Archive for the ‘Coasts’ Category

Single-Image Sunday: A Cool Embrace   9 comments

In the Pacific Northwest one heads to the coast in order to warm up in winter or cool down in summer.  With the Japanese Current bringing cold water from the Gulf of Alaska, this coast is often foggy.  The current also causes cold, nutrient-rich waters to well up along the coast, helping to support the region’s rich marine life.  While the cold currents nourish life in the sea, the fog they create nourishes dense forest on land.  The foggy conditions, not surprisingly, have also caused many a shipwreck over the years.  The entire Pacific NW coast is rugged and studded with lighthouses, but the north Olympic Coast in Washington is an especially big graveyard for ships.

I captured this image on my recent trip to the Olympic Peninsula.  The narrow, curvy road out to Cape Flattery runs along a rugged, forested coast facing the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Cape Flattery lies on the Makah (American Indian) Reservation.  It is the northwestern-most point of the United States (excluding Alaska).  Fog came in and out during my one-night stay out there.  I wanted to capture the primal feel of this place where rugged rainforest-clad hills meet the sea.  During summer, this kind of weather is not nearly as common as it is in winter, so I felt pretty lucky in that regard.

The rugged and wet north coast of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington faces the Strait of Juan de Fuca and is prone to foggy weather.

The rugged and wet north coast of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington faces the Strait of Juan de Fuca and is prone to foggy weather.

Hope you enjoy the picture.  Please click on it if you’re interested in purchase options.  It is copyrighted and not available for free download, sorry ’bout that.  Please contact me with any questions about this image or anything else you’re curious about.  Thanks for checking in!

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Quick Trip to the Coast: Part II   8 comments

Low tide at the Oregon Coast

Low tide at the Oregon Coast

This is the second of two parts on a section of the Oregon Coast between Cannon Beach and Depoe Bay.  It’s a part of the coast where you can make a sort of loop from Portland.  Just take Highway 26 west from town and head all the way over to Cannon Beach.  Then travel south on Highway 101 through Tillamook (did somebody say “cheese tour”?) and on to Lincoln City.  Past this large town is a beautiful stretch of coastline to Depoe Bay.  From here you can backtrack to Lincoln City then take Highway 18 back to Portland.

Perched Gull

On the way south to Depoe Bay, a beach stop I can definitely recommend is Fogarty Creek.  This state park has two access points about 1/4 mile from each other; turn east off the highway.  Either one takes you to a large grassy and treed area where you can park and picnic.  But the real show is out on the beach.  Walk the short trail along the pretty creek to a wild beach where you can explore for fossils and agates.  It’s easier to walk north; southward you’ll soon be blocked by a headland in all but very low tides.  The fossil clams and other concretions are very easy to find in the rocks along the beach.

Exploring somewhat inaccessible rocky areas of the Oregon Coast is my favorite thing to do there.

Exploring somewhat inaccessible rocky areas of the Oregon Coast is my favorite thing to do there.

Depoe Bay is one of those little towns that make the Oregon Coast popular with those who like cute towns and plenty of gift shops.  It has an excellent little whale-watch museum/station where volunteers are very eager to show you gray whales if they are visible.  There are also whale-watch tours that leave from the snug little harbor.  You can see them year-round, but spring and late fall are probably best.

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Boiler Bay is a great place to explore.  You will see a sign for it on the left as you drive out of Depoe Bay heading north.  You can pull off and get a view of the bay.  This is a good place to watch for whales.  But to access the shore of the bay for its excellent tide-pooling and exploration you’ll need to do a little more work.

Working your way down this is the first sight of Boiler Bay.

Working your way down this is the first sight of Boiler Bay.

Boiler Bay

Boiler Bay

 Access is impossible from the viewpoint, but if you’re adventurous enough to handle the slippery rocks, you can certainly handle finding the access.  So I won’t spill the beans here (I might anger a local!).  This is the second time I’ve explored down here.  There were a healthy number of tourists up above, but despite the fact they could see me from the viewpoint, I had the bay to myself.

Tidepooling!

Tidepooling!

I see you sea anemone!

I see you sea anemone!

