I'm back! Did you miss me?
Keep on moving (don't stop) Leaving Monterey - Monday 26 September
We left Monterey with plans to stop at a couple of places on our way to Cambria, a small town to the south of Big Sur (a stunning but sparsely populated coastal region). The sun was shining as we began the drive down Highway 1 on the beginning of another few days of animal magic.
Once bitten twice shy Garrapata State Park - Monday 26 September 2011
Our first stop was Garrapata State Park, just south of Carmel on Highway 1. The Satnav could not find it so we had to use our wits (all two of them - both Karen's) to find the stop on the side of the road next to a tin shack! A quick chat to surfer dude to check out the directions and we were off.
As ever with our walks there is always up. This leg busting trek afforded us good views of the sea, rugged coastline and inland foothills. At its highest we could see Monterey Bay and Carmel on the coast and inland to the wine growing regions to the north and east of Monterey.
The landscape was strange - green lush trees amongst dry brush and desert plants. Low mist rolled around the cliff edges as we edged higher. Whilst the mist stretched across the bay, it was no more than 50 feet deep and 10 foot high.
Prior to the walk I had been reading about the rare Californian Condor - North America's largest and most endangered land bird. We saw several individual birds and a few in pairs or groups three or four. Every time Karen reached for her camera the birds seemed to know and avoid us. We have a few pictures but they don't really capture the size.
At one point a Red Shouldered Hawk (I looked it up - I may be odd but I'm not Bill Oddie) accompanied one Condor in scene that reminded me of a Battle of Britain flight Lancaster and Spitfire flypast. We saw the hawk a few times on the walk as it hunted small rodents and reptiles. The odd rabbit may have been on the menu too - we caught a glimpse of one and heard others scuttle about in the bushes.
During the walk we were constantly avoiding treading on lizards (my research shows that they were light and dark Western Fence Lizards and Side Blotched Lizards) of various sizes from tadpole size to 5 inches. There were so many of them I wondered what would feed on them. At that point a small snake (about 14 inches long) slithered across the path. I noted the colourings and found out later that it was a young Yellow Bellied Racer.
On our way back from the farthest point of walk a loud hissing stopped us in our tracks and I noted a well camouflaged snake within two foot of the path and not much further from me. The snake had warned us off and was on its way before I could get a picture (Karen sensibly stood well back). It was about 1.5 inches in diameter and about three foot long. I think it was a Hammonds Garter snake but Karen said she saw an orange mark which would indicate a Ringneck. Whatever it was it was large and put the wind up us.
Later on I saw several types of Garter snake (thankfully small for their type - one apparently grows to four foot) as I trod carefully onwards. Every time we heard a noise in the bushes we jumped - after all it was not until I saw a guide to Californian Central Coast reptiles later that I discovered everything we had met was harmless. The guide did note that there are western Rattlesnakes in the area - they are venomous and the guide helpfully suggests that they should not be disturbed!
Big Sur Down highway 1 - Monday 26 September 2011
I have travelled this stretch of the Highway before but did not quite recall how magnificent and winding the road is. It hangs on the sides of cliffs and the bridges over some of the gaps are incredible. The road was partly constructed by convict labour and the death toll in building the road was not inconsiderable. Karen has captured some of the views including the iconic Bixby Bridge.
Nellie the elephant (seal) Piedres Blancas - Monday 26 September 2011
Okay so the song link is tenuous but Karen started it with the sea lions!
Our final stop off before Cambria was just north of San Simeon at the bottom of Big Sur. I was really looking forward to this stop as I remembered seeing huge males on the beach the last time I was here in the 1990s. At that point the colony was small and the beach was open so you could get down to their level. Now there are more and it is not so safe (they can shift along at 20 miles per hour like supercharged slugs!).
Karen has captured the younger males on the beaches - note how many of them are there. According to the signs the colony has grown to around 15,000 from the handful that used to appear each year in the early 1990s. In the coming months the big males will be fighting for the females and new pups will be born.
Even though there were only a few large males at the beach you could still see how enormous these creatures are. Some grow up to 5000lbs which is something like twice the size of the largest male sea lions.
Land of my fathers Arriving at Cambria - Monday 26 September
B****y hell! Karen has sneaked in a trip to Wales!
Cambria is the Latin name for Wales and is a delightful (new adjective for me!) small town established by welsh miners in the 19th century. Probably the nicest town we have stayed in so far - a mix of art galleries, quaint coffee shops and lovely boarding houses.
Our lodgings (The Burton Inn) were excellent and are highly recommended. Within an hour of arriving we had joined in the evening wine reception in the library. We sat down with a newly married American couple and a retiree couple from near Plymouth (UK). We compared travel/wedding stories and got a few tips on Canyon country and Death Valley.
A nice meal in a local Italian restaurant was followed by an early night.
The birdy song MoonstoneBeach Walk - Tuesday 27 September 2011
Cambria is split into two villages - the older East Village and the newly developed West Village. We strolled through the business centre of the old village into the West Village and onto a long boardwalk along Moonstone Beach. Karen took 'photos of entries for an upcoming scarecrow competition as we walked.
It is a romantic coastline, made more so on this day by slightly rough seas. Fat ground squirrels accompanied us as we walked and we caught site of two otters basking in the sun as they floated on their backs some 200 yards out to sea. We had a picnic lunch at Leffingwell Landing where we added SHARK warning to the bear, cougar, earthquake, tsunami, fire and snake warnings from earlier in our travels!
After lunch we carried on towards San Simeon National Park but had to turn back after a mile or so as the coastal path ended. On that stretch we encountered a Condor feeding on a sea bird of some kind. You could see that the Condor was twice the size of the live gulls (some as big as Herring Gulls) waiting for the Condor to finish eating. Several more Condors flew in accompanied by a large Osprey that was about 75% of the size of the Condors. One of the Condors escorted the Osprey away and the sky was left to them.
We walked back to our lodgings via a small coastal park that could be reached past houses in the $2m bracket. Various large seats in the park had been made out of wood reclaimed from the sea and deer could be seen chewing the long grass in the park.
Little red Corvette Moving on from Cambria- Wednesday 28 September 2011
That evening we picked out a DVD (The Last King of Scotland) from the Burton inn's large collection with the intention of settling in for a quiet night. Before we did so we joined in the evening wine reception (it would have been rude not to) and had a lively discussion with a party of retired Americans who had travelled the length of Route 66 in their Corvettes. They were from Bath in Michigan, a very small town (some 180 people) in a rural county (population circa 4000). Topics ranged from the wine, WWII, economics, politics, wine (they liked the wine), local restaurants and our mutual trips.
The Inn serves a fantastic breakfast and on the morning of our departure we turned up just as the Corvette group were finishing off theirs. As well as the Corvettes, a large party of cyclists (mostly seniors) and their RV support team had stayed the night. They were leaving as we sat down to breakfast and their cycling tops indicated they had started in Alaska.
Before we (and the Corvettes) said goodbye to Cambria, we went outside and Karen took several photos of the cars, some with their drivers. Very nice vehicles and (sorry Alister) I prefer them to the Mustangs. Apparently the Corvette is the US equivalent of Porsche and is a notch up from the Mustangs, Camaro's, Challengers and Chargers.
A few cheerio's and everyone (including ourselves had departed) and that is where I must leave you too.
Karen will be pitching up with our next dispatch. Until then …..
Goodbye, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu