Tag Archives: San Mateo coast

San Mateo Coast

Crystal Springs on a beautiful morning

Crystal Springs on a beautiful morning

Today is our first trip out this year. It is a cold and frosty January morning and we are heading for the coast. Normally we would get there by driving over the mountains towards Santa Cruz on Highway 17 but decided to drive north and take Highway 92 towards Half Moon Bay because not only is it a shorter journey through the mountains but the pass is lower and less likely to be icy.

(Click on the photos for larger versions.)

Even though it is 32 degrees outside, the sun is shining. We are expecting it to be cold and maybe even foggy at the coast but we have dressed appropriately in layers with extra jackets, etc in the trunk.

We have no set destination in mind; it depends on where the fancy takes us. It is such a long time since we saw the ocean that just seeing, hearing and smelling it will satisfy us. There is a warning out about sleeper waves – several people have been swept away by huge rogue waves – so we will not be getting too close to the water’s edge.

Driving on 280 just north of Palo Alto, the temperature dropped to 30 outside. Thank goodness it is not raining as it would be falling as snow. Exiting 280 to 92 we encountered a thick layer of low lying fog across Crystal Springs. Tom couldn’t resist stopping to take a photo. It did look beautiful with the sun shining above the fog and the white, frosty grass on the ground.

Entering Half Moon Bay it was bright and sunny with no trace of fog at all. Not only that, the temperature had risen to 36. We ate before we left home this morning so no breakfast blog this time. Tom didn’t have any coffee though so we stopped off at the Half Moon Bay Coffee Company for a coffee and hot chocolate.

Refreshed, we set off again driving south. The ocean was near and after a few miles we could see it. It looked magnificent, glittering in the early morning sunshine. The water was calm and there were no white caps to be seen.

Pigeon Point lighthouse

Pigeon Point lighthouse

We passed San Gregorio beach. There was only one car in the car park and an awful lot of driftwood on the beach which had been washed up by the recent winter storms. Pomponio, Pescadero and Bean Hollow beaches were also by-passed They all tempted us and were worthy of a visit but we had decided to make our next stop at Pigeon Point Lighthouse.

Before long we saw the lighthouse in front of us and turned right on Pigeon Point Road. There have been a few changes since we were last here. The car park was been enlarged and the porta potty is no longer there but it had been replaced with a much better outhouse. We made our way to the deck at the back of the lighthouse where my second favorite bench is. This is a really good secluded spot to sit and look at the view and a prime place to spot whales. At this time of the year the  whales are swimming south and they some way offshore.  With the ocean so calm I thought I might spot whale spouts on the horizon and I was armed with my binoculars just in case. I spent a happy half hour in the sunshine and enjoyed watching the surf breaking over the many rocky outcrops just off Pigeon Point and the one lone pelican skimming the surface of the water. No whale spouts to be seen though. I became quite warm sitting there I even took my jacket off. Both of us may even have got a touch of sunburn!

Path down to Franklin Point

Path down to Franklin Point. Our favorite spot along the San Mateo Coast.

On to our favorite spot – Franklin Point. Even though we did not really plan where we were going, somehow I knew we would end up here. The place draws us because it is unique. Normally we drive north from Santa Cruz and it is easy to find but driving south from Half Moon Bay we were not too sure. Everything looked different plus the old tree stump which marked the beginning of the trail fell down a few years ago and there are no signs at all for Franklin Point. Once on the trail though I recognized it. It felt good to retrace my steps down the familiar path, wondering what the changes would be since our last visit a year ago.

First thing I noticed was that the old tree stump is now covered by shrubbery with just the bottom exposed. The second thing were the number of stinging nettles growing along the edge of the path. There have been times when we couldn’t get down the trail at this time of the year due to   one section being flooded after heavy rain. A few years ago a couple of short board walks were been put down and it is easy to get through. One thing is always different each time we come and that is where the path actually meets the beach. On this visit the sand was a bit wet and much lower than last time, in as much we didn’t have to scramble down onto the beach.

The beach was deserted, although I did pass one couple on the trail making their way back to the road. I stood for a while just drinking in the view, as I do every time. It felt so good to be back. Slowly I ambled along the beach but staying on the dry sand. Up on Franklin Point I could see my favorite bench and made my way towards it. At one point the waves came too close to the shore to get past  safely but fortunately there is a trail over the bluff which led straight to the boardwalk, which in turn led to the bench.

Franklin Point

A young couple about as far out as you can get at Franklin Point.

I had the bench all to myself for about ten minutes before Tom arrived. I watched a young couple down on the beach scramble over the rocks to get past the point which I decided not to walk round. They were obviously heading for the bench as well and sure enough they turned up about five minutes later. Tom had spoken to them earlier down on the beach. We chatted with them for bit and then they climbed off the deck and made their way as far as they could over the rocks. At one point they called out to us as they indicated a couple of seals bobbing along just offshore.

It was so relaxing sitting on that bench. I spent the time trying to write but, inexplicably, my eyes were drawn to the view. Off to the north I could see the lighthouse; nearer the waves rolling onto the beach were mesmerizing and straight in front the surf broke over the rocks and the spray exploded into the air. Tom and I chatted now and again and we agreed that we were in a perfect spot.

Eventually we made our way back to the car. Nobody else was on the beach at all. We decided to drive into Pescardero, where we bought artichoke and garlic bread fresh from the oven at Arcangeli Grocery Company and goat cheese from Harley Farms. We sat outside in the car enjoying our picnic lunch of bread and cheese while enjoying the view of a swathe of mustard growing in a field and gazing at the goats in the paddock. Then we took the scenic route home through La Honda up to Skyline and then through Woodside back to 280. Once again we enjoyed another perfect day.

Pescadero State Beach

Pescadero State Beach

Pescadero State Beach

This morning we overslept and didn’t get away as early we wanted to. The drive over the Santa Cruz mountains was as beautiful as ever. Our destination today is Pescadero State Beach. In November, 2009 we did a post on some of San Mateo beaches between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay and said in it that Pescadero State Beach deserved a post all to itself. In January 2010 we wrote a post on the northern part of Pescadero State Beach so today was the day we decided to do the rest. The sun was shining brightly when we left San Jose but we hit fog as we descended from the summit of the Santa Cruz Mountains. We stopped at a great little place in Santa Cruz for breakfast.

Click on the photos for a larger version.

Driving north up Highway 1 towards Half Moon Bay, we were in fog most of the way. We couldn’t even see Pigeon Point Lighthouse when we drove past. Of course we wondered whether we would see anything at all when we got to Pescadero beach but we were optimistic. The further north we drove the lighter the fog became. As we passed Bean Hollow Beach we actually saw not only the ocean but patches of blue sky.

