Monday, May 28, 2012

Friends of Elephant Seals

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  • Rookery for thousands of elephant seals 

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  • Free parking and free admission
  • No restrooms 

After spending a few hours in Hearst Castle, while driving north on CA-1, we noticed a signboard that read “Friends of Elephant Seal”. I was skeptical about finding any elephant seals during this time of the year, but as we noticed people cluttered there, we thought there might be just one or two seals. With no expectation at all we drove inside the parking lot.

Thousands of Elephant Seals

And whoa! Thousands of seals were basking on the beach sands. Apparently that was the molting season for these sea animals. There is a 0.5 mile trail that takes you along the beach, but we could see thousands of seals right from a vantage point in the parking lot itself.

As the name sounds, these seals were humungous and it was fun watching these seals swing their flippers to splash sand on to their bodies. This helps in keeping these cold blooded animals warm.

Close up picture of an Elephant Seal

One cannot walk down to the beach to touch the seals; but you can get a pretty close up view from the trail itself.

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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Pismo Sand Dunes and Pismo Beach

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Sand Dunes

  • Sand dunes
  • Birds
  • Lakes
  • ATV Rentals
  • Campgrounds 

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  • $5/car entrance fee to the dunes
  • Free parking just outside the entrance to the Preserve
  • Free walk-in without a car

The free parking lot just outside to the Preserve entrance was full; hence we parked the car on Pier Ave and walked to the sand dunes. One can pay $5/car and drive on the beach all the way to the place where you can rent ATVs to drive on the massive sand dunes. However, as our car would not quite co-operate the sandy beach and being risk averse about the wheels getting stuck in the sand, we just decided to walk all the way to the sand dunes. As we were walking on the beach, we noticed several small lakes to our left that were flocked with birds. Ropes were tied around the lakes to protect the birds from human interference.

Pismo Sand Dunes

After a long walk on the beach, we finally reached the sand dunes area. They were so extensive and looked so bone dry that it is easy to visualize being in a desert. We spent some time here taking pictures and decided to return. There is also a camping ground nearby.

Pismo Sand

On our way back, we noticed a big family enjoying a ducky BBQ on the beach. It just got me reminded of family back in India, but quickly shunned away those thoughts and went to the Pismo Beach.

Pismo Beach

  • Beach
  • Pismo Beach Pier
  • Water sports

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  • Restrooms available
  • Free parking on the streets
  • There is parking fee to park in the lot right next to the beach
  • Wear flats to walk on the Pismo Pier

We parked the car on Pomeroy Ave, a few blocks away from the beach and walked through the frenzied town to the Pismo Beach. This hustling city was a far cry from the laid back Morro Bay. There were so many restaurants here and I could only wish that we were hungry for dinner.

Pismo Beach Pier

We ambled on the Pismo Pier, while watching people surfing and boogie boarding. As it was time for sunset, we watched the sun set behind the mountains before leaving the beach. Although we wanted to spend more time here, the long day totally drained us out and we could not wait to return to the hotel and crash.  

Sunset at Pismo Beach

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Arroyo Grande Strawberry Festival

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  • One of Central California’s largest festivals
  • Events and Activities
  • Kids' Carnival
  • Food 

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  • Street Parking
  • Free admission 
Festival Streets

From San Luis Obispo, we drove to Arroyo Grande to enjoy the two-day annual Strawberry Festival. The city was packed with throngs of people and I think we were lucky to find a parking spot a few blocks away from where the festival booths were set up.

Festival Booth

As the name sounds, the festival features several events like Strawberry stampede, Strawberry prince and princess contest, Strawberry blonde contest, kids carnival and many more. We even noticed camel rides for the kids. All the strawberry made goodies like strawberry shortcake, strawberry funnel cake, strawberry ice-cream, strawberry kabob and strawberry milkshakes did not fail to entice us.

Strawberry Desserts

It was certainly nice strolling in the warm weather through the festival booths that boasted all kinds of arts and crafts, face painting and the festivity mood in the air was addictive. We spent a couple of hours here and took off to see the popular sand dunes in Pismo Beach.

Camel Ride in the festival

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Montana de Oro State Park

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  • Hiking Trails
  • Biking Trails
  • Equestrian Trails
  • Camping
  • Beaches
  • Beach Coves
  • Valencia Peak (1,347-foot)
  • Spooner’s Cove
  • Corallina Cove
  • Tide pools in Corallina Cove
  • Seals
  • Wildlife (Deer, Oystercatcher, Rattle Snake, Lizards, Western Gull)
  • View of Morro Rock 

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  • Free parking
  • Free admission
  • Restrooms at several places in the state park
  • Wear comfortable clothing and shoes 

Montana de Oro State Park, one of the largest state parks in California is one place where I would never feel wearied even if I spend an entire week here. The park features so many hiking trails along the coast and in the mountains that they is no way there would ever be a dull moment here. The golden windflowers found in the park earned its other popular name, “Mountain of Gold”.

