Acadia National Park has a magnetic pull to it. “OH, you HAVE to go to Acadia!” was the first thing many people told us upon discovering we were finishing our bike tour in Maine.
And so we did. And they were right, it’s stunning. So are all the parts of Maine that we visited, but Acadia is the crown jewel.
Maine has more coastline than any other state except Alaska. Why? There are 12.7 million (give or take) inlets, bays, harbors and other nifty names for places to paddle or sail a boat into. For those who prefer the comfort of earth beneath their feet, pink granite is the rock of choice locally, and big outcroppings and mountains of it are tremendous fun to hike on. Mainers keep things interesting with dangerous (to some) iron rungs on steep ascents. My kind of hiking.
Fall colors were fading a bit toward late October, but were still quite nice!
We spent a full week in Bar Harbor, gateway to Acadia, and were out in nature every single day. Beyond learning some local phrases such as wicked pissah (rain storm), tag sale (yard sale) and door yard (driveway), we spent hours exploring the beautiful expanse of national park on foot and bikes.
And so should you. Yep, that’s right, I’m a convert. You HAVE to visit Acadia the next time you’re anywhere near Maine.
I’ll leave it there and let the pictures do the talking. I threw in a few more from south of Acadia in Camden, which is also well worth a visit.
Twice a day at low tide, it’s possible to hike along a thin sand bar out to Bar Island for a view of the town.
A great vista of Jordan Pond and the Atlantic Ocean from Acadia National Park on the (very rad) Jordan Cliffs hike.
Pink granite on a foggy day in Acadia.
A narrow, old-school walkway on a hike in Acadia.
Acadia granite is used to make signature cairns all over the park.
Hanging out on Precipice Trail. My kinda hike. 🙂
Chelsea “hiking” up Precipice Trail. Yep, her badass parents scaled the cliff with us.
Acadia is so old that a few of the trails use “unsafe” (pffft) iron rungs and ladders from over a century ago rather than rerouting hikers along a boring route. So. Fun.
A great vista in Acadia.
J.D. Rockefeller Jr. put in the carriage trail system in Acadia almost a century ago. Which is why this photo is tinted…
Hiking along the cliffs at the SE corner of Acadia along the ocean.
A sunset walk along the waterfront in Bar Harbor, Maine.
Cairns at sunset.
A cold, sunny day overlooking the Maine coast.
A view from the turrets of a World War 1 memorial overlooking the quaint town of Camden, Maine.
Hikes are all about views like this. Somewhere near Camden, Maine on an amazing fall day.
https://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/15-DSC04036.jpg7991200Dakotahttps://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Traipsing-About-logo-white-background-450x156.pngDakota2014-11-03 13:56:372014-11-10 13:26:02Acadia National Park Will Rock Your Socks Off
Two mother bison and their calves. Notice how close they are to keep their offspring safe from wolves. (They are shedding winter coats, not dying of some horrible disease.)
I have a theory. Call it the Yellowstone Peace Protocol, or YPP for short.
It’s simple: take people from all over the world who can’t agree on anything or are fighting over an age-old conflict. Place them together in a beautiful landscape populated with majestic animals in a sort of wildlife pilgrimage. Humans of all colors, shapes, nationalities and languages, all inspired by nature. Now make sure the ratio of people to binoculars and spotting scopes is skewed. Say, 20 people for every five pairs of binoculars and two spotting scopes.
Now stand back. I don’t care if there is a staunch Republican next to a Democrat, or a Palestinian next to a Jew, or a Michigan State fan next to an Ohio State alumnus (am I pushing it with that one?). They’re going to start talking about wolves, bison and bears, not some other age-old conflict. Next thing you know, they’re sharing the spotting scopes and binoculars and sharing cold brews from a cooler. Agendas and nationalities melt away in the face of the YPP and all you’re left with is the fact that all of us are human.
A rather large elk that meandered through our campsite in Grand Teton about five feet from the van. We watched him for quite awhile.
French, Czech, Dutch, British, Texan, New Joy-sey, or Aussie. Talking to a fellow animal watcher in a National Park for the first time, you never know what their accent will be, so it would be a level playing ground to get started. With a thread weaving us all together, our eyes and intention are trained on the mama grizzly bear and her cubs bouncing in the tall grass, not the differences that “separate” us.
A dusk shot (not so good, sorry) of a mama grizzly and her tiny little cub. I didn’t want to get any closer than this for the shot!
I think this would trump the effectiveness of any UN meeting or mediation. Find a calming common ground and resolution lies just beyond that boundary. A clean, easy solution! Leaders of the World, feel free to borrow this anytime you’d like.
