The sand dunes at Moss Landing State Beach are immediately west of the small parking lot. On the east side, just inches away from your front bumper, are small cliffs leading down to Elkhorn Slough, the famous National Estuarine Research Reserve. Elkhorn Slough flows into the ocean here at Moss Landing. So closely are the beach and the slough entwined, that when I first heard Moss Landing Beach was closing, my immediate thought was, "Oh no! I haven't kayaked on Elkhorn yet to see the birds, otters, sea lions and other marine critters that populate the estuary.
Although geographically only footsteps apart from each other, from a government standpoint, they are completely different entities. It is the beach that is closing. Kayaking, birding, educational and research activities will continue uninterrupted at Elkhorn Slough.
The beach is located about halfway between Santa Cruz and Monterey on California Highway 1 in the small town of ... Moss Landing! The familiar landmarks include a small harbor, the PG&E power plant stacks, and the bridge that crosses the slough. I wondered what those black things were, floating in the water. Large birds?
Nope! When I got out of my car and looked straight ahead into the slough, I saw a raft of Sea Otters! Otters tend to rest together in single-sex groups called rafts that typically contain 10 to 100 animals. I'd never seen one before and I was thrilled!
I'd estimate there were 30-40 Otters in this particular raft. Wow! I'm going to guess that the Otters in this raft were male, given both their size and the absence of baby Otters who are usually on the scene this time of year.
I could hear the echoey barking of Sea Lions under the bridge. Just below me on the beach, appeared to be a small, young seal resting in the sand.
There were already a few folks on that area of beach, and the seal seemed unperturbed, so I decided to head down with my camera.
Well! It wasn't a Sea Lion at all. It was an Otter. I've never seen an Otter out of the water before and was surprised how large he was. I stood as still as possible. My long lens allowed me to get some shots without making him uncomfort-able.
I always feel honored when any wildlife allows me to approach be it a bird, a bug or a mammal. I thanked him for his time and headed over to the sand dunes.
Moss Landing State Beach is a mile of dune protected beach area. Offshore fishing, surfing, windsurfing and horseback riding are popular activities, although swimmers and surfers need to be aware of strong rip currents. This area is an important stop along the Pacific Flyway so birdwatching is popular.
The beach is a favorite place for picnics because the dunes protect it from afternoon winds. If you walk north a couple of miles you'll end up at Zmudowski State Beach, another park on the closure list.
There are some folks who would say that time stopped in Santa Cruz somehwere in the late 1960s. Back at the parking lot, a custom painted car was evidence of that. I can't say I really mind. In my travels through Monterey County, I was delighted to find the Santa Cruz' college radio station KZSC, playing the "non-hits" from the 60s and 70s without resorting to standard "classic rock" fare. Quicksilver Messenger Service anyone?
I looked back down into the slough and saw that my Otter friend was finally making his back into the water. As he took a prayerful stance I had to wonder if he was praying, "Dear God, please make that woman with the camera go away."
He then flipped onto his back and floated out towards his buddies in the raft.
That's the thing about visiting the State Parks. There are often unexpected delights. There were still a couple of daylight hours left, so I hopped back into the car to head to Zmudowski State Beach down the road, to see what adventure awaited me there.
I hope to see you at the state parks.