Yesterday I completed the final 10-mile (16-km) leg of my Monterey Bay trek with Sandy Lydon and company. (Last year I walked this same stretch on my final day with Slow Adventure.) These are home beaches for me since they’re so close to where I live. This morning was clear, bright and mild when we started. I figured the day’s walk would be fairly easy (I say fairly because the sand here is loose and can be tiring), but I was relaxed and ready.
The parking lot above Marina State Beach, where we all met, was very busy. Locals were gathering to pick up trash! Saturday was California’s annual Coastal CleanUp Day and at that hour hundreds of people (mostly young people) were readying to walk Monterey Bay beaches with buckets and trash bags to clean up. On the one hand, it’s very encouraging; on the other, it’s so sad that we have to schedule events to pick up after people who carelessly use our beaches. I carried a small bag on the walk to do what I could, especially at less accessible spots like the beach along Fort Ord Dunes State Park. It was nice not to be a lone trash picker today.
As we walked down to the beach, we were greeted by fairly large waves (6 to 8 feet/1.8 to 2.4 m) — larger than usual for this time of year. And, just beyond were feeding humpback whales, dolphins and seabirds (sorry, no pictures). Exciting sendoff.
Because these beaches aren’t visited by people much, there are often large flocks of gulls (maybe hundreds) of mixed species and ages on the sand. I was able to identify Heermann’s and western gulls. There may have been others. Unfortunately, when we got close, they all took flight, which made identification challenging and getting dumped on highly likely.
Our first stop was a climb to the top of the dunes at the north end of Ford Ord Dunes State Park. (Fort Ord was a U.S. Army post established in 1917, decommissioned in the 199os, designated a state park along the coastal side in 2009 and a national monument along the eastern side in 2012.) While we learned tales about the history of the site and the U.S. military’s presence along the Monterey Bay, the building story for me was the weather. During the talk, clouds began to build. The wind started picking up, blowing off the tops of waves, all while the tide was reaching its peak. Once we started walking again, we were buffeted by blasts of wind and had to dodge rising wave wash. (There’s no safe exit from this beach until you reach the south end of the park at Sand City — about 3.5 miles or 5.6 km. Last year along here there were several places where the wave wash was hitting the base of the cliffs.) Fortunately, this year there was plenty of beach, but the sand was soft. We trudged along as quickly as we could. The sky seemed to darken with each mile. Experiencing the arrival of this fast-moving storm, it was easy to see how sailors and fishers are caught by surprise and lost at sea. I was glad I wasn’t on a boat.
By the time we reached the Monterey Beach Resort (a hotel on Monterey State Beach where the cities of Seaside and Monterey meet), the clouds were dark gray and threatening rain. We lunched at the picnic tables and heard from UCSC geologist Gary Griggs about the movement of sand, sand mining and erosion along the coast (important because beach and cliff erosion is a serious problem especially along the southern half of the bay). Gary was very knowledgable and provided great information, but it was really hard to stay focused while it rained. We covered up as best we could, listened patiently, then ran from the rain as soon as he finished. We found shelter at the hotel’s entrance and dried out while waiting for the showers to stop.
The storm passed, we regrouped and continued our walk along Monterey State Beach and Del Monte Beach (which are basically the same here). The last mile (1.6 km) of walking was pleasant —
no rain, little wind and lots of sunshine. We used the wooden stairs (only ones on the beach) to cross over the dunes (and across Navy owned property) down to the “rec trail” (Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail). This is an old railway line that’s been converted to a bike & pedestrian path that’s well used.
Walking the length of Monterey Bay is always an interesting adventure. Try it!