I’d Almost Swear that Harbor Seals Smile… Pt. Lobos Part I

I don’t know if this could be classified as a smile, but I would certainly call it a look of pure contentment!


I hadn’t expected to be hiking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains when I visited Pt. Lobos just south of Carmel on the Central California coast two weeks ago, but that’s what geologists claim. They say the same thing about Pt. Reyes National Seashore north of San Francisco, another favorite hangout of mine. We can blame crashing oceanic and continental plates, and the ever-restless San Andreas Fault, which is responsible for much of California’s earthquake history. Millions of years ago, according to geologists, the Pacific Plate broke off a section of the southern Sierra Nevada Range from the North American Plate and has been carrying it northward along the coast ever since.

I became something of a believer when I ran into granite on the North Shore of the nature preserve. When I think granite, I usually think of the Sierras.

I found this granite outcrop along the North Shore Trail.

And this large granitic island with its colony of cormorants just off the north shore.

I started my Pt. Lobos adventure at the entrance station and hiked over to Whaler’s Cove, which is on the North Shore. Once upon a time there had been a station for hunting whales here. From about 1850 to 1880, men would go out in small boats to harpoon whales and then bring them into the cove for processing. Mainly, they were interested in killing the whales to obtain oil for lanterns. A large Grey Whale produces close to a thousand gallons. Kerosene eliminated that industry, which was fortunate for the whales. A small museum in the cove tells about the whale hunting and other human activities at Pt. Lobos.

This small museum located at Whaler’s Cove once housed whalers.

I found this whale bone carving of the Carmel Mission inside…

And surprisingly, an old deep sea diver’s suit.

Just outside the museum I found a pair of information signs. One featured this carved representation of the prevailing northwest winds that the area experiences in the spring and summer.

And a Monterey Cypress on the other.

What fascinated me most about Whaler Cove were the harbor seals, however. There were a number along the shore: lazing in the bay, rolling around in the sand, and sun bathing on the shore. There was even a mom nursing her pup.  My camera and I were quite busy.

Here is another shot of the Harbor Seal I featured at the top of the post. This time the seal’s eyes are open. The water provided a magnifying effect to make the already plump seal appear even rounder.

This seal was coming out of the water…

And this one was ecstatically rolling back and forth, apparently using the sand for a good scratch.

I caught a pup lined up for breakfast!

It was when I left the cove and hiked up the ridge behind it on the North Shore Trail that I started noticing the granite— not to mention all sorts of other things. There were moss-covered trees, cormorants building nests, lots of gorgeous wildflowers, and several impressive Monterey Cypress trees.

Hiking up the ridge on the North Shore Trail gave me this view back across Whaler’s Cove toward the coastal hills above Carmel. The small, white building seen on the hill is the Carmelite Monastery.

An old trail sign told me I was not lost. The total hike took me around three hours but about an hour of that was devoted to photography.

A group of cormorants was nesting on Guillemot Island, the large granite island I featured earlier.

This fellow was busily gathering nesting materials. I watched as he carried it over to his lady-love.

Flowers were everywhere. I will feature some closeups on my next blog about Pt. Lobos.

I came upon this ghostly, moss-covered tree…

And several dramatic views of Monterey Cypress.

The most impressive, however, was the cypress named Old Veteran.

I’ll conclude today’s post with a view of Old Veteran from the other side. Next Monday I’ll feature the south side of Pt. Lobos, which is surprisingly different.

Next Blog: Lost in a snowstorm with survival at stake. I return to my outdoor adventure series.


36 thoughts on “I’d Almost Swear that Harbor Seals Smile… Pt. Lobos Part I

  1. This is amazing and your pictures are identical to the ones I took two ago. Its such a beautiful place and a favorite as well. Thank you for this beautiful story and your insights that lead me to Old Veteran. A tough shot to capture and you managed beautifully

  2. Playing with the idea of another drive up Coastal Rte 1. It’s been more than 15 yrs since I did that that first time. Your pics certainly help to get me closer to actually doing that (we have to be at a wedding in late summer in San Diego, so why not?!).

  3. Yes, the seals are cute, the rocks impressive, and the flowers pretty. But I really liked that whalebone carving of the mission. That’s quite unusual, and very appealing. Every time you post about this area, I’m struck again by the wildness of the coast. We just don’t have that drama here — but we do what we can with our subtlety.

    I knew someone once who got a diver’s helmet at a garage sale for $35. It may have been the best garage sale deal in history — apart from the occasional famous painting, of course.

