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Moss Landing shoot

Moss Landing, California

A few days ago, I mentioned that NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) scientists based in Moss Landing had observed the return of leatherback sea turtles to the California coast, probably as the result of an increased food supply from recent upwelling. Today, I decided to do a shoot in Moss Landing, something that I have wanted to do for quite awhile!

The drive south on Highway 101 to Gilroy, home of the yearly Garlic Festival (107,553 people attended the 3-day event in 2008), was uneventful (a GOOD thing on that road)! First Street in Gilroy had a police detour around a celebration at a local church, but we continued west on Highway 152 (Hecker Pass Road), enjoying the smell of the recent rain in the Coast Redwood forests on both sides of the road. Just over the crest of the hill, on the ocean side, is a parking lot with a wonderful view up and down the coast. The descent to Watsonville takes you through a series of “twisties.” Some of the turns are “banked” properly, and some are not! All of the motorcycles that we saw today were ascending the hill and traveling TO Gilroy. The rest of the road to Watsonville is lined with crops. At different times of the year, you experience different smells, often, of strawberries!

We traveled through Watsonville, making our way west to Highway 1. We continued south on Highway 1 toward the twin smokestacks of the power plant at Moss Landing and Elkhorn Slough. We traveled past the two turnoffs that can lead to Zmudowski State Beach and crossed the bridge, then we turned right onto Moss Landing Road.

We pulled off the the road almost immediately and stopped behind a YELLOW car with a license plate that read some variant of “submarine” with a license plate holder that said “and our friends are all onboard” and a back window sunscreen covered with lettering that repeated “NY Yankees”! :-) (Bicoastals are the worst! :-) )

What both of us had seen were three endangered sea otters floating on their backs, sunning their fanned-out webbed toes! (Oh, I have LOTS [e.g., 1, 2, 3, 4, 5] of photos…, some of otters with fashionable “toe tags” :-) ) Every now and then, two of them would dive for extended periods and then come up with food that they would munch, on their backs, as otters are prone (actually, supine! :-) ) to do! The sea otter, besides looking adorable, is a keystone species (just like the Giant Kangaroo Rat in its ecosystem) that controls populations of sea urchins, which would otherwise extensively damage kelp forest ecosystems.

Unfortunately, the endangered sea otter is especially susceptible to oil spills, according to the Wikipedia article about them, above. If we have not learned this fact already, we may find out again soon, since Congress has been coerced into letting the moratorium on offshore drilling expire, rather than shut down the federal government for lack of funds. The areas under #3 of the offshore oil drilling map referenced in my earlier blog entry will now be open to drilling.

Good luck, sea otters!

Moss Landing, a census-designated place in Monterey County, had a population of 782 in 2005. I photographed, in addition to the ships moored in Moss Landing, parts of the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories (1, 2) a multi-campus research facility of the California State University system, including the back of a large facility on a hill crest, shot over the (Old) Salinas River. The research facility is located only a few hundred meters from the Monterey Canyon, the largest undersea canyon on the west coast of the Americas. Researchers can reach areas with depths greater than 1000 meters in less than an hour by boat. I also photographed the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) (1, 2) sister organization to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The research vessel, Point Lobos (1), and the Fish and Game enforcement vessel, Steelhead, were moored nearby.

Fortuitously (in the Chinese zodiac, I am a “rabbit” (the luckiest of signs, and I believe in both probability and serendipity), I also spoke with a gentleman (with a house made from many recycled materials), who has lived in Moss Landing for over 50 years (long before oceanic research institutes were there). He told me some local history and informed me about a popular nearby fish market and eatery (not an endorsement). To make a Cheshire Cat feel welcome, there was even a “Cat Crossing” nearby! I finished my photography in Moss Landing with shots of the mouth of Elkhorn Slough, including some of very large sea lions on breakwaters, shots of birds on the Old Salinas River, shots of the main street, and some shots in the local cemetery, which has some very old graves, of people from many places in the world.

We finished the shoot with a late lunch/early dinner at “The Whole Enchilada” restaurant (not an endorsement, but the food and salsa were good!) at the junction of Moss Landing Road and Highway 1. There were a lot of people in the restaurant, and lot of Harley Davidson motorcycles parked outside. :-) We were seated a couple of tables away from a group of folks with “Ghost Mtn. (Mountain) Riders” on the backs of their black leather vests. Later, they requested a bigger table and were accommodated in an adjoining room.

While we were seated, a camera crew outside started filming a few motorcyclists (and, perhaps, two classic cars) making turns from southbound Highway 1 into Moss Landing Road. Hey, this is California! Anything can happen here! We may see the scene in a movie someday….

I will have the photos on the site as soon as I have completed their processing!

(Note added October 21, 2008: Photos are in the Cheshire Cat Photo™ Pro Gallery on Shutterfly™, in the California Coast, Wildlife, and Outdoor Recreation albums. I still plan to “swap in” some of the Moss Landing shots into the corresponding Portfolio sections, and remove some older shots from the Portfolio.) (Note added October 22, 2008: Done!)

-Bill at Cheshire Cat Photo™

You can view higher-resolution photos (*generally* 7-30 megabytes, compressed) at the Cheshire Cat Photo™ Pro Gallery on Shutterfly™, where you can also order prints and gifts decorated with the photos of your choice from the gallery. Apparel and other gifts decorated with some of our most popular photos can be ordered from the Cheshire Cat Photo™ Store on CafePress®. Both Shutterfly™ and CafePress® ship to most international locations worldwide! If you don’t see what you want or would like to receive an email when new photos are up on the site, send us an email at

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