Monterey Bay Walk #2

Pelicans at Zmudowski Beach by CM Parsons

Zmudowski State Beach

Yesterday was a lovely Monterey Bay day. It was also the second leg of my walk with 25 other local walkers guided by historian Sandy Lydon. We started at Zmudowski State Beach north of Moss Landing (about mid-point on the bay’s shoreline) and were headed to Marina State Beach about 10 miles (16 km) to the south. (This day closely followed the third day of my walk last year with Slow Adventure. See my earlier post about walking the north part of the bay.)

Moss Landing Harbor by CM Parsons

Moss Landing

We were expecting a warm day (near 80°F/27°C — actually hot for us) so enjoyed the cool morning air. Zmudowski Beach is named after Mary Zmudowski (pronounced mud-us-key), a local teacher who donated the property to the state in 1950. After about an hour of walking, our first big stop was Moss Landing. This harbor is home to an active fishing community, the esteemed Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) (started in 1987), and Phil’s Fish Market & Eatery, a fairly famous spot for fresh seafood. The town got its start when Charles Moss built wharves here in the 1860s to ship grains from the Salinas Valley. This spot was also home to a whaling station (where MBARI currently sits) from 1918 to 1927. The harbor district was established in 1945.

Sea otters at Moss Landing by CM ParsonsFor me the most interesting part of Moss Landing is the north end of the harbor (because of the sea otters, harbor seals and sea lions) and the entrance to Elkhorn Slough (one of my favorite places for kayaking and birding on Monterey Bay). This morning about 30 sea otters (Enhydra lutris) rested and groomed just below us as Sandy talked about the flow of the Salinas River north and south of Moss Landing at various times. To get beyond Moss Landing we detoured from the beach to Highway 1, passed the harbor (over the water), and then walked with the Old Salinas River. This is an interesting section because you can choose to walk along the old river and its marshes or along the beach and its dunes. Both paths are pleasant and unique.

Fog at Salinas River State Beach

Salinas River State Beach

We stopped for lunch at the Molera end of the Salinas River State Beach where you can rent horses for a beach ride and get a professional photo taken. (I know this is sounding like a travelogue, but our California State Beaches are really wonderful ways to connect to the outdoors and they desperately need our support. Plus the horses were a surprise and Sandy arranged for a group photo.) At this time we were joined by a familiar local — fog. The temperature dropped and the wind added a chill. (Most days I would have been bummed to lose the sunshine, but I must say I wasn’t sorry to see a cooling fog bank roll in. We still had 4 to 5 miles [7 km] to go!)

Mulligan's Hill and Salinas River

Mulligan’s Hill and the Salinas River

About a mile (1.6 km) south of the horses there’s the mouth of the Salinas River, Mulligan’s Hill and the barge. The Salinas River is our largest local river and runs about 150 miles (240 km) from southeast to northwest creating the Salinas Valley, certainly one of California’s most productive agricultural regions (I thrive on the fresh vegetables and fruits we have here year-round). This year a sand bank barred the river from reaching the ocean, and so our crossing was easy. (Last year I had to wade across through knee-high waves washing over the sand bank and into the river mouth.) At the river mouth there’s a huge sand dune (about 58 feet/17 m high) called Mulligan’s Hill (after an Irishman). But long before Mulligan, Gaspar de Portolà and his expedition in 1769, on a trek from San Diego in search of the fabled Monterey harbor, climbed this hill and decided to continue north.Salinas River Beach fog by CM Parsons (Looking at Monterey Bay, they probably couldn’t see it well, which is understandable given what we were able to see from the beach at this point.) Even though they didn’t find Monterey, on their travels north, they did find what would later become Santa Cruz and San Francisco. (Some would consider that pretty good success for a failure. The next year he did find Monterey.)

Barge on the Beach by CM ParsonsOur next beach sighting was an old barge that no one seems to know much about except that it’s on the beach. This is a rough section of coast and supposedly someone was towing this barge and somehow it got loose and ended up here. This year most of it was exposed; last year most of it was covered by sand and I almost missed it when I walked past. I’m amazed how much the sand along these beaches can move. This stretch of beach is more for wildlife than people and is designated the Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge. We saw large flocks of gulls (mostly Western gulls of various ages) and sanderlings. This is also home to the Western snowy plover (Charadrius alexandrinus), designated a threatened species due to loss of nesting habitat (they nest on the sand) and human disturbances (people, pets and their activities on the sand). This remote spot is hopefully a good place for them.

Sand Mining Monterey Bay by CM ParsonsThe big surprise to me the last time I walked this stretch of beach was our next stop. It’s an active sand-mining operation on the beach. Although our beaches have a long history of being commercially mined (since 1906), I didn’t realize any were still operational. This is the Cemex Lapis Plant (Cemex is the current owner, but there have been many others). The high-quality sand is used by golf courses, in filtration systems, on construction projects and in gardens and nurseries. There’s controversy associated with the plant’s operation. Some claim it’s responsible for the erosion that’s been occurring along south bay shores for decades, while others aren’t so sure if that’s the only or primary cause. Some people just don’t like the operation on the beach even if it does bring much-needed revenue to the city of Marina. It’s an interesting site and operation to watch. It certainly provides a view of what was once a major industry along our beaches from Marina to Point Lobos.

Marina State Beach

Marina State Beach

The walk from the Cemex plant to Marina State Beach (our final destination) was a quick mile (we were exhausted and in need of bathrooms). Marina is nearly always windy and well known for hang gliders and kite fliers. Today didn’t disappoint. A paraglider was circling overhead when we arrived. We scurried up the dune to use the facilities, said our goodbyes and ended the day agreeing to meet in the same spot in two weeks for the final leg of our bay walk.

Marina State Beach

Marina State Beach

My thanks to Sandy Lydon for all of the great information (errors are mine),
his logistics team (especially Annie) for keeping us organized, and the beach walkers who shared the day with me.

About Chris Parsons

A science writer/educator exploring and sharing nature with words and photos to connect, inspire and conserve.
This entry was posted in California coastline, Elkhorn Slough, Monterey Bay, Sandy beach and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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