There are three car parks at Pescadero State Beach along the mile long, sandy beach and we parked in the southernmost one, which is right opposite the turnoff to Pescadero. It was still a bit foggy but looked to be clearing up. We walked down some steps onto a small peninsula. The tide was high and the water was choppy. Looking south I spotted a couple of surfers out on the ocean and I stopped to watch them for a while. They managed to catch a few big waves and they made the most of them, weaving and turning until the energy of the wave died down. Then they were off again, paddling to get back to catch the next big one. I thought about something Tom told me only this morning about great white sharks and the fact that at this time of  the year they congregate between Monterey Bay and Bodega Bay, so I hoped there were none nearby for the surfers sake.

Pescadero State Beach

Pescadero State Beach

I looked to the north and down onto a sandy beach. I noticed more steps leading down to the beach and off I went exploring. Beaches always fascinate me because there is so much to see – shells, different colored stones, driftwood and washed up vegetation. On this beach were balancing stones and dried seaweed with looked as though they had been laid out in spiral designs but they may well have been washed up the beach like that. There were no washed up logs or a convenient rock to sit on so I stood contentedly on the beach and watched the waves break and the surf wash in. I walked back up the beach to the bluffs. Here there were huge rocks embedded in soil and further along the sandstone rocks looked as if they had been sculptured. One such sculpture looked just like a human head, with the brow and nose clearly defined (see below).

Flock of sanderlings at Pescadero State Beach

Flock of sanderlings at Pescadero State Beach

I rounded a small headland to another beach and spotted a gull pecking at something on the beach. Originally I thought it was a crab which he was trying to get into but when the gull gave up and walked away, I noticed that it was a rather plump starfish. It wasn’t moving at all but I gently moved it with my foot to the edge of the surf just in case it was playing dead. Further along the beach I came across a flock of sanderlings. These birds are a pleasure to watch as they race down the beach chasing the outgoing surf and then racing back back when the surf comes. They looked like a group of little children playing a game on the beach and having fun. I even imagined them whooping for joy as they managed to avoid getting their feet wet. But of course they are not playing because every so often they paused to dig for food in the sand. Suddenly they took off all at once and weaved and turned in the air before landing again on the beach further up and resuming their manic dashing around. We reached another small headland but the tide was too high to carry on so we turned back. I checked to see if the starfish was still on the beach but it had disappeared. I like to think the tide had come in and it had managed to get back to safety.

Rock face at Pescadero State Beach

Rock face at Pescadero State Beach

We discovered another stairway which led back to a different section of the car park. I had visions of having to walk along Highway 1 to get round the headland but then I noticed a pathway leading across the top of the bluffs. It was an unusual path and, for some it reason, reminded me of the yellow brick road from the Wizard of Oz. The path twisted and turned and at one point ran alongside the road. A group of cyclists passed and most of them smiled and several of them even called out a greeting. They looked as though they weren’t out just for a ride because they had packed saddle bags so obviously they were travelling some way down the coast. The path took us to the northern end of the car park.

Here we found some more steps down to beach. A group of California Gulls were gathered on the beach a short distance away but amongst them were a few different gulls. They were darker in color and had red bills. I had no idea what they were but later discovered they were Heermann’s Gulls. In the distance, on another headland, I spotted a bench. Most of you know by now how I am drawn to benches, especially benches with a view, so I naturally made a beeline for it. This was a rather peculiar bench as it was quite high. When I sat on it my feet hardly touched the ground and I have long legs. It was a nice bench to sit on though and it gave me an opportunity to try and catch up with my note taking but there was a problem. The fog had almost gone and the sun was shining brightly which made it difficult to see the the screen on my iPad. I was distracted from my efforts to write by voices. Tom was chatting away to a man, who then came to join me at the bench. It turned out he was another expat from the UK. He was born and raised in Lyme Regis, which is on the south coast. He now lives in Vancouver and the last couple of years he has spent his vacations exploring Highway 1. On this trip he is concentrating on the section from Monterey to San Francisco, which to my mind is the best section. On his next trip he will do the section north of San Francisco.

Lone fisherman at Pescadero State Beach

Lone fisherman at Pescadero State Beach

Once again I found some steps down the the beach. It was here I discovered how fragile the California coast is. All you need to do is to pick up a piece which has broken off and see how easy it is to crumble between your fingers. The constant pounding of the ocean against the sandstone bluffs must be like a battering ram. No wonder there are frequent landslides along Highway 1.

Decorating this section of the beach were a lot of logs and other pieces of driftwood. A couple of wigwams had been built out of the driftwood. It must be a lot of fun, especially with a large family, to build some sort of structure on the beach and then play imaginary games.

Once again we were thwarted from walking further along the beach by a headland which jutted out into the ocean so we retreated to the steps. We walked to the end of the carpar and found a trail leading to the north but it didn’t take us very far. Our way was blocked by a fairly wide river. This is where the Butano Creek and the Pescadero Creek flow into the ocean and where we were prevented from exploring the southern part of the beach in 2010. The only way across is to go back to the road and walk over the bridge. As it was lunchtime, we decided to walk back to our car and drive into Pescadero.

Always have to vist the goats and buy some cheese at Harley Farms just outside of Pescadero

Always have to vist the goats and buy some cheese at Harley Farms just outside of Pescadero

Between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Beach there are not too many restaurants but in Pescadero there is a gem.  Duartes Tavern  is certainly the best place to eat on this stretch of the coast but, be warned, it is very popular and waiting times, especially on a sunny Saturday lunchtime, can be long. We struck lucky this day as we only had to wait twenty minutes due to the fact that we didn’t mind eating at the counter. I had a bowl of their Cream of Artichoke Soup and Tom had Chilled Artichoke Hearts with an Aioli Sauce. Both dishes were wonderful. We both finished up with a slice of their signature dessert – Olallieberry Pie and Ice Cream – which is to die for. We didn’t like to hang around too long because we knew there were lots of hungry people waiting, so we paid the bill and left.

But there was one more place to stop at and that was to vist the goats at Harley Farms. We call in here every time we come to Pescadero because it is such a neat place. You can walk down and watch the goats out in the field. It is always fun in the springtime when there are lots of frisky little kids to keep you amused. Of course we also have to pay a visit to the shop where all their cheeses are not only on display but can be sampled as well. This time we bought some feta cheese and some chocolate made with goats milk. Then it was time to make our way home going by the scenic route to 280 via La Honda. It was the end of another perfect day.




Bean Hollow State Beach

Davenport coastline looking south towards Monterey

Davenport coastline looking south towards Monterey

It was a foggy morning when we set off from home for Bean Hollow Beach but the forecast said the sun would burn off the fog. We were slightly concerned that the Santa Cruz mountain range would be fog bound, which would have made the drive a little scary, but miraculously the fog disappeared as soon as we left the valley. In fact the drive over the mountains was wonderful with a perfect view of Monterey as we crested the summit.

(Click on the photos for larger versions)

Once again we must apologize for the lack of posts recently, due to bad weather over several weekends and an unfortunate accident. Both situations are much improved now I’m pleased to say.

