Day 144 – Pacific Coast Highway, April 20, 2011
Petey and I survived the evening on the street and followed the Russian River back to Highway 1 where we stopped at an overlook near Jenner. Here, I met John who recently returned to the mainland after spending the last seven years in the U.S. Virgin Islands working on cabinetry for yachts. He had a large telescope on a tripod and a clipboard on the hood of his car. I asked what he was recording and he replied the type and numbers of seals in the channel below. The volunteer organization was studying the effects on the seals from dredging the channel for the salmon. After chatting for a while, he had to get back to counting and I had to move on.
We meandered along the highway until we arrived at Fort Ross, a Russian-American Company settlement between 1812-1841. Native Alaskans helped the Russians settle the agricultural colony to support the company’s settlements in Alaska. In addition, the colony was the base from which the company hunted California Sea Mammals. Fort Ross was also home to California’s first windmill. The gates to the park and fort were closed due to budget cuts, but visitors could still park on the side of the road and walk throughout the park, so just a few of us enjoyed acres of space until the drizzle came.
VANilla took us a little further up the road to Salt Point State Park…the coast is lined with state parks. At Salt Point, we visited Stump Beach Cove where I met Roger. He was in a wetsuit and holding his mask, fins, and snorkel with neoprene cover intertube floating in the fresh water stream that was flowing into the ocean. He asked, “Do you happen to have a knife on you?”
I asked, “What kind of knife?”
“One that cuts,” he said.
“Back in the van,” I responded.
“I have to tag the abalone I caught. This is my first time out this season. The tags used to tear off. I didn’t know I have to cut them now.”
I asked, “What are abalone?”
He promptly asked, “Where are you from?”
Clearly, feeling like a fish out of water, I remarked, “Texas”.
“Oh, that’s why. Here, let me show them to you.”
Having seen them, I’m still not sure the exact way to describe an abalone. They seemed like a cross between a conch and a snail. They looked like a snail, but they were big and had a very beautiful shell. I asked if he hunted them for the shell or to eat. He said to eat them. They are a delicacy. The season is from the beginning of April to the end of June and from August to October or November. Only three can be taken at a time and only 24 can be taken a year.
“So how do you hunt for them I asked? Do you snorkel across the surface and dive down when you see one?”
“Oh no,” he said. “You can’t see them from the surface. You can’t even see the tops of the rocks. Visibility is generally low, but today was such a nice day, I couldn’t pass it up. You just dive down near the rocks, look underneath them, and then cut them off the rocks.”
Wondering how a foggy, rainy day could be nice, I confirmed that he could see them once he was twenty feet underwater and he said yes and that low tide made it easier. Then I noticed he was free diving…no air tank, so I asked, “How long did it take you to get them?”
He said, “Twenty minutes. It took me longer to swim out there. Those other guys out there are trophy hunting.”
As we walked up the cliff to the roadside where his truck and VANilla were parked, I learned how to remove the abalone from the shell and how to prepare them for dinner. Perhaps one day I’ll have to try them, though it sounds like wild is the best way to go as they are much larger than the farm raised abalone restaurants are forced to offer on the menu.
Roger loaded up his truck in the rain, and fearing I’d melt, I jumped in VANilla and continued up the road to Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve. Located on the eastern side of Highway 1, the park’s trails crisscrossed along the forested hills. Petey joined me on a short hike along a path that weaved through patches of rhododendrons (a few were blooming), beneath the towering trees, and across a footbridge nestled above a small creek. I’m not sure if Petey would have preferred staying in VANilla or walking in the rain, as I coaxed him along our twenty minute jaunt.
According to my Reader’s Digest Book, Salt Point State Park was supposed to be home to one of California’s natural, underwater preserves. I couldn’t find a park map until we stopped at Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve, where I noticed an area map that showed the preserve at Gerstle Cove. I decided to backtrack a few miles to check it out. A steep path led down to a rocky harbor. Given the rain and no wetsuit, I opted for the distant view atop the cliff. I expect I’ll have another opportunity to explore some tide pools on a clearer day.
After our visit to Gerstle Cove, VANilla carted us farther north to Point Arena where I took advantage of the bad weather and cell service to complete some blogging before returning a few miles south to Anchor Bay to spend the night in Chris and Tish’s driveway. For those who may have missed my post from a few days ago, I met them at Samuel P Taylor Campground near Point Reyes National Seashore. They invited me into their 1940’s cottage perched on the cliff with what I suspect is a lovely ocean view, but it was too foggy to see tonight. Hopefully tomorrow will be a sunny day! ETB