Thursday, December 2, 2010

Ragged Point

Ragged Point
As I drove up the coast I also got further from civilization, symbolized by my loss of a cell phone signal. This also meant no phone GPS and no geotagging in my Droid. Oh, the horror.

This loss of my electronic umbilicus was compensated for by the beauty of the Big Sur coastline. At the same time, I'd rather have been a passenger than a driver. Highway 1 winds snake-like along the steep cliffs with switchbacks and sharp curves liberally scattered along the way. This means "pay attention to the road or else." Fortunately, I didn't get behind any trucks and for the most part I had the road to myself.

I stopped at the Ragged Point Inn, which was very quiet, perhaps because it was a weekday. I took the shot you see here, which gives you an idea of how the coastline is usually a sheer drop from the road.

South of Ragged Point
A bit further south I found a rocky beach. I was hoping to get photos of some breakers, but the onshore breeze wasn't cooperating. I would guess that in the winter this beach is assaulted by the winter storms that careen through the area, another reason I need to get back here soon.

This small section of the California coast is simply amazing. It deserves far more time than I had to give it. If I'd had a week, I'd have spent much more time south of Morro Bay and driven all the way to Monterey, hiked some of the trails, and enjoyed the wildlife that populates the area. I have my hopes up that I'll find another reason to travel to the area soon. Until then, I'll continue to work on my photography and wait impatiently to head west again.

The Piedras Blancas Seal Rookery

There are two types of elephant seals at Piedras Blancas, just a few miles up the road from San Simeon: cute and ugly. As it usually is in nature, the females are cute, the males have a face only a near-sighted mother could love. This was my next stop.

The elephant seal rookery is a beach that the seals return to each mating season, which occurs over the winter months. I'm a bit early for the season, so there's somewhat fewer than the usual 15,000 seals on the beach.  It is also a tourist magnet, and for good reason. Although visitors are discouraged and largely unable to get on the beach, it is possible to do so but everyone respects the fences and stays on the observation platforms that line the beach.

While I appreciate the respectful attitude visitors have, it does create a bit of a problem for photographers. First, a long lens (300mm or better) is a good idea. That means "tripod," and I found the foot traffic and general jostling for space among the group a bit of a challenge. I tried at first to do a handheld-shot propped on the rail, but people kept bumping into the rail, spoiling the stability. I couldn't fault them--it's a fascinating place, but the earlier in the day you arrive, the better off you probably are, and a tripod or at least monopod is necessary.

In any case, Piedras Blancas is a must-see. It's a treat to see the seals up close and personal, sleeping, snoring, barking, roaring, and watching us with a wary eye.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Goin' Up the Country

San Simeon Pier
Heading north up Highway 1, I stopped at San Simeon Pier, a long leggy structure that seems to serve no purpose other than being photogenic. Maybe people fish from it; I don't know. No one was fishing from it that day. I watched several car loads of visitors walk to the end of the pier, turn around, return to their cars, and take off. I'm not quite sure what they were expecting to see and maybe they saw it. For my part, I liked the pier and marked it down as a "must come back here someday" spot.

And, in a way, I did later that day. I stopped for lunch at Sebastian's General Store and Cafe, home of monster sandwiches, any one of which requires two hands and a big appetite. The "General Store" is small and not as interesting as I hoped, but the food was amazing and kept me going all day.  I decided to skip Hearst Castle, although I might return someday and check it out. For this trip, I stuck to landscapes. And seals. Gotta see the seals.

Morro Rock: Icon and Anchor

Morro Rock at Sunrise
At first glance (i.e., from a computer screen in Virginia) Morro Rock resembles a craggy bowler hat. In real life, where I had the benefit of appreciating the scale, I realized that it's huge--almost 600 feet high (and higher than the Washington Monument, my benchmark for "high")  and since we're at sea level 600' seems really friggin' high. The texture of Morro Rock gives it real character and when you experience the rock you understand why people are drawn to it photographically and emotionally, which may be the same thing. Ultimately, Morro Rock sets Morro Bay apart from other seaside towns up and down the coast.  Add the occasional elephant seal cruising through looking for snacks, sailboats on their moorings, working fishing boats, at least a dozen good restaurants on the waterfront, and you have a charming location that deserved far more time than the single day I had dedicated to it. Although I regretted not scheduling a second day at the end of my trip, as it turned out it rained so my options would have been limited.  But after a few more shots, including the one above, it was time to work my way up the coast.

Morro Bay: The Adventure Begins

Morro Rock from Tidelands SP at Dawn
At long last, December 1 arrives and I was ready. Five AM comes early no matter where you are, but given the time difference with the east coast it was actually 8 AM at home, so I felt like I'd slept in. I had two hours before the sun came up and I'd already selected my shooting location for dawn, so I had time to kill. I killed part of it with a McDonald's breakfast, a guilty pleasure allowed only on special occasions, such as when the hotel's buffet is still MIA.

I fired up my pickup and headed for my predetermined location in Tidelands State Park, just south of downtown. I had determined from home that Morro Rock was fully illuminated by the morning sun at about 7:15, so I parked, drank my coffee, and waited. As it got a bit lighter I set up my tripod and camera and began trying different locations. I found the one I wanted and set up my shot.  Just as I did so, two other photographers pulled up and began doing the same thing. They were not chatty, so I kept to myself. (I did notice that when I left they moved to my former position, so I must have picked the best spot.)

I took quite a number of shots, trying various exposures, knowing that a little work in Photoshop was probably going to be in my future. The shot above is my favorite from this location. But, the day was young and it was time to move.