Elephant seal


California 2017

Last updated March 4, 2017



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Day One | Day Two | Day Three | Day Four | Day Five | Day Six | Day Seven | Day Eight

At least every other year, I visit my folks in California. It is never a question of "if" but rather "when." In 2017, Norma attended a work event in Los Angeles. This prompted me to fly out and join her once her task was complete. Then we rented a car for a road trip up north to Sacramento.

This trip would be different than most in that it was focused more on people rather than activities.

Day One, Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Weather patterns in both the east and west have been most unusual in the winter of 2016-2017. Growing up in Sacramento, it seemed the norm that there would be a drought. After moving away, conditions have worsened. But over the last few weeks, northern California has received rainfall of historic proportions.
Stations up and down the Sierra mountain chain reported twice the amount of normal rain and snow for this time of year after snowstorms doubled the vital snowpack there that provides the state with much of its year-round water supply.
- from USA Today - 20 inches of rain, 12 feet of snow finally end 5-year drought in Northern California

In contrast, the Maryland area (where I now reside) has been experiencing drought.
Reagan National Airport - D.C.'s official weather-monitoring location - measured 6.04 inches of precipitation from December through February, or 70 percent of average. It was the third-driest (and the least-snowy) since 2000. The kicker is that this dry winter followed an exceptionally dry fall in which Washington tallied only 4.16 inches of rain, compared with its typical 10.3 inches.
Alas, we are in a deficit, and it became glaring in this week's U.S. Drought Monitor report, which paints a large part of the D.C. region - including the District itself - in a "severe" drought. Crop or pasture losses are likely, water shortages are common and water restrictions are often imposed in this category, according to the Drought Monitor, which is run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In fact, in a total reversal of fortune, the D.C. region's drought is now just as bad as California's.

- from The Washington Post - The drought in Washington, D.C., is now just as bad as California’s

In a case of weather role reversal, I was leaving sunny, warm temperatures in Maryland for cooler conditions in California. That's o.k. For our last two major trips, Tennessee 2015 and New Mexico/Texas 2016, we managed to leave Maryland when the weather was poor. Our luck just ran out for this vacation.

The flight out to California seemed to take forever. Next time I'll need to make sure I am sleep deprived so I can snooze for longer on the plane.

I landed in the Los Angeles Airport late at night and rented a car. Then I drove to Norma's hotel, The Standard, which I found to be most unusual in its layout and amenities.

Day Two, Thursday, February 23, 2017

I'm not much of a big city person so staying in Los Angeles did not appeal to me although I have no doubt there is much to see and do there. Norma and I did take a walk and look at the outside of the Los Angeles Public Library with its multi-colored pyramid rooftop.

Next, we drove north to Ventura where we met Shaun S., a Marine I served with at School of Infantry and Security Forces School back in 1988. See photo. In a much older photo from the shooting range, he appears on the left.

Our next stop was Santa Barbara, where Norma once lived. The two of us stopped in at the architecture firm where she used to work as a secretary. I met some of her former co-workers and her old boss.

Being a coastal town, the town had a nice Maritime Museum that we toured.

The last stop for the day was the Ellwood Mesa Goleta Butterfly Grove. The last time we saw hordes of butterflies in California was December 29, 2011. Unfortunately, today we arrived just before dusk so we didn't see any.
Monarch butterflies migrate to Goleta every November through February and this amazing sight is best viewed at the Goleta Butterfly Grove.
- from trail sign

That evening, we dined at Chuck's Waterfront Grill.
Click thumbnail to enlarge.

Day Three, Friday, February 24, 2017

In the morning, Norma and I went on a whale watching cruise with Sea Landing. We thought about going out the day prior but they did not have any trips planned for that afternoon. Just as well. It was quite windy then whereas this morning, the weather was calm.

Our boat took off and headed out in search of marine mammals. Passing a buoy, we saw several sea lions perched atop. See first photo, first column. Some lay on their backs in the water (second photo, first column).

We were hoping to spot some dolphins but did not find any.

Some pelicans flew overhead.

In the distance, a fishing boat had dozens of sea birds following, hoping to get a free handout.

