Beach for One Picture of the Week

Did you really think that we would leave California without bringing back a beach shot? No way—that would be unconstitutional. Whenever Queen Anne and I visit the Morro Bay area, we always save an afternoon for a drive up the Big Sur coast. Sometimes we make it to Carmel for lunch; sometimes, we’re blocked by a landslide—like this year.

Getting to Monterey Bay isn’t the point; there are traditions we have to uphold. As we pass by San Simeon, we point to and wave at the hilltop castle. A stop at the elephant seal colony is required to watch them sleeping on the beach. If we’re not planning a full drive, we’ll pick up a bottle of local wine, some cheese for Anne, and Italian deli meats for me. There’s a beautiful little beach under that famous bridge featured in all the postcards you see, and we spend a couple of hours picnicking on a blanket while we search for Japan on the Pacific horizon.

Four Elephant Seals - With mating season over, four young female elephant seals can finally nap on the warm sun without those big galoots accosting them.
Four Elephant Seals – With the mating season over, four young female elephant seals can finally nap in the warm sun without those big galoots accosting them.

Because of this year’s landslide, we didn’t even make it to our picnic spot. Instead, we drove leisurely along the Pacific Coast Highway to the spot where Caltrans turned back traffic. From the pull-out, we could clearly make out the slide area just south of our bridge. It still looked like Big Sur; only a section of the road was missing. The ocean below was full of silt that turned the water mud brown. It surprised me that it hadn’t settled during the month since part of a mountain fell into the sea.

With the rest of the afternoon to kill, we made our way back to Cambria, frequently stopping to take pictures of beaches, flowers, seals, and the San Simeon lighthouse. I was disappointed that the grounds were posted as a “No Drone Zone” because I had such a great shot planned.

Back in the village, we had one last dinner out and then stopped at the local liquor store. We found out a little secret during our last trip. It’s fun to taste the new vintages at the vineyards, but the liquor store (and the Circle K), sells bottles at discount prices. We sadly went back to the motel with the few bottles we bought and prepared for the long drive home.

Beach for One - Surprisingly, you can find a secluded beach for a private picnic along California's central coast.
Beach for One – Surprisingly, you can find a secluded beach for a private picnic along California’s central coast.

This week’s featured image is called Beach for One, and you can see a larger version on its Web Page by clicking here. I picked this shot because you’d never expect to find such a lovely spot in California without a single person on it or in the water surfing. I’m going to print a small version over my desk to remember this moment come July and 115º temperatures.

Until next time — jw

Tres Eucalyptus Picture of the Week

Eucalyptus trees along California’s coast are so pervasive that you’d think they were an indigenous species. They’re not—Australian miners brought them during the ’49 Gold Rush. As a kid growing up in Southern California, the tall trees were always a part of the landscape. One of my fondest memories was how the eucalyptus scent in the air announced the coming rain—much like the creosote does in Arizona. Can you imagine visiting San Diego without eucalyptus? It would look like the coastal desert that it really is.

There are many good reasons why these trees are popular. For one thing, they’re fast-growing, and that’s why they’re planted in new subdivisions. If you wanted a tree to dominate your backyard, you’d have to wait a couple of hundred years for a live oak to mature. If you stick a 15-gallon eucalyptus in the ground, it will reach 20-30 feet into the air in five years. Depending on the variety, these trees can grow to 200 feet into the air.

The fast growth of these trees is why farmers plant them on the windward side of their fields. They make great windbreaks. And because they are drought-tolerant, they don’t require a lot of water, even here in Arizona. Decades ago, when Phoenix’s west side was mostly farmland, I would detour off I-10 onto Cotton Lane. It avoided the congestion closer to town. I remember driving past the rows of towering eucalyptus and enjoying the flickering shadows on the windshield in the afternoons. Even during temperatures of 110°, it seemed cooler, if only psychologically. Sadly, those farms have given way to housing developments and warehouses along the loop 303 corridor.