Crossing over the tracks heading towards the ocean at Davenport, California

Crossing over the tracks heading towards the ocean at Davenport, California

After our fabulous breakfast at Zachary’s in Santa Cruz, we drove north on Highway 1. We stopped in Davenport because Tom had read somewhere that there were the remains of old pier in Davenport. We parked right opposite the Whale City Bakery Bar & Grill and walked towards the ocean. We soon came to the edge and looked down on a railway track. There was a worn path on the other side of the tracks and all we had do was to find the way to it. At the end of the parking area near a clump of trees we found shale like rock which looked a bit like a staircase so we climbed down, crossed the tracks and picked up the path on the other side. Soon we were at the edge of a steep cliff with wonderful views over a sandy beach and we could see Monterey in the distance. The coastline was spectacular but saw no sign of a pier. Further down I spotted someone sitting on the edge of the cliff with his hound by his side so I went to ask him about the pier. The guy was obviously a local with his dreadlocks, ruddy face, full beard, woolly cap and holding a large cup of coffee in his hands. He readily told us where the remains of the pier were, which was around the point to the north. The path was easy to follow but we stayed away from the edge of the steep cliff. As we walked there was a lovely smell but at first I couldn’t work out where it came from. Then I saw a big swathe of white alyssom and the penny dropped.

Three Pelicans gliding up the coast at Davenport, California

Three Pelicans gliding up the coast at Davenport, California

We spied the remains of the pier easily. Only three concrete supports remain. As we didn’t know the history, it was the first thing I checked when I got home. A whaling captain called John Pope Davenport (the town was named after him) built the first pier in 1867 at the mouth of what is now known as the Muddy Water Creek. Lumber was brought down from the hills and shipped to Santa Cruz a little way down the coast. When the steamers could no longer get alongside the pier due to the mud which was also being brought down from the hills, an extension was built to the pier but this did not solve the problem. An even longer pier was built later but that one was destroyed in a storm. (This information came from Wikipedia).

While Tom took loads of photographs, I sat on a concrete block on top of the cliff and contemplated the view. Strings of pelicans skimmed the waves beneath me and out at sea a group of small fishing boats kept me fully absorbed. It was bliss. The sun was warm with no wind to speak of. While I sat there only one person, a surfer, walked by. It was very relaxing and peaceful.

An hour later we were back of the road again driving towards Half Moon Bay. Along the way many cars were parked and surfers were either getting changed into their wet suits, walking towards the ocean with their boards or out on the water waiting for the next big wave. A drive on Highway 1 on Big Sur to the south is always wonderful but this drive to the north is even better in our opinion with it’s many accessible sandy beaches and each of them unique.

Bean Hollow State Beach along the San Mateo coast

Bean Hollow State Beach along the San Mateo coast

At 9:30 we arrived at Bean Hollow State Beach. I expected there to be a day charge to use the beach but I couldn’t see anywhere to pay. We walked to the sandy beach down a partly eroded path. Immediately the unusual honeycomb rock formations attracted our attention. I wandered off down the beach while Tom paused to take photos. There was so much to take in. Looking down at the sand I could see all kinds of tracks – birdlife, crabs and human – besides all the flotsam washed up on the beach like seaweed, shells and driftwood. By looking up I could take in the cliff face and then, looking out over the ocean I could see the waves breaking on the rocky outcrops. A family group with four small boys were having fun in a little lagoon. Several sandcastles attested to their other activities. I sat on a big driftwood log and even thought about taking my sweater off as it was so warm but all too soon Tom had caught up with me and it was time to explore the trail along the top of the beach.

A half hidden flight of wooden steps at the north end of the beach led to the top of the bluff. The trail is close enough to the highway to see and hear the traffic but the sound of the waves breaking blurred most of noise.

It was an interesting trail. I was surprised at the amount of color around in the plant life from both flowers and greenery. The ice plant, even though it is an invasive plant, has bright purple or yellow flowers. There were small information boards every so often which told me things I didn’t know like the fact that the Ohlone people collected olive shells here to make jewelry and the fact that the foam seen washed up on the beach is created by algae and is natural. In other words, it is not soapsuds. The trail is easy to negotiate though very narrow. Several small wooden bridges crossed the wetter places and the occasional flight of wooden steps made climbing the hills easier.

Strange rock erosion called Tafoni

Strange rock erosion called Tafoni

About half way along the trail there is a convenient bench to sit on and I took advantage of it. Here I did take my sweater off. Sitting there gave me a chance to catch up with my writing. When I saw Tom appear in the distance I carried on with my walk. I spotted a small snake slithering across the path and through the plants and wanted to take a photo but it had disappeared before I was able to get my camera out of its case. Should be easy to identify when I get home because it had a bright yellow line along its spine. (It was a Santa Cruz Gartersnake but, as it was not very big, I’m guessing it was just a baby one).

I walked all the way to Pebble Beach where there was a small car park. It is also part of the Bean Hollow State Beach. Here was an interesting information board telling me that the honeycomb rock formations are called Tafoni which is caused by rock weathering and erosional processes. I tried calling Tom on my cell phone to tell him where I was but there was no network coverage so I turned around and walked back.

Ice plant flower. Stuff grows like a weed (is a weed) but at least the flower is pretty.

Ice plant flower. Stuff grows like a weed (is a weed) but at least the flower is pretty.

I caught up with Tom back at the bench and he told me all the interesting features he had been using with his camera. On the way back to the car we analyzed the remains of a large bird which had come to grief in a patch of ice plant. When I passed it earlier I thought it was the remains of a young sea gull but Tom deduced it was a pelican by the shape of its skull.

We stopped in Pescadero on the way home at Harley Goat Farm to buy some of my favorite honey and lavender cheese plus some feta cheese as well. Of course we had to sample lots of the other cheeses and some scrumptious boysenberry, blackberry and raspberry preserve. Since our last visit they have extended the shop and now on sale are some gorgeous wooden chopping boards imported from Wales, socks made with wool from angora goats imported from Yorkshire and garden tools made of copper and tin imported from Hungary.

We were home just after 2 o’clock and we both agreed that for the price of gas, a wonderful breakfast and some cheese, it had been a perfect day.


One of several doorways and archways throughout the beautiful gardens at Filoli.

One of several doorways and archways throughout the beautiful gardens at Filoli.

It was a beautiful day and we were off to Filoli. A lot of you may not know where, or even what, is Filoli, so I will explain.  The Filoli estate is situated in Woodside on 654 acres just south of Crystal Springs. It was built  between 1915 and 1917 by Mr. and Mrs. William Bourn who made their fortune from the Empire Gold Mine in Grass Valley. William Bourn named the estate Filoli. For years nobody knew the origin of the name until a close of associate of his realized it was taken from a credo often quoted by William Bourn – “Fight for a just cause; Love your fellow man; Live a good life”. They lived there from 1917 to 1936.  Mr and Mrs William Roth bought the estate in 1937. William Roth died in 1963 and in 1975 Mrs Roth donated the whole estate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The house has 43 rooms and the formal garen consists of a number spaces which are joined but completely different.