Oil rigs dotted the waters. Approaching one of the rigs, we spotted our first whale. It was a gray whale.
The only member of the family Eschrichtiidae, the gray whale is a mysticete, or baleen whale. It is a "coastal" whale that migrates along the North American Pacific Coast between arctic seas and the lagoons of Baja California, Mexico. Frequently visible from shore, gray whales provide a unique opportunity for land and boat observation, and commercial whale watching has become a major industry along its migration route. Visitors to the calving and breeding lagoons sometimes encounter the phenomenon of the "friendlies"; gray whales that closely approach small boats and allow themselves to be touched by humans.
- from American Cetacean Society - Gray Whales

Whales aren't the easiest things to photograph, though I'm sure it is easier from a tour boat than a kayak.
  • Third photo, first column: Looking for a whale spout is perhaps the easiest way to spot a whale.
  • First photo, second column: A whale tail doesn't appear as frequently as a spout and often means the animal is diving so it may not surface for awhile.
  • Second photo, second column: Another spout.
  • Third photo, second column: Another tail.

  • Returning to the pier, some pelicans greeted us. See fourth photo, second column.

    Walking around the area, we stopped in at the Santa Barbara Adventure Company. They offer tours and camping adventures at the Channel Islands. From what I understand, they are the only outfitter that does this. It sounds like a beautiful area with one-of-a-kind sights including sea caves. Sea caves rank at the top of my list with glaciers and shipwrecks so there is a good chance I will book a trip for the future. Definitely something to add to the bucket list.

    In 1980, the ocean wilderness surrounding Santa Barbara, Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel Islands was given special protected status with the designation of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Extending six nautical miles around each island and encompassing 1110 square nautical miles (approximately 1470 square miles), the sanctuary protects important species, habitats, and maritime heritage resources, while balancing compatible commercial and recreational activities.
    - from sign along Santa Barbara coast
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Leaving Santa Barbara, our next stop was a place called Cold Spring Tavern along the San Marcos Pass. This was part of an old stagecoach route from 1861 to 1901.
  • First photo, first column: Rustic buildings.
  • Second photo, first column: Friendly faces.
  • Third photo, first column: Colorful vegetation.

  • We met my old squad leader, Mike B., from the First Gulf War here at the tavern. I think the last time we saw each other was during my wedding week, in October 2012. The three of us ate lunch.

    Next, we drove out to Skofield Park in the Rattlesnake Canyon Wilderness Area. No, we did not see any rattlesnakes. After leaving Mike's van at one trailhead, we did a one way hike from the park, up the canyon, and ending at Gibraltar Road. It was a lovely (fourth photo, first column) but long drive to get there.
  • Fifth photo, first column: A cheerful Mike makes his way up the canyon with Norma leading the way.
  • Sixth photo, first column: Norma at one of several stream crossings.
  • First photo, second column: Mike crossing a log.
  • Second photo, second column: Though it was winter, there were flowers in bloom.
  • Third photo, second column: Water flowing over rocks.
  • Fourth photo, second column: Beautiful rocky views.
  • Fifth photo, second column: Me and Mike at the end of our short 2.6 mile hike.
  • Sixth photo, second column: A waterfall flows down the canyon.

  • That evening, we drove to Arroyo Grande and had dinner at Rooster Creek. Like the town of Fair Oaks, there are feral chickens walking around. My kind of place.

    Norma and I stayed the night at Mike's place.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Day Four, Saturday, February 25, 2017

    Norma and I said our farewells to Mike and then set out west to the upscale town of Cambria. We took an extremely scenic but somewhat rugged drive that Mike recommended along Santa Rosa Creek Road. See first and second photos.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Mike suggested we explore Hearst San Simeon State Park so that is where we went. Upon arriving, I realized that we had been there before for kayaking on December 30, 2001. But we had not hiked there so it was still a new adventure for us. In terms of scenery, I thought this was our best day.