The rocky coastline at Boiler Bay is really only navigable during low tide, and my timing was good in that respect.  Making my way over slippery rocks, around small headlands and into coves where you never know exactly what you’ll find, peering into tidepools at sea-stars, anemones and crabs: this is what I love best to do on our coast.  The old rusty boiler for which this place is named has been sitting in this spot since 1910 when the ship it came from exploded and sank.  For me it made a good subject despite average light for photos.

Boiler Bay

Seastar not starfish!

The old boiler in Boiler Bay is used as a perch by seabirds.

The old boiler in Boiler Bay is used as a perch by seabirds (murres I believe).

What a spectacular place and day!  A couple gray whales were spouting just offshore of the bay mouth.  I watched them for awhile but they were too far for pictures.  This is a fine spot to go tidepooling, and I want to come back for sunset pictures someday, hopefully when we have unusually low tides.  All in all a great foray to the Coast.  Hope you enjoyed the pictures and story.

Edge of Kiwanda

Quick Trip to the Coast: Part I   8 comments

Cannon_Beach_7-17-13_5D3_001

I rarely go to the Oregon Coast during summer, since it tends to be too busy and also because other times of year (especially early Spring) are generally better for photography.  Recently it’s been on the brain, however, so I decided a quick trip was in order.  I went during the week, but it was still as busy or busier than I like it.  The weather was sunny but windy and a bit on the cool side.

Haystack Rock and Cannon Beach.

Haystack Rock and Cannon Beach.

The typical summertime weather pattern for the coast is morning clouds breaking for brilliant sunshine by mid-day.  The closer to the ocean itself you get, the cooler it is.  Drive inland for 20-30 minutes and the temperature jumps a good 15-20 degrees.  On the beach itself the wind makes it a little chilly but hide behind a dune and you can be in shorts with no shirt and not feel cold.  The highs adjacent to the beach were in the mid- 60s to low-70s (Farenheit) during the day.  At this very same time much of the rest of the U.S. was suffering through incredible heat.  And even Portland just over an hour away was in the mid-90s (but with low humidity).

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In other words, our coast was the place to be, despite the fact that it would have been perfect had it been 10 degrees warmer.  I’d rather be someplace where you need to move it out to feel comfortable in shorts and T-shirt than be where you make any movement whatsoever and you’re drenched in sweat.

I only spent two nights, heading over to Cannon Beach for sunset then down the coast to the Depoe Bay area before heading back.  This section of our north-central coast includes some great natural sights along with several cutesy towns for strolling.  Cannon Beach is scenic but a bit too popular for me.  I headed down to the Manzanita area to spend the first night.  This is not far south of Cannon Beach yet is less crowded and with a bit more of a natural emphasis.  The huge bulk of Neahkahnie Mountain guards the north side of the little town of Manzanita, where you can rent a house for a weekend or week and enjoy a super-wide beach.

Coarse Sand

The hiking here is among the best on the Oregon Coast.  You can do a short but fairly steep hike up Neahkahnie Mountain from either the south or north.  The south side access is up a little dirt road just south of Highway 101’s high point as it traverses up and over the mountain.  The north side trailhead is on the highway across from a pull-out.  You can also hike the opposite way from this point toward the high sea cliffs and down a switchback trail that eventually leads to spectacular Short Sands Beach.

A pond just inland from the coast has abundant water lilies.  Or are these lotus flowers?

A pond just inland from the coast has abundant water lilies. Or are these lotus flowers?

A much shorter trail to Short Sands starts from a bigger and busier parking lot not far north along the highway.  In either case, a trail continues from Short Sands a couple more miles out onto Cape Falcon.  This is a fantastic hike, well worth it.  Short Sands, which has become quite popular with surfers in recent years, occupies a rocky cove marked by dramatically tilted layers of sandstone.  In summer the beach is plenty wide for standard beach goings on.

I like to combine Neahkahnie and Cape Falcon in a longer hike.  A car or bicycle shuttle makes it a very feasible dayhike.  Leave a car at the main Short Sands parking lot then start at the south trailhead for Neahkahnie.  Hike up and over the mountain down to the north trailhead.  Cross the highway and continue down to Short Sands Beach, then out to Cape Falcon.  Return to the Short Sands parking lot where you left your shuttle vehicle.  This  9- or 10-mile hike gives you an outstanding taste of the wilder side of the Oregon Coast.  It’s just the ticket if you have spent too much time wandering through gift shops in Yachats, Seaside or Cannon Beach.

Gray volcanic rocks are smoothed and polished by the surf.