(Click on the photos for larger versions)

As it was a Friday and Filoli does not open until 10:00 am, we didn’t leave until after 9:00 am, hoping the traffic would be light. The traffic on 280 was OK but heavier than at 6:00 am on a weekend morning. Approaching the turn off at Edgewood Road and Crystal Springs we spied a finger of fog clinging to the top of the Coastal Range. Canada Road had a few cyclists on it but much less than you would find on a normal Saturday.

The reason we have come to Filoli is because I spotted a half price deal on the Daily Deal offered by the San Jose Mercury News. Armed with the printed ticket I was surprised that neither the guy at the entry kiosk or the two ladies on the admission desk had seen one before but the latter knew about it. Tom and I were each given a sticker which allowed us admission to both house and garden. We were also told of the guided tour starting at 10:00 which is included in the admission price. It sounded interesting but not for us as I like to wander around and discover places on my own and Tom likes to stop frequently to take photographs. Outside we had seen a lot of schoolchildren gathering but they were off on a nature walk which is docent led. These nature walks are available on a Saturday for everybody.

We watched a short video about Filoli before setting off on our own; Tom with his camera and tripod and me with a handy guide book and map which were handed to me when we received our stickers and my trusty IPad. As most of the guided tours go into the house first, we headed for the garden shop and the gardens themselves.

Through the first doorway to this garden with the reflecting pool.

Through the first doorway to this garden with the reflecting pool.

Stepping through a doorway, the first view of the gardens amazed me. In front of me the sunken garden, with its rectangular pond and formally laid out flower beds, took my breath away. I left Tom taking photos and walked through the sunken garden to the swimming pool. Everything looked immaculate from the water in the pool to the trees lining the walkways and the brick paths. At the far end a docent, Ed Carlson, greeted me and for a few minutes we chatted about England and Filoli. He was sitting in the shade of the pavilion and I could tell that he really enjoyed his volunteer job.

From there I meandered across the old tennis court – now a concert area I’m guessing – and through the woodland garden. As I walked from section to section it was like going from one room to another, each area being completely different. Each was a new experience. I walked through an archway, past the bereft daffodil meadow with its bare beds, and found myself in the rose garden. Here I sat for a while on a bench, enjoyed the comparative peace and quiet and spoke to some hens which wandered past. It was also here that Tom and I crossed paths for a short while.

My period of contemplation was over and I walked through another archway. For some reason I could not work out where I was. As I studied the map, a docent spotted me and asked if she could help. She pointed out on my map where we were and soon I was on the right path. The High Place was my next destination and to get there I needed to walk through the rose garden. In the distance I saw Tom and we exchanged greetings as me passed on parallel paths. On my way I walked through an interesting knot garden and the impressive cutting garden. Fragrant sweet peas and an assortment of colorful blooms were at their peak, others flowers were newly planted and a few beds had been prepared for a future planting. The High Place was not really that high but it was windy. A convenient bench with a semicircle of stone pillars behind commanded a wonderful view along a yew tree walk towards Crystal Springs, though I couldn’t see any sign of the lake.

Lavender, lavender, lavender at Filoli

Lavender, lavender, lavender at Filoli

Time to make my way to the house via the fruit garden and along the Upper Terrace. Here I spotted the glint of blue on a bird which flew across my path. Was it a Western Bluebeard? Taking a small detour I found a short wall to sit on while I waited and watched. Nearby I saw a nesting box on a short post and, sure enough, before too long both parents flew backwards and forwards to the nesting box to feed their young. I was enchanted to discover they were Western Bluebirds. I lost track of the time I sat there and studied them but eventually guessed it was time to go and find Tom.

I discovered him sitting of a bench in a shady little courtyard. We made our way to the front entrance of the house and entered through the main door. Not only did we have a map of the house with a description of the rooms but the self guided tour was well signed inside and each room displayed a board which fully described the room. The guide book informed us that ‘The goal of furnishing the House has been to furnish it as it might have been when the House was occupied.’ but the overwhelming impression to us lesser mortals would describe it as over furnished and far more opulent than what we would call a family home.

As we walked through the different rooms – reception, dining, drawing, trophy, flower rooms, and the kitchen, butler’s pantry, library, study and ballroom, we noticed interesting things. In the kitchen there was a servants’ call board and a dumbwaiter whilst in the trophy room there as a huge book containing beautiful paintings of plants grown at Highgrove; which is the home of Prince Charles. It was huge and encased in a glass cabinet. Only one page could be seen which was a pity because I would have loved to turn the pages. When we were in the library, the docent pointed out an anomaly in the wood block floor. He told us to stand in one spot and observe the light and dark shades of the wood. Then he directed us to stand where we could see the same section from the opposite direction. What appeared dark before was light and vice versa. It was obviously due to the grain of the wood but fascinating nevertheless.

Only the downstairs is open to view.  Apparently the upstairs is not furnished and, because there is no fire exit, it does not conform to code. As it was way past our lunchtime, it was time to head home. It had been an interesting visit but, for me at any rate, the gardens were more impressive than the house.

Franklin Point

One of the views from Franklin Point

One of the views from Franklin Point

Every once in a while we have to visit Franklin Point to enjoy the utter tranquility of the place.  See previous posts here, here and here. It was a last minute decision because we had other plans for this weekend, which were thwarted. We were going to Nevada City to look over a couple of possibilities for our biennial family get together for Christmas this year. The trip had to be postponed due to weather conditions. Highway 20 is closed five miles south of Nevada City due to snow and an avalanche warning.

In San Jose the sun was shining brightly but even here there is a chance of snow. It was forecast that snow could fall at sea level which does not happen very often here. Tom did tell me this morning that snow actually fell in San Francisco last night on some of the highest points but didn’t settle.

On the east side of the Santa Cruz mountains we could see a little bit of snow on the peaks but as soon as we passed over the summit we saw lots of snow, especially in the shaded areas. Tom called it a light dusting. It certainly looked pretty, giving the view a Christmassy appearance. It was a bright day with no hint of fog. Once again we could see Monterey in the distance.

American Abalone Farms

American Abalone Farms. The abalone are raised in those covered tanks.

There was more traffic than we were used to on Highway 1 north of Santa Cruz. A lot of folks on their bikes were already up and about. A smattering of rain drops hit our windscreen. We agreed beforehand that if we ran into rain, we would turn back. Ahead there were no clouds in the sky so we carried on.

Just north of Davenport we spotted a sign advertising farm raised abalone for sale. At Davenport Landing Road we turned left and American Abalone Farm is a short drive down. There were lots of buildings which were obviously where the abalone are raised but we couldn’t see inside as plastic sheeting covered the outside. Stacks of pipes were stacked up and we could hear water being pumped. The abalone are raised in tanks where fresh sea water from the nearby ocean is pumped and they feed on fast growing kelp.

