After our tasty post-hike dinner, we drove out of the beautiful, forested Sierras into the hot desert lowlands below, and stayed the night in the Modesto Walmart parking lot. The cars, concrete, noise and street lights were harsh after nearly two full weeks in the quiet serenity of Yosemite National Park. The following morning I was up long before John and had no desire to leave the van since the surroundings were so ugly. Instead I settled into the chair, started up the internet, and set about finding out what had been going on in the world and with my friends during the past two weeks. On Facebook I discovered that one of John’s closest friends was visiting Silicon Valley form NYC! Once John was up, we triaged the errands we had planned for the day and hurried to Sunnyvale to meet up with Tamar her friend James.

At James’s place, Tamar treated us all to cake she had baked to celebrate James’s first year in California and at the job that brought him there, then we headed out to eat in downtown Mountain View. Being Easter Sunday, our first choice of Mexican food was stymied but eventually we all agreed on Indian and had a nice time catching up over dinner. It felt a bit strange to be back in civilization, but it was really wonderful to converse with others after so long having only each other to talk to!

After saying goodbye to Tamar and James, we headed to the Santa Cruz area, where we had plans to see John’s cousin. We were a couple days early, so we found an amazing beach-front state park to relax and have time to do the internet things that we modern people do, even when jobless. The campground at New Brighton Beach State Park is on a bluff overlooking the ocean, with a trail leading down to the beach. We took many walks on the sand, and spent a lot of time watching pelicans, from the beach and from the bluff. The pelicans would circle above the ocean looking for fish, then dive-bomb into the water after their prey. Their dives look painful, and were interesting to watch!

New Brighton Beach on Monterey Bay.

New Brighton Beach on Monterey Bay.

Sunset at New Brighton Beach.

Sunset at New Brighton Beach.

After checking out of New Brighton State Beach we spent the day in downtown Santa Cruz. I had a great time shopping at the huge farmers’ market in the center of town. We shopped for ingredients to cook that night for the dinner we would prepare for John’s cousin Erin and her husband David.

John loves beaches and the American institution that rises out of them: boardwalks. After staying the night at Erin and David’s place, we headed to the Santa Cruz boardwalk where we indulged in some of John’s favorite activities: people-watching and eating funnel cake. We also wandered down the beach to a pier where Tamar had promised us sea lion viewing…and the sea lions did not disappoint! We heard their racket long before we came into view. A group of them, huge ones and a few tiny babies, lounged on a dock under the pier. The huge ones lolled about, hardly moving but growling loudly when the few youngsters jostled into them. The younger ones would move about trying to push each other off, and guard against any others coming up. Only after watching these antics for a while did we walk to the end of the pier and find how the non-precocious juveniles rest – in a giant floating raft of little sea lions. They do not have the authority to even try to get up out of the water onto the dock, they just gather together and float around. Sea lions are interesting to watch (and really loud)!

Older sea lions get the dock to nap on.

Older sea lions get the dock to nap on.

Young sea lions have to rest while floating.

Young sea lions have to rest while floating.

Our final night around Santa Cruz we camped at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, where I saw my first redwood tree (I will save the information I learned about the redwoods for a later post dedicated to the trees). The night we were in this forest, it finally rained! All night, and into the next morning, rain poured down. I donned rain gear to walk into the redwood grove, and stopped in the visitor center on the way. The staff in the center were beaming with happiness at the much-needed rain in the midst of a very long drought. The animals were also happy, and we saw a fair amount of wildlife – many tree squirrels that made us feel at home, a hawk drying its feathers high in a tree after the rain let up, two coyotes in a meadow, uncaring about the many people stopping to watch them, and most excitingly, a Giant Pacific Salamander.

I saw the Giant Pacific Salamander when walking in the redwood grove, without John and [stupidly] without a camera. A family was already looking at this nearly foot-long salamander when I walked by them and looked around to see what they were looking at. The father snapped some photos, then pulled his young (around 3 years old?) son over to see the creature. It was a special moment, this father sharing a very unusual sighting with his young son, who explained to his father that the salamander is giraffe-spotted, not leopard-spotted. The father told me that it was the first time he had ever seen one, and he spends a lot of time walking below the redwoods, in all weather. I felt very lucky, and was sorry John was not with me to see it. After I walked away and came back again to find the salamander still standing still several minutes later, I thought maybe he would stay there long enough for me to get John. I hurried back to the van, but the parking lot was far and it was not there by the time we returned.

We had a nice time in the Santa Cruz area, with its beautiful beaches, fun boardwalk and abundant wildlife-viewing opportunities. We visited only two of the many parks in the area, staying both by a beach and by a redwood grove. While we didn’t have a chance to visit Wilder Ranch State Park, by all accounts it offers even better sea life-watching and is on the “next time” list. Santa Cruz is also a popular surfing town. It definitely makes for a great vacation spot!

April 20 – 25, 2014

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