Thursday, August 2, 2012

Pacific Coast Highway (Ventura to Big Sur: Elephant Seals and Redwoods)

“Sort-of-Sabbatical” Day Eight, Sunday June 10

Joshua Tree – check!  Santa Monica Market – check!  Angeles Crest Highway – check!  Channel Islands  – check!  I make a big swoosh with my imaginary pen, smugly cross off my successes, and point the Ducati’s front wheel northwards.

I knew it would be beautiful.  The Pacific Coast Highway, that is.  I really did know.  In fact, I’d traveled it before, from Santa Barbara to Santa Cruz, albeit in a car, and many years ago.  Even so, I am simply not prepared for this kind of scenery.  For over 200 miles, as I round every bend (and there are many, much to my delight), I’m slapping my palm on my helmeted forehead, while making unintelligible sounds of disbelief.  I’m torn between the view and the twists of the road, and the view wins. Yes, the view wins, and I wind my way slowly, slowly, taking it all in.  My inner speed demon is quiet - some might say good has (temporarily) triumphed over evil.  Somehow I can’t even manage to stop and get off the bike to photograph anything, because I’m far too star struck to choose one spot over another.*  Every shade of brilliant blue is represented by the ocean waves – here a deep royal, there an eye popping turquoise, and most often, all the variations in a single psychedelic eyeful.  Lest one tire of the spectacular monochromatic display, enormous jagged boulders, strewn about artfully as if by some larger than life supernatural hand, catch the eye and give the ocean waves a reason to splash and froth joyously.  Wild flowers spring up here and there, and if I can tear my eyes away from the west, grassy, gentle, peaceful mountains greet me on the east.

Early on in my journey, there is one moment, one sole moment,  perhaps only because I am not yet fully under this road’s spell, when I am shaken loose from my transfixed state.  I see the sign, and hit the brakes hard.

I can not leave without photographing this spot, not because Point Piedras Blancas is the most beautiful view on the PCH (it isn’t, although it’s lovely, no question)…

Point Piedras Blancas

….but because I see, lounging up and down the beach, like cats napping in the sun, these:

Point Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Colony (3)

Yeah, that’s right.  An entire colony of elephant seals.  This photo shows perhaps half of them, the other half being behind me.   Not everyone is fast asleep however.  Some of the males are vocalizing and sparring…

Point Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Colony (4)

…and others peep comically over the flowers…

Point Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Colony (1)

…but most of them are content to simply sunbathe.

Point Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Colony

Once the animal encounter is complete and I’m rolling again, my last remaining bit of free will is quickly consumed by great waves of intoxication.  For the rest of the ride, I am powerless to do anything other than gawk and gasp.

It’s probably a blessing that Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park isn’t actually on the Big Sur coastline.  I think I need some time to clear my head after such an intense blast of nature’s glamour.  Even so, just as soon as I touch down and set up camp, I’m racing up two miles of switchbacks to catch the only water view to be had – a too far away glimpse of blue at the top of the Buzzard’s Roost trail.

Mostly, though, I’m finding the steadying hand of solid and silent redwood trees.  They bring a welcome softness to the end of a day filled with almost blinding sparkle.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park Pfeiffer Falls and Valley View Trails 
Actually, it was a sunny bright day in the redwood forest, too.  But it didn't FEEL that way.  It felt cool, shady, and mysterious. So  I spent about a zillion hours adding fog to this photo.  I'd feel guilty not telling you as much, but this really does capture my feeling better, and that's the point, really.

*Photos next post!

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