Over the past five years, my view on traveling has shifted; before I really took up photography as a hobby, sightseeing was something that I did for fun, and took pictures to document the sightseeing so I could remember things better and share the trip with others. Now, sightseeing is purely an excuse to go someplace new and take pictures.

So, between November and December, I spent over three weeks in California. How many pictures did I take? None at all, because my camera’s shutter died at the end of October, and I delayed sending the camera back to Canon for repairs until after my first paycheck, just to make sure that I could actually afford the bill.

As usual, Canon surprised me; the repair charge was about half of what I’d expected, and they got the camera back in my hands just in time for me to fly back to California last week. So, yesterday was my first day off of work in California with a working camera. It’s a big state, and I had a hard time deciding where to start, but in the end I decided to drive down the coast a bit and see how it went, without any real plan. In the end, I ended up driving from Mountain View down to Santa Cruz, then along the coast to Monterey, through Carmel, along the Big Sur coast all the way down to San Luis Obispo, CA. All told, I put around 400 miles on the car yesterday and took around 250 pictures. I would have taken more, but the light was bad for the first half of the trip, and then as soon as the light started getting good, my battery died. I left my spare battery in Washington, oops.

Still, I ended up with a few decent pictures of the land and the sea:

Just south of Carmel, CA
[83718701 Just south of Carmel, CA]
The waves were big; the rock in the middle was around 15 feet tall.
[83718062 The waves were big; the rock in the middle was around 15 feet tall.]
You can't visit Big Sur and not come back with a picture like this...
[83716156 You can't visit Big Sur and not come back with a picture like this...]
...or this
[83715612 ...or this]

The best part of the drive was Piedras Blancas beach, just north of San Simeon. I was driving along and noticed the nice sandy beach out of the corner of my eye, and wondered what geologic process produced a beach with so many big, round rocks:

[83719576 ]

Oh, wait–those aren’t rocks, they’re Elephant Seals. Piedras Blancas has developed a huge Elephant Seal colony over the past 15 years; the first pup was born there in 1992; now they estimate that there are nearly 2,000 pups born there every year. The pups look kind of like this:

Baby elephant seal and mother
[83712604 Baby elephant seal and mother]

January is birthing and mating season, all wrapped up in one.

Sleeping, covered in sand
[83712232 Sleeping, covered in sand]
Dominance games
[83712980 Dominance games]

Unfortunately, my battery died about halfway through Piedras Blancas, so I didn’t have a chance to get a shot of the whole beach with hundreds of seals, or any pictures of the rest of San Luis Obispo County, with its rolling hills and massive volcanic stone outcroppings. I’ll probably do the drive again in early February and concentrate on the south half of the coast.