Day Trip Road Trip!
Posted 4/30/2014 (Day Trip Road Trip occurred on 4/27) The Big Sur Marathon took place on April 27th. A world class sporting event happening in my own back yard, yay, that closes Highway 1 between Monterey and Big Sur for half a day, boo. Time to come up with an alternate to my regular Sunday plan of heading down to Big Sur to look for condors. And so was born the Day Trip Road Trip!

The plan: get up early, head to Pinnacles National Park, do some hiking, see some condors, then head to the south end of Big Sur via Fort Hunter Liggett (FHL) and head up the coast and look for more condors. Yes, my ideal plan calls for condors turning up wherever I happen to go! Go big or go home!

In reality the Day Trip Road Trip turned into an eleven hour, 197 mile road trip that checked every box of the original plan and planted a grin on my face soon after I left Monterey in the morning that lasted all the way into the following work week.

I got up early and arrived at Pinnacles soon after the west gate opened. Cool temperatures beckoned and I was soon hiking up to the High Peaks in glorious conditions.

As I approached the top, I saw some birds flying in between various volcanic spires, and after seeing numerous turkey vultures I caught a glimpse of the unmistakable shape of a condor.

That condor peek caused me to pick up the pace and head to the peaks as fast as I could. I managed to get on to the steep and narrow section a few minutes later and as I paused to gather my composure (also known as try to suck in all the air I could before I collapsed), I spied a couple of condors on ledges off in the distance. After I recovered enough to finally move again, I headed up a couple of rock staircases and got to the top of the High Peaks trail. I spent the next 90 minutes taking in the view and watching five condors hanging out in nearby trees and on nearby rock ledges and occasionally flying around the spires. One hiker briefly came through the area, but for the rest of the time, I had the place to myself, both remarkably peaceful and very enjoyable.

The condors eventually headed off to different parts of the park, so a few minutes after they departed, I headed back down, passing lots of folks coming up, I guess the exclusivity of my High Peaks experience was definitely helped by the early hour I was up there.

The hour of hiking up, 90 minutes of hanging out a the top and another hour hiking back down was captured by my GPS watch and downloaded to Google Earth as can be seen below.

After a quick lunch, I headed south to FHL. I was ahead of schedule, so I had time for a side trip to the local mission. Mission San Antonio de Padua is my favorite of the Spanish missions that I've managed to visit so far.

Out in the middle of the countryside, this place has to be as close as you're likely to get to see how missions existed in their environment back in their day. It's also very well preserved. Regardless of your faith (or lack thereof), this location serves as a fantastic California history lesson.

Next part of the plan, head to the coast. As I traveled through oak chaparral within FHL, I was looking for wildflowers in meadows etc. in amongst the military obstacle courses and live firing ranges, but the federal roads have soft shoulders and various signs warning you against stopping. That lack of obvious opportunities to pull over, combined with a couple of FHL Police cars patrolling the area kept me on the move.

Once outside the fort, the road gets very narrow and twisty for around 18 miles back down to the pacific ocean. The first part of the road follows a creek through a wooded area, then you get to the coastal ridge (in clouds when I arrived) and then it descends towards the coast.

Part way down, I spot a field of poppies by the side of the road, so I stop to take in the view. The colorful field of poppies contrasting nicely with the grey marine layer kissing the ridge I was descending from.

Getting closer to the coast, the view once again demands a pit stop, this time to take in the coastal panorama.

When I eventually arrived at the coast, it was time to head north into potential condor territory. After passing through some drizzle and some decent condor spotting places that were deserted on this day, I arrived at my most northerly regular condor spotting area.

I jumped out of the car, looked over the edge of the Big Sur cliffs and was immediately greeted by the sight of two condors on the rocks below me. Within a couple of minutes, I'd spotted a third bird below, and two more on the rocks above the road too. The potential for these condors to out do their inland counterparts was all too apparent.

Needless to say, these five condors then spent the next 65 minutes totally raising the bar for action. Plenty of aerial spectacles ensued, with firstly condor #311 "Loner" being chased out of the area by the "locals", then #550 got a similar treatment, as can be seen below.

After all that excitement, I headed the last few miles back home with the grin that had been on my face all day long turning into a massive smile (I was well chuffed, to use the parlance of my youth).

The Day Trip Road Trip exceeded all my expectations. I love it when a plan comes together!
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