Date: April 8, 2016
Place: Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery, San Simeon, California
Coordinates: 35.662751, -121.257678
Length: 4 miles in and out
Facilities at trailhead: none.
One of the famous stops along Hwy 1 is the Elephant Seals rookery at Piedras Blancas, near the town of San Simeon. We too have stopped there many times to observe these magnificent seals. There, beginning at the north end of the seals observation area, there is a 2 miles trail stretching to the north along the coastal cliffs all the way to the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse access road and a bit beyond. Last Friday I hiked that trail for the first time, and I could kick myself for not having done so before. It's that pretty.
Nearly all the photos in this post are from my hike last Friday, but I also included a few photos that we took at the observation area on previous visits.
|Elephant Seal Bull (March 14, 2013)|
Surfin': Double-crested Cormorant
A lush coastal prairie greeted me as I made my way on the narrow trail through the vegetation. The prominent vegetation that meets the eye is made of non-native weeds, such as mustard, cabbage and sheep's sorrel.
Weeds - because they are not wanted there. As pretty as they may be.
|Sheep's Sorrel (Rumex acetosella), non-native, invasive weed.|
|Sun Cup (Taraxia ovata)|
|Western Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium bellum)|
The California poppies remained indoors, keeping their precious pollen inside closed petals. Only a few poppy flowers were open, and one of them was close enough to the trail.
|California Poppy (Eschscholozia californica) and Sky Lupine (Lupinus nanus)|
|California Buttercup (Ranunculus californicus)|
|Seaside Golden Yarrow (Eriophyllum staechadifolium)|
|Black Mustard (Brassica nigra), non-native, invasive.|
A small wood bridge transverses the creek and I cross and continued on northward.
|Bugle Hedgenettle (Stachys ajugoides)|
After about 50 yards I was out in the open once again, wet, scratched, and covered all over with yellow mustard petals.
Behind the mustard/thistle thicket lay a field of short grasses and lots of morning glory. There were other wildflowers, sure, but the large, white flowers of the morning glory do stand out nicely on the darker background.
When looking closely, one can find all kinds of treasures :-) I was fortunate to see his little beauty, which is also an endangered species (although I didn't know that at the time): the delicate Hickman's Onion.
|Hickman's Onion (Allium hickmanii)|
|Sky Lupine (Lupinus nanus)|
And it's a good thing they had the horn on, because the light itself was barely visible, even from a close distance.
|Piedras Blancas Lighthouse|
Having wearing tough hiking boots I wouldn't have been hurt by the thistle, but this one I was careful not to hurt either: it is an endangered California native plant, and a very beautiful one, too: the compact cobwebby thistle.
|Compact Cobwebby Thistle (Cirsium occidentale var. compactum)|
|Common Phacelia (Phacelia distans)|
The bloom was even more spectacular north of the lighthouse. Large carpets of mixed colors stretched before me and once again I slowed down to appreciate their beauty.
|Thrift Seapink (Armeria maritima)|
Here is a close up of this pretty white-rimmed daisy:
|Coastal Tidytips (Layia platyglossa)|
Seaside daisies, or fleabane, as they are also called, decorated the cliff's rim.
|Fleabane (Erigeron glaucus)|
But some sights are hard to resist.
|Cream Cups (Platystemon californicus)|
|Heermann's Lotus (Acmispon heermannii)|
|Milkvetch (Astragalus sp.)|
|Silver Bush Lupine (Lupinus albifrons)|
I crossed the lighthouse road again on my way back, then had to go once more through the thistle and mustard gauntlet. I didn't think it was at all possible but my shoes got filled even more after that.
I continued sloshing to the cliff edge. The seals were where I'd left them an hour before. The coastline, however, got significantly darker.
Rock islands, left behind by the eroding coastline, provide shelter to seals and sea lions, and to the many birds of sea that roost there, safe from land predators. Shrouded by the mist they look like pictures from a far off fairyland.
As the marine mammals were taking their beauty sleep in the sand, land mammals were busy getting their lunch. At least the vegetarians did. There are plenty of rabbits in the area, and they are far less skittish than those I see in other places. Or maybe they had recognized me as a sister herbivore.
The squirrels I saw on my hike weren't used to humans and sought to distance themselves from me as much as they could without getting too far from their territory. Or perhaps they recognized me as an aware naturalist who doesn't feed wildlife :-)
I took a few quick shots of some more flowers and some more birds I saw, and then walked to my car.
|Sticky Monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus). I did see an insect after all.|
The Pacific Coast is often foggy and overcast, even without any rain. Gray is the usual weather when we stop there. On a few special times, however, it was sunny when we visited Piedras Blancas. I added here a couple of photos from those sunny visits. There certainly were more bush birds about when the sun was out.
|Yellow-rumped Warbler (October 24, 2011)|
More information about the Piers Blancas Elephant Seals is at the website of the Friends of the Elephant Seal volunteer organization, whose members are often present at the observation area, ready to share their knowledge and love of the seals with any interested visitors.