  • First photo, first column: Curlew birds.
  • Second photo, first column: Stand up paddleboarders. I was feeling a little jealous. In the rocky areas behind them, I remember seeing many colorful starfish.
  • Third photo, first column: Walking north along the beach, we saw elephant seals.
  • Fourth photo, first column: I believe this is a turban snail.
  • Fifth photo, first column: Another turban snail.
  • Sixth photo, first column: Bottom view. Nobody home.
  • Seventh photo, first column: Along the beach, we found several small, dead crustaceans.
  • Eighth photo, first column: Ice plants were in bloom. These always remind me of California. I've never seen them back east.
  • Ninth photo, first column: Eventually, a trail led uphill, away from the beach.
  • Tenth photo, first column: Steller's Jay.
  • Eleventh photo, first column: My lovely wife on the trail, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
  • Twelfth photo, first column: Generally, the trail was easy to follow.
  • Thirteenth photo, first column: Pollinators at work.

  • Fourteenth photo, first column: Much of the trail overlooked the water with dramatic rocky views.
  • Fifteenth photo, first column: More iceplants. Norma is scanning the area with binoculars.
  • Sixteenth photo, first column: A kayaker paddles by a small island with cormorants and pelicans.
  • Seventeenth photo, first column: A steep fall.
  • Eighteenth photo, first column: Me in a field of iceplants.
  • Nineteenth photo, first column: Pelicans.
  • Twentieth photo, first column: Needing a shave.
  • Twenty-first photo, first column: Trees define the trail.
  • Twenty-second photo, first column: A windy cliff.
  • Twenty-third photo, first column: One of many seals.
  • Twenty-fourth photo, first column: I think elephant seals are part cat because they sleep so much.
  • First photo, second column: A male watching us.

  • Second photo, second column: A baby cries out to its mother.
  • Third photo, second column: Coastline cliff.
  • Fourth photo, second column: Baby and mother.
  • Fifth photo, second column: Whiskers.
  • Sixth photo, second column: Eyes.
  • Seventh photo, second column: A fat baby.
  • Eighth photo, second column: Norma with elephant seals below.
  • Ninth photo, second column: Elephant seals mating.
  • Tenth photo, second column: Norma at the opening of a cave.
  • Eleventh photo, second column: An interesting rock in the cave.
  • Twelfth photo/video, second column: Turn up the volume on this one and you'll hear what a baby elephant seal sounds like.

  • Thirteenth photo/video, second column: Male elephant seals can weight as much as 4.5 tons and move 5 miles per hour on land.
  • Fourteenth photo, second column: California mussels.
  • Fifteenth photo, second column: Ocean vegetation and snails.
  • Sixteenth photo, second column: Sea anemone.
  • Seventeenth photo, second column: Interesting rock pattern.
  • Eighteenth photo, second column: Giant green anemone.
  • Nineteenth photo, second column: Another giant green anemone.
  • Twentieth photo, second column: Crab.
  • Twenty-first photo, second column: Norma by the tidepools.
  • Twenty-second photo, second column: Gooseneck barnacles.
  • Twenty-third photo, second column: Quite the nose.
  • Twenty-fourth photo, second column: Heading back.

  • We ended up walking about 5.3 miles on some extremely scenic trails. What a great day!

    During much of the drive towards Sacramento, we passed objects along the highway that resembled a hook with a large bell. I later found they
    mark the approximate route of the road that once connected California's missions. The first cast iron bell was installed in 1906 by the El Camino Real Association, a group that wanted to preserve the missions' history. They eventually placed about 450 bells along the route. By 1974, theft and vandalism had reduced their number to 75. Caltrans removed the remaining cast iron bells and replaced them with replicas made of concrete.
    - from sign at California Museum
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Continuing our drive north, we saw more beautiful scenery. See first and second photos. Is it typically this green? Well, winter is the rainy season so if it is going to be green, then it would be now. But the unusually wet winter might make things even more beautiful than normal.

    We arrived in Sacramento that night to a warm welcome at my parents' house, where we stayed for the remainder of our trip.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Day Five, Sunday, February 26, 2017

    The original plan for the day was for us to go for a walk at the Gray Lodge Wildlife Area to see the sandhill cranes. We were there last on October 17, 2013. But with all the rain, this area was not in the best of shape. So instead, I figured we'd head out to Auburn and go hiking along the North Fork of the American River (first photo, first column) and then to Calcutta Falls (a.k.a. Canyon Creek). If there's one thing a lot of rain is good for, it is making waterfalls!