P.S. Yellowstone and Grand Teton are just amazing. We can’t wait to get back there. Here are a fair number of other pictures that I haven’t had a chance to share. Plus a few fun ones from Colorado and Montana to get these shots out once and for all!
The aptly named Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Amazing just like its counterpart to the south.
Multi-colored bacteria brighten up a geyser pool in Yellowstone.
The majestic, old-timber lodge near Old Faithful. A great dinner in a cool rustic space that reminded me of Timberline near Mt. Hood.
Tent caterpillars lounging in Yellowstone.
Bubbling pools of hot water and the colorful bacteria that live on them.
I know, I know, you’ve seen it…but it’s just so pretty with flowers and mountains! (Grand Teton)
Oh give me a hommmme, where the buffalo roooam… (Grand Teton rocks.)
A big ol’ bison munching away in the fields.
Cows under an incoming storm in the middle of nowhere Wyoming.
A lizard keeps an eye on the scene in Fruita, Colorado.
Assisting with a friend’s move near Boulder, CO by holding down roof freight while also wielding his favorite trident (we don’t have one of those in the van). Got a few odd looks on the drive over. 🙂
Lewis and Clark Caverns near the North Entrance to Yellowstone.
The tunnel out of Lewis and Clark Caverns. You start way up at the top and descend wayyyyy down before exiting through this tunnel.
Mr. Tortoise hangs out in the road where we initially saw him.
The below one-page article appears in the June issue of Natural History Magazine. My first piece of writing published in hard copy! Extra points if you caught the oh-so-nerdy reference in the title.
Gusts of windwere slapping our camper van when my eagle-eyed wife cried “Watch out!” and I swerved around the desert tortoise on a road in the Mojave National Preserve. We jumped out next to a spiny cholla cactus to make sure no cars rocketed over its shell. Driving east from Los Angeles, we had been greeted by hundreds of spinning wind turbines in the western Mojave Desert. Now came the solar arrays, with swaths of panels and tall fences, where the desert tortoise carves out a delicate existence.
Collateral damage often comes up in discussions of alternative energy sources such as solar and wind. The effect of wind turbines on avian populations has enraged many a bird lover; giant solar farms, being installed on federal lands by the thousands of acres, take their toll, too. The $2.2 billion Bright-Source installation in the Ivanpah Valley east of L.A., which we drove past, was the first largescale solar project to colonize a tortoise habitat, and more are coming—such as the 3,000-acre Stateline Solar Farm. Desert biologists have been factored into the budget to tag, track, count, and preserve the tortoises. Yet I wonder if tortoises have much chance of survival in the transformed western Mojave.
Female tortoises start breeding at around fifteen to twenty years of age. Only an estimated 2 percent to 5 percent of all hatchlings survive to reach adulthood. Add to the gauntlet of birds, foxes, and other natural hazards in their path, human obstacles—from roads and off-road vehicles to habitat loss and fragmentation. According to Defenders of Wildlife, population decrease is most severe in the western Mojave, where tortoise numbers have declined by as much as 90 percent. Efforts are made to relocate tortoises six inches or larger found inside the solar farms to avoid harm from trucks—or starvation, since many installations scrape the ground clear of vegetation the animals need for shade and food. However, when I contacted Bureau of Land Management (BLM) biologist Larry LaPre, he said, “It is nearly impossible to find and locate the smaller juvenile tortoises, so many aren’t relocated.”
Desert tortoises played a role in the brief celebrity of Cliven Bundy, the militant Nevada rancher whose clash with the BLM was not only over twenty years of unpaid grazing fees, but also over his incursion into tortoise habitat. On that score, the BLM’s treatment of Bundy’s ranch and of Nevada’s new solar farms betrays a double standard. Cattle do damage to tortoises, but solar farms also disrupt their habitat. For a final irony, Bundy’s ranch is right in the middle of a proposed solar farm, so large it could provide enough energy for 30 percent of California. For now, the solar projects proliferate and the desert tortoise’s survival, any way you cut it, rides entirely on how willing we are to slow down, swerve, or double back.
Lounging in the desert after a nice meal of flowers. (You can see them on his mouth.)
The desert backdrop that our tortoise friend lives in.
https://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/DSC09690.jpg13312000Dakotahttps://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Traipsing-About-logo-white-background-450x156.pngDakota2014-06-19 12:04:392014-06-27 10:06:03Hero in a Half-Shell, Tortoise Power
You hear them first. Barking, roaring, a loud squawk from a newborn over the sound of Pacific Ocean waves hitting the beach. Then you see the big lumps of flesh scattered in piles on the beach, the California coast stretching out in the distance. Hunted to near- extinction at the end of the 19th century (like just about everything), January is the season for elephant seals to give birth, and they gather by the thousands on the beaches just south of Big Sur to do so.
