2022-03-04 Friday at Piedras Blancas

Piedras Blancas - Scenery
The “white rocks” from which this region gets its Spanish name, stand 74 feet above the water’s surface. In past years, I’ve seen waves splashing twice the height of these rocks. I’d hoped to capture them again, but the intensity was not quite the same this day.
Northern Elephant Seal - Mirounga angustirostris
My first visit to the Northern Elephant Seals at Piedras Blancas was in January 2002. There were no barricades preventing beach access‌. Today, this place has much larger crowds of both people and seals.

I left San Simeon early Friday morning and spent several hours at Piedras Blancas watching Northern Elephant Seals and the turbulent waters of the Pacific Ocean. In years past, I’ve seen waves crash into the white rocks for which this beach is named. The larger rock stands 74 feet above the water’s surface. Sometimes crashing waves spray water twice as high as the rocks themselves. Long ago (2002 I believe) I captured images of these massive wave crashes, but I’m uncertain where the images are stored. They may be on slide film stored in a vault and not easily accessible.

While standing at the rail, observing the seals, I fixed my long lens on the rocks and waited for a set of waves to put on a show. I captured a few moments of water-on-rock violence, but I never saw the level of impact I’d seen in the past.

The seals are present year-round at this beach, but the actors on stage operate on a revolving schedule, some months mating, some months birthing, some months molting. My visit this day was about a week from the last birth on the beach. Weiners are what the pups are called after their moms abandon them on the beach. Without mom’s rich milk to fatten up on, the pups have to figure out on their own that their next move is supposed to be learning how to swim and how to make their own living from the bounty of the sea. Sometimes they try eating bushes, or seaweed washed on shore. Those born earliest will sneak a meal from sleeping mom’s nursing younger pups. When this happens, the pups get enormous from the rich milk. These pups have been dubbed “super weiners” by observers.

Most of the seals I saw on the beach seemed to be weiners, but also present were the cows and the much larger males who had it in mind to pass on their genome. The battles for the best beach spot happened earlier, and now every few yards a “beach boss” was stationed guarding a group of sleeping females. I understand when the females come into estrus, they get impregnated and swim out to sea. The only battles I witnessed this day were between younger wanna-be bulls. When these young bulls crept too close to the cows, all the Beach-boss had to do, was rise from his sleeping position and give the interloper a look. On this day, that was enough to send the out-gunned younger bull on his way. Early in the winter, the battles are more bloody.

When I’d had my fill of seals, I drove north, intent on getting to the Nacimiento-Ferguson road and finding a safe place to stay the night. I passed up several promising looking pull-outs. It’s questionable to use such places for overnight stays. Doing so runs a risk of being asked by a county mounty to move on. My plan was to find a place along the more out-of-the-way and rural Nacimiento-Ferguson road, so I passed up these other options. However, my plan back-fired. When I reached the turn for this route, I found it barricaded, something I was unprepared for. I drove north, and when I reached Carmel, I found a wide place to park for the night.

Well, my trip is fraught with disappointments in the Monterey Carmel area. After driving north to Fremont for breakfast I doubled back to Point Lobos intent on visiting this place that I have memories of from 2001, it’s been cold and drizzly since yesterday afternoon and continues to be so this morning. When I reached the park, or rather nature reserve, I was informed that vans over 19 ft aren’t allowed. It seems the California park systems has struck again with foul play. My vehicle, although 21 ft, has a turning radius like a Dodge Dart, so maneuverability does not factor in.

With so much coastline ahead of me, I pushed northward, through San Francisco, over the Golden Gate Bridge, and back on to California One, winding down to the sea shore and north to Point Reyes. The inclement weather may dampen my visit, but I won’t let it prevent my explorations.

Click map markers to reveal further information