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Road Trip Day Three: San Simeon Coast from Morro Bay to Salmon Creek

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My third day on the road and the right side of my brain is still cold, but I finally feel like I’m getting reacquainted with my camera controls. Who knew creativity could be perishable?

I spent the day driving up and down the Pacific Coast Highway between Morro Bay and Salmon Creek Falls.

Cambria – there’s an eclectic little town. I stopped there for a coffee since the shitty Ramada Inn complimentary breakfast was comprised of stale bagels and cold coffee. Thanks guys. Anyways, as I was waiting for my Americano I heard from another Tahoe local bikepacking the PCH. “Hey, where on the PCH are you? I’m in Cambria now.” Well, that worked out. We met up for breakfast tacos at Boni’s taco truck and exchanged some road stories before I continued north.

I was really worried about getting a campsite – this stretch of the PCH doesn’t have a lot of secluded pullouts or free camping opportunities, so I had to pick from the many paid camping sites at parks. Camping north of Salmon Creek Falls would have been ideal, but the road was closed there for the 2017/2018 landslides. My first stop northbound was San Simeon State Park, and I somehow scored one of the best tent sites in the whole park. It was a little too early to set up, so I just reserved the spot and kept driving.

A day for wildlife

Oh let me back up – before my hot coffee in Cambria, and after my cold shit hotel coffee in San Luis Obispo, I did make two stops. Estero Bluffs, home of the endangered snowy plover, and Harmony Headlands State Park. Both of these coastal sites have some great nature trails to the water. Estero Bluffs parking is more or less right on the water while the walk through Harmony Headlands is a couple miles to the sea. These trails are great for birders, which I am not, but a photographer could still appreciate them nonetheless.

estero bluffs

Estero Bluffs, Morro Rock in the distance

harmony headlands

Harmony Headlands Trail

Where were we…yes, leaving San Simeon headed north. This stretch of the PCH is full of pullouts to view the elephant seal rookeries from a close yet safe distance. Informational signs really want to make clear to you that these seals don’t lounge on the beach their entire lives. Please don’t get the wrong impression, is the impression I got. They’re actually only here for a short time during the birthing season and to shed their winter coats. Most of their lives are spent at sea, more or less solo, constantly active and feeding. The males travel as far as Alaska before returning to central California; the females not so far. But the females are the divers, and some have been recorded to descend to over a mile deep chasing food!  So I guess they deserve a break on the beach.

elephant seals

elephant seals

Look close and you’ll see elephant seals throwing sand over themselves to cool off

elephant seals

I drove straight up to Salmon Creek Falls after viewing the elephant seals. This is the end of the road for the southern section of the PCH until the road is repaired sometime in late 2018. I wasn’t expecting much at Salmon Creek Falls, and it pretty much lived up to my expectations. It is a cool waterfall – don’t get me wrong – it’s just a rather unspectacular hike to the falls, is crowded, and midday is a horrible time for photography. Regardless, I dipped my toes in the water, took in the roar of the falls, and scrambled some of the rocks. There are some more hiking opportunities here, but it wasn’t in the plan for me.

On my drive back down towards San Simeon State Park I stopped at some of the same pullouts and some new ones. One pullout south of Piedras Blancas Lighthouse had a nice little trail along the bluffs, through some bright poppy fields, and above a few elephant seals out for a swim. One sightseer had one of those little toy dogs bundled up in their coat, head sticking out, trying to fool the “no dogs allowed” sign. Right as I noticed that I saw an unexpected sight, a large bald eagle flying straight towards us, but it ignored the dog and kept gliding along the coast looking for smaller targets. I can’t win ’em all.

piedras blancas

piedras blancas

Elephant seals in the water near Piedras Blancas

hearst memorial beach

Hearst Castle in the distance from Hearst Memorial Beach

It was a rather uneventful day for photography – nothing really grabbed me and made me say Yessssss. I’m still trying to get back into the groove. There’s not much to report on that front, though I did appreciate being able to keep all of my gear in one bag today, sitting on the passenger seat, rather than swapping between bags for different uses. The drone was again grounded.  It was not only illegal – and stupid – with all of the rare and common birds around, but also quite windy.

Tomorrow’s plan is an early departure from San Simeon to make a detour around the landslide area, then explore more of the PCH and hopefully camping at Limekiln State Park.

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