Monterey, the aquarium, more of the coastline

The wake up crew. The morning zoo. The neighborhood watch. The welcoming committee. The hungry ungulates.

Whatever you call them, they’ve been out there waiting for us, three days in a row now.

The apartment we’re in, the people who rented us the place through tomorrow, they go out and feed the deer (there are five in this bunch) every morning. And the turkeys. They’re wild animals, free to come and go and go and go, but they know to take advantage of a sure and dependable thing like breakfast.

Today we went to Monterey, which is to the north, which means a bit more time in the car, which means we stopped at a vista point every now and again.

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It sure is beautiful. And the towns are just far enough apart that you can feel a delightful isolation in between them. A rugged independence takes hold. We got out of a rental Toyota at that vista, but when we turned around the SUV had turned into a Conestoga.

You wonder about this feeling. Can you have similar concepts closer to home? The separation and the solitude that comes with that? Is it a function of being somewhere else? Not knowing the roads? Being on a little vacation? Is it the hills? Is it just the west?

It works, whatever it is.

Though, to me, I think, and I probably always will think, that it has something to do with how the hills tumble into the ocean. How every curve of coastline can feel a little bit different because of the specific geology. It’s the new rugged country because it is new, and rugged, geographically speaking. It’s still being worn down by waves and wind. And we are here for a very small part of that.

Whereas, when I see the ocean today, or the Gu’f back home, it’s never a surprise. Once upon a time those oceans came well in, and we have a great flatness, the gradual coast to the coast. Here, as we drove two hours north today, it was mountains to my right, and ocean to my left.

Or it should have been, but for rock slides. This required a detour. A substantial, scenic detour. The scenic detour was worth seeing, too.

We had lunch on Cannery Row, a place made important because of their mid-20th century sardine trade, a place made famous by John Steinbeck’s novel (and some other artisans, too, but let’s stick with Steinbeck). In a generation or two, the fishermen had exhausted the location fish populations. Now it exists as … a tourist destination.

You wish Steinbeck were still around to give that a run. But that’s only because you haven’t read “Sweet Thursday.” This is how he opened it.

When the war came to Monterey and to Cannery Row everybody fought it more or less, in one way or another. When hostilities ceased everyone had his wounds.

The canneries themselves fought the war by getting the limit taken off fish and catching them all. It was done for patriotic reasons, but that didn’t bring the fish back. As with the oysters in Alice, “They’d eaten every one.” It was the same noble impulse that stripped the forests of the West and right now is pumping water out of California’s earth faster than it can rain back in. When the desert comes, people will be sad; just as Cannery Row was sad when all the pilchards were caught and canned and eaten. The pearl-gray canneries of corrugated iron were silent and a pacing watchman was their only life. The street that once roared with trucks was quiet and empty.

For Monterey, it was self defense, turning what was into a place that looked back on what was. And down here, on Cannery Row, they’ve made it welcoming, and quite, and familiar, just like every other tourist zone you’ve experienced.

At one end is the well-regarded Monterey Aquarium.

Have you ever seen a person that looks like someone you know? Only, you have the feeling they look familiar, but you can’t put the suggestion in your mind with the person in your eyes? We all have that feeling from time-to-time.

Have you ever had that experience with an animal?

It’s a lovely aquarium. I have the feeling that the newer ones probably took in places like this and said, “These are the ones we need to improve on,” and were successful in doing so. And, for the older ones then, it’s hard to upgrade, because where do you move the sharks for three years while you’re rebuilding to keep up with Atlanta?

Monterey’s aquarium boasts 600 different species of animals and plants, and they bring in the water fresh from Monterey Bay, which is just outside. They take their ecological message seriously and they do a nice job keeping children engaged.

And, oh look, here’s a ray swimming by.

Children, the ones wowed by this, the ones who have this day stick with them forever, they have to be the intended audience of this entire production. A handful of children who have been in this aquarium in the last 40 years have been inspired and become conservationists, botanists, ecologists or marine biologists. Some kid will have the best shot of fixing the things their ancestors messed up, and it could all have started in a place like this. Whether the kid, the scientist she becomes, remembers that, that has to be the primary goal.

Now, if only they’d figure out some failproof, tamperproof, idiotproof, leakproof, fishproof way to let guests feed the fish.

Have you ever seen a white sturgeon? These are ancient fish. Time forgot them, but here they are, hoping we overlook what’s left of them, too.

They are characterized by these bony plates, can typically grow 5- or 6-feet long and it isn’t uncommon for them to live into their 30s. The oldest was estimated to be 104. The heaviest have weighed in at 1,390 pounds, with some estimated much larger. A late 20th century study brought the average sample weight down, fishermen have noticed, too.

Overfished to near extinction by the early 1900s, today their biggest challenges seem to be poaching (for caviar), pollution, low rivers and dams, which can impact their migratory patterns. (Fish ladders are usually designed for smaller fish like salmon.) They seem to be doing OK in other parts of the world, but endangered at least in this region.

