Saturday, February 25, 2012


The winter months of January and February have long been known to be the most beautiful time of the year for California's Central Coast beaches. And so it was the day after Valentine's Day at Garrapata State Park, ten miles south of Carmel. Clear skies, wild waves crashing on the rocks, a fresh water lagoon with wild calla lilies and a strong blustery wind graced the day. (More about the wind in a bit!)

Mother Nature had done her work and presented her full color spectrum for my viewing and photographing pleasure. No effort would be required on my part today to get a good picture. I just needed to point and shoot and something gorgeous would be recorded on my camera.

There was no clear indication as to where the park began. The State Park sign was placed behind hillside shrubbery on the westside of Highway 1, making it easy to miss. There was no official parking lot. Sharp eyes had to look for an occasional path down the cliffs to the beach in a turnout on the highway. I drove back and forth over a stretch of three miles, checking out the views and looking for walking paths along the cliffs or down to the beach.

I couldn't resist a small herd of Cows luxuriating in a grass pasture overlooking the ocean. Although they weren't singing or telling jokes (none that I was able to hear anyway), I was certain these must be some of the Real California Cheese Cows.

At another turnout I was able to keep my eye on a Redtail Hawk that flew in of front me, then settled on the bluff, meditating intently on its prey below.

Finally I spotted a trail that had a railing and a stairway leading down to the beach. I parked the car and Roxy and I commenced with our afternoon.

The cliffs were bursting with color. Spring flowers and beach succulents were in full bloom. The contrast with the deep turquoise ocean waters and the lightly clouded blue sky was breathtaking.

Of the parks I have visited to date, Garrapata is the most puzzling from the standpoint of the state budget woes. There was no official entrance that I could find as I followed the parks' own Google Map directions. There was no ranger hut, no pay station, no trash cans, no restrooms. No phone, no pool, no pets... Well actually dogs are allowed on Garrapata Beach! But where do the financial savings come from when this park is closed?

Once on the beach, Roxy and I climbed around on the rocks. But the occasional rogue wave brought the ocean foam a little too close to the edge of cliffs for Roxy's comfort. I could tell she was concerned about being hemmed in.

So, we strolled back to the southern end of the beach. There I leaned against the cliff. With my camera in front of my face I stood and waited for the ninth wave to come crashing over the rocks. The ninth wave came again and again. I found myself happily hypnotized, and remained there for some time.

I watched as a young family confidently hiked past the worrisome boulders and headed north. Clearly they had been here before. They seemed to be purposefully headed to a specific destination. Roxy was calmer now, so, she and I agreed we could make the 100 yard dash through Garrapata's Stonehenge to see what was on the other side.

I'm so glad we did! A most magical place greeted us. A small, freshwater stream flowed from the bluffs, through a ravine and into the ocean. We followed the creek upstream. Within a few yards we were surrounded by an enchanted garden of wild calla lilies. We hopped across small pools of clear trickling water. I swore I heard the faeries giggling!

A pair of young lovers from France (honeymoon perhaps?) strolled into the garden. They lingered for quite some time while he took romantic photos of his lady with the lilies.

A funky old staircase led out of the lilly ravine back up to the top of the bluffs. Here endless paths carry you along the edge of the cliffs through wildflowers or back to the highway. The red and green aloe-like plants, and the red, white and blue succulents presented holiday themed hues. Ceonothus shrubs (sometimes called California Lilac) were bursting with their pale blue blooms. I've often wished I could plant ceonothus at my house, but they wither during the mountain winters.

Roxy and I hiked the cliff trails for another hour or so, enjoying the spectacular aerial views of the sea and her surroundings.

The afternoon waned and we made our way back to the highway. I squeezed into my car. Yes, squeezed. I previously mentioned the high gusty winds. When we first arrived at Garrapata SP, I opened my car door just as a particularly strong gust blew by. It pushed my car door open farther than it was designed to go.

Now the hinge is bent, preventing the door from opening more than a few inches. I've since learned that this a common car ailment for those living on the coast. Well, it's good incentive to stay on my diet until it is fixed!

I can't imagine that a year from now this beach will be inaccessible. I plan to return next winter for more sea magic (good faeries willing.)

Until then, I hope to see you at the State Parks.