We followed a sign which took us to the farm shop and a very personable young man greeted us. We asked how old abalone had to be before they could be eaten and were told 3 – 3.5 years.  I looked at a chart on the wall showing sizes abalone from hatching up to 3.5 years. Tom remembers a time when you could wade into the water and pry abalone off the rocks. Nowadays they are protected as commercial farming very nearly wiped them all out and now a license is needed to harvest them. I have never eaten abalone before though Tom has consumed a lot in his lifetime. At American Abalone Farms they sell fresh and frozen abalone. We bought four small frozen tenderized steaks ready to be cooked for $20. It sounds expensive but it was worth the money so I could taste them.

Further along the coast we passed a lot of cars parked along the road. This is where Scott Creek flows into the ocean and a favorite place for surfers. Today they were out in force.

Margaret waiting for me on the beach at Franklin Point.

Margaret waiting for me on the beach at Franklin Point.

Our main destination, Franklin Point, is  a few miles beyond Ano Nuevo. There were no other cars parked on the gravel pull in next to the landmark tree stump.  Maybe we would have the place to ourselves. The trail was a little muddy. Thank goodness for the raised boardwalk in a couple of places otherwise we would not have got through. In fact, one of the boardwalks is new or at least it was the first time we had seen it. The roped trail between the last two dunes now has a lake on both sides. In the middle, the sandy path had been breached but someone had put down a few bits of wood and it was easy to cross.

Where the trail ended, the recent storms and high tides had eroded the descent to the beach and it was impossible to walk down. I shuffled down on my bottom. Tom was some way behind as he had stopped along the trail to take photos and I had carried on without him. I knew he would have trouble getting onto the beach with his tripod so I sat on a nearby log so I could help him when he arrived. He also shuffled down on his bottom. I wondered though how we would get back up again.

Elephant seal at Franklin Point. When this guy had his head down resting he looked like a rock.

Elephant seal at Franklin Point. When this guy had his head down resting he looked like a rock.

Once again I strode ahead, with the bench on Franklin Point in my sights. I heard Tom call me back and wondered what he had seen. It was a young male elephant seal lying on the beach. If he hadn’t called me back I would have tripped over him. Wow! This put us in a bit of a dilemma. How were we going to get past him as he was between the bluff and the ocean and you must stay at least 25 feet away? We decided to climb up and walk over the bluffs. It took us a little time and we both took different routes. I know you are not supposed to go off the trail but we did follow trodden paths. I kept my eyes open for any more stray elephant seals but I saw none. I did see paw tracks though. Bobcat or mountain lion I wondered? It made me realize just how vulnerable we frail humans are. I didnt want to run into either animal so I sang as I walked to warn any animals that I was coming.

I saw an interesting plant with runners and small clumps of leaves every so often. To me it looked like a strawberry plant. Then I saw lots more of them and tried really hard not to trample any of them. A bit further on I saw a white flower on one of the clumps of leaves and can confirm that they are wild strawberries. I wonder if they grow here naturally or whether they have been planted to improve the stability of the dunes.

Eventually I found a way through to the trail which led to my favorite bench. From a distance I could see Tom had already reached it and wondered how on earth he had beaten me. As I approached the bench along the boardwalk I realized it was not Tom at all but a stranger who was happily sitting there eating his breakfast. I looked back and saw Tom making his way along the trail to the boardwalk.

Wetlands on the way back from Franklin Point.

Wetlands on the way back from Franklin Point.

Sitting on the bench and soaking in the view was bliss. There was a chilly breeze but the sun was out. I chatted with the man when he finished his breakfast. He had walked along the trail from the south and had passed a couple of elephant seals on the way.

The views were as amazing as ever. Looking back I could see another group had arrived at the beach with children. I hoped they wouldn’t get too close to the elephant seal. Fortunately they gave it a wide berth. There were no pelicans today, which is unusual but we spotted a group of cormorants standing guard on a rock offshore.

Looking back to the beach I noticed that the elephant seal was gone but wasn’t sure whether he had made his way back to the ocean or had hauled himself further up the beach. At least we could walk back along the beach without disturbing him.

Later, as we made our way back, we discovered a trail the to the ocean the elephant seal had made. We also spotted another elephant seal at the top of the beach. This is the first time I have ever seen elephant seals here and it is an amazing sight. To avoid the difficult climb up to the trail we took a shortcut over the bluffs and along the edge of the small lake.

We debated whether to go back the way we had come to Santa Cruz or whether to drive back although Pescadero. The tempting thought of a fresh baked artichoke garlic bread from Arcangeli’s and goat cheese from Harley Farms was too strong to resist. We also bought a ollieberry pie in Arcangeli’s. Tonight we are going to enjoy a real Coastside meal with abalone followed by ollalieberry pie and ice cream. We might even have room finish up with bread (if there is any left by the time we get home) and goats cheese. Mmm, mmm.

Once again we have enjoyed another wonderful day. There is nothing like California with its never ending choices of places to visit and even if we have been to a place before, it is always different each time we go back. I feel so lucky to be living here.

Pillar Point Harbor, Half Moon Bay

Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay

Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay

This is our first trip for a couple of weeks as we have been inundated with storms. Tomorrow the storms will return but today there is no rain and, in fact, the sun is shining. We had not made any plans to go anywhere because we were not sure exactly what the weather would be like. First thing this morning it was foggy and we were resigned to another day inside but at 9 the sun came out so we immediately got our gear together and set off.

We decided to head towards the coast. Our last visit to the ocean was in January when we visited Año Nuevo. Today we are heading further north to Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay. We could see snow on the tops of the range of mountains to the east and a mere dusting on the peaks of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

It is nice to see the sun again after so much rain and we are going to make the most of it today. Of course the rain is much appreciated both for watering our gardens and to fill our reservoirs for the coming year. Skiers are ecstatic due to the heavy snow falls in the Sierra Nevadas. One amazing change we noticed since our last drive along 280; the brown hills are now a luscious green.

I never tire of the drive from 280 along 92 to Half Moon Bay. There is always a lot of interesting things to look at. Today we had little more time to study the sights as the traffic was slightly heavier than we are used to due to our late start. So what is so interesting I hear you ask? Well, there are nurseries selling a variety of plants and one place where they specialize in roses. Huge metal prehistoric sculptures are displayed for sale at several places and one where they have wooden carvings of animals. We also passed grape vines and the La Nebbia Winery. One thing that caught my eye today was a full sized, brightly painted, yellow, wooden pony covered in different colored hearts. A sign nearby advertised pony rides. There are also tree farms and fruit stands along the way, though some of the latter were not open as it is too early in the year.

We bypassed Half Moon Bay and turned right onto Highway 1. As we left home before we’d eaten breakfast,  we were both hungry. Our first attempt to find something to eat was thwarted. The Miramar Beach Restaurant was closed. It doesn’t open until 11 am on Sundays. The tide, we noticed, was very high and came right up to the sea wall.

