California

The Coast of California

Aaaaah, Blue! Beaming from the horizon is blue. We are high on the last of the beautiful California hills. Grass and forest pastures mingle and role several thousand feet down towards the coast. This is the first time we see the Pacific all year. So exciting, so beautiful, I work the breaks so as to not lose control of our trusted minivan, as an impatient car screams around us and downward toward the coast.

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Cambria. We sleep without the tent fly able to gaze at the stars on the pleasant night. Michelle wakes me up in the middle of the quiet night… “I think there is something getting into the cooler – must be a raccoon.” She peaks up out of her sleeping bag and is face to face with a skunk! “Ahhhh” I hear. “Duck she wispers hoarsly!” She tucks back into her sleeping bag protecting Ila. What is ducking going to do I wonder? A bit later we look again, the skunk backed away and for some reason it is my job to quietly sneak out of the tent without stirring the skunk and put our cooler in the minivan. It is a standoff skunk vs. man. With a raccoon I would make a bunch of noise to scare the critter but the skunk is a much more delicate situation. In the morning we learn about the destruction…the dexterious skunk somehow, opened the cooler and made off with Michelle, Elias and Ila the eggs, the turkey jerkey and a really good bar of chocolate. Jacob celebrated the miracle that the bacon was still there.

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We pack up and drive north on Route 1 with its mysterious curves and spectacular views. We see an unexpected sign for “Elephant Seal Viewing”. Our curiosity is peaked and we pull over park and head to a boardwalk overlooking a beach completely covered with huge Elephant Seals. Loud thunderous growls, they are hilarious from our comfortable distance. We watch and we learn little Ms. I giggling imitating the seals. What’s next? Wildlife viewing was not on my radar. We head north.

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The hills that our coastal highway is following steepen, as the clouds thicken ahead. “Is there really a road that continues along that coast?” The ocean gives birth to increasingly steeper and more other worldly hills as we enter the fog and I begin to yawn. Yes it has been very busy and very active as of late and I am beginning to feel tired. It’s no longer sunny out as we wind in and out of mountain ravines and ridge lines, why am I so tired? “Whale!” Jacob yells out, we pull over with more excitement of viewing exotic wild life. Three maybe four-hundred feet below there are whales out at sea. We witness one blowing water into the air, haha so cool. Finally we file back into the car and the dizzying ride continues.
Lime Kiln state park is on a creek in a deep ravine with Redwoods that opens up to a cove on the Pacific. We play by a stream from the forest making its way to the ocean, Michelle’s favorite type of confluence, freshwater meeting the sea. Waves splash and happy kids disperse. Camp is set but it’s still early, why are we so tired? Michelle yawns. “Let’s go to the beach, it’s only yards away”. I lie down and drift away to the sound of waves, sea gulls and Jacob and Elias wrestling, running, building with rocks and sand. Now I’m driving in the desert again, driving towards Los Angeles, but now it’s on fire, why am I driving there if it’s on fire? I notice that my wheels aren’t touching the ground but I’m speeding way above the desert and there are piles of animals, they have teeth, they’re like huge crocodiles covering the entire horizon and the snapping noises they make are frightening.

“Daddy, check it out there are Sea Otters out there.”

“What?” I pop up. “Sea Otters?”, “Weird dream” I brush it off when I understand what Elias is yelling and eagerly look through the binocs. Sure enough there are a few Sea Otters floating around on their backs in the waves. “Wow, they’re big.” I concede to make it clear that I’m excited. After awhile I stop watching, I notice Michelle is at camp cooking dinner. “It’s cloudy here.” I think to myself and lie back down. Drifting waves, drifting sounds I am now on the top of a huge cliff. I’m above the clouds. “So this is what it looks like above the clouds”. I think about jumping but then the back of some really big animal surfaces. “I can’t float like that” I think, “I’ll just sink to the bottom.”

“Dinner!” Michelle yells. I realize I was snoring and again work to shake off the sleep.

