After Los Angeles we headed out to San Francisco and were expecting a rather dull ride, but as you can see from the title, it was nothing of the sort.
Btw, I’m writing this on route 299 towards Eureka, CA, and we just passed a speed zone sign full of dents and holes as if someone had shot it with a shotgun. We’ve also seen one pickup truck with similar marks a few days ago. @.@
Scenic route 101 from Los Angeles to San Francisco
Since we had decided to take it slow and to stop at anything interesting, the trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco took us three days. We also chose to ride the coastal freeway 101 with its scenic routes. The road was narrow and climbed the sides of mountains next to the Pacific ocean. The ride reminded me of the old classic Disney animation where Goofy and Donald Duck (and maybe Mickey Mouse) rode a similar road with an RV attached to it. The road is spectacular, but demanding as you need to have full concentration at all times with high speeds and narrow curves, narrow lanes all through, and oncoming trucks. There aren’t many places to refuel so be sure to fill your tank before embarking on the trip. Restaurants are sparse and overpriced, and the toilets… well, it’s better we not mention them.
Along the mountain road there isn’t much to see in terms of attractions but the roadtrip itself is worth it all.
We learned just before Monterey Bay, CA, that it’s not a good idea to go to the beach and lose your car keys. Luckily it wasn’t us but two Korean girls we found in distress by the side of the road. We’d stopped there for a quick snack and after we cleaned the back seat from our wide collection of all sorts of snacks, we picked them up and gave them a ride to Monterey where their friends were living. They asked us to drop them off at any hotel, which we did but felt worried afterwards if they’d found their friends. To our great relief we ran into them the next day at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and they told us another friend of theirs had driven their spare keys to them all the way from LA and everything was well with them now. What great news! 🙂
Ventura Beach and Mythbusters
Our very first event after leaving LA was an unplanned stop at Ventura Beach. We were both peckish and needed a break from driving so when we saw a sign for tacos we just had to make a stop. On our way to the parking hall I noticed something going on at the beach and dragged Joonas to the site. There was some huge fish covered with a white tarp and a television crew and a huge crowd. Having no idea what we were seeing I asked one nice mom what was going on. She could only say it was some show for Discovery airing a few weeks later for a Shark Week on the channel. Then I noticed some person carrying a Mythbusters sign and looked at the people in front of the white mass and recognized Kari with her red hair and green shirt, then Tory and finally Grant.
It turned out they had built a huge motorized shark and tested if it could crush a sailboat with its jaws. We missed if this was some real life shark living now or some ancient species which used to live in the past before humans. But huge it was, dubbed “Sharkzilla” for a reason! We stayed there on the beach for a couple of hours watching them film and at one point moved behind the set and worked as extras, yelling whenever we were told to. They took quite many takes on us and it was surprising how embarrassed Kari, Tory, and Grant seemed in front of a cheering crowd.
When they started to prepare the shark for the showdown we took off for delicious fish burritos at the nearby pier. We could follow the preparations from the pier and when we returned to the scene they were just starting to crush things. Removing the shark’s inflatable head, they revealed the shark’s jaws (no idea if it was real or a copy) and were placing various objects in its jaws and testing how much pressure they could hold. Unfortunately we had to leave the set just when they were about to put the sailboat between its jaws because the sun was setting fast and we still had two hours to drive to get to our motel.
If you want to try to spot us from TV we were right behind and between two kids sitting on their father’s shoulders.
The next day we rode along 101 by the coast looking for elephant seals. They are located near the Piedras Blancas Light Station. Even though no exact address is given, if you follow the coast and the road you are bound to find them. There are clear signs by the road.
The viewing point for the elephant seals is kept by the Friends of the Elephant Seals organization and there was a very kind volunteer present to answer any questions the public might have about these charming creatures. The view point is a part of the coastline with a sandy beach where the elephant seals come regularly to get rid of their winter coat, to mate and to give birth to cubs. At the time we were there, in early June, they were shedding the winter coats and just sunbathing and quarreling about the best spots to lie down.
