Santa Cruz and Monterey

Tuesday, September 23, 1997

Murphy's Law of course dictated that absolutely no Steller's Jays would be present at the campsite, waiting patiently for their picture to be taken. Once again I was taught to not procrastinate, but did I learn it this time?

With our change in hand, we didn't have to wait for the park office to open to get a shower. After cleaning up, we tore down the tent, threw it into the back of the Toyota, and took Highway 9 down the mountains and into Santa Cruz.

An article we had read in an issue of Bird Watcher's Digest touted this town as some kind of birdwatching Mecca. I didn't find there to be any more of a bird selection here than we had seen while driving Highway 1. We stopped and had a nice walk along West Cliff Drive, watching the surfers playing chicken with the cliff walls. I was always under the impression that surfing required a beach to be involved, but this sight proved me wrong. We did see a small beach at the bottom of one of the cliffs, but the only surfers here were dogs…five or six of them splashing about in the surf while their owners sat up on the dry sand. Further out on the water, some men were harvesting seaweed from a tiny boat and pelicans flew low over the water, searching for a meal. There was a nice lighthouse on the cliff, which has since been converted into a surfing museum, which unfortunately was closed at the time.

This glimpse of the coastal life got me ready to hit the road again for Monterey. I'd been hearing about their aquarium for a couple years and I was eager to see it for myself.

It didn't take very long to drive around Monterey Bay and into Monterey itself. We parked and walked down to "Fisherman's Wharf." This area of town had a striking miniature resemblance to the wharf of the same name in San Francisco. Tourist shops and restaurants everywhere, including their very own Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Monterey's wharf did, however, have one outstanding feature: the aquarium.

The aquarium was the highlight of the day. It's a huge building with a lot of different exhibits. Each area has a kind of theme, whether it's the deep ocean, jellyfish, shorebirds and creatures, or sea otters. A lot of volunteers were on hand to personally show us stuff and answer our questions. The education you can get here in a couple hours about the ocean is incredible. It gets the brain humming. The "Fishing for Solutions" exhibit makes you feel pretty lousy about eating seafood, especially when they show the incredible amounts of sea life that are killed and discarded to harvest a pound of shrimp. The sea otter exhibit was great to watch, although it was the most crowded there. I was glad to see a "real" sea otter swimming in the bay just off the balcony outside of the aquarium. After a few hours, we were ready to leave the sea behind and head inland, northeast toward Yosemite.

We drove past the San Luis Reservoir just as the sun was setting below the western mountains. I decided to stop and take a sunset picture of the lake. I stopped the car, left the doors open, and stopped to take the shot. Suddenly I heard Jen yelling from the car. I returned to see what was up and found the car covered in tiny water flies. They were inside, too. I quickly snapped a picture and hopped back in the car. We spent the next half hour killing bugs in the car and trying to coax them out the open window at 60 miles an hour.

Santa Nella is this cheesy little exit off of I-5 that claims to be a "Traveler's Town." Basically, it's just a couple truck stops, gas stations, motels, and a McDonald's. But, it just happened to be a convenient stop between Monterey and Yosemite, so we stayed in a Holiday Inn to get a good shower and have a dip in the pool before our next two nights camping.

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Last Updated: April 18, 1998