One of the older boats in Pillar Point Harbor

One of the older boats in Pillar Point Harbor

Plan B for breakfast was the 3-Zero Cafe adjacent to Half Moon Bay Airport. There were a lot of cars in the car park and we knew we would be in
for a wait. Sure enough it took 25 minutes before we were led to a table but we spent the waiting period people watching so time seemed to pass pretty quickly. The servers were bustling around trying to negotiate through the mass of people inside the door to get to the cashier but they were very cheerful. Our table was right at the end, so it was isolated and we were sitting in the sun. It was a good place to be. There were people sitting and eating on the patio. If we had chosen to eat out there we would have been seated sooner but we decided it could possibly be a little chilly. Our order was taken quickly but it took nearly half an hour to serve it but it didn’t surprise us. Tom had Crab Cake Benedict (13.95) and I had Crab Benedict (11.95). Both dishes were OK but we were disappointed with the potatoes.

Just some rope in a half submerged dingy at Pillar Point Harbor

Just some rope in a half submerged dingy at Pillar Point Harbor

After breakfast we headed for Pillar Point Harbor and took a wander down the pier. This is a good place to buy fresh fish straight off the fishing boasts and we were on the lookout for whole fish – Tom has a recipe he wants to try – but we were out of luck. There were boats selling their fresh caught wares but Dungeness Crab was the seafood being sold. It has been a good year for Dungeness Crab but we were not in the market for it. We took a stroll down one of the floating wharves to take a closer look at the ships. Flashy modern boats for pleasure fishing were tied up alongside the rusting commercial fishing boats. The sleek and shiny ‘Tuna Tales’ next to the ‘Kiwi’ was a case in point. The three fishing boats selling crab on this particular wharf were the ‘Cricket’, the ‘Ani-K’ and the ‘Maggie’. I stood and watched the ‘Tern’ moor on an adjacent wharf and admired how skillfully it was done.

As we were unsuccessful in our quest for a fresh whole fish, we visited the Princeton Fish Market nearby. They did have whole fish but not what we were looking for. We ended up buying some sea scallops and a couple of calamari steaks. To round off our meal for tonight we stopped at a fruit stand on HW 92 and bought some asparagus from Mexico and a pound of brussels sprouts. Then it was home to San Jose, where the weather was cooler than at the coast. Another wonderful day.

Año Nuevo

Año Nuevo visitor center looking towards the ocean

Looking out towards Año Nuevo from the visitor center

Año Nuevo is our main destination today. This is the best time of the year to see the elephant seals because both the females and the males are in residence. The females came ashore in December to give birth to their pups and the males arrived a bit later to start organizing their harems. Between December 15 and March 1 the only way to view the seals is to go on a guided tour which can be pre-booked online. Tom has visited during this time but I haven’t. We haven’t pre-booked but when we were last at Año Nuevo in November we were told that on most days it is OK to turn up on spec, especially for the early tours, because there are often spaces available due to no-shows. I did check the day before to see if we could book but there were no spaces available. Fingers crossed we can get on a tour!

This is the dawn of a new age because I’m using my new iPad for the first time on our travels. Hopefully it will save a lot of time. Before I used to take a notebook and write with a pen and then enter it into WordPress when I got back home. With the iPad and an app called Blogpress I can just sync it up when I get home and editing will be much quicker.

We left home at 6:30 when it was still dark and immediately I became aware of a couple more advantages of using the iPad. For one thing I can write in the dark because the screen is backlit. The second advantage is that every word is readable. A lot of times I would have trouble deciphering my notes because handwriting in a car suffers with every bump, twist and turn.

A thicket on our first little hike.  The morning light and dew made it sparkle.

A thicket on our first little hike. The morning light and dew made it sparkle.

We could tell it was going to be a beautiful day. As we crested the summit of the Santa Cruz Mountains we could see no fog at the coast. Ahead we could clearly see the lights of Monterey clear across Monterey Bay – a rare phenomenon for us.

In Santa Cruz we stopped on Mission for coffee. It was called On a Mission Coffee and is little more than a kiosk but they also have a small range of breakfast items. We already had breakfast before we left home so we just bought liquid refreshment this time. Tom had coffee and I chose hot chocolate. We have bought coffee here before but then there was a huge range of magazines for sale at the side. I asked what happened to the magazines and the young girl told us they stopped because it wasn’t profitable.

We made another stop at Davenport Landing. Here there is a small secluded sandy beach. A couple of early morning surfers were already braving the elements and from where we stood they sounded as though they were having fun. A short walk on the beach, a couple of photos and we were on our way again.

There is nothing to beat an early morning drive along this stretch of road at this time of the morning on a lovely day like today. So many photo ops but unfortunately no time to stop again today.

Año Nuevo Sate Park opens at 8 am and we arrived a couple of minutes before. At the kiosk we paid the $10 entrance fee to the park and were given a standby number. We were the first standbys today so have a good chance to actually get on a tour. All guided walks start at the Visitors Center so from the car park that is where we headed. Along the way we paused to watch a flock of quail scurrying around. The males look particularly plump and handsome at this time of the year.

At the Visitors Center we gave our names and were told we would be called if there were still spaces five minutes before the published time of the start. If there were a lot of standbys and spare docents, they would lay on an extra tour.

We had a look around the Marine Education Center. Lots of interesting displays explaining not only the life cycle of events on the beach but also about the dunes and surrounding environment including the other wildlife which abounds here. While we were waiting a docent told us that we would definitely be on the 9:30 tour, which gave us enough time to have a look around outside.

Just outside the Visitors Center is the start of the New Year Creek Trail which we have never been on. This would is a good opportunity so off we set. The trail turned to the left and towards Cove Beach and Highway 1. At the bottom of a steep flight of wooden steps there was a parting of the ways and I kept straight on heading for Highway 1. I was curious to see where it came out. Pretty soon I was walking over an old concrete bridge which was probably the old Highway 1. After about a quarter of a mile of uphill climbing, I reached the main road. From the highway it is hard to spot the entrance to the trail. I retraced my steps to the concrete bridge and could see Tom down on the beach. When I joined him he told me there were a couple of seals on the beach. One was off to the right on the other side of New Year Creek and the other was our side and just around the edge of the cliff. This was a lone bull. The scarring on his back was very pronounced. At first I thought it was dead but by checking with my binoculars I could see that he was breathing so merely sleeping.

Our first encounter with a young male elephant seal

Striking a pose. Our first encounter with a young male elephant seal.

By 9:15 we were back at the Visitors Center in order to be ready to set off at 9:30. The earlier groups which set out comprised mostly of teenage students. Our tour though was mostly couples and small groups. At the staging post a park ranger laid down a few rules – no food, not even gum (bottled water is allowed); always stay behind the docent and never get closer than 25 feet from any of the seals. We were introduced to our docent Cheryl Wong. Along the way she dispensed lots of information spiced with humor.

