone calls to the different campsites around the area, we learned that not just the roads were flooded out but also the majority of the nearby towns and campgrounds. The best suggestion any one had was to head to the town of Sonora as it was high enough up to avoid most of the damage. It was another hour away from Yosemite but without any better options, it was our last hope. After doing a bit of research we learned that there are no RV parks in Sonora. At this point though, we needed a place to stay so that Brandon could work in the morning and decided to start calling hotels. We found a Best Western in Sonora that was pet friendly and had space for an RV, our two key requirements. The hour was more of an hour and a half with the RV due to the steep, winding roads leading out of the western edge of the Sierras. By the time that we arrived we were thankful to be done for the day, even if that meant leaving our house in the parking lot. We packed up our electronics and setup a worksite in the hotel figuring we could spend the remainder of the week working from the hotel before moving back up to the campground for the weekend.

Sonora was a nice little town with a large variety of restaurants and luxuries that we had been lacking while out in the more remote parts of the desert. On Tuesday, after Brandon had finished work for the day, we headed back up to Yosemite to spend the late afternoon and evening in the park. The drive was infinitely easier without the RV and we made good time, but it was still a two hour drive to reach the places we wanted to be inside the park. This arrangement was less than ideal and meant that our visits into Yosemite were considerably less viable than we had originally planned. We came to the conclusion that we would have to wait for the weekend for more thorough excursions into the park. The rest of the week seemed to meld together as we kept ourselves cooped up inside the hotel until the weekend. The one major benefit of this was an opportunity to catchup on going through photos and a bit of relaxation.

Once Friday rolled around we were eager to get everything packed away and loaded up into the RV to get back to things. The drive back up to our original RV accommodations was rather grueling, and again spent much of the time wondering if we would leave some paint on the abundant, jutting rock faces. Once we were settled into the campground and got situated, we realized it was one of the nicer ones we had been to. There were a very limited number of campsites, but they had plenty of room, a small plot of grass for the dogs to enjoy just outside our door, and the peace and quiet of the outdoors. Saturday we spent the day traveling throughout Yosemite, taking our time to get pictures of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and another attempt at some sunset photos. It was surprisingly busy in the park throughout the weekend which we later learned was due to it being spring break for all of the schools in California. Despite the mix of sunny and cloudy weather we were still able to sneak in a few shots in the handful of sunny moments that existed. Next year, I suspect we will be coming back but will have a better idea of where we need to stay and can plan a little better. We will also know to avoid spring break so we can enjoy the park while it’s more empty.

Sunrise the next morning was long and drawn out. Although we got up at 4:30 AM to make sure we would make it in time for the sunrise, we ended up waiting until almost 7:30 AM before the sun finally managed to burst forth and spread its light over the valley. There was a long line of photographers patiently waiting with their cameras fixated on the horizon. Darting in between you would find couples trying to grab a quick snap or selfie before getting bored and moving on. After the sunrise we made a final loop around the park and took a few more shots of the primary falls as the light began to illuminate the cascading water. It was beautiful to see how the shadows of the water falling down the rock face morphed and swirled in the shifting light.

Back at the RV, we packed things up and prepared to hit the road. Due to our experiences over the past week we decided that we would be better off finding a location that was more centralized to areas we could shoot during the week. Instead of spending the next week holed up in the hotel again, we decided to head to the California coast just north of Monterey. This would give us opportunities to visit with sea otters, whales and other local creatures before continuing our journey ever northward.