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Condors and Opals and Seals, Oh My!

We’ve been driving coastal Route 1 south from Santa Cruz and it just keeps getting better. I have tons of pictures but for now I’ll just post a few and try to get a new photo album up in the next few days.

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Our progress has been deliberately slow. Route 1 is a road to be savored. There are pullouts every mile or so, and nearly every one offers spectacular views to the Pacific Ocean on one side, and the hills rising on the other.

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Somewhere south of Big Sur we pulled over and spotted a flock of six condors hovering in the breeze. These enormous birds were nearly extinct at one time, but they are recovering. What an impressive sight to see a condor, with a wingspan bigger than you are, swooping right over your head!

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Last night we camped at the Kirk Creek National Forest Service campground, which is part of the Los Padres National Forest. (No hookups, questionable water, $20 per night.) This spectacular campground sits atop a bluff overlooking the ocean, and there are wonderful trails down to the sea. From our campsite we could hear the thudding of huge waves breaking on the rocks. I wish it had been warm enough to sleep with the windows open.

Hunting for interesting rocks near our campsite, Eleanor and Emma discovered opal. Yes, opal. We are not sure yet if it occurs naturally in this area or if someone simply left bits of a larger one there, but we found about 1/4 lb of it in small fragments, ranging in color from nearly white to black-blue. We have saved the bits and plan to mail a few to Emma’s grandparents for polishing.

This morning, the day became overcast (but still 60 degrees), and the wind picked up. We made fewer stops along the coast but when we spotted elephant seals on the beach, we had to take a look.

It turns out that there’s a stretch of coastline just north of San Simeon where another endangered creature, the elephant seal, has been visiting annually for the past 12 years. They come to mate and give birth, all the way from their summer home in the Aleutian Islands. “Friends of the Elephant Seal”, a local group, act as docents and were standing nearby in blue jackets to help educate us about these fascinating animals.

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The seals get up to 5,000 lbs. The beach was mostly filled with young males, who arrive a few weeks before the big guys arrive. When the big males show up, they battle for bits of the beach (mostly by bellowing) and then gather a harem of 30-40 already-pregnant females. The females give live birth on the beach, nurse the pup for 28 days, and then they are free to mate with the male. If the pup has gained enough weight (200 lbs!) it will teach itself how to swim and fish. Otherwise, tough luck.

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An elephant seal can swim to 5,000 feet below the sea! It has super-oxygenated blood (and a lot of it) and some other tricks to allow it to avoid breathing for hours. We learned all this and more in a 30 minute visit, while the elephant seals snoozed and bellowed on the sand just a few feet away.

The rest of the day was spent running errands in the cute little town of Cambria, CA, just a couple of miles south of Hearst Castle. We needed everything: post office, ATM, propane, gas, water, dump station, and groceries. By the time we finished all that, the sun was setting and it was time to get back to our campsite at San Simeon State Park. We’ll spend tomorrow at Hearst Castle and then head further south on Monday.

One Response to “Condors and Opals and Seals, Oh My!”

  1. Carol Baidinger Says:

    I do so hope that you will put this blog into book form at the end of your Tour of America. I have never seen such sights and I would love to pour over them again and again and retrace your steps someday for myself!