Monday, January 10, 2011

Ano Nuevo State Reserve

I figure it's appropriate to feature Ano Nuevo (translation = new year) as my first post of 2011. Here's a short recap of what I did this past Sunday, when the weather actually looked Californian for a change.
Ano Nuevo is a California State Reserve located on the coast just across the county line from Santa Cruz, on the San Mateo side. It's famous for its elephant seal colonies that come to shore from December to March.



A view towards the island, which used to be a peninsula ("punta") until erosion did away with that.

The visitor center is on the right; this is where guided walks begin. You can't see the elephant seals without a guide. Kinda like going on a safari without a jeep... bad idea.

This simple looking ensemble of wood is explained below.

Remnants of a ship that crashed here.

It wasn't all that cold = I just forgot sunscreen. Of course, looking at this picture, sunburnt would have been favorable compared to the pasty whiteness I currently wear.

Elephant seal skeletons.

The males are enormous, while the females and pups are just "big."

Did I mention it was a rare beautiful day for January?

Our guide, John, is in red. Most of the hike did not involve sand dune climbing, but the final part does.

Another view of the island and its house.

Our group numbered twenty, and featured people from as far away as Spain and Rhode Island; French speakers were also heard.


Our first close-up glimpse of an elephant seal (not a particularly large male)

Not the most handsome of God's creatures, that's for sure. But their eyes are piercing, if a little cold.

An average tooth is about six inches long... you don't want to be bitten. And they do bite.

This was the most impressive area = a bit inland, a "harem" of females and one primary male made their residence. The male had to fight off pretenders to his throne while we watched (I don't have pics because I was too busy enjoying it through my binoculars).

Like with humans, females are the fairer sex. The one at left is pregnant; they give birth to pups that average 80 lbs. upon exiting the womb.

We would get about 25 - 30 feet from the animals, which is actually the required minimum distance.


This was one of the only males that wanted to show off its famous stance.

Can't go that way... the road is blocked!

The finale of the tour is the overlook above the coast, where several hundred elephant seals can be seen.

Word to the wise = time your tour for good pictures. My 2:15 tour (all tours are about 3 hours) found me aiming my camera into the setting sun... far from ideal. Early morning is how I'll do it in the future.

Not that I had measuring tape, but I'm pretty sure we came closer than 25 feet to this fella. He was curious but content to stay put. However, they can lunge freakishly fast, so I was on my guard.

All in all, not a bad way to spend my Sunday! If you're looking to go yourself, reserve EARLY (as in weeks, not hours!). I got the last available spot, and I booked in early December. Tickets are $7, and parking is $10 per vehicle. Have fun!

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