Monday, December 26, 2011

The Power of the Pacific Ocean and Butterflies

Pacific Grove
We spent the night in Pacific Grove, an offshoot town of Monterey Bay (where we went whale watching in the summer). We started the day with a nice stroll along the beach front.

I spent time attempting to capture waves crashing into the shore.

Waves with Steve and his mom.

A sea otter chilling in the surf.

and lazily surfing the waves. 
Sometimes it's hard to tell whether it's an otter or kelp. You will often see their little faces peeking up and have to stare for awhile to see if they change location as they are too far away to see details.

Obligatory warning sign about the Tsunami Hazard Zone
Basically the sign says: 
In case of earthquake, run to high ground you stupid person - no don't go into the receding water to explore the now uncovered sea floor, where do you think that water's going?
 Do you seriously not think it's going to come crashing back?
Why are you still here? 
Run you fools.

To Steve of course that means this is a good place to climb

Hail the conquering hero.

Monarch Grove Sanctuary

Ever since I knew I was going to be coming for a visit over some winter months, I wanted to go see a grove where Monarch butterflies migrate.  Unsurprisingly anyone I know who lives here had no idea that these groves existed nor that Monarchs migrated.

The previous day, on a whim, I decided to look up "Monarch butterflies" in the Coastal California travel book Steve's mom had bought as a guide for places to go while they were here. As it happens there was a Monarch Grove Sanctuary in Pacific Grove, the town we were staying in over night.  Locating it on the map, I was confused -  a sanctuary for Monarchs in the middle of a town? It didn't look very big, but it had free admission and it was right next to the entrance to the scenic drive we had planned so I convinced everyone we should check it out.

 The grove was in a residential area, and looked to be in someone's backyard. I did not have hope we would see much, and after the "coastal waterfall" experience the previous day I was disillusioned for what seemed to be worthy of note in travel books.

I saw a few on the ground, a few in the air, and people were all clustered around the Monarch Guru guy who was talking about them. There was some caution tape set up under a tree. 

Then I looked up.
Now this is what I was expecting to see in a Monarch Winter Sanctuary. 

Look closer. Those aren't leaves.
Monarchs cluster only in two types of trees - the natural Pine, and the introduced Australian eucalyptus tree. These trees provide the Monarchs with a specific microclimate of humidity, light, shade, temperature, and protection from the wind.   The Australian eucalyptus also gives the added benefit of a convenient nectar source since it blooms in the winter.

Monarch butterflies can not withstand the freezing winter temperatures of Canada and the northern states so they migrate to overwintering sites that are neither cold enough to kill it, nor so warm that it wastes precious energy flying too much.  These Monarchs are from west of the Rocky Mountains. The Monarchs east of the Rockies migrate to Mexico (where their wintering habitats are being destroyed and Monarchs are subsequently endangered)

This poor guy is dead, but the signal that his abdomen has been sucked dry has not yet reached it's neurosystem. The Monach Guru put him in a bag with the dead, and dying butterflies to be sent to a university for cause of death to be determined. Since Monarchs are an endangered species so it's important to track the cause of death of each one in the wintering grove to further protect them.

The Monarchs may travel as far as 200 miles a day, and fly as high as 10,000 feet.
 Monarchs have trouble flying in temperatures under 55F (13C). The butterflies hang in clusters in the trees, resembling dried leaves, until sunlight warms them. Then they spread their wings and begin to flutter down from the trees.

If a Monarch falls from the cluster into shade or on a colder day, it will not be able to build up enough energy to get back into the cluster. A Monarch away from the cluster in the cold will die.

All the Monarchs on the ground were quivering, the Monarch Guru told us that they were shivering in an attempt to warm up enough to make it back to the cluster.

The Monarch Guru was placing shivering butterflies from the shade into sunlight to warm them up so they had enough energy to fly back up to the cluster.

 Steve is doing his part.
Step 1: Survey the area around you to determine you are not about to crush a fallen butterfly. 
Tread carefully. 

Step 2: Encourage the butterfly to cling to a stick of leaf. Never lift a butterfly by it's wings, it may never fly again if you do so. 

Step 3: Set the butterfly and the stick it's clinging to into sunlight. 

Step 4: Within 5 minutes the butterfly will be warmed up enough to take flight. 
You just helped an endangered species!

Other ways to help the combat the shrinking Monarch population:
- plant milkweed inland, away from wintering habitat to increase their population during other seasons
- minimize use of herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides
- support open space and wildlife habitat legislation.

The Monarch butterfly migration is unique in that the Monarchs that migrate to the grove each year have never been here before. In fact, several generations of Monarchs have lived and died since last year's butterflies were here.
And that's pretty amazing and worth protecting.

