Warning: Highly Addictive

16 02 2009

During a recent catch-up brunch with Tiffany, she reported back, that her California trip was fantastic (no surprise) and, much to my delight (and envy), that the visit to Ano Nuevo State Beach was the major highlight. As I mentioned back when she was planning this trip, the elephant seals at Ano Nuevo, just outside San Francisco, have long been an obsession of mine, though I’ve yet to make it to see them myself.

Tiff’s visit, during which she saw a very long fight between two males and a live birth (according to her naturalist guide, a very rare sighting) only made me more angry that I never went while living there, though my mother has since informed me that we did in fact visit the beach once, but that, alas, there was only one seal there when we did. The fact that I have no recollection of this is shocking, given my current obsession with them and the fact that I generally remember almost everything. Anyhow, my dear mother has brought the elephant seals to me, or, rather, the California park system (and a very generous donor) have.

I recently received in the mail this clipping from our local newspaper, sent by my mother and announcing that the seals are now eligible to become worldwide stars (or simply the subjects of mass voyeurism). Regardless, Ano Nuevo has installed a high definition webcam, the first of its kind in any California State Park and worth a whopping $20,000. The camera covers the entire nine acre island and allows nature lovers all over the world to witness the fighting, mating and general life practices of the fascinating elephant seals. I’ve finally seen my first (in memory) elephant seal, and have left the player up on my desktop. Not only are the nature sounds sort of soothing, but a quick visit to the beach is a great escape from a cold New York work day. As I type this post, all is bathed in a rosy glow as the sun rises in California. Check it out for yourself, but be warned: you won’t be able to pull yourself away. I myself and waiting to catch that elusive live birth…





New Year (Vicarious) Trip

5 01 2009

One year ago today I was frantically racing around New York buying important things (like shoes I would wear once and bandaids that would mend my feet from the damage caused by said shoes), saying countless telephone goodbyes and, giant Squirrel on my back, boarding a plane for the long journey to Buenos Aires, full of excitement and nervous jitters.  This year I am parked at a coffee shop near Union Square typing away and dreaming of the Argentine summer. Sigh.

Since I’ve used up money and work days on holiday travel and have no trip in sight of my own, I’ve decided to focus my wanderlust on Tiffany and her trip to California. Yesterday during brunch I frantically scribbled down thoughts of things she must do, and today I have even more to add. So, I hereby dub this week “California Week” and will offer up Tiffany’s trip (or my vision of her trip) as the one I will be dreaming of while I stay here in frigid New York.

Today’s highlight stays true to the New Year Trip theme: Ano Nuevo State Beach. I must say that when Tiff’s boyfriend Mark told me they’d be seeing the elephant seals I turned a little green. I’ve wanted to visit for years and never got around to it (though my mother informed me today that we went when I was small but saw no seals).

This rocky point, named Punta Ano Nuevo because it was first sighted by Spanish explorers on New Year’s Day 1603, is best known as the site of the largest mainland breeding ground (in the world) for the massive and amazing northern elephant seal. Though I have yet to see them for myself, this I know: that elephant seals are enormous (males stretch from 14 to 16 feet long and weigh up to 2 1/2 tons), mean (males fight to determine the alpha male, who will do most of the breeding), and were hunted for their oil and nearly wiped out until protected in 1922. And, of course, that they head to Ano Nuevo, just south of San Francisco, to mate.

Things to know for planning a visit

To protect the seals and minimize disturbance to their routine, visitation is regulated year-round, and regulations vary based on the seasons. During breeding season (December 15-March 31) visits are limited to naturalist guided walks that must be booked in advance. From April to August, visitors may head out on self-guided hikes after obtaining a Visitor’s Permit. For full visiting details, hours, fees, etc, here.

To further enhance the experience, stay at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel. Not only is it a certified green business, its cozy, affordable, and, well, a lighthouse, one of America’s tallest lighthouses at that. Oh, and did I mention the oceanside hot tub that is perfect for pelican and whale watching? Maybe I’ll be finding a way to get another vacay in after all…