It was so bright in the tent that I kept waking up. We had set the alarm for 5:30 am, but I was up before that drinking coffee out of our new thermos. We had stopped by REI last night to see what hot beverage apparatus they had, but got there 40 minutes too late so we ended up going next door to Target and buying a 40 oz. thermos and getting it filled at the in-store Starbucks for a great price.
After getting up, we try to find Fort Ord – a new national park as of two weeks ago, but it has yet to be cleaned up for public viewing. The state park was closed and the area in-between is being used by firefighters for training. We stop at the Big Sur River Inn for breakfast burritos – heavy with rice, veggies, two eggs, and cheese – and a smoothie before walking over the river on a rope footbridge. There are festive lights, colorful flowers, and fire pits that look like chairs.
We stop at the Spirit Garden – home of the human-bird-nest maker – and an International Arts and Cultural Center, but Jayson Fann, and crew, are not here. Lucky for us the pillows on the concrete steps at Nepenthe are still available for sea gazing and meditation. Again we are too early for their opening hours and we drive past flowers and construction, waves and rocks, and fog and hills looking for the Treebones Resort that has one nest available amongst their many yurts.
We had a map, directions, and an estimated time it should take us to drive south, but the kind person that gave us all that information forgot that we would be making frequent stops, so we ended up driving past the resort – even though I read the gifts~dinner at the bottom of the sign at the turn to go up the driveway. I call my dad, get the address, and drive 12 miles back north. In the office we are told that only paying guests are allowed and I turn to walk out – no point in sticking around.
Caleb speaks some magic to this lady and she walks us out to the deck, points the nest out to us, and whispers that if we sneak down she didn’t see anything. We thank her, find it, and respectfully stay out of the fenced-in area. I would’ve loved to climb in, but that would be like going to a regular hotel not paying for a room and touching one of their beds. As we walked back to the parking lot I was also tempted to look in a yurt, but with a two-day minimum stay at $225/night I’m guessing these people don’t want to be disturbed.
If you know where to look or have a keen eye – as we did upon leaving – part of the nest can be seen from the road, but there is still something peaceful about sleeping in a wooded fortress on a hill overlooking the Pacific – even more so with their no pet policy. We stop at a vista point and get back on Hwy 1 behind a truck hauling a trailer. An impatient car attempts to go around us and the truck in a no-passing zone around a blind turn. I save the south-bounders from a pile up with the red car and motorcycle heading north.
It’s one thing to drive like an ass on a wide highway with the possibility of fire and death, but to do so along a cliff is just even more rude to the people who have to come find our bodies or evidence of such. The car passed us cutting lanes at high speeds. Though soon enough (for my heart rate and sanity) I could see a beach with piles of sleeping and molting elephant seals and the young playing in the tide and looked forward to being closer to nature and off this dangerous road for a while.
It has changed a lot since we were here last. It used to just be a sign in a parking lot with a rope blocking people from traversing down the cliff to pet the cute wild animals. Now there is another parking lot available and a mile or more of boardwalk with proper fencing and sturdy rails. There are volunteers out today teaching people about the seals weight, age, habitat, migration, diet, mating, predators, and their conservation status.
They are brown, golden, grey, yellow, silver, tan, and white. Some are resting while others are finding a cooler spot in the sand. Different couples appear to be hugging, but we are told it’s young males learning how to compete for the ladies when their time comes. This is also their chance to practice their vocalizations – barking, grunting, clicking, trumpeting, serenading, along with the chattering of adolescents. We watch the seals for over an hour and if that wasn’t enough we get to see a colony of ground squirrels.
It’s not our first time seeing the quick and furry creatures set up in the brush along the cliff rocks, but for a couple from London this isn’t something they get to see often. They admit to not having seen hummingbirds before coming to the United States and I realize that the birds, bees, and bunnies that I grew up with doesn’t make them common worldwide. I grew up knowing that giraffes belong in Africa and kangaroos in Australia, but I didn’t know that there were several subspecies of both with their own niches.
We drive to the Hearst Castle Visitor Center, but I can’t find any shaded parking, so it’s on to Cambria to look at some metal and glass art before going to Estero Bay to walk knee-deep in wildflowers between ocean cliffs and cow-covered hills. Tonight’s camping will be in Los Padres National Forest, near Santa Barbara. I have half an avocado with garlic bread for dinner and three s’mores and sour coffee for dessert around our beautiful campfire at site 7 for $23.
We bought firewood twice on this trip and will be bringing some home – we are less than four hours away via highway. Camping in California can be a pain – long looking-for-camp drives and expensive nights, but I feel lucky tonight with fire, food, stars, husband, dogs, and a tent that beckons. The gate won’t open until around 7:00 am in the morning, so I see us sleeping in, getting coffee for us, water for the dogs, and doing a hike before going home and putting an end to yet another great vacation.