Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Central California - Monterey and Carmel

We sadly left the wonderful little town of Morro Bay and started heading up the coast to Monterey. Our first stop was the Hearst Castle. It seems like a mix of Disneyland dreams with Donald Trump's ego. Everything was so over the top. I started losing any admiration for the beauty.



Yeah, this is a pretty decent pool. Perhaps even a little nicer than your local YMCA. Some of the columns were actually taken from ruins in Greece and brought to California. Really? Was that needed to make it an awesome pool?



And if the weather is a bit breezy, you can use the indoor pool. Huge vaulted ceilings. Deep enough for water polo. And billions and billions of tiny tiles, some of which were layered in gold.

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Everyone should consider the tour once. I would never consider it twice. At least the gardens were filled with pretty flowers and pretty Julie's.



Just north of the Hearst Castle is a big hangout for Elephant Seals. These are the big boys of the seal kingdom. The beach was full of females and a handful of young males. The big, dominant males don't show up for another month or so. They sure seem to litter up a nice beach.



This time of year, they look pretty scruffy. They are getting rid of their winter skin in exchange for new, sleeker summer attire. Unfortunately, as they make the change, they look like they are suffering from a nasty skin fungus.



Even before the males really get going, there are some little turf wars that occur. As best I could tell, they weren't fighting over the ladies. It was mostly some unfortunate soul trying to drag his butt back up the beach from the water. There were so many seals, they would have to climb over some to get through. That was never appreciated.



We left the seals, had a nice lunch in Big Sur, and then headed into Carmel. The town of Carmel-by-the-Sea is cute. It's full of nice little shops and restaurants and is very walker friendly. The shops tended to be very expensive though, so it was just browsing, no buying.

WARNING: We paid the $10 entry fee to do the "famous" and "scenic" 17-mile drive around Pebble Beach. What a rip off. The scenery may be nice, but you certainly don't see much of it. There are mansions all along the water with big fences and landscaping out front so they don't have to see you. This means your tour is mostly just walls and fences.

We finally got to Monterey and checked into the Marriott. It wasn't as nice as the B&B's we had stayed in, but we stayed free using Julie's Marriott points.

Monterey has a nice Cannery Row. The area used to be big for processing fish, but is now a collection of shops, restaurants and hotels. Some of the buildings have not been fixed and just suffer the endless poundings from the bay. The building must be built like a tank to stand up to this.



Monterey has a great aquarium and it is a "must see" if you're in town. They have an impressive jellyfish display. Some look plain, but most look like living art.



Another example.



This was definitely the most interesting and unique sea species I have ever seen. The aquarium has a new seahorse exhibit and this guy was part of it. It's a Leafy Sea Dragon. He was pretty adept at swimming around and looked amazingly like a floating plant. I want one!!



The next day, we went to Point Lobos State Park. This was worth the $10 entry fee and then some. What a gorgeous park, full of a variety of plants and animals.



This is Seal Rock. If you double-click on the picture, you can see the seals on the very top. We watched a lot of seals struggle just to move up the beach. How in the world did they get to the top of this rock?



There were lots of interesting birds in the park. This is a pair of Black Crowned Night Herons. I think they had a nest on the cliff.



The cormorants were everywhere. There were three types: Double-crested, Brandt's and Pelagic. This group had chosen a sandier spot on an isolated rock. You can see that each of them is standing on a nest.



This guy seemed a bit late to the party. He was primping and strutting, trying to get the attention of the ladies. It seems he was about a month late and not a single female paid him any interest.



This is a black oystercatcher. They aren't endangered, but there are only about 10,000 left on the planet.



We were leaving and saw a momma seal and her young one swimming to shore. I thought "how cute, I'll grab a picture". Right about then little Junior went to the bathroom in the water. So much for swimming.



Back at the hotel, we decided to take along Monterey's great waterfront walking/biking trail. There were quite a few seals, but this little guy was undoubtedly the cutest.



It is hard to see exactly what's oing on because they were moving so quick. It is a pair of sea otters, mom and baby, playing rambunctiously.



Their fun didn't seem to rub off on the seals. Every time they got close, a seal's nap was interrupted, just trying to keep track of the fast moving, seemingly random play of the otters.



This little guy was having a great nap in the sun. You can see he has been tagged. There is a lot of ocean research being done by the aquarium. Back in Point Lobos we saw a guy with a radio receiver and a spotting scope tracking tagged otters.



During the day, the seals all seemed to just lay around. As the sun started to set, we saw more and more of them sit up like this and soak up the remaining rays.



And we'll end on a wonderful display of how you can get comfortable and take a nap almost anywhere if you set your mind to it.



It was a great trip. We got to see lots of different places and I got to take lots of photographs. We had lovely weather and found a number of wonderful places to stay.

Next stop, Hillsboro, Oregon for our niece Kelly's high school graduation.
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