Wednesday, 27 August 2014

From Monterey to Pismo Beach via the Pacific Coastal Highway

On Saturday morning, we said a long lingering goodbye to Monterey by spending about three hours in the fabulous aquarium. During our whale watching expedition on the previous day, the tour-guide on the boat explained that there is an enormous underwater canyon off the coast of Monterey, which is about twice the size of the Grand Canyon. She explained that this under-water canyon has an amazing eco-system that supports a huge variety of plants and fish under the sea and this is what attracts the unusually large gatherings of mammals such as whales, sea lions and sea otters that we can see above the surface. Looking over the dull grey ocean, it was difficult to imagine that much was going on beneath the surface, but a visit to the aquarium brought it all to life.

I haven't got many photos because flash photography is not allowed in the aquarium so that it doesn't disturb the fish, but I can assure you that it was a really fascinating place.  The photo above is an egg-yolk jellyfish, which is a pretty scary jellyfish because it goes around eating smaller jellyfish. The photo on the right shows a chambered nautilus, with its pretty creepy eye staring right atcha. I don't have any photos of them, but some of the other highlights of the aquarium include giant octopus, hammerhead sharks, leopard sharks, stingrays, giant bluefin tuna (which can grow up to 3m long), puffins, sea turtles and, best of all, four adorable sea otters.

After Monterey we ignored the sat nav's desperate attempts to get us to take Highway 101 down to our next stop at Pismo Beach and instead we opted for the slower but much more scenic coastal road: Highway 1. Highway 1 runs right along the pacific coastline of California. On one side of the road is a jagged cliff face, on the other side is a sheer drop into the ocean. Just like in Yosemite, this is not a road to be rushed. In the photo on the left you can see one of the many bridges that forms part of Highway 1 and you can just about make out the road as it runs along the side of the cliff.

For the first couple of hours on the road, I was in charge of driving, so I didn't pay much attention to the scenery.  Then Vincent took over for another couple of hours and I took the opportunity to look around. What really struck me was the number of large birds that kept coming in to sight. My favourite were the pelicans, with their comically long beaks. At one point, four pelicans flew alongside our car in formation, with their magnificent beaks pointing high into the air. They looked both superior and ridiculous at the same time.

The pelicans were best to watch when they were catching fish from the ocean. Each time was the same. A pelican would be flying steadily about 15ft above the ocean, then suddenly it would take a dramatic and ungainly nosedive, corkscrewing around with its wings outstretched, making a giant splash as it hit the water. The pelican would soon resurface, with or without fish (I couldn't really tell) and bob along quite calmly on the surface of the water as though it had made an utterly nonchalant catch. I wasn't quick enough to take a photo of these aerial acrobatics so the picture above and to the right is just a photo I took of a pelican sitting on a rock next to some black cormorants.  The picture to the left however, is by a much more talented photographer than myself, and it captures the moment when a pelican crashes into the water, making the huge splash.

Pelicans are now my new favourite birds (sorry Puffins, you're in second place now) so to finish the post, here is a bonus picture of a pelican from Monterey bay.

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