At the tender age of 8, my parents spread a university course listing in front of me and bid me take my pick. Pottery, mythology, Lincoln Log design – the Super Saturday offerings at Purdue University promised a class that would appeal to the mind of any kid. For me, it was Oceanology. Locked nearly as far inland as a girl can be, I had been captivated by the sea since visiting Florida three years before. I remember filling up empty soda bottles with blue-colored water and oil to create my own tilting seascape and hovering over a burner, foil tented to desalinate water.
On my drive from San Fran to SLO this summer, I stopped by the legendary Monterey Bay Aquarium and quickly became an ardent fan. I was ready to return the following weekend, but Dan and I didn’t manage to find a free weekend until now. I hope you enjoy the barrage of photos from my new camera.
Aren’t jellies graceful? I couldn’t get enough pictures of their weightless sinking and rising, their fiercely delicate tendrils. Dark passageways connect glowing, back-lit tanks that exhibit the jellies in such startling vibrance that I overheard a small child asking their mother whether it was a TV screen. After dismissing the philosophical itch of what constitutes reality these days, I could see where he was coming from: they seemed to exist for our viewing pleasure alone.
Shy turtles and sleeping octopus seemed completely at home in their surrogate environment. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is located in a refurbished cannery and fills their tanks with ocean water pumped in from just outside the building. They gently press upon visitors to make sustainable choices, and with sites this adorable – who wouldn’t pack their trash out after a day at the beach?
We wove in and out of exhibits and sometimes onto the observation deck for fresh air. Wild sea otters and sea lions sun on the rocks below the aquarium ledge. Kayakers and sailboats looked back at their view of the shore while we looked out at the sea.
At one point, Dan could set a watch by my capacity to enjoy museums and the like: 2 hours. No more. No less. But this time we took our time on the second floor and stopped for lunch before winding through the first floor exhibits. After about five hours, we returned to the car for the return trip to the Central Valley. The weather was finally the cool reprieve I had been looking for, and with a heavy heart I turned back onto Highway 1 toward Hollister. The dunes rolled by on my left and the sea peeked out intermittently, beckoning. Danny had already stretched out in the passenger seat for a snooze when I pulled off in Marina. I couldn’t help it. I just wasn’t ready to leave.
Within seconds of settling onto the sand, I spotted whale spouts in the distance. Clouds sailed overhead and the sun shone through aquamarine waves. This surf had to be the prettiest I have seen to date, and the sea always seems to reward a patient eye. I glimpsed three dolphins riding in on a wave before submerging and flashing dorsals a quarter mile up the beach. Grappling with the urge to stay and the need to succumb to reality, I thought about it until I forgot to think about it any more. My feet carried me back through the sand and up the dune to the car. More ready than before (but never fully ready), I turned eastward on CA-152.
It wouldn’t really be a road trip without following a road sign in the middle of nowhere. Hoping to locate the perfect pumpkin, we pulled into Casa de Fruita. True to the billboard hype, there was a little something for everyone here.
Since moving to California, I’ve seen purple mountains and shining seas on a regular basis. Though the daily grind and dry heat sometimes mask the horizon, I’m so grateful to live amidst this beauty. Like many a Fresnan, I’ve found that weekend getaways (and rose-colored glasses) are the only defense against temporary bouts of misery. Wishing you open roads and fresh air until next time, my friends.