    Norma and I met my cousins and their families at the trailhead then commenced our little hike.

    We started on the east side of the river heading south but soon crossed the Mountain Quarries Bridge (a.k.a. "No Hands Bridge") and continued the rest of our journey on the west side of the river.

    It didn't take long before we made it to the falls (second photo, first column). I was right. All the rain made it much nicer than on-line photos describing the place. In the third photo, first column from left to right are me, Lydia Y., Norma, Tim Y., Alyssa Y., Nancy Y., David Y., Scott Y., Sasha (Stephanie) S., and Alex S.

    The trail we were on is part of the Western State Trail which is the path for a 100 mile endurance run. We saw several runners out that day.

    Our group turned around at Robie Point. We could have actually driven here.

    On the way back, we had a nice view of the Auburn-Foresthill Bridge. See first photo, second column.
    The second highest bridge in the world upon its opening in 1973, the Auburn-Foresthill bridge is still among the 5 highest bridges in the United States. Although it is no longer even among the 65 highest bridges in the world, the 730 foot (223 meter) high green giant still has the distinction of being the world's highest cantilever bridge.
    - from Highest Bridges - Auburn-Foresthill Bridge

    We had many scenic views of the river below. See second and third photos, second column.

    Having worked up a bit of an appetite, we ate a late lunch at Black Bear Diner in Auburn. It was great seeing so many of my cousins and their families.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Norma and I drove home, washed up, and then went with my parents to the Hoi Cin Cantonese Restaurant where we met all the same relatives that joined us for the hike just a few hours prior along with several others.

  • First photo, first column: From left to right: Norma, Lydia Y., Scott Y., Steve S., and Nancy Y.
  • Second photo, first column: From left to right standing: Kiyo S., Kay Y., Mom. From left to right sitting: George S. and Pete S.
  • First photo, second column: From left to right standing: Alex S., Mom, Dad, Steve S., Norma, Trudy S., Kiyo S., George S., Scott Y., George P., Cindy P. (front), Lee K. (back), Pete S., Kay Y., Jodi K., Lydia Y., and me. From left to right sitting: Nancy Y., David Y., Alyssa Y., Tim Y., and Sasha (Stephanie) S.
  • Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Day Six, Monday, February 27, 2017

    My parents, Norma, and I took a walk around the block and just spent time enjoying each other's company.

    Later that day, Norma and I took a drive out to visit my cousin Jodi and go for a walk at Sailor Bar along the American River. Jodi has an appreciation of nature similar to that of Norma and me.

    We were looking for a sea lion that Jodi and others in her neck of the woods had seen this winter. I had never heard of sea lions in Sacrmento. It is rather far from the ocean and all the rain means it would have to swim pretty hard upstream to get to the city. We never saw it but we did find a lot of other stuff that made our trip totally worth while.

  • First photo, first column: Within five minutes of walking, we saw a coyote cross our path. I had never seen one in Sacramento when I lived here but now they've become quite common.
  • Second photo, first column: Jodi and Norma on the north side of the American River.
  • Third photo, first column: I have never seen the river this high. I reckon it was moving at 10 miles per hour.
  • Fourth photo, first column: At first I thought this was an American coot but it is a Barrow's Goldeneye. The good people at the "MD Birding" Facebook page identified it for me.
  • Fifth photo, first column: Jodi took us to a big pond. Making my way down to the waterline, I saw what I initially thought might be a beaver lodge. I zoomed in with my camera and saw what I expected to be a beaver. But it was a river otter!
  • Sixth photo, first column: This guy is curious.

  • First photo, second column: There are river otters in Maryland but few and far between. I see them when I am out kayaking maybe once every four or five years.
  • Second photo, second column: Egret. We also saw a great blue heron and what we think were red winged blackbirds though we didn't see the distinctive red shoulder patch.
  • Third photo, second column: I'm guessing this is a western painted turtle.
  • Fourth photo, second column: Same turtle, different view.
  • Fifth photo, second column: The pond where we saw all this wildlife.

