Look: Feet! On a path! In hiking boots! This can only mean one thing: I’ve hit the trail again. Hooray!
Since it’s been close to an eternity since my last hike, I decided to go for something relatively easy; not too long, not too hilly. A beach trail seemed just right, and since it’s early November and therefore the beginning of the elephant seal cycle, I headed north to Año Nuevo State Park.
Año Nuevo is a fascinating place in many respects. Its name comes from the Spanish explorers who spotted its rocky shores on New Years Day in 1603. It was the site of many shipwrecks before a lighthouse was built on Año Nuevo Island. There are six separate active fault lines running through the park. And every winter, the elephant seals arrive to mate and bear their young.
The park lies west of Highway 1, and the trail from the parking lot first crosses chapparal-covered shelfland. A pond nurtures all sorts of wildlife, and lies on the edge of one of the fault lines.
If you look to the other side of the trail, you see the ocean and the trail down to Cove Beach.
After this point, you need a permit (free at the entrance kiosk) to proceed to the dunes, where the young male elephant seals have gathered. During the actual breeding season, December through March, you are only allowed out to the dunes in guided groups. Elephant seals are large –the males can reach 2.5 tons– and are not to be trifled with. Many signs warn those who might be foolish enough to try to approach them.
The dunes are high and sweeping, and offer grand views of Monterey Bay. There were many families out for a Saturday adventure.
It’s about a 2-1/2 mile hike out to North Cove, where the young male seals have gathered. These are adolescents, too young to join in the mating rituals, and they are just here to hang out. Some are performing mock battles, but most are napping on the beach.
This guy wasn’t sure he liked being watched, and watched back equally intently.
You can see the snout beginning to grow on this seal. When they are young, elephant seals look much like any other seal or sea lion, but as the males mature, they develop huge curling noses that resemble an elephant’s trunk; hence their name. Mature males bellow to define and defend their territory, and can be heard up to a mile away.
There are volunteer docents on hand to answer questions.
A few more pictures from my walk. The abandoned buildings on Año Nuevo Island; the light is now an automated buoy, and the island has been taken over by the seals and sea lions. There is now a solar-powered Elephand Seal Cam on the island, which is very cool, but be warned that it is sometimes out of commission; seals are large and clumpy, and it’s often knocked over or disconnected.
And the crashing surf at Cove Beach.
I am so glad to live in such a beautiful part of the world. Now where to go hiking next???