2011 December Big Sur Safari (#2)

It has been my habit to travel through Pinnacles National Monument on the way to Monterey to begin the Big Sur safari.  Instead of traveling hwy 198 west to hwy 25 then north to Pinnacles, I traveled on a secondary paved road, that began as the Los Gatos Creek Road and finished as the Coalinga Road before meeting up with hwy 25.  We saw our first bobcat on that road.  Over the coarse of the next three days we saw a total of 11 bobcats and 8 coyotes.  It was an amazing thing to see that many cats.  One of the two bobcats we saw in Pinnacles NM was very close and we got great images.

There were large flocks of California Quail, wild turkeys, and a variety of songbirds and hawks that were active throughout the monument.  The car is always your best blind, and many of the different species we were able to photograph without leaving the car.

We traveled the monument road a number of times, each pass through seemed to bring a different bird species or another bobcat encounter.  The images below show an Acorn Woodpecker (right) and a Red-shouldered Hawk (below).  On the November Safari we saw coyotes but no bobcats, so this was quite a change. 

There were a surprising number of tourists in the monument, but the animal and bird activity definitely wasn’t slowed down.  A ranger at the store told us that there has been a bobcat hanging around that nearby campground, and it was checking that campground out that Allen spotted the bobcat.  We drove to within 45 feet of it and it was very docile and not agitated at all.   It did sit down in the grass waiting for us to drive away, so it was certainty use to seeing people.  When we didn’t drive away it eventually got up and ambled away, very unconcerned.  We saw six bobcats on this day, just an amazing number.  Shortly after leaving the park we saw another bobcat just off the highway.

This bobcat was traveling and not interested in stopping for a couple of photographers, so this is just a grab shot out the window of the 4Runner as he climbs the hillside next to the highway.  All the cats we saw were very healthy and looked like they ranged from twenty-five pounds all the way up to forty pounds.

We arrived in mid-afternoon in Monterey, checked into our hotel, then headed to the Soberanes cliffs and beach area to shoot sunsets.  Similar to November’s safari, large waves regularly crashed through the sea stacks creating great photo opportunities.  In the image below I was using a 4 stop ND filter to slow my shutter-speed to get a decent blur on the waves, shot at ISO 100, f11 and 1/8 second.  This was the shutter speed I was looking for.  After seeing the images from November’s safari, shutter speeds in the 1/4 to 1/15 area produced the nicest blur on the waves, without losing the shape of the waves to badly.

For the final minutes of sunset we drove down to the Rocky Creek bridge and shot the sea stocks off the coast there.  We never had any clouds around sunset, on any of the days, so it was composition and color instead of cloud formations I tried to work into a good sunset image.  This was Friday’s sunset, Saturday’s sunset at Pfeiffer Beach would be different.

The next morning we met up with the other safari goers and headed out to the Point Sur area.  It was cool and breezy in Monterey that morning but warmed up rapidly to a comfortable 60 degrees along the coast.  In November we had large storm driven waves crashing this beach, but on this safari the waves were more normal but there was an interesting marine layer hanging above the beach, creating a dreamy, misty looking landscape image.  High up on the Point Sur bluff, above the beach, is the lighthouse and Naval Station.

Lots of coastal moisture has turned the hillsides a vibrant green, and the meadows leading down from the highway towards this beach at Point Sur (below) were really a contrast in colors and textures.  The view from the highway is dramatic, also, like November, there were hundreds of hawks and falcons working the pastures and meadows along the road.  The image was taken just after sunrise.

We shot our way down the coast as far as Pfeiffer beach, where we looked over the beach we would be returning to that evening for the shoot through the eroded rock windows in the large rocks just off the beach.  That afternoon we found another large bobcat to photograph along Highway 1.  This cat had very dramatic striping and bright pelt colors.

Hunting through the grass and mid-December flowers, this bobcat was unperturbed by our presence just across the fenceline bordering the highway.  After staring us down and yawning (image of FB) he sauntered away, paying us little attention.  This cat was very stocky and  had an amazingly vibrant pelt.

Later that afternoon we headed by to Pfeiffer beach for the sunset.  To our surprise the place parking lots were nearly full and the place was jumping with photographers, my guess would be 120-140 photographers … an almost ridiculous number.  With the winter solstice only a few days away, the sun was going to be setting directly though the windows in the rocks, thus attracting all the attention.  There are two large rocks just off the beach, and both have windows that have been eroded through by the pounding waves.  As the sun began to get lower in the sky, a bright orange shaft of light passed through the windows into the waters between the rock and beach.  It wasn’t easy to get into shooting position, and there were times I was shooting between or over other photographers – but I got the images I wanted.  I moved up and down the beach shooting the shaft of light from different directions.  The image below shows the first large rock which has two divided windows, before the sun was very low in the sky.

The images below show the larger rock, which had all the photographers gathered directly in front of its single window, as the sun sets and shines directly through the window.

It was an amazing sight, while the image, at left, is cool – I thought the real striking image was the wide shot of the rock with the sun burst coming directly through.  I struggled to get position for this wide shot, which required no one in front of me, and there was some jostling going on.  I look back in 2011 and realize all the great things I have seen and photographed, but this really was a moving sight.  As the light becomes more red and the graphic nature of the landscape gets only more dramatic, my heart was racing.  My mind was going through every option to get these images, every possible angle, the compositions, the exposure changes I would need to make to emphasize the shafts of light, how the bracketing should be set up in conjunction with the exposure compensation.  This was a one shot deal to get.

The next day, Sunday, we shot in Point Lobos State Park before moving down the coast to shoot McWay Creek and Falls, then finally the elephant seals at Piedras Blancas, then finishing at the San Simeon pier.  Point Lobos was truly spectacular and really was the first time I’ve seen an angry ocean.  Huge crashing waves pass over the rocks and create sink holes in the ocean that shoots water in the air.  A half a mile out and about a half a mile wide, Point Lobos is a twisting, raging torrent of ocean that makes me glad I’m not a sailor.  This was my first trip their and I was awed by the power of the ocean moving through that tight area.  On the rocks just off the point California Sea Lions (below) put on a bellowing show that was easy to hear.  Oh, saw another bobcat at Point Lobos as well.

We ended the safari at the San Simeon pier hoping for clouds and color, but got neither.  We worked our way around the pier at the beach level looking for interesting angles and reflections.  The 4 stop ND filter helped blur the waves under the pier, but we just didn’t get much color.  Around San Simeon I saw four more bobcats …. good heck, what a trip.

About brentrpaull

Professional Photographer
This entry was posted in Photo Safaris. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to 2011 December Big Sur Safari (#2)

  1. Tim Schofield says:

    the shot with the two windows and the light comming through them is my favoret

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