Seals hanging out at Piedras Blancas Beach.
Let’s talk numbers. The northern elephant seal bull grows up to 16 feet in length (picture a big Ford truck) and weighs in at 6,600 pounds, or 3.25 tons – close to what our van weighs! You can’t share a queen size bed with that behemoth.
The females are a bit smaller at 12 feet and 4,000 pounds, still not something I want rolling over me when I’m tanning on the beach. And while they can actually move pretty fast on land, in the water is where they thrive. They can dive! All the way down to 5,800 feet deep and for three hours, though usually around 1,000-3,000 feet and 30 minutes in duration.
Their eyes are 10 times more sensitive than ours, which allows them to see food, especially phosphorescent varieties, in low light conditions far below where most harbor seals and otters can reach. The proboscis noses, which look like short elephant trunks and inspired their name, also have a network of cavities designed to reabsorb and conserve moisture during their long time on the beach without going back into the water. (I picture the water recycling Stillsuits of the desert-living Fremen from the book Dune.)
All the seals were constantly flipping sand onto their backs. Perhaps to keep the sun off?
From a cliff vantage above the beach a respectful distance away, we were watching seals at sunset at Piedras Blancas Beach. This is popular spot near Hearst Castle, that huge monstrosity put up by the newspaper magnate a century ago.
The seals started coming to this rookery only in 1990, with the first pup born in 1992. In 2013, 5,000 pups were born from a colony of 20,000 seals! We were greeted with hundreds of seals piled en masse on the beach, black-coated babies, some still slick with blood from birth, contrasted with the light brown color of the adults.
The babies trumpet their needs to their moms, who roar back and forth with their offspring. Rather than smell or sight, babies connect to their mothers by vocalizing, so this calling is the way they bond and find one another amidst a sea of other seals.
Two mother seals discuss beach rights.
And where is dad? Why, roaming the beach throwing his chest in the air and roaring at the other males, of course. (“Back DOWN, Homeslice,” is how it translates according to the most current research.) With their big noses hoisted in the air, the bull seals have one thing in mind: dominance of the beach hierarchy. They assert their power through loud bellowing and by bashing together their chests, along with some biting, though their wounds rarely are fatal. The prize? Out of the six miles of beach rookery, there will emerge about 100 alpha males that each rule their little beach cove and will mate with their harem of blubbery beauties.
Two males roar at one another. The one on the left backed down.
They might start out sheathed in thick layers of fat, but one crazy part of this scene is the fact that the elephant seal mothers remain on the beach for around three months without food or water during the birthing and mating cycle. No room service or Meal Trains in the wild.
From just before giving birth sometime in January all the way through the mating season, they are living off their blubber, and lose half their body weight, 2000 pounds. (Richard Simmons’ weight loss boot camps are like a KFC buffet compared to that.) For the first month after birth, they are cranking out milk for their new pups, which start at 70 pounds and grows to 300 pounds by the time they are weaned. Milk fat content rises to almost 50%, compared to human or cows at around 4%, which helps the pups put on the necessary layers of blubber to survive in the cold water of the Pacific.
A mother elephant seal nuzzles her baby.
A mama seal napping away, resting up to feed her offspring.
And then, after four weeks, the moms abruptly wean their babies. Some of the pups are called “super-weaners” (curb the giggles please) because they nursed on multiple moms, and can be another couple hundred pounds heavier than their more-faithful cousins. Either way, the seals enter the water within about a month of birth and spend 8-10 weeks building muscle and oxygen capacity before they hit the road north to find food near Alaska, not returning to land until the fall breeding season six months later. The cycle begins anew.
A mother seal reclines right before she feeds her baby.
The ability of animals to survive in nature continues to astound me. This has hit home many times during this trip, whether watching a baby sea otter learn to crack mollusks to by hammering them on a rock or ducks bobbing up and down in the ocean waves diving for food.
I find it hard to believe any of the seals make it given the odds stacked against them, yet they continue to return to this spot generation after generation. Reading about them and watching the red glow of evening light over their rookery was yet another special moment in nature on this trip and a great conclusion to our time in Big Sur.
Ocean spray on a rock while the sun sets over the beach, elephant seal bull reclining in the foreground.
https://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/DSC09214.jpg10651600Dakotahttps://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Traipsing-About-logo-white-background-450x156.pngDakota2014-02-04 08:22:172015-12-20 11:24:43Elephant Seals on Piedras Blancas Beach
Dusk in Malibu Creek State Park, just 20 miles north of LA,
A year ago on February 1st, we boarded a Greyhound bus from Portland to Eugene to pick up our Sprinter. Three months ago, we packed up the van and hit the road on this trip. Zooooooom…amazing how time whips on by.
