Road Trip

This past summer I drove from New Mexico to Portland, Oregon. I have traveled from my usual home in Seattle to New Mexico many times to visit my mother and sister who live there. Each time I drive I try to find some new route and see some new sites along the way.

This trip I had a number of goals. I wanted to go to two National Parks in southern Utah that I had not visited and I wanted to see elephant seals and a new exhibit at the Monterey aquarium in California.

The parks I visited were Capital Reef National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. They were both incredible. They are small parks, but worth a visit if you get the chance.

For me the best part of the trip was seeing the elephant seals. I have studied about them at University, but had never seen any in person. The first colony I visited was just north of San Simion. This is a new colony that has only been there a few years. It is very accessable since it is right next to Hiway 101. The other colony was further north at Ano Nuevo near Santa Cruz.

At the time of year I was there (late June) all the animals are males. They have come ashore to molt. During this time they shed all there old hair and grow new. They cannot keep warm enough in the open ocean without all their fur so they haul out on the beach at this time to stay warm.

The colony is very noisy because many of the males are fighting. During the breeding season in spring this fighting is very serious and many animals are hurt, but during the time I was there most of the fights were just "playing." The males use this time to practice their fighting skills for when it really counts when they are trying to establish breeding territories. Also at the time I was there most of the animals were relatively young. Not until later in the summer do the really large males show up.

These animals are really huge. Adult males can reach 4000 pounds (1800 kg). They are not called elephant seals because of their size though, but because the males grow long noses that hang down in their throat and are used to make the incredible noise that permeates the colony.

The most impresive thing about elephant seals is their diving ability. Scientists have glued time/depth recorders to the back of animals which record how long and how deep the animals dive. They have been recorded having gone to depths of over a mile and have stayed down for as long as two hours! What is really amazing is that no matter how long they have been underwater they only have to stay an average of 3 minutes on the surface breathing before they dive again. The length of the dive has no bearing on how long they need to stay at the surface to recover. There are many theories about how they can do this, but basically it just seems impossible from a physiological perspective. When they leave the breeding beaches they are diving almost constantly and travel thousands of miles from the California coast.

I also stoped at the Monterey aquarium to see a new exhibit that they have there that has animals from the open ocean. This is my favorite aquarium. They have a nice walk in aviary where you can get real close to the birds . There is also a big tank with lots of jelleyfish which I love to watch. The sea otters are fun to watch play in a huge tide pool that connects with the bay.