And now for something much more colorful.

Even in an aquarium, anemone are fascinating.

The Monterey Aquarium went big on jellyfish. It was a decision that does not disappoint.

Somewhere around there, or the spotted comb jellyfish, I devised the next several weeks of plans for videos. It should be wonderful.

This is the spotted comb jellyfish. There are others. You’ll see videos.

This is from the Monterey Aquarium’s deck. There are seals out there, lounging on buoys, and otters at play in the bay. And, according to Smith’s newly formed rule of Ecology, any place that makes their tools of discovery freely available is in it for the right reasons.

After the aquarium we sought out more of these dramatic Pacific coast views. We were not disappointed.

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The sea cares not for your notions of time. It is doing it’s job here, and it will do so no matter the temperature it reaches, or the crap we put into it. Right here, that job is wearing these stones down rocks, and pulverizing the rocks into pebbles, and rubbing the pebbles into a coarse sand.

Thing is, the sea has many jobs. Not just the ones that make the pretty views or the dramatic waves. And do you see that rock that just juts into the left margin of the shot here?

A dude took his three young children over the minimal security line and out onto the rock, right over the ocean. I must be getting older. That seemed an unwise choice not worth the risk, or the sea spray.

Same cove, but from the opposite side.

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In between those two points there’s a small place built for observation. It’s a nice spot. Not the nicest one the local authorities could have chosen. A dude with a tripod and a serious look on his face found that spot right away and stayed there for an hour. No, it was not me.

So, instead, I took photos of the photo taker. I was going for a silhouette here, but, staring into the sun as I was, it was just a guess. Didn’t work the way I planned, but it worked perfectly.

Another view of the same cove, and perhaps this is the second-most intriguing part of the Pacific coast always is to me. You don’t have to go far, even in the same place, to get a radically different view. Again, the Gu’f and the First Coast of my youth and the shore I can visit today are lovely, sandy, and not so young and spry as all of this.

Which is probably something I thought about writing while we considering locations for future publicity shots.

I will never not like this fascinating. Here is the land and the hills which make it and the stuffwhichgrowsonitandTHEREISTHEOCEAN.

This is the Bixby Bridge, built in 1932, and the furthest part north of our trip. Just a few miles up the road the Pacific Coast Highway is closed because of snow or mud or locusts or the ghost of Nixon or persistent hippies or whatever is afflicting California this time of year.

Before then, Wikipedia tells me, Big Sur residents were particularly isolated in the winter. The Old Coast Road a dozen miles away was often closed. This bridge, the longest concrete arch span in the state and, at- the time, the highest single-span in the world, came in under budget, at $199,861. The inflation calculator says that’s $4,527,158 in modern money. Seismic upgrades in the 1990s cost much more, and it’s apparently still not up to modern spec there.

Click to embiggen.

A person once in charge of the land trust around this area called it “the most spectacular meeting of ocean and land in the entire United States.” That person might have been biased, but that person might have also been right?

It’s a fine view, and some of you might receive a Christmas card with this image on it later this year.

As ever, the tortured photography student in me — I took two classes in college, one under a prominent Civil Rights Era photojournalist and another under a Harvard architectural photographer — is always thinking about lines and motion. Particularly in new and exciting places.

This is seldom a problem, of course, until it finds me standing in the road on blind curves in the middle of nowhere.

This is the Bixby Bridge from the reverse side. It’s gorgeous. It’s glorious. How did they do it in the 1930s? Aliens. But how did those 1930s aliens do it?

Construction began on August 24, 1931, and was completed October 15, 1932, beating the two-lane highway, itself an 18-year project, by a half decade. In between, over 300,000 board feet of Douglas fir timber was used to support the arch during construction. It took two months to construct the falsework alone.

The  aliens  work crews excavated 4,700 cubic yards of earth and rock and more than 300 tons of reinforcing steel were shipped in by train and narrow one-lane roads. They chose cement for a few reasons. It looked better. It was more durable in the elements to steel and the cost savings could be paid out to the workers. (And this is how you know it was done in the Great Depression.) That decision required 45,000 sacks of cement, which started going in place in late November. They zipped it across the river canyon on cable and slings.

Today, the arch ribs are five feet thick at the deck and nine feet thick where they join the towers at their base. The arches are four and one-half feet wide. All of this, Wikipedia confidently tells me, means that the bridge was designed to support more than six times its intended load. (Good thing, too, it’s a heavy traffic area these days.)

It turns out that these two large, vertical buttresses on either side of the arch aren’t necessary. It is not clear to me if that includes the 6X wiggle-room design tolerance or not.

We didn’t drive over it. None of this was my concern.

Sure is something though, isn’t it?

Tomorrow, we turn south, for Burbank, and a work conference. It will be fun, but not as fun as all of this.

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