Walking Harmony Headlands

 

 

Once – not so long ago – the tiny hamlet of Harmony, California was for sale. An idyllic bend along The Pacific Coast Highway between a velvet-covered ridge and a golden hillside, I wondered who had purchased this small patch of perfection.

Walk across the highway and over the hill, you find the Pacific Coast. Up the ridge is the pristine Los Padres National Forest. Mist in the morning, sunny breezes in the afternoon and foggy evenings wrap Harmony in what you may believe is fiction, too beautiful to be real.

But real people – 18 of them –  do live here. And many others drop in for browsing the wooden clapboard storefronts, shopping, eating at the cafe and watching the glassblowers shape their art. An appealing wine tasting room and restaurant are at the end of a picturesque winding drive.

Though my interest in the town is real, my true reason for driving the 12 miles north is to walk the Harmony Headlands Trail. One and a half miles over a hill from Highway 1, the Pacific Ocean pushes its salty spray again and again in tides against the bluffs. I could walk over, hillside to coastline and see what I could see. Many people have walked this trail, but until I do it myself, is it real? I want to see for myself before I believe.

Even though I live just a few miles south and the beach breeze cools me frequently throughout the day, I am always surprised to walk along a hillside path during the parched summer, then pass into cool breezes. Close to the hillside, you have sunny warmth; take one step out from the hills’ protection, crisp ocean coolness reaches out to touch you. Up the hill from the trailhead I go, stepping in and out of the freshest air on the planet.

The trail winds around and then up along the ridge of the humpback coastal mound. We call them hills, but these are really geographic waves of rock and earth with covers of wildflowers in the spring and dry grass and ground squirrels in the summer. The wide pathway makes for easy walking and I think that next time, I may test out summer sandals instead of hiking boots. Why not? In this land of near-make-believe, it’s hard to think that anything would come and bite my ankles and the weather surely does not call for anything hardy or wooly. Flips-flops would do just fine.

I crest the ridge. The sun is a hot-rock massage on my shoulders and the mist offers a fresh air salt scrub for my face. I might as well be at a high-price spa. But this is so much nicer, and costs nothing but footsteps. I pause at the top to relish the simple grace of feeling clean. As pleasant as all that is, though, the view is the real attraction.

Today, the purity of the sky, the time of day and the currents of the tide turn the Pacific Ocean nearly turquoise. A double line of white rolls against the shore, but lazily, as the waves find their way to the rocks and sand. The path lets me ramble down, an easy pace, to the bluffs that form the west coast of the North American Continent.

Cool offshore breezes blend with the sun shining its pleasant warmth. Even though I face a bit of a climb on the way back, I don’t worry about the heat or the cold. Mother Nature has taken care of that for me. Am I just a bit too comfortable? Is this just a bit too nice for real life? The walk might make me think so, but this story I tell today is exactly the way it really is. If you tend to doubt me, remember the trail’s name: Harmony Headlands. I am at the apex of agreement between Mother Nature and me.

Harmony, California. The town itself may have been bought and sold and bought again. But the beauty here is a time-worn possession of Mother Nature. And now that I have seen it myself, I know that it is real. I’m a believer.

 

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Walking with Pelicans

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The return of the pelicans

To my knowledge, pelicans don’t walk much. But I love to walk alongside them as they fly, out above the waves. These sergeant-majors of the seas patrol our area, and they come out in force during springtime and stay all summer. I welcome their return with my walk today, and was fortunate that they were in a mood to entertain.

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On patrol

How can people say they are not beauties? Their over-sized beaks and broad wings reward them with a beautiful catch, over and over.

Watch for the splashes. My camera and I do not agree about push and click. By the time I pushed, the pelican was probably already diving, and by the time the camera took the shot, there was only splash. Two different times, with two competent pelicans. They tried to make it easy for me.

The second one stalled to let me gather my failing photographic skills. He is the one lifting off again after a successful catch, ready to scout the area for more.

Watch this magnificent dive. I love the way they search, spot and then set-up their dive. The final upside-down reverse puts them head first into the water. Amazing creatures.

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As I walk, I see some tag-a-longs. The gulls must have noticed the school of fish. They follow the skillful pelicans, landing nearby for a chance at left-overs.

The pelican entertainment today makes my walk a bit longer in time, not distance. But who can resist stopping and looking at these spectacular birds, to say nothing of the other sights along the way. Hope you have a great walk today.

 

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Linked to Restless Jo’s Monday Walks

Walking the Neighborhood

IMG_0414When you live where you can walk along a beautiful path every day, you are a lucky sort. I am a lucky sort – these views never get old. Many places in world are beautiful, and the Central California coastline where I live is one.

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I leave my shoes by the dunes, and fight with the dry sand to get to the water’s edge. Barefoot walking, in and out of the tide, soothes my feet. The sea birds let me pass, but don’t give up their feeding grounds unless I get very close. It’s a tricky business, trying to guess the correct distance from each bird. The tall blue herons are in a large group today and may feel bolder than usual. The tiny snowy plovers have moved away from the surf. The curlews are so ever-present they hardly glance at my passing. I thread my steps back and forth, closer to the waves and then farther away, depending on what I guess is a polite distance from the wildlife. I guess wrong. The great blue herons are nervous – or maybe I made some unintentional noise. Away they fly.

The great blues are here in force today. It’s springtime, and the bird families are teaching their young to fish. Watch this one as s/he catches, swallows and catches again. See the lump in the long, long neck?

The night herons are back after a winter’s absence. For the first time, I notice how long their necks are stretched out full-length. More often I see them in a group, hunched down, facing the cold wind together. I watch their antics for a while, and wonder if these are a different kind of heron than I think they are. Newcomers?

Along my neighborhood walk, there is a majestic icon. Morro Rock, the stunning volcanic plug that anchors the 3-mile long beach, sits ready for a photograph every day. Sometimes the sun shines on the irregular surfaces, sometimes mist plays around the rock. Either way, it’s a fitting touchstone, and I use this as my turn-around point.

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End of the walk

I work my way back to my shoes, feel my thighs worry with the effort of walking through the dunes to the beach entrance. I think I’ll stop for a bit at the bench near the dunes, if the black bird will share it.

It’s springtime. Flowers have blossomed, the dunes-side bushes bloomed. But if you remember the colors of a month ago, you can see the fade already beginning. The surrounding hillsides have already changed from a full-mountain satin-ny green to a soft yellow. Wherever you are, I wish you peaceful neighborhood walks.