We were able to spend a marvelous week on the Monterey Peninsula, in the town of Pacific Grove. This was our first visit to the area, and we enjoyed the wondrous views, the wildlife, and the calming pace. With the ice plants in bloom and the fleet squid fishing near the shore, we benefited from an active, glowing coast. After arriving, we walked back along the shore, through rows of Victorian bungalows, to the downtown area along Lighthouse Avenue; galleries, shops, and restaurants line this "main street", made wide by the parking strip in the median. But the traffic and the crowds were light, and the walking easy. We spent the afternoon exploring the shore, walking the path by the sea wall along Ocean View Boulevard.
There's a small beach area tucked behind a rocky jetty called Lover's Point. Walking westward, the path opens to large patches of ice plants, thick with small pink blossoms that edge the rough coast. Cormorants fly in formation over the kelp beds, past the fishing boats waiting for nightfall, when lights are used to attract squid.
The next morning, we walked further west toward the light house. It got really windy in this stretch, and that slowed us down a bit; all the better to take in the scenery. Along the path, we pass two large, roundish rocks with a thin gap between them - known as the kissing rocks. Past these rocks, the chop was heavier and the spray more prevalent. As we got closer to the lighthouse, we ran into a large crowd of school children, who had apparently bused in for a end of school outing. Well, we were ready to turn around anyway.
After lunch we drove down to Point Lobos, a State Nature Reserve just south of Carmel - the most beautiful coast I think I've ever seen: bright and dark rock formations covered with succulents and grasses, the shadowy kelp and the splashes of seafoam. And there was, of course a soundtrack, too: the kick of the spray, the droning barks of the sea lions, and the constant rush of air over the outcrops and in the little inlets and caves.
Famed for its sea lion population as well as its harbor seals - we saw plenty of both. It was our first chance to really test the telephoto lens; boy I was not sure any of our pics would come out, it was so windy and my eyes are so old. But the monopod did its job and the zoom lens compensated for my own marginal optics. We were happily surprised when we got home and downloaded the images, as nearly every picture we took was a winner.
From Sea Lion Cove, we drove across the Reserve and found a small group of harbor seals "pupping". Whaler's Cove is a large, sheltered semi-circle with shallow, sandy beaches where the seals could easily slide on shore; when we got there there was a stray pup yipping away in a kelp bed about a dozen feet from shore. The barking went on for quite some time; the ranger commented that the pups were about a month old and that he had never seen a pup left alone for such a long stretch. Regardless, the adults were happy to stay put on the beach, but no more than 100 feet away. It was quite a treat to have this group of seals so close and all to ourselves.
The next day the forecast called for rain, so we made a day of it indoors at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. My goodness, what a place! The big tanks were astonishing, and the smaller displays were all impressive, too. The attractions were mesmerizing; we must have spent twenty minutes just watching the otters. We wanted to see the giant octopi, but they had crammed themselves into the corners of their tanks. One lady, claiming to have "finally" found herself alone at the Aquarium, parked herself by the larger octopus and refused to move. At one point the octopus decided to rush to the other side of the tank - a gasp flashed through the crowd, and then he was hidden again. And the octopus lady had followed her friend to the other side, too.
With our Membership passes, we were able to take a "behind the scenes tour" with only one other guest and a small group of new Aquarium staff. Tara, an Aquarium biologist (?), acted as our guide and showed us, quite literally, the internal plumbing: wet suits and gear, fish food, solitary for cephalopods (the trick is to surround them with astroturf), a medical bay and nursery for otters, and the top of the big tank with a craneway for the large fish.
We finished our day with the sea horses. What a way to wind down: just enjoy the zen of being with the Syngnathiformes (Tara challenged us to use that word in a sentence). The experience was hypnotic in the best possible way; in contrast to the action of the penguins and the murres, the otters, and the divers in the big tank, this was calming. Plus, you had to get right in to see anything, and once you saw the animals, it was hard to pull yourself away. The flow was slow. And that was fine. We were especially taken, as were so many others, with the leafy sea dragons; hard to believe those things were alive. They were exotic and gorgeous.
Restaurants reviews: PassionFish in Pacific Grove gets three stars. Yummy. Also, the sit-down restaurant in the Aquarium was terrific (there are field glasses on the tables so you can spy on the shore scenes out the windows).
Oh - and the Red Sox won four in a row while we were away; we listened to the games when we could. Back in first place and me on vacation; the world is good again. Our thanks to Shelby and Erich.
[Click here for the whole slide show.]