    • Nothing wrong with subtle, Linda. 🙂 But I do love the drama.
      I thought the carving was quite unique, as well. Certainly the subject matter was different from what you usually see with bone and ivory carving.
      As for diving helmets, the antiques can run into the thousands. Yes, it was a good bargain. The other item that shows up occasionally at garage sales is rare books. Larry McMurtry made quite a career of roaming the country and finding them. I’ve always thought that would be a fun hobby. –Curt

    • Thanks Peggy. I haven’t read the book about Andre but went to Goodreads. The story sounds delightful. I could see Andre sunbathing in the dinghies owned by Yachts. 🙂 –Curt

    • I was looking for sea otters as well, G. Usually they hang out in the area. But I didn’t see any. Next time! There is just something about cypress, even more so in the fog. Thanks. –Curt

  4. Aww… the puppy seal!
    You must have been either patient or plain lucky. I’ve seen tons of seals but rarely babies as small.
    This whole area is gorgeous and yes, there is some unexpected hiking. Pretty much everywhere in CA you go up and down.

    • Just plain luck, Evelyne. But I was certainly happy for the opportunity! Always ups and downs unless you are hiking in the Central Valley— not normally what I like to do but I did spend many happy years enjoying the American River Parkway through Sacramento. It saved me when I couldn’t escape to the mountains or the coast. 🙂 –Curt

  5. This post gave me such a yearning to get out in nature for a good hike. Not happening yet, but hopefully in the future. The Old Veteran is a marvellous statement of the beauty and the resilience of nature. What stories that tree could tell. Favourite photos – Whalers Cove towards the coastal hills, and the flowers.

    • Here’s hoping you can get back out on the trail soon, Alison. I know how you love it. Peggy and I are gearing up for backpacking this summer, so I have been pushing my old bod pretty hard. 🙂 I just happened on the Old Veteran. It was a treat. The tree had personality plus! Lots more flowers coming up on my next Pt. Lobos blog, probably Monday. Speaking of being out in Nature, I have one very pregnant doe sleeping outside my window. It’s hot and she looks miserable. –Curt

    • It is relaxing, Juliann. I have always found the ocean such, except when I have been out on it in a storm. 🙂 There are a number of places in Pt. Lobos, some even with beautiful carved benches, where you can stop to rest and enjoy the beauty. –Curt

  6. So glad I didn’t miss this post – I’ve fallen off the blog reading track a bit recently! What a supremely pleasant ramble this looks like; I love the seals (of course!), the wildflowers, the granite outcroppings, the cypress, and much more. This post reminded me I have not been to that part of the California coast for a very long time, and I need to correct that.

    • I’ve been hard put to keep up with posts as well, Lexi, and I am feeling guilt about it! I always learn a lot and enjoy people’s perspective and adventures. So I certainly understand, and I am pleased when you and my other friends check in. So thanks. And the coast is a very special place. Thanks. –Curt

  7. Magnificent old Veteran tree in time for Memorial Day. I do love those cypress trees. So much of this post made me homesick for when I lived in Humboldt County. I didn’t get to see so many seals close up though, and that’s always an honor. Loved the image of the cormorant collecting supplies for a nest. And I also loved the idea that those granite outcroppings aren’t put there just for beauty, but a remnant of a mighty mountain range. Very cool

    • The thought of a chunk of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range (see, I can describe it properly— grin) breaking off and making its way north has always fascinated me, ever since I first learned about it at Pt. Reyes.
      I could happily live on the North Coast, Crystal. It is a place of both beauty and mystery.
      That was one busy cormorant. He kept adding more to his beak until it couldn’t hold any more. 🙂 –Curt

  8. Seals look like big ol’ blobs to me, but when they’re moving around, they’re fascinating. My glimpse of seals in San Francisco was perhaps the most enlightening, since they were in motion — well, sort of — as they flipped and flapped around. And maybe they do smile!

  9. Busy making notes for upcoming California Coast run. Oh this is a lovely photo essay Curt. So full of the right information. Photography to really smile over. I enjoy your photos so much because you include many angles and perspectives. The big picture landscapes and the small flower equally noteworthy and part of creating the whole. Thank you. .

    • Wandering with camera at hand has proven to be great fun for me over the past several years, JoHanna. I’m sorry I didn’t discover it earlier— a great deal of really beautiful country escaped. 🙂 Thanks so much for your kind comments! –Curt

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