Monday, August 06, 2012

There's No Place Like Home

Well, okay, I admit it wasn't exactly "home," but our recent trip to Monterey Bay was only a four hour drive from our Bakersfield home and was just as special in its own way as our trips to the far reaches of the world.  It made me remember that we don't have to fly half-way around the world to have a great trip.

The sad reality is that international air travel is getting expensive.  The days of "Europe on $5.00 a Day" are a thing of the past.  (In fact, I can see the jaws drop on the faces of some of my younger readers who can't get their Starbucks and a croissant for $5.00 a day!)  Even if you budget carefully, stay in bed-and-breakfasts or hostels instead of luxury hotels, buy your cheese and baguettes in the local markets and eat in the park instead of in fancy restaurants, and use the metro or public buses instead of taxis, there is no easy way to escape the high cost of air travel overseas...especially for those of us who are limited by our work in education to travel during the peak tourist months.

But don't despair!  The United States is filled with some of the world's most amazing and beautiful natural wonders.

Waves pounding to California coast along Highway 1

The buttes and mesas of Monument Valley
silhouetted against the sky.

When lava from Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island
hits the ocean, it send us huge plumes of steam.

Yellowstone bubbles with mud pots and geysers.

Thousands of islands dot the coast of Maine.

The list of beautiful sites goes on and on.  When it's part of our own landscape, it's easy to forget that tourists from all over the world come here to visit our National Parks - and our cities.

San Francisco can hold its own against any city in Europe for charm, beauty, and "walkability."
San Francisco fog creeps down over the city.

New York, the "city that never sleeps," has world class museums and theater...and one of the most diverse and cosmopolitan populations of the world.  Boston may not have the centuries of Europe, but its Freedom Trail is packed with stories from our own history.
The Declaration of Independence was
read from the balcony of the
Old State House in Boston.

Las Vegas pulls in tourists from around the world to gawk at its goofy imitations of the Roman forum, Eiffel Tower, Lake Como villages, and even the New York skyline. (Although I have to add that I always cringe a little when I think of tourists going home thinking that Las Vegas represents the "real" America!)

The New York skyline comes complete with
roller coaster in Las Vegas!

Even if you don't live close to the more famous destinations like Yellowstone or Yosemite, you will find magical places near your home.  Rob and I have been enjoying watching a television series on the Smithsonian channel called "Aerial America."

Each episode takes the viewer on an aerial tour of one of our fifty states and highlights places of natural beauty, history and culture, cute towns and big cities...and there has never yet been an episode that didn't make me say, "Hey, I want to visit THAT state!"  Every one of the fifty has its own unique charms.

Which brings me back to my first thought...we don't have to get on an airplane to have a great trip!

Sometimes all it takes is a short drive up the highway where...

You can hike and enjoy the glories of nature.  (One of our favorite hikes in the world is the hike along the shore of Point Lobos State Park just south of Carmel.)

Landscape artist Francis McComas called Point Lobos
 "the greatest meeting of land and sea in the world."

Whale bones scatter the ground next to the little
Whaling Museum along the trails of Point Lobos.

The Pacific Ocean is glimpsed through a tangle of
Monterey pines.

Harbor seals bask in the sun just off of the coast.

A California sea otter frolics in the waves.

You can take advantage of the local attractions.  (We always enjoy a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.)

A huge sunfish wobbles through the Outer Bay exhibit.

A school of sardines swirls through the Giant Kelp tank.

This giant octopus, weighing over 100 pounds,
put on quite a show for the crowd.

Feathery sea anemones decorate the rocks of many exhibits.

It's hard to hide when you are bright red.

But this little flounder has learned the art of camouflage!
He can see you, but can you see him?

Injured shore birds find a home in the aquarium's aviary.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium currently has a couple of special exhibits - jellyfish and seahorses.

Hundreds of jellies drift gracefully drift through
the water while quiet music fills the exhibit hall.

Moon jellies are almost invisible.

These jellies prefer to lie upside down on the sand
and wait for their food to drift down to them!

The jellies came in all shapes...

...and sizes...

...and colors.

This mirrored room created an infinite landscape
filled with glowing jellies.

And these beautiful creatures truly did glow
under the black lights.

Like the jellies, the seahorses came in many shapes and sizes. 

Is a group of seahorses called a herd?

The most amazing of all is the leafy sea dragon.
Imagine trying to find him in a tangle of seaweed!

You can seek out local festivals and special events.  We timed our trip to be in Pacific Grove for the annual "Feast of Lanterns."

The Pacific Grove Feast of Lanterns was first held in 1905 and became a fondly remembered part of my own childhood as my family gathered on Lovers Point Beach to watch the pageant and the fireworks.  

The Lovers Point Pier is readied for the pageant with
a Chinese Palace.  

The locals begin staking out their spot on the beach
the day before the Pageant and fireworks show.

My parents and their neighbors in Pacific Grove
hang bright paper lanterns in honor of the celebration.

One of my favorite event of the Feast of Lanterns
is the Pet Parade.
Queen Topaz and her court arrive first and wave to the crowd.

They are followed by the bike and skateboard brigade.

Next come the cats.

But all pets are welcome!

Finally the dogs arrive - decked out in their finest...

...and like the jellyfish, coming in all shapes and sizes.

The parade reflects the Chinese flavor of the Pageant....

...and what would a Chinese parade be without a dragon?

You can enjoy the local cuisine...whether it is lobstah chowdah in Maine, buffalo burgers in Montana, or local fish caught in Monterey Bay!

We walked along the path that follows the bay from Pacific Grove...

...right down to Fishermans Wharf in Monterey.

A patient flock of pelicans competed with the
resident sea lions for the scraps thrown from
the fishermen...

...while this line of seagulls waited outside of the fish market
After feasting, the some of the pelicans preened their feathers...

...and some of them got up close and personal with Rob
as he waited to purchase our dinner of fresh fish.

For added fun, you can share your local treasures with great friends!  

We were joined on this adventure by Tom and Helen, dear friends from Virginia.  It is always fun to be able to introduce friends to the places you love, and their presence made our week all the more special.

Tom and Helen walk the trail along Monterey Bay...

...with Rob and Joan

Tom and Helen in front of the Whalers' Museum
in Point Lobos.

Helen, Rob, and Tom in Point Lobos

Tom and Helen on the trail...
...and at the aquarium.

And the best thing you can do when you travel?
You can share it with someone you love!