Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Elkhorn Slough in Monterey

Last weekend we decided to venture a little further than we usually do and headed south to Monterey county. This time though we planned to go a little off the beaten track and try and visit the beautiful Elkhorn Slough. This is the largest tract (1700 acres), of tidal salt marsh outside of the SF Bay in California and provides the habitat for many species of plants, animals and birds. 

So off we went on 101 South and turned off at Prundale, and into the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve. There is a visitor center which has interesting artifacts ( animal skeletons, bird feathers etc.) that you can touch, information to plan your visit and reserve specialists to help answer any questions. There is a $4.12 charge per person, kids below 16 are free, and this charge can only be paid by a VISA card. Also the reserve is open only Wed through Sunday from 9 to 5. They will offer to lend you binoculars (free, but they take your DL as security) - which you should take up as the binoculars are good and there is lots to see. Dogs and bicycles are not allowed on the trails - we saw a lady being escorted out for taking her dog on the trail.  This is mainly to prevent contamination - they also asked us to scrape seeds off our shoes using brushes outside the visitor center. There are clean restrooms and lots of picnic benches near the visitor center, so we had a picnic brunch while we haggled over which trail to take.



We agreed on the 2.2 mile South Marsh Loop trail with a small diversion to Hummingbird island. On the way to the levee we passed 2 barns including the old Elkhorn farm barn. The view is just amazing - with green rolling hills, the water, the little island in the distance and birds. We spotted our first bird here - a majestic Harrier Hawk. The walk itself was fun, though we didn't get to see any bat rays or lemon sharks - they are supposedly in the waters around the bridge, but can't be seen because the water is about 12 feet deep and muddy. 

The small diversion to Hummingbird island was fun - there were no hummingbirds, but the island itself was fun to wander around (it is quite tiny). And getting there means crossing an unmanned railway crossing - you can see the track run in a straight line for quite a long distance on both sides. This was a longer hike than usual, and the 5 y.o. was game but we gave him a ride on our shoulders for short stretches - helps to keep the hike fun and not super tiring. 




We stopped at a Burger King in Prunedale for a coffee on the way back, and this BK had a play area - quite a nice play structure involving nets and pipes and a slide. The 5 y.o. had a blast here, and also made a friend - a little girl who gave him half her toy to remember her by :) The local people in Prunedale were quite warm and even suggested we might like the Sierra Azul nursery in Watsonville, CA. Maybe .. 

Fun trip, and we didn't regret the long ride in at all!

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