Sunday, November 9, 2014

In My Blood

7 Oct 2014: My second-ever selfie!
On Seal Beach just after sunset.

Tuesday was my favorite day of our entire vacation. I adore Disneyland. It's been a part of my life since it opened in July 1955, when I was, literally, a baby. But the thing I miss most about my birth-state, the place that is in my blood, is the Pacific Ocean. Like Disneyland, I've known the warmth of the sand, the brush of sea breezes, the scent of salty air, and the rumble of waves since before I could walk. However, while Disneyland means excitement and busy good times that I'd happily enjoy often, year after year, I could very easily spend every single day of the rest of my life walking along the sea, sinking my feet into the sand at the water's edge, exploring tide pools and sea caves, or just sitting and soaking in the sights, scents, and sounds. For me, Disneyland means fun, but the ocean represents what I value even more: peace.

I love my mountain home. The crisp mountain air, the shimmer of wind through pine needles, and the smell of evergreens also bring me a sense of peace. But if I had the means, I wouldn't hesitate to buy a home perched on a bluff overlooking the sea. My idea of the perfect retirement would be to spend my days writing, while looking out on the ocean, and then relaxing with a walk along the beach. Sigh...

Dylan, Chris, Sarah, Jacob, and Danielle at the end of the day with our rental van.

My children, being natives of land-locked Arizona, have had limited exposure to the beaches of Southern California. There were a few days in San Diego/La Jolla back in 1994 (Sarah was 4 and Jacob wasn't quite 3); a week in Oceanside in 2003-04 (Sarah was 14, Jacob was 12, and Dylan was 6), and a few hours at Newport Beach in 2007. Dylan went to San Diego this spring with his high school orchestra; Sarah and Chris went to San Diego in June for a few days to visit Chris's sister there; and Jacob went to beaches in Northern California a few times during his 2010-2012 LDS mission (but, as a missionary, he wasn't allowed to get in the water). And that's it. Strictly limited exposure.

So I decided to round out my children's experience by driving down Pacific Coast Highway from the north end of Orange County to nearly the south end, stopping at a variety of beaches along the way. And I decided to splurge and rent a mini-van so we could all ride together, visiting and sharing throughout our leisurely drive.

Huntington Beach Pier
[Remember, you can click on any picture to enlarge it.]

On Tuesday morning I roused everyone early, and at 8:30 Sarah and I walked over to Hertz car rentals, conveniently located next-door to our resort, to pick up our Dodge Caravan. (Nice car! I enjoyed driving it very much.) By 9:00 we were all loaded up and on our way. We drove straight toward Orange County's northernmost beach town, Seal Beach, but then we caught Pacific Coast Highway heading south. We were saving Seal Beach for the end of the day.

Chris, Danielle, Jacob, Dylan, and Sarah (from left) walk out on the pier.

I love Pacific Coast Highway! While some of it meanders inland out of sight of the Pacific, most of it is near enough to enjoy a view of the endless waters in the distance. Even that distant view is soothing to my soul.

This brown pelican posed for me. I didn't have to zoom in; he let me get this close!

Our first stop was Huntington Beach just before 10:00, right at the site of Huntington Beach Pier, the longest pier on the West Coast at 1,853 feet. This pier was hit hard by storms in 1983 and 1988, both of which destroyed the end of the pier and End Cafe, requiring reconstruction. The restaurant now occupying the far end of the pier is Ruby's Surf City Diner.

Huntington Beach is a good, wide beach for playing in the sand and waves, as well as enjoying the fun of walking out to the end of a pier over the ocean. It's also a popular area for surfing, which can be fun to watch.

Danielle, Jacob, Dylan, Chris, and Sarah on the pier.

We began by taking a walk out to the end of the pier. The youngsters all hurried ahead, but I took my time, absorbing the entire experience. I really don't know if I'll ever get to see the ocean again. I stopped in a little shop for a pair of funky white sunglasses that took me back to the 1970s. My kids thought they were a bit too funky, but I loved them.

