Just off the beaten path….our precious California State Parks

New Brighton State Beach. Copyright 2011 Robin L. Chandler

On May 21st we started our journey at the Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge and ended some eight hours later at the wharf in Monterey.  On three sequential Saturdays some fifty adventurers hiked thirty miles in the distinguished company of Sandy Lydon, Historian and Cabrillo College faculty, and Gary Griggs, Director of UC Santa Cruz Institute of Marine Science. Today would be the final ten-mile leg of  Monterey Bay Walk 3. May 7th we hiked from New Brighton State Beach in Capitola to just north of the Pajaro Dunes.  May 14th we ambled from Zmudowski State Beach to the Salinas River.  This morning a flock of Caspian Terns greeted us by the riverbank as we walked through the refuge to the beach. All was beautiful: endless sky, sea and sand.  My day’s walk would be measured by miles of words and punctuated by meters of awed silence –  awe inspired by the magnificent Monterey Bay. My companions on this adventure included my amazing friends Irene Reti and Sarah Rabkin.  Both passionate environmentalists, they have shared their love of nature, understanding of human frailty and hopes for the future in their recent books: Reti’s Kabbalah of Stone and Rabkin’s What I Learned at Bug Camp: Essays on Finding a Home in the World.   I am grateful for all the knowledge they shared with me about the human and natural history of lands between Santa Cruz and Monterey on these special  Saturdays in May.

Sandholdt State Park. Copyright 2011 Robin L. Chandler

Reflecting on the walks, many images delight my mind — images conjured by the stories of Sandy and Gary, the two  trip leaders: the realization that Monterey Bay is not a pristine environment, no location on the Bay has been spared the impact of humankind; the image of Chinese fishing sampans on the beach now known as New Brighton; the impact of earthquakes, erosion and tidal forces on the coastline; the story of Gaspar de Portola and his Spanish troops walking what would become the El Camino Reale as he searched in vain for Monterey Bay; developers’ insistence on building at the ocean’s edge, imperiously disregarding the cycle of el nino and la nina climate patterns on urban planning; the mother gray whale and her baby breaking the surface with their spouts; the enormous American bullfrog, an invasive species found on the shore of the Salinas River; the bachelor otter pod at Moss Landing; the snowy plovers guarding their nests and chicks on the beaches near to Monterey; and the clouds: light fogs at a far distance resting lightly on the water — quickly burning back leaving a brilliantly bright day where sunlight danced crisply on the waves, or the dramatic bands of clouds moving fast north to south, precursors of the front that would bring unseasonal rain from Santa Cruz to San Diego.

Fort Ord State Park. Copyright 2011 Robin L. Chandler

For thirty miles from Santa Cruz to Monterey we walked on the beach  – a pathway formed from a patchwork of California State Parks and Federal Wildlife Refuges  — a ring of bright white sand circling the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary.  Seventy California State Parks will be closed because of our state budget crisis.  Four of these parks are beach parks found along the shores of Monterey Bay, and two of them we crossed during our bayside journey: Zmudowski State Beach and Moss Landing State Beach.  In November 2010, the majority of California’s citizens elected NOT to  pass Proposition 21, a referendum proposing an annual $18.00 vehicle license fee.  Such a small price to pay for so much beauty….. just off the beaten path…..our precious California State Parks.

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