Before we reached the sand dunes, Cheryl stopped and gave us a potted history of Año Nuevo, who discovered it (Sebastián Vizcaíno), the rise, fall and subsequent rise again of the elephant seal population over the years and some background of the Ohlone Indians who called this place home before the Europeans arrived and began to ‘civilize’ them. At a later stop Cheryl went into the life cycle of the seals, what they feed on and how they are able to hold their breath for such a long time under water. She circulated a small piece of hide covered in coarse fur and a whisker. The hide felt a bit rough but the whisker was amazing. I was astounded at the thickness of it.

Elephant seal at Año Nuevo

Elephant seal at Año Nuevo. You actually get pretty close to these guys.

Our first close encounter with an elephant seal happened shortly afterward. A young bull had hauled himself out of the water and was stretched out on the path in front of us. Cheryl said he was about four years old and probably too young to breed yet. Even though we were the required 25 feet away he was aware of our presence and raised his head to look at us. Bulls this age can travel very fast and cover 25 feet in 3 seconds so we were very careful not to disturb him too much. When he opened his mouth to yawn we could see he only had a few back molars but this is quite common. Males start breeding when they are 5 years old and live until they are about 12 years old. Females on the other hand live for about 18 years.

At this point we deviated from the normal path and headed towards the beach over the dunes. We passed several other solitary seals who were basking some way from the shore. We were met by a park ranger – Officer Marty – who called herself a traffic cop. She told the docent which paths to take to avoid disturbing seals. There was another bull but much older than the first one we saw, probably nearly 12. All the while we watched him he didn’t appear to move at all and was certainly not aware of our presence.

We walked to the top of a bluff with a view down to the beach. Here we saw lots of seals – males females and pups. Most were stretched out with

Elephant seal at Año Nuevo

They called this guy, 'Mr. Bubbles'.

just the occasional movement of their fins to scoop sand over their backs. This is to protect them from the sun. The pups stayed close to their mothers and we saw several suckling. Only about 25% will survive their first few months. Some become separated from their mothers, some are attacked by coyotes and some are crushed by the huge males. Once they are weaned and take off into the ocean to fend for themselves they are at the mercy of Great White Sharks and Killer Whales which patrol just offshore waiting to snatch them. Only 25% of the pups born this year will survive to return to this beach.

We did not see any of the males  fighting. Cheryl said they were conserving their energy until the females came into season, which happens about a month after the pups have been born. From our vantage place we had a good view of Año Nuevo Island where we could see another colony of seals resting. Many years ago, when the light house was built on the island, it was possible to walk out to the island at low tide.  Now, due to erosion, that is not possible and the public has no access to the island at all.

We could not stay too long at this spot because another group was due to arrive very soon. Our next stop was to observe a lone bull in a small pond half submerged in the water.  Earlier Officer Marty referred to him as Mr Bubbles and we soon saw why. Elephant seals can hold their breath for a long time and when this male raised to head to take a breath and then breathed out he produced a lot of bubbles. He did this several times and it was amusing to watch. Cheryl said they like to practice holding their breath. When they are out at sea they dive very deep and have to hold their breath for about twenty minutes.

Male and female elephant seals at Año Nuevo.

Bull elephant seal courting a female.

Our guided tour was nearly done. Just one more climb to another overlook to see another section of the beach and more seals. This time we saw an abandoned pup that had died lying on the sand. It was distressing but that’s nature. The park rangers only intervene when the problem is man made, for instance if they get caught up in fishing lines. Apart from that they are left very much undisturbed. From start to finish the tours last for two and a half hours. One hour of that is taken up with walking from the Visitors Center to the staging area and back again. For $7 a head it is real good value and today we certainly got our money’s worth due to the fantastic weather. It was a wonderful experience to see the seals at this time of the year.

Our day was not quite over though. We rounded off the day by driving into Pescadero for lunch at Duarte’s where I enjoyed a delicious bowl of artichoke soup and Tom had a cheeseburger with fries and onion rings. Then across the road to Arcangeli Grocery where we bought a loaf of their freshly baked (and still warm) artichoke garlic herb bread. Just one more stop at Harley Farms to buy some of their lavender honey goat cheese before heading home. We took the scenic route along Stage Road to San Gregorio where we turned right onto Highway 84 and headed towards Highway 280. The end of another perfect day.

Ano Nuevo – Part 2

Elephant seal at Ano Nuevo

Oops, pardon me! Must have been that squid I had last night.

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

Elephant seal pup at Ano Nuevo

Well hello there. Elephant seal pup at Ano Nuevo

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.

Last look at Ano Nuevo Island as we head back

Last look at Ano Nuevo Island as we head back

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.

Ano Nuevo – Part 1

Young Elephant Seal.  I think it's a male.  Is he smiling at us?

Young Elephant Seal. I think it's a male. Is he smiling at us?

It was a Friday. Neither Tom or I were working that day so decided to go and see the elephant seals at Ano Nuevo –  on the San Mateo coast.

Ano Nuevo is a State Park and the best place to see these unusual seals. They are called elephant seals because the males have long noses which resemble the trunk of an elephant. The males can grow to sixteen feet and weigh two and a half tons – about the size of a Volkswagen Bug. Elephant seals spend most of their lives in the ocean and only come ashore to breed, give birth and molt. Up to the first half of the 19th century, their numbers were prolific but from 1850 onwards they were slaughtered for their blubber. They are absolutely fearless and did not escape to the water when they were being hunted so they were easy prey. Towards the end of the 19th century it was estimated they were only 100 elephant seals left off the coast at Baja, California. In 1922 they became a protected species. Gradually their numbers have increased and the first elephant seal was spotted on Ano Nuevo Island in 1955.

The best time of the year to see the seals is between December and March when the females haul themselves ashore to give birth and the males arrive for the breeding season. During that period, visitors are restricted and reservations have to be made for access to the viewing sites which are led by docents. I have never visited Ano Nuevo at that time and it is on my wish list. The trouble is that the weekends get very booked up and as the weather is unpredictable it is always a gamble to book ahead. Tom has been during the winter and he said the sight of males fighting to protect their harem was amazing.

Back to this visit. The sun was shining and it promised to be a lovely day. We set off at 7 am and headed for the Santa Cruz mountains. As we got close to the summit, what did we see in front of us? Fog! The Santa Clara valley was bathed in sunshine behind us but as we descended towards Santa Cruz the temperature and visibility plunged.

Tom had scoped out a couple of possible destinations for breakfast but as neither opened until 8 am we had twenty minutes to kill. We drove along West Cliff Drive and found a parking spot overlooking the beach, wharf and boardwalk. Outside the car it was chilly but Tom went for a stroll.

Path out to Ano Nuevo

Path out to Ano Nuevo. Looking back towards the visitors center. We're about half way there.

