California’s Central Coast is spectacularly beautiful and varied. A trip along the middle section of our famous Highway 1 takes you from sand dunes to redwoods, through miles of strawberry, artichoke and tomato fields, then winding along forested cliffs a thousand feet above the Pacific. This is the iconic landscape Steinbeck contemplates throughout his epic novel, East of Eden, and which was the lifelong muse of former Disney illustrator Eyvind Earle.
Monterey Trip Report
I spent a few days exploring Monterey Bay and Carmel Bay last week, with the general idea of making some simple images of Monterey Cypress trees silhouetted in the fog. These trees are exceedingly rare in the wild: Only two small groves exist in the entire world – both here on the Monterey Coast. I spent most of my time at the grove in Point Lobos State Reserve, since the other one is located on private property, right up the road at the “number one golf course in the country”. So despite the vast richness of the landscape I just described, I concentrated most of my time in one tiny area along the Pacific shoreline where these trees can be found.
Monterey Cypress, more than some other tree species, have a tremendous amount of individual character. Their twisted, bleached grey trunks and stacked fans of deep green needles make them out to be larger-than-life bonsai. Their preferred habitat is within a mile or so from the ocean, drinking up moisture from the near-constant fog in our otherwise perpetually drought-stricken landscape.
What I hadn’t anticipated, heading into the cypress grove, was the huge cliffside pelican rookery situated halfway up the trail. As I came around the bend at Pinnacle Cove, I was suddenly right in the middle of thousands of these giant birds preening, napping, cavorting all over the place, and making a cacophonous racket. The cypress trees I'd come for were laden with the massive creatures. I was captivated.
I am a tremendous fan of pelicans, which remind me of tugboats caravanning across the sky. Despite their reputation as oddly proportioned, graceless goofuses, I find them quite graceful and beautiful. At home, I watch them hunt in groups and individually from June to December. They cruise at an altitude of about sixty feet, reconnoitering the lake below. When they see something delicious, they collapse their wings and dive bomb it, hitting the water face-first at up to sixty miles per hour. When they bob back to the surface with a big, tasty fish in their grasp, they will often toss the fish up in the air and then swallow it down in one gulp. They do this to orient the fish face down, so it slides easily down their barbed gullet. To me, it looks like they are showing off a little.
In the end, I spent two full days photographing one fairly small area of the preserve. It was just too interesting to watch the birds and the trees and the changing sky throughout the day. Focusing on a limited set of subjects and thoroughly exploring them was deeply satisfying, and I can’t wait to go back and explore another portion of this gorgeous landscape.