Cake
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    • Living in Central California provides diverse opportunities to visit amazingly different biomes. Mountain forests, grasslands, deserts and temperate coastal environments are all within a short drive from “home.” Brown bears, badgers, bobcats, mountain lions, snakes and hundreds of species of birds all nearby and encountered on a weekend or day trip. The most unique encounter would have to be with the Elephant Seals.

      For a time my parents lived in Cambria, a small coastal hamlet just south of the Hearst Castle. About ten miles drive from their home is a highly active E-seal rookery, with now what amounts to around 5000 new babies each winter. Humans are prohibited from wandering the beach area that the seals mainly stay at, there are however, no such guidelines against seals from wandering the beaches where humans mainly hangout. It was at such a beach where my family of five plus one dog came face to face with the giant.

      3500 lbs. (1500kg) of wriggling, snorting, belching blob was waiting for us on one of our morning excursions. We gave it wide birth, and kept the border collie leashed lest he indulge his herding instincts. The beast lay there, occasionally opening an eye to watch us, but mostly just lay there sunning itself and flapping sand on its back. This was an adolescent male, not yet old enough to join the massive birthing room two miles up the coast but still needing to instinctively haul out on the beach for a few months.

      We all just watched and learned, nothing spectacular like being groped by an Orangutan but profound and humbling for all of us(well not Indiana he just wanted to keep moving once he found out we weren’t going to let him herd).

    • A couple of summers back we were camped in Rocky Mountain National Park. Just after dawn while walking our dog around the perimeter of the campground I heard movement in the underbrush off to the side. There were bear warnings posted all about the area and I'd been keeping an eye out, but this was no bear. As I peered into the trees, a nearly-grown adolescent moose stepped out of the shadows and moved confidently along the forest's edge. I've seen bigger moose, but none this close, less than 100 feet away. He was maybe 10 feet at the shoulder, healthy and well muscled, and had my full attention. I had no idea how he'd react to the loud bark and furious charge of my self-appointed canine protector.

      O'Malley, a 'rescue dog' who has been with us for 10 years or so appears to be a Schnauser/Dachshund mix, with short legs and an outsize ego. He loves chasing squirrels but reserves his most bodacious charges for the deer that frequent our Tennessee yard. Bouncing and barking, he delights in the sight of white tails disappearing into the woods. 'Malley is unintimidated by horses, and what is a moose if not just an overgrown deer somewhat bigger than a horse? Instinctively I tightened my grip on his leash, waiting for the inevitable jerk of his charge and explosion of his bark.

      But the jerk never came and remarkably the dog made no sound. Frozen in place by my feet, eyes rivited on the moose, he stood transfixed as it browsed along the margin of trees. When it was finally out of sight I felt a tug on the leash as O'Malley set out silently back to our camper as fast as his little legs would go.

    • Drue, any suggestions for getting yourself more in such contact with animals? I remember vacationing in Utah and climbing up a mountain cliff wall while holding onto chains: at one point it briefly rained and we were on all fours to avoid falling off. When we reached the top and had lunch, we were greeted by some adorable scavenging chipmunks. They were oridinary chipmunks, so no pictures worth sharing, but it was amazing to see them at the top after what we went through to get there.

    • Hi Stephen, I remember the chipmunks on top of Angel's Landing in Zion! They were everywhere. Is that where you were? Or were you rock climbing?

      I'm no expert on getting safely in close contact with wildlife. I have made two seperate trips specifically to see tigers in the wild and spent several days in each location... NOTHING. There are no guarantees where nature is concerned. The best advice I can give is (a) make the effort, research where and when to go and be willing to go to some fairly remote places (depending on what you want to see); (b) be really patient, most animals have huge territories; (c) Time of Day matters usually - know when the species you are interested in are most active; (d) If you are really serious, have a naturalist guide with you who knows how to spot things; (e) be really quiet and calm (unless you don't want to see them... so if you are hiking where there might be mountain lions or rattlesnakes, maybe better to make a lot of noise so they leave you alone). Sometimes the animals are all around you and you won't even know it if you are making noise or talking or walking too quickly.

      For example, on another jungle walk in Borneo (in 2000), I was walking with a guide and there was another group of people who were chatting and laughing as they were making their way through the trees. So I asked my guide to hold back and let the others get some distance from us. After only a few minutes when we started walking very quietly again, we heard a commotion in the trees above us. Turns out we were surrounded by a troup of endangered proboscis monkeys (this photo is from 2018 again, due to the better camera than what I had in 2000).

    • Ok, I'm on a roll with the monkeys now. December 2005. There is a famous Onsen (Hot Spring Bath) & Ryokan (Japanese Inn) in the mountains in Japan outside of Nagano that is really hard to get to. The area is appropriately translated as Hell Valley. Long train ride, followed by a long bus ride, followed by a 30 minute walk up hill through the snow. The food is pretty nice (Japanese Kaiseki style), though I do remember one of the items on the menu was a deep fried cricket, which actually wasn't too bad. You sleep on the floor on a futon on the tatami mat. There is not much to do there. It is COLD has hell.

      So WHY is it famous? This is where the Japanese Macaques (aka Snow Monkeys), the northernmost species of monkeys in the world, I think, come down out of the mountains to soak their weary bones in the healing waters of the natural hot springs after a hard day of doing whatever monkeys do. The Onsen has two separate baths, one for the monkeys and one for the humans. The humans aren't allowed to use the monkey bath, but alas, monkeys can't read and don't know they aren't allowed to use the human bath. Now I love monkeys, but they will just go about their number 1 and number 2 business wherever the urge strikes them, so there is no way you will catch me getting into a bath that has been occupied by a troup of Snow Monkeys! Nonetheless, this was something that prior to 2005 had been on my "bucket" list, and it was absolutely worth the trudge through the snow with our bags, braving the freezing temperatures and blizzard-like conditions, and even eating a cricket.