Gray volcanic rocks are smoothed and polished by the surf.

I drove part of the wonderful Three Capes route, a detour from 101 that takes off from Tillamook & rejoins 101 further south.  For photos, I think Cape Kiwanda is the best of the three.  But Cape Lookout certainly has a lot going for it, including a hike out to the tip of the cape and a great campground & beach.  At Kiwanda, I hiked over the big dune marking its south side, where it’s two steps up and one step down.

The view south from Cape Kiwanda on the Oregon Coast.

The view south from Cape Kiwanda on the Oregon Coast.

I scrambled down to the two rocky coves incised into the soft rock of the cape.  This “almost-sandstone” is buff and orange in color, which is partly why this place is so popular with photographers.  In the largest (and most difficult to reach) rocky cove, a spectacular tall archway is only visible if you walk all the way to the northern tip of the cape.

A nice sunset captured earlier this past spring down in one of Cape Kiwanda's rocky inlets.

A nice sunset captured earlier this past spring down in one of Cape Kiwanda’s rocky inlets.

Your reward is a running and hopping descent of the huge dune on the south side of the cape.  A real return to childhood it is, and since it faces the beach you’ll have an audience!  A further reward is had adjacent to the beach, where friendlies at Pelican Bay Brewery are ready to pour you a mega-pint of IPA (the p standing for pelican not pale).  This little travelogue of the Oregon Coast continues next time with the second of two parts, so stay tuned.  Thanks for reading!

The sea stacks just offshore of Cannon Beach, Oregon are set against a peaceful summer sunset.

The sea stacks just offshore of Cannon Beach, Oregon are set against a peaceful summer sunset.

Lost Coast, California   5 comments

Eel River Sunrise

Northern California’s Lost Coast is located in northern Mendocino and southern Humboldt counties, north of San Francisco.  Steep mountains plunge down to a rocky shore.  Lonely beaches with waterfalls and good abalone hunting face out on great surfing breaks.  Just inland, wildlife abounds in the forest and small communities are separated by majestic redwood groves.

The rising sun sets the sky afire in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California.

The rising sun sets the sky afire in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California.

The Lost Coast includes the King Range, a rugged, steeply uplifted piece of geology with many valleys oriented parallel to the coast – a very unique situation.  California’s  western-most headland, Cape Mendocino, occupies much of the Lost Coast.  These two geographic facts give the place its isolated character.  And as usual, the geology of the region is the underlying factor driving everything.

The Lost Coast of northern California is the scene of a peaceful winter's sunset.

The Lost Coast of northern California is the scene of a peaceful winter’s sunset.

Geology

The famous San Andreas Fault, which parallels the coastline all the way north from San Francisco, leaves the coast here and merges with the offshore Cape Mendocino Fault (which runs perpendicular to the coast and out to sea).  This is where three of the Earth’s tectonic plates come together.  The North American Plate, the Pacific Plate, and the small Gorda Plate join in what geologists call a triple junction.

The plate tectonic setting for the Lost Coast of California is dominated by the triple junction just offshore from Cape Mendocino.

The plate tectonic setting for the Lost Coast of California is dominated by the triple junction just offshore from Cape Mendocino.

The slip-sliding characterized by the San Andreas to the south gives way to a subduction zone to the north.  The Gorda Plate is slipping beneath the North American Plate.  This means that a line of volcanoes lies inland.  The Cascades begin at Mount Lassen and extend north past the Canadian border.  But much closer to the coast, an enormous torquing action occurs, which is why the uplift is extreme here.  The rocks are heavily buckled and folded, forming the rugged King Range.

The part of the northern California Coast between Fort Bragg and Eureka is called the Lost Coast.

The part of the northern California Coast between Fort Bragg and Eureka is called the Lost Coast.

The coast’s spectacular scenery owes its existence to this triple junction.  Rapid uplift of a coastline is marked by frequent earthquakes and landslides, and this area is no exception.  Offshore sea stacks, for e.g., are often the result of enormous landslides in the past.  And of course landslides are often precipitated by earthquakes.  All the while erosion is taking place,  from constant wave action.  And the uplift of the coastal margin gives the waves a constant source of new rocks to erode all the time.

Ice Plant, a non-native, blooms in winter-time on the Lost Coast of California.

