Home: Veterans Memorial Park hiker/biker campsite
We woke up to find another hiker had arrived during the night, and when he emerged during our breakfast, we were mildly surprised to recognize Russell, who we had met Thanksgiving morning. Chris the campground host had given him the ok to stay for four straight nights (rather than requiring a night out after 3 nights as the rules started), proving that it’s possible to recognize non-troublemakers and make decisions on a case-by-case basis in an urban campground, rather than blanket everyone with an overly-strict set of rules (we’re looking at you, New Brighton State Beach!)
Today’s event was based on Chris’s recommendation: a four-hour boat ride with the Monterey Bay Whale Watch. The pre-boarding overview spent so much time talking about sea-sickness, I wouldn’t be surprised if some people become sick through the power of suggestion. At least unlike the competing outfit, who made it very clear that any vomiting should be done over the stern rail, our boat used bags (seemingly at least somewhat due to respect for COVID), which helped confirm that the operation we chose cared at least a little more than the others.
Once out on the water, it was smooth motoring anyway. We saw sea otters with babies(!) and sea lions up close before even leaving the harbor.
Then motoring north across Monterey Bay, we came to our first humpback whale, and watched several five-minute dive-and-surface cycles.
Moving further north, we came to a pair of humpbacks, and again observed several of their unison dives (though only one of them really kicked up his tail). No wild breaching or anything, but having never seen a whale at all, just their normal feeding was pretty cool.
Then suddenly we turned around, making a high-speed beeline south and west and out into the open ocean. They didn’t tell us anything, but the speed and duration (maybe 40 minutes of motoring) told us we must have been heading for something “worth it”. Before Thanksgiving there had been orca sightings for a few days, but none recently.
Instead, it was dolphins. Not the 20 Risso’s dolphins listed on most of their recent trip reports, (in a way that made them feel like a consolation prize), but over a thousand! They were (mostly) right-whale dolphins, leaping, splashing, racing, hugging the boat, porpoising in waves. Easily the most awe-inspiring large-scale wild animal behavior I’ve ever seen, and right in the middle of it. Of course Rett was over the moon, and her decision to get the slightly-cheaper lower-deck tickets (closer to the animals vs. better downward view) totally paid off.
We even got back late (with no one complaining!), meaning the boat made a special effort to go out that far, and stay among the dolphins long enough for us to enjoy each other.
One last Trader Joe’s run, and then our first walk back up the hill to camp (with a load of groceries). Lots of good signage showing the way to Veterans Memorial Park, and a clear effort to establish a pedestrian path (where one would not normally exist) shows that someone on the Monterey City Council is clearly a champion of hiker/biker camping (since the “easy” thing would be to not allow it at all), and I’m curious to know why. And of course thankful!
After five nights camping at the park, that ran the gamut of people and personalities, we had a new experience for our final night: us alone in the hiker/biker area. Even the obnoxious car campers from the night before were gone, despite leaving trash around, and their registration saying they were booked for another night. Presumably Chris had kicked them out, showing that discretion works in both directions, and that’s what makes a well-run campground.
With very few people left camping even outside the hiker/biker area, it felt like our decision to wait out the holiday weekend crowds before heading into Big Sur tomorrow was already paying off…