We stayed at Lime Kiln another full day and night enjoying the otters and the occasional Harbor Seal that popped it’s head out of the water as curious about us as we about it. The spell of the Big Sur coast was impossible to escape as we drifted in and out of different stages of our dreams. Even when I was awake I had to pinch myself, was I really awake? It was probably somewhere between dreaming and awake now that I reflect back on it. On day three the clouds still thick as if they are always there, the noise of sea birds, waves and the rushing creek mingle with the sleepiness. We pack up and drive onward, winding north on Route 1. Slowly, the clouds intermittently give way to the sun. The spell is broken like Rip Van Winkle waking from his sleep we start remembering where we’re heading and began thinking about our itinerary again. That’s right, my cousins in Menlo Park, Michelle’s brother Simon is meeting us in San Francisco after that, our trip is only weeks from over. But it is certainly not over. Today we’re headed to The Monterey Bay Aquarium.

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The aquarium is an absolute treat for all of us. The mysteries of both the deep ocean and coastal life are beautifully explained throughout with jelly fish of all sorts, big, amazing and bizarre fish and answers to our questions about the cool local wildlife we had been seeing.
The Elephant Seal is not only humorous and entertaining to watch but they are incredible. Sometimes weighing as much as 6,000 pounds they can spend more time without air than any other non Cetacean mammal (whales and Dolpins). They have been recorded ad depths at over 7,000 feet deep in the Ocean.

It turns out the whales we saw were most likely the Blue Whales. They are the largest living thing to have ever existed weighing up towards 170 tons. What we probably saw was a mom and her calves, being only a month and a half from peak viewing season it was not an uncommon viewing.

The animal that had our attention the longest was the incredible Sea Otter. The Sea Otter has the thickest fur of any animal in the world. They live in the kelp forests and are sustained by the life within the forest. It is also no surprise that we watched them floating around on their backs because they spend a majority of their lives doing exactly that, floating on their backs. They are one of the only animals in the animal kingdom to use tools, such as their use of rocks to pry open shell fish. They are also a keystone species keeping populations of Sea Urchins in check so they do not destroy the kelp forest. What I think is amazing is how big they are, the males can way close to 100 Ibs. That means that they were surely further than we thought while we watched them at the beach. That’s the same as the Blue Whales. Had they been a different species of whale we probably would never had seen them.

Here at the Monterey Aquarium there was one fish that caught our interest. We never saw the Great White Shark in the wild but we did watch a presentation that was fascinating. First of all they are not a coastal species like previously thought; they only come to the coasts to feed. From there they go out into the open ocean and do things that nobody quite understands as of yet. What we do know is almost all of them travel out to an area between Hawaii and Baja California referred to as the Great White Café. On their way out there they will dive as deep as 3,500 feet below sea level. Once they get there they never dive below 300 feet. It could be that they are mating, or perhaps that they are fishing but the fact remains that nobody knows.

Now back in the car we continue on to see family again and experience a bit of city life.

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Categories: Blue Whales, California, Camping, Car camping, Coast of California, Driving cross country, Ecosystems, Elephant seals, family, Family camping, Great White Shark, Monterey Aquarium, Sea Otters, Uncategorized, Wildlife | Leave a comment

Breakfast in the Sierras

“Hey Jacob you ready?” Elias yells enthusiastically

“Yea, let’s go!” Jacob answers.

Through the sound of a rushing creek I slowly awoke realizing the boys were off again on another adventure. My mind stirred and I remembered drifting to sleep the night before while watching Ila and Michelle’s eyes reflecting the bright white light of infinite stars above. I stretch big but not to disturb the girls since they’re still dreaming of stars, put on my blue shorts my blue T-shirt and greet the big sloping sage brush plain and the Sierra’s, aaaah, heaven.

“Coffee is ready hun!” I say after I hear Michelle starting to stir.
Both burners on the trusted Coleman stove are frying breakfast now. Michelle and I sip coffee together and deeply enjoy discussing nothing important.

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“I guess Ben is down in Prescott by now” I say. I am reflecting on the first day we arrived here – four days ago. We met up with Ben and Ruth, our friends who recently moved from Prescott to Mammoth Lakes, two hours to the North. Together we went on a hike after connecting that morning, up sage brush slopes with snow capped peaks towering way above. Big horn sheep ran on distant hillsides and wild flowers were in bloom as we hiked up a trail with no goal other than catching up. Ila attached their dogs leash to Ben coaxing him down the trail. We shared dinner, drinks, stories and soccer that night.

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“Pancakes and eggs are ready” I yell loud enough to make sure the boys can hear  as they play out in the sage near the creek. Do they really need to come now? No, Michelle and I can enjoy breakfast quietly, they’ll eat later.  They pretend they didn’t hear me regardless and keep playing.