I am surprised that this state park was enlisted as one of the 48 California State Parks that was proposed to be closed by Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2008, but I am glad it survived! This place is a beauty that everyone must have access to.

Spooner’s Cove

As people who get sparked by wild ocean, spooky caves, tide pools, hole-in-the-rock formations, rock climbing, this park satisfied us in every possible dimension. We drove to the popular Spooner’s Cove to see the iconic hole-in-the-rock formation on a cliff. 
Hole in the rock formation in Spooner's Cove

Spooky cave in Spooner's Cove

If you are prepared to get your hands and pants soiled, go ahead and climb on the nearby rocks; the adventure and the unique seascapes is totally worth it. If needed, crawl on those steep rocks; it is nothing but fun! We spent a little over an hour in Spooner’s Cove and walked uphill for a bit to take the Bluff Trail.

Spooner's Cove
Bluff Trail

Length: 2 miles; Elevation: Insignificant; Time: 1.5 hours; Difficulty: Easy

This easy 2-mile trail on an 80-foot cliff took us along the Pacific Coast, offering some of the breathtaking views. A lookout from the trail imparted a stunning aerial view of the Spooner’s Cove, Morro Rock and stacks of the Morro Bay powerplant to the far right.

View from Bluff Trail (Morro Rock seen far behind)

As we walked on the trail, a detour took us down to the Corallina Cove, known for its rich tide pools. We prudently walked on the slippery tide pools to see some of the most exotic sea life. The crystal clear water in the tide pools revealed tide pool sculpins, shield limpets, surf crass, shore crabs, sea anemone, sea urchins, abalones, rock crabs and hermit crabs

Tide pools in Corallina Cove

As we were searching for other sea animals, we noticed a huge sea star in one of the tide pools. Bunches of California Mussels were clustered next to the tide pools. Don’t miss out the camouflaged seals basking on the rocks just off the shore. I heard a visitor mentioning that she saw a couple of double-colored striped rattle snakes back on the trail. We were so engrossed watching the rich marine life in the tide pools that we did not even notice time fly by.

California Mussels

We continued on our trail and returned to the car. Although I wanted to hike the 1347-foot Valencia Peak and take several other coastal trails, we were so enervated and ravenous that we bookmarked them in our “to-do” list when we visit the SLO County another time.

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Morro Bay State Park

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  • Hiking
  • Breathtaking view of Morro Bay, Morro Rock, Stacks of Morro Bay power plant
  • Camping

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  • Free admission
  • Free parking
  • Free trail map at Museum of National History

We received a trail map from a lady at the Museum of National History and decided to take the 3 mile Black Hill Trail to the summit of the Black Hill, one of the nine volcanic plugs in the San Luis Obispo County. The trail maps are so confusing that it took us 20minutes to figure out the trail head. Google maps via cell phone came to our rescue. We parked our car just outside the campground, walked past the campground and finally found the Black Hill trail head.

We were impressed by the well-marked and the well-maintained campgrounds that had restrooms nearby and the basic necessities.

Anyway, the Black Hill Trail was very narrow and we had to wade through the bushes to walk on the trail. Within a minute or two of hiking, for a very embarrassing reason I decided to not take the trail, but instead drive to the Black Hill summit. I saw lizards, not just one, but plenty and they freak the life out of me. There was no way I was going to enjoy the hike with the thought of lizards all over the trail.

Steep hike to Black Hill summit
So we took the Black Hill Road, drove past the golf course and finally reached the parking lot on top of the Black Hill. The parking space is limited up there and there is a huge water tank close to the parking lot. We then hiked on a steep 0.5 mile trail from the parking lot to go to the peak. We finished the short hike with a breathtaking view from the summit. It was a 360 degree aerial view of the entire Morro Bay, Morro Rock and the Pacific on one side and rolling green mountains on the other side.  

Panoramic view from Black Hill summit 

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Anchor Park, Coleman Park, Tidelands Park

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After spending time at Morro Rock, we stopped by a few small parks along the Morro Bay.

Anchor Memorial Park

  • A small park by the Morro Bay
  • Memorial for fishermen lost in the sea 

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  • Picnic benches
  • Fish, Seals, Sea lions, Sea Otters
  • Mallard, snowy egret, Common Loon, Other birds
  • Squirrels
Anchor Memorial Park

It is a small park on Embarcadero that has its iconic 7000 pound anchor placed in the park to honor fishermen lost in the sea. The anchor was made in 1830 and found in Niagara River, Buffalo in the year 1960. There are a few benches in the park facing the Morro Rock where one can relax while enjoying the beautiful view. It is hard to miss the shore birds, seals and squirrels in the park. 

