30 January 2011


We were standing in the tourist office in Napa when we saw a postcard picturing California's 'Old Faithful' Geyser. We discovered that this geyser (which is quite a bit smaller than the more famous one in Wyoming of the same name) should be located just outside of Calistoga in the northern end of the Napa valley, and that it should erupt every half hour on average. We estimated that we had a decent chance of making it before sunset and set course for Calistoga up through the Napa valley.

It was quite easy to find the geyser, which is located right next to Chateau Montelena - the vineyard that was part of putting California on the wine list/map worldwide in the 1970's when their Chardonnay won a wine tasting in Paris beating a long list of French white wines.

We did make it before sunset, but in the late afternoon there wasn't all that much sunlight in the valley.

On the other hand it turned out that the geyser erupts a much more often in the winter time, just about every five minutes allowing us to see it a handful of times before total darkness fell.

29 January 2011

Elephant seals

Our New Year's trip to California included - true to habit - a drive along a stretch of Pacific coastline and - likewise true to habit - a stop just outside of San Simeon. Here is a beach which is popular with Northern Elephant Seals (which have previously mentioned briefly).

Despite having stopped at this particular beach numerous times in the past this was our first time stopping there around New Year. We hadn't been there very long before we sensed that this was a very special time of the year: Excited cheers from the crowd of (human) onlookers and a sudden intensification of the activity amongst the gulls on the beach is apparently the typical way of welcoming a newborn elephant seal.

Newborn elephant seals weigh a 'mere' 60-80 lbs and their skins looks funnily wrinkled and loose, but over the 4 weeks of nursing they can grow to 300 lbs after which their skin looks much smoother ('filled out' in a sense) like on the adult elephant seals.

At that time the pup is left behind by the mother who mates again before going out to sea. In anticipation of mating the large males are busy during this time marking their territories on the beach.

After watching the elephant seals we seated ourselves in the rental car to eat a bit of bread before driving further. There was a bright gull who appeared to know that humans in car with bread meant there might be a chance of getting a bite - so we had company watching us intently through the windscreen from the bonnet until we started the engine and pulled out of the lot.

16 January 2011

Revisiting California

When we left California we thought we would definitely be back soon - but as it turned out it would be almost 3 years before we made it. Over Christmas we were a little worried to hear about massive rain in Los Angeles. Fortunately the rain stopped before we flew in, so we were able to enjoy a bike ride on the beach in pleasant weather. At the same time we could marvel at the backdrop of snowcapped mountains.

In addition to sunshine and grand nature, California - as always - also had a few interesting signs to offer..