Layover day at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

August 2, Monterey County
Layover Day at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and
View from a Relief Van Driver

Layover Day At Molera State Park, down the dusty trail near the horse stables, is the tiny building housing the Big Sur Ornithological Laboratory.  Here, for the past ten years biologists and volunteers have collected data on songbirds by capturing birds in vertical nets, banding them, and recording data.  Three of us visited the lab this morning to watch the scientists at work.  We followed them to one set of nets as they checked for songbirds. I had never seen the netting process and found it to be intricate and time-consuming.  If all staff is present, 21 nets are unfurled in areas around the station.  Every 40 minutes for five hours the staff checks the nets to make sure that if birds have been taken, they are quickly recorded and released.  The first round takes place 15 minutes after sunrise.  Birds found in the delicate mesh netting are taken to the station where they are banded and data is recorded.  They are then taken back to the spot where they were captured, and released.  This work goes on Tuesday through Saturday, except in periods of high wind or rain, and you may visit them to watch the work. 

Later in the day, four of us visited the Big Sur Lighthouse.  It is set 240 feet up, near the top of a huge rock (tombola is the proper name, I have just been informed) and the buildings, now part of the State Parks, have been lovingly restored to 1929 vintage, or are in the process of being restored by a dedicated corps of volunteers, most of whom drive down from Monterey or Carmel to be volunteers and docents.  It is well worth a visit to see the view from high atop this tombola, looking down coast and up, as well as 25 miles to the horizon line.  We were lucky enough to have a crystal clear, very warm day with no wind.  The ocean was the calmest our docent had ever seen it.  It was a lovely day, for those of us who played tourist, or took a long nap, or did laundry, or just sat and read.  (Linda Hanes)

Drivers View On July 31 and Aug 1 & 2, I substituted for Mel as the Mel-mobile driver for the CTE. Mel and Diane were off to attend the wedding of their son. Perhaps you would like to know about the life of the Expedition van driver. The designated coffee maker arises at 5:50 to prepare coffee for the other walkers who arise at 6:00. After a breakfast of gruel and dried fruit and making up lunches of fruit, peanut butter or other sandwich material, the crew washes their pots and dishes, packs up their tents and gear and loads the trailer with clothes, and the top of the van, temporarily the Dave-mobile, with tents, sleeping bags and portable chairs. The van is then hooked to the trailer, people loaded, and the van driver delivers the walkers to the place where the walk ended the day before, often 10 or more miles away. Walking begins at 8:00. The van driver then heads for town where the first order of business is a real breakfast at a local restaurant with tablecloth and silverware that clinks. I found that in Carmel By The Sea, restaurants don’t open until 9:00. Hopefully a market is close by where ice, food, personal requests and other necessary items are purchased from a list compiled by Ginny.

The van driver then heads for the next campsite, often twenty miles or more away, where the campsite is secured, the trailer is dropped off, sometimes more than once if he can’t make up his mind on campsite suitability. By this time, it is nearly time for a warm lunch at another fine restaurant. I recommend Rocky Point Restaurant and their creamy clam chowder and spectacular view of the ocean’s edge. An hour or two of good reading is often available after lunch. Then, driving up and down to locate the walkers by walkie-talkie is in order in case of emergencies or faster progress than anticipated. The walkers are picked up between 2:00 and 4:00, depending on distance and difficulty of the days walk, and delivered to the new campsite. Fifteen minutes of rest is mandated after arrival before unpacking the van top and trailer. The stove, tents, chairs and kitchen supplies are set up and cold drinks are set out.

Volunteers bring in dinner, and it is served at 6:00. Again, pots and dishes are cleaned and set up for the next day. Early evenings are spent talking, reading, taking showers, if available, and recovering. Most are in bed by 8:30, except Steve, who seems to never sleep or run out of energy and enthusiasm. (Dave Hanes; photos by Linda Hanes) Top: Big Sur Lighthouse. Left: Big Sur coast. Right: Expedition explores a broken access stairway.