Today it is close to the end of June, the start of the hot season in California, and it has been nearly 100 degrees where I live and hotter than that where I made this photograph. It is, at it is every year, hard to believe that it was only months ago that I was out in this spot on a freezing January morning, with snow-covered peaks to my east and west, watching the first dawn light on these spectacular clouds and listening to the sounds of early morning flights of migratory birds across the wetlands.
For this I will get up at 3:00 am and drive three hours in the pre-dawn darkness. I had not visited this location before, and as I turned off of Interstate 5, the main artery up this valley, and headed east on a two-lane road I wasn’t sure what I would find. The sky was beginning to glow and it seemed that sunrise was coming soon — perhaps too soon for my arrival. I turned off onto a gravel road and headed into this refuge, passing the entrance and heading out onto the perimeter road just in time for this astonishing morning light show.
Evening light on the mountains, coast, and incoming fog along the Big Sur coast
Yesterday I shared a Big Sur Coast photograph — looking north and in black and white. Today’s post is a counterpoint to that one — it looks south and is in color. Both were made late on the same day, and in the same general central area of this rugged coast. It was late in the day and I was looking for an ideal last photographic location of the day, and from this particular overlook I could see down the coast… and the light was going to go before I had time to find another spot!
In many ways I suppose the view is typical. The view extends into the distance where it disappears into fog and coastal haze, and the coastline is an alternating landscape of shallow bays and jutting peninsulas where mountain ridges drop into the ocean. Here and there are the remnants of ridges and bluffs that lost their battle with the ocean long ago, and which now remain only as isolated rock and sea stacks set off from the shoreline. One of the most impressive of them in this photograph is right below the camera position where a large rocky formation is cut through by a natural bridge.
A quiet evening along fog shrouded the Big Sur coastline
I think my favorite times along the Big Sur coast are in the supposed off-season, the non-summer months when the ocean tends to be a bit wilder, the winds blow stronger, and the visitors are fewer in number. Summer is often busy and not as scenic, with thick coastal fog in the morning and evening a frequent occurrence. Especially during fall and winter the passing Pacific weather fronts periodically scour out the clouds and the bring spectacular surf conditions.
Yet this photograph comes from summer. We had started back up the coast late in the day, a process that always has me contemplating a plan for the brief evening light interval — where do I want to be and what do I want to photograph. My plans often don’t play out exactly as I expected: the fog might block the sun, I might get held up photographing some unexpected subject. I made this photograph before the time for the last photograph of the day — those came a very short time later. From this spot the view overlooked a big action of the coastal waters, unusually calm and quiet, as the late afternoon light fell on the coastal bluffs and the afternoon haze turning into fog.
Winter geese fly in to a Central Valley wetlands pond at dawn
Near the end of May I revisited some photographs from the past year, including a set that I made on an annual New Year’s Day visit to California’s Central Valley. For several years now a group of friends, photographers, artists, and more have greeted the dawn of the new year by going together before dawn to celebrate the new year and the annual spectacle of the winter bird migration into the valley. So, during the first week when the temperatures here in California rose into the nineties, I enjoyed recalling a foggy morning when they sat near freezing.
We arrived a half hour before dawn to find patchy, thinning fog. We set out trying to determine, in the half-light, where the birds might be, and soon some were spotted settling in on a nearby pond. We headed that way, and I lined up a view across the pond, past quiet foreground birds and past a row of trees toward the eastern sky, which was gradually beginning to brighten. I made this photograph as another small group of birds was flying in to join those already on the pond
One more photograph from my May Day quick visit to the Big Sur Coast and the lower Monterey Peninsula. I visited fairly early in the morning — not as early as dawn, but certainly before most of the tourists showed up along this popular coast on this weekend day.
I started with a plan to visit Point Lobos — and I did later end up there — but I was distracted by the formation of thing fog right along the waterline. More typically I would expect to see thick fog in the early morning, left over from the night before, with murky conditions until some clearing happens later on. But on this morning the pattern seemed reversed. It started out clear and then as the morning wore on the weather changed and a beautiful misty quality appeared along the coast, in places leading to the formation of fog.
Surf, a steep bluff, and sea stacks lead toward a foggy horizon, Big Sur Coast
I sometimes forget how long this coast has been a part of my consciousness, but a visit or two quickly remind me. I have lived in the San Francisco Bay area since I was four-years-old. Weekend and summer visits to the Monterey Bay beaches and the tide pools of Point Lobos were regular events, and the effect of those visits remains all these years later — and all it takes is a quick visit to remind me of what it means to live this close to the Pacific Ocean.
On this first day of May I made a morning visit to the upper Big Sur coast, getting to some of the best parts before the inevitable weekend crowds arrived. It was a beautiful day, at first looking like it might turn out to be “yet another blue sky day,” but soon becoming more interesting, at least from the photographic point of view, as thin fog began to form just about the meeting of the ocean and land. When I made this photograph looking south down the coastline, it was still early enough that the bluffs and coastal mountains cast shadows along the surf line.
Rugged cliffs drop into Pacific Ocean surf along the foggy Big Sur coastline
In some ways, cliffs like these are a “dime a dozen” along the California coast — and isn’t that wonderful!? From the north to the south, with the exception of places where the land drops right down to the ocean, spectacular headlands are almost the rule. If you don’t see them where you are at the moment, a reasonable drive north or south should find some.
This set of headland bluffs, dropping abruptly to the edge of the great Pacific Ocean, is located on the upper Big Sur coast along the Pacific Coast Highway south of Monterey. I’m fortunate to live a short drive away, and this time I had headed down that direction in the morning, initially planning to visit a particular spot but spontaneously modifying my plans when I saw the combination of surf and fog forming along the cliffs. Since I know this spot well, I only stopped briefly, but I knew I wanted a photograph of this morning-shadowed terrain marching off to the south.