Continuing on our visit to Ano Nuevo we’re heading down the trail towards the point and the elephant seals.
(Click on the photos for larger versions)
To the right of the path was a small pond. Further on there is a wooden viewing platform with information boards about the birds which frequent the pond and a couple of rare visitors which have been spotted there. Garter Snakes and the endangered the California Red-legged Frog have made their homes here.
A trail to Cove Beach is off to the left. Down below I could see the beach and I ventured a short way down but didn’t go all the way as we were anxious to see the elephant seals. A nearby sign warns you not to get too close to the cliff edge and a big information board explained about the crumbling cliffs. Another sign warned of poison oak.
About half way down the Ano Nuevo Trail is the boundary of the Wildlife Protection Area. Here is the staging area where the docent led tours commence during the December to March period. There are information boards, a bench and a restroom nearby. At this time of the year there are no restrictions, so we carried on.
The path became muddy and there were some huge puddles which we had to negotiate. The water in some of them looked oily and I wandered what caused it. Tom was worried that it was run-off from farmland further inland. At one point, a plank had been placed over one of the puddles. Then the path became sandy and soon we were climbing our first sand dune.
The first major spot to get up close to the elephant seals is at South Point. Here there was a roped off area and just beyond that lots of seals laying
about on the sand. Most of them were the pups born earlier this year. Their mums feed them for about a month and then left them to fend for themselves and they never return to them. The pups live off their fat for a couple of months. During that time they go through their first molt and then they head for the ocean. At this time, they are very vulnerable. Lurking offshore are sharks and killer whales. There were also a number of female seals on the beach. They had hauled ashore for their annual molt.
I must admit the seals have a certain smell about them. It is not particularly offensive but, on the other hand, it is not the most attractive aroma around. They are a bit noisy as well. Think of a burp and then magnify it five times. The males are very noisy and can really bellow.
We left the South Point viewing area and returned to the trail. The path became extremely muddy. When I was last here several years ago we walked all the way to North Point but that trail was closed. Today the trail ends at Bright Beach where there are two spots to view the seals. We picked the one on the right and the only other person there was a docent. Here there were a lot more seals than at South Point.
The docent, Randy Baum, spent a long time to talking to us and gave us lots of fascinating information about the seals. He explained that the seals spend most of their lives at sea. On land they look ungainly, though it is surprising how quickly they can move at times, but in the ocean they are in their element. They dive to about 2,000 feet but the record dive has been recorded at over 5,000 feet. One of the reasons they can dive so deep is because all the oxygen they need is in their blood and their body fat is compressed, allowing them to sink further. Tom noticed that one of the seals had something on its head. He thought it was a growth of some sort but Randy explained that this was an electronic device which is attached to the head to record the depth and duration of dives. When the seal molts, the device falls off and it can be recovered from the beach.
As we chatted, I noticed several of the larger seals, probably four year old males, started moving towards the water. They sure can move fast for about 20 yards. Suddenly there were about six of them, all heading down the beach. Even Randy did not now why they were all on the move at the same time. Tom surmised it was because the weather had warmed up and they wanted to cool off. I reckoned they had taken bets as to who would reach the water first. I’ve seen a few seals haul themselves out of the ocean and up the beach but this is the first time I’ve seen any making their way into the water.
On the walk back to the parking lot we bypassed the route to South Beach. We walked up a dune and were confronted by a wondrous view all around. The sun had now appeared and the ocean was sparkling. The views in one direction were to the north, out to the west was Ano Nuevo Island and ahead there were views down the coast towards Monterey. We stopped at a convenient bench to admire the view for a few minutes and to bask in the sunshine.
At the end, I took a detour to go to look at what I thought was the Visitor Center but a big sign indicated it was the Marine Education Center and it was closed. I walked behind it to find another couple of buildings. One was the Old Creamery – it also had a sign announcing it was the Ranger Station – and the other was the old horse barn. An information board told me that the Marine Education Center is also the Visitor Center and that originally is was the cow barn when this was a thriving dairy farm called the Steele Ranch.
We made our way back to the car park and to headed to Pescadero for lunch. In Duarte’s we sat at the bar and consumed a marvelous crab sandwich while chatting to our neighbor. It was the end of a perfect day.
June 16 2010 05:09 pm | Special Places