The elephant seals are extremely charming fellows! They have a long, wide trunk which they seem to have no control over. The elephant seals seem to be more designed for water and their movement on the beach seemed slow and laborious but as soon as they got into an argument they shot like a bullet after each other. There was a warning sign stating the elephant seals could move much faster than it appeared and a stern warning NOT to cross the reeling separating the beach from the walkway, but there are always those who have to test it themselves and end up in the hospital. Unless I’d seen them quarrel I would have never thought they could do anything fast. Most of the times the animals just lied there on the beach, their trunks burried deep in the sand and looking back at us humans. Sometimes they’d move further up the beach holding their heads high before growing tired and letting their head down and plowing the sand with their trunks for a few extra pushes forward, then dropping there to snort sand out from their trunks. I mean, what style! If lived there I’d be sure to volunteer to work with these animals.
If you can’t travel to see them live, the second best option is to use the live web cameras provided by the Friends of Elephant Seals, which can be found here: http://www.elephantseal.org/livecam.htm (they show recording during nighttime).
Monterey Bay Aquarium is the largest aquarium on the west coast US and highly appraised. The building itself is a bit confusing since it’s an old sardine cannery, but once you find yourself to the first site you’ll be ok. The place is huge and the fish tanks are unbelievably colourful, rich in life and well thought out. In the latest tanks they have also given thought to the appearance of the exhibitions and those look just amazing. There is for example one round room where a group of small fishes (sardines?) swim around you in a never ending circle. And in another tank you see herrings (or something alike) swim across the window against a clear blue background. It’s all very impressive allowing the visitor to really see the animals move without any disturbance.
The aquarium has, of course, a vast collection of fish in different tanks for viewing but they also have tanks where you can touch the animals. The tanks had low water and mostly just sea stars, slugs, and sea plants but also a few crabs and shellfish. I was so horrified about the animals in the tanks, especially the crab since it reminded me of a spider, which I’m afraid of. The shellfish were attached onto a rock really hard and if you tried to move one, you ended up moving the whole rock and the rest of the shellfish. There were a few huge shellfish, though, which were placed inside a separate container in the tank, because they all are hemophiliac, meaning they will bleed to death if cut, so just as a precausion they were kept separate from everyone else. They had huge shells and they had little protruding tentacle like things coming out of their sides, which they used to feel their surroundings. When you put your finger next to it, all the closeby tentacles started to reach for you as it was trying to figure out if it liked you or not. Given some seaweed leaves it pulled them immediately inside its shell and started eating them. The star fish were surprisingly hard even though they seem to comform to the shape of their surroundings completely. Their skin felt rock-hard with a little velvety “fur” here and there. There was one seaslug, a yellow and orange thing which felt totally different, though. It was soft yet tense at the same time. Like a roll of raw dough still in need of kneading. The animals didn’t really seem to care about us humans petting them gently, but I did feel a bit sorry for the two crabs there. When I finally found the courage to touch one, it kneeled a bit to get away from my touch. And when I gave its friend a gentle push I noticed the crabs were incredibly light compared to their size. So fascinating.
The Aquarium also had penguins. During the feeding the penguins ate, pooped and the staff members told us about taking care of the penguins. The audience was given a chance to ask questions about the animals. There were also sea otters, who for some reason were not fit to be returned to the wild and thus were given residence at the aquarium. Some of the sea otters also participated in foster mom programs helping wild otter babies survive. There were five or four sea otters and they all had to be taught a few basic tricks like coming when called, allowing caretakers to touch them and staying out of the staff room. Since each sea otter had to eat a lot each day (was it a fifth of their own weight) the feedings were used to train them while telling the audience about these animals. The sea otters were so pretty with their fur looking silver-like in the sun. Cute animals and much larger than I expected.
