Sunday, June 15, 2008

2008_June_14 Elkhorn Slough, Moss Landing, CA

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It is 70 degrees F and climbing as we depart Oakland at 9:20am. Packing involved carrying a few duffels to the camper with two sacks of food, filling the water tank, and we departed. With bedding, toiletries, maps, and staples already on board getting away for the weekend has never been easier.
With no particular deadline we had a relaxed morning of driving and luckily the traffic cooperated . We drove down 880, across the Bay on the San Mateo Bridge, up into the mountains on 92, then down 280- along the Crystal Springs water shed. From there, we hopped on 85 to 17 then over the coast range to Rt. 1 and down the coast to Monterey. This avoided almost all of the congestion around the Bay Area and the route is highly recommended.

By the time we reached the coast, the temperature had risen to high 80’s and then dropped back to the 50’s – all within 1.5 hours.
Within 2.5 hours we were nestled into a very pleasant campsite in the live Oak covered hills above the town of Monterey in Veterans Memorial City Park. This little pocket park is a small gem with well positioned sites, a central grassy play field, clean bathrooms, and NO RV hookups. Everyone was in a camper van or a tent. No generators either! For $25/night, with no reservations, its a first come , first served arrangement. The park is directly adjacent to Huckleberry Hill preserve – a marvelous Monterey Pine covered forest laced with a dense forest floor of….huckleberries. They were not ripe just now, but this is worth a trip when they are. Beware, the huckleberry bushes are laced and intertwined with lots of poison oak.

With an afternoon laid out in front of us, we tromped the 1.4 miles down hill to Monterey’s fisherman’s wharf/cannery row area. We had no clear map of where we needed to go beside downhill, so we wandered about looking at people’s gardens and sniffing the hot pine duff laced air mixed with a fresh sea breeze wafting up from the beach.

Ultimately as we followed Jefferson street, the houses gave way to bigger structures and all at once we were awash in tourists with strollers when we hit the wharf area. The insistent yelping of sea lions, gulls, and the lap of bay waves on the beach all combine to transform an otherwise outdoor shopping mall experience into a pleasurable distraction. We wandered up the street, looking out to the bay and kelp beds – eying floating otters and plenty of seabirds. We bypassed the Aquarium when we got there because the price of $24 was too steep for the afternoon time remaining before they closed. A word to the wise – get there early and pack a lunch and sunscreen.

The following day, Steve and Diane drove down from SF, Ross and Morgan drove up from Cal Poly and we all converged on Monterey Bay Sea Kayaks at Moss Landing to get outfitted with boats, and other related gear so we could explore Elkhorn Slough. From there, we schlepped our lunch loaded boats across the public parking lots and dipped into the calm bay waters.
Immediately we were surrounded by wildlife – the sea otters and seals have taken up residence on the sand spit that protects the harbor from the sea. We would be paddling against the tide all day, but now, fueled on the excitement of the abundant wildlife, we hardly noticed the effort of paddling. We exited the harbor, paddled under Rt.1 and entered the slough. It’s about ½ mile wide at its widest bounded by marsh on both sides much of the way. The tidal estuary extends almost 6 miles inland.

We saw fleets of brown pelicans, white pelicans, a few isolated great blue herons, plovers, and more. By far, the most unusual site was the sea otters, floating on their backs, cracking mussels, or clams on their stomachs peacefully as we floated by. Sea kayaking affords a great way to view the wildlife up close. Unfortunately, we needed to keep paddling most of the time to keep from getting sloshed back out to sea.

(Click to enlarge)