Sarah, Chris, Dylan, Jacob, and Danielle at the end of the pier, by Ruby's Diner.

Once we reached the end, I managed to keep the kids there just long enough to snap a couple of pictures, but then they were on their way. They were anxious to get in the water. To my surprise, Dylan stuck with me while the others headed for the shoreline.

Surfers waiting for the Big One.

We wandered slowly back toward the beach while I took more pictures. We paused to watch dozens of surfers on both sides of the pier, waiting for that perfect wave. I told Dylan that I thought he'd have enjoyed surfing if he'd grown up near the ocean. After watching for awhile, he decided not. He felt it required too much sitting and waiting. He told me he'd stick with his beloved snowboarding, which involves constant action.

Surfing was never my interest, either (other than watching), although I do enjoy a little boogie-boarding in the surf. However, I can imagine the peaceful feeling that comes from rolling quietly on the waves, waiting patiently for the one that feels right. I think Dylan would have loved it, if he'd grown up with it.

Sarah watches Danielle try to figure out how to react to the waves.

Eventually we got far enough down the pier that we could see the two pairs of newlyweds playing in the surf. After laughing together at Danielle running away from the waves, Dylan was suddenly bitten by the bug, too, and he left me to join his siblings in the water.

Danielle and Chris write love notes in the sand for their spouses.
The love notes kept getting washed away.

I found out later that, while I was still on the pier, Jacob actually got caught in a riptide and dragged out into deep water. Luckily, the lifeguard on duty was alert and reached him in time to pull him back. He had seen the churned dark water and knew the riptide was there, so he was able to respond the instant Jacob got caught. God bless that man. How tragic our vacation might have been if he hadn't been there.

Jacob and Dylan stay a bit closer to shore after Jacob's close call.

Sarah, on the other hand, didn't get to be rescued by a handsome lifeguard when the waves knocked her off her feet and kept her pinned down, crashing over her again and again until she finally managed to struggle back to her feet. No, instead, her brothers just stood and laughed at her, never thinking to give her a helping hand. Typical brothers!

Dylan and Jacob stroll back toward the rest of our group.

After one last dip in the ocean, Chris, Sarah, Jacob, and Danielle head back to shore.

Ruby's Surf City Diner at the end of the pier.

We ended up spending over 2 hours at Huntington Beach. Around noon we decided to finish up our visit with Ruby's famous hand-scooped milkshakes, which meant another long walk out to the far end of Huntington Beach Pier (a bit more than one-third of a mile each way). The shakes were delicious. Definitely worth the walk!

Ruby's interior was old-fashioned and picturesquely quaint.

Mine was chocolate fudge. Mmmm, good!

Lookout Point on Ocean Drive, overlooking Corona del Mar Beach.
On the street behind us were dozens of cute little beach homes.

When we left Huntington Beach, we continued south on Pacific Coast Highway, crossing over the Santa Ana River and driving through Newport Beach, and then curving around Newport Bay with its little isles, including Balboa Island. After about 30 minutes, we arrived at the little Newport Beach community called Corona del Mar ("Crown of the Sea") and turned onto Ocean Drive.

Looking down on Corona del Mar Beach from Lookout Point Bluff.

When we lived in Orange County (1972-1980), the beaches we visited most often were Newport Beach and especially Huntington Beach. Usually we were there for beach parties with lots of friends, and those were the best wide, sandy beaches for large groups, with fire-pits for cookouts and courts for games like volleyball.

But the beaches around Corona del Mar were among my favorites. because they were more rugged, with tide pools and sea caves to explore. As I noted earlier, I was never a surfer. Getting a mouthful of ultra-salty seawater and having seaweed wrapped around my ankles isn't my idea of a good time. I prefer wading in the waves crashing on the shore, walking along the damp sand, or relaxing on a boulder to watch the waves smashing against the rocky terrain, sending a fine, tall spray into the air all around me. I want to experience all the sensations on the edge!