The aquarium wasn’t just a place to see animals. The aquarium does also lot of work to educate people and the nearby businesses about nature and its preservation. Many of the restaurants on the pier advertised if their menu was approved by the Monterey Bay Aquarium as being safe for nature. They also educated people to choose nature friendly food and make sure their cars, for example, are in shape as not to pollute sea, for example by leaking oil. Also the aquarium had wild animals (local birds and those sea otters, for example) to be released once they got healthy enough. When I learned how much work the aquarium does to educate people I felt the entry fee of $30 was worth it, as part of it was used for the good of nature.
In the middle of nowhere, inland from Santa Cruz, in a (very) small town called Felton there is a small Bigfoot Discovery Museum. In case you don’t know, Bigfoot or Sasquatch is a human-like creature said to live on the west coast redwood forests of USA and Canada. There is no solid evidence of their existence except for a few videos, photographs and footprints, and stories from people who say have run into the bigfoot.
To be honest, I originally thought of this museum as a bit of a joke – something weird enough to visit but not to be taken seriously. Bigfoots are like UFOs/ETs. Some say they have met them but the evidence is scarce and disputed and I suppose the majority of people think those people are at least a bit crazy. I’m in that majority.
Well, the thing is, after visiting the museum I’m not so sure about it anymore. Ok, there were two videos, which have not been proven to be fakes, and maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. I don’t know since I haven’t studied the subject. There were also plaster casts of bigfoot footprints and all sorts of studies about the bigfoots and theories of what they could be (apes? Neanderthals? Something else?) and a small collection of pop culture references to the bigfoot. None of those things matter to me. What really made me think was the fact that the museum keeper seemed like a normal, sane, quite intelligent man.
There was a woman with her son inside when we came in and we heard the museum keeper tell them about how he had met the big foot in his youth. I didn’t hear this very well, but I think it was when he was still a young boy, camping with his family. When they were cooking food he suddenly noticed a hairy man looking at him in the woods. When he told his parents they got scared it was some hobo, but the museum keeper was sure the hairy man was no human, but a bigfoot, on account of its size and naked, hairy appearance. First he kept the whole thing a secret and told about it to no-one, since he was afraid of people’s reaction. Then when he finally did tell about the meeting openly and opened his museum he got calls from all over the region from people who claimed they’d seen the bigfoot. Even he was surprised at how “reliable” the people were who claimed to have seen the bigfoot. Some were park rangers and other people who worked in the forest. He had a local map on the wall where he pinned all the sightings and then went there to investigate for possible signs like pieces of hair or footprints. The map had many pins on it and on the other wall there was another map with bigfoot sightings from a larger area. It seems the large redwood forests are the most common places for bigfoot sightings. (We promise to keep our eyes open when we drive there.)
The museum keeper also told us about one person who had befriended a bigfoot. One night he had heard weird noises from under his home and in the morning he found some items which he thought were left there by a bigfoot. When he discussed it with his friends they came up with an idea he should leave in turn something for the bigfoot and so the exchange of gifts began. The museum keeper told us the native Americans have also stories of exchanging objects with big hairy men.
It really doesn’t matter what the stories are, or if the evidence is worthwhile. Having driven in the redwood forests, seeing how huge and vast areas they are – and that’s just what I’ve seen from our car window – I suppose there could live a few bigfoot in secret. It’s just like with the UFOs. Do you remember that Griffith Observatory wall photo of the space and its millions of suns and galaxies? I would be an idiot to say there was no extraterrestial life there somewhere (it’s a whole another question if I believe they are exactly like the UFO witnesses tell they are) and just like that, it’s really not my place to tell a man who claims he has seen a bigfoot that he’s lying. I really have no proof to say the opposite and the forests are so vast.
In any case, I hope him all the best of luck in his cause of finding more about the bigfoot. As for the nerds and geeks out there, would I recommend this place for them? If you want to know about the bigfoot or want to tell him about your meeting with them, go ahead. As for others, the place was really small and for a museum it had a very limited collection for casual visitors. The place is more of a bigfoot research center than a museum. So hence only…
***, but I hope you visit the place anyway and leave him a donation.
That’s all for today. On Sunday I’ll tell you about San Francisco.
-Mia & Joonas
edit: not the Atlantic but the Pacific ocean. *fail*