We just realized this thanks to Chelsea’s cool 1-sentence journal that she keeps that shows entries year-over-year. I’d write more, but we are getting up at 5 am tomorrow to volunteer at a 50 mile ultramarathon race that happens to be starting at our campground at Malibu Creek State Park . One of the racers took us out for Chipotle and a litany of racing stories tonight and we’re gonna get up and root for him in the pitch dark as he and 250 other runners rampage off into the mountains. The race is the inaugural Sean O’Brien, if you’re interested. (It may have me thinking, “Hey, a 50k could be a fun challenge…”)
Live from the race (yay for iPhones and remote publishing with WordPress). The 50 milers head out at six am in 28 degrees. Top finishers will run about a 7:00/mile pace and finish in 6-7 hours. Smokin’ fast!
Chelsea crushing the (very steep) Bulldog Road in Malibu Creek.
Wrapping things up! A few pictures from our time here in Malibu Creek State Park. After a scant 12 hours in L.A., our plans changed when two sets of family and friends came down with the flu. Instead, we escaped up here 20 miles north into the Santa Monica mountains and are sticking to some of the core themes for this trip – getting out in nature, meeting amazing people, grabbing serendipity by the horns, and not getting too serious.
Hasta luego to our roadtrip buddy Dan, whom we met in Big Sur. Yes, he has an identical Sprinter to ours.
Til next time,
This one’s for Chelsea’s dad! Malibu Creek State Park is where the old show M*A*S*H was shot. Hanging out in one of the old set vehicles…
California continues to amaze us. Variety around every turn, sweeping vistas, great food, plus fun and inspiring people everywhere. Counter to how we usually travel, this period of time (has it really been almost three months?) has us traveling like a couple of retirees, hanging out in beautiful locations until we’re ready to move on. That change has been fantastic, and a new taste of travel for us since we usually hop from place to shiny new place day after day when we travel. Instead, we’re connecting with nature at a leisurely pace, visiting and meeting local friends, and not feeling rushed.
Big Sur, the fabled area framed to the north by Carmel and the San Luis Obispo county line to the south, was stunning. (Check out our travel map to the right for perspective.) Rising from the ocean in steep cliffs from the Pacific Ocean, with cell phone signals a mere gasp, we quickly learned why it attracts people from around the world. Hiking, biking, animal watching – whales, condors, and much more – and solitude were the main events, all under sunny blue skies, which is rare for January.
Even more than usual, life is chock full of fun people, places to see, work to do, and exploring to be done, and so this post is simply a photo essay with captions to tell the story. One thing is for sure: the 10 days we spent in Big Sur merely whet our appetites for this beautiful piece of the California coast, and we will absolutely be back.
Over and out from Morro Bay!
Glowing jellyfish with long tentacles at the super-cool Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Sardines whip around and around in a tank at Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Point Lobos vista south of Monterey.
Redwood Queen stretches her wings and gets ready to fly.
Point Lobos sunset with pelicans on Bird Rock.
Three cormorants sun themselves in the late hours of the day in Point Lobos.
Chelsea thugging it up in Point Lobos.
And the counterpoint pantomime smile! 🙂
Parked overnight in Big Sur on Highway 1 on a starry night.
A deer munches away on dinner in Point Lobos State Park.
Another morning view from our van in Big Sur.
The impressive span at Bixby Canyon Bridge. (Click to view full size, it looks much better!)
Ocean foam in Point Lobos State Park.
A twisting Highway 1 cuts through Big Sur.
Pretending I like alcohol at Nepenthe, a gorgeous redwood restaurant overlooking the Big Sur coast. I wound up sipping my (super strong) Manhattan a couple times and then giving it away to a young guy who regaled us with stories of backpacking the Appalachian Trail in -5 degree weather. He deserved it more than I did.
A chair carved into a stump in Big Sur.
An old college camping spot, Salmon Creek.
An inquisitive little guy checks us out at a Big Sur vista point.
The next generation: A redwood seedling at the base of a scorched older tree.
Sun spots on the pillowed Pacific.
A message from years of ocean waves wearing away a rock. (Point Lobos State Park.)
Dew on some Big Sur greenery.
Top of the Overlook Trail at Julia Pffeifer Burns State Park watching condors circle below.