  • We finished our little walk a little after dusk. Then Norma and I picked up sandwiches in Fair Oaks.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    I had tried to hook up with Ken earlier but the timing didn't work out. So tonight we met up to visit our old Kenpo Karate sensei, Arnie I. Arnie teaches on Wednesday nights. Hopefully, the next time I am in town, Ken and I can get together for an outing and participate in one of Arnie's classes. See photo.
    Click thumbnail to enlarge.

    Day Seven, Tuesday, February 28, 2017

    In the morning, Mom and I went for a walk around the neighborhood. Sacramento is incredibly sunny and I find sunglasses to be a necessity rather than a luxury...especially since my eyes are adjusted for the east coast. Also, the temperature difference in the shade is much greater than climates where there is humidity to hold the heat. But as long as you keep moving (like on a brisk walk), then you're fine.

    One thing I hadn't seen before in my old neighborhood is a Little Free Library kiosk. I think these are really cool and eventually, Norma and I might put up one. See photo.
    Click thumbnail to enlarge.

    About four years ago, I hooked up with my former 12th grade English teacher, Dennis W. I was never much into English but he was our Chess Club advisor and me being the nerdy type, I was big into chess. So I knew him all throughout high school. We decided to meet again at the same place we met before, the Hoppy Brewing Company.

    I had also kept in touch with my fifth grade teacher who helped instill in me a love of music. We would send each other Christmas cards. Then a few months ago, I found Julie K. on Facebook. I attended elementary, middle, and high school with Julie so we "friended" each other. It turns out she now teaches at our old elementary school. There was a little elementary school reunion which I did not attend but Julie sent me a photo of the teachers that attended. I recognized my former first grade teacher.

    What happened next is bizarre. Norma and I met Dennis outside of Hoppy. When we went in, I saw my fifth and first grade teachers at the table next to us. Total coincidence! It really brought back fond memories. In the photo from left to right is Dennis, me, Nancy S. (fifth grade teacher), and Mrs. Ackerman. (first grade teacher; I don't know her first name).
    Click thumbnail to enlarge.

    Later that afternoon, Norma, my folks, and I went to the California Museum to see their Kokoro Exhibit. This describes the story of Sacramento's lost Japantown.

    What does "kokoro" mean?
    While the title [Kokoro] literally means "heart", the word contains shades of meaning, and can be translated as "the heart of things" or "feeling."
    - from Wikipedia - Kokoro

    To the residents of the 1950s Japantown, their neighborhood was a vibrant community filled with church activities, dances, sports, and festivals. To those outside, it was a dangerous slum, a blight on Sacramento's downtown.
    In summer 1954, the City of Sacramento announced an urban renewal plan, the Capitol Mall Project. It was billed as progress, a clean, modern gateway to the Capitol.
    Its price was the total destruction of Japantown and the surrounding multiethnic West End. Faced with a second forced removal, this time Japantown's residents protested. But in the end, the authorities prevailed. They bulldozed a 15-block area, replacing it with government buildings, private high-rises, and a wide thoroughfare along Capitol Avenue.
    In short time, Japantown was almost completely erased from Sacramento's urban landscape, and likewise from the city's collective memory.

    - from sign a Kokoro exhibit

    In the photo, I point out approximately where my father and his father lived in Japantown, Sacramento after they moved from Folsom. They lived above the businesses which were at street level.
    Click thumbnail to enlarge.

    Day Eight, Wednesday, March 1, 2017

    On our final day, Norma and I walked to the local grocery store, Raley's, to buy some local treats to take home and share with friends and co-workers.

    Sacramento has been called "America's Farm to Fork Capital." Yesterday, at the California Museum, I noticed that there is a push to get Sacramentans to eat more healthy food. Today, I noticed this in Raley's. In the first photo, Norma and I saw free fruits available to get kids started on a proper diet. Haven't seen this in Maryland yet but I expect we eventually will.

    After returning, my folks and I posed for one last picture. See second photo. Then it was off to the airport and a final farewell. It is always good to see them.

    The flight home wasn't bad. It was certainly quicker than the flight out.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    As I mentioned, this trip was more about people rather than activities. Generally, I'm not a social person so this was somewhat unusual for me. But it reminded me just how much I really appreciate others and how they have shaped my life for the better.