After a wonderful breakfast at The Samba Rock Acai Cafe in Santa Cruz we found our way to Highway 1 North and headed out of town. As it was a working day and just before 9 am, the traffic was heavy in town but once we were past the outskirts, with the ocean off to our left, there were less cars about. The sun was still not visible but we had high hopes that it would appear and burn off the fog or maybe the sky will be clearer further north.

The hills were still very green. Normally at this time of the year they would be starting to turn yellow before donning their summer hue of brown – sorry – gold. We have the recent rains to thank for that. We noticed how much more water there was in the Lexington Reservoir in Los Gatos on our journey through the mountains this morning.

North of Davenport patches of blue skies were spotted and occasionally the sun shone through. By the time we turned in the Ano Nuevo State Park the sun had disappeared again.

The park opens at 8 am and there is a $10 entrance fee. We were handed a map and drove on to the car park. Here there are picnic tables and restrooms. When we got out of the car it was chilly and I was glad I’d brought my sweatshirt.

The trail is called the Ano Nuevo Point Trail and it is easy to find. We set off down a gravel path and soon came to a fork. Off to the right is the Cove Beach via Pond Loop trail but it is closed at the moment. A sign across the path states that it is closed to protect natural resources and for the safety of the public.

Right on the fork is displayed part of an old wooden steam sailing schooner called Point Arena which sunk while unloading tanbark at Pigeon Point Light House in 1913. A five ton section of the ship washed ashore at Ano Nuevo and was uncovered by a storm in 1983. An information board nearby listed 19 shipwrecks that had occurred between Pigeon Point and Ano Nuevo from 1853-1953.

As we continued on down the trail, we could see Ano Nuevo Island offshore. 200 years ago it was attached to the mainland. In 1872 a light house was built on the island because of the number of shipwrecks. Maintaining the light house and the houses built to accommodate the light house keeper and his assistant was difficult, due to the constant onslaught by weather and the invasion of seals, sea lions and birds. In 1948 a marker buoy with an automatic light, sound and radar reflector was installed just offshore from the island. The light house is now closed to the public and the birds and sea mammals have completely overrun the buildings and they are rapidly deteriorating.

To be continued

San Mateo Coast

One of the fishing boats at Pillar Point Harbor

One of the fishing boats at Pillar Point Harbor

Another beautiful spring day in sunny California. Our main destination today is Franklin Point on the San Mateo Coast. As we drove towards the coast on Highway 92, the sun was rising. The slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains were bathed in a reddish tint and everything looked glorious.

(Click the photos for larger versions)

After breakfast at the 3-Zero Cafe next to Half Moon Bay Airport, we stopped off at Pillar Point Harbor. We were looking to buy some fresh fish straight from the boats. At first I was surprised at the number of people around but then realized it was a group gathering for a whale watching boat trip. Now is a great time of the year for such a trip as the female gray whales are close to shore escorting their young calves north.

We wandered down the wharf looking to see if any boats were selling fresh fish. There was only one boat open for business but they only had Dungeness Crabs on offer.

It was very pleasant walking down the ramps and floating wharves, strolling around looking at all the fishing boats. These are definitely working boats with their decks littered with ropes, pontoons, crab cages and rusty equipment. Boats gently nudged the edge of the wharves as they rose and fell with the swell and we swayed slightly with the motion.

These fishermen have been experiencing hard times recently with the closure of the salmon fishing season for the last two years. There will be limited commercial fishing this year (just eight days in May) so soon they will be able to catch at least a little of the local king salmon, which is the best salmon ever.

Pigeon Point Light House

Pigeon Point Light House

Onto our main destination today – Franklin Point. I know it is only a few weeks since our last visit but we were anxious to see whether the path to the beach had been restored. I want to sit on our favorite seat and gaze out across the ocean. With any luck we should spot a few whales today. Passing Pescadero State Beach we noticed, a group of people standing on the bluffs. Whale watching maybe? Then we noticed a tour bus in the parking lot. There is going to be a lot of people around today.

We did consider stopping at Pigeon Point Lighthouse but the parking lot is not very large and it was packed, plus cars were parked along the side of the road. We did stop a few hundred yards south of the lighthouse so Tom could take a picture of the lighthouse with the wild flowers in the foreground. I stayed near the car and kept my eyes peeled for water spouts. There were several boats some way offshore. They could have been fishing boats or whale watching tours. It was a beautiful spot. The view was spectacular and the sound of birds singing was background music.

Pigeon Point Light House from a different angle

Pigeon Point Light House from a different angle

Between the lighthouse and Ano Nuevo is the parking place for Franklin Point. There were no other cars there. I set off down the path, watching a hawk hunting to my right. On the path I spotted a fat orange and black furry caterpillar. Since our last visit there must have been some rain because the path was quite muddy in places.

Over the last dune and where the path abruptly ended on our last visit in February, there is now limited access to the beach. It is a steep slide down. I was grateful to arrive in one piece but how was I going to get back?

It was good to be there on the beach with the seat within walking distance. The tide was high and it didn’t look possible to get to the point along the beach where there is a path to the seat. When I reached the rocks at the end of the beach there was no way over the rocks so I went back up the beach looking for a way round. There was a tent pitched just above the high tide mark and by the amount of personal possessions scattered around it almost looks like somebody has taken up residence rather than an overnight stay.

Once on top of the bluff, I followed a beaten path. Several times I had to turn back and look for an easier path but eventually I made it. At last I was on the final boardwalk to our favorite seat. Glancing back towards the entrance to the beach, I saw Tom and we waved to each other. I settled down on the bench for a serious whale watching session. This is the perfect time and the weather is just right as well.

I didn’t have to wait long. Soon I was spotting small spouts and the occasional bigger spout. You can

Franklin Point poppies

Franklin Point poppies

guess how thrilled I was. Every so often I would say ‘yes’ out loud or even ‘wow’. A couple of times I saw a tail rise out of the water. I imagined there was a pod of killer whales out there hunting for the vulnerable calves. The water spouts could not be seen with the naked eye from where I sat but the binoculars brought everything into view. Pigeon Point lighthouse is further out, that may be the perfect spot for whale watching.

Tom joined me and for the next hour we stayed there – Tom taking photos, just relaxing and occasionally using the binoculars. Me – I was whale watching, writing and relaxing. It was the best of times.

Eventually we stirred ourselves and made our way back to the car. Tom had found an easier route to the seat so we followed that. There were quite a few people on the main path leading back to the highway, some people were sitting on the bluffs and looking out to sea. Everybody was enjoying this wonderful location.

On the way back to Highway 92, we stopped in Half Moon Bay to buy some fresh salmon. It was from Alaska so not quite as fresh as it would have been if we had been able to buy straight from the fishermen but until the real stuff arrives it will have to do. Along with some asparagus we bought from the shop next door, we have all the ingredients for a great BBQ.

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