17 Mile Drive

The towns of Pacific Grove and Carmel By The Sea are linked by the scenic 17-Mile Drive, which meanders though Pebble Beach, a private resort and residential area that epitomizes the peninsula's jaw dropping wealth.
Besides the dramatic pacific coastline, wildflowers and wild life, there are world-famous golf courses throughout. 
It's $10 per vehicle to enter the section of highway, bicycles are free.

Spanish Bay
Don Gaspar de Portola, the Spanish explorer, and his crew camped here in 1769 while searching for Monterey Bay.

We thought it was pretty epic just to see the power and majesty of the Pacific Ocean.

 The surfers help show the perspective of the height of the waves.

I really wouldn't want to swim into that. It is unnerving.

My random impressive photo of the day. Captured while taking a photo of the sand bird that I wanted to identify on the internet.
It's a sand piper.

Point Joe - The Restless Sea

The unique off shore turbulence is generated by the submerged terrain off Point Joe.

Early mariners often crashed upon these rocks after mistakenly setting their course for this point, believing that it was the entrance to Monterey Bay.
There were lots of sea otters playing in the turbulent surf but too far away to capture on our camera.

Bird Rock

This landmark is home to countless shorebirds and groups of harbor seals, and sea lions. 

And it is positively wriggling with them.

Sea lions sometimes float with their flippers sticking out of the water.  The flippers blood vessels are close to the skins surface and by water evaporating off the flipper, blood cools. A sunbathed dry flipper warms the blood. 

 A raised flipper helps the sea lion keep their body temperature comfortable.

Cypress Point Lookout

For 100 years this point has been a preferred view of the dramatic Pacific coastline.

It's closed April 1 to June 1 because Harbor Seals mate and give birth here.

All in all, the 17 Mile Drive had some great sites and I'd recommend it as a drive by tour of the Pacific Ocean for those who don't have a lot of time to spend travelling up the coast. The 17 Mile Drive can be combined with a day in Monterey either whale watching or at the aquarium (and throw in some Monarchs if it's between the months of November - February).

If you really want to spend time on the Pacific coastline, I'd still recommend a day trip on Highway 1.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A California Christmas

Oh grand sombraro tree. You dazzle us with your twinkling lights and we bask in the shade of your brim.

A Holiday Drive South on Coastal Highway 1

Fantastic view of the Pacific Ocean. Not a recommended trip for people who get car sick or suffer motion sickness. The roads are very curvaceous and wind back and forth along the shore.

Bixby Creek Bridge
Bixby Bridge is a reinforced concrete span bridge constructed in the early1930s.

 A concrete bridge next to the sea had a lower construction cost and lower maintenance costs than its steel bridge counterpart.  The sea air would cause steel to have expensive ongoing maintenance and painting. 

A concrete bridge also echoed the colour composition of the natural rock cliff formations in the area.

Steve stands and surveys his domain. It is good this land.
 He is pleased.

McWay Falls, California's Only Coastal Waterfall - Julia Pfieffer State Park

We were looking to do a hike in the Big Sur area.  Big Sur is not a town it is literally the name of the massively spread out area and the community sparsely spread out throughout it. Steve checked online for reviews of hikes in the area we would be driving through. The hike with the best review on the hiking blog he found was a short, easy hike, to McWay Falls, California's only coastal waterfall.

Exciting! A waterfall that runs off the continent into the ocean itself!

 The tunnel under the road towards the coast builds up the suspense of the epic waterfall we are about to behold.

It's unsafe and illegal to climb anywhere in this area. Because the cliffs are unstable, attempts to climb down to the beach or other areas may result in injury or death or risk the lives of others in rescue operations.

Sometimes huge "sleeper" waves hit the shore, sweeping away everything in their path.

On Aprirl 20, 1983, there was a massive landslide.  Highway 1 was closed for almost a whole year for reconstruction. Eight million cubic yards of dirt and rock were pushed into the ocean below the road to stabilize the cliffs.

Ocean currents carried the dirt from the slide south, creating a beach at the foot of McWay Falls and in many coves further south.

Unstable cliffs and the only costal waterfall runs onto a beach? 
This is going to be epic. I bet the waterfall is so powerful and impressive it has made the land around it unstable.

 Is that it? Isn't that just run off from a storm or something?

Nope, after searching the short path for a more impressive sight we were forced to come to the conclusion that this is McWay Falls, California's only coastal waterfall.
 There it is. In all its tiny disappointing glory.

Maybe the waterfall is more impressive with the colour filter setting on the camera.

That would be a no.

The label of California's Only Coastal Waterfall may sound temping and exciting in tour books (or internet hiking blogs). Don't fall for it though. Go find a run off pipeline and imagine it running into the ocean. 
What you just imagined is more exciting than reality. 

You would be better off entertaining yourself with shadow puppets.