Jacob, Danielle, and Chris at Corona del Mar Beach.

I remember going to Corona del Mar one night in the 1970s for a grunion run. It was amazing! Grunion are small fish, about 5-6 inches long, that wash ashore for 4 nights in a row (starting on the full or new moon) to spawn after high tide, mostly in April and May. The females dig a hole in the sand with their tails and bury themselves until only their heads are sticking out. Then they lay their eggs in the holes. Next. the males wash up and wrap themselves around the females, depositing their "milt" into the holes to fertilize the eggs. I wasn't sure I believed it until I saw it with my own eyes! (Until then, I was half-convinced I was being taken on a snipe hunt!)

During a grunion run, the beach is literally covered "wall-to-wall" with little silvery fish wiggling their way up the sandy slope. A fishing license is required, but during a run you can pick up as many fish as you can use. People were running all around the beach with buckets, tossing little fish inside. You can only use your bare hands and you can't dig holes or otherwise interfere with the run, but you can take as many as you can grab as long as you'll eat all you take.

The eggs incubate under the damp sand for about 10 days, and then they hatch and wash out to sea on the next tide.

Rocky Point Beach, also known as Pirate's Cove.
To the left, just over that ridge, is the main beach of Corona del Mar.
Just one problem: we weren't sure how to get down to Rocky Point!

While I was researching which beaches to visit, I discovered this small beach called Rocky Point, separated from the main beach at Corona del Mar by a rocky ridge, and accessible only by crossing over that ridge. Sheltered by the groin (seawall) and a low natural wall of rock formations, it was described as a calm beach where even children could safely enjoy the water. I decided we needed to visit that beach.

We found this picnic area between the two beaches (Sarah is on the bench).

We'd brought along a picnic lunch of homemade deli sandwiches and we were hungry by this time, so we were pleased to find a picnic area right between Corona del Mar Beach and the rocky ridge we would be climbing to reach Rocky Point. We took a nice little break and ate lunch together before tackling the climb.

Dylan, Jacob, and Danielle race up and over the ridge to the beach on the other side.
Sarah and I took our time, bringing up the rear, sometimes sliding partway back down!

At the top!

Danielle, Jacob, Chris, and Dylan on Rocky Point Beach
(aka Pirates Cove).

Sarah and I stayed at the top of the ridge, watching the others and taking pictures, but never setting foot on Rocky Point Beach ourselves. To reach Corona del Mar Beach beneath Lookout Point, we'd had to navigate three very long flights of stairs, and my poor old knees had had enough. Climbing this ridge was pushing it, and I was pretty sure that I'd never make it back out if I also climbed down the rickety metal steps at the edge of the ridge to the sand below.

Danielle searched out and found many seashells on this beach.
It was fun watching the kids play!

We spent about an hour and a half in Corona del Mar in total before we headed back to the van (and the very, very many stairs back up to the road). From Lookout Point, we only drove only about 5 minutes further south to take a quick look at Little Corona del Mar Beach.

Little Corona del Mar Beach from the top of the bluff.

Little Corona del Mar is the beach where I'd have actually chosen to spend most of my time if I'd been by myself. Teeming with tide pools and caves at low tide, I could have happily explored there for hours. I think the kids would have enjoyed it, too, but we had spent more time than I'd anticipated at Huntington Beach and Corona del Mar, so we were a bit behind schedule and everyone was getting tired. Alone, I would have strolled down the sloping street to this beach and then relaxed among the rocks, but we decided to move on. I had to settle for a few pictures before we left.

That's Arch Rock off the coast of Little Corona. I love the churning waves among the rocks!
I also love the better quality photos I'm getting with my new camera!

The kids waited patiently for me in the mini-van while I took my pictures. Then I rejoined them and we found our way back to Pacific Coast Highway and continued south for about another 30 minutes. After passing through the city of Laguna Beach, we came to our final daytime destination.