This is more or less how we greeted the last five days, completely surrendered to the comfortable and spectacular scenery. Every morning soaking it up, letting it inspire us all over again and then diving into the next adventure.

On our third day here, we went up to the great craggy and snowy mountains that stand high above camp. Mount Whitney is the tallest of these peaks. It sits at just around fourteen and a half thousand feet in elevation higher than all of the mountain in the contiguous US. Although the mountains are high and craggy, this year they remained snow free for over 2,000 feet of our hike taking us to over 10,000 feet of elevation into the snow. Jacob and Elias were entranced by the seriousness of the mountains as they ran way ahead up the dry trails, telling each other stories. Michelle and I tried to keep up with Ila. Living in the desert for weeks without big mountain strolles made this hike all the more appealing.

“What a beautiful hike that was” I say while flipping one of the classic pancakes I’ve been making on a regular basis since we left Bellingham last year – about 4 inches in diameter and cooked deeply in butter. Not complete without eggs and really nothing is better when you’re hungry.

“Super fun,” Michelle agrees. “Still not enough to wear out the boys though,”  she adds.

It’s true that over the last month we’ve noticed a big jump in their fitness.  The way they were jogging up those switch backs was an incredible affirmation that this year of athletic family adventure is above and beyond what they would ever receive during a conventional year at home.  The mental and physical health benefits will reverberate through their entire lives.

 

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On the second morning I woke up to Jacob and Elias going on their morning adventure but this time it sounded like the adventure was taking place closer by.   A rush of panic hit me as I remembered it was Easter Sunday. “Darn – did the Easter Bunny do its job” I thought to myself.  Ahhh… I remembered that yes indeed, the Easter Bunny did do its job….almost. In the end it mistakenly gave Ila, Jacob’s treats and Jacob, Ila’s treat but I decide to forgive the bunny this time. I imagine the delivery rabbit was a cousin of the Easter Bunny anyway, the Desert Long Eared Jack Rabbit. Regardless, the boys found chocolates eggs, rabbits and other delights throughout the sage brush that morning. They also woke up to a basket stuffed full of treasures and dutifully helped their sister discover the magic as well.

“I wish we could stay here forever.” I say

Michelle knowing what I loved most of all agreed, “We should just load up one of those rocks in to our roof rack and take it with us.” She was talking about yesterday when we went rock climbing!

The basin that we are camped above is not just a sage brush plain but just below us there is a series of craggy broken hills called the Alabama Hills. The famous granite outcrops with a spell binding mountain back drop has been viewed by millions of people throughout the world as a classic western scene for dozens of big Hollywood productions. The gritty granite usually tops out on super cool 40 to 100 foot block of granite. The landscape of rocky climbs has no defined end to it.

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“Not even two months left on our trip.” Michelle says in a solemn tone.

“Ya”, I answer. “I miss it already.” We both know what I’ll miss, the same thing we’ll both miss, the mystery, the adventure, all of the excitement when planning the next stage, the endless time together just enjoying each others company. I wonder if we’ll do this back home. I wonder if the boys will continue to be so excited to see each other in the morning and go off to play indefinitely like they are now. I wonder if I’ll get the time and if they’ll get the time to go on one of these big adventures. We’ll still do this stuff I know, but not like this. Not every day.

“I wonder where we’ll live back in Bellingham.” She questions the universe out loud.

I shudder at the idea of going back to the day to day, but shoo the glimpse of it and my mind takes me back to the sage blowing on the breeze, the sound of rushing water and the two brothers out there absorbed in a close friendship. Then my mind moves on to where we are going.

“Can you believe that there are over 30 million people on the other side of that mountain range?” I inquire. It was hard to fathom considering how absolutely barren our current landscape was, but in that still moment it hit me. That single mountain barrier is holding back one of the most densely populated regions of our country.

“I’m excited about tomorrow.” I say

“Me too” Michelle answers with a mutual understanding. We are referring to something other than lots of people that lies on the other side of that mighty ridge line. Something else that we haven’t seen very much of for quite some time and I know we all miss quite dearly:

TREES!

Categories: Adventure, adventure geology, adventure travel, California, Camping, Family camping, Family Climbing, Homeschooling, Mt. Whitney, Rock Climbing, Rock climbing kids, Sierra Nevada Mountains | 1 Comment

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