I had always believed that these trees produced trash wood, but—while doing my research—I watched a YouTube video on how to harvest one type of eucalyptus to produce 16 foot long clear white planks suitable for flooring. The wood is quite hard and rivals bamboo in durability. I may have to consider using it on one of my wood projects.

On the other hand, eucalyptus trees have drawbacks. Although they are evergreens, they shed leaves and bark all year round, fueling fires. So, you constantly have to “rake the forest.” Like cottonwood trees, they’re lepers. Infected limbs tend to fall off—onto your head unexpectedly. Unfortunately—like tumbleweed, tamarisk, and kudzu—one of its varietals (Tasmanian blue gum) has escaped and is considered invasive. It doesn’t do well in drier parts of California, but it’s become a nuisance along the foggy coast.

Tres Eucalyptus -A trio of white bark eucalyptus growing along the SR-46 roadside near Morro Bay, California.
Tres Eucalyptus -A trio of whitebark eucalyptus growing along the SR-46 roadside near Morro Bay, California.

I found this trio of eucalyptus—featured in this week’s image—during my morning drive on California’s SR-46. They were only a couple of hundred yards down from the Yucca Hedge that I wrote about last week. At first, it was the light golden bark that caught my eye, but when I began processing this image, I was really pleased to find that there are only three colors in the picture; white, green, and blue (which happen to be the colors of the Sierra Leon flag, but that’s not important here). The simple colors here suggest a graphic photo. I’ll take it, even if it wasn’t planned.

I called this photo Tres Eucalyptus, and you can see a larger version on its Web Page by clicking here. Be sure to come back next week when we add another picture from our time along California’s central coast.

Until next time — jw

Yucca Hedge Picture of the Week

I’m a morning person. I wake up at dawn’s first light. If I try sleeping in, I just lay in bed with my eyes open until I give in and get up. Then, I work a few hours (writing blog posts, for example) before we have breakfast, and then it’s time for my morning nap. I haven’t needed an alarm since retirement. In fact, when I need to get up early and set a time on my clock, I wake up before it goes off. That’s the story of this week’s picture.

When Queen Anne and I traveled to California a couple of weeks ago, we only had four days, so that’s two days of driving and two days for play. Since I like photographing in the early morning and late afternoon, I planned to be shooting during those times, even if it meant getting up in the dark.

One of the subjects that I wanted to take pictures of was the Santa Lucia Range’s rolling foothills at sunrise. At home, the sun’s been coming up before 7 am, and since California goes on Daylight Savings Time (whatever for?), I should be good if I hit the road by then, so I set the alarm for 6:30.

During the night, I woke at 12:15, again at 1:37, and yet again at 3:30. By the time 5:45 came, I gave up. I got up and dressed in the dark so I wouldn’t disturb Her Majesty. I grabbed my gear and went out to the car only to remember that I forgot my mask, so I snuck back into the room to retrieve it. Getting up earlier than I expected meant that at least I had time to get a Quickie Mart cup of coffee.

Armed with a fresh hot cup of French Roast, I started driving up to the mountain pass. The amount of traffic that I encountered during the fifteen-minute drive surprised me. But then I realized that I was the one on vacation, and other people were going to work. When I reached the top, I found a safe place to park and waited for sunrise, but the sky was awfully dark still.

It took another hour for the sun to break the horizon. I completely misjudged the effects of the time change, and I didn’t take into account that Cambria is about 200 miles further west than San Diego. When the sun finally came up, I began to slowly make my way back down to the ocean stopping and shooting along the way.

Yucca Hedge - The morning sun highlights a hedge of Yucca while shadows remain on the background hills.
Yucca Hedge – The morning sun highlights a hedge of Yucca while shadows remain on the background hills.

