Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Happy New Year

Seeing as it’s (nearly…) a new year, I’m making a resolution to use this blog more often to share some ideas about things to do and places to go, at different times of year. For the New Year, I have one favorite destination: Ano Nuevo State Reserve, on the coast of California between San Francisco and Santa Cruz. (Ano Nuevo means “New Year” in Spanish, and was named by early explorer Sebastian Vizcaino, who passed by on New Year’s Day way back in 1603.

Along with stunning scenery, and the spouts of gray whales migrating just offshore, Ano Nuevo in winter is home to one of nature’s more bizarre spectacles, as hundreds of humongous northern elephant seals come ashore here to give birth and mate. After spending the summer at sea, every December hordes of male elephant seals arrive here at Ano Nuevo, the seals’ primary onshore rookery, ready to do battle with each other for the right to procreate. It’s an incredible show, the bulls bellowing, barking, and biting at each other to establish dominance; the “alpha male” mates with most of the females, and the rest must wait till next year. Pups conceived the previous year are born in January, and mating goes on through March. During the mating season, ranger-led tours ($5; 800/444-4445) are the only way to see the seals; these tours are very popular, so plan ahead and try to come midweek.

The males reach up to 20 feet head-to-tail, weigh as much as three tons, and have dangling proboscises that inspired their name. These blubbery creatures were hunted almost to extinction for their oil-rich flesh. In 1920, fewer than 100 of the elephant seals were left in the world; their resurgence to a current population of more than 100,000 has proved that protection does work. Thanks to the expanding seal population, there's another elephant seal rookery right along Hwy-1 near Hearst Castle, in Central California.

Back at Ano Nuevo, the 3-mile walk from the parking area to the shore is worth doing at any time of year, since it’s a very pretty scene and some of the seals are resident year-round.

For more on Ano Nuevo, check out the California State Parks website, from which the above picture was borrowed.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Word verification is working for me now. --S

7:52 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home