Camping at Big Basin State Park

We embarked on what we think will likely be our last camping trip of the season since daylight savings and winter are just around the corner. We drove down highway 101, through Saratoga (a very quaint town we would have loved to stop at if we had more time) and into Big Basin State Park, home to the California redwoods. The park is located about 25 miles from Santa Cruz and to our surprise, the weather couldn’t have been better, 73 degrees and sunny.

We were able to research tent sites before making our reservation. While we were looking for the best site available, we found one with a note that the campsite was “located in the middle of a group of redwoods” – perfect!

After pitching our tent, we headed off to check out the Sempervirens Falls. The trails weaved through the redwoods and the hike through the park was much more impressive than the 17 foot waterfall. Perhaps it’s a little more exciting when the water is in full force, but it was a great hike to get there.

From there, we went to see some of the biggest trees in the park including a couple of park favorites, the “Father” and “Mother of the Woods” which are the largest  (diameter 16′ 9″) and tallest (329 feet tall; 70 feet circumference at the ground) living trees in the park respectively.

Back at camp, we cooked dinner on the fire ring (bean burgers and mac & cheese) and played cards, listened to music and burned everything that we could find. We become quite the pyromaniacs after a few cocktails and beers!

     

For our next camping trip, our hearts are set on a trip down to Joshua Tree in southern California, but we’ll just have to see if we can make that happen as the time gets closer.

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Camping at Bodega Dunes, Sonoma Coast State Park

Saturday we headed back up north to Sonoma Coast State Park (not very far from where we were abalone diving last week) to go camping for a night at Bodega Dunes.

Campsites in California are very difficult to reserve, especially if you are just planning a quick weekend trip like we normally do. Sites in Yosemite usually fill up the day they become available, usually within seconds or minutes, for up to five months out. So if you see a campsite available in northern California for a Saturday night, you better stake your claim!

Bodega Bay, population of 1,000, is a quaint sea-side town that rarely sees the sun. Downtown Bodega Bay is about a mile off of the coast, so on a good day, it’s  not as foggy as the seaside.

We stopped at a local joint downtown for some BBQ oysters before heading to the campground.We happened to catch the sun on the nice outdoor patio before taking a quick look around the town’s general store and surf shop.

We checked-in to our campsite, pitched the tent and headed for a very sandy hike to the ocean.

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A bottle of wine, tall boy, several beers and a few vodka drinks later you won’t even realize that it’s raining on you, let alone care that you are sitting around a fire in late August wearing a hat, gloves and three layers of clothes. Good thing we happened to notice the skunk rummaging through our trash. We are familiar with various campsite creatues that like to take advantage of us so against our better judgment, Chris chased Pepe le Pew away (luckily) without getting sprayed.

The camping adventures continue this week as we head to the Gorge Amphitheatre) in Washington for part of Labor Day weekend!

Abalone Diving at Salt Point State Park – Sonoma County,CA

Yesterday we woke up early to drive 2.5 hours north for an abalone diving class by Sonoma Coast Divers.  We met up at the Gerstle Cove parking lot in Salt Point State Park after an incredible drive up CA-1.

Abalone are large, edible sea snails that are considered a delicacy in many Asian cultures as well as here in the US.  The meat from abalone can sell for upwards of $100 on the black market and their shells can be highly coveted.

Abalone in California are highly protected and regulated and may only be taken using breath-holding techniques or shorepicking; scuba diving for abalone is  prohibited.  Abalone must measure at least 7″ to be taken in California and each person can only take 3 abalone per day and 24 total per year.

After our instruction on equipment (you must have an abalone gauge to measure the size and an abalone iron for removal), diving techniques, fishing laws, and abalone removal techniques, we geared up in 7 mil wetsuits with boots, gloves, and hood to keep us warm in the 50-degree water.  We then hiked down a rocky cliff to our entry point.  After a relatively smooth swim out, we were ready to start diving.

Abalone need to be removed with a certain technique, otherwise they clamp themselves down onto the rocks and usually cannot be removed.  This technique is not easy to master, but Chris was able to get his limit of three abalone in about an hour. Annie came back empty handed but enjoyed the snorkeling! While diving, we swam through large kelp forests and saw many large starfish, a white sea lion, fish, anemones, kelp, and of course abalone.

After taking our abalone, we headed to a picnic table overlooking the ocean for a potluck picnic featuring our catch! Abalone are able to live long after being removed from the water.  While our abalone were on the table, they moved and attempted to roll themselves off their backs.  Annie found this to be particularly disturbing, but thought she would film their movement:

To prepare abalone to eat, we removed the abalone from the shell and trimmed off the tough portions.  We then filleted the ab steak and pounded the meat to tenderize it.  The meat was then lightly breaded and pan fried to a golden brown for 30-45 seconds a side. We donated all three of our abalones to the potluck lunch and were left with these beautiful shells for a trophy (7″ on left, 7.5″ on right, and 8″ in middle).

More about abalone: Diving can also be very dangerous due to the large amounts of bull kelp throughout the Northern Coast of California.  It is not uncommon to hear about divers who get stuck in massive kelp beds and are unable to free themselves before drowning.

There are massive fines (usually around $1,500 per offense) for taking small abalone, using illegal equipment (scuba, illegal ab irons, etc.), taking more than your limit, failure to obey tagging laws, and other various regulations.

Abalone are found along the coastal waters of every major continent with the exception of the Atlantic Coast of South America, the Caribbean, and the East Coast of the United States.  The majority of abalone species are found in cold waters, off the Southern Hemisphere coasts of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia, and Western North America and Japan in the Northern Hemisphere.

Learn more about abalone and abalone diving

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Camping at Mt. Diablo State Park

Camping at Mt. Diablo State Park. First camping trip of the summer!

Highlights: hike to the summit of Mt. Diablo, spotting a 3ft long snake (not shown here because Annie would squeal), being robbed by bandits (coons!), watching the sunset over the valley.

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Free-diving for Abalone

We just registered for an Abalone Diving Class this summer! Abalone may only be taken by free diving (“breath-holding” techniques) or shorepicking; scuba diving for abalone is strictly prohibited. A person may be in possession of only three abalone at any given time and there a lot of restrictions about harvesting red abalone. Looking forward to checking this off the ol’ bucket list!

Learn more about abalone and abalone diving.