Tuesday, January 20, 2015

You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Till You’ve Heard An Elephant Seal Snort!

Note:  the photos in this blog post look a bit odd because they are actually still frames from a video I shot a couple of years ago that I then photographed from the computer screen (it's a long story).

Listening to hundreds of elephant seals snorting, honking, bellowing, squealing and snuffling is a sound I will never forget. Three years ago my children and I went to Pescadero, CA to go on a docent led tour of the elephant seals in Ano Nuevo State Park. It was breeding season for the elephant seals. Bull males were fighting for dominance, females were giving birth, and pups were not only nursing, but also trying to stay out of the big males’ path (bulls don't care who they squish). To us humans viewing from a safe distance, it looked and sounded like bedlam. But what a sight!

 For most of the year, elephant seals live in the waters of the Northern Pacific Ocean as far north as Alaska and the Aleutian Islands; but they make two migrations a year, coming ashore to the same beaches each time. One of these beaches is along the San Mateo coast of Northern California at Ano Nuevo State Park. In Spring and Summer, Elephant seals come ashore to molt, shedding the first layer of skin and fur (it comes off in sheets) over a period of four to six weeks. The second migration occurs in the Winter. Males come ashore in early December to establish dominance over their future harem. Females come ashore in late December and January to give birth and nurse their pups. The most exciting time of year to see the elephant seals is in December and January when the bulls are fighting for dominance.

 You can see the elephant seals almost year-round at Ano Nuevo (yearlings lounge on the beaches in the Fall) by buying a visitor permit at the entrance station for a self-guided hike. But during breeding season (December– March), you can only see the seals by going on a guided walk. Weekends sell out fast so it's a good idea to make reservations weeks ahead of time (up to 56 days in advance). They do, however, sell some tickets on a first come first served basis on the days a tour is sold out.

Tours are "three-to-four mile walks over rolling sand dunes that last 2.5 hours and are considered moderately strenuous. They operate daily from early morning to mid-afternoon, rain or shine." I found the tour quite easy to walk because you do go slowly and stop often to listen to the guide. Tickets are only seven dollars a person, children three and under are free. By the way my kids loved this tour and when my daughter got tired of hearing our guide lecture about seals, she and a friend just knelt down in the sand and started playing. This is a great tour for kids but I wouldn't recommend it for ages three and under.

To make reservations for a guided walk call: 1-800-444-4445 
For international reservations call: 518-218-5078
Equal access walks for those who need mobility assistance call: 650-879-2033

For more information including directions and what to bring, check out this link.
For more cool facts about elephant seals, Check out this website.

And now, to see and hear the elephant seals in action, watch my one minute video . .
Better yet, sign up for a tour!


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Little Hike to Little Yosemite in Sunol

Alameda County and the Sunol Regional Wilderness
My parents were visiting, so my husband and I "ditched the kids" (my daughter's words not mine) and went on a budget day trip. We drove to the Sunol Regional Wilderness, a beautiful area of unspoiled California in the East Bay, and went on a three mile hike. We hiked to a destination called Little Yosemite, so-called because of its steep canyon, huge boulders, and flowing creek.

What a sight, flowing water in drought stricken California!
We began our hike by checking out the Visitor Center. It was a good thing we did, because the trail we were originally going to take had a washed out pedestrian bridge. The ranger gave us a map and told us of an alternate route. I think it's a good idea to check out trail conditions at a visitor center before going on any hike.

Visitor Center - also known as the Old Green Barn
I was impressed with the visitor center. It was spacious and had an extensive collection of botany cards, put together by volunteers. It also had educational signage, including information about the Ohlone Indians, and various tanks with live tarantulas, salamanders, etc.

Here is the trail we took. We hiked up the McCorkle trail (a little steep) until it met with the Canyon View Trail, went right and down to the Little Yosemite area of Alameda Creek. You have to go down a short steep path that weaves between boulders to get to the creek. Once you're at the creek, there are many huge boulders to climb on if you wish. Of course, don't allow your children to do this after a heavy winter's rain when the creek is really flowing. We returned along Ohlone Road, which was nice and flat. If you have small children who don't want to do hills, you can avoid them by going out and back along the Ohlone Road to visit the Little Yosemite area.