This week’s featured image was taken at a ranch only a few miles inland of the Pacific Coast Highway. The owners had planted a hedge comprised of Yucca plants along their drive. They were in full sun while shadows played on the hills behind them. The contrast in light is interesting, and how the spikey Yucca leaves contrast with the rounded hills. The soft morning light also brings out how years of grazing cattle have created terraces in the hills. That’s good because the cattle would otherwise fall over and roll to the bottom. This terracing reminded me of New Zealand, where sheep have changed the landscape in the same way.

I called this photo Yucca Hedge, and you can see a larger version on its Web Page by clicking here. Be sure to come back next week when we add another picture from our time along California’s central coast.

Until next time — jw

Morro Bay Harbor Picture of the Week

The grass is always greener. People who live by the beach travel to the mountains for skiing. Others living in snowy climates come to the deserts to dry out and get warm. What do we desert dwellers do for a change of pace? We go to the beach of course.

After being cooped up in Arizona for the last year, when Queen Anne and I finally got our vaccine shots, we headed off to the left coast for a couple of days. It’s the anti-desert if you will. We drove an extra distance to our favorite part of California because we don’t care much for the giant megalopolis of San Die-Angeles-Barbara. There are too many people there, and they’re all out driving on the freeways.

We drove to what we call—the central coast—the Morro Bay area, and the little hamlet of Cambria. I love the place so much that two out of my three wives spent their first honeymoon there—and the third would’ve preferred it over Utah.

We spent three nights sleeping to the sound of crashing waves on the beach while a fireplace warmed the room. During the days, we put our masks on and enjoyed meals at our favorite diners and discovered new cafes (did you know that there are only four restaurants in the US with a Michelin star?). We strolled along the beach until my calves hurt, drove up to the Big Sur landslide, and peered into the windows of boutiques and galleries. Most importantly—we tasted wines at open vineyards—something we haven’t done since our 2016 Alaska trip. Let me tell you, our local Safeway gets really testy when we set up tables and start uncorking wine bottles for sampling.

But I also needed to photograph something fresh. Last month, I looked at the thumbnails on my New Work index page and realized that everything was brown. No matter how green the saguaros are, the Desert Mountains are brown. Aargh, I’m drowning in the dust. I need water. While Anne was snoring, I snuck out of the room to capture the sunrise, or after dinner, I’d plant her on a bench (she can’t walk when she’s full, so there isn’t much chance that she’d run off) while I walked around the harbor and snapped pictures as I did for this week’s featured image.

I consider Morro Bay’s town to be the southern edge of the famous drive through Big Sur. The Pacific Coast Highway (California 1) returns to the sea here and then continues up through the world’s best coastal scenery section. Here the Santa Lucia Range plunges 2,000 feet into the Pacific Ocean. The highway is temporary here because rock-slides frequently rip the road away from its precarious perch, like this year.

Morro Rock is the stump of a grand old Santa Lucia mountain that time and the sea have worn away. The rock and four neighboring smokestacks are a landmark that you can see from the mountain passes miles away. Morro Bay’s town used to be renowned for the abalone, but that delicacy has been fished out and is now protected. The commercial fishermen have moved on, so mostly private yachts are moored in the town’s harbor.

Morro Bay Harbor - private sail boats and cruisers during a calm spring sunset in Morro Bay, California.
Morro Bay Harbor – private sailboats and cruisers during a calm spring sunset in Morro Bay, California.

In this week’s featured image—Morro Bay Harbor—I tried to capture part of the local fleet using the big rock as an anchor. The setting sun made the cool, moist air glow gold. There’s an unexpected extra between the two boat groupings. In the water near the far shore is a sea otter floating on its back. Only his feet and head sticking above the water. You’ll never see it in these photos or on the Web Site. He’s there, at least I think he’s there . . . well I’m saying he’s there, and you’ll have to take my word for it.

I hope you enjoy April’s change of scenery. You can see a larger version of this week’s picture on its Web Page by clicking here, but if you want to find Waldo—the sea otter—you’ll have to buy an enlargement. Be sure to come back next week for another shot from the Big Sur coast and more fish tales.

Until next time — jw