Coast south from Big Sur, California

Alta California

Few parts of our planet are as beautiful as Alta California (the part of historic California now belonging to the USA). It is one of the places that any naturalist should try to visit in his lifetime. Unfortunately, for citizens of some countries it is almost inaccessible because of creative visa policy. Other areas from a naturalist's "must see" list, such as Outer Mongolia, selva of Upper Amazon, and Subantarctic islands, are more easy to get to. Having been born on vast, cold, boring post-glacial plain of European Russia, I probably enjoyed living in Northern California much more than locals do. It's so nice to have rainforests, taiga, alpine meadows, Mediterranean grasslands, oak savannas, sage steppes, and hot deserts within a weekend trip distance!
Grove of endemic Monterey cypress (Cupressus
), Point Lobos State Park.
Besides, some of the World's most productive waters are just offshore, teeming with whales and other marine mammals, as well as hundreds of fish species and unfathomable diversity of invertebrates. birds
Brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis),
Natural Bridges State Park.
jelly jelly
Jellyfishes of California: Chrysaora melanaster,
Ch. hysoscella.
Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Underwater wonders of Californian coast are beyond the scope of this page - you can find some beautiful photos here.
jelly jelly
Jellyfishes of California: Aurelia aurita,
Cyanea lamarkii.
Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Raccoon tracks on a beach, Lost Coast.
Hammarus sp., Lost Coast.
Raccoon tracks on a beach, Lost Coast.
Pigeon guillemot (Cepphus
), Carmel Bay.
Seabirds from as far as Chukotka, North Atlantic, Australia and Antarctica show up in Californian waters, some in flocks of millions. birds
Mixed flock of shearwaters
(Puffinus spp.), Monterey Bay.
albatross albatross albatross
Black-footed albatross (Diomedea nigripes), Monterey Bay.
Volcanic Tableland.
Natural bounty of California has always attracted people. Before the European arrival, more than 200 languages had been spoken here; many of them isolated and apparently very old. Some of the oldest archaeological sites in the New World are also in California. Ohlone shellmounds around San Francisco Bay are the result of more than 3,000 years of uninterrupted accumulation of human-produced sediment - the oldest lifespan for a single culture in the history of humanity. Formerly hunters-gatherers, native Californians are now mostly casino owners or tourist business operators. hill
Ohlone shellmound,
Insectivorous cobra
plant (Darlingtonia
), Lake Earl,
Del Norte Coast
Coastal redwoods
(Sequoia sempervirens),
Tall Trees Grove,
Redwood National Park
Cone of a coastal
redwood, Headwaters
Forest Preserve
near Eureka.
World's tallest trees,
Redwood National Park
(red arrow points at
me standing on a log)
Del Norte Coast
Slug Ariolimnas
, Eureka.
My favorite place in California is Redwood National Park in the northwest. I think it is the World's most beautiful forest. Redwood trees more than 110 m (330') tall grow here together with many smaller, but also interesting plants and fungae. Usually wrapped in picturesque, semi-transparent fog, groves of giant redwoods look absolutely majestic. chikadee
Tailed frog (Asclaphus
), Klamath River.
Pileated woodpecker
(Dryocopus pileatus),
Muir Woods.
Calypso orchid
(Calypso bulbosa),
Siskiyou Mts.
Deer mouse (Peromyscus
Smith River.
California mountain
kingsnake (Lampropeltis
), Klamath Mts.
Mountain chickadee
(Parus gambeli),
Cascade Mountains.
Pacific jumping mouse
(Zapus trinotatus),
Patrick's Point.
Many wonderful animals inhabit these forests, but they are usually difficult to see, except for deer, birds, chipmunks, millipedes and giant banana slugs. Some local species, such as tailed frogs, Grylloblattidae insects, or redwoods themselves, are "living fossils", relicts from Tertiary period, or even more ancient times. World's most primitive rodent also lives here - I devoted a special page to it. quail
