Big Sur

The Big Sur coast is beautiful, not as much as the Oregon coast though. In a sense they are similar, rugged and hilly bug the prevailing colors are very different. Big Sur is darker, the dark rocks and mediteranean type dryland plants making a sharp contrast to the white fog. The Ocean itself also reflects the darker colors. 

The reason I wanted to sea this coast is literary. Strangely, in Monterey they make a big fuss about Steinbeck and Cannery Row indicating buildings featured in the novel, etc. At Bixby bridge there is no sign 

hinting to Kerouac’s Big Sur. Cars stop because of the views and the high bridge, not because of the donkey and the spring and the drunk struggling machista poet in the cabin down there. 

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Fog or smoke, who can tell!

 All along Big Sur there were white clouds hanging over the coast. Traditional pacific summer fog mixed with traditional Calfornian wildfire smoke, hard to tell which was which most of the time. This fire has got out of hand. A California state ranger warned me about potentially heavy smoke ahead. I asked a cyclist coming up from the South an he said it wasn’t too bad. He was right. It was humid but there was a distinctly smokey smell to it. All in all I did not get more smoke than at an ordinary American campground where everybody needs his campfire at night and some even do in the morning.

The largest impact of the fire on me was the closure of all state parks in Big Sur. So instead of leisurely cycling through for two days covering 30 miles at a time, I had to do all the 60 miles in one day. Distancewise that is not such a great deal but I had started (too) late in Monterey not being able to make up my mind whether I should go on at all due to the fire. Nobody wants tourists in a heavy congested emergency zone. They had not closed highway 1 though and the traffic was so heavy  it seemed nobody except me had any thoughts of changing their travel plans. Most traffic were the usual vacationers jamming all vista points (made explicitly to admire the scenery) and every turnout (made explicitly to remain empty for slow traffic aka trucks, big RVs, bikes to pull aside and let faster cars pass), the rest was fire trucks, Calfire service vehicles, big trucks carrying bulldozers, I pulled aside for them, I did not for tourists.

Talk to the ranger, part 2

Not marine mammals but trees this time: 

There are the coastal redwoods (sequoia sempervirens), they grow all along in the California’s coastal region and the giant sequoias (sequoiadendron giganteum) that only grow in the eastern slopes of the Sierra (there are some groves in Yosemite and the of course in Sequoia national park, which is all about it). 

The coastal redwood is higher, growing up to 100m, it grows in families and reproduces mostly by sprouting from roots of an existing tree. In At Henry Cowell states park close to Santa Cruz they have a albino redwood, lacking chlorophyll the thing cannot live by its own and only survives because it grows on another redwood tree that provides ig with nutrition. Their cones are very tiny, maybe the size of a larch’ pine.

The giant sequoia is less tall but fatter in general, the trunks grow up to 10m in diameter. There cones are larger (but still tiny). The leaves are very different too, so is the overall tree’s shape. Both trees are well adapted to fire, they have a very thick bark that protects them and they need occasional wildfire to clear out the bush and brushwood to allow them to prosper. The giant sequoia needs the fires to reproduce. The fire cracks the cones open and sets the seeds free. If they fall on too much brushwood and pine needles they cannot reach their nutrition, only when they fall on recently burnt grounds they can sprout. That is why suppressing all wildfires was actually harmful to the Sequoia population. In Yosemite they let fires burn now as long as they do not threaten human structures and they believe them to be of a natural cause. Sometimes they even set controlled fires. 

Cool climbers to cool surfers in one day

That is California: I woke up among cool dudes on the rocks

Legendary el Capitan in Yosemite valley

and went to sleep among cool dudes on boards, in between there are 200 miles of heat and dust and golden hills. (Ok, could probably be France as well).

Surfer waiting for a wave in Sta Cruz

 I cheated of course,I could never have cycled that distance in one day, public transport got me out of Yosemite valley and into Santa Cruz. I find it even more impressive that it is possible to do so by public transport in the motherland of cars. Again I used Amtrak, this time the San Joaquin line and a Amtrak Thru bus making the connection from the railway to  Silicon valley in combination with YARTS.

Yosemite as you don’t know it

Yosemite NP is big, it has several parts. Most famously Yosemite valley, with its famous granite walls and waterfalls. The valley is more like a resort not a national park.

 When you travel around America “collecting national parks” as most foreigners do, (that is an observation of an hiker I met in the “other Yosemite”, not mine), the valley is the place you go to. And indeed, when I came down to the valley on my fourth day in the park, I had the fancy to cycle from the United States of America into Europe without getting wet feet. Lots of French, German, Italian, Danish, Swiss German, Russian in the air. The big walls are impressive, the waterfalls are high and pretty and Half Dome is a spectacular sight, still I would make a plea for the other Yosemite, the high Sierra parts of the park up at Tuolumne ( t-u-o-l-m-i)  Meadows

It has lovely rivers, pittoresque lakes and alpine meadows, high peaks (the highest peak of the park Mt. Dana is up there, and it is not even a granite peak) and lots of granite domes that you can walk up. Big polished granite bowls, like the round side of Half Dome that rise from the forests. Not in vain do they have the second largest campground of the States up there and most foreigners you meet up there are hikers, the PCT goes through there and of course the John Muir trail along with other shorter backcountry trails.

Put trash in bear proof dumpsters

When you hear people talking about bears around here you become utterly convinced there is a one behind each tree, jumping on your toothpaste the moment you turn away. In California states park up in the Sierra you have to sign the bear policy upon check-in. There is not much to it, simply leave no food and other scented items accessible to wildlife. There was not so much fuss about bears up north, there I had the impression the much bigger problem in parks were the racoons. And I think that is reasonable. It is very likely that people feed cute little squirrels (They do, I have seen it) and racoons, thereby accustoming them to humans but it needs quite a mixture of ignorance and bravery to actually actively feed bears. Of course when many people leave their food out in the open, always at the same place, that is the campgrounds, bears are likely to go there and look for it. But isn’t that a matter of common sense? The best thing I read was that human food was dangerous for wildlife because it contains so many artificial ingredients. Ever occured to you that it might be harmful to humans for the same reason? To make people care more the whole issue is turned into one of life and death. “Put your trash in bear proof dumpsters to save Yosemite’s bears.” Then again that makes you think they are close to extinction… There is not more to it that they have to shoot a bear  that repeatedly comes too close to the campgrounds for safety reasons. Again quite common sensical…