Coleman Park

  • A small park by the Morro Bay

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  • Free street parking
  • Fish, Seals, Sea lions, Sea Otters
  • Mallard, snowy egret, Common Loon, Herons, Other birds
  • Fishing
  • Kids play area
Heron in Coleman Park

The Coleman Park is located on the causeway that connects the Morro Rock with the mainland. As it is along the Morro Bay, one can see people fishing, kayakers dragging their kayaks to the shore and the sea animals and birds. We carefully observed a couple of herons sticking their necks out and stealthily walking in the water to catch their prey.  

Tidelands Park

  • A small park by the Morro Bay

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  • Free admission
  • Free parking
  • Parking lot next to Tidelands Park
  • Picnic benches
Tidelands Park

This is a small, well-maintained park just by the Bay and it offers amazing view of the Morro Bay, Morro Rock and the sand spit. The park features a playground for kids and a couple of benches for those who simply want to take it easy by the waters. We spent a few minutes in the park, walked on the boat dock, took the stairs across the street to go to Olive and Morro intersection to capture a stunning view of the sun set just beside the Morro Rock.

Sunset (from Olive and Morro intersection)

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Morro Rock

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At the crack of dawn, loaded with excitement, we started on our 3 hour drive to San Luis Obispo County during the Memorial Day weekend. As we approached Morro Bay, we came upon the huge Morro Rock, one of the nine volcanic plugs in the SLO County. Being a small town with no tall buildings, one can see the Morro Rock from almost any part of the Morro Bay. We parked the car on Embarcadero along the ocean, took a short walk in the low key town and drove to the iconic Morro Rock.

  • Morro Rock (576 foot volcanic plug)
  • Beach to one side of Morro Rock
  • Sand spit to the other side of Morro rock, forming the Morro Bay
  • Seals, Sea lions, Sea Otters, Fish, Other marine creatures
  • Ground squirrels
  • Seagulls, Peregrine Falcons, Herons, Other birds
  • Water sport
  • Fishing 
  • Biking

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  • Free admission
  • Free parking
  • Illegal for public to climb on the rock
  • No restrooms 
Morro Rock

The Morro Rock, one of the nine volcanic plugs or one of the nine sisters in the SLO County is sometimes called the “Gibraltor of the Pacific”. It was named El Morro, meaning Crown, by the Portuguese explorer Juan Cabrillo in 1542.

The Morro Rock was formed when lava hardens within a vent in an active volcano. Eventually, after volcanic eruption ceased and the orginal volcano eroded away, it left behind the hardened lava, which is now the Morro Rock.

We drove on the causeway that connects Morro Rock with the mainland and parked the car near the Rock. To one side of the Rock is a beach where we saw people surfing, boogie boarding and enjoying other water sports. The other side is the Morro Bay, formed by a sand spit. The Morro Rock is the entrance to the Morro Bay Harbor, which is a commercial shipping line and also popular among kayakers.

Sea Otters in Morro Bay

Just off the shore in the Morro Bay were teams of sea otters that grabbed everyone’s attention. We were all eyes on the moms cuddling their kids, carrying them around and performing all kinds of gimmicks. They were just so darn cute! We also noticed a seal trying to mingle with the sea otters and the baby otters making a shrill “wee” sound in apprehension as the seal came close to them.

Ground Squirrels

Another thing that captured our attention was the enormous number of bodacious squirrels. It was fun to see the squirrels run in and out of their holes and they were swarming like ants on the ground. I was taken aback to see how audaciously they come close to the visitors. Here is a video of a squirrel that I took with my cell phone. The beauty is that I did not zoom in (except for the last few seconds); it was that close to me.

We spent an hour here, sitting on one of the boulders by the Morro Bay, watching the squirrels, birds, sea otters and seals.

As we walked around the Morro Rock, we heard sharp, piercing sounds of birds on top of the Morro Rock and one of the people there mentioned that the birds were making alarm calls because they felt threatened. One of the visitors had an owl in his hand. Not sure how he got hold of it, but we took a picture of the nocturnal bird.


A part of the Morro Rock is not accessible and there are clear “Danger” signs posted in such places. 

Biking is very popular in the San Luis Obispo county; one can rent bikes and surreys on an hourly or daily basis. We rented a surrey from Farmer's Kites Surryes and More and biked to the Morro Rock. It is fun!

In addition to the beauty of the Morro Rock, Morro Bay and the sea life here, the geological formation of this volcanic plug makes this place all the more enchanting!