California quail
(Callipepla californica),
Headwaters Forest.
salamander salamander salamander salamander salamander
Lungless salamanders of Northern California, left to right: Ensatina eschscholtzii platensis, E. e. oregonensis, Aneides lugubris, Batrachoseps attenuatus, Hydromantes brunus.
salamander salamander
Rare California tiger salamander
(Ambystoma californiense) stays
underground for most of the year, but
can be found in some vernal pools in
rainy winters. Hastings Reservation.
Salamanders of California are particularly interesting. There are about 30 or 40 species here (the number keeps growing, as more research is done on their genetics), ranging in size from tiny slender salamanders (Batrachoceps) to 7'/20 cm-long Pacific giant salamanders (Dicamptodon). Most are found in wet coastal forests, but some inhabit desert oases or mountains above timberline. Only a few species are common and widespread, so seeing all of them requires a lot of time and effort. You have to look under thousands of rocks and rotten logs. salamander salamander
Pacific giant salamanders -
D. ensatus, shown here, and its
relatives - are not rare, but difficult
to find in rivers and moist forests of
the Pacific Coast. Redwood N. P.
Black bears (Ursus americanus),
Redwood National Park.
There are relatively few large mammals in Northern California, but you still get to see some interesting interactions. deer
Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) in our
parking lot, Santa Cruz Mountains.
cervids cervids cervids cervids
Roosevelt elk (Cervus canadensis roosevelti) chasing mule deer (don't ask me why). Prarie Creek Redwoods State Park.
Pygmy rhododendron and manzanita,
Pygmy Forest, Van Damme Park.
Not far from the world's largest conifers, you can see the world's smallest ones. In Pygmy Forests of Mendosino White Plains, there are 200-year old trees less than 1' (30 cm) tall. These natural bonsai-like forms of lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta bolanderi) and Gowen cypress (Cypressus goveniana pigmaea) are created by poor soil conditions. Some insects, mites and plants, such as manzanita Arctostaphylos nummularia, do not live outside Californian pygmy forests. forest
Pygmy cypress and pine,
Pygmy Forest, Salt Point.
tree trees albatross
Santa Cruz Cypress (Cupressus goveniana abramsiana) grows only on sandstown outcrops in Central California, sometimes as a bonsai (right photo). Boonie Doon.
Spring, Point Reyes Peninsula
Offshore rocks, Mendocino Coast
Sunset, Big Sur Coast
Gull flock, Morro Bay
Lighthouse Rocks,
Point Reyes.
Shoreline between Oregon border in the north and Los Angeles in the south is ragged and mostly rocky. In winter, it is often hidden in dense fog. Coast south from Big Sur, Point Arena area, Lost Coast and the part from Point Reyes to Golden Gate Bridge are the most beautiful stretches.

View of Golden Gate Bridge distorted by refraction.

Drake's Beach,
Point Reyes.
Sunset near Point Arena.
Calif. condors
) in a giant
Big Sur.
Sunset near Point Arena.
Hot lake, Lassen Volcano.
view view view
Summit views, Lassen Volcano.
Northeastern California is the world of volcanoes, lakes, lava plains and dry pine forests.
Cold lake, Lassen Volcano.
Castle Crags, nesting site of peregrine falcons (Falco
), and a nice place for rock climbing.
Clear Lake Reservoir,
habitat of 3 endangered fishes.
View of Mount Shasta (4317 m/14162'), the tallest of
California's three active volcanoes.
Double-layer falls on McArthur River - habitat
of black swifts (Cypseloides niger), and two
rare species of sculpins (Cottus).
As any other part of California, it has its share of rare flora and fauna.
Side-blotched lizard (Uta
), Goose Lake.
Salal (Gualtheria shallon) is one of the most
common shrubs of Northern California. It can
have white or pink flowers. Ishi Wilderness.
view   view
Views from the summit of Mount Shasta.
November in Warner Mountains, California.

Part 2: Sierra Nevada