During our hike, we enjoyed unobstructed views of rolling green hills, oak trees, and actually heard bird song uninterrupted by cars or airplanes. What a concept! Winter is a great time to go hiking in Sunol as long as it's not raining. The hills are green, it's not as crowded and it's not hot. This area can get extremely hot in summer; the ranger told us its gotten as high as 108° out in the hills. In spring and early summer the area is supposed to be covered in wildflowers - sounds like we'll have to go back, this time with the kids!

For more information and directions check out this website.

One more thing, Sunol is only about 15 minutes away from Niles Boulevard in Fremont. Since I'd written three blogs about it and loved the area so much, I took my husband there to visit. He had a great time meeting some of the people, eating pizza at Bronco Billy's and jamming with the folk musicians playing at the Mud Puddle that day. It was a perfect ending to a great outing.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Monterey Aquarium - One Of The Best In The World!

Now that you've saved money by going on some of my budget day trips, maybe you can splurge on a non-budget day trip, because this one is definitely non budget! The Monterey Bay Aquarium is expensive, but when you visit the facilities and see their unparalleled tanks, aquariums and marine inhabitants, you'll understand why. This place is gorgeous, and if you stay four hours or more you will definitely get your money's worth.

Swirling Pacific Sardines In The Kelp Forest Exhibit

 So let's get the prices over with: rounding up - adult tickets are $40; children (3 - 12) are $25; students (13 - 17 or with college ID) are $35; and seniors (65 and up) are $35. Children under three are free. There is also a military discount and corporate/ credit union programs. If you plan on visiting the aquarium more than once during the year, you should definitely consider getting a membership.

We did what we could to save money. We parked in the Cannery Row Garage for a flat fee of $10 (this was cheaper than the $20 fee in another lot close by). The lot is located at 601 Foam Street  between Hoffman and Prescott Streets. And it had nice public restrooms next door. Even better, there is an old-fashioned candy store next to the pedestrian exit on Wave Street (601 Wave Street), called The Candy Baron.

Kid in a candy store!

 We also brought our lunch in a backpack. They have a deli, but because it's the only food place in the aquarium, it is expensive. We sneaked our lunch at one of their tables, but if the weather is good you can eat out on one of the aquarium decks.  Guard your food though, the seagulls have been known to snatch it right out of people's hands.

Deck View - Otters, Seals And Even Whales Can Often Be Seen

The Monterey Aquarium has 12 exhibits including, Sea Otters, Jellyfish, Tentacles, The Kelp Forest, The Open Ocean and more. For parents with small children, there is a must see, or do, exhibit called The Splash Zone. This is a hands on touching, jumping, crawling outlet for inpatient toddlers and their exhausted parents. It's the noisiest area in the whole place!

There's a lot more to the Splash Zone than this, unfortunately I only took one photo.
 Now I will leave you with a few pictures to entice you to visit. I did not use my flash, so could only take a few photos in some of the brightest exhibits. This is just a small sample and does not begin to do the aquarium justice.

The Entrance, Located at one end of Cannery Row
Check out their live Jellyfish Web Cam!

Inside a wave!
It's really too bad I didn't get more pictures but that's because I was taking my time to observe, enjoy and soak it all in. You don't want to be a slave to your camera in a place like this. Luckily my daughter took some videos, here is a very short clip.


And one more thing, when we exited everyone was hungry. Luckily, right next door to the aquarium is the cheapest place to get a good bread bowl of clam chowder - $8.00 versus $10 or even $12.  You can buy it at Austino's Patisserie at 851 Cannery Row.

$8.00 Bread Bowl of Clam Chowder - Delicious!
If you have time to explore Cannery Row, You should. There is much to see and quite a bit of hidden history (hidden in-between the tourist shops, unfortunately). In 1945, John Steinbeck wrote a character driven novel called, Cannery Row about the people who lived and worked in "The Sardine Capital of the World." If you are interested in this history, I recommend reading Cannery Row and taking the time to explore it. Sounds like an idea for another blog!

Looking down Cannery Row From Outside The Aquarium
If you visit: check out their website for directions and hours, also bring sun screen and a jacket. Because it's on the coast, Monterey can get foggy and/or cold. Have fun!