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Alum Rock Park

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  • Hiking Trails
  • Biking
  • Equestrian Trails
  • Picnic Area
  • Play area for kids
  • Penitencia Creek
  • Deer, Horses, Sheep
  • Eagles, Other birds

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  • $6 car parking fee; Free parking in the neighborhood
  • Free trail map at the main entrance
  • BBQ pits in picnic area
  • Restrooms in several places along the trail

Please Note:
The pictures might not be as commendable as they normally are because I took them. My husband, who normally takes the pictures decided to stay home to stick on to playing the much awaited Diablo.

Penitencia Creek Trail – North Rim Trail – Eagle Rock Trail

Length: ~4.5 miles; Elevation: 795 feet; Time: 2.5 hours; Difficulty: Easy

There are several ways to enter the Alum Rock Park. We parked the car in Penitencia Creek Road at the main entrance, which is at the west end of the park. We got a map from an attendant at the booth in the main entrance and began our hike at the Penitencia Creek Trail. The trail started with a steep ascend and immediately became leveled. This narrow, well-shaded trail that passes along the placid Penitencia Creek gave me a feeling of inward tranquility.

Penitencia Creek Trail

There were several picnic benches and restrooms along the trail. Soon, we reached the Playground Area next to the Visitor Center Ranger Office. The playground area has a lot of benches, chairs, BBQ pits, slides, swings, etc. We immediately flung our bags and hopped on to the swings to play to our glory. Who said only kids love playing in the swing? What is more fun than to swing high and jump on the ground?

Play Area

Exhausted after playing in the swing; we sat on one of the benches to eat sandwiches. We even noticed a family arranging their kid’s birthday party in the picnic area. Birthday celebrations in the woods and a play area nearby to keep the kids occupied? I thought that was a wise idea.

View from Eagle Rock Point

We took the North Rim Trail, which ascended along the meadows to soon connect with the trail that lead us to the Eagle Rock Point. The trail was not shaded at all; we drank water frequently to avoid getting dehydrated. The Eagle Rock Point, which is at an elevation of 795 feet, offers a panoramic view of the valley and a huge mansion next to it has horses and sheep in the farm.

Horse in a farm near Eagle Rock Point
We then took the trail back to the main entrance. On the way back, we noticed couple of deer at the creek and we immediately hushed to a pin drop silence to observe their activities. Within a few minutes, the deer hopped off into the woods.
Deer next to Penitencia Creek
It was definitely an easy, leisurely hike and I would certainly like to return to try out other trails or even possibly go biking.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Fort Funston National Park

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  • Philip Burton Beach
  • Hiking Trails
  • Battery Davis
  • Scenic lookout of Thornton Beach, Lake Merced
  • Mussel Rock (point where San Andreas Fault cuts into the Pacific Ocean)
  • Hang Gliding
  • Sandy Bluffs
  • Horseback Riding

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  • Free parking and free admission
  • Bring your dog; it is a very dog-friendly park
  • Restrooms at trailhead

Sunset Trail – Coastal Trail – Horse Trail

Length: ~2.5 miles; Time: 2 hours; Difficulty: Easy

After an hour’s drive from San Jose, we reached Fort Funston National Park and parked the car at the main entrance. The parking lot is huge, so one would almost always immediately find a parking spot.

Observation Deck

At one end of the parking lot, there is an observation deck from where we caught a beautiful sight of the Philip Burton beach in front of us, Thornton beach to the left, Mussel Rock to the far left and San Francisco coast to the right stretching as far as the eye could see.

Mussel Rock to the far left

The North American and Pacific plates of the earth’s crust collide off the Fort Funston coast forming the San Andreas Fault, which has cleaved mountains and volcanoes. The Mussel Rock to the far left is the place where the San Andreas Fault leaves the land and runs into the ocean.

Battery Davis

We started our hike on the Sunset Trail along the coast that took us through the featured sand dunes. Soon we reached Battery Davis that was constructed in 1936 to hold two 16-inch guns to protect the Pacific Coast during wartime.
Dogs having fun in the beach

As we continued onto the Sunset Trail, we took the detour to the beach access. It was fun watching the dogs having a blast in the wave friendly beach. It did get me into some serious thinking about raising a dog!

View of Lake Merced from Horse Trail

The Sunset Trail connected with the Coastal Trail, which soon connected with the Horse Trail running parallel to the Coastal Trail. From the Horse Trail, which looked secluded and well-shaded, one can see the busy Skyline Boulevard and Lake Merced next to it. Soon, the trail took us directly to the main parking lot. The hike did satiate our wish to go on a mild hike to see some beautiful views.

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