Ice Plant, a non-native, blooms in winter-time on the Lost Coast of California.

I stopped in the little town of Garberville, just off Hwy. 101.  It is a typical northern California town, filled with real characters.  Not all of these people, believe it or not, are old burnt-out hippies.  For the first time during this trip, I didn’t feel out of place in my VW camper.  Now if I only had a dreadlocks wig as big as one of those giant octopuses that live in the nearby ocean, I would have fit in perfectly.  Actually the town is peaceful, with a magnificent stand of redwoods nearby in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

A cave on a northern California beach looks out on a sunny Pacific day.

A cave on a northern California beach looks out on a sunny Pacific day.

Then I headed over the extremely curvy and hilly two-lane that leads from Garberville out to the coast at Shelter Cove.  What a road!  The last hill descending off the King Range to the coast is extremely steep, granny gear both ways.  The little settlement of Shelter Cove is spread out, and seems to be populated by people who enjoy their isolation.  I wouldn’t necessarily call them anti-social loners, but there is a reason why they live  here.  Almost 1000 people live here, but I am sure many of the spectacularly-located houses are 2nd homes.

A beach house on the coast of California.

A beach house on the coast of California.

I experienced a nice sunset, getting there early enough to explore the rocky shore below the little park.  This park is easy to find if you turn left at the first T-junction after the big downhill.  The grassy park, set up on a terrace above the sea, is centered around the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse (see below).  It’s a simple walk down to the rocky shore from this park, and you can continue south past the boat ramp around Shelter Cove itself.  The rock is black, and forms dramatic silhouettes with the numerous tide pools.  Be careful though, and consider rubber boots if you’re planning on exploring and/or photographing.  It’s slippery and there are sneaker waves.  It’s wise to remember the venerable warning to never turn your back on the ocean.

The rocky coastline at Shelter Cove on California's Pacific Coast is a tide-poolers heaven.

The rocky coastline at Shelter Cove on California’s Pacific Coast is a tide-poolers heaven.

Cape Mendocino Lighthouse

This stubby structure, which dates from 1868, did not need to be tall since it was originally placed atop a 422-foot (129 meters) cliff on Cape Mendocino.  It was shipped to the site and hauled up the steep mountainside.  The first ship sent to start construction at the site ran aground, and all supplies were lost (everyone survived though).  Over the years, the light saved many lives, and in more ways than the obvious.  For one thing it was a great lookout.  On one occasion a keeper spotted a ship that was on fire.  He brought help just in time to save all aboard.

The Cape Mendocino Lighthouse, now restored and located in nearby Shelter Cove, glows just after sunset.

The Cape Mendocino Lighthouse, now restored and located in nearby Shelter Cove, glows just after sunset.

But the frequent earthquakes and landslides were a constant hazard, and the lighthouse was eventually abandoned in the early 1960s.  The lighthouse was later saved when a local group had it moved and restored.  For the last 12 years it has shone at Shelter Cove not far south of the Cape.  But its business end seems a bit empty without its original Fresnel lens (which was replaced years ago while it was in service).

Coiled and mounded kelp is a common sight along northern California beaches

Coiled and mounded kelp is a common sight along northern California beaches

I also enjoyed some time in the redwoods at Humboldt Redwoods State Park.  There is a 2-lane road (appropriately called “Avenue of the Giants”) that parallels Hwy. 101, allowing you to stop and walk through the big trees, or enjoy the beautiful Eel River (which winds its way through here on its way to the sea).

An amazing variety of stones are present on this northern California beach.

An amazing variety of stones are present on this northern California beach.

It’s a beautiful and remote stretch of coast, one I can highly recommend visiting.  The coast both to the south (as far as Point Reyes) and to the north (the Oregon border and beyond) is also beautiful.  I didn’t get the opportunity this time to explore the Lost Coast fully.  There are hiking and mountain biking options, plus several fire roads that take off from the Shelter Cove Road.  I encourage you to go further than I did in exploring this rugged part of the California Coast.  I know I’ll do so when I return.

The Pacific Ocean and the day's last light stretch west from the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse in Shelter Cove, California.

The Pacific Ocean and the day’s last light stretch west from the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse in Shelter Cove, California.

