Pinnacles, San Luis Obispo, Big Sur

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Thursday, 24 December 2009

We violated our usual arrangment by getting up at the normal hour and having breakfast at home. As a consequence, it was 10AM by the time we left the car at the east parking lot at Pinnacles national monument. A late start, but with temperatures in the low 30s, we maybe wouldn’t have wanted to start a lot earlier.

We walked along the bench trail, possibly the first time we have gone that way, turned toward the west entrance, then veered off on the high peaks trail. Of course, as soon as we got out into the sunlight and started climbing, it warmed up a lot. Stowed jackets and gloves in my backpack and since there wasn’t enough room inside, through its loops. Nice day.

Not only are the pinnacle rocks pretty from a distance –

But they are even prettier close-up:

What a nice day! This is a good place to see over and over again. We again violated our usual convention by turning away from the steep descent of the high peaks trail in favor of the tunnel trail. For once, we had remembered to bring along flashlights, and were hoping to explore the tunnels.

This tunnel trail has only one short tunnel, and you can see through it, so we didn’t need lights. It did drop us down some distance on the west side, and we had to climb back over a shoulder to return to the high peaks trail leading back toward the parking lot. Jacky ran out of calories, but recovered after a break at the crest of the climb.

It was getting late enough in the afternoon that we decided to skip the longer tunnel in Bear gulch. Next time.

Dark by the time we reached San Luis Obispo. Neither of us had thought to bring along information about our hotel, so we stopped at a gas station where Jacky looked it up: the Garden hotel is on Garden street, and Garden street is downtown, teeing south from Higuera.

Paul welcomed us and invited us to Christmas dinner tomorrow. We’ll see. Meantime, even tonight, most places are closed. We browsed through the menus in the living room, noticed Oasis Moroccan restaurant, and went there.

Definitely informal – order at the counter – but friendly and the food was good. Back to the room for a bit of reading before we fell into slumber.

Friday, 25 December

The hotel is really more of a B&B, and they fix good breakfasts, just a little on the skimpy side for hungry hikers, but then….

We thought we’d go to Morro rock and Morro Bay state park. But along the way we passed a sign to El Chorro park, where we’ve never been, so we turned in, just to see what was there.

A golden eagle atop a sycamore, for one thing.

A couple miles of hiking through forest and open country to Eagle rock, for another. Very nice.

And finally, a botanical garden. Very interesting already, and what we see here is but the beginning of the plan they have in place for their ultimate garden. It will be well worth stopping again someday when they have it complete.

Then we drove on to Morro rock, where we enjoyed the contrast between the warmth of the sun and the chill of the breeze. Phoned the Garden hotel to let them know we would accept their invitation; stopped at a tourist trap store to get a small gift to carry in to dinner.

On down the coast a bit to a parking area marked on the map as a blue heron rookery. We saw two big blues on the tidal flats, but no evidence of nesting. February is when all that begins.

There is a natural history museum on the point, closed today. A state park campground where we found washrooms, and then it was time to head back to SLO for Christmas dinner.

Stopped at a pub, one of the few places that was open, for a brew. They were also serving food, but we wouldn’t want to spoil our appetites.

Our host had warned us that they started early, so we were in the living room by 4:30. It was a bit before 5 when they invited us to come sit down. Or well, more precisely to come help ourselves, since it was buffet style. Two kinds of lasagne, ravioli, salad, garlic bread. Really excellent food and company.

Saturday, 26 December

After breakfast today, we drove back to Morro Bay. First stop was a short hike at Los Osos Oaks natural preserve. First time we have been to lots of these places; well worth seeing.

Then on to Morro Bay state park, where we spent the morning hiking Quarry trail to Cerro Cabrillo – the trail was too steep to reach the top, so we contented ourselves by going out to the head at the right of the picture. The projection near the top is called Tiki head, for obvious reasons.

Took Park ridge trail back to the car, which we reached before the rain started. Pretty views of the estuary on the way; we’re told that the Audobon society conducts a migratory bird census here every December, but didn’t see anyone.

It didn’t really rain, not all that much, but it would have been uncomfortable had we not had jackets and such. We stopped at the natural history museum, but didn’t stay long. Not only was geared to kids but it pushed the green agenda well beyond the limits of our tastes.

Back down to the tourist trap part of Morro Bay, where we walked around, found bowls of clam chowder (comfort food on a cold windy rainy day), strolled through a farmers’ market where Jacky bought some strawberries, and checked out a used book store. Saw what might have been an immature black crested night heron, and a pelican that let me get within a few feet before taking off.

Back in SLO, we first went to the Downtown Brewery where we found seats looking out the window and away from the ubiquitous TVs while we enjoyed oatmeal stouts. Then a turn up and down the shopping streets until hunger overtook us – which was pretty soon.

Nova is a good restaurant, and expensive. We didn’t hold back. Korean short ribs as a shared appetizer. I had green Thai curry (scharf); Jacky’s squash curry also had a bite. Macaroons for dessert for her; a cheese and fruit plate for me. And we staggered back to the hotel, yet once again spoiled.

Sunday, 27 December

The forecast said there was a 60% chance of rain today, and the Monterey coast is likely to be wetter than San Luis itself, but we still wanted to go that way. And the day dawned cloudy, but not all that threatening.

We had all day to get home, and stopped at a few places along the coast. First was the elephant seal overlook at San Simeon. Lots of newborns there; we thought we might even see a pup being born, but it didn’t happen, not while we were there watching.

A docent once told us that elephant seals have no maternal instincts whatever, but when the bull (below) came at her pup, this mother warned him off angrily.

Here’s another bull attempting to mount someone who may or may not be much too young; certainly she could be crushed by his weight.

Another bull comes along and challenges the first…

Whereupon the first bull, intimidated, lapses into torpitude – and the newcomer attempts to mount the child himself.

Stopped again at Ragged point, a little oasis of stores and lodging, mostly just for a washroom break, then drove on to Julia Pfeiffer Burns state park. They say this is the home of the only California waterfall that dumps directly into the sea. You can see how this coast gets captured on any number of picture postcards.

Then we stopped at Pfeiffer Big Sur state park, where we hiked to the waterfall. The official waterfall trail, still shown on all the trail maps, no longer exists, but there is an alternate trail that goes up and down the hills, rather than just along the stream.

We then tried for the trail to the Big Sur gorge. But it was getting on into the day, chilly, and we called it quits at a bridge that had washed out, even though there might have been a trail along the shore that went further upstream.

A good mini-vacation, and very nice to be home.

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