My kids had never before been in a sheltered harbor like Dana Point Harbor.

Our last stop before heading back to Anaheim for dinner was at Dana Point Harbor. In the photo above, the Ocean Institute is visible in the distance, along with Dana Point Harbor Pier, the only pier that doesn't actually extend into the ocean! The Institute also has two full-size, accurate replicas of tallships (1700s and 1800s) which it maintains, one of which is also visible in the distance. I'd have enjoyed seeing the Institute, but once again time was short.

The kids were fascinated by this elderly Asian man who was digging for shrimp.
He showed them how it was done. He had a bucket filled with the tiny shrimp.

Dana Point Harbor is entirely surrounded by seawalls, so the water at the small beach inside is very mild. The ships and boats that are kept in the harbor slips can only access the harbor from the ocean through a small channel leading into Dana Point Harbor.

The lovebirds write more love notes in the sand.

We spent a little over an hour at Dana Point Harbor, including a stop to stroll through some little shops that were very pricey! Luckily, I didn't see anything I just had to have! 

Richard Henry Dana statue with the Outer Channel behind him.

Before we left Dana Point Harbor, we drove over the waters of the harbor on Island Way Bridge to take a look at a statue of Dana Point's founder, Richard Henry Dana. This stop was for me. While I could spend hours wandering through a museum and admiring sculpture and other types of art, my children are more action-oriented. They waited in the van while I hiked to the statue and got my photos.


Beyond Dana Point Harbor, the final, southern-most beach of Orange County is San Clemente, but I'd decided not to go quite that far before turning back north. So we headed inland to hop on Interstate-5 and travel back to Anaheim. The traffic was pretty bad, so the 40-minute drive took almost an hour.

We got off the freeway near Disneyland and drove around, searching for a likely place to have dinner. When we cruised past Captain Kidd's Buffet, directly across the street from Disneyland, everyone agreed that a buffet sounded good. So I made a U-turn and we stopped for our evening meal. The food was good and we ate far too well!

We arrived at Seal Beach just in time to catch the sunset!

While our vacation was still in the planning stages, Sarah had suggested that we plan to be at a beach for sunset one night. While in San Diego 4 months earlier with Chris's family, they had watched the sunset on La Jolla and it had made an impression on her. We all agreed that would be nice way to end the day. 

I had looked up the time the sun would set as seen from the coast on that date, and I chose Seal Beach for our final beach of the day. We knew we had to be there by 6:25 to see the sun hit the water. Unfortunately, because we'd spent so much time exploring, by the time we came out of the buffet it was about 5:45. We knew it was going to be close!

Danielle and Jacob on Seal Beach at sunset.

I drove like crazy. Always, the sun went before us, sinking lower and lower in the sky. The traffic was uncooperative and I was afraid we weren't going to make it. And then, suddenly, there was the beach, and there was the parking lot, and there was the sun, just starting to drop below the watery horizon. We made it!

Chris and Sarah on Seal Beach at sunset.

Mary on Seal beach at sunset.

Sarah caught this image while I wasn't looking.

While we were at Seal Beach, I suddenly realized that we'd spent the entire day on the coast at various beaches, and I didn't have a single picture of myself to prove I was even there! So I handed Sarah my camera and told her to take a few. I took the selfie at the beginning of this post myself. It was only my second selfie ever, and it was tricky because I did it with my new camera instead of my cell phone!

Chris, Sarah, Jacob, and Danielle walk along the shore.
Notice Seal Beach Pier in the background.

I played in the surf awhile. I'll miss this.

The Carters at Seal Beach: Dylan, Sarah, Mary, and Jacob.

As darkness fell, we took a walk out on the pier and said our good-byes to the Pacific. There was a full moon above the ocean, lighting the waves as they rolled to shore. It was beautiful and so wonderful to be there with my family. It brought my heart peace.

7 Oct 2014: As seen from the pier, the moon shines on the waves.

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