Enjoying the vista at the top of Soberanes, an amazing (and hard) hike at the northern tip of Big Sur.
https://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/DSC09023.jpg10651600Dakotahttps://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Traipsing-About-logo-white-background-450x156.pngDakota2014-01-22 08:29:362014-06-27 08:32:40Exploring Big Sur
Time in nature is a focus during this trip, and Saturday was a perfect example of why living in a van is (usually) worth it. We woke up in Big Sur parked in our little house-on-wheels atop a cliff with the ocean waves rolling in far below, 180 degree view opening up to the south and north. The stellar sunny weather continues – good for exploring, bad for water supplies and unfortunately great for forest fires, one of which just raged for a week just prior to our arrival. There was still a slight tint of smoke in the air on days with no wind that made our throats scratchy in the morning. Today was clear, and a couple far-off gray whale spouts were occasionally spotted by my eagle-eyed wife with her trusty binoculars.
Nothing but a gasping cell signal, and so with work shut off for the weekend it was time to go searching for a famous Big Sur animal: the California Condor. Hunting, poisoning,and habitat destruction drove them almost to the point of extinction back in the 1980s (at one point there were only 22 total birds remaining ), and now rehabilitation efforts have reintroduced them to the wild. That said, there are still only 237 California Condors in the wild, with about 67 birds soaring the coast of Big Sur and over the hill to the east in Pinnacles State Park. They are one of the rarest bird species on the planet and can live to be 60 years old!
A condor soaring by above the clouds.
We’d kept an eye out for them on our way south and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is where we found them. Three bald-headed beauties perched on redwood trees overlooking McWay Falls searching for food. In case you haven’t seen one, condors are big birds! Up to an 10 foot wingspan, with huge fingered feathers at the tips of their wings. Their feathers are black, with white underpinning that looks like a giant V when they’re flying overhead. I found it quite interesting that they poop on their legs to cool off when the sun is really hot. Here’s a free tip kids: That’s not recommended when you’re hanging out at the beach.
Kingpin, master of the Big Sur condor flock.
They may soar in the wind, but first we saw them hopping around in trees like bumbling cows. They thrash around, shouldering one another for space on a bouncing tree branch, crashing their wings into the tree trying to get steady, then careen off – whoosh whoosh whoosh – to another tree, big wings loudly pushing air. Carrion, dead rotting meat, is their food of choice, and so when one of them puked up some grub on a tourist’s car, the owners were practically gagging at the smell. We may have chuckled a bit at that… Only because they didn’t vomit on the Sprinter! Interestingly, condors do not have a sense of smell, a handy evolutionary adaptation when you spend meals with your beak buried in a carcass.
Kingpin shows an intruder who’s boss.
Two of the three condors we watched were #67 and #90. Referencing CondorSpotter.com, #67 is Kingpin, the most dominant gangster condor in the region. He gets first dining privilege on fresh carrion, and lays down the law when less powerful flock members cross his path. #90 is Redwood Queen, a lovely female bird formerly known as “Slope Slug” for not leaving the mountain slopes of her initial release point. She also was mislabeled as a male, which researchers figured out when she and Kingpin mated and she laid an egg in a Coastal Redwood, which is the first known time a condor nested in a redwood. California condors mate for life and typically lay an egg every other year.
Redwood Queen, tag #90, atop a redwood. She mates with Kingpin, the dominant male in the region.
Our time in the park included a solid six mile hike up a ridge overlooking the ocean. We could see condors circling below, and full panorama views of the coast. Grabbing some lunch, WHOOSH Kingpin rips by on an air thermal 15 feet away, scanning the valley below with wings outstretched, soaring away. Not to be disappointed, this happened another couple times on our hike up the ridge. I’ve never been so close to such a large bird.
Kingpin buzzing right by us high up on Ewoldsen Loop trail. A little slow (and blurry) with the shot…
It was enlightening to witness a creature so close to extinction and think about their tenuous grasp on survival. Living in the city, it’s so easy to forget about other animals and how nearly impossible it must be to survive with all the forces stacked against them with dwindling habitat to call home. I’m thankful for the foresight of people wise enough to set aside protected space for them to call home, and also for the efforts of those who spent time preserving birds like this for the future.
Nice blue bay in Julia Pffeifer Burns State Park, with McWay Falls pouring out of the cliff.
Thanks to my fact checker and editor Chelsea, who corrected all the things I made up about condors for this post. I’m just the hired gun around here.
Over and out from San Luis Obispo!
Ten days in Big Sur will make you grin. And forget to shave! (On top of Overlook Trail.)
https://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/DSC09040-001.jpg10681600Dakotahttps://www.traipsingabout.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Traipsing-About-logo-white-background-450x156.pngDakota2014-01-16 09:21:012014-06-27 08:32:45California Condors in Big Sur