Visiting the California Coast near Big Sur   3 comments

In my last post I ranted about the crowds along this stretch of the California Coast that includes the stunning Big Sur.  Well, if you insist on visiting this area instead of the slightly superior (in my opinion) Oregon Coast, please do so during a week other than this one – the week between Christmas and New Years.  I would think much of summer would also be too crowded.  First the bad news, then the good with some recommended stops.

The view north along the California Coast near Big Sur is a classic.

The view north along the California Coast near Big Sur is a classic.

CONS: ACCESS PROBLEMS

I’ve noticed many of my fellow travelers here are on a different wavelength than I am.  They’re dressed to the nines, with heels and nice clothes.  So for them a simple drive with stops to snap photos is what they’re after.  With some exceptions, this is what they get in California.  Coastal access is hampered in this state by lack of foresight.  In Oregon, during the 1960s, Governor Tom McCall passed a law that was brilliant.  In that state, nobody can own the beach; it’s all public.  You will never see a fence with no trespassing signs stretched across the sand in Oregon.

Anna's Hummingbird Feeding

Additionally, there are many many more state parks along the Oregon Coast than on the California Coast.  There are places to access the coastline here, mostly north or south of the Big Sur area.  But a combination of geography (the San Jacinto Mountains are a long and unbroken rank of mountains that keep Highway 1 well up above the ocean) along with the private property have blocked my attempts to experience this coast in the way I like.

I like to take long hikes along the coast, exploring coves and headlands.  This is harder to do here than in Oregon.  Shorter explorations can be done in California, but I’ve found that around Big Sur it’s very difficult.  The Redwood Coast is a little better in this regard.

A green home on the California Coast south of Big Sur basks in winter sunshine.

A green home on the California Coast south of Big Sur basks in winter sunshine.

PROS: 

Redwoods: On the California coast, even this far south, you’ll find the famous Redwood trees.  This is, by the way, something Oregon lacks except for one place in the far south.  Of course if you really want to see the big trees, go up to the Redwood Coast, just south of the border with Oregon.

Golfing: I am not a golfer, but you could do much worse than the Monterrey Peninsula for this sport.  Pebble Beach and a plethora of other courses carpet the land.  By the way, in Oregon, Bandon is a similarly great golfing center.

Elephant Seals and Sea Otters: The stretch of coastline south of Big Sur has many places from which to see these sea creatures.  I would add gray whales to this, but you can see these giants anywhere along the west coast.  Go to Baja in Mexico if you want to get up close and personal with them in their breeding grounds.

Wine & Dine: Although wine country is inland and north from here, there is no shortage of restaurants and wine bars featuring great wines.  In fact, the fine dining in this area is pretty special.  I don’t go in for this type of thing generally, preferring funky cafes and eateries.

Moderate Winter Weather: One winter while living in Alaska I was sent to a conference at Stanford University.  Talk about being thawed out!  The winters south of San Francisco are famous for being rather warm, though big storms are not uncommon.

An Anna's hummingbird rests in the sun before an incredibly energetic feeding session.

An Anna’s hummingbird rests in the sun before an energetic feeding session.

A flower in the gardens of Big Sur Coast Gallery, blooming here in December, is shaped especially for Hummingbirds.

A flower in the gardens of Big Sur Coast Gallery, blooming here in December, is shaped especially for Hummingbirds.

TRAVEL TIPS:

I will focus on photography and nature, since that is what I’m into.

  • Elephant Seals on the beach at San Simeon near the Hearst Castle: These big-nosed seals haul up on the beach and are fairly used to photographers, so you can get pretty close. Don’t get too close though. Males especially can be extremely dangerous.
  • McWay waterfall:  A gorgeous cove and waterfall are accessed by a short trail from Julia Pfeifer State Park, near Big Sur itself.  See image below.
  • The garden at the Big Sur Coast Gallery Cafe:  Up on the headland, you will pass a few lodges and restaurants.  Behind the gas station here (Big Sur’s only one), you’ll find a little cafe with good (but expensive) coffee.  There are cactus all around the place, and they dominate the garden.  But there are all sorts of plants, including those with flowers that draw hummingbirds.
  • Point Lobos:  Not far south of Carmel, you’ll find the Pt. Lobos Reserve.  Hiking trails wind through the trees, and the rocky coastline is chock full of great foregrounds for sunset shots.  This place is very popular, so if you want more solitude try…
  • The headland just south of Point Lobos:  If Pt Lobos is too crowded, go south to the very next headland, just past the public beach.  There is not much parking, but pull in on either side of the hill next to the highway.  A trail heads around on an ocean-side bench.  South of the hill, downhill toward the ocean, a bit of scrambling will take you down to a small beach. There are great tide pools. Back up on top of the bench, work your way around to the north to find all sorts of rocky foregrounds.
  • Lucia: The people at this little lodge south of Big Sur are very friendly and it is a world away from the hoity toity atmosphere of Carmel.  Their restaurant is perched well above the Pacific, with a view into a cove where sea otters play.  You’ll need a big telephoto to get photos of them though.
  • Carmel by the Sea: You’ll find plenty of eating and lodging options, all fairly spendy.  This is a fine town to stroll, but it’s crowded on holidays.  There is an oyster bar named Flaherty’s, so you know I had to visit (that’s my last name).  While it is necessarily more upscale than oyster bars should probably be (it’s Carmel after all), the food is good and the atmosphere not as stuffy as other places in this town.
  • Carmel Mission:  Especially nice if you are religious and want to attend one of the services, this old mission a few minutes west of Hwy. 1 towards Carmel by the Sea is worth a stop and a few photos.  It is well preserved.
  • Monterrey Bay Aquarium:  A can’t miss destination, this aquarium is regarded as one of the best in the country, if not the world.  It lies on the north side of the Monterrey Peninsula, facing the bay to the north.
  • Garland Ranch Regional Park:  This is a nice change from the coast, lying inland in the Carmel Valley about 10 miles from Hwy. 1.  Locals take their dogs for leash-free walks in this beautiful 4500-acre park.  It consists of valley bottom oaks and sycamores, but also ascends to 2000 feet (if you need real exercise).  There are historical remains, both American Indian and that of the Rancho Don Juan.  You can hike, bike or ride horseback on trails of varying lengths.  There is also a visitor center.
A couple walks the trails of Garland Ranch Regional Park in Monterrey County, California.

A couple walks the trails of Garland Ranch Regional Park in Monterrey County, California.

An old wagon sits on the grounds of the old Rancho Don Juan in the Garland Ranch Regional Park near Carmel, California.

An old wagon sits on the grounds of the old Rancho Don Juan in the Garland Ranch Regional Park near Carmel, California.

A simple but beautiful fly appears to be trying to figure out how to get the nectar from this cactus flower in the garden of Big Sur Coast Gallery.

A simple but beautiful fly appears to be trying to figure out how to get the nectar from this cactus flower in the garden of Big Sur Coast Gallery.

A waterfall on the California Coast near Big Sur drops directly into the Pacific.

A waterfall on the California Coast near Big Sur drops directly into the Pacific.

So that’s it for now.  It’s a pretty subjective report I know.  If you’re not really a photo or nature geek, I would recommend some further searching of more standard travel sites.  Just try to visit during an off week.

The rocky Monterrey County, California coastline includes some granite, which looks great with the low plants in December sunshine.

The rocky coast of Monterrey County, California includes granite, which looks great with the low plants in December sunshine.

Waves crash up onto the shore of the California Coast near Big Sur.

Waves crash up onto the shore of the California Coast near Big Sur.

The (crowded) California Coast   Leave a comment

A late afternoon winter's sun illuminates the rugged California Coast.

A late afternoon winter’s sun illuminates the rugged California Coast.

I’ll say right off that California is one of the most beautiful states in the U.S.A., and is arguably one of the most gorgeous places that I’ve ever been in the world.  But I wish I had been born earlier and could have experienced it in the early 20th century, no later than the 50s.  While I’m in the wishing mode, I’d actually like to have roamed around here in the missionary days.  Or trapping and exploring with Jedediah Smith!

The California Coast is the attraction to driving Highway 1.

The California Coast is the attraction to driving Highway 1.

Other than the desert, and the far NE and far NW corners of the state, California is really too crowded and developed for my tastes.  The coast has about three times more traffic and people than I prefer.  And so despite its physical beauty, it falls down on my list of favorite states.  It’s not in the bottom half, but it doesn’t quite crack the top 10 either.  Alaska, Hawaii and Oregon are the top 3, in case you’re curious.

An Anna's hummingbird feeds on flowers in a garden on the California Coast at Big Sur.

An Anna’s hummingbird feeds on flowers in the garden at Big Sur Coast Gallery.

The traffic and pollution in southern California are pretty bad, and the traffic in the Bay Area is a big turnoff as well.  I particularly don’t like the fact that in southern California both the air and immediate offshore marine environment are polluted.  Light pollution, the disappearance of stars from the night sky, is also a huge negative for me.  All that said, the high Sierra, the Redwood Coast, parts of the wine country (the Alexander Valley for e.g.) and of course the Mojave Desert are places I will return to again and again.  These are very worthwhile destinations for anyone who loves the natural world.  Mostly these places are not very crowded.

A garden on the California Coast draws hummingbirds with its blooms, even in winter.

A garden on the California Coast draws hummingbirds with its blooms, even in winter.

I am currently on the Monterrey Peninsula. I had traveled almost all of the California Coast before now but had missed out on the section north of Santa Barbara and south of Santa Cruz.  So on the way home to Oregon now, I am taking the opportunity to drive up this coast.

It’s a very beautiful piece of coastline: rocky headlands, crashing waves, mountains which plunge directly into the ocean.  It reminds me strongly of the Oregon Coast.  But here is the problem, as far as I can see.  If you want to travel a coast that has abundant natural beauty, along with quaint towns, picturesque lighthouses, etc., why not go to Oregon?  It’s less crowded, there is more of the spectacular stuff, and beach access is much much better than in California.

Winter waves on the California Coast near Big Sur hit the legs of the tripod.

Winter waves on the California Coast near Big Sur hit the legs of the tripod.

Granted, this time of year, between Christmas and New Years, I should not be surprised that it’s crowded.  Many people take off during this week, families with kids on school break especially.  But I’ve been on the Oregon Coast at this time of year, and it is nowhere near as busy as the Big Sur/Monterrey area.

I have seen so many folks from other countries, particularly Europe, while traveling this coast over the past few days.  While for Californians this is closer than Oregon (so I get why they are here), I don’t really understand why I don’t see so many visitors from other countries on the Oregon Coast.

Have a Seat

Those from other countries are planning this as a travel destination.  Of course they also want to see San Francisco.  But why not fly into that city and travel north?  I simply can’t understand why anybody would want to see L.A.  The San Diego area is awfully warm this time of year, compared to Oregon, so that makes sense.

I am sure this part of the California Coast would be much more calm and uncrowded during a different week.  When I was south of Big Sur, on Christmas night, the highway north was blocked by a landslide.  It was deserted, and I loved being perched high up on a cliff, camped while the wind and rain from an overnight storm buffeted my van.

An inlaid sculpture highlights one wall of the Carmel Mission in California.

An inlaid sculpture highlights one wall of the Carmel Mission in California.

The day after Christmas was beautiful, and the number of people on the road stayed low.  But over the next few days, and as I moved north, the car numbers increased steadily, until now on the weekend before Christmas in the Carmel area it is downright overcrowded.

When the road finally opened (I snuck through at night after the workers were gone) boy did the cars ever come from the north.  Just north of Big Sur I watched long lines of cars heading south, and was glad I got in a hike and otherwise enjoyed Big Sur before the rush.  It’s a little frantic around here, and I’m not used to it.  Now before you write a comment and point out that I am one of those visitors, I am already well aware of this.  I had to see this area at least once.

A green home on the California Coast south of Big Sur basks in winter sunshine.

A green home on the California Coast south of Big Sur basks in winter sunshine.

I am going to post a strong travel recommendation.  I would never do this if I had a legion of followers.  I prefer that people continue to come here and leave Oregon alone.  But if you are considering a trip along the California Coast, reconsider.  If you started in Portland, Oregon and headed south to San Francisco, or began in the south and headed as far north as the central Oregon Coast, that would be an epic trip.  If you don’t want to do the one-way rental car, you could always return via the quicker Interstate 5 inland.

So that’s enough of my whining.  I will end by saying that it would be much much worse if the people were not so darn friendly here.  Most everyone I’ve met, travelers and locals alike, has been nothing but warm and friendly.  So there!  I’ll post some recommendations next time.

Near Point Lobos on the central California Coast, the sunset illuminates the beautiful groundcover that characterizes this part of the coastline.

Near Point Lobos on the central California Coast, the sunset illuminates the beautiful